I guess there’s just one central question. What possessed me to head out to Vancouver in the first place? Yes, that’s where Chuck and L have taken up residence, but when did I first start getting it into my head to go visit them? As I cast my mind back, I guess it all began in the summer of 1999. Chuck and L had been going at it pretty steady for the better part of the year, and he decided to go home with her that summer. For those first few months after graduation, I’d hear from Chuck over ICQ almost daily, about all the wondrous new things he was seeing out on the west coast. And, there would always be an interesting anecdote or two about the new things he was learning about L. (She and I were still just acquaintances at that time.) As the boredom of unemployment set in, I began to fantasize about hopping on the train, heading west, and joining them in their adventures. The fantasy even began to grow to include meeting that special someone on the train and having romantic interludes with the comfort of friends; both familiar and unknown the same time. But alas, the summer ended, L came back to Augustana, and Chuck got himself a job at Video Update in Camrose. The dream, for a time, was over.
The dream seemed to return around the spring of this year. As L’s graduation grew imminent, and plans for them to head back out west for the summer began to cement, I think I made the offhand comment about maybe going out to visit them in August, when Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came out. L said that I’d be more than welcome. The months grew on, and the occasional invitation would be tossed out and/or fished for. In my usual manner, I was indecisive about the whole thing. As always, I needed the proverbial kick in the butt to finally get going.
I got my kick at the start of September. Chuck, L, and L’s father had finished packing up the rest of Chuck’s stuff, and were having a camping road trip back out to the coast. They would be breezing through Entwistle, and able to stop in and visit for an evening. They showed up, and as the night grew long, there were still so many things I wanted to do with them and say to them. It was just one cosmic tease, to be given a few short hours with my best friends when there was so much left to do. As they were walking out the door, and the invitation was casually thrown out again, I glanced at the calendar. “Let’s do it at the end of this month,” I said. I’m sure that they took it with a grain of salt, as I make cryptic statements like that quite often. But, I had given myself something I was very used to working under: a deadline. If you want to get something done in life, don’t set a goal, set a deadline. I had given myself two and a half weeks to get time off and book passage. The clock was ticking.
The next morning I began looking at getting the time off. As my mother pointed out, it should be fairly simple, as I had been working for a year and a half at Extra Foods with little more than a long weekend now and then. But, she forgot that I’m just a part time employee. When you’re part time, time off tends to be first come, first serve. Plus, it was just my luck that the boss had the better part of that week off with “personal matters.” It was Tuesday. The boss wouldn’t be back in until Friday. It was an agonizing few days. Luckily though, when I showed up to open the store on Thursday, the boss was there, catching up on paperwork! As we began making idle chitchat about her personal problems, I casually asked, “So, I don’t suppose I could get the last week of this month off?” She looked at me, looked at the calendar, and said, “You got it.” It was just that simple.
Two weeks left, and I still needed transportation out there. Driving was out of the question, mainly because gas prices are so high and I pretty much hog the family car as it is. The bus had very little personal appeal. So, I limited my choices to either flying or taking the train. I really wanted to take the train. There’s always been a certain mystique to rail travel for me. The train used to stop in Entwistle, up until I was a teenager. I had always dreamed of hopping on the train and going anywhere. Plus, the Rocky Mountains by rail! What could be better? It looked like I would be going by train. I did the research online. By train, it’s a 23 hour trip, with stopovers in Jasper and Kamloops. To go economy, there’s no comfy place to sleep and no access to the dining car. Cost: $500.
I started looking at the airlines for something to draw a comparison with. Flying has little interest for me, as ever since the first grade, my dad had been taking me to work with him on the days when he needed to use a helicopter. Since there are lots of horror stories in the press about the current state of Air Canada, I went straight to the West Jet website. By air, it’s a 1.5 hour trip, nonstop. Complimentary bag of peanuts and a drink (but alcoholic beverages cost extra). They have no classes on West Jet, so it’s all economy. Cost: $250. I let my wallet be my guide. The day after terrorists hijacked planes to take down New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I walked into a travel agency to buy a plane ticket. I had one more step to go.
I’ve always traveled light. I plan out exactly how many sets of clean clothes I’ll need, and bring exactly that. When it comes to toiletries and personal effects, I bring the bare minimum. With a travel routine like that, it made little sense to pack a whole suitcase that I’d have to wait extra hours at the airport for. There was only one person to call: my sister. Having gone backpacking across Europe in 1999, she has this huge backpack designed for light travelers like myself. It’s the maximum allowable size for carry-on luggage, thus allowing you to grab-and-go when you reach your destination. If she stuffed a month’s worth of stuff in that pack, surely I could stuff a week’s worth. As I spoke to my sister, she was overjoyed that I was doing something like this. Many agree that I spend too much time in the basement. It was time for me to fully explore what the surface world had to offer. A family function was coming up that weekend, and so the exchange was made there. I was set, with a week to go.
The final days before my departure date were rather dull. There was nothing left to do but wait. Working in a grocery store, I would remember to pick up the things that I still needed on my way out: some travel sized toothpaste, an extra roll of film, stuff like that. I even got a coil bound notebook, with the idea that I’d keep a pseudo-journal to store ideas for columns. The big day drew closer. I had to start fighting tooth and nail to keep the time off I booked. For some reason, cashiers tend to choose the fall to quit. “Mark, we’re going to be short handed next week. Are you sure you can’t just work the first few days of your vacation? How about the last few days?” The answer was always no. That disappointed my boss, as she originally had me scheduled to work a seven hour shift as soon as I stepped off the plane. Two nights before the day, I packed my bag, as the night before my trip I had to work until midnight closing the store, and I wouldn’t have the chance.
The day came. I tossed the fully stuffed backpack into the back of the truck, and the parents drove me off to Edmonton International Airport. That’s when it finally hit me. I’m going to Vancouver. I had two and a half weeks to be nervous, but it finally clicked in at this moment. Is my backpack too big? Will the X-Ray machine fry the film in my camera? The butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. This was the biggest trip I was ever taking in my life on my own. Would Chuck and L be there at the airport? Would they forget I’m coming. The anxiety became overwhelming. When I presented my ID to the clerk to get my boarding pass, my hand was shaking. It was still an hour before the boarding call, so I paced the halls of the airport. My parents did their best to offer comfort. It was soon time to go. I hugged my parents good-bye, and made my way to the plane.
I got through airport security without a hitch. I got to the gate. The fear was starting to subside. The excitement was starting to kick in. As the pre-boarding call was made and the elderly started heading on the plane, I cleared my mind. I took one last deep breath of Alberta air. There was only one thought in my mind: I am ready. Finally, the call came for my section to start boarding. The deadline had come. The clock stopped ticking. It was time for a two year old dream to come true.