The Anniversary Party

They descended the stairs into the room.
The waiters led them to their seats. The other guests were already there.
Everyone dressed for the occasion, whatever it was.
Reflections from the lights danced in the water glasses.

They had been the last to arrive. The other guests were already there.
The table was long, and they sat far from each other.
Reflections of light danced in the water glasses.
He did his best to keep up with the conversation around him.

It was a long table, and they sat so far from each other.
He couldn’t see who she was speaking to.
He did his best to keep up with the conversations that moved around him.
Every now and then he heard her laughter from where she sat.

He couldn’t see which of the men she was speaking to.
He couldn’t hear anything that either of them said.
Every now and then he heard her laughter from where she sat.
He kept wishing the dinner would be over.

He couldn’t hear anything that she or the man said.
It was impossible to determine how she was feeling.
He just wanted the dinner to be over.
He hadn’t really wanted to come tonight anyway.

He could never really tell how she was feeling.
They didn’t speak about things like that.
He hadn’t even wanted to come here tonight.
Things hadn’t been quite right between them lately.

She said she couldn’t tell him how she was feeling.
Something always made her hold back.
Things hadn’t been quite right between them lately.
He couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

Something was making her hold back.
He had a growing but vague sense of unease.
He couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
It felt like something or someone was dying.

He had a vague but growing sense of unease.
They descended the stairs into the room.
It felt more funereal than celebratory.
They were dressed for the occasion, whatever it was.

©  Mark Milner, 2017

Numbers, etc.

15 days off, starting Friday

12 stops on the road trip (give or take)

5 more nights at home before I hit the road for just over two weeks

4 more days of work

3 of those days commuting to the office. (I’m gonna work from home on Thursday)

2 gallon jerry-can (rotopax) picked up yesterday, so I won’t have any excuse to run out of gas.

*****

Nearly everything is ready to go. A few things to pick up this week, and then there’s packing to do before I go. I’m looking forward to being on the road, although I’m going to miss my wife. I always do. She makes coming home worthwhile.

 The first stage of the trip will be solo, from Vancouver to Calgary. Not sure, yet, if I’ll do it in one push, or my usual two-day ride along Hwy 3. I have a few people to visit in Cowtown, and as always, I’ll want to visit my old man’s grave. Scott has to work Sunday, so we’ll point ourselves eastward Monday morning. The itinerary will evolve as we go, based on whim and weather, but so far a rough outline is:

  • Vancouver to Calgary
  • Calgary to Saskatoon 
  • Saskatoon to Portage La Prairie
  • PLP to Duluth, MN
  • Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie
  • The Sault to Fenelon Falls/Toronto
  • FF to Quebec City
  • Quebec to Erie, PA
  • Erie to Chicago
  • Chicago to Fargo
  • Fargo to Moose Jaw
  • Moose Jaw to Calgary
  • Calgary to Vancouver

That’s a little over 10,000 km (6,000 miles). I’ll need to arrange an oil change on my travels, and my bike will be due for it’s next service, and likely a new set of tires, when I get back. But that’s looking too far ahead. It’s time to start getting my mind into riding mode. 

When you’re travelling on a motorcycle, you need to focus on what’s immediate, and between you and the horizon. Everything else is too far away to think about. It’s a distraction and a danger. You can think about it later, when you’ve done with the day’s ride.

So for now I will put the itinerary out of mind. Focus on getting things done that need doing before I go. Focus on what and who is around me now. The horizon will arrive soon enough. Don’t rush it. 

The one I love

This one goes out to the one I love.

REM

 

Relationships can be hard work. They often require patience, and compromise, consideration of how what we do and say will affect how someone else feels. For a relationship to work, that needs to be at least as important as our own feelings.

I’m good at working hard. (No, really.) I’m less good at patience and compromise, although I do try to be considerate most of the time. And I try to consider how my words and actions will affect the people I care about. I don’t always succeed, and that’s where the work comes in.

Some people like to say you should never be sorry for anything. No compromise and no regret. Look out for number one. Blah blah blah. I can’t imagine any such people having successful, healthy relationships. Of any description.

This is as true in business relationships and friendships as it is of those we like to call “love”. There is, however, much more at stake when it comes to love. Piss off a business contact, and maybe you lose a sale. And you can generally make things up to your friends. They’ll get over it, you’ll get over it. No hard feelings, eventually.

