Isn’t it illegal to poke fun at a handicap stall? Haha, poke! I made a pun.
I have a confession – flying sucketh. That was my exact thought as I slip from my brother’s loving hug and enter the Calgary Greyhound station at 11 pm. New flying regulations took the pleasure out of boarding an advanced technological bird that brings me to Toyko in 11 hours instead of none, which use to be travel. Nothing. Flying had cataclysmically altered all that. There remains a dose of glamor to flight, but I made a choice, went in reverse.
Nowadays, I loathe the long security lines, sour agents, ridiculous procedures, and the stress inducer of sprinting to a connecting flight because after security and airlines are done with you about 7 minutes remain to make it to the gate or no Greece for you.
The greyish lighting in the station casts a sallow pall on everyone’s skin who dared enter at 11pm. My brother warned, “Don’t sit next to an Asian guy, haha.” Wait, aren’t we partly Asian? And where do people hide machetes these days?
My sad, preconceived notions of unscrubbed Greyhound stations prove true. A ragtag of travelers gather to catch the Calgary to Moosejaw bus, a lovely Ethiopian family burdened with 7 suitcases, various plastic bags full of, I don’t know what, and the father toting a retro briefcase from 1975. In the far corner of the station some cute Japanese girls decked out in I Love Canada sweatshirts and tattoos pressed to their unblemished skin chatter gently together. The only anomaly of the group is a Hispanic fella coughing is lungs out. No I Love Canada identifier is evident on him.
I scan the crowd further, the corner of my eye catching a blurry, black figure jiggling in excited motions. Ah, there it is. Well known as prairie misfits or in this case a lacklustre version of Brett Michaels talks loudly in the gate line up. His faded tattoos are the opposite of trendy and fab, a black scarf tied snugly at the back of his head suggests he just dismounted a shiny, rumbling Harley. Reality bites, rock star. You are at the bus station with a scuffed hockey bag as luggage and an annoying voice to match.
It’s too easy to label him an ex-con. But then I see another, and another. A whole group of grungy. Others look like they stepped out of a trailer trash epic. I suddenly feel awkward with my designer backpack and Macbook Air.
This certainly is something.
Still, I congratulate myself for escaping flying politics.
I drop my 35 lbs. pack, and day pack full of electronic goodies on the floor next to me, placing my soft bottom onto a stiff, plastic chair. They said to be here at 1 hour before departure, why I wonder irritably.
Any first night of transport is a hopeless sleep for me. I rarely do, out of excitement and the ritual of arriving at the correct location and time. I convince myself to chill on the no sleep irritation and settle in.
I pull out the Air to try and get some work done, but can’t tap into a wifi signal. Plan B is reading a book I brought. By 11:30 pm Gate 12 starts to fly with action. Two Greyhound workers emerge from a teal painted door, one is carrying a handheld security detector, the other is jangling plastic containers and wearing silicone gloves. Whoah, shouldn’t we exchange names before going there? I sense violation in the works.
A loudspeaker crackles above my head, “All passengers taking the Calgary to Moosejaw bus at 12 am, please line up by the security agents.”
Far in the back, I see what I hoped to avoid, Mr. silicone is rifling through the first victim’s bag, while the wand holder asks the passenger to spread her arms, somehow this image invokes reality cop shows. She is scanned, told to take her bags and move into yet another line. Great.
Slowly everyone shuffles forward, undergoing the same ritual. I steel myself for the scrutiny as my turn comes. I toss jewelry into a plastic container.
“Which bag is being checked?”
“The red backpack.”
He slides my grey MEC day pack towards him and begins to zip open compartments. I brace.
“This is a great pack. I got the same one.” Silicone grins.
“Yeah… It’s pretty good. but the top handle is fraying a bit., ” I say cautiously. What? No stern tone? Accusing me of transporting drugs in all my body cavities?
“That’s the good thing about MEC, you can take it back.”
“True.” This time I do smile back.
I notice he barely skims through the day pack and his pants are scrunched in rolls at the ankles. Any sense of threat or authority is removed when your pants are too long.
I’m asked to place Miz Chanel amongst the piles of other checked luggage observing no cordoned gate to prevent going to the washroom or placing machetes into bags.
So, this is Greyhound. Implied barriers, but no real ones.
And finally I get excited, the scuzzy, fascinating passengers, the reality of being trapped with these people on a bus for 8 hours, the disorder, chaos.
