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I never saw Sudbury. I musta been unconscious when we went through it. I just remember one of the men shouting back at me that this was where they turned off the main road and I should stay on it. And I remember my leg being cold where the beer had spilled when I’d fallen asleep.

It was early morning when I got out of that pickup. I remember that too. Sore and stiff, like I could hardly move. But the rest after that is a blur of walking. No one would pick me up. So I walked.

Hard to tell how long I walked. I remember walking in daylight. Hot, sweaty-under-the-clothes walking. And I remember walking at night. Chilling cold, the bones in my feet cracking. And walking up to a sign that said PENITENTIARY AREA DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. Then later wondering whether I’d seen the sign or was just making it up cause I was half-asleep, dreaming on my feet. And then passing another one that said the same. And wondering if it could be the same one and I’d gone in a circle. How could that be? I was never gonna stop walking. With that duffle bag weight on me, the cord cutting into my right shoulder. Switching to the left side until it hurt there too. Shifting it around to cut into different parts of my shoulders and neck. I even held the cord with my forehead once....

Now, the only way you could get how the walking seemed to go on and on is if I talked to you on and on, like a coupla days and nights. But it still wouldn’t be the same as going through it. So I’ll skip to when the walking did stop.

When my head laid on a cushion on a bus and I slept.

What was that, two days later?

And even then I kept walking really. As I slept on the bus I walked it all over again. The same walk that was like having no sleep but not feeling fatigue cause it was past that, a feeling that something was wrong but not connecting it with needing to eat or sleep cause I couldn’t think that well, not towards the end. Just walking. Cars going by. Cords cutting into my arms. Rock sticking into my back. Mom telling me she didn’t want me to leave and go walking. Dad saying let him go, he’s old enough, just don’t come walking back to us when you get in a scrape, you leave and you’re on your own. Your own two feet, walking. Walking where? Nowhere. Oh, yeah, out west. How far now? That guy said Sudbury. Past Sudbury or going into Sudbury? If you could trust the driver in shadows. If you could trust anyone. Stick with the job another year or two and you’ll have experience to find a better job. Trust us. Just don’t call home for money. Take a walk. No, that wasn’t it. Go west, work for an oil company. That was Gus when I was fired. Or Gus was fired. Got his walking papers. Ha. And where’d it get him? Dead in a field. Frozen as a stick. And I’m walking. It’ll go on my report card. Walking without giving notice. Now I’ll never graduate. How will I ever get experience? Mister and Missus, Mom and Dad, he’ll never make it in the real world, he’s not even past Sudbury yet. Only thing he’s good for is walking....

A deep growl surged up beneath me.

Bus gears. Changing.

I was sprawled over two seats. I sorta remembered a woman in one of the seats when I’d first stumbled onto this bus but she musta moved. I had to smell pretty raunchy. Face and neck oily from sleep. No idea how long I’d been asleep. I didn’t even know what town I’d caught the bus in. I remembered asking for the bus to Winnipeg.

My teeth were clogged with something sticky. I musta gulped some food at the bus depot. Candy and potato chips. I remembered an old guy behind a wicket asking with a straight face if I’d been trying to hitchhike. Other people laughing at the local joke, another hitchhiker straggling into town after getting dropped in the no-hitching zone. But their faces included Dad, Brissette and some high school teachers, so I couldn’t trust my memory. Near delirious.

I pulled my jacket out from behind my back, smoothed it out over my knees and put it on. In a pocket I found a squashed chocolate bar.

The bus entered the outskirts of a city. The fields between factories still had small patches of snow. Winnipeg.

The only far-away city I’d ever been to. I’d never been out of Ontario before, mostly southern Ontario, except for shopping trips across the American border with my parents.

Downtown Winnipeg in late afternoon was messy and alive. When I got out at the bus station, the colours and noises — it was only Winnipeg, I know, but after all the miles of trees in Northern Ontario — the wonderful messy colours and noises rushing right through my eyes and ears and nose into my brain and back down to my feet. I walked on air out of the station.

I found a diner and ate a long, delicious supper of baked beans and toast and drank glasses of milk to clean myself out. I washed up in the can, opening my shirt to run a wet paper towel down my neck and under my arms.

