Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriter: Victoria Williams
Original Release: Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams
Definitive Version: the studio version. Victoria Williams’ backing vocals up the spooky quotient of the song.
While Scott and I drove around Seattle on the first part of our trip to the Northwest in 1993, as mentioned, we had KNDD—The End—on all the time in the car. The station didn’t in fact play just the Singles Soundtrack, it just seemed like it.
But, unquestionably, the song we heard the most was this one. It seemed like every time we snapped on the radio we’d either hear it or we’d hear a DJ say, “and we got that new Pearl Jam song coming up.” So this became That New Pearl Jam Song to me and Scott.
We left Seattle in the afternoon with the goal of making it to Idaho in our rented Pontiac Sunbird, but we didn’t make it farther than Spokane. Part of the reason was because I had lost my credit card, so I had to stop at a pay phone and cancel the card, which Scott properly documented with my camera.
Another part was we stopped constantly to look at things interesting things along the way. For example, somewhere between Seattle and Spokane, the land, which had been pretty barren and flat, just opened up into this mini Grand Canyon that stretched to the south. It caught us off-guard, because there was no indication that something like that was there—either on our map or to the naked eye. It was like Shades State Park in Indiana. You can’t believe it’s there until you see it for yourself.
Because the whole point of the drive was to see stuff, we didn’t want to drive after dark and miss something cool, like that canyon, which given its lack of a proper name that we could determine became the Will and Scott Canyon. It was dark by the time we got to Spokane, so we called it a night.
The next day was an ambitious one. We were going to drive through Glacier National Park on our way to Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The goal was to go to Medicine Hat the next day to see a baseball game. Why Medicine Hat? It always struck me as a cool minor-league town name, and being in the Pioneer League, it seemed even more far-flung and mysterious, so why not? We couldn’t see the Mariners, so the Med Hat Blue Jays would have to suffice.
When we got to the Idaho border, we stopped for pictures, and in what became a meme for the trip, I grabbed my recently acquired stubby-fingered mitt and posed with it at the welcome sign and later when we crossed into Montana.
Glacier National Park was cool, of course, although Scott and I had been to the Rockies before, so it didn’t seem to be too out of the ordinary—except for maybe the white mountain goat wandering through the parking lot as normal as can be when we got to the Continental Divide marker above 6,600 feet.
It was lot of mountains adorned in glaciers of ice, of course—not much different from the snow-capped peaks in Colorado. But now, 20 years later, I’m glad we went given that scientists are predicting that all the glaciers in the park will be gone due to global warming in the next 10 years.
We got some steaks and corn to grill for dinner, but we couldn’t find a communal site that wasn’t pay, so we drove to a fairly remote part of the park near the edge, pulled over and set up at the side of the road. We figured this was illegal, so we kept a constant eye out for park rangers, but being out in the wilderness meant we never saw anyone.
We set up our store-bought charcoal grill and did T-bones and corn on the cob wrapped in tin foil as the sun began to set behind the mountains. It was an excellent dinner, not least of which for the view. Scott wanted a beer with the steak as did I, but because we had to drive more, we just got one big one and split it. We didn’t finish it, and I told Scott to just wrap it in foil and put it in the cooler in the trunk, and we could have it later.
We headed north for the Canadian border and arrived at dusk. Now, by this time, I probably had crossed the U.S.-Canada border two dozen times. It was always the same going in both directions: Where are you going? Where are you from? How long are you staying? and (when I came back to the U.S.) Are you bringing in anything? Move along.
That was going from Michigan or New York into Ontario. It’s a different ballgame going from Montana to Alberta. Because this border crossing is out in the middle of nowhere, the border guards have little to do and all the time in the world. We got the usual questions: We’re from Chicago, traveling from Seattle, going to Medicine Hat for a ballgame.
Apparently, those were the wrong answers. OK, drive down to that next building and pull over. We pulled up next to a family, and a guard was tearing through their minivan. Scott went into full panic mode. Holy crap! Are they going to go through our stuff like that? They’re gonna find that opened but unfinished beer and nail us for DUI.
The guard at the gate came over, took both of our driver’s licenses and escorted us into the first building of the two-building setup. I took my stubby-fingered mitt to emphasize that we’re just a couple of baseball fans, not drug mules, which it quickly occurred to me that he suspected we were. After all, why would anyone drive from Seattle to Medicine Hat just to see a baseball game?
The guard took us upstairs and said to Scott: You stay out here, and he took me into his office. He again asked why we were crossing the border, and I explained to him the details of our trip. I would have asked him if he’d heard That New Pearl Jam Song if I had thought of it.
OK, you have a seat in the lobby. Send in your friend. When he did that, I instantly knew what was going on: He wanted to make sure our stories matched. I knew they would, because, well, we were telling the truth.
I also knew Scott was a bit spooked, and all things considered, maybe I should have been, too. But this was back when Americans weren’t afraid of their own shadow. We’re just going into Canada: What’s the big deal?
So I did what any big brother would do under similar circumstances: I made faces at Scott over the shoulder of the border agent through the glass window. I knew we were fine, so I’d try to lighten the mood. I also knew that a snowball had a better chance of making through Hell than he was going to look up.
Finally they emerged, and the guard said he just wanted to run our cards through the proverbial computer and we could be on our way. A few minutes later, he handed us our driver’s licenses and bid us a good night.
Scott finally let down his guard outside. I saw you through the window, you bastage. Of course you did. We hiked past the minivan, all of its contents now on the parking area, and got back into the car to finally head to Lethbridge for the night with the knowledge that that could have been us.
Not far from the crossing was the Alberta sign, and we pulled over to document. This time however, I did a spread-eagle frisk pose against the sign must to Scott’s delight. Welcome to Canada.