My New Creative Outlet

In my farewell post, I mentioned that I am attempting to write a travel story of my trip to Mexico with my roommates a few years ago. Well, here is the first bit that I have wrote. It is a detailed narrative, so it is much longer that a blog post, but I hope you enjoy it. And feel free to leave constructive feedback. So, without further ado...

If my roommates and I acted on every inclination we ever had to travel to foreign countries, we would have likely visited an honest ¾ of the world by now. I’m sure that at one point or another, Daniel Harker, Pete or I must have said something like, “I hear that Uzbekistan is nice this time of year” at which point we would all enthusiastically plan a trip and then never mention the suggestion again. But one snowy January night the stars aligned and the patron saint of travel smiled on us such that one of our dreams of international adventure lodged itself firmly enough in our frontal lobes to survive until we found ourselves, quite unexpectedly I assure you, loading backpacks into Daniel Harker’s car with tickets to Cancun in hand. That is how our trip to Mexico began.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this adventure is the complete lack of planning that went into the whole affair. Actually, that is not completely true: we did a lot of planning, but no genuine plan came from any of it. Hours were spent arguing over every detail of the journey and pouring over a hopelessly outdated map of Mexico like a general positioning his troops for battle. We mapped and re-mapped an epic journey spanning numerous southern Mexican states that would have taken months to complete, even at a furious pace. We have one week.

This particular limitation is not, as you may guess, of our own choosing, and explaining its origin gives me a good chance to introduce my cast. Peter Leavitt, the youngest of us three, is the guy who all mothers wish their daughters would marry, which might explain why he is not actually married. He is a psychology student who likes to read books like “The End of Poverty” during Christmas break, but is also a fun party guest who is particularly popular among the fairer sex. Daniel Harker can best be described by listing his five favorite things: secrets, roller coasters, horror movies, dancing, and the beach. A mere three days after we return from Mexico, he is off to Calgary to enter the working world as a computer programmer. As for myself, I have just finished a genetics degree and will shortly attend law school in Virginia (of all places). Thanks to me, our apartment is the only one I know with its own “Philosophy Box,” and I think its fair to say that all three of us thoroughly enjoy pulling out its ideas and throwing them around: an activity that usually results in a sharp disagreement between Daniel Harker and I, who without a single recorded exception, have held exactly opposite views on absolutely everything we have ever discussed. I would probably sooner call the sky red than agree with Daniel Harker that it is blue – not by choice, mind you; it just seems that, even though he is one of my best friends, it is physically impossible for us to reach any sort of consensus. But anyway, almost immediately upon return, I will marry Theresa, my girlfriend of over a year. So, both Daniel Harker and I are about to shift our lives out of neutral, and we are lucky to be able to squeeze in even the short week that we do have in Mexico. And with that impetus, Daniel Harker puts his car and gear and we drive off, the sun setting behind the Garneu Towers.

My roommates and I are poor students. And more importantly, we are poor students who know we are poor students. So we travel cheap. Which means we’re not flying out of Edmonton; we’re not even flying out of Calgary. We are flying out of Great Falls, Montana, a good seven-hours away. And with a 9:00 AM fight, we have a full night of driving ahead of us, which wouldn’t be so bad if our car had been the kind of reliable vehicle that the Saturn commercials professed it to be. Instead, we had a car that burned more oil than it did gas: our pit stops weren’t to fill up the gas tank, but to take out one of the twenty-or-so bottles of motor-oil we had in the trunk and empty it into the engine. And to make matters worse, every few miles, Daniel Harker’s car would interrupt our otherwise excited conversation to sputter and cough violently, like an old smoker forced to run a marathon. Each time it did, we would all go silent for a moment, nobody wanting to vocalize our fear that the most backpacking we will do this week would be along the side of Highway 2 in search of a rest stop. Then the car would return to normal and the chatter resumes.

