red, white and blue all over

i’m back in e-town after a week in nashville.
i love to travel, so generally any road trip is a good trip … but i’m still trying to sort out my conflicting gut impressions of music city.

some of the high notes:

  • getting to hear john irving (the world according to garp, hotel new hampshire, cider house rules, a prayer for owen meany, etc.) deliver a free lecture to an almost-packed house at the ryman auditorium. irving spoke at length about the state of publishing in america, and the importance of libraries (“there you can still find the classics; most of the books in a bookstore today are crap”).
    he talked about censorship and book-banning in the u.s.a. (“americans love to ban things. there’s no law that says you have to read a book before you can ban it.”) and how that spills over into issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights: “the instinct to suppress is always there. suppression is very american: if you don’t like something, don’t let ANYONE have it. my own attitude is, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. and why should it matter to straight couples if gay couples get married? how insecure can they be? all over the world, i am asked: ‘what is the problem you americans have with gays, with abortion, with sex, with drinking?’ ah, yes, drinking. remember how well prohibition worked.”
    his advice to young aspiring writers: “read every book you can get your hands on, see every play that you can. if you’re fortunate enough to become a (successful) writer, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to write more than you read. and then you won’t read anymore. the time to read everything … is when you’re young. being a widely-read person is the only defence there is from crap, from the junk. you’ve just gotta read as much as you can. read, read, read.”
  • the frist, the rymer gallery, cheekwood museum: there’s a whole lot more to tennessee than country music, jack daniel’s, football and barbecue. there’s a thriving arts scene, for example. but it can be hard to find when the titans are 9-0, and the CMA awards are coming to you live from 5th and broadway, and elvis paraphernalia assaults you from every souvenir shop window.
  • the honky tonks: thumbs up to the concept of rotating bands at live music venues all through the day and long into the night. no cover? even better. nothing but budweiser and pabst on tap? pity.
  • the country music hall of fame/museum: awesome! as you’ve probably guessed, i’m not a huge country fan but it was hard not to be dazzled by this outstanding multi-layered attraction which includes an amazing array of musical instruments, rhinestone jackets, satin shirts, belts, and of course cowboy hats and boots. elvis’s gold piano and cadillac, webb pierce’s “silver dollar” car, and johnny cash’s black shirts are just a few of the gems preserved in Sing Me Back Home, the museum’s permanent exhibit which includes artifacts, photographs, original recordings, archival video, and interactive displays that glorify the history and sounds of country music. . . (did you know there was a song called “dern ya” recorded in feminist response to roger miller’s hit “dang me”?). there are walls and walls of gold & platinum records (anne murray’s on there at least twice), bill monroe’s gibson F5 (“the most famous mandolin in American music history”), and a gift shop that stocks thousands of CD titles, not to mention googoo clusters — a confection item involving chocolate, peanuts and marshmallow that’s apparently been an american tradition since 1912 and is manufactured right there in nashville.
  • the grand ole opry: yes, indeedy, i attended the opry at the ryman. saw vince gill and randy owen and mel tillis (pam’s dad) and diamond rio and marty stuart, and a parade of geezers from the glory days of the ’50s and’ 60s. i had fun … still, couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single person of colour in the entire audience. (the ryman is located two blocks from a boulevard named in honour of rosa l. parks. if you’re missing the connecting thread … google rosa parks.)walkhank1

    … and some sour notes:

  • kevin costner and modern west. kevin, give it up. you are not a singer. you are barely an actor. put an end to this charade right now and let us remember you for bull durham and dances with wolves … not for your feeble attempts at becoming a country crooner.
  • the veterans day parade. in canada, regardless of how you feel about war, november 11 tends to be a day of solemn remembrance, of showing respect for victims of war; a day for honouring those who gave their lives in battle. it’s two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. for many it’s a day of sadness; of sombre reflection and gratitude.nashclown1
    in the states, if nashville is any indication, november 11 is a day to flex your military muscle by rolling your tanks and jeeps down main street while marching bands play peppy tunes, shriners in garish fake arab costumes (oh, the irony) ride around in ridiculous little miniature cars, and soldiers atop armored tanks spin their turrets at clowns mugging for cheap laughs. (excuse me, i seem to have forgotten… somebody please remind me again what’s funny about war?)
    perhaps most pathetic was the sight of white-haired veterans in their 80s and 90s crowded onto wagons and flatbeds pulled by tractors, smiling and waving feebly at people on the sidewalks. these were clearly soldiers from wars prior to vietnam and desert storm, before iraq and afghanistan. knowing how the current administration treats, er, ignores the broken veterans of its more recent military actions … well, let’s just say it was harder to stomach than the googoo clusters.

home again

what a country.

the drive from toronto to edmonton is horrible. at least that’s what i always thought, based on the first time i drove it back in march of 1980. but i was only 22 then, and … well, it turns out i didn’t know anything at that age. in fact, the drive this time around was hardly painful at all. which tells me that i was just a real impatient, self-absorbed dumbass when i was 22.

now that i am much older, i like to think i’m at least a teeny bit wiser; and i’m pretty sure that in my blind wanderings since then i have managed, in spite of myself, to become more compassionate, more kind, more aware.

