So here I am, the central train station of Toulouse with three hours between me and departure. I find myself in a café surrounded by the usual pleasantly laconic staff and unremarkable clients drooping in chairs of chipped black paint and pleather. Yet another locus of transport, just as emotionally and aesthetically insipid as the rest. Thirty minutes earlier I was roused from the first comfortable bed I’ve slept in for months, I now sit at a small table with my tiny cup of burnt coffee and my usual travel companions: my thoughts, my bags, and a few coins on my pocket. Then there is the two other passengers who accompany me on most of my voyages: the general anxiety that lingers like a pink noise, humming away deafening me to the more subtile of emotions, and a stultifying mental lassitude, one of the sapping side-effects of a life of constant self-inflicted displacement.
As I sip my coffee I picture myself a few hours from now bounding down the sidewalks of Paris with all I own in this world attached to my body, condemned a tourist by the many outward-facing patrons of the street-level cafés. I often walk with a gait indicative of an impatience normally associated with those late for an important rendez-vous. Though, I often arrive at my destination only to pass a few hours waiting to depart again, to scurry across town and catch another bus or train. These days I seem to spend most of my time en-route or wishing I could sleep, hence the optimistic tone of my writing.
This is the local I’ve chosen to recount the last few months of my life.
Roughly six months ago I left Montréal after a party that ended with us drunkenly strewn about the flat saying our goodbyes. I really enjoyed seeing everyone there. The next morning I made my way to the metro, stumbled down the stairs with my bags in tow, and spent the next few hours fixing my gaze on various patches of gum and graffiti adorning the walls as the pieces of my mind reluctantly dislodged themselves from the streets and places I’d known in the various neighborhoods of this town and stuffed themselves back into my head to be carried away to some far off place.
Later that day Krista and I caught a bus full of Asians to Toronto where we spent a few days couch surfing with a strange yet friendly Irish man. He lived in a house full of brightly colored rave-goers who spent most of their time either in a k-hole remote viewing the kitchen downstairs or resting on their haunches with their face inches from the oven door patiently observing a plate of MDMA boil to remove the impurities. We made some hummus, walked around town quite a lot, and got in an interesting debate with one of the room mates who was a sex-worker and enjoyed discussing it’s advantages. 48-hours later we were spotted bracing ourselves against the icy wind on the side of some highway holding out our thumbs until they turned into small ice-cubes attached to our hands where our thumbs used to be.
A few days later we found ourselves in Detroit, which was depressingly more dilapidated than I could of imagined, and shortly thereafter Chicago. What a great town that is. I’ve never been much interested in architecture but in a city like that you just can’t help but to walk around awestruck and neck craned. Each building more massive than the last, they appeared to carry an enormous weight as if they were in fact dormant giants made of heavy stone, whose bodies were only temporarily holed by ambitious humans blissfully unaware that one day one of them may simply wake unannounced, and tromp off destroying half of downtown in it’s stride. We spent almost a week there visiting a friend of Krista. I ate a hot dog from a shop Obama has visited, so they boasted; it was as delicious as it was encumbered by condiments.
Soon enough, however, we were on the road again. This time a ride share with a unpleasantly bigoted man on his way to an oil field in Alaska. This was the first time I’ve heard someone speak of the Tea Party or Sarah Palin in a non-disparaging manner without sarcasm. Despite having to endure hours of Fox News on the radio, the van was large and equipped with a mattress in the back, much more pleasant than many a car I’ve found myself in while crossing great distances. Our destination was Portland, though a few hours in Krista decided to see stop short to see a love interest in Idaho. She would get out in Montana where they would meet and ride back together.
A pit-stop at a Pizza Hut in small oil town in North Dakota called Nelson offered a glimpse into the joys of the fast and dirty money of the lower-rungs of the oil industry. We were greeted at the entrance by the manager, who appeared a bit shaken up, as he informed us that despite the hours posted on the door they were currently closed. While he explained this in two or three words my eyes quickly darted to the broken chair in the far corner of the room and followed the trail of mud on the floor leading up to a very large bearded man with bruised knuckles and a rather unpleasant disposition. As I further examined the scene I noticed the broken glass scattered around the room and the teen-aged employees taking cover behind the counter. We hopped back in the car and were informed by our driver that he had decided not to get a prostitute for the day thus we could in fact leave this town right away.
I offered to take the wheel and drove all night. Fifteen hours later we arrived at Krista’s final destination where we cheerily said goodbye as her and her lover drove off south towards Idaho. The mood quickly changed as I got back into the van and noticed a very stark contrast in the atmosphere. No females present, this was his cue. We had a brief unsavoury conversation that left me feeling nauseous although I was able to maintain a smile and continue nodding. He offered to take over the wheel as I spent the past fifteen or so hours driving and couldn’t keep my eyes open. I crawled over the chairs, removed my shoes, and left out a long sigh as my back finally relaxed it’s muscles and my body sunk into the foam mattress. After five minutes of studying the holes in the fabric that lined the ceiling trying to comprehend my situation I gave up, closed my eyes, and was out cold.
Twenty minutes later I awake to a hand gripping my toes and vigorously shaking my foot. The fuck had pulled to the side of the road and informed me this is my stop. “Change of plans” he says. He’s decided to head north into Canada instead of continuing west and wants me out of his van. I stare him down for a minute or so as I try to think of something to say. Nothing comes to mind. He hands me a box of Milk Duds, a bottle of Gatorade, and a piece of cardboard to write my destination on. I step out into the snow, walk a few paces to an on-ramp where I spend the next five hours dancing in place to stay warm and begging the passersby to show some mercy. A trucker takes me across the pass to Spokane, a small town in Washington on the border of Idaho.