Part One: Departure
Our car was fixed, our bellies were full, and we continued on our way through Canada. We spent several hours traveling and ran the gas gauge down until it was nearly empty. We pulled in to the first place we could, middle of the night, to refuel. I’ve seldom seen a more terrifying place.
The place was a bed and breakfast seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient gas pumps that needed to be turned on to operate, but there was no sign of movement in the building. It looked abandoned. The woods around the lot were thick and dark and spooky. The door was locked. The barn nearby had a table saw that we convinced ourselves was used to dismember bodies. Our car was almost out of gas; we wouldn’t be traveling very far without more fuel.
So we stayed the night there, of course. We slept in the car, hoping the building wasn’t as empty as it seemed and that we could rectify our situation in the morning. Completely aware that I was paranoid for nothing, I still slept like shit, convinced I’d wake up to someone trying to break through the window to get me.
But we were fine, because of course we were. We had a flat tire, so we slapped a spare on, refueled and left. And we were fine! We saw moose and bison and bears (and RJ apparently saw the ghost of a man wearing a yellow rain jacket), and we were fine!
Until the valve stem blew. I’m going to be honest: I don’t know what the fuck a valve stem is. I don’t know what it does or where it goes. I know that we pulled off to the side of the road and RJ said, “Well, I screwed it on, so let’s hope for the best” and tensions were high because this was the third thing to go wrong and we were still in the middle of Canada and DJ went off on me out of nowhere and I told him I’d kick the shit out of him and leave him on the side of the fucking road because his former employer still hadn’t given him several months of back pay so he hadn’t paid for shit so far.
Things were going swimmingly.
We rode in silence for a long time and switched drivers and moved along, all mad, but not really at anything except this series of unfortunate events. We stopped in Fort Nelson to get cheesecake and pie, use the cafe’s Wi-Fi to update the old blog and let our heads cool.
In Fort St. John, we continued using Fix-a-Flat on the tire we were limping along with to middling success. DJ and I played a little blackjack in a casino there and didn’t win, proving again that I am terrible with my own finances.
We left and I fell asleep hard in the back seat. I had a vivid nightmare. I don’t recall what it was about, thank god, but it jarred me so much that I awoke to a much more terrifying reality.
DJ was driving. We were currently in the middle of a snowstorm on a precarious road with no guard rails on the side and a sheer drop off a tall cliff. It was nighttime. A deer jumped in front of the car and DJ almost hit it, but he swerved and almost drove us off the cliff instead. He regained control of the car and it was about an hour before we found ourself on safer ground and with less aggressive snowfall.
We trucked along, feeling vulnerable and mortal, until we reached Prince George, where the car decided to shit the bed even further. The brakes weren’t responding the way they should. Like most of our problems, we discovered this in the middle of the night. We pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. RJ, in shorts, knelt down beneath the car and found a gaping wound in the brake lines. He used gum to plug the hole and used a lighter to heat it and make it stay. This was obviously not a viable long-term solution and did nothing to help with the amount of lost efficiency we were already dealing with, but it would do until we could find a place to crash.
Let me rephrase that: a place to sleep.
DJ took the wheel and we headed for a hotel called Sandman Suites that sat at the bottom of a large hill. As our brakes were growing increasingly unreliable with every passing second, RJ and I gripped pillows and prepared to bail from the car should disaster prove imminent.
Fortunately (because I barely trust myself with a flight of stairs, much less leaping from a moving vehicle) it turned out alright. We rented a room for a couple nights and tried to take the stress of the situation off our minds by going for a dip in the pool. I like swimming a lot. I don’t know that I’ve ever written about that, but it’s therapy to me.
We bought a pack of Dude Beer (locally brewed, sold in an all-black box save for the name in bold white letters), some vodka, some McDonald’s and proceeded to get absolutely plastered. I snored so bad that night RJ opted to sleep in the tub.
We got the car fixed, temporarily, and drove down through William’s Lake and Pemberton until we finally reached Vancouver. The brakes were still giving us some shit, the transmission wasn’t doing much better and the spare tire was so flat we were almost running on the rim.
Luckily I have friends everywhere in the world. Though we’ve since lost touch, at the time I knew two women who lived in Vancouver that I had met three years previously in Barcelona and spent five days partying my ass off with. I called up Allie (who I was going to temporarily lived with during my original, unsuccessful attempt to move to Los Angeles), and she offered to give us a place to stay for a few days. Her boyfriend was a mechanic and he was able to order a replacement tire for the car.
