I Didn’t Come to New York City

Today, I’d like to take you for a trip with my Mom and Dad which I didn’t even go on.  Actually, it’s a couple of trips, but who’s counting?  Dad received a small disability pension from the government.  It wasn’t much, but it made the difference between being stuck in a small town, and affording to take the occasional road trip.

One summer, he and Mom decided that they would drive west to Yellowstone Park.  They drove out through the States, then went north and returned by the Trans-Canada Highway.  I moved a hundred miles away from home for employment.  My brother moved here for a while.  He even tried the big city of Toronto, but he was a small-town boy at heart.  He moved back to Hicksville, (not the one where Billy Joel was born and raised) got a job and a wife.  Dad asked them if they would like to come along.

My brother likes driving.  He currently has a job delivering for an auto-parts/hardware store.  He puts in about a hundred kilometers a day.  His part-time weekend gig is driving limousines.  At the time of this tale, he would volunteer to drive from the base of the Bruce Peninsula, all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota, to pick up parts needed urgently at his firm.  A day out, stay the night in a motel, and the next day back.  He made that run at least three times.  He also would drive 2 hours to Toronto, pick up freight at the airport, and drive 2 hours home.  He has probably driven every mile of I-75, from the top of Michigan, to Miami.  Not all in the same day, although I went with him twice and shared the driving.  We got on at Detroit, and 24 hours later, we were just east of Tampa.  He’s put on a lot of miles, and been a lot of places, but culturally, he’s never left home.

The two couples pulled in to some little roadside diner, somewhere near Yellowstone, for lunch.  My brother, being the culinary daredevil he is, ordered a hamburger.  He knows about fish and chips.  Our town had a “chip wagon”, which served French fries.  With his hamburger, he asked for an order of chips.  He bitched for months about the waitress, who went behind the counter and poured an opened foil bag of chips onto his plate, beside the burger.  That’s not what I f*#^in’ wanted, but I ate the *#@% things.

The next year, by themselves, Mom and Dad drove out to British Columbia.  In B.C., the province licences pulp and paper companies to cut trees.  In return, they must provide and maintain camping sites.  They do this by cutting a swath of trees down and leveling a road, in a loop.  Every hundred yards or so, they hack out a square spot, and level it.  Water and washrooms can be a mile away.  Not exactly cheek by jowl with the nearest neighbor, but, at least the college kids don’t keep you awake with rap music all night.

Dad backed the little camper-trailer into position, parked the car and got the trailer unfolded and set up.  Dad is the grasshopper to Mom’s ant, in this Aesop’s pairing.  He does no more than he absolutely has to and wants to wander and socialize.  Mom was hauling out the cooler, the camp stove, the food and drink, the dishes and the cooking utensils.  She turned around, and he was missing.  Where’s he gone to now, and when will he be back?  He returned about a half an hour later.  Apparently he had walked back to the nearest campsite, to talk to the folks there.  As they drove in, he had noticed that they had Ontario plates.  The color scheme was the same as B.C. plates, but with a different arrangement of letters and numbers.  The conversation went something like this.

Where you from?

Ontario.

Yeah.  I noticed that by the plates.  Where in Ontario?

Southern Ontario.  (This guy wasn’t giving anything away.)

There’s a lot of Southern Ontario, where exactly?

A town called Wiarton, at the bottom of the Bruce Peninsula.

Now Dad’s excited.  I’m from Wiarton.  Well, says the guy, I’m actually from a little village called Red Bay, a few miles west.  Dad says, yeah, I know the place, me too.  Well actually I was born at home, in a cabin, a couple of miles out.  Dad says, yeah, me too!  Back then, it was unusual for women to go all the way to town to have a baby at the hospital.  Everybody had relatives or neighbors or a local midwife.

It turned out that the two men had been born in glorified logging cabins, on the same, still unpaved county road, about a half a mile, and two years apart.  Dad was the older of the two.  They knew each other’s relatives and friends, but had never met.  I find the coincidence of meeting, three thousand miles from home, and almost seventy years later, just awe-inspiring, all because of Dad’s eagle eye.  Then again, we have my son’s story about seeing a flipped coin wind up on edge.  The song says, I didn’t come to New York City, to meet a guy from my home town, but Dad was always pleased to have run into a neighbor that far from home.