Day One: Calgary to Regina

No turning back now!

Crime pays!  Within 15 minutes of thumbing it right on the Trans-Canada, I saw a small red car zip across two lanes of traffic and slow.  Honestly, I thought he was breaking down but…NO!

Success!  I ran towards the car…first time I ran with my pack.  Another thing I should have gotten used to.  I walked with the pack on several times but didn’t factor in running after cars.

Where you headed?   Anywhere East!  I can get you as far as Medicine Hat.  Thats 278km.

James is an welder in the tar sands of Alberta and often picks up hitchhikers.  Mostly to hear their stories.  He loved the fact that I am hitchhiking for pleasure and was thrilled to be my first ride.  I was so excited that the journey had begun that I, unfortunately, completely forgot to take any pictures or video.  So James, if you ever find this, please send me a photo and GOOD LUCK WITH THE BABY!

Amazingly, James bought me coffee.  I really wanted to pay but he told me that HE WAS SO GRATEFUL for the company that it was “the least he could do.”  I guess that drive back and forth to the ‘Hat can get pretty boring.

He dropped me at a place along the highway called Trukkers.  Sounds promising to a hitchhiker, right?  I went in the store and bought a couple of thing (new pair of gloves, trail mix then strolled into the restaurant.  Truck stop fare is usually excellent.  Large portions and, while hardly ever exotic, usually delicious.  That is a big USUALLY…because then there is this meal…

trukkers
what the hell is it!?!?!

It is called the “Trukker’s Scramble” and I’m not sure if it is made with real trucker meat. It sounded delicious when I ordered it but honestly I would have rather ate the paper the menu was printed on.  Anywhere else, I would have sent it back but waitresses at truck stops can sometimes be the reference you need to get a ride.  Kicking up a stink over a $10 food item might be the difference between catching a lift or waiting it out.

Pack on, I walked back out to the road.  The wind picked up even worse within the 2 minutes I was on the road.

Yes….ONLY 2 FREAKING MINUTES.

After only a handful of cars passed by, an 18 Wheeler made a right out of the truck stop and started to pull forward.  One of my unwritten rules of the road is when trucks are trying to get onto a freeway, back way off.  Truckers are extremely safety conscience and you want them to know that you’re respectful of their space.  And the shoulder is there space.  They need that area to safely get up to speed or pull over in case of emergency.  When I see one pulling, I usually like to back off a couple of steps just so they are aware that I’m acknowledging they are coming toward me and they don’t have to be concerned that I’ll accidentally wander in front of them or worse, decide life on the road isn’t for me and throw myself in front of it.

As the big red truck inched forward, making no attempt to merge, I didn’t realize he was stopping for me unless his hazard lights started blinking.  The passenger door stops directly in front of me (NO RUNNING!), the door swings open and I am face to face with Crackles, my driver’s black cat.

“Oh, he likes you!  If he didn’t he wouldn’t let you into the cab. Where you headed?”, he asks.  “East,” I answer. “Well, I can get you as far as Regina, if that helps.”  

I climb up and soon we are chugging down the TCH, 7000 pounds of frozen beef behind us.  My driver is an old hitchhiker himself and has been trucking for 30 years.  He is pleasant as can be despite complaints of a hemorrhaged disc in his lower back that confined him to the bathtub for two days until his son could help him get out.  He loves driving, reggae music and Crackles, his cat whom he calls his co-pilot.

crackles
“Turn left! There is a fish store in the next town!”

We stopped only once in the 500 kilometers traveled.  Cheap roadside coffee and a whiz.  He seemed surprised when I paid but if a comfortable ride that far isn’t worth a hot cuppa, what is?  He pointed at the vape pens in a display case and told me he’d been thinking of using one to get off the  cigs.  I explained that I had just bought a new one and, while it hasn’t got me to drop the smokes completely, I have cut back substantially. The conversation reminded me to charge my vape once I was back in the truck.

We rode in relative silence the rest of the trip.  About 30 minutes outside of Regina, the rain started in heavy and I suddenly became concerned that I had no place to sleep that night.

Victoria Avenue in Regina.  I climb out of the cab, throw on my pack and start heading toward the “Open All Night” sign.  I’m homeless, hundreds of miles away from family, caught in a downpour…

And I haven’t felt this good in years.

EAST!

 

 

Michael Badger: Outlaw!

A rocky, emotional start to day one leads me into a life of (minor) crime.

