Travelogue 6 June 2008-8 June, 2008
6 June, 2008: Surrey/Vancouver
The day was uneventful at work, which was good since Thursday was pretty busy. I had shaken many hands, hugged a few people and had generally spent the day saying my good-byes. With the exception of the Jailhouse Rock/Jupiter Room, I never worked at a place where I have been so valued or told I would be greatly missed. I am used to hostile and suspicious environments where you spend a fair amount of your time watching your back. Neurotic environments that infect you with a sort of illness that sets your nerves on edge and deflates your sense of self worth.
Working at SFU' Surrey campus has been different. It has been rare to find a place so humanizing and so easy to be at, especially as a contract employee. The previous day, our contract manager dropped by to say goodbye and let me know that they would always be willing to hire me back on. He handed me a bottle of Wiser's Reserve along with his thanks and best wishes. Pretty rare. But the company had always been good to me. Graduate and Ph.D students dropped by to say goodbye and they gave me cards. In some cases emotions were actually running a bit high.
The woman who hired me on for the site handed me a card and some stationary from the Mechatronics Department (she was formerly with Facilities) and was a bit wet around the eyes as she hugged me and bid me farewell. We had always got along, but this was unexpected and I was really touched. She could really be tough and some of the other contract staff didn't care for her, but I always appreciated her way and thought she was fair. She expected a lot from herself and others and if you gave her a return on those expectations she was incredible to work for.
My fellow contract employees got me a bottle of The Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood, a favourite of mine. JL was the one whom I had worked with the longest and, as it was also his birthday, I picked him up a copy of Gibson's Spook Country. We'd been talking about science fiction so it seemed like a good choice. JL has been prodding me to read something called The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The Facilities Manager and her team came down and presented me with even more SFU stationary items and a card. The Facilities Co-ordinator and I had a good chat the previous day, in which he called me irreplaceable. This sentiment was echoed by the rest of the department. I cannot state how surprised I am by the send off I was given. I did my job and put in the effort, but I have done that before and never experienced this sort of appreciation.
They had also booked tables at the Surrey Central Brew Pub. Mostly it was the ACS/OTS department along with one of the Librarians, the Mail Room Manager and the Facilities Manager. We knocked back a few, they bought me a 2L growler of the Copper Bock and I was off to the warehouse to meet my Father.
My Dad and I met at the warehouse and we loaded up and met went back to his place. His wife helped us repack the truck and she wrapped it all up with a top notch tarping. Jossie picked up a whack load of sushi for the final meal and made her own sunomono. After some more sorting and prepping it was off to bed.
7 June, 2008: Vancouver-Stony Plain
We were supposed to leave at 4 am, but my Dad was up later trying to get a bunch of things sorted with his old computer which is now my computer. So we left the house around 6:30 am and hit the road. It was high overcast with a bit of Sun peeking through as we left the Metro Vancouver area, but the clouds were getting heavier the further we traveled into the Fraser Valley. I have many memories of traveling on the Trans Canada n the morning, heading east for the Kootneys or for Alberta. My memories recall that it always seemed to be overcast and raining as we hit Chilliwack. The mountains that start to hedge travelers into the Fraser Canyon are covered in clouds, waterfalls rushing down the sides. My Dad and I pop on the discs from the posthumous Johnny Cash box-set, Unearthed for the drive.
We stopped for breakfast in Hope and then head into the Coquihalla. The Coquihalla isn't snowed under as some of the road reports made it sound like. There is about as much snow as you'd expect for the end of spring. There are a tone of cyclists on the road and it is wet and cold out there. The extent of damage done by the Mountain pine beetle become apparent the further in country we travel. Red trees amongst the trees still living. Part of the natural life cycle of the province's forest, the unusually long, hot summers over the past decade have spurred the beetles on a protracted rampage across BC and into Alberta.
As we travel past Merritt, I am awed again about how varied the flora and fauna are in the province. The diversity of British Columbia is something that is often ignored by the rest of the country. We ride past the alpine dessert and head into the ranching territory of the Thompson Valley. Rain dogs us all the way on the trip, it is inevitable. But the tarp is holding up, with one stop in Kamloops to seal up the gaps with duct tape. The Starbucks here is actually playing a track, "Pattern Recognition" I think, from Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse. Not sure what to make of that? I like the song, but it is a bit odd (maybe disconcerting?) to have the monolithic corporate hegemony that is glom onto one of the more distinctive and truly alternative bands in the last 30 years. Will they start playing The Residents next?
The ranching country is beautiful, even with the pine beetle infestations. It would nice to escape to places out here from time to time, but I am not sure I could live here on a full time basis. Vancouver is just getting too large, it problems are keeping pace too. In many ways, life in Vancouver had become exhausting. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows my feeling about Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. I have a fair amount of antipathy towards it, but at the same time it is home. I am a Lower Mainlander and it has left its mark on me. My dad looks at this territory and dreams of escaping here, but the faces of the kids we pass from town to town really do show their desire to get out as soon as possible. Go east young men, go east.
Driving with my Dad can be a bit like running a marathon. It drove my Mum crazy (and still does apparently) but it is a good discipline in a time like this. We weren't pushing it overly hard, but after Kamloops we made one stop in Blue River, a quick pit stop in the Rockies jut past the Alberta border (bottled water and coffee takes its own toll) and only stop for dinner in Hinton. On the run from Blue River to the border, we were hit by an incredible head wind. It hammered the truck, but the tarp held. I felt sorry for the cyclists we drove past.
One day I have to come back this way on my own and explore this area, the Selkirks and the Rockies. We've stopped around here before and even camped in the Rockies, but it has been too long and there is so much more to see. Didn't see half the wildlife I had hoped to, no elk, moose, mountain goats or even a badger. I did see a black bear and a lot of deer, though.