In terms meantime, we did what we did best at the time: drink heavily.
We got a group together and wandered down to the Cambie Pub. We had to wait in line for an hour but stayed entertained by the local citizens. One homeless man played a 9/11 conspiracy song for us while another held a sign that that read “Smile If You Masturbate”. I took a picture with him. A few years later, someone I followed on Twitter shared a picture with the same man holding the same sign. God bless him.
Inside the bar, we got belligerent. I remember having a rum and coke in one hand and a whiskey and coke in the other. RJ was drinking directly from a full pitcher of beer. A kiosk was set up off to the side and an attractive woman was selling some new cinnamon whiskey. We bought too many shots of that shit while unsuccessfully flirting with her.
The group was so large that we had to take two cabs. We figured out about thirty dollars into the ride that none of us had cash and the cab’s card reader would only take one of our four cards, and that one only for $8.50. Instead of driving us to an ATM, he kicked us out in some neighborhood. We had a motherfucker of a time getting home. It got worked out eventually.
Later that night, I threw up hard and excessively. Probably in the top ten hardest times I’ve vomited and from 16 to about 21, I was the master of the puke and rally. There was no rallying here. There was only defeat.
When Joe, Allie’s boyfriend, got the tire in, he put it on the vehicle and gave it a look-over. The transmission was so fucking shot that he gave us a 50/50 chance of making it to Seattle, much less anywhere else.
We might have been irresponsible and reckless and a bit immature, but we were ballsy as hell. We decided to chance it.
I remember passing through the border. We had a little bit of trouble because DJ only had a military ID and no passport. I don’t know how the hell we got him into Canada without one, but it worked out. RJ and I kissed the ground once we re-entered America. We also took that time to clear out a cooler that didn’t cool quite enough and left a vegetable platter rotting in a puddle of melted ice. That was… unpleasant.
We stopped briefly in Seattle to take a picture of the Space Needle and some fancy IMAX theater. In retrospect, I find that hilarious. I’d go on to move to Seattle a little over a year later and couldn’t give one shit about the Space Needle then.
Tourist interest sated, we headed for Redding, California. Here’s what 21-year-old me had to say about that:
We drove and drove and drove, and it was smooth sailing. Know what smooth sailing is like? I’ll tell you. Smooth sailing is a straight, paved road that goes through multiple cities. It is not a twisting, winding, up and down “road” that’s half paved, full of wild animals, skirts cliffs with no guard rail, cuts through terrifying backwoods “towns” and is subject to some of the most varied weather phenomenons that one can ever experience.
We reached Redding and spent a day drinking beer with our friend Shane. From there, we headed down to Sacramento to refuel. We took a pit stop in Sacramento for another reason, though.
In my pocket, I had an address my mother had given me five years previously. This was the address to my biological father’s home. The address I sent a letter to and received a letter from my junior year of high school, the only correspondence the two of us have ever had. We tracked that house down.
I remember the day. The weather was nice, warm but with a light breeze rustling through some leafy trees lining the sidewalk. The house itself was a duplex with a porch. I remember my friends asking me if I wanted them to come with me. “I don’t know,” I said. “No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve got it,” I said after a minute. RJ came with me because he knew better.
I opened the door of the car, walked up to the curb, walked up to the steps, walked up to the door of the house. I lifted my hand and realized I had no idea what I was going to say. My chest felt tight. I was more nervous for this than I was losing my virginity. What would the first words be that I spoke aloud to the man who fathered and abandoned me?
I knocked. No one answered. I knocked again. No one answered. I checked the mailbox. The letter inside was addressed to an Asian woman. My father had moved.
I called around to a few places to try and find him based on the few things I knew about him. I didn’t find him. With a heavy heart, I told my friends it didn’t matter and we should continue. So we did, moving on down to Concord where we stayed with RJ’s cousin, her fiancée and their wonderful dog for a few nights. We played a lot of beer pong and did our best to empty a left over keg. We had barbecue. It was a nice break.
It was also the first place that we really seriously looked into places to stay and jobs to work. I submitted my resumé for some local acting gigs and DJ secured a hotel for one night and a room at a hostel for three. After a few nights of relaxation, we set out for Los Angeles.
We arrived. The trip took us two weeks. Not quite a year and a half later, a friend and I would drive from Anchorage to Vero Beach, Florida in four and a half days. But that also is a different story for a different day.
Anyway, that’s all for now.
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation
Part Five: Awry
Part Six: Ruin