Friday, September 15, 2017

Vacation Diary, September 2017. Chapter One.

NOTE: this is going to ramble. You're going to be bored out of your britches.

I can't recall a vacation so jam-packed with so many different kinds of fun with so many different people. Ever.

This vacation started out like most others, though, in that I REALLY REALLY REALLY NEEDED IT. Work had been going tickety-boo for weeks and weeks when my manager approached me and asked me to work three night shifts "because the orders for back to school are ramping up". (She initially wanted me to work three night shifts, have a day off, work a day shift, and then work four night shifts going into my holidays; I nixed that.)

Well, it turned out "ramping up the orders" was something of an understatement. My colleague and friend Haley texted me Wednesday just as I was about to have my pre-shift nap to let me know there were 22 skids of product waiting for me.

22 skids.

For reference, ten skids would be an extremely large frozen/dairy order. I can work maybe six skids, MAYBE, in a night if I ignore all the other things I'm supposed to do.  I cleared eight that night, but only because I worked selectively, concentrating on clearing skids whether they, strictly speaking, needed to be cleared or not.

I'm not going to belabour this, but of those 22 skids, approximately seventeen of them were COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. It's been two weeks since that monstrosity and my cooler is still jammed beyond reason. Those three night shifts, and the day shifts that followed them, were a fair approximation of hell.

Anyway. I left Friday at 3:30 and resolved not to think of that place, outside of Haley's occasional texts cursing me for the hell she inherited, for the next nine days.



Heading north to my dad's for what is, sadly, averaging out to be only an annual trip. Taking the Greyhound to Toronto and transferring to an Ontario Northland 'milk run' to Parry Sound. It's been many years since I have done this. The buses have free wi-fi now: that's a huge improvement. The miles fly by if you can surf Facebook and the rest of the internet at will, and especially if you can be in conversation with three or four people.
The 'milk run' takes a long time traveling through every pissant little burgh from Tainthair to Tumblenuts. North of Barrie, the bus stopped at Coldwater, Port Severn, MacTier, Gordon Bay, Horseshoe Lake Road, and finally Parry Sound, where my dad met  me and took me the final 45 minutes north to Britt.

Britt, Ontario, population 343 (2011, it's likely ~ 320 now) is on the north shore of the Magnetawan River, across from the tinier hamlet of Byng Inlet -- which my father, being a Breadner, refers to as Bung Outlet. The village of Britt is a curious mix of ramshackle dwellings, some of which have boats moored outside that would probably sell for more than the houses, and stunning homes with million dollar views. My father's place isn't the loveliest on the river--that title might belong to his near neighbour, Billy -- but it's certainly a beautiful home, on a wonderful lot:

The river is high this year. It's been much lower in the very recent past. I thought about taking a dip. I didn't. The weather was damn near perfect, at least in the afternoons: warm verging on hot, barely a cloud in the sky, a hint, sometimes a little more than a hint, of a breeze. But the mornings were almost frosty and that more-than-a-hint-of-a-breeze would have made getting out of the river a scrotum-shrivelling experience. Shiver-me-scrotums, I'll pass, thanks.

Instead, I watched the approach of Hurricane Irma, probably the only thing that could knock Donald Trump off CNN, and got to reflecting on nature vs. nurture, not for the last time this trip.

My dad's full-time role in my life ended when I was five. I would see him three or four times a year as a child and teen, and the frequency actually has decreased over time, due to a variety of factors, the biggest one being my disappointing lack of a driver's license. So it's a little surprising the number of ways Dad and I are alike. Beyond the physical, of course. I've got thirty pounds on him that I really ought to do something about, but beyond that, we look pretty damn similar.

Inside, though...inside we're pretty damn similar too. His jokes run to the practical and mine to the punny, but we both live to make people laugh. We both have a love for history, which I will talk about later. We both follow news almost in spite of ourselves and we'll both read columnists we disagree with, sometimes to learn the other side, sometimes just seemingly out of some perverse desire to raise our blood pressure.  We both care deeply, tend towards broodiness, have a knee-jerk reaction to perceived slights. There are other similarities too personal (on his end) for me to share. It fascinates me that we are this alike. Genetics? Is that even possible?


I am trying very hard not to succumb to the lure of the online world.

I am succeeding. Mostly.

Dad has wi-fi, but it's unlike any wi-fi I have experience with: it's capped. Which is the biggest reason I'm having to suffer through television commercials for the first time in nearly three years: something like an Android box or AppleTV would bankrupt him in a week.
It's also the reason I'm suddenly on this online diet.  Between his wi-fi cap, MY data cap, and less-than-optimal speed, Facebook games can't be played, and it's against his financial interests (not to mention my interests of self-preservation from a furious wife) to watch YouTube videos on my phone. Even Facebook Messenger is largely off limits. I'm reduced to texting plus a few very quick nip-ins on Facebook and Reddit (posting only photo updates, and not even checking anything other than my own feed). This is not quite so onerous on weekends--the people I talk to most have these things on weekends called, uh, lives.  But it's going to get hard tomorrow.

