Down the Alaska Highway (part 4)

Day 7

When I crawl out of my tent into the morning, I see Ronan approaching with arms full of bags.  He’s about to cook us all a hot breakfast.  I smile and build a small fire, and when Ronan is ready I wake up Marcus and Rob and they have breakfast waiting for them.

There is nothing to do but continue south.  We dismantle camp, load up the car, and go.  This is second nature to us now.  It feels as if we know nothing else.

The road loops and twists through the mountains towards Whistler.  “Hey Rob?”  I say.  “Can you open up the glove box and pull out that manual?  Ok good.  Now, look in the index and find the pages on ‘warning lights.’”  “Uh oh,” he says.  “This doesn’t sound good.”  I describe the light on my dashboard, and he reads the passage with extreme gravity.  “If the light comes on while driving, stop the car and then stop the engine imMEDiately.”  I know this sounds serious, but with his exaggeratedly professional British accent, we all can’t stop laughing. I make him read it again.  “If the light comes on while driving, stop the car and then stop the engine imMEDiately.  If the light stays on after restart, have the car towed to the nearest authorized Volvo retailer.”  He pauses.  “Where would that be?”

Dusk is falling when we arrive in Whistler.  We park the car in a huge empty lot and then head into town.  It is immediately and painfully obvious that we do not belong here.  We have no idea where we can sleep around here, but we shrug and head out in search of coffee.  Everything is fancy and upscale and screams wealth.  We find a café at the edge of the main strip, and we agree to meet there when the place closes down.  Marcus uses a pay phone to call family in Germany, Rob wanders off, Ronan plugs in his computer, and I sit down to write.

After a few minutes, I get restless and head out.  I walk through the streets, all the bars and restaurants and food and shops and hotels, women in high heels and dangling jewelry, on the arms of Louis Vuitton hair gelled men who smell like sex panthers, students from Vancouver and Seattle on vacation with mountain bikes and beers stumbling through the street.  And me on the outside of everything.  I feel so far away from it all.  My dirty ripped jeans, matted hair, I probably smell worse than I look, and I sit down on a bench and watch it all go by.  A girl walks past me and her perfume wafts to my nose.  I try not to watch the soft fabric of her clothing hug her body.  I see a homeless guy with a guitar.  He’s the only sign of poverty here and he stands out in sharp contrast so I identify with him.  I walk over and introduce myself.  I ask him about playing guitar on the streets here; is it any good?  He looks up at me with glazed eyes.  “It’s ok, Dave.  But if the cops see you Dave, they’ll arrest you.  They’ll arrest you, Dave.  They’ll throw you in jail.  Taze you.  Take your guitar.  Break your strings off.  The only reason I’m out here Dave is because I don’t care if I die.  You hear me?  I don’t care whether I live or die.  But yeah, you can play guitar around here Dave.  It’s no problem.  We love music here.  Dave, you can do it anytime, anywhere.  Cops might just tell you to move on.  But Dave?  You can play your guitar here.  We love music here.  We just try to bring good feelings you know?  Cops might tell you to move on, but what else can they do?”

I sit by a fenced in electric gas fire for a while and smell not burning wood but burning gas.  It makes gazing into the flames a lot different.  I return to the café a few minutes before ten.  Marcus is still on the phone.  Rob and Ronan are sitting outside looking restless.  I sit down beside them and we discuss our plan for the night.  I’ll stay with Marcus, I say.  Rob volunteers to go to the car and cook dinner.  Ronan decides to go play his guitar and try to make some money.  I hand Rob the keys and they split up.  Marcus covers the mouthpiece and says to me, “what’s the plan?”  “Take your time,” I tell him.  I sit down and open my notebook.  Dave!  Dave!  Marcus is shouting.  I look up.  There’s a black bear about 15 feet away from us, just wandering through the shops of downtown Whistler.  I jump up; it trots away down a path.

After a while, Marcus hangs up the phone and pauses for a moment.  “My grandfather passed away,” he finally says.  He needs to make another call.  I tell him where the others are.  Do you want me to stay here while you call or let you be alone?  “I’ll come find you guys when I’m done,” he says.  Ok, we’ll be at the car with dinner waiting for you.

When I arrive, Rob is kneeling beside the car, cooking in the empty parking lot.  An overhead lantern flickers on and off.  I tell him what happened, and I grab the water bottles and head back into town to fill them up.  Eventually, Ronan returns.  The cops shut him down, took his passport, and threatened to deport him, but not before he made $40.  Marcus arrives.  He tells us he is considering flying back to Germany tomorrow.

It’s late when we finish eating, but nobody is really tired.  There is a cluster of trees in the center of the giant parking lot.  We throw our sleeping bags inside.  It’s a totally inappropriate place to sleep, but we think we can get away with it.  And we have no idea where else to go.  Then we all wander back towards the town, where festivities rage on.  Marcus wanders off on his own.  I walk with Rob and Ronan in search of coffee, or something.  We walk through the streets, avoiding drunk people.  Beside a group of college girls in short skirts and heavy makeup, Ronan refills a water bottle in a drinking fountain.  We find a coffee shop and order hot chocolates and sit outside, overlooking the busy square.  We witness a street fight.  We hold up a cardboard sign that says ‘advice’.  Some time later, Marcus finds us and announces that there are people having sex in our sleeping spot.

Finally, we meander back to the car.  The patch of trees is no longer occupied, but we don’t want to sleep there anymore.  We drag our stuff to a spot under trees beside a river.  We don’t put up tents.  It begins to rain in the middle of the night.

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2 Responses to Down the Alaska Highway (part 4)

  1. Found your blog yesterday. I’ve read every entry. Fantastic stuff. I’m glad that you’re doing what you feel you need to do. I don’t know that I had heard/read much about McCandless before – I’ve going to read Krakouers book now. If you come through CIncinnait, I can definitely promise you a meal….

  2. Sex Panther says:

    Sex panther… 60% of the time, it works every time

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