For the next few hours I wandered around the city without worrying about where to stay or anything else. In the middle of town I read a plaque on a broken chunk of wall that was supposed to have been some great fort once. I never got into history much but this pile of stones, and what it said, was cool. Whole city was cool. I strolled through part of town with country and western bars. Made sense. Here in the west. Wasn’t Winnipeg part of the west? No one wore western clothes. They were different though. It wasn’t Toronto.

A Salvation Army building made me think of getting a place to crash overnight cause the Salvation Army was one of those places where people could stay if they had nowhere else to go. I’d picked that up somewhere, I think from my dad. They were religious cranks but they took in the destitute. Probably feed me in the morning too.

So I knocked on this huge wooden door.

A narrow panel slid open at head level.

“I need a place to stay tonight,” I spoke to a nose and mouth and felt a little silly.

The panel shut. I pounded the door until the panel opened again.

This time I said, “I thought you had places to stay. I’m one of your destitute, eh?”

“You go to the youth hostel.” Closed again.

When I found a phone booth with a phone book that wasn’t ripped out, there was nothing listed under “hostel". But I saw YMCA, so I called and got a night clerk who gave me an address for a youth hostel for males. Better hurry, they had a curfew.

It took me some time asking directions and following them all wrong before I reached the place. A low, square building painted white, kinda patchy. Painted by kids probably. The door was purple with a big orange psychedelic design on it.

Inside, a man with a wavy beard stopped me. He had blue jeans, plaid shirt and leather vest, like freaks wear, but you could tell right off he was some kind of authority here.

“I know it’s late,” I said. “I just got in and then I couldn’t find the place.”

He turned and walked into a small junky office that you could see through a window in the hall. I figured I was supposed to follow him.

“Where you from?” he said, sitting back on a swivel chair behind a scratched-up desk. I plopped my bag on the floor and dropped into a chair.

He found out who I was, where I was coming from, how long I’d been on the road, where I was going to, and whether I’d been hassled by cops. He warned me against panhandling on the main streets. “Cops are cracking down. It creates a bad image for the city.” He snorted to show he was being sarcastic.

He pulled cigarettes from his vest, lit one and went to put them back. Then he thought to offer me one. “It was up to me, Mark, I’d let you stay here.”

It always bugs me when someone drops my name, so casual, right after they meet me. It’s supposed to be friendly, make you feel comfortable. But it’s the opposite with me. Gets me wondering what they’re after. Else they’d be like me — never remember anyone’s name until I know them a while.

This guy was saying, “One of the conditions for us operating this hostel, Mark, is we have a strict curfew. We don’t enforce the rules, they’ll shut us down.” His hand reached on his desk for a paper that wasn’t there. “I’d like to make an exception. I would.”

“Who’s to know?” I said.

“The list for tonight is already closed off. Of who’s in tonight. It’s already made out and closed off.”

“What am I supposed to do, sleep in an alley? Cause you have some list?”

“Some people do.”

“Right.” I put out the cigarette and reached for my bag.

“Hey.” He held out his hands palms down to say wait a minute. “I didn’t make the rules.”

“So whadya care?”

“Tell you what, Mark. I’ll let you stay but you won’t be assigned a bed,” he said. “So I don’t need to put you on the list. Technically. Another thing. I can’t issue you a breakfast voucher if you’re not on the list. I’m taking a big enough risk as it is.”

Big deal, long as I got to sleep somewhere warm for a few hours.

He led me down the hall through a door into a room the size of a gymnasium. In the dark I could see it was lined with beds. They were filled with lumps but there was no snoring. A few voices chatted softly. The only lights were two red exit signs.

With whispers, I was directed to a space at the end of a row of beds to lay my sleeping bag on the floor.

When the door closed again, cigarette glows emerged from under blankets. I listened to the murmuring voices until they wove into my dreams.

Dreams that had nothing to do with walking, parents, teachers or furniture factories.



Winnie’s Diner, Winnipeg

Reality sucks

Die hippies die


Hostel, Winnipeg

I stink therefore I am

Freaks of the world unite!

The atmosphere is permeated with the odour of turpentine

Michael, where are you?

To be is to do. —Sartre

To do is to be. —Camus

Doo be doo be doo. —Sinatra

Feed your head

Life would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie

Stop the war!

Frodo lives



Continued >



Part I





Part II





Part III






Part IV





Part V







Part VI







Part VII















Part IX



Part X