The Amateur American Hobo : Calgary to Winnipeg (Part III)
We stayed a few nights with Tenille and her room mate Dani. They were into electronic music with rediculus sub-genre names such as glitch-hop, dub-step and psy-trance. We spent a lot of time listening to Bassnectar, their favorite. Tenille took us to a party that a friend of hers was having. Her friend owned a company called “PK Sound” that builds custom speakers for electronic music. The party was in celebration of their new workshop space in a warehouse.
On the way home Tenille played a game of chess at the park.
We spent a few days walking around Calgary seeing the sights. It is a big city,and the booze is expensive as hell, so we stayed mostly sober and enjoyed our time resting up and hanging out with Tenille and Dani.
We were ready to be on our way east after a few days. We checked out the train situation and decided to go wait downtown where the trains reportedly stopped for a short amount of time before continuing eastward across the plains of Saskatchewan. In a nearby parking lot next to the tracks we found a little shed up against the back fence. As nonchalantly as possible we scaled the back edge of the hut, and tried sitting on the roof. We decided that the roof was too conspicuous. We climbed into the covering to find that it sheltered two large dumpsters.
After waiting in the dumpster-hut for an hour or two, a security guard came and parked with the rear end of his car only two feet from the shed. We were alarmed and thought that we had been reported. We tried to get things ready to bail, but we could hear his radio through his open car window. If we tried to climb the fence again he would hear us and we would definitely be caught. We had to hope that he had randomly chosen this spot for a break and he had no idea that we were there.
Although still technically summertime, the night was chilly. Not wanting to make noise by rolling out our sleeping bags, we sat and shivered until he finally rolled away. We immediately checked to make sure he was gone, then bailed from the dumpster-hut as quickly as possible. We checked out a few more waiting spots but it seemed like a pretty sketchy area so we decided to go back to Tenille’s house. We slept on the back porch and left early in the morning to hitch-hike east instead.
In the early morning we took a bus to the edge of town and started walking with our thumbs out. We walked for three or four miles through a construction zone when at last a young couple picked us up. They were headed to Strathmore, 30 miles away. We accepted the ride and had a good time chatting with them about trains. They had both hopped trains in Canada before and shared their stories with us along the ride.
After being dropped off in Strathmore we didn’t have to wait very long before getting another ride. The guy behind the wheel said he was headed four or five hours up the highway so we got in his Blazer and continued east. He bought us lunch and told us about how beautiful it is up north in Saskatchewan, where he lives. After a pleasant afternoon of conversation he dropped us off by the two grain elevators that make up the town of Morse, Saskatchewan.
It was cold with a brisk wind. The sun was setting and the town was bleak. Tired after a long day on the highway, we walked into town to look at places to sleep for the night. We found a community park with campsites and no apparent fee. We decided that if we got stuck there, we would have a place to camp at least. However, the light wasn’t gone completely yet so we decided to give hitch hiking one last try for the day; until it was completely dark. Wearing all of the clothes we owned we walked back to the highway and tried to look as stranded as possible.
The sun had fully set and the last tendrils of light were fading from the western sky. Near accepting defeat, a large red truck pulled from the fast lane to the shoulder. The driver had overshot us by about forty yards and backed up to us as we stood stupefied. I went to talk to the driver. He was headed all the way to Regina, and would be happy to take us with him. He told us to throw our bags in the back of the truck under the cover. It appeared that all of his belongings were also in the bed of the truck. I noticed that he was drinking a beer when I talked to him, so I consulted Bob while we were in the rear of the truck loading our bags. We decided that he was probably just getting off of work and enjoying a nice road beer on the way home.
We got in the truck and realized that he had already enjoyed a few after work road beers. Shortly we as well were enjoying after work road beers with our new transportation benefactor named Jesse. There is a saying in Saskatchewan; “You can watch your dog run away for three days.” The plains are almost completely flat, the roads are one straight ray of concrete that extends hundreds of kilometers. Jesse’s driving was considerably less erratic than his music choices, conversation topics and volume. We continued on the Trans-Canadian highway toward Moose Jaw, where Jesse “The Flatlander” was from.
On the way Jesse told us about himself. He was young, on the downhill slide to single and making a lot of money. He worked as a crew manager on the Canadian oil pipeline, living away from society for weeks at a time. He had gotten the weekend off of work to go to his friends’ wedding in Regina and was trying to make it to the reception. He was giving us cigarettes and beer as fast as we could consume them, which is an expensive endeavor in Canada. The case of Budweiser he was drinking was easily a 50 dollar purchase, along with a ten dollar pack of cigarettes. Bob and I drank as quick as we could. Every beer we could drink was one less that he would have access to. But it was all well and good in Jesse’s mind, he assured us (after being inspired by lyrics from the Black Label Society) that life was all about “young guys like us, getting fucked up!” And so it was.
Jesse insisted on a stop in Moose Jaw to pick up an undisclosed amount of an undisclosed substance for the wedding reception. Bob and I didn’t really know what was happening until we were parked at the house. Jesse instructed us to wait in the car, turned the stereo up, and went inside the house. Bob and I turned the stereo down again in an attempt to make Jesse’s presence in the neighborhood less conspicuous. After twenty minutes of smoking Jesse’s cigarettes, he came back to the truck discouraged and decided that we should go get some more beer. Apparently things had not worked out for him in the house and he didn’t want to hit the road again empty handed.
