Scourge and Transparency

The Rise and Fall of Advanced Social Journalism during the Early Twenty-First Century

Posts Tagged ‘travel

When In The Bay Area

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I was riding Greyhound up the California coast with a recently released Guatemalan sitting next to me. He could hardly speak any English and was very happy himself after leaving prison over problems with his immigration papers. I had become familiar with various hand signals Latinos use to communicate with gringos. This gentleman made an A-OK/circle with his thumb and finger to describe San Francisco.

The city seemed more downtrodden than I had expected, however, this could have been the neighbourhood I stayed in – for example I saw a man urinate in the middle of a busy street like he was spitting out gum. In other ways San Fran was demographically predictable – everyone and their mother was gay and there was tons of Asians. Only when one comes to town are they overwhelmed with all the media and mythology that has surrounded the area. From Dirty Harry to Full House; from the Beatniks to the Hippies; from Hard-Boiled fiction to Mrs. Doubtfire; from the zodiac killer to Vertigo – the list goes on and on. Another interesting point is that of the six weeks I spent on the road in the summer of 2012 the 4 days in San Francisco were the coldest. This corner of the continent is cut in some kind of separate vortex of romanticism and environment.

When one goes from coast to coast they notice the different ideologies along the way. People have been trekking west for generations and bring populism with them towards the setting sun. One sees this in the flamboyant attitude of those in California. Everyone is happy to express themselves whereas back east people are much more cynical in their old, crowded industrial metropolises.

I spent the next 72 hours on a steady diet of beer and complimentary bagels. Kerouac and HST have both pointed it out: if you’re on an epic binge you have to remember to eat and drink water. On the first day I awoke and felt like I was going to faint the moment I got out of bed. And then after walking along the beach towards the Golden Gate Bridge, past so many residents walking their dogs, I could barely lift a finger once I sat myself down. Nevertheless pure excitement and serendipity kept me going.

I had been laboriously reading Desolation Angels since Texas and just before arriving in town Kerouac was recalling wondering alone half-drunk through Chinatown. A situation I would by chance find myself in – although I wasn’t in the least bit lonely. A new a drinking buddy I made told me there was a plaque dedicated to father of the Beats somewhere in Chinatown. On the scheduled day of departing town I went to look for this commemoration. Quickly I was disillusioned due to the thronging of people and lack of description of what exactly to look for. Finally I gave up and saw a bar down an alley advertising happy hour. As I walked towards the establishment I looked down to find that I was standing right on the very plaque had I been seeking! Not only that, but the street was named after Keroauc and the bar I went to drink at was on old hang out of Jack and Neal Cassady right across from Ginsberg’s book shop! I even talked another enlightened traveller into purchasing On The Road.

The night previous I had met a lovely young German girl in a gay bar and it wasn’t the humping that woke the other hostellers but our hilarity at attempting to recover disarrayed clothes in the dark. She had easily talked me into staying another day in town and that evening we returned to the city’s oldest gay bar for its’ $2.50 beers – little did we know that that evening’s entertainment would come free of charge.

When we entered “the Gangway” the first thing we noticed was a Tranny drunk out of his or her mind in loud argument with an elderly man who seemed to be more-or-less unconscious. The transsexual then stumbled out of the bar shouting obscenities – past an old lady in a wheel chair with curlers in her hair – with no sense of femininity and hardly able to walk in glittery high heels. We ended up paying for maybe one drink each but got completely hammered. A moustached man with a slurred high voice and a constant childish giggle bought us far more intoxicants than we needed. Also surrounding us was a young Asian man with a head the size and shape of a television set and an older gentlemen drunk out his mind on some fruity concoction constantly repeating his astonishment and nostalgic towards my youth. At one point when Queen was being played all the men sang in unison to ‘We Are The Champions’. Based on the fascinating serendipity of my stay in San Fran I half expected Harvey Milk to walk out of the men’s room at any moment.

