Day Seven: Cold … Hot … Cold

Late afternoon, I was walking towards Times Square when the world turned. A blast of cold air fell upon us (probably down from some strange place like Canada!). I was ready – toque, hood over toque, Arctic mitts, three coats including a down jobbie. A few folks semi-ran by me with nothing on their noggins, and their necks open to the blast. How can you do that and stay alive? Most people, though, were reasonably bundled up like me.

I’ve made it a spiritual practice to cross at an intersection only when I have the walk light. It gets my ego out of the way … no pushing forward, just letting go. New Yorkers feel otherwise. Red or green – if there’s no cars coming, it’s a go. Waiting as the stream of humanity flows by is good for me, but I can feel my heartrate surging, especially as the cold invades my eyes.

The snow started. In my mind, that’s supposed to mean it’s warming up, but not so yesterday. A whole bunch of white folks (irrespective of their skin colour) turned it up a notch. I had a bit of face skin open to the elements but that was it. There began a desperation and I started searching for an inviting door. What seemed like “finally” showed up, and just like that I was perched at the bar of an Irish pub. Thank God.

Then there was Bryan Cranston. He’s the star of Network, a Broadway play at the Belasco Theatre, and I got to go. Bryan played Howard Beale, a TV news anchor who’s losing it. The world has gone to **** and he’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”. The guy’s unravelling into madness and we’re right there with him, yelling from the audience. Corruption, sleasiness, violence … it’s all smashing Howard in the face. A Type-A network executive sees only ratings before her eyes and wants the man to implode on the 6 o’clock news. He’s happy to oblige.

The intensity was astonishing. I really wasn’t pissed off at the powers-that-be in the world but nevertheless I was swept up in the dizziness of it all.

At the end, there were video snips of a series of US presidents taking the oath of office – all the way back to Gerald Ford, I think. The same words but such different souls. When George W. Bush was onscreen, we were silent. I knew who was coming next, and when Barack’s gentle face appeared, we the people cheered. I trust him so.

We filed out into the night, scarves and gloves firmly in place, knowing that we had been in the presence of greatness. The frigid evening came calling and I rushed to the subway. At the other end, I prayed for a quick M14A bus. Alas, no. Three M14D ones came by as my body stiffened. “Not fair”, I wailed. But still a little smile emerged. “Don’t worry, Bruce. You’ll survive nicely.” And I did. A half hour later, the covers caressed me as I pulled them up to my chin.

Day Three … Terry and the Monsoon

I started my travels yesterday with a visit to the Terry Fox Monument near Thunder Bay.  A long and winding road carried me past orange cliffs and stands of birch trees to the top of a hill.  With leafy lawns to the left and right, accented by picnic tables, I walked out into the open, with a 20-foot statue of Terry facing west, hobbling along on his one good leg.  On the walls beneath Terry were lots of writing carved into the stone.  I didn’t read them.  I sat on a low wall and gazed up at the man.  Terry ran about 25 miles a day for 143 days, starting from the east coast of Canada, to raise money for cancer research.  He had to stop near Thunder Bay when the cancer overwhelmed his body.

My eyes were wet behind my sunglasses.  Thank you, Terry.  He was a Companion of the Order of Canada because he wanted to “improve our country”.  And so he did.  And so do we all, with the little kindnesses we show each other, with letting someone else go first, with putting an arm around a friend.

I watched the folks who joined me on the outlook over Lake Superior.  One cyclist took off her sunglasses and wiped her eyes. Some folks, though, didn’t even look at Terry.  They came for the view.  Most people hardly glanced at the statue, but spent minutes reading the various messages.  Only a few lingered with the young man, no doubt imagining his pain and determination.  I wanted everyone to “be with” Terry, to let his humanity touch theirs, but that was not to be.  And it’s okay.

When I want to meet people, and there’s a couple or a group, I’ve discovered a surefire way to do it … ask them if they’d like me to take their picture.  At the monument I asked, and only about half of the people said yes.  I was sad that the others didn’t choose to record their closeness with loved ones.  “I don’t like having my picture taken.”  “No, we don’t need one.”  Okay.

For the folks who said yes, I had to sit on the stone floor to get both them and Terry in the photo.  Several people were amazed that I did this.  I don’t know why.  It just seemed like a natural thing to do.  No one left out.  We had good conversations.  One of the women I met lives three kilometres from me, in Port Stanley.

On the road again.  Somewhere north of Thunder Bay, I saw a storm greeting me in the distance.  I switched Scarlet’s digital display to temperature – 28 degrees Celsius.  Then the rain … intermittent wipers, regular wipers, fast speed wipers.  A logging truck leaned a little on a gentle curve, with the water leaping off the logs.  The temperature gauge started dropping and didn’t stop till it had reached 21.  During all this, I was listening to songs on a CD that a friend gave me years ago, including “Language of the Kiss” by The Indigo Girls.