After Hinton, we pushed on eastward. We debated about whether to push past Edmonton and stop or to stop before Edmonton. Dad is concerned about someone ripping through the tarp and taking boxes at random. He is hoping we can make Edmonton with enough light to find my Grandparent's graves.
This leg of the trip to Edmonton is always to most monotonous. That stretch between Hinton and Edmonton has to be what gives the Prairies its rather undeserved reputation as boring. It's not without its highlights and I did learn that the further in you went into that area the more interesting it becomes - but the view from the Yellowhead Trail? Strictly Zzzzzzzz. One thing I did see was how they are dragging the ground scooping up surface coal. Seems like a monumental waste of land, time and energy to dredge up an inferior grade of coal - land that might be best turned towards food production (or even allowed to go fallow and wild) and time that might be best used to come up with alternative green sources of energy.
After running around between Stony Plain and Spruce Grove, (just east of Edmonton) Dad and I settled down in a pricey Hotel 6. My Dad bit down on his pride and pulled the Seniors discount. He's 65, but looks like he's at least 10 years younger. The bed was in between being soft and hard, thus I was unable to sleep.
8 June, 2008: Stony Plain - Saskatoon
Between 6:30 and 6:45 am we were off from Stony Plain and back on the road. The last time I was up in this area was in 1994 for the marriage of my friends' Greg and Joy Fast. Things have changed here. remarkably so. Tonnes of new subdivisions sidled in alongside the new industrial districts. Very ugly, no character.
Soon enough we are in Edmonton. My Grandparents lived here when I was a kid and my Grandmother didn't move out to the coast until I was around 17 or 18. My Grandfather died in 1977, but I was unable to attend the funeral. I think I was either 12 or 14 by the time I made it out to his graveside. My Father doesn't place a lot of stock in funerals and graves, mostly as a reaction against his mother I think. My Grandmother had been going on about old age and her death at least since she was 40. She wasn't a religious woman, by any means, just preoccupied with the ultimate inevitability. My Dad decided to rebel against that. My Grandmother finally died in 2001, a day or two before September 11. Needless to say, I wasn't able to fly from Montreal to Edmonton for the funeral. Neither was my Grandmother, actually. Her body had to be shipped in a freezer truck.
We found the graveyard easily, it was just off the Yellowhead. The area still looks much like the last time I visited. There was no one there to ask for directions, but my Dad was certain that he could remember the spot. We searched the area that he remembered it being in, but could find nothing. We looked elsewhere, but could find nothing. We went back where we were before and there was nothing except a blank concrete spot where a dual headstone should be. There were two plastic roses set in the spot and my Dad and I decided that it had to be the spot. My Dad's original surname was a Belorussian name that meant "seven roses". My Grandmother has a friend still living in Edmonton who would have done something like this, absence of the grave marker or no. We choked back on our anger. questions abound and my Father planned to deal with the cemetery upon his return to Edmonton after dropping me off and then with the mortuary in Langley, BC who was supposed to have handled the arrangements.
Angry, unsatisfied we left Edmonton and carried on. Had no one visited the grave in that time? I guess Dad hadn't on his business trips to the area in the last couple of years. Hard to do in those situations. My Uncle had never mentioned anything on his trips through the area, but then he and my Dad haven't spoken in four years. Gibb and Leona didn't have any contact numbers? A thing like this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. There's a lingering spectre of shame at having failed your family in this way.
Pushing past the shame we headed into the country side east of Edmonton. It is pretty here, rolling and pastoral and certainly more interesting that the drive from Hinton to Edmonton. We even saw fields with bison in them - huge big brown beasts that photos could never do justice to. We decide to keep going to Vegreville, where we would stop for breakfast. We stopped at Albert's Dinner for what may have been the single worst breakfast I have ever had. Greasy and uninspired, if it hadn't had been for the side of tomatoes I ordered I might not have made it.
After a stop in Lloydminster for fuel and bottled water, we were finally in Saskatchewan. You could tell the difference right away, at least I saw differences. The road was much rougher and the meridians were fairly wild compared to neatly manicure meridians of Alberta. The drive was interesting. It was so rural, with rail lines running up to the grain silos and the expanse of farms and wild lands. We stopped outside a rural community to shoot an old fashioned, red silo and an old-time church in desperate need of restoration.
We debated on stopping in Radisson for lunch, but maybe the Battlefords would have been a better bet. Riders paraphernalia is everywhere we go and in every vehicle it seems. I remember Ridermania from when I lived outside of Moose Jaw in the early 90's. Thankfully, Geo and J are not sports nuts. We pass through some interesting small towns after Radisson, Borden I think, places that would loan themselves well to film or television.
Once in Saskatoon my Dad and I took care of some business that needed attending to and we called Geo and J. who take us back to their place. Less than a day and a half and 1,672 km later and I am finally here. I started my post-secondary education in Saskatchewan with nothing serious in mind, just driven here by the will of Someone Else. It seems appropriate that I have ended up back here focused and with goal.
24 June, 2008 - Saskatoon
I will miss my parents and friends enormously. I'll be missing out on my friends' children growing up, and believe me when I say missing out. I'll miss the geography of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, but not the city and not the people at large. Vancouver has been focusing in how unfriendly it is, how cold and distant the people are. They are and there is no need for the Vancouverites to be that way. Saskatoon has troubles brewing - a low vacancy rate and real housing crunch. Many landlords have taken the news of the province's economic boom as an excuse to jack up rent higher than what the average Montrealer would pay. Earth to landlords: Saskatoon is a nice place, but it ain't Montreal.
Whatever, there is always something to gripe about anywhere. But here I am for better or worse. J and Geo are great, the city is friendly and school is exciting. A new chapter begins here.