which is neither here nor there, really. but one does have a lot of time to think when one is behind the steering wheel staring at tundra, pine trees and prairie skies for hours at a time.

i think i’ve got it pretty good.

go home lake, minnedosa, minnewanka, wawa, nipissing, neepawa, nipigon, short road, long road, ball park road, post office road, baptist church road …

what a country, indeed.

check engine

you never want to be on day 2 of a 5-day drive and have your “check engine” light start winking at you from the dashboard. but that’s what happened in the suburu (AKA jupiter 2; the buick is voyageur when we’re communicating via walkie talkies — damn these new-fangled communication devices!) yesterday as we were cruising into nipigon, about an hour east of thunder bay, road-weary and gobsmacked by lake superior’s majesty.

it’s probably just the sensor, we all agreed, smiling on the outside but anxious on the inside. day 3 of the drive (today) is the t’under bay to winnipeg leg, featuring dead man’s curve (see previous post) and you don’t want to be taking chances with a potentially wonky engine on any inch of that particular stretch of pre-cambrian asphalt, so just to be on the safe side, jupiter 2 is now at the local suburu dealership in beautiful downtown thunder bay, on the receiving end of the automotive equivalent of a tongue depressor to the tonsils. it’s delayed our departure by an hour so far, but as long as she requires no major surgery, jupiter 2, voyageur and their valuable cargo (including four restless drivers, three books on CD, two thermosii of coffee and one amazingly mellow cat, NOT named toonces) should be pulling into kenora in time for afternoon tea and yodels. she said hopefully.

see you in the central time zone …


gone again

the first time i rode across canada was on a greyhound bus, the summer of ’72 … i was 14, my friend anne was 16, and our parents — remarkably — had given us permission to spend six weeks on our own, just the two of us, traversing the country, with stops along the way at various prairie towns. anne, ukrainian on her mom’s side, seemed to have relatives in every whistlestop in every western province, so we took advantage of their hospitality at every opportunity.

we had layovers in winnipeg, brandon, roblin and dauphin; ended up attending two different ukrainian weddings on the same day (i never ate so many pyrogies in my life); learned there’s nothing to do when you’re cruisin’ through wawa at 3 a.m. except give up all hope of sleep and join in with your fellow passengers as they chant WA-WA! WA-WA! o’er hill and dale; and discovered that when you get back on the bus after a meal stop in banff, you should make sure you board the same bus as your luggage is on because by that point, all roads lead to vancouver, and the drivers are too annoyed by the hare krishnas and their tambourines to care about your lost rucksack.

like i said, it was 1972. a different time, to be sure. i don’t know if i’d want my 14-year-old daughter travelling with a girlfriend on a bus for six weeks across the country today, but at the time it didn’t seem dangerous at all. there were people who smoked and drank alcohol on the bus, and hippie types who nibbled on their own sprouted bread and stinky cheese while the rest of us raced to the bus-depot chow lines for burgers and cokes. i don’t remember all the place names we zoomed past, but i do recall that anne and i giggled a lot during that long ride to vancouver and back.

the reason it’s on my mind now is because starting on sunday, i’ll be making that drive again. a drive i swore i’d never repeat after it just about killed me in march of 1980. i was en route to a job in fort saskatchewan, alberta, escaping my home-town of barrie … and found out the hard way that those cynics aren’t kidding when they say, “it takes you three frickin’ days just to get out of ontario.” day 3 was the leg from the lakehead to winnipeg, and not 40 minutes after morning coffee in thunder bay i encountered a patch of black ice on a blind curve, spun around helplessly in a series of terrifying 360s, and eventually came to rest on a guardrail overlooking a steep drop — somehow miraculously avoiding the semi-trailer that was slowly churning toward my little datsun b210 at the same time as i was seeing my life flash before my eyes.

ah, good times. my eventual drive back to ontario 18 months later (what can i say, i missed the humidity) was in much better weather, but that didn’t make the route any more user-friendly. it’s a slog, and you can only pound out the drum solo from radar love on the steering wheel so many times. so why am i doing it again, 27 years later?

because a couple of good friends are alberta bound, moving west to edmonton from the teeny rural hamlet of harley, ont., and i volunteered (in a moment of weakness) to help them drive their vehicles out to this great land of opportunity. because that’s what friends do.

it could end up being another road trip from hell. there’ll be gross pit stops at greasy diners with signs proclaiming “eat here and get gas,” and slow grinds behind logging trucks. but there’ll also be a glimpse of beautiful downtown kenora, which holds a special place in my heart because it’s where eva anita burr and clifford james macfayden tied the knot back in ’51. and, if the weather’s semi-decent, there’ll be tired feet danglin’ out the car windows, and miles and miles of bad singing. and we’ll take turns driving each other crazy hollering “are we there yet?” as we try not to get lulled into la-la-land by those seemingly endless stretches of prairie highway.

that’s the great thing about being canadian, eh? ya just lock your habs ballcap (oh gawd i just outed myself as a canadiens fan, gulp) into the load position, grab another tray of double-doubles from the timmy’s drive-through, slide some renaissance drivin’ tunes into the car stereo and throw everything you’ve got into high gear.

the open road does the rest.

see you on the 18th, babies, with bugs in my grill and high-octane spather
in my road diary.