Far East…Further East

The old hippies on the road are starting to be replaced by the old punks.

I spent three full days in Toronto visiting family and going to a couple of the neighborhoods I spent more than many nights drinking away paychecks and killing gray matter.

By day two, I was anxious to get back out on the road but by day three I was dismayed to discover that nerves were setting back in. All the old fears came leaking back to my mind. Suddenly, I’m concerned that no one will want to pick up this aging thumb – rider. What makes the start of every leg of the trip even harder is that getting out of major cities is often more stressful and time consuming than standing on the road in the middle of nowhere, smiling at passing vehicles trying to hitch a ride from one of them. Getting out of town usually requires buses and/or trains unless someone you know, a host or old friend offers to drop you on the outskirts. Fortunately for me,  just moments before I was about to navigate TTC and GO as far east as possible, my favorite cousin messaged. She’d been sitting in a conference which was particularly mind-numbing, and wanted to take me on a mini road trip which I gratefully accepted. Within minutes we piled all my things and ourselves into her jeep and we were east bound and down, as the song goes.

We spent our final couple of hours promising to make certain that another 25 years didn’t pass before we saw each other again and laughing because I told her that when she threw my laundry in with her daughter’s things, a pair of her 4 year old’s panties had worked their way into the leg of my jeans. We imagined my being hassled by a bored cop, choosing to initiate a roadside search of belongings and asking me to account for the pink undergo I’d hidden away.

All the truck stops in that part of Ontario seem to be franchised as they are all called On Route and all seem to feature Burger King, Tim Hortons, Southside Marios and a gift shop/convenience store. We grabbed a quick bite and she deposited me at the on ramp. I’m not sure how far she had to travel up the highway before finding a place where she was able to turn back towards Toronto, but as she passed on the other side of TCH, she managed to snap this photograph of me.

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It was a great location and the only problem that I had was the angle of the Sun made it impossible for me to make eye contact with the drivers as they approached. Before too long, a red minivan pulled to the side and I ran after it. The driver told me to throw all my belongings into the back but the sliding back door was stuck shut. He jumped out, ran around and finally managed to get it open from the inside. The gave me the opportunity to see something that gave me great pleasure. As he turned around, the bowling style shirt with the leopard print front sported the logo from one of my absolute favorite underground punk bands of the late 1980s.
“Oh my god, dude” I shouted “ls that a Mentors shirt you’re wearing?
“Hell yeah!” he replied, a massive grin on his face. And the connection was instantly made based on a little known musical trio known for being so offensive they’d be considered shocking even by today’s society.

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He introduced himself by name which which I quickly forgot once I learned that his stage name was Bobby Lawless and the band was Destroyer Scene. Soon we were just a couple of old punks, rolling down the road and talking about bands we love and shows that we’ve seen or wish we saw.  Bobby has given up city life, opting instead for the quiet of a cabin in the woods, opening the door for coining the phrase Bush Punk Forever. After a quick detour to the beer store, Bobby dropped me on a ramp halfway between Napanee, Ontario and Odessa, Ontario.

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I quickly accessed the ramp as pointless (about one car every two minutes) and strolled back down to the highway. The sign we’d just passed indicted that Odessa was 8km further down the road and had one of the On Route stops that I spoke of earlier. Time for a little backwards walking, the time honored tradition of walking and hitching at the same time. I’ve gotten pretty good at judging when the next wave of traffic will be on my back and turning in time to hitch. You can walk forward normally and thumb with your left hand but I’ve never caught a ride this way.  What driver is going to stop for a faceless stranger?

About 3km in to my jaunt, an 18 wheeler pulled over about half a click further down. I figured he’d stopped to complete his log book and felt that it was unsafe to hitchhike directly behind him, so I picked up my pace a little, planning to walk a hundred meters past him and continue hitchhiking from there or walking to Odessa if nessa’ (like that?).

Not nessa.

It turns out the trucker had pulled over to give me a lift. The third time a professional trucker has stopped for me and I don’t think I’ll ever not be surprised, knowing that in doing so they put their jobs at risk.

Still under the impression he’d pulled over for any other reason, I overshot his cab by 30 feet before turning around. Through his windshield I could see his heavily bearded face looking down at me, the expression clearly being “WTF?” I pointed to myself and he nodded. I ran back to the truck, threw my pack up and climbed on board. As the engine roared to a start I introduced myself to the most unlikely, non-stereotypical trucker I think I’ll ever meet.
(Note: Although a trucker, my driver gave me full permission to write about him and even film him inside the cabin)

Jeremie is only 21 years old, a French Canadian, and a father of a young son. When I speak of Bobby, my last ride, he looks pleased that I like harder music. He asks if I would like to hear some heavy metal from Japan and he turns on…Oh My God….BABY METAL!

He was equally surprised that I had heard Baby Metal before but I total him about my great friend and comic book creation partner in Las Vegas, Kyle Brummond and his near obsession with Baby Metal. I admit I’m not a huge fan and further admit that I never expected Baby Metal, a trio of sexy, school girl clad, tiny ladies dancing to grinding, Metallica inspired guitar riffs and singing in high pitched, Pokémon style voices, to rise any higher than novelty act status. I missed the boat predicting the international success Kyle was certain they would achieve. But I will take Baby Metal over country music at any time of day…or any time in my life for that matter.

Best of all, this was my home stretch ride as Jeremie was going to be able to drop me right in the heart of Montreal!

Four hours of listening to heavy metal, talking about the sadness of loss due to suicide, and discovering that the pizza at the Flying J Truck Stops is every bit as delicious as I’d heard, I was in Montreal and remembered that I was now further east in my home Country than I’d ever been before. I contacted my host and assured him I was on my way to his home and he assured me he was willing to wait up for me.

…and I was about to get naked.

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…

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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.

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“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!