The second instance of this is when two men apparently stand outside of our bus conversing at length about her and about what to do with her, saying, "oh, don’t worry, they won’t be here long. Wait a second…are those drums? Hey, Cliff, they’re a rock band!" I wake in the midst of the conversation and freeze, fearing the conversation to be sourced from a pair of police, then after some moments of mummy-like inactivity, I hear Cornbread rustle and I snap into action. In a moment the cots are taken down with their chains and we’re blasting Radiohead with Shmark and Tristan still asleep in the back, laughing at yet another ridiculous reaction elicited from ol’ Pearl. Instead of thanking her for such amusement, however, we choose to abuse her, and undertake a long journey starting at seven.
We essentially start out from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and soon the Radiohead changes to Otis Redding and the mellow Motown sounds of the Four Tops. Detroit flashes by in a blink, and it appears to be rather warn to the bone in some areas, simply covered in graffiti in some cases, but not nearly as unattractive as expected in others. I suppose there seemed to be a general sense of sadness or lack of enthusiasm on the faces of the people we cross, but in all likelihood I’m writing this out of expectations
. Did you know that both my grandparents and those of Cornbread were born and raised in Detroit? We’re obviously brothers.
Our aim is to hit Canada in some form by night, and after a long road, locking ourselves in here without much food or diversion, we cruise into the Canadian border at Windsor to find a plump, humorless woman there at the ready. “What is your reason for immigration?”
“We don’t know; Quebec sounds cool.”
“Are you a band playing gigs?
“Not even close.”
“What are your jobs at home?”
“How did you all meet one another?”
“Craigslist.” And at this point we’ve had our fill, and start mocking her
. Shmark leads the pack, ever resistant of authority (while I tend to bask in having people tell me what to do). She’s asking exactly what instruments we have on board and we all start naming out bullshit – melodicas, stylaphones, timpanis, harmoniums are all hidden somewhere within our floorboards, for all she cares – and eventually we make it through the gates and into the next waiting room. Again, everyone is humorless and difficult, asking leading questions, trying to catch us in a lie, ever being so “clever”, and we burn out of there the second their intonation leads toward release. Serves us right, I suppose, for leaving the country so often and so frivolously?
Maybe Ontario is a little greener and prettier than Michigan had been, but the roads are bumpy and irritating and we try to cruise through. On a whim and while Tristan and Shmark are sleeping, we decide to take a detour to Niagara Falls, unsure of whether or not the grand cascade might be viewable from the north. It’s about an hour and a half out of the way, but we arrive to find our expectations blown apart: not only are the falls visible over here, but they’re surrounded by a confetti bin of overgrown tourism the likes of which are rarely seen. Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, Blah Blah Blah, all the same bullshit, all of those symbols of mass cultural negation, are there, but they’re framed by a constant blue mist rising from the emerald waters below
. The cliffs alternate between awesome natural embankment and the type of brick walls whose presence are simply marvels of human manipulation, while the water below is polkaed by seagulls and stabbed by massive tour boats filled with tiny shiny tourists in crinkly blue ponchos. On one fall site, the water crashes on countless boulders and diverts into countless milky tributaries, while at the horseshoe cascade – which is pointlessly split up between American and Canadian territory, as if anyone could swim out there at the border to take advantage of some correlated loophole – the water rushes at breakface speed, winking at you before it spills over, forming a bit of a crown on the cliff that sparkles like glass. As you negotiate all of this beauty, of course, you’re also negotiating the crowds surrounding, and for once it’s a pleasure, not a claustrophobic nightmare. Simply everyone here is foreign, not an English preposition or verb to be found, and what’s more, they are so
foreign that to generic-looking folks like me, they appear to be aliens. One man rumbles forward in a too-short striped shirt, a big caterpillar mustache curled over too-white teeth that compliment the most massively bald head one’s ever seen, almost an Obese Turkish Bull. There are angular folk whose heads perk up like cobras, their skin chalky and pale, their chest hair glittering with gold, their eyebrows conjoined like seagulls on a child’s painting of the ocean. There are burkas and headdresses and archaic glasses and ancient beards dyed red and old men dressed like Moses tapping their staff against the soles of their feet as they murmur prayers in front of a shop selling novelty thongs
. I engage in the exciting game I’m unqualified for, spotting these people from a distance, guessing a nationality, then trying to walk directly into them as they approach in the hopes of gleaming a few words of conversation so that I might cement my theory. I’m delighted to find hardly five fingers’ worth of certain responses, and, in the face of the Planet Hollywoods and the Madame Toussards and all the shacks selling “Canadian-American food”, which they might as well call, “international obese tourist food,” , I find a flooding of cultural exploration and it reminds me again and again and again and again of why travel is so necessary, no matter where you go.
