Monday, August 19, 2013

No. 290 – May This Be Love?

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Axis: Bold As Love
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None.

After Scott and I avoided the long arm of the law at the U.S.-Canada border, we headed to Lethbridge, Alberta, where we would spend the night. I wanted to stay there before we drove to Medicine Hat the next day for the evening ballgame. Two legendary Canadian small baseball/hockey towns, one stone.

When we checked into the motel before going out to dinner, Scott asked if we should call the Med Hat Blue Jays just to confirm the game time. I laughed. Naw, it’s a night game. We’ll have plenty of time to get there and check into our motel before the game starts. OK. We went to the movies to see Jurassic Park.

The next day shone brilliant, with nary a cloud in the Canadian sky. Scott and I got up and took a leisurely breakfast before heading out. I dressed up in my Frank Thomas jersey and White Sox cap, grabbed The Mitt, and drove to Medicine Hat, The Gas City, as the welcome sign just outside town noted. We stopped for proper documentation.

We checked in at our old-school motel just down the street from the ballpark and made our way over. I was certain, but I thought with as much certainty that the yard wouldn’t be much more grandiose than a decent high-school ballpark. We got there plenty early, 4 p.m., to survey the scene.

As we pulled up, a worker was hosing down the parking lot. Another worker or two milled about, and I felt a knot in my stomach. This didn’t look like the actions of workers preparing for a game but cleaning up afterward. What the Hell?

Sure enough, the game was already over, long over. I misread the schedule or they moved the game time up. Either way, they played at noon, and Scott and I would not be seeing a ballgame in Medicine Hat. (To think we almost went to the clink for no reason.)

I was livid, and Scott was smart enough to not remind me that, yes, we should have called the team to confirm the game time … well, at least more than twice, anyway. I told Scott, “We’re out of here.” With no ballgame, there was no reason to stay in Medicine Hat, so we went back, canceled our room and headed East on the Trans-Canada Highway.

To where? It didn’t matter. I was so mad—at myself for being an idiot more than anything else—I had to just drive. Before long, when I felt like being civil again, I told Scott, I wanted to go to Saskatchewan, which wasn’t far. Why? Have you ever seen a picture of Saskatchewan? Neither have I. When will we ever be this close again? Let’s drive over and see what it looks like.

I had other places like that at the time (remember this was pre-Internet and access to billions of pictures of anything and everything)—North Dakota. I’d never seen a picture of North Dakota. What did it look like? The Northwest Territories. Mongolia.

It turns out I had seen Saskatchewan before, because I had been through Indiana. That was Saskatchewan—lots of fields and farming and as flat as my refusal to listen to reason. OK, I’ve seen enough. Let’s get back to the good ol’ U. S. of A. and out of this backwater, third-world hick country, as Bill used to mockingly say.

Through our map, I saw we had two choices to cross the border, unless we wanted to seriously backtrack back to Alberta. That might have been the reasonable thing to do, but I was in no further mood to listen to reason, so we headed for the first one. We didn’t get far before we saw a sign that said that the border crossing closed at 5. It was already after 5:30.

What the Hell? What do you mean the border closes—and that early? It stays open all night at Detroit. Of course, that’s a major city, and we’re in the middle of rolling prairie … rolling prairie with no towns and no motels around anywhere.

Panic began to set in. Another crossing off Highway 4 was close by. This one closed at 6. I went for it, but I didn’t make it.

We arrived at the U.S.-Canada border at about 6:10, and gates swung across the road, complete with a padlock. We pulled up and got out of the car. There was no way around the gate: You’d drive into a ditch. I walked up to the gate, standing almost right on the very border itself, looked to the left and then the right. Then I uttered what Scott said later was the line of the trip (imagine Charlie Brown saying this for full effect): “Locked out of my own country.”

Yes, we were locked out. We could—and did—walk across the border, but we couldn’t drive anywhere unless we turned around. My stubbornness set in. Today had been a total failure in every respect. Why spoil it with something good?

So Scott and I spent the night in our car in Saskatchewan 3 feet from the U.S.-Canada border. We took shirts and put them up in the windows for a little privacy. Fortunately, we bought sandwiches after leaving Medicine Hat, so we had some dinner.

Scott went to call his new girlfriend, Shani, whom he was missing terribly. I went to sulk on top of a rock about 10 feet away from the car, still on the Canadian side … underneath a canopy of about a billion stars.

It was the most incredible display I ever saw. There was zero light pollution, and within about 15 minutes of it getting dark, I must have counted a dozen shooting stars. Scott came over and looked with me for awhile when he was done with his phone call. It turned out the day ended on an up note after all.

Sleep was as you might expect in a car in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t cold, and no one was around, until a big semi pulled up behind us. It didn’t bother us too much I guess, but we were awake much of the night.

The next morning we were awakened by the unmistakable sound of a lock being undone and a gate swinging open. The border patrol guard came up to the window as we scrambled to throw on shirts. “Where are you from?” We told him. “Where are you headed?” We answered the question. “Are you bringing in anything?” No sir. And like that he waved us along. We were the only car on the highway, U.S. 191, for the next hour, although we passed several head of cattle standing in and along the side of the road.

I’ll always say that on that particular day, we were the first people to enter the United States, and we unquestionably had our best story of the vacation.

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