On my final day in town we toured Height-Asbury and after three days without a hot meal ate the most delicious Thai food that my lips have ever touched. I said a melancholic goodbye to my Fraulein and caught a bus to another town.


The Winds Of Shit

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Some summers ago I decided to take a short trip to some coastal cities I hadn’t visited before. I had scheduled to see Philadelphia first, with a layover in Baltimore, followed by a couple nights in Boston and maybe one night in Portland or somewhere. Most likely I would have a few days leftover to make it back to my cousin’s wedding in Southern Ontario. I also needed to reach Ottawa to pick up my only reasonable suit, bring it the 6-hour plus trip to Hamilton and have it dry-cleaned as well as make myself presentable in other regards. I had two weeks to do this all, which was plenty of time – most things considered. What I hadn’t considered was eventually not giving a shit about anything except the most basic responsibilities, coming into contact with some very interesting folks and a hurricane.

My first nights in Philadelphia were stereotypical. I did the regular tourist site-seeing: Ben Franklin’s grave, Constitutional Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (basically everything one would do on a vacation to that city except the Old City Hall and the Liberty Bell).  My first of two nights in town there was a movie night in the hostel and I enjoyed some wine and watched an entertaining contemporary sci-fi of which the name escapes me. It should also be noted that I had a black 500 ml reusable water bottle that I filled with whiskey to sip that evening and continuously throughout my journeys.

I had learned some tricks of the trade on a voyage the summer previous. From going coast-to-coast I knew I only needed to take with me the absolute essentials and everything had to be as light as possible. The backpack was crucial as well as a flask to hide booze, a single pair of pants and little regards for socks or soap for they were easily left behind. My dollar store water bottle would prove to be a security blanket I would carry with me to various corners of the continent despite haphazardly misplacing it on several occasions.

The morning after a pub-crawl in Philadelphia I couldn’t find my flask but it turned up in the lost-and-found of the hostel with a few sips of whisky left in it. My second day there took me to the museum and outside its famous doors looking at the cityscape I got that sense of euphoria one gets when they’ve realized the distance they’ve travelled, where they’ve been and where they are. However no one can ever predict where they’ll be.

After some serious drinking and a disappointing cheese steak sandwich I moved on to Baltimore. I had heard many things about the city many of which turned out to be true from simply walking from the bus station underneath bridges to get to the hostel. On the other hand much of place was quite elegant. Like many US towns it’s just the wrong corner or the wrong area that is the real cesspool. I had booked one night here but when I saw that travel to an Orioles game had been organized by the hostel for the next evening I decided to cancel my bookings in Boston, stay two nights in Baltimore and go on to one or two nights somewhere else before moving back Up North. This change of planning made all the difference.

Little did I knew that Hurricane Irene was making her way up the coast in the coming days and would cause transportation between metropolitan areas to be halted indefinitely. For the next four mornings I would wake up partially still drunk quickly bathe, pack and run down stairs seconds before checkout to find out that no buses were leaving the area. I would then immediately re-check in to a different bed, rest and then drink again.

The evening that the storm hit the city had everyone hauled up in the hostel. Many Europeans hoped to spend their holiday in cities more glamorous than Baltimore and were morose do be stuck inside because of the weather. I had, however, filled my flask with brandy even though this hostel had a strict no alcohol policy.  I noticed in the crowded common room another young fellow pouring a bottle covered in a bag into a coffee mug. He offered me some of his wine but I informed I had my own and suggested before the weather got really bad we go out to grab some liquor to sneak back and drink the storm away. With the incredibly low prices of US booze we could easily get ourselves drunk and cheer up the other travellers with offerings of rye and coke. In spite of our generosity we were the only ones to really hit the bottle and were eventually blackout wasted.