I wait in the boarding line anticipating travel masochism. Forget glamor, Greyhound will give and give. Untold stories, conversations with strangers in the future, and unforgettable anecdotes. At 12:10 am, the gate opens, a massive bus with a blue streak across the side waits. Come on, Brett. it’s time to go.
Calgary has been nothing short of sleepy. The intention was always to land here and close up logistics.
I’ve been spending quality time with my brother and mom. A slew of food excursions and mall outings piled on the calendar, among the pleasantries of daytime TV viewing. Who knew Oprah could be so enthralling again? Not I.
To sum up, there are more gear items to purchase, bank accounts to be amended and website maintenance – it’s never ending. Would I return to the cubicle? A resounding “NO”.
As for the culture here? Alberta is officially cattle country, so a pescetarian, bohemian profile like me skirts its natural laws.
I’m positive Calgary has more SUVs, trucks and ball caps per capita than it does recycle bins. There’s not much of a walking mentality here. My slow gait garners attention on the streets. Yeah, I’m the rock star of walking.
Given my brother’s SUV (yes, shameful), I tool around in it – stopping at my high school or the house of my formative years. My childhood home underwent a drastic makeover. New roof shingles, dark green siding. I didn’t recognize it! I was sure the teenager watering the sculptured landscaping wondered who that creepy woman in the SUV was. Watching, remembering. Call the cops.
Perhaps I outgrew this town, but Calgary is a perfect city to raise kids, grab open, wide spaces and earn a comfortable wage. What I crave is adventure. To learn a new set of rules, ones that don’t involve mortgage rates or car maintenance.
So no, Calgary has far from challenged my travel survival skills, just the emotional ones.
There was a tiff or two with the brother, all in an effort to know him as an adult. A tear or five shed while visiting my mother in her nursing home.
The big news is a potential meet up with my ex is sooo off. Yeah, yeah you all told me so. Revisiting the past can’t be good.
I had goals. See, I’ve undergone such an evolution that it was time to readdress unfinished business. Maybe I just needed to know I made the right decision breaking up an 11 year relationship. Maybe I hoped he changed as much as I had.
I charged ahead and booked a Greyhound ticket to Moosejaw, Sasketchewan. Where is that exactly? Directly south off Trans-Canada Highway #1, affectionately referred to as “flat” country.
Anyone who is from the grain belt of Canada or the US can relate, Sasketchewan has a lot of crops, not a lot of choices. In keeping with sleepy, I spent a few summers there moving through slow liquid. It’s that kinda place.
I gave it one day in Moosejaw to catch up with him, then out that night on another bus to big city – Toronto.
Whoah, did that blow up in my face. Although positive emails were exchanged, I sensed too late that unresolved feelings existed. For him, not so much for me. It was time to close shop. Funny how closure can take place without ever having to see the person face-to-face.
It was crap time! Stuck with a ticket to Moosejaw (should have bought a refundable ticket – duh!) what the hell would I do for 8 hours? Thankfully, Moosejaw discovered geo-thermal healing waters from a deep well originally drilled for natural gas. A geo-thermal wall and pipeline was raised in 1980, a full scale spa constructed around that.
Folks, I’m going to spend July 2nd at the Temple Gardens and Mineral Spa. It’s $15 CDN for an all day pass, it’s half a block from the Greyhound station, and free wifi – poolside.
And that’s traveling. Rolling with the punches.
What else I’m discovering is sometimes one must navigate internal travel. Emotional hurdles or pshychological truths. That’s me. Coming to peace with things that happened in childhood, or what didn’t – saying hello to old mates, even if they aren’t physically present. It’s all good.
I’ve added a little Google/Flickr map on the sidebar to inform y’all where I am, where I’m off to next. Check it often.
As I round up Calgary, Toronto won’t be wrought with so many emotional landmines. It’s gonna be all fun. The entire month of July!
Watch for some grand experiments in Canadian couchsurfing, hosteling and hopefully I can piece together a raucous Toronto meet-up. If you’re a Toronto travel blogger, email me and join the party. Let’s do up July in humidity and smog right!
Finally, I’m dying of curiosity – is travel internal or external for you? Or both? And why?
The facts. My brother is 5 years older than me. In our childhood, he use to purposely upset a crucial romantic scene between Barbie and Ken by pretending to be Godzilla, storming through to rain destruction on love ever after. He loves golfing and has a successful career in computer programming. I hardly know him.
