PARKSVILLE, B.C. – Looking across the Strait of Georgia toward the foggy mainland. The distant
clouds and mountains are distinct muddy layers of colour that shift shades in
the expanding angle of the rising sun. In the immediate vicinity the tide is
slowly reclaiming the grey sand flats, wapping
closer to the green seaweed boundary on the beach. The shorebirds are noisy,
maybe not completely indifferent to the cycles of the sea. It’s a little too
chilly for just a faded, old and threadbare t-shirt. The black coffee in the
plain white cup cools quickly. Its steam merges with the morning’s mist. The
beige plastic Adirondack chair is deep and a
bit of a bastard to clamber out from as morning stiffness now seems to be
mostly confined to my knees and other previously broken parts more often than
not. Anyway, there’s the weight of a paperback on my lap too.
The novel is Robert Penn Warren’s ‘All The
King’s Men,’ a saga of southern American politics during The Great Depression.
You can smell the characters’ sweat and their cigarette and booze breaths while
they stump under oppressive purple skies. The edition I’m engrossed in is a
Bantam book and the Pulitzer Prize winner’s 42nd printing. I know my
nephew bought it in a shop in Charlottetown,
P.E.I. last August for four more dollars than the 1978 cover price. I know the
book printed and shipped from somewhere in the United States. I know the book has
and is now on another island off another coast. I know the book has come a long
way from many places. As all of us have.
I was reminded of this simple observation
exactly one week before in a Husky gas station in Edson, AB.
On the counter, front and centre in a two-tiered Bic display, a Montreal Expos
lighter. I must have it. Even as I reach for it I remember going to the
ballpark in my hometown with my friends. I remember our noble goal of guzzling
nine beers through nine innings of baseball. I remember the legend of my old
friend Jacques who went 14 innings against the San Diego Padres before he ran
out of money. Probably not a bad thing as that particular game went some 19 or
The Expos of course decamped to Washington, D.C.
a decade ago. But during their last dying gasps in Montreal they became the
major league real life equivalent of Philip Roth’s fictional Port Ruppert
Mundys: homeless; a Canadian team playing out of San Juan, PR with last ups so
far off the continent they needed a map of the National League East.
There’s nothing quite like a map to remind
you that you’ve come from afar and are a long way from many other places.
There’s an open tin of pilsener placed discreetly in the lee of the front
wheel. A Canadian Motor Association roadmap is spread out across the hood of
the silver sports car. You can’t help but feel a little like Rommel, not the
sixties-era Coronation Street
cat but the German General; an objective has been achieved and the next one
further up the Yellowhead is BlueRiver, B.C.
Well, you roll into that next map dot circle
in your kubelwagon, white silk scarf flapping and goggles up on your field grey
forage cap, leading a mechanized column of troops and there’s… nothing. You
march into the Sandman Inn to dictate the terms of surrender but no one’s at
the desk. You strut next door to The Grill brandishing your swagger stick but
the waitress is doing double duty as the cook. She’s too busy although only two
tables are occupied by four people (one of whom is trimming her nails,
alternating biting and clipping as her husband seeks the wisdom of the saints
from underneath the dress of a Marilyn Monroe picture hanging by the toilets)
but the fountain Pepsi needs some CO2. The vinyl menu sleeve’s a bit sticky and
you wonder in a place like this, that’s not really a place at all, why there
are donairs and gyros to be had at a reasonable price. Greek salad too.
At this juncture you don’t need a map to tell
you that you’re miles from nowhere. Time has come to follow another highway
that leads somewhere else after you twist out the kinks from your back. Stretch
and feel the pain of a life lived ‘til now. No glamour, no glory here, just
scrubby grass and gravel and a disconcerting sense of isolation and distance,
of being a long way from anywhere with miles to go.