Down the endless spiraling road


Three jets streaked over the busy divided expressway in perfect formation. I looked up through the windshield of maybe the biggest pickup ever, a one-ton Dodge dually with a six-speed transmission, twin exhaust stacks and a big Cummins diesel. “How’s this for fossil fuel conservation?” I thought.

We were on vacation and the vehicle in question is my brother-in-law’s rig, which he’d bought for his logging business. He’d lent it to me to go downtown to visit some friends. I looked up at the visor and noticed that the electronic mileage calculator was reading 18.5 miles per gallon or about 12.5 liters per 100 km. I was a bit surprised. My old ’02 Dodge pickup could average only 16 miles per gallon, and that’s when I feathered the pedal.

I’m obviously conflicted about road trips these days but there’s no escaping the fact that everything runs on fossil fuel. I’ve decided to sit back and enjoy the ride for a while.

The trip up to our old hometown was a 30-hour drive, which we did straight through, switching drivers. Among my favourite parts of the country are the farms along the St. Lawrence, some fields around Earlton and the big pine forests of Temagami, all of which we got to see in daylight under huge skies.

The city has changed a bit over the six years we’ve been away. Nothing stays the same. Some big old buildings have been demolished leaving big holes. New box stores keep popping up like giant concrete and glass mushrooms. It’s like most cities across the continent. But the overall effect is extreme impermanence. The old stuff seemed to be decaying from lack of pride and maintenance, and the new stuff seemed completely temporary, as if designed for a five-year lifespan. Which is perhaps close to the truth given the churn of business starts and failures these days.

Lake Superior is still spectacular, and I was told by friends that housing prices along the waterfront are higher than ever. We were sitting in front of one of the most famous restaurants in Canada, the Hoito. It’s an old Finnish hotel with a workers’ eatery in the basement. The place is so popular that there are lineups out into the street for hours. We jumped the line to sit at the snack bar and ordered a couple of karjalan pirikkas with egg salad. A pirikka is a weird rice- and butter-filled rye flour moccasin about the size of your hand. The egg salad, tomato slice and pickle add a bit of zip.

The oddest thing about these road trips is all the television. We don’t have TV at home. But when we visit there’s always a TV set flickering away in the background. I admit to being addicted. So I catch up on years of missed programming in a day or two, everything from Mad Men to old Seinfeld shows. I watch so much it makes me a bit sick, especially the opinion-driven news from Fox to CNN to CBC. The net result is being caught inside a steaming box of endless news glop.

But there are some perks, too. Last night we went out for fabulous Singapore noodles, which I can’t seem to find on the East Coast, at least not the kind with thin rice noodles and curried shrimp. Later, we took in a cool movie, “Inception,” a sci-fi flick starring Leonardo DiCaprio at one of those huge movie palaces. It was all about dreams within dreams inside dreams, which may be a bit too much like life at the moment.

Back on the road I noticed that it’s only mid-August and the leaves on the popular trees in Northern Ontario are already starting to turn colour. There was edge to the air that I’d forgotten. It’s the sharpness of the Arctic nights colliding with the hot updrafts from the Midwest over Lake Superior.

My friends are all looking older. Sitting at an outdoor café with one of them I glanced across the street and recognized a guy I hadn’t seen since high school. He had long white hair with the dazed look of a reformed doper, which he was, according to my friend. Like the buildings and landscape, the people were starting to seem impermanent, too.

Something seems to be happening to the world. Or maybe it’s happening to me. When I talk to people there seems to be less optimism about the future. People are more cynical, less hopeful. As I’ve said, our expression through the urban landscape looks less permanent, too, as if it, too, is less concerned about the future. The endless miles of gaudy plastic signs and cheap strip malls are the sad proof.

Our kids are growing up differently, too. We took our boys and their cousin to an arcade. They played a round of laser tag and a few noisy video games and between the four of them they burned though 60 bucks in less than an hour. They came out as if they’d been inside a clothes dryer. Spun.

Later, we took them to visit my mom and dad. They spent a few hours with my dad in his garage. It’s filled with junk, 8-track tape players, old hats, costumes, dusty toy cars and his Model A roadster. The kids loved their time trip back to my dad’s childhood and they fit right in.

As I walked out of the garage I noticed rot eating at the bottom of the walls. Too soon my dad, that garage and my old home will be gone. The only real home we have is where we keep our memories alive.


  1. "Times such as ours have always bred defeatism and despair. But there remain, nonetheless, some few among us who believe man has within him the capacity to meet and overcome even the greatest challenges of this time. If we want to avoid defeat, we must wish to know the truth and be courageous enough to act upon it. If we get to know the truth and have courage, we need not despair." Albert Einstein

  2. "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be." –A.E.

    I admire Einstein, a great creative mind. I also appreciate the sentiment in the quote you chose. Yet defeat is a reality of life and courage is a quality to help us defeat death. But death wins whether we fight it or not. And there's always rebirth. A soulfulness worth writing about, no?...


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