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dispatches from the west, volume one: escape from northern ontario

Toronto to Winnipeg

I’ve taken the train a million times. Or, at least what’s felt like a million times. The corridor of tracks that runs from Toronto to Halifax has been well oiled by wheels upon which I’ve traveled several times a year for four straight years. Twenty-four hours on the rails to Sackville, an extra five (give or take) to Hali, plus a brief-ish stopover in dear Montreal. Piece of cake.

Going West of Toronto on those rails, however, is a completely different story. Ohhhh, I could tell you some things.

* * *

01 August 2006; 9:24 am departure.

Observations from the train, written along the way. “Things” so far:

1. There’s a spot where the train passes through Richmond Hill, sandwiched somewhere between a big box multiplex and an eerie row of perfect clone houses — the big sloppy scrawl sprayed on the side of an underpass reads: WHITE PRIDE WORLD WIDE.

2. Pulling into Perry Sound is about the grandest entrance any small Ontario town could ever hope for. For a second, it felt like we had just magically arrived in the Maritimes. Water glistening, curved shoreline, boats holding their places, waiting for their chance to purr again.

3. Sitting in proximity to the only plug on the coach car is priority one.

4. Sioux Lookout is known for hunting, fishing, and drunk _____ men passed out on the grass by the train tracks.

* * *

We departed Union Station in Toronto at about twenty, thirty minutes past 9 am on Tuesday, the 1st. Already behind schedule. Forty hours, one fatality, and a timezone change later, we pulled into Winnipeg’s Central Station, at Broadway and Main.

The accident — a car-train collision, vehicle got dragged, and the driver did not survive — put a very strange cloud over the trip. It happened just a few hours outside of Toronto, sometime past noon or one pm, and set off a weird domino effect that would eventually snowball into an overall eight hour delay. In a coach car full of antsy kids, chatty cathys and the inexplicably morose, I admit that cabin fever really did start to get to me.

Because the world is stupidly small and strange, I ended up sitting across the isle from Kevin Williams, aka Ofeld from Winnipeg’s own Mood Ruff. Word! I told him how I used to spin his single on college radio four years ago. We bonded over KMD and MF (Doom, not Grimm), he cut me down for not having enough Biggie on my ipod, and then gave me about 6 gigs of classic rap from his harddrive to take with me. Peace, you’re a good dude. Sorry I didn’t call.

Chatted for far too long with quite possibly the oldest bike courier in the world, also across the aisle. By the time our temporary friendship had come to an end, I had learned about his dangerously low body fat count, his crazy non-profit housing situation, why he thought bike lanes were a bad idea in Toronto, and how he cycled across Canada two summers ago at the sprightly age of 64. Note to self: choose your seat carefully.

* * *

I’d really like to keep a proper account of this three-week cross-country odyssey, and I’ll do my best not to slack too hard. The train is an excellent place to concentrate and let ideas kick around, and there’s nothing like wandering unfamiliar streets and taking in the quirks of a new city to get your thoughts flowing. If ever there was a cure for writer’s block, this is it.

I’ve been writing. Writing a lot. Writing about four different projects at once. As far as the Dispatches series, expect several more (perhaps even coherent) installments in the days to come:

Volume Two: Killerpeg, Manitoba
Volume Three: Rolling Through the Prairies
Volume Four: Big Sky Country
Volume Five: The Battle for North Texas

And more to come once I actually roll out to British Columbia at the end of this week. It’s 3 am local time, my days and nights are hectic and beautiful, bear with me! This is all a part of the process…

One Comment

  1. Del Del August 20, 2006

    hey susana,
    hope all is going well on this trip. look forward to hearing more of what has happened.
    take care,
    del.

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