The next morning I awoke in bed fully clothed with shoes on and completely soaking wet. When I came down stairs to find my partner in crime he explained that after getting busted with the forbidden liquor we took to the streets to try and find a bar open during the hurricane. While we were lucky enough to find such an establishment we were much too drunk on our return home to find our place of lodging despite being within a block of it. The umbrellas were blown away, the clothes completely drenched and the only person we found to come out with us for a drink turned out to be completely off his cracker. This dude, whom we left at the bar because of his queerness, came back wildly drunk and threatened to kill all non-American lodgers by waking them up with a flashlight in the wee hours. He was eventually asked to leave the hostel the next morning over-shadowing my friend and mine’s disregard for the rules. When we finally returned from getting lost in the hurricane him and me broke into the storage room the staff had put our confiscated substance in. We were then caught red-handed drinking from the bottle in a locked closet. This is all very much a blur. My fellow alcoholic with the wine in a mug remembers it better than I. He turned out to be from Philadelphia of all places and was in Baltimore on business.

The next day my new buddy and I went to another Orioles game and up in the nosebleed seats we discussed drug use. He informed me that he knew where to meet Charlie back in Philly and asked if I wanted to crash on his couch for a few nights. By this time I was long over due to race to Ottawa and pick up my formal clothing, get back to Hamilton, have the clothes dry-cleaned and get myself a haircut with barely enough time to make it to the wedding. But looking down at the baseball diamond after a few tallboys of Miller Lite and a hurricane behind me it seemed like the absolute right thing to do: go back to Philly, sleep on a stranger’s couch and do some drugs.

In the end the couch turned out to be a floor, doing drugs turned out to be a serious binge, and my second stay in Philly acquainted me with the city of brotherly love that I came to know in the many trips back to that fine town in the months to come. On top of all this I spent my final night of this epic journey in a shady hostel in Harlem NYC smoking a lot weed with some middle-aged women. Finally I barely made it to the wedding with a Zeller’s suit on, a large beard and not really a hangover but in constant state of alcohol abuse. 


Written by shanedantimo

February 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm

The Way Of The Road

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Today we’re going to talk about last weekend…that’s right, last weekend. Victoria Day or “May 2-4” to the laypeople. It’s a holiday in Canada that falls on the third Monday of May. I believe Americans (according to a bi-national calendar sitting next to me from Parsons Welding Services LTD) celebrate Memorial Day the following weekend. Say what you want about our neighbours to the south but they know how to consume horrible and enjoyable items. US citizens get a statutory holiday every month. They can spend those long weekends drinking cheap beer, eating pre-made PB & J sandwiches; getting fat on the American Dream. While the USA is an easy target for critiques of social arrogance and ignorance alike, Canadians especially are particularly jealous of the American consumerist way of life and the span & availability of their market place.

I digress…I was speaking of the weekend previously. Most of us spend this holiday at the cottage getting loaded, wondering why it doesn’t always fall on the 24th or who in the hell this “Victoria” is, at the same time cursing the almost guaranteed horribly rainy weather that compliments the weekend yearly (although in certain parts of Ontario it was mostly dry Friday through Monday – almost even too hot for my liking). I myself did not make a trip to a family cottage or a nearby campground. I did, however, embark on a voyage and weekend of questionable certainty, debatable excitement, controversial ingestion and excessive sloth.

This past weekend I took the 7 hour plus Greyhound Bus trip from my mother’s borderline circus of a home in Hamilton (where I’ve been temporarily held up for the past month) to my sparsely furnished student apartment in downtown Ottawa. There was no accurate or obvious purpose to spend three nights in my empty, small, basement residence. I was scheduled to return to work near The Hammer the following week, I did not need to pick up any items of essential importance I had left at my place, I would to have purchase hot food because my refrigerator consisted mostly of rotting apples, stale juice and processed cheese slices, furthermore it would cost me about $100 for a round trip ticket plus entertainment (which I could scarcely afford with one paycheck to my name in the past 8 months). However I felt I needed to go down that road, sit on my used fake-leather coaches and seriously vegetate. I had no desirable plans to catch up with vague acquaintances from university or get drunk in local bars. Something simply compelled me to make that voyage – the door to the life I had abruptly and unexpectedly closed weeks early had to be re-opened and let air out.