But the old girl does admirably, and we soon pull up to the Sweetgrass, Montana boarder crossing. Now, this particular port of entry has somewhat of a reputation among Albertans as the strictest crossings in the province. I can only imagine what the grizzled boarder guards must be thinking as they see us approach at two in the morning, three twenty-three year old boys sputtering up to the line in a car that reeks of oil, pretending their vehicle is not on the verge of collapse. We pull up to the window and are greeted by a clean-shaven port official whose stern demeanor suggests he believes the very notion of American freedom depends on protecting the country from Canadians who have visited a farm within the last fourteen days.

“You know your car is burning oil?” No chit-chat, this is an officer of the United States government.

“Yes officer.” This man stands directly in the path of our international adventures, and we wish to do nothing to offend him.

He drops the issue – however much he may wish to extend his jurisdiction, he’s probably unable to think of anything criminal about driving a piece of junk. “Where are you boys headed for this evening?”

“Cancun, Sir.”

The officer pauses, as if trying to remember if he had ever heard of a town called Cancun, Montana.

“Step outside of the vehicle, please.”

We are escorted into the boarder post, where a number of guards are standing around talking about the guns they received when they opened their latest chequing account (or something like that). One of them, whose name must have been Wayne or Dusty or something, came over and asked us a number of questions. After explaining our story we fill out customs declarations and give our cards to Wayne. He tells us that it will take a while to process our case and immediately goes back to rejoin his friends. We sit in that boarder post for over an hour, too nervous to speak above a whisper, while Wayne impresses his co-workers with stories of all the things he has killed with his banking-gun, our customs cards sitting on his desk the whole time. The office is otherwise empty. Finally Wayne remembers us, picks up our customs and comes back to the counter acting as if he had been locked in his office this whole time, carefully weighing the merits and risks of letting us step over that hollowed line that separates America from the stench of Canadian socialism.

“Looks like everything checks out,” says Wayne, although we all know that absolutely no checking had been done. We politely thank Wayne and go back out to our car, which we find has been searched without us even realizing it. Those boarder guards sure are sneaky little fellows.

We had anticipated a delay at the boarder – Daniel Harker’s brother has many tales of late-night boarder-crossing that have resulted in the prolonged interrogations that can only survive constitutional challenges because they are performed on non-citizens. But thanks to Wayne’s apparent disinterest, we arrive at the Great Falls airport with time enough to check out the famous Great Falls nightlife, if we had so desired. But instead we opt to stay on the straight and narrow – there will be plenty of time for nighttime festivities later.

Not wanting to pay for a week of parking, we begin looking for a suitable area nearby where we could give Daniel Harker’s car a well-deserved rest. However, the Great falls airport is in the middle of nowhere, which would probably come as no surprise to anyone who has ever been to an airport, or anyone who has ever been to Montana. I guess we should have looked into this, but I had simply assumed that the Great Falls Airport would be somewhere in the vicinity of Great Falls. Fortunately for us, another vestige of civilization often found in the middle of nowhere is the trusty service station. In this case, our salvation was called the Flying J. The J is a truck stop across the interstate and mile or so from the airport whose large parking lot particularly caught our eyes. We sputter into one of its extra large parking spots and jerk to a stop, grateful for the small miracle that Daniel Harker’s car had just pulled off by completing her journey. That we need to return all the way home in a week isn’t a worry at this point.

We go into the J’s convenience store to ask if we could leave the car here for the week. (I would rather leave it here forever, but Daniel Harker might object to my indifference to his transportation needs). The store’s cashier was a burnout with stringy hair and droopy eyelids, either from drugs or from the fact that it was two-thirty in the morning.

“Excuse me,” asks Daniel Harker. The burnout looks up. “Would it be ok if we leave our car in the parking lot for a week while we fly from the airport?”

The burnout looks a little surprised. Either this was the first time anyone had ever contemplated parking at the J and hiking over to the airport, or else he is only now realizing there is an airport nearby. He shrugs – a gesture I presume signals the affirmative. I imagine the late-night cashier probably doesn’t even have the authority to refill the hot dog warmer, let alone hand out impromptu parking passes, but I just want to get going.