When we hurt someone we love, that tends to linger, for us as well as them. And sometimes more for us. Which is why we work harder, try harder to be patient, compromise more, when it comes to love. And most of the time, the work doesn’t feel like work, and the compromises don’t feel like sacrifice. Or rather, it’s work we’re happy to do, sacrifices we gladly make. The compromises we make in our negotiations with the ones we love feel like we’re winning.

Relationships also require a lot of luck. To paraphrase Somerset-Maugham, it’s a minor miracle when two people, who are each constantly changing, manage not to grow apart. In this respect, I have been exceptionally lucky. My wife and I have been married more than 24 years, and together for nearly 26. We’ve both changed over time. She continues to put up with me, in spite of my many faults. We forgive each other regularly for lapses in patience and compromise. We each endeavour to do better, and we both work hard at it.

I think that, really, is the recipe for success in anything: the serendipitous combination of hard work and good luck.

Here endeth the lesson.

Keeping My Cool

One of the challenges of a summertime motorcycle trip is heat. As someone who’s crashed in the past, I know first hand the importance of wearing all my gear, all the time. But motorcycle gear is hot. Or at least, mine is. And heat can cause you to crash. And some injuries just can’t be prevented by gear. So, what to do…. Wear my gear to protect me from injury, but risk crashing from overheat? Not wear my gear to stay cool, but risk tissue/blood loss if I crash anyway? Neither are very good options.

I could buy a mesh jacket, although this has some drawbacks. First, gear is expensive. Even a cheap mesh jacket will cost over $200, and I’ll still need a more robust jacket when it’s not crazy-hot. Also, mesh just allows the hot air easier access to my body. Riding at 100+ km/h in 35+ Celsius can feel like a riding in a kiln. And last, I’m not entirely sold on the safety of mesh gear. I can’t see it holding up all that well if I’m sliding down the road on my back.

What I’ve opted for instead is a cooling vest, which I ordered from FortNine last week, and which arrived in the post today. The idea is that on hot days, I soak the vest and wear it under my t-shirt. The gradual evaporation, combined with moisture wicking, will help keep my core cool. I’d heard from others that these work really well, so I’m going to give it a try. It has to be better than sticking bags of ice-cubes in my inner pockets, which works great – for about ten minutes. The vest is supposed to be good for several hours at a go. We’ll see. At any rate, it was less than half the price of a cheap mesh jacket, so at worst I’m not out all that much cash.

******

Only seventeen days till I hit the road.

 

Trip preparation

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. I need to make more of an effort in that regard. So, here is the first step.

In a little less than a month I’ll be embarking on a short, 12,000ish km road trip, from Vancouver to someplace in Quebec, and back again. The route will take me through Alberta (where I’ll meet up with my riding partner), Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec, maybe New Brunswick, parts of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Dakota.

And possibly some other places. You never know how weather, and other factors, might affect your route. I’m not too fussed about this. My riding companion will want to spend time with his family in Ontario, who I’m looking forward to seeing again. He’s also keen to stop for a couple of days in Chicago, which I don’t really object to, either. Apparently there’s an old U-boat there you can tour. And if we can get cheap tickets to a Cubs game that would be cool.

Trip preparations have so far been relatively minimal, although I recently picked up some maps (I still don’t use GPS), and I’ve ordered a cooling vest to wear under my motorcycle jacket, so I hopefully won’t suffer as much in the heat as I have on past trips. I’ll buy a small jerrycan, just in case. My BCAA is up to date. My bike has been serviced (at great expense, as you may recall).

The next step will be determining what to bring. I almost always over-pack. You don’t really need much in the way of clothes on a motorcycle trip. Mostly, you’re wearing gear, with jeans and a t-shirt, or something like that, underneath. Most days, it’s just socks and underwear, maybe the t-shirt, that get changed. A couple of extra shirts, a pair of shorts, a bathing suit, a pair of pants, should cover most needs. Even then, some of these things can be washed out and hung to dry overnight. A roadside emergency kit is a good idea. A basic first aid kit. An extra litre of motor oil. Rain gear. A power bank to charge phones. The maps I mentioned earlier.

In the next few weeks, more detailed planning will begin. Each step makes the trip more tangible. Soon it will be in progress, and then just a collection of memories, blog posts and photographs. But first, the planning and preparing will make it real, not just an vague idea of something hasn’t happened yet.