I decided to take this sabbatical with a partner in crime. Smoking dope and getting drunk can only reach a certain level when a solo attempt is made. My accomplice and I were initially horrified that we may have to experience first-hand the oppression of civil liberties that is the prohibition of cannabis in this country. Thankfully the phrase “who you know” does not only apply to employment but also to drug use.

We hit the road with a little less weed than I thought was ideal. On the other hand alcohol would likely be limitless and we carried two mickeys of hard liquor on the bus (because of a text message miscommunication each of us thought we were in charge of bus-booze). The ride was long, dark and hot. I’ve now learned the hard way that most AC units on Greyhounds don’t reach the seats at the back – I can now imagine the Freedom Rides in the Deep South being even more uncomfortable than documented.  A young idealistic graduate student sat in front of us and chimed in on our conversation every so often with useless and arbitrary remarks. He offered to kick a sesh with us at the single rest stop somewhere outside Kingston. We purposely did not mention our stash and instead offered him a swig of CC in exchange for the half a joint he toked us.

The bus driver looked like the type of person that attended WWF fights in the 1980’s. The mustached Greyhound employee entertained us with stories of riots, graphic murder and intense repetition that accompany the trade. He shot the shit with us while we were slightly high and had consumed half our travel-alcohol. We stood in the light, cool rain and kept all the passengers on the bus waiting well past the 15 minutes allotted to the rest stop. The four of us discussed the current world economic situation and the popular, although censored, tragedy of a crazed lunatic on a Greyhound through Manitoba that stabbed, killed and partially cannibalized a fellow passenger while the rest of the travelers watched horrified from the side of the highway. The bloody and unquestionably evil catastrophe had lasted over three hours and the perpetrator was not held lawfully responsible for his actions because he was deemed to be clinically insane. It’s odd that someone could be of such an unsound mind to do that to a fellow human being but still be able to withstand the clusterfuck and disorganization that is a bus terminal.

We arrived in the 6-1-3 later than scheduled but sooner than we had anticipated. Bus travel is not a good thing and this fact cannot be ignored. It’ll take you 10 hours to get somewhere that would take less than 1 if you were on a plane. And it takes the same amount of time as driving on your own except you can’t choose when to stop, you’re with mostly strangers, you’re cramped – you actually have very little control over your own environment – and you won’t end up directly at your destination. A long trip on a bus is undoubtedly an exercise in human perseverance and mental strain. It is one of the few instances when alcohol is logically helpful. Lawrence of Arabia once said, “to not mind the pain.” You’d have to be a Buddhist Monk to not mind being on a non air-conditioned bus for 8 hours with the seating at full capacity. The key is to be somewhat like Tyler Durden when you’re on a long voyage like this.  Accept your fait: this is not a comfortable situation to be in for an excessive period of time. However don’t indulge in it too much – thinking outrageously about your surroundings on a trip like this can get someone’s head cut off (too soon?). Let the liquor put you in a light trance, keep hydrated, dress comfortable, think of your destination and don’t lose control till your bags touch the floor of your suite.

When we entered my stale-smelling apartment (the windows and doors had been locked shut for weeks, there was garbage left under the sink and water still in my bong) it was 2:30 am Saturday morning. I threw a six-pack of Bavaria I had put in my oversized undercarriage bag in the freezer and packed a bowl. It was at this moment I realized my Rogers Digital Cable Box had gone on the fritz sometime in the past month. I was too tired to fuck around with it or even look for a suitable movie to watch. I simply pressed play on the DVD player and put what was left of my energy into the immediate and indefinite consumption of dope and booze. What was last viewed through the player was a ripped copy of Season 1 of if not the most sensational & outlandish sitcom in modern syndicated television history it was certainly the best thing to come out of Canada in a generation. “The Show Case Original Series: Trailer Park Boys….”