On the way to the beer store, a lady in a small green Geo Metro pulled out into the street without seeing Jesse. She stopped partway out of the driveway after realizing that there was a truck coming. Jesse, unable to resist, stopped in traffic and rolled down my window to yell at her. I slouched and tried to blend in to the car seat. After a barrage of insults and threats we peeled out and kept on going down the road. Eventually he found a tall nondescript cement building and pulled around to a side lot. We waited in the car again as Jesse disappeared through a set of double doors on the back and returned moments later with another armful of beer. What that building was, or where that beer came from is still a mystery. Clearly we had more work to do.
When we finally pulled into Regina, Jesse started asking us what we were going to do for the night. “Sleep by the tracks, hopefully catch a train,” we told him. He told us it was too cold for that and, damn it, he was going to buy us a hotel room at “the place with the water slide!” We couldn’t refuse. Jesse also invited us to the wedding. At this point Bob and I were pretty lit up after drinking on the highway and decided to see this one through. After running over a line of traffic cones on a major street while yelling “I’m so fucking cool!”, he pulled into a hotel that advertised itself as possessing a water slide. He bought two rooms, gave us the room keys for our room and told us to change into our nice clothes for the wedding.
Once we had showered and changed into what we could muster we went to Jesse’s room to find him on the phone, phone book open, trying to get a prostitute for the night. “One of us is getting laid tonight!” he said. “It’s going to be you, Jesse.” I replied. Jesse was unimpressed with our clothes : well-worn Carhartt pants and flannels. We tried to get the cowlicks and grease out of our hair, but that effort too was mostly a failure. What he expected from two dirty tramps on the side of the road, I don’t know. We went to the truck to drive to the wedding, finishing the last of the leftover road beer on the way downtown.
On the way to the wedding, Jesse tells us that the father of the bride is one of the local bigwigs in Regina. He owns one of the most prestigious hotels in downtown Regina and the reception is going to be in the ballroom at the hotel. He tells us that he can get us through the doors but once inside, its every man for himself. We make our way up the escalator to the second floor and sketchily try to find a back way into the ballroom before just walking through the front doors like everyone else was doing. The room was dimly lit with a huge dance floor, platters of food and an open bar against the left wall. Around a hundred very nicely dressed people conversed around large round tables or danced on the floor. There was a DJ playing mostly pop music.
Jesse introduced us to a few of his friends, who couldn’t believe he brought two strangers with him to the wedding. Bob and I tried smile and make conversation with people while consuming as much free food and booze as we could get our hands on. At the open bar we talked to an ex-professional hockey player for a while before retreating to an abandoned table to drink our beers in peace. Soon, Jesse found us again and convinced us to dance. Soon we realized that we were dancing with all of the young women from the wedding. The rest of the family was sitting at the tables that were arranged in a semi-circle around the dance floor. Bob and I made a quick exit to the bathroom and attempted to compose ourselves for a smooth re-entry. Grab another beer from the bar, sit down at the table in the back and pretend like nothing ever happened.
Unfortunately, we had been found out. Soon after finding our new seats, two large men visited us. The larger of the two put his hands down on the table menacingly and told us that the wedding was a private function. After citing our invitation, we were told that no one in the wedding party knew us and we would have to leave after finishing our beers. With nothing left to say, the two men walked off and we left the room and entered the cold Saskatchewan night and began the long walk back to the hotel room. Bob and I were quite intoxicated at this point so it took all of our focus to find our way back to the right block. Once we arrived, we spent twenty minutes wandering the floors of the wrong hotel before the front desk attendant pointed us in the right direction.
Bob and I woke up too late and hungover to use the water slide. Jesse and his truck were nowhere to be seen. We took a bus out to the highway after the continental breakfast.
After an hour or two of waiting Bob said to me “Max, guess who is here?” I replied jokingly “Jesse.” In the left turn lane on the westbound side of the highway was Jesse, soon he had turned across the highway and stopped to chat with us. He had gotten up early to go to work and had apparently been kicked out of the wedding reception as well, much later than we had. It turned out that Jesse had gotten a little too suggestive with one of the ladies at the wedding and had earned himself a punch and ejection from the premises. Jesse wished us luck and headed back west. We returned to the shoulder and continued to try to thumb a ride east toward Winnipeg.
Before long, a trucker pulled over for us and Bob and I ran up to the cab. He was going all the way to Winnipeg that night so we climbed in. The driver looked in his mid 40s, skinny and bald with a goatee. He introduced himself as Claude. Once we were rolling down the road again he offered us a cigarette to split. “Thank you sir” I said. “Don’t call me sir” he replied. He lit a cigarette every fifteen minutes, and offered Bob and I one to split every other time. Claude lived in a little town off of the freeway in Saskatchewan. Despite his “partial literacy” and the “fucking sand niggers” he had made it in the truck driving business. He offered us advice about dealing with police officers; “If you tell them it’s a promise it can’t be considered a threat.” He was glad to help out a few stranded travelers and dropped us off ten or twelve miles outside of Winnipeg at a truck stop in the late hours of the night. We walked to a nearby sunflower field and found a tent to pitch Bob’s tarp against for the rest of the night.
We woke up to a sunny morning and took the bus into Winnipeg. We found our way through busy streets lined with bookstores and coffee shops to the banks of the Red river where we plotted our next leg of the adventure.