May 30th, 2016.  I officially make myself homeless, giving up the cozy little one bedroom apartment I’d holed up in for the last 2 years. No more internet included, fully furnished, heat and hot water.  This is it.  I’m a nomad.  Unfortunately, I had words with my landlady for the first time ever.  She’s sweet but somewhat high strung and after giving her six weeks notice, not 48 hours went by before she would ask me once again what my exact schedule was.  When I would be actually leaving.  I had told her Monday, May 30th at the latest but she kept thinking it might be sooner even though I told her that by sooner it might, just might, be the 29th.  I really like her so I helped her all I could to find a new renter for the apartment and even allowed her to rip out the kitchen while I was still living in it.  She came down and measured and remeasured everything, planned for new carpet and flooring and told me all the new wonderful things she was planning for the apartment once I wasn’t in it anymore.

Monday morning rolls around and as soon as she realizes I’m awake, she is in there pulling up carpet, asking when I am going to leave and pulling her extra boxes out of the storage unit under the stairs.  Again, I understand that she’s high strung and has two days to sell some of the furniture and put in the new carpet but she seems obvious to the fact that at least until the door hits me in the ass, that I still LIVE THERE.  I have a little more repacking to do (life on the road is spent packing, repacking and maintaining some sort of balance both in your soul and on your back.) and just wanted to spend some quiet reflection alone moments before I go on what might be a life altering journey. “Do you need this box?””I found these mints on the bedroom floor.” “Do you think I should keep paying all these premium channels on the cable?” and telling me for the 15th time that there was someone coming later in the afternoon to install the carpet.

I felt that I tried a few subtle hints to let her know that she was in my way but she was in her world and I respect that but she was really getting under my skin.  Finally I opted out of the “private reflection” and opted into “saddle up and run”.  I threw my packs onto my back and for the first time felt that I’d made a mistake by packing all my electronic equipment into my secondary pack which I’d attached to my primary pack with carbiners.  All in the secondary pack weighted probably seven kilos more than the primary.  The slung over my left shoulder, the secondary pack continued over and walloped my right shoulder, throwing me off balance and pinning the right strap to me back.

“Can I help?”, she asked. “Yes, I replied, “You can really help by not being here!” I saw the tears welling up in her eyes, having never heard a terse word leave my lips, and even though I knew I’d regret it, I went for the kill shot “Goddammit,” I let loose, “Did you notice that I haven’t even moved out yet!”  She left the room crying and I knew I was going to have to make an apology before I left.  My temper used to be a lot worse and one of the reasons I regained control over it years ago is because, despite the ill feelings I have in the moment, making amends afterwards usually takes exponentially more time that the outburst, however warranted, was worth.  With the apology quickly out of the way, I careful threw my pack on and was out the door and up the street to catch the #36 bus which, after a series of transfers would eventually leave me with a kilometer of the Trans-Canada highway.

45 minutes later I was kicking myself because I want to make sure that I filmed the first few minutes of my departure but the mono-pod was unhinged and the go-pro was flopping around.  The footage is there and it certainly shows that no matter how prepared I think I am for any change, I’m never truly preparing till I am in the paint of it.

But there I was, standing on the on ramp for Stoney Trail and the TCH, smile plastered on my face, thumb outstretch and waiting.  And waiting…

stonyTCH
“Why do you rob banks?”  “Because that’s where they keep the money.”

And waiting.  Until an hour later, I decided “Screw the rules.  There are way too many cars on the actual highway.  I’m breaking the law and standing on the freeway not the on-ramp.”   Breaking the Law by Judas Priest rang in my head as I hit the shoulder and threw out my thumb. Breaking the law for the first time since I was a teenager.

And reaping the rewards for my crime!

Starting Point/Ending Point: Calgary, City of my Childhood

30 years later, I’m still in love with my hometown. Others? Not so much.

Through the wonders of “Facebook Memories”, I discovered an interesting tidbit.  I am going to be starting this journey EXACTLY two years to the date that I returned to Calgary after two and a half decades of living in the United States.  I don’t know if it was subconscious or coincidental but the calendar as read by Zuckerburg don’t lie.

320px-Calgary_tower_6

My family moved to Calgary in 1975 when the population was a mere 176,000. In those 30 years, it has ballooned to almost 1.2 Million.  Spurred by the oil and gas industry, and possibly Alberta’s complete absence of any sales tax, it grew at what can now only be called an alarming rate.

To the left is the Calgary Tower. (Husky Tower originally).  I remember seeing it for the first time as a ten year old boy.  I was mystified by the giant structure that could be seen from any vantage point in the city.  A beacon of wealth and prosperity and the symbol of my new home.