Meanwhile, I should say that the bus ran out of gas once again. So now we’re in a tourist town with no practical infrastructure for miles, parked illegally on an incline, wrapped by the pulsating throng of ogling visitors, all of which is compounded by the fact that Pearl is a diesel. She won’t start, even after The Beard skates up a hill and out of the town with two gas cans with which he sweatily refills her, and even after we bleed to gas filter valve and pump the fuel line free of air. The Beard runs back up the hill once again to get more gas, everyone staring at the absurd sight that he is, while a young parks officer named Giordano begins to take notice in us
. I hear him approach a shirtless and very suspicious-looking Tristan from outside and curse our luck, but before I can sit up from my repose, the guy is up the steps and, jaw dropped, staring at the trail of our map over the doorway. He, this young officer of the law, starts ranking and raving about how wonderful this idea is, how jealous – I’m getting soooo modest, aren’t I? – while relating his trip to Europe and Africa. He vows to help us in any way possible and calls mechanics and tow trucks with his walkie-talkie, calling in his police privileges, taking every precaution to get us discounts, citing how he, “knows how it is to live on a budget.” What a godsend he is, and he stays with us for at least an hour, biking back and forth when his help is needed elsewhere, as we chat about his Italian heritage and my Italian experience (the others are busy, uh, trying to actually fix the bus). Nothing’s helping, and when Giordano’s not around Cornbread and I start discussing worst-case scenarios, of how exactly we’d be able to get home or if we’d be able to ditch Pearl (I’m sorry, baby, I didn’t mean it) were the necessity to arise. The mood is undeniably somber, even panicked, and sweat starts pouring as we frantically scramble to get Pearl her sea legs back. Giordano’s got his walkie-talkie at the ready when The Beard manages to turn a few cylinders over, and I jump and scream and thank all the Pakistani people on the sidewalk, and then regret doing that when she does again
. This goes back and forth for some time before she gets going for good and we hop in, driving off with nary a handshake or thanks for Giordano for fear of another stall. Chalk another up for sheer excitement and near-doom; it’s amazing how heavily we’re relying on Pearl and her sterling, loyal, iron will. I love you, Pearl, I love you so, so much. I often find myself running my fingers over her interior hood, whispering things to her, so grateful I am for being such a trustworthy and competent friend. Did I say it already? I love you, Pearl. I’m also sorry for when I drove you into that wooden parking sign next to the 4D Niagara Falls IMAX movie; you’re so pretty, did you know that?
After a spot of cheap lunch on our own we kick it back into low gear, and as we drive by Margaritaville, Tristan playing some remarkable classical number on the piano, we capture the disdained attention of the entire patio – the live performer, his audience, his manager all included – as we steal the show, and the look on the face of the manager is indelibly hilarious in my mind. We glide through the dark and sleek Toronto, a yellow shark in the congested waters of the 401 freeway, gazing at the dark grey and blue, so handsome and modern a visage that the city offers from the briefest of glances. Cornbread’s driving and he’s cursing the road, cursing the Gothic high rises and pink skyscrapers – ooh, that one’s cool – as we search for a clearing of the dense concrete thicket
. Toronto must be the most sprawling city I’ve ever seen, however, for it’s a long time before even a hamlet emerges, but when it does (it being the town of Ajax, population 90,000), we quickly get off the freeway and feel in the darkness for a place to eat now. It’s 10pm or later, and I run into a convenience store to ask a sweet Chinese couple, the owners, who can’t help us with an idea of where to camp out for the night but still scribble down the phone number for Ajax City Hall out of charitable desire. I buy some dry capellini from the shop as a thanks, but some of us decide to share a pizza while reading in the Toronto Post about the $380 dinner at Noma in Copenhagen, wondering what mussel juice foam or Jerusalem artichoke ice cream might taste like in comparison. Before we leave, I run to the church next door and fill our water bottles with their hose; I’m Jewish, and it’s my right. Tristan’s now thirsty as a magic skeleton but refuses to touch the stuff, and while he blames it on not wanting to drink water out of hoses – after having downed a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew earlier in the day; I told you he’s confounding – but I’m pretty sure he’s indoctrinated with a fear of the cross. A guy at the falls, by the way, handed us these “Obama Zillion Dollar Bills” with this lengthy and acerbic diatribe scrawled all over the back about how Jesus sacrificed his life in spite of our horrible nature and how God took his son because he loved the world so much, but how the world was undeserving and how our only way to repent (here they parenthetically explain the definition of that word, in case you’re an illiterate loon, though they do hope you are, I’m sure), and oh man! Let me just say this, Obama Zillion Dollar Bill Man: your agenda has absolutely nothing relevant to do with neither our president nor any currency, and uniting the two is as ineffective as it is baffling, and also you should mind your own damn business because your guilt has no place here! You are why I hate religion, and why it seems obvious that Bush ran his campaign under the same fear-mongering banner that mainstream religion has loved to wave for so long. I’m not saying that I was right to steal from a church, but people like Obama Zillion Dollar Bill Man make me feel less guilty about it, especially since they’ve been telling me for years and years of how I’m on my way to hell, anyway. Jesus Blood Saves The Cross Of The Holy Dominion! I once went into a church in Bruges, Belgium, and they purported to have a vial of Jesus’ blood there, but I say Bullshit!, and now I’m done with my rant on organized religion. Next entry: Tammy Faye Baaker, and why corporate sponsorship signifies the devil. Fart, blink, yawn, I’m going to sleep. Cornbread’s decided to load up on energy drinks and drive the marathon overnighter to Quebec, but I’ve reached my end, so, wish CB good luck, and I’ll bid you good night!
DAY THIRTY-TWO: It's funny because I’m very clearly a piece of shit in the morning – I’ve made no secret of this – but I’m quite lucid in my slumber even as I lay catatonic. So in two instances this talent is put into play last night: firstly, when I’m stirred to the melodious nonsense emanating from a Sleeping Shmark (he has the tendency to ramble on in some mysterious and incredibly creepy tongue from The Land of Nod, but in this case it was a rather sweet song he was singing, making it that much creepier). I’m asleep to where I acknowledge this insanely funny, yet not so much to elicit physical response, and I drone out into the night to see if anyone had heard him; The Beard – who could be now known as The British Bulldog Chops and Sgt. Pepper-era Lennon Mustache, having shaved rather dramatically his iconic facial accessory – has heard all of this, and we both sigh lightly in acknowledgment of the humor, then pass out immediately