We return to the car and prepare for the next leg of our journey. We have each packed a standard size bookbag with only the essentials: a couple of clothing changes, a few toiletries, and swimming suits. We shed our jackets and place them in the trunk, even though we realize very quickly that April in Montana is not t-shirt weather. But we leave them anyways, since there will be no need for coats where we are going; and besides, it’s just a short walk to the terminal. Well, that short walk turned out to be a tad longer than expected.

I never would have imagined that our trip to Mexico would include trudging for over a mile of frozen Montana foothills at 3:00 in the morning without any kind of protective clothing. But at least we can see the glowing lights of the Great Falls airport ahead, guiding us like the Moses’ pillar of fire. As my eye remains fixed on the terminal’s florescent lights, my mind’s eye is fixed on its internal heating. Shivering, I will myself to take each step, keeping in mind that at the end of this path is Cancun, with its tropical climate and shimmering beaches.

Finally we reach the airport’s glass doors, which not only offer us the warm that we desperately crave, but a view of padded benches that would be perfect for a well-needed sleep (our nocturnal journey finally starting to catch up with us). Pete, reaches for the door and pulls the handle.

It doesn’t budge.

He pulls again. Nothing.

He shakes it. I try the other door without success. The airport is locked! We are shut out in the cold. I can’t believe it. Aren’t all airports open 24 hours a day? I guess Great Falls isn’t the Metropolis I thought it was.

The three of us fan out to peer into the large windows for any sign of life. I can’t see a soul. The airport is completely deserted. I look back the way we came, back at the Flying J in the distance. Do we actually have to hike all the way back there? We certainly can’t sit at the airport’s front door for who knows how long before it opens. After a brief discussion, we decide we have no other choice. We might as well go back to our coats and try to get a few hours of sleep in the car. We start back across the parking lot, dejected.

But wait – is there someone over there? Yes, there is! Inside the booth at the parking lot’s entrance is a middle-aged and somewhat overweight woman. I haven’t the slightest clue why the airport had decided to man the parking booth all night when the airport itself is clearly disserted. I might be mistaken, but I don’t think many people come out to the middle of nowhere to park in front of a building that is locked up as tight as it would be had asbestos been found in its air ducts… although, I must admit, this is essentially what we did; except, of course, we refused to pay the $8/day to do it.

The attendant was very sympathetic to our plight, if a little surprised that anyone would want into the airport at this ungodly hour. She radioed a security guard, and a few minutes, a mustached officer drove up in his pickup and took us to the front door. He pulled out has impressive key ring and let us in the terminal. We might make it to Mexico after all. We thank the guard profusely, and run into the building, marveling at all of its modern amenities as if we had been lost in the woods for years and have just found our way back into the city. Well, I should qualify that last metaphor by specifying that its like we found ourselves back into a Montana homestead, since the walls were filled with antlers and the building’s central decoration is a stuffed cougar growling at us from some boulders set in a man-made waterfall; the escalator passing within inches of his outstretched claws.

We navigate safely past the mountain lion and find ourselves a couple of benches long enough for us to grab a quick nap. After the night we had, I think we deserve it.


That's That

If there is anyone who has not completely giving up on this blog, you may have noticed that I haven't posted anything for a month. Well, there's a good reason for that: I have decided to put it on an indefinite hiatus. I've found that there are many other things that I should/want to do more than write in this blog. For my family, who like reading what I have been up to, I will write on the Cottle Blog every once and a while to let everyone know about life in Virginia. So that's it.

Well.... that might not entirely be it. Although I am sure I want to take an extended break from this blog, I do enjoy having a creative outlet. So I have began writing (very intermittently) a travel story about my trip to Mexico a few years ago, so I will probably post that as it grows. These post will be very infrequent, but if you're board at work or something, you could pop over and see if I've updated.

Thanks for reading