“Oh the fear I’ve known, that I might reap the praise of strangers and end up on my own.”  Yes, I have felt that.  The wind blew and the wipers frantically swept the rain away.  I was alive, so very much.

As the storm said goodbye, I drove on, fixated on the temperature gauge.  22 … 24 … 26 … 28.  There was something about returning to the previous state of being that I liked.  Actually, the physical world so often offers me symbols that help me live my life.  I’m glad about that.

A dead black bear cub lying on the gravel beside the road.

A fruitless search in countless marshes for a moose sighting.  I know they’re there and maybe that’s good enough.

Slurping a chocolate walnut waffle cone in Vermilion Bay, followed shortly thereafter by a hunk of chocolate walnut fudge.

The corridor of asphalt through stands of welcoming pines near Kenora.

Waiting and waiting for the Prairie to say “Hi” west of Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba.

And then …

A jolt of lightning touched the twilight horizon to the west, turning the length of a horizontal cloud a brilliant orange.  I turned south towards Steinbach as the storm hit.  Wipers on high right away.  Couldn’t see the ditch.  Barely saw the middle yellow line.  Slower and slower. Tailgated by some two-eyed monster.  And I was happy (really).  I was so engaged in life.  I knew that my guardian angels would see me through.  The Frantz Inn was on Highway 62, east of Steinbach.  All I saw ahead was darkness.  Had I passed it already?  I pulled off onto a gravel road and stopped.  A phone call to the hotel revealed that I had a kilometre to go.  And so to the parking lot.  Gas gauge reading = 0.  “There you go, Bruce.  Yesterday’s fantasy came to pass.”  I raced for the lobby and was immediately soaked.  After the paperwork, I ventured back out to get ta-pocketa off the trunk rack and into my room.  Since there was a lull in the liquid action, the task was accomplished sweatlessly.  Thank God.  As I re-emerged from the building to get the rest of my stuff, the hurricane had recommenced.  I threw my body into Scarlet.  And there I sat, for at least half an hour, as the rain threatened to destroy the windshield.  But I was safe.

Whew.  Life in Manitoba is lots of fun.  I mean that.  May I be so vividly alive for the rest of my life.

Waiting with You

Jody had a hankering for Chinese food yesterday and one of our PSWs recommended a restaurant in London.  So off I went to gather in some breaded shrimp, Oriental noodles, chicken fried rice and lemon chicken.  Other than my bike rides every second day, I don’t leave our home very often, usually just to get groceries and meds and then scurry back.  I used to like writing about my adventures out in the world that day, but it hasn’t happened much lately.

After I gave my order to a most delightful hostess, I plopped down in a chair, and saw that I had company in the takeout department.  Near me sat a woman in her 50s, deeply tanned and sporting an exotic hairstyle – lots of curls here and there.  In the other direction, a grandma and her perhaps six-year-old grandson faced each other across a small glass-topped table.

“What should we do while we wait, grandma?”

“Let’s play hockey.”

“Okay.”

With that, the woman pulled a quarter out of her purse and instructed the young man about the rules of the game.  Finger on the coin at the near edge of the table.  Brush it forward towards the far side, where the other person is waiting, holding two fingers up as goalposts.  Either you score or you don’t.  Then it’s the other person’s turn.  The woman suggested that the boy be Canada and she’d be the USA.  The fellow heartily agreed.

So back and forth they went.  Lots of cheers and groans.  And I didn’t have to pay for a front row seat!  At one point, grandson said, “Isn’t it time for the Zamboni to clean the ice?”  (For those of you unfamiliar with hockey games, the Zamboni is a vehicle that melts the surface of the ice, making it smooth for the next period’s play.)  Grandma sighed, and told the boy that unfortunately the restaurant didn’t come equipped with a Zamboni.  “Let’s keep playing.”  And they did … until a brown paper bag and a smiling hostess appeared in front of them.  Game over.

As they headed towards the door, I asked grandma what the final score was.  She smiled with her whole body and said “5-2 Canada”.  Well done, young man.

Basking in the glow of this lovely encounter with professional athletes, I said hello to the woman with the tan.  She smiled back and mentioned the sunny fall weather we were having.  I agreed.  She talked about the tough winter we’d had.  My response?  “I like weather.”  Seeing an opportunity for storytelling, I told my new friend about the time I’d spent Christmas in Honolulu, and how seeing wizened little Christmas trees, and Santa in shorts, just seemed … wrong.  I had asked one Hawaiian gentleman what the weather was like in March or August, and he had replied, “Oh, about the same”.  And that had made me sad, leaving me longing for snow, blasting winds and tingling fingers (but not quite freezing rain).

The lady asked me about Hawaii, what I enjoyed about it. “Waikiki Beach was cool, although it was very crowded.  The best, though, was Hanauma Bay, where I walked knee deep into the water and found myself surrounded by all sorts of colourful fish.”

And then … another bag.  Another moment with the gracious hostess.  It was my turn.  Story over.  My weather companion and I smiled at each other and said goodbye.  Truly, a good time.