 

Strange bedfellows

That’s what they say about politics, isn’t it? That it makes for strange bedfellows. The provincial election here in British Columbia is a case in point.

I had planned to vote for the Green Party in this election. The most serious (if not the most immediate) issues facing us are, in my opinion, environmental in nature. The climate is only part of it, albeit a big part. But many issues exist regarding water quality, protection of biodiversity, endangered species, disposal of toxic waste. These are all things that I believe are just as important as jobs and the economy. Nature really doesn’t care about our balance sheets.

But the BC Green Party has decided to align itself with the incumbent BC Liberal party. (For those who don’t live in BC, the BC Liberals are conservatives. I know it’s confusing. I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.) At the same time, they have derided the left-wing party here, the BC NDP, as lacking principle.

Again for those who don’t live here, this is why that’s ironic:

  • The BC Liberals have been accused of, and some of their operatives convicted of, breaking election laws.
  • The BC Liberals have profited from a political financing system that is largely without rules. Both the Globe and Mail and the New York Times have written about the ‘wild west’ nature of this system. Donors routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars to dine with the Premier or a collection of cabinet ministers (or both), and are handsomely rewarded. It was reported today that a company who happen to be one of the bigger donors were awarded the contract to oversee a multi-billion dollar project.
  • The BC Liberals have happily raised ‘fees’ and ‘premiums’ and ‘rates’ – while claiming not to have raised taxes – for everything from health care premiums (doubled in their time in office, and worth noting that no other province have these at all), hydro rates, campsite fees, and so on. And on. And on. And on.
  • While the BC Liberals did introduce Canada’s first carbon tax, it has been frozen since 2012, and will remain so until 2020. At this point, it’s been essentially priced in and is having a negligible effect on emissions.
  • Environmentally, the BC Liberals have promoted the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, even while the market is saturated and the price is at record lows, leading to an enormous increase in the fracking of natural gas deposits. They have also promoted BC ports as a conduit for American thermal coal to reach Asian markets, and approved the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, provided it meets their vague-to-the-point-of-meaningless conditions. They are preparing to flood some of the best farmland in BC to build a hydro-electric dam in a geophysically questionable location to generate power for additional resource extraction. They plan to replace a four-lane tunnel with a ten-lane bridge that most local governments oppose, rather than supporting additional public transportation.

I could go on, but it gets tedious to recite this stuff.

So why, you may ask – I did – why would a Green Party leader support this group? Why would he prefer them to a more progressive party? It really doesn’t make a lot of sense. But I hope his bedfellows, strange as they are, don’t fuck him too roughly. 

That kind of hypocrisy is really not my style, though, so I changed my mind and voted for someone else.

 

The last words

are for Sava Welsh
who made the best Spanish coffee in the New World,
who gave the shirt literally off his back to a woman because she said she liked it,
who worked with me in the bookstore on Robson Street for most of the thirteen
months I’ve been there,

who worked there for over twenty years,
who used to disappear every Sunday at quarter to five, as he said, “like a donkey in
the fog,”
who would not let even his dead mother in once the place was locked,

who bought me lunch at Griffins the Friday before he retired (we had duck and smoked salmon and desserts that would make a marxist cringe, and
Sava ordered himself a Spanish coffee, telling the waitress, “this could kill
me”),

who used to call me “my hero” — I don’t know why,
who nursed his lover of over twenty years until he died last November, after more
than two years of sickness,
who thought the card I bought him when Victor died was beautiful (thank you,
Robert Mapplethorpe) and the poem I quoted, too (Langston Hughes),

who retired on a Tuesday in February,
who called me from the back hallway half way through his last shift to show the bag
full of blood he had coughed up,

who smiled when the nurse in the hospital asked me if I was his son,
whose liver had been shot for years,
who kept living, I think, for Victor,

who called me from home on a Tuesday evening in March to say he was feeling
much better and was going to fly to Europe in April and would come to see
me before he went away
who died on the Wednesday of the following week,

who died nearly two months ago now,

who we drank to a month ago in the bar at Griffins, almost without mentioning his name, and I went home thinking Sava, Sava, Sava,
who disappeared like a donkey in the fog, although I still think about him sometimes, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays.

These last words are meant to remember him.
They are not enough.

 

© Mark Milner, Vancouver 1997