My thoughts whirred along with the baggage carousel.
Certainly we’ve had phone conversations and visits. Quips were bandied around. The harsh truth – a sense of who he is or what his dreams entail is a remote tower, impenetrable and cloudy.
I waited for him underneath a sign labeled “cell phone passengers pick up only”. Any outsider could easily pinpoint my expression. Disheveled, confused – a woman clutching her new life in a daypack, backpack, and for some odd reason – a live cat. In a pet carrier that doubles for a duffel bag. Uh huh.
Brother pulled into the pick up zone in a sleek BMW, a far cry from my car free, transit induced life in Vancouver.
We greeted each other briefly, hastily piling bags and limbs until every man, woman and cat were safely encased in the vehicle. Off we went.
One travel ingredient that hasn’t gotten tired is grounding into a foreign place. Calgary is set apart from that rule, I spent my formative years here. ‘New’ doesn’t exist in the equation.
The BMW lulled along the densely paved roads, gliding among traffic perfectly spaced apart. Then I saw them. Strip malls.
Ohh, that’s where I use to wait for my crush Brad, Grade 9, wasn’t it?
We sailed past the 64 Avenue N. road sign.
The brown house on Norfolk Drive. I was six. Dolls and ice cream were my world.
Suddenly we entered a more recently built community, one that was raised long after I left. It stings to know life indeed, goes on without you.
I counted pick up trucks sharing road space as we made our way towards my brother’s condo. 6 so far. Nothing special for Cowtown. But these were 21st century models, glossy and pod shaped, not the worn down GMC’s of my youth.
I noticed the lack of humans. Nobody walking the streets. Just cars coughing out exhaust. Dust swirled, sticking to the ribs of the car.
As the BMW climbed Country Hills Drive, my vision locked onto the endless skyline – sunsets dipping into the earth, almost stark and remote. Like my desires and wishes. It’s too easy here. To fall into a sleepy, unimaginative state. I hungered to leave — be in the action — ingest little explosions of life. Not dry, brittle dreams, brown as the foilage is 8 months of the year here.
While memories mingled with unspoiled impressions of Calgary, I turned to my brother. We had chatted throughout the car ride, but a veil had stopped me from focusing strictly on him.
I finally understood why I’m here. It’s not about a place. There won’t be any carousing at the Stampede, logging rope time with cowboys. I won’t be hankering to hike the hoodoos of Drumheller in hopes a dinosaur bone discovery makes me a rich travel writer. I’ve grown beyond the borders of Calgary.
It’s about people. Relating to my brother, discovering what makes him tick, then loving him strengths and flaws together. What loomed most was reconnecting with a mother who can’t communicate with me.
Hot tourist spots or local cuisine is not in store for me. What I’ll bloat myself with are stories from childhood, those comfort foods my brother and I adore, and holding my mother’s stable hand, the one not gnarled by dementia and suffering.
It’s wise to ask yourself: is travel about the people or the place? Or both?
As goodbyes go, my party exceeded expectations. Then again, one of my travel goals is to not have any.
No waterfall of tears to report – just laughter, hugs and good times. As it should be.
By 1:30 am I exited the party location a bit weary, but internally looking ahead.
Saturday (June 5) morning was a flurry of cat preparation as my brother graciously volunteered to care for Amelie. Clean litter box, right. Stuff cat into soft carrier, not so right. She was less than pleased to be trapped.
My sister picked me up – depositing me, the cat, Miz Chanel backpack, a ginormous litter box, and my laptop bag at Vancouver International Airport by 2:00 pm. Phew. First phase over.
What followed was a series of Jeannie foibles.
First, the flight to Calgary was delayed by 1 hour. Cat even more pissed. I brooked embarrassment, isn’t that a novice travel move? Tip: always check your flight before leaving for the airport.
Within 24 hours I:
To sum up, CouchSurfing might renege my membership if this ever gets out, and always have a rocking party before departure. Aim for being in a hangover fuzz, it makes your stupidity tolerable.
The North American lifestyle that was supposed to make me happy made me miserable. My joy and vitality were sapped. It was time to let go of fear, and pursue a life of no regrets.
In June 2010, I sold all my earthly possessions and bought a one way ticket to India.
Beverley - Pack Your Passport says:
Janelle Desrosiers says: