Monday, December 26, 2022

Christmas: 1979

9560 26th Avenue N.E.

I forget which unit.

Ed and I had rented a two bedroom townhouse. It was a nice place. Almost brand new. The rent, as I recall, was cheap, especially for a couple of rig workers, about $250 a month or so.

We were on separate crews, so when Ed got his week off, I was working, and vice-versa. Therefore, I had the whole place to myself on long change.

And the place was spacious, augmented by the fact that there was absolutely no furniture, other than the Philco colour TV I had bought, and which, in a rare moment of pot/alcohol-induced lucidity, I sold to a neighbour for a vial of oil and $20.

That was okay with me, though. Like Einstein said, "Every possession I have is a stone tied around my leg." And I had absolutely no intention of putting down roots in Calgary.

In my bedroom, I had a sleeping bag on the floor. Not even a pillow. That wasn't a problem, though, because the whole unit came with carpeting. Ed's room had the same arrangement.

One day, on my way home from the rig, Loffland 89, near Cochrane, in the 1979 Pontiac Parisienne I bought from Sharon Roshko for $350, I pulled over to the side of the road.

Up and down the winding, gravel rig access road there were these little piles of wood. Each pile contained freshly cut logs of about 12 inches in diameter, and two or three feet in length. At the time, it didn't occur to me that these logs might be someone's property. I just figured that someone who was clearing the forest had left them there for any passers-by to take.

So, I grabbed about four of these logs and put them in my trunk.

"Finally," I thought, "I will have something to sit on while watching TV, and a couple of extras, in case we have guests."

This story about the logs reminds me of something I read in one of Ayn Rand's books - about the Woodstock festival.

She quoted an interview with a Woodstock attendee that went something like this:

Junk News reporter: so how have you been able to get food?

Respondent: I dunno. I was just sitting there and a box of corn flakes hit me in the forehead. I heard some guy say, "grab a handfull, and pass it on."

As still a bit of a Woodstock worshipper at the time, I figured the freshly cut logs were the same as a box of corn flakes flying through the air. They were just ... there.

At around the same time, instead of staying in the townhouse, I flew back to Hamilton on my week off. While there, I told my friend, Brian Johnston, about how great rig work was. Not only that, but one of the crews was short a roughneck, and I told him, if he wanted to fly back with me, he was guaranteed a job on Rig 89.

He packed up his shit and flew back with me. In Calgary, I took him to our townhouse. When he saw how the living room was laid out, with the Philco colour TV and the logs, he snickered and asked, "What's this? Early Pioneer?"

When we got to the rig, it turned out they had already filled the vacancy. I felt pretty stupid, but Johnston wasn't one to give up easily. He went to the toolpusher's shack and talked Howard into hiring him anyway, even though they didn't need anyone. That was a relief.

And it has fuck all to do with my story.

Back to the Parisienne. That summer, I drove it all over the south-eastern United States. For part of that journey, I had three passengers—Ed, and two guys from Detroit. I had all of my earthly possessions in the trunk, including my Webcor Stereo, about 100 lbs. worth of vinyl albums, and my sheet metal tools. Come to think of it, that stereo, and those albums would have been part of the "Early Pioneer" theme of my Calgary townhouse. No amount of lucidity would have made me sell them.

With the added weight of my fellow traveller's luggage in my trunk, the car was at about a 30-degree angle. Every time I drove up, or down, a parking ramp, I could hear something in the back scraping on the road surface.

By the time I got back to Calgary, the gas tank had developed a leak. It took me another decade before I made the connection between the road trip and the leaky gas tank.

It wasn't a problem, though. I am nothing, if not resourceful. I adapted.

I started estimating how much gas I would need for a trip from A to B, and that is how much gas I would pump into the tank before embarking on a trip, or going to the supermarket. In the event that my calculations fell short, I had a backup plan. ALWAYS, have a backup plan.

I bought a plastic, one gallon gas can, filled it up with gas, and kept in my trunk for emergencies, of which, there were several.

The climate was changing. As luck would have it, when the temperature started to drop, my car heater stopped working. And the car stalled a lot. Ice would form on the inside of my windshield.

It didn't take me long to think of a solution that didn't involve taking the car to a repair shop. I started wearing the ski-doo suit I had bought for work whenever I went for a drive. And the problem of ice forming on the inside of my windshield was easily solved by carrying an ice scraper with me at all times. It allowed me to see the faint shapes of other vehicles, and pedestrians, on the roads whenever I drove anywhere.

Now, I know that no one reading this account will find anything particularly brilliant, or out of place with the problem-solving approach I used to employ in those days.

Here is where it gets really crazy, though.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, 1979, I think Air Canada had a seat-sale going on. A ticket back to Toronto cost $97.00. I pondered going home for Christmas, but decided to sit this one out.

A few days before Christmas, I started having second thoughts, but the only option, by then, was a Greyhound bus, for about the same price as a fucking Air Canada ticket would have cost me. I once spent five days on a Greyhound bus, from North Carolina to Taber, Alberta. NEVER AGAIN. And in those days, you could still smoke on the bus, except for in Utah.

So there I was, sitting on a log in my living room, on Christmas Eve, 1979, probably drinking rum, and having fond thoughts of home.

Booze can, on rare occasions, invoke a state of neurodiversity—people experiencing things differently.

I found myself in such a state.

In my mind's eye, I could see my Parisienne sitting out there in the parking lot, with the gas dripping onto, and eating, the landlord's asphalt.

I made a decision. I would drive home. After all, it was only a 3,354 Km. drive. It would take some time. I knew that. But I didn't have time to calculate it. Reviewing the matter, years later, I figured that, at 110 Km per hour, through an icy blizzard, the whole journey could have been accomplished in a little over 30.5 hours. Sure, I would miss Christmas day, but there would still be time to visit family and friends.

My mind's eye drifted back to the Parisienne. The stalling. The leaky gas tank. The ice scraper.

I started to have some doubts. What if, just what if, something should happen on some barren stretch of highway in Saskatchewan? For example, something unexpected, like car problems. In the middle of a blizzard. They do happen.

A sudden inspiration struck me. "I know!" I thought, "I'll take my sleeping bag."

In the end, and thank goodness, reinforced by all of the recent global warming reports about people freezing to death in their cars, it occurred to me, that driving home for Christmas, that night back in 1979, was a pretty fucking stupid idea.

And that was before anyone noticed that the climate had started changing.

I finally did get around to driving that car back to Hamilton the following May. The drive shaft fell off in Duluth, Minnessota.

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