Three years ago we took a train to Vancouver…
April 30, 2010
The weekends are starting to blend together. On Fridays we get home from our day jobs/lives, race to pack our bags, jump into the van and venture onward to towns and cities across the west. The trip to Vancouver a few weeks back was no different except that Matt and I were going to be strumming guitars on a passenger train traveling through the Rocky Mountain pass. Outlaw Miloh and Otis journey! Eventually we’d be meeting up with some of the gang to play a show at the Rickshaw Theatre.
I’ve realized that you gotta pay attention to the omens. While packing and pruning I clipped my mustache at a weird angle and got to the point of fixing it where my trademark beard got wiped clean off my face! I may’ve suddenly looked sweet and boyish on the way out to Vancouver, but by the time we got back to Calgary I was old and weak and wanting a week of sleep. This trip was one of the most epic I’ve ever taken. Van was the sensei and I was the grasshopper…
The train ride was amazing; it’s by far the civilized man’s way to travel. We got set up in our bunks, kicked back, were fed like kings and there were actually other young folks onboard. I bet that the snowboarders we met would’ve been our drinking buddies and life long friends had there not been a few French girls for them to feel threatened about. No problem. We’ll play for nine hours and look at the cliffs and waterfalls. Good show.
Saturday morning we arrived in Vancouver and headed straight for Joey Only’s place. It’s the kind of house where you can play songs at any hour of the day and no one is allowed to get angry at you. Just as long as the music isn’t shitty! (as far as I could tell it never is) Acoustic jam ensues.
Early afternoon we’re prepping to have a BBQ and get word that the show may be cancelled. After some panic and negotiation the show will go on. It’s Joey’s birthday and it’s his CD release and we’re all relieved. We grab some meat from the butcher, nearly light the grill with a poisonous fireplace log, chop bits of wood, drink some beers, pack up and head to East Hastings.
East Hastings. The area is over-exaggerated in the news except if you want to talk about the rat-infested alley behind the Rickshaw. I think it’s what Pleasure Island in Pinocchio was based on except you can’t break glass that’s already been broken! Lookin’ for fun? Don’t! You want no part of it. We only joked about playing hackey sack with the scattered needles… Move a dumpster. Piss anywhere. Get your kicks but eventually you’re going to turn into a donkey, man.
The Riskshaw is awesome, though. Big stage, big room, big sound! The line-up consisted of Kent McAlister, Brooke Wylie and the Coyotes, a mish-mash of Cowpuncher (Harley, Jeff, Matt and myself + Guy) and the one and only Joey Only Outlaw Band.
Maybe it was a mistake to have an ample supply of beer? And where’d I get that lasso from? Either way it got wild! At the end of the night we pack up the gear but there isn’t enough room to fit all the gear and people, so I’m on my own for a bit.
Some situations aren’t ideal and this is probably one of them (although I didn’t realize it at the time). I’m alone in the alley late at night waiting for the second batch of rides. A group of folks who were at the show walk by and are on their way to the same after party. They ask if I want to come with them. “No thanks, I’m waiting on a ride.” Five more minutes go by and I decide to maybe catch up with them. My phone is in my guitar case, which is in the car. But I’ll see the whole gang at the party. It will all work out!
I run and zig-zag for about five blocks without finding anyone familiar. And I start to get worried…
So now I’m lost with no phone and no idea of where I am or where I should head in the most notorious neighborhood in Canada! But I’ve seen every episode of Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. This should be a piece of cake! Find the high ground, follow the water towards the ocean, eat whatever protein you can find. Um…clearly my strategy will not work here…
A hooker lady approaches me and starts following me. I finally turn to her and ask her to leave me alone. She attempts to lick my mouth (the kiss of death). I run like hell far, far away in my cowboy boots and try to recognize a landmark. Maybe that meat shop is around here? I can probably find a way home.
So I try to get directions from a local homeless man and while takin’ a seat for the chat I accidentally leave my leather jacket that has my train ticket home and a bunch of my information (I realize this a half hour later when I notice I’m not carrying anything anymore). Very panicked now I take two cabs while trying to retrace my steps. In one of the only victories of that walk in Hastings I find my jacket on the ground, completely untouched!
A few more hours of walking up and down the hills and I’m exhausted. I find a tree in someone’s yard and take a nap (classic Cowpuncher move, by the way). I wake up suddenly and realize that this is probably not a good place for a nap. My jacket is a pillow and I find a crumpled paper in it with an address for my buddy Kent in Davies. It takes forever to hail another cab but I’m going to be on a couch soon!
The next day I realized I had Matt’s number on our Cowpuncher business cards. I wish I would’ve figured that out about 12 hours earlier! I call to say I’m alive and safe. (We have a 24 hour rule before anyone’s family is called). I take a long, long shower. I head down to the ocean and it feels great to be alive!
Matt, Kenan (Joey’s drummer) and I head for breakfast ($3.99!). You can smoke/eat outside and drink beer inside. My hoody gets stolen! Matt and I went thrifting with a few new friends for the day and got dressed up by a gypsy woman. I found a snakeskin belt that matches my boots! We end up doing a show on a roof for a small crowd and eat more BBQ.
Goodbye Vancouver! We get to the train station and sit and wait and sit and wait. Both of us are certain we don’t leave until 10:30 and are there an hour early. But the station seems quiet and empty. Whatever. Around 11PM a VIA employee tells us the train is looooong gone. 20:30 on the ticket actually translates to 8:30 on a 12 hour clock. FUCK!
Matt and I just sit there, stranded. We are very stunned at this point and try to figure out a plan to get back to Calgary. I change out of my puffy shirt because I don’t feel especially jubilant any more. We brainstorm and end up on a really, really, really long greyhound bus journey from Vancouver to Calgary. No more five course dinners and no more comfy bunks. Instead we hit up random truck stop diners with eggs and sausage that taste like they were fried in a pan that was just cleaned by an SOS pad.
One day I’ll learn how to sleep sitting up. Fetal position on a seat for hours on end doesn’t cut it! If I ever ride another bus it’ll be for a ski trip, bachelor party or touring!
And finally, when I’m around strangers and it’s 4 in the morning I will put on my glasses and confirm who I’m talking to before I ask a random stranger:
“Hey where are your parents from?”
“Awesome!!! We might be able to get onto the train when it gets there!!”
— “……uh? …… I think you want your buddy who’s next to me.”
Matt was actually curled into an uncomfortable ball next to this guy and his parents are actually from Kamloops (where the train does go). Our bus would not be in Kamloops or connecting with the train after all and we’d have to try to relax (impossible) on the way to Calgary.
I had a blast in Van – many, many thanks to Joey and his crew and all the friends out there we got to meet and see!