So I'm falling back on what used to be the thing to do up here. I'm reading. I'm reading dead trees.

To be clear, in the life outside this Britt bubble I do still read books. In small chunks, with an attenuated attention span. Here, with most of the distractions removed and most of the rest of them minimized...I have read an entire novel in less than a day for the first time in several years. It used to be not just regular, but entirely normal, for me to do that.
The novel is MICRO, a bit of light fluff started by the late Michael Crichton and finished by Richard Preston. I don't know which of them to blame for the ending, but it ruined what until then had been a rip-roaring read.

Aunt Dawna and her partner Barry are over for dinner, which is marinated pork and mashed with everything that passes through Heather's kitchen, it's delicious. Even better to see my aunt, who is one of the touchstones of any trip north for me.


The aftermath of Irma has mercifully scrubbed most of the usual 9/11 coverage off the air. I say 'mercifully' not out of any coldness or desire to forget or minimize that tragedy, but because its images are permanently seared on my brain and scarred on my heart.  There's no need to see them again, much less to revel in them the way the newscasters seem to. "Oh, this is awful...nobody should ever have to see this...let's watch it again."

We're off to Sudbury to see IT. There's an Abbott and Costello sketch in there somewhere ("to see what?" -- "IT." -- "What's IT?" -- "A movie." -- "WHAT MOVIE?!" -- IT!")

Sudbury is an hour north of my dad's place, and the highway to it has been undergoing a transformation from busy, often deadly country two-lane road into four lane controlled access freeway. It's taking forever due to protracted negotiations with the many First Nations whose territories the highway runs through. But the completed sections are impressive. Completion of the massive project is said to be eleven years off, but then, the whole thing was originally supposed to have been finished this year.

We're in town early, so we're eating at Tutti Frutti, which is's your standard all-day breakfast joint but with some of the best homefried potatoes I've ever had. Then we're off to do some shopping...

This store is easily three times the size of mine but as I tour 'my' department (grocery geeks will understand), I'm flummoxed by how many out-of-stocks they have. Dozens, scores, possibly hundreds. "Hey", I feel like calling to the store manager. "I've got about fifteen skids worth of product and you're more than welcome to it..."

Then to Costco, which is always enjoyable for me. What can I say, I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. After that, we drive around for a while, me snapping pictures for Kathy, who has never been to Sudbury and who wants to see what I'm seeing.

I don't take very good pictures. Especially from a moving car.

We settled in for the four o'clock showing of IT. Preview after preview as always, and then the opening scene of Dunkirk, which was the last movie I watched, three weeks ago, with my friend Melanie.

"Dad, we're in the wrong theater. This is Dunkirk."
"No, it's just a preview."
"Dad, I'm telling you, I just saw this movie three weeks ago."
Another thirty seconds passed.
"Do you want to see IT, or do you want to see this?" I'm torn. Dunkirk was excellent and well worth a re-watch; it's also something Dad would, in all honesty, probably enjoy more than IT. But like any true Stephen King fan -- and my dad made me one, starting with The Shining -- I'm HYPED for the movie we came to see.

We relocated to the theatre next door, and found we'd just missed a few credits.

IT was very well done. I was impressed with the acting all around, especially from Bill SkarsgÄrd as Pennywise and Sophia Lillis as Beverley Marsh.

The book was one of those novels that defined me for a time. I would have fit in easily with Bill, Ben, Bev and the rest, and well do I remember the mental calculations I employed daily to avoid the likes of Henry Bowers, not always successfully. The update director Andy Muschietti ordered made this even more relatable for me, since in the novel the kids come together in 1957-58; here it's 1988-89, when I was only a couple of years older than they are. So I know the source material very well, and I by and large like what's been done with it. There were too many jump scares for a movie based on a novel that relied on steadily mounting dread, and Mike Hanlon, the token black kid of the group, has been nearly whitewashed out of existence. (The director states he'll be much more prominent in the sequel.) These complaints aside, the dynamics between the kids are handled with a competence unusual for a King film. Stephen King does child and teen characters better than anyone currently writing, and the relationships in the Losers Club are the real centerpiece of the novel, not some nameless evil that likes to assume the shape of a clown.

Dad, who has never read the novel, also enjoyed the movie, although he said he didn't find it scary. Truth be told, aside from a few deliciously creepy moments, I didn't either. For those who haven't seen IT, think Stand By Me except the dead kid comes to life with a hunger. That's the kind of atmosphere I'm talking about.

What I REALLY liked was the cinematography, not least because almost the entire film was shot in Ontario, and a fair bit of it in locations I have actually stood in myself. The Elora Gorge features prominently, as does the West Montrose Kissing Bridge.

Fun day. Tomorrow is another.


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