And boy-o-BOY, was I excited to find out that my father’s office was right next door.  The wall of his office at Allstate Insurance actually vibrated as the elevator shuttled tourists upwards for the most spectacular view in Western Canada.  The Rocky Mountains to the west and endless prairies as far as the eye could reach to east.  I remember my first trip to the observation deck.  My mother yelled at me because I couldn’t get enough of either view.  I ran back and forth, drinking it all in.  I remember wishing I had two faces so I could look both east and west at the same time.

Calgary_01

I left Calgary in 1986, well after the boom had begun.  Above is the Calgary I returned to in 2014.  See the Calgary Tower?  No?  Believe it or not, it is still there.  However, now the 8th tallest structure, with 11 office buildings within 20 metres of eclipsing it, it can only be seen on the downtown skyline if you’re looking from the east.

Fine dining. Theater. Ballet. Sports (Go Flames!). Art House Cinema. In my opinion, Calgary is a world class city.  Problem is that I seem to be one of the very few to hold that opinion.  Poll after poll shows Calgary to be one of the the cleanest, most livable city in the world and we even have the Best Mayor in the World. However, Calgarians distrust in these outsiders opinions can be summed up by a simple exchange I had at work just a few evenings ago.

When I am not screenwriting, I am a poker dealer by trade.  I love my job and I am fortunate to work in one of the best poker rooms in all of Canada (Which saying a lot because Canadians love poker.)  Since I learned my craft and lived for the ten previous years in Las Vegas, my name tag states Vegas as my hometown.  A player read my name tag and the following exchange took place.

Player: You’re from Las Vegas?  Really?

Me: Well, actually I was born in Toronto and I was raised here in Calgary.  But I spend the last 10 years in Vegas.

Player:  Oh my God.  why would you ever come back here?

As with my players, I am sure many readers have visited Las Vegas.  The glitz! The glamour! The parties! But if you’ve ever lived there, you know that those monuments of neon are built on the broken dreams of wannabe high rollers and it’s citizen’s alike.  Get away from the strip, even just blocks away, and you see blight and squalor and addiction and every form of human devastation imaginable.  The city has David Copperfield and a Cirque show on every corner but no real culture.

But Calgarians, despite having everything at their finger tips can’t shake that small town mentality.  I blame the Calgary Stampede.

chucks-results
It’s like NASCAR, but with horses

Once a year, beginning the second Friday in July, the bustling metropolis grinds to a halt for ten days to make way for the Calgary Stampede.  Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, it can be heart-warming to see how the city embraces this 10 day nostalgic fest. Walk into any bank or corporate office during rodeo time and you’ll see it.  Almost every man and woman wears a cowboy costume to work. The white Stetson is one of the official symbols of Calgary and you’ll see it by the thousands. Every business, big and small, hosts some sort of Western themed event.  Pancake breakfasts.  Chuckwagon BBQ for lunch and dinner. The beer is flowing and country music is everywhere.  I mean, EVERYWHERE! If you play in a country music band and can’t get booked in Calgary during the first two weeks of July, you’d either better switch to Death Metal or get out of the business for good because you obviously suck.  People come from all over the world to ho-down and square dance, drink and frolic and Calgary is truly happy to accommodate them.

120329-bolin-100day-0009jpg_1
Is this is the line for beer…No, it is the line for the bathroom

Problem is once the party is over, the chuck wagon tents are folded up and all the horse shit has been shoveled away, Calgarians can’t shake the ‘Cowtown’ name or the Cow-town mentality.  It can’t help but see itself as a one horse town. Even with a population of 1.2 million.  So if you get the chance to visit my city, even if it is for the rodeo, I urge you to stick around and experience this glorious city the other 355 days of the year.

So in five days I’ll be turning my back on it again, heading east into the sunrise. My journey will take me to Toronto, city of my birth, Winnipeg, the city of my earliest memories and numerous new exotic places, both within my countries borders and beyond.  But despite what my name tag says at work, or what my birth certificate states or where I live out my remaining years or even where they put me in the ground, Calgary is, and will always be my hometown.

Yee-HA!

 

You Can’t Take it With You

Or can you…?

Or can you…?

Here is a complete list of everything I have packed for my hitchhiking adventure beginning Monday, May 30th.

4 pairs of socks. 4 pairs of underwear. 6 shirts. 1 pair of jeans. 2 shorts. 1 sweater. 1 hat. Deodorant. Oral care. razors. Two rolls of toilet paper.Sleeping bag. Bed roll. 1 80 page note book. 7 pens. Go pro. Lap top. Phone. Two extra batteries.for each. One Digital voice recorder. 3 extra memory cards.

backpack
All packed and ready to go!

…and of course, one passport.

When I posted the list on my facebook page, my friend Rod Harvey asked the question I have often pondered….

underwear

I have some sick friends.  Fortunately, through the wonders of social media, I get to take them with me.