Friday, January 1, 2010

Travels with My Aunts: Part Two, Or, The Bus Ride, An Introduction.

I had no idea people took the bus to be social.

The trip started out promising, the bus half-empty, the sun was just setting, and I had a window seat. It looked like I would not have to share.

Little did I know.

Two hours later, still in the outskirts of Vancouver, we pulled in to the last stop before finally hitting the highway.

I was already wishing I had maxed out my credit card on plane tickets. My legs were cramping, and my sore shoulder was starting to ache. But I had my T3's and my music. I had hope. The bus was filling up fast, but so far I had lucked out.

A very tall man, about 60, with a cane, lurched down the aisle, looked at me, and fell into the seats, sprawling across both, crushing me against the window, making me wince in pain. "Well," he said, turning to peer at me, "looks like you're stuck with me now."

"Get off me," I said, pushing him back into his seat, "you're crushing me!"

"Oh, sorry," he said, "I'm kind of disabled here," lifting his cane and gesturing at his leg.

"I don't care, man," I said, "you're hurting me, move over," and pushed him over, albeit a bit more gently, firmly pulling the armrest between us down.

"Sorry," he said, "is that better?" Well no not really, I thought, but it's not his fault the seats are so damned small, and perhaps a bit of grace is required here.

"Just don't crush me," I said, "I have a bad shoulder." Can we discuss how to define and obtain personal space in our modern society? Oh my gods. Somebody help me.

"Ok," he said, moving over half an inch, "so, how far are you going?"

Oh great. He wants to talk and all I want to do is sleep and forget I am on this bloody bus. "Calgary," I said. Dreading the answer, I asked, "and you?"

"Golden," he said.

"Wonderful," I muttered. That's halfway. I pulled my headphones on and took another T3, turning away. Looking out the window, I was regretting ever thinking this was in any way a good idea. I was fearing I had turned into a snob - I hate snobs -, and deciding that the only way to now survive was to break this down into one-hour increments. I dialed up some Radiohead as I looked around me. The bus was almost full, maybe one or two aisle seats left. People were settling in, wearing headphones, reading books. No one looked violently insane. This is good. Well, maybe me.... Buddy beside me still wanted to talk.

"You're not really listening to that, are you?" he said.

"Uh," I mean really, how do you answer that? Should I be polite? It's going to be a long night, after all. Didn't I tell myself before I left that I would pretend I was on a third-world trip? Shouldn't I talk to the locals? Ok, fine, I'll be polite, maybe he'll have an interesting story to tell me. Maybe it will help make time pass.

Well. It turns out he had been in a car accident with his wife, suffered a serious head and knee injury, so he couldn't drive, and was off to see his grandchildren, and had worked in the same job all his life, and hated being retired, and -

Oh, dear. "Um," I said, "I have to go to sleep now, if you don't mind. Why don't you try to rest, too?"

"Say, that's a good idea," he said.

Gonna be a long night...

Travels with My Aunts: Part One: Imminent Departure

I didn't want to take the bus from Vancouver to Calgary. I wanted to fly. But with only two weeks notice, it was too expensive. $400 vs $100 return. So I took the bus, figuring that if I booked it on a night departure, I could (hopefully) sleep through most of the 15 hour trip.

I had to go see my Aunt Mickie up in Cold Lake, Alberta. She was turning 70, and has been in poor health. My Aunt Virginia told me it might be my last chance to see Mickie. She suffers from congestive heart failure and diabetes. Mickie is the family matriarch. She is the keeper of the fount of knowledge - i.e., all the photo albums, and countless stories. The clan was having a birthday party for her, and she wanted me to be there. I wanted to be there.

My mother had 12 brothers and sisters, 8 still living: Mickie, Virginia, Flo, Ruthie, Toots, Gerald, and another two uncles whom I don't know well, Sonny and Michael. My mom Irene, Herman, Adrian, and Doris have all died.

So it was important I go.

My immediate family was estranged from my mother's family for years. There was a deep, mutual hatred between my father and my mother's family. When my mother died, I had already left home at the age of 15, and didn't find out she had died for two years. I had not seen any of her family since I was 11. I remained unaware for years that Mickie had been searching for my brother and myself. The first reunion I attended in Cold Lake was 8 years ago, shortly after my brother opened Pandora's Box on teh interwebz and found a cousin in Edmonton. Once he got a response, he promptly dropped off the radar, but I decided it was time to go home. It was overwhelming to see all these people whom I barely remembered. We all look the same - we all wave our arms around when we talk - we all have the same sense of humor. Strange thing, genetics.

Now, I haven't seen my brother in over 30 years, although we maintain sporadic contact via email, and none of my mom's relatives have seen him since my mom died (in tragic circumstances), sometime in the 70's. I can never remember the exact date, it slips through my mind somehow. Denial is a powerful thing. Anyway, my brother did not attend the inital reunion, nor has he stayed in touch with anyone. Nonetheless, I still emailed him to let him know about Mickie's health and upcoming birthday. He responded with what seemed to be a heartfelt apology, saying he wished he could come and that he would call that weekend.

Meanwhile, back at the bus station:

I have Bad Travel Karma. I don't know why. I've tried positive thinking, I've tried juju even, and still the fact remains that I experience Bad Travel Karma on a regular basis. I had no idea what to expect on this trip, I only knew something would happen, and well, I would just have to roll with it. I made sure I had one credit card with enough credit left on it to get home fast if I needed to. I had to go see her.

It's important to know I do not drive. I experienced a trauma when I was a teen, and since then have been unable to drive. I know how to drive mechanically. I know the rules of the road. But I am deeply blocked about driving at highway speeds, especially with oncoming traffic. The last time I tried it, I was fine until a car approached, then I threw my hands up in the air and said, "I quit!" Scared the crap out of the guy who was trying to teach me.

So I do not drive (golf carts don't count). I figure that's a good thing.

However, it also puts me at the mercy of friends and family who do drive. I haven't found out yet how to get past this conundrum..... Anyway. My Aunt Virginia was to pick me up in Calgary, we would spend the night at her place, drive to Edmonton the next day, pick up my Aunt Toots, then finish the drive to Cold Lake - about 7 hrs of driving total from Calgary.

Sounded like a good plan to me. I'd have a night off from the bloody bus, and be all fresh in the morning. I had packed well for my trip - I had my travel pillow, my fleecy throw, my music, my DS, Tylenol, and a thermos of strong coffee as carry-on. I could handle 15 hours. I'd be fine.

Cue ominous music.