Choo-Choo

Before the summer ends, I thought I’d take you all on another virtual vacation trip with my parents.  After we had bought that bank-vault on wheels, we took it camping in a variety of places.  One summer, my Dad decided we would concentrate on the area near Bracebridge, Ontario.  Since that fateful summer so many years ago, Bracebridge has installed a theme park called Santa’s Village.  Nowhere near as large and all-encompassing as the all-Christmas, all-the-time town of Frankenmuth, MI., but it still draws its share of tourists.

We pulled into town and located the tourist camp.  The town is on the edge of the Canadian Shield, so there is lots of rock.  The camp itself nestled along the edge of a river at a big bend.  Projecting above the campgrounds was a vee-shaped, hundred foot high, stone outcropping.  After we got set up, my younger brother and I went for a walk.  About a block back, where we entered the camp, the rock sloped down so that you could drive about half-way up the steep grade, and climb to the precipice.

We walked up and stared down at our tiny trailer.  In today’s world, there would be steel railings, high mesh fences, air-bags at the bottom and so many warning signs, that you couldn’t see the magnificent view.  Back then there was common sense and self-reliance, and a hundred foot drop.  Having seen what was to be seen, we felt we should return to camp.  Most people just went back down the middle, but we wandered around one edge.  The front was so sheer that only a professional climber with pitons could ascend.  Around the side, where it was merely 90 feet high, the wall was only an 80 degree slope and had cracks and little ledges.  “Do ya want to climb down?”  And down we started.

We made it down safely, although we could have walked back around and got home sooner.  At the bottom was an eight foot pile of scree, which angled down to the edge of the road.  I stepped off onto it carefully, but my brother dropped the last couple of feet into it, and lost his footing.  He tumbled into me, and the two of us rolled right down onto the road, and nearly got run over.  The fact that it would have been ironic wouldn’t have made the hospital visit any better.

The next day we packed the trailer back up and headed further north.  I asked Dad where we were headed, but he just said, “You’ll see.”  We didn’t exactly get lost, but we didn’t get where Dad wanted to be, and had to turn around and go back, and then onto a different road.  Back before GPS and computer maps, I’m surprised that anyone ever got anywhere.  Without Sacajawea, Lewis and Clarke would still be in the parking lot at a Wal-Mart in Montreal.

We finally turned off the paved road, and headed into the bush.  After a couple of miles, the dirt road T-ed out.  Do we turn left or right?  Dad finally decided on right, and started to drive.  After a while I noticed that there were steel rails not too far off the road.  Dad finally admitted that he had heard from someone, that there was a miniature railway back here, which connected two lakes.  We drove for another mile or so and came to one of them.  The tracks went right out onto a concrete dock.

Apparently, by getting lost, we had come at this railroad from the wrong side, and should have turned left at the T-intersection.  If we had gone the other way, we would have reached a nice little campground and village.  On this end there were a few houses and a tiny general store.  Because we drove the extra miles, we had run out of daylight.  The sun was going down.  No time to drive back through the bush to the other end.  Dad talked to the store owners.  They were heading for bed, but told us we could park on the tiny lawn at the end of the building.

There was no room to open the trailer, so we decided to just sleep in the car.  Fortunately it was a station-wagon.  We hauled the stuff in the back out, and Mom, Dad, and my brother slept (?) in the back.  I jammed my feet under the steering wheel in the front.  We had no mosquito netting and it was way too hot and muggy to roll the windows up, so it was doze, slap, doze, slap all night.  I don’t want to say that the mosquitoes were big, but I saw two of them molesting a seagull.

We were out of the car at first light, and down to the lake with soap and wash cloths.  These little lakes sit in hollows of solid rock, and their average temperature is enough to make penguins order take-out.  The store finally opened at eight AM and we got some coffee and hot chocolate for breakfast.

The tiny train was sitting right across from us, so we went over to have a look.  Unless it got lost when Mom died, we have a photo of me, as a twelve-year-old, stretching up to lean on the walk-rail around the front of the steam engine.  Re-watch Back To The Future III to see Doc Brown, and how big the full-size model is.

Finally a couple of guys came from the nearby cabins and started the boiler on the train.  By ten o’clock it was ready to make its first run of the day.  A locomotive, a fuel tender, (I don’t remember if it burned coal or wood.) three flat-bed freight cars and a passenger car.  The two lakes were only four miles apart, but, to get from one to the other by water, was over fifty miles.  The little railway had been put in to haul lumber, small boats and other freight.

Off we went for a lovely ride through the woods.  When we got to the far end, there was a two-hour hiatus before going back, but at least there was more civilization to wander around and look at while we waited.  Finally, we huffed and puffed and chuffed our way back to the car.  We drove back to Bracebridge and stayed at the same camp for another day to recuperate.  Wrong turns and giant mosquitoes and all, it was an adventure I’m glad I didn’t miss.  I hope you’ve enjoyed rummaging through my fading memories.

Yay! Olympics!

When I was about eight years old, my father bought a camper-trailer.  Unlike today’s lightweight units, this one was built like a small shed, heavy as sin.  Being trailering tyros, we took along four full-sized concrete blocks to support the corners.  Thank something, that the days of heavy, powerful cars were not past.  I don’t know how we pulled that monster, but from then till I was 14, we went somewhere every summer.

I need to clean out the paint locker at the back of my mind and offer up another story of how a small-town boy had his horizons widened a bit.  In the meantime, this story isn’t about a trip.  It’s about who we saw when our trip was interrupted.

This was the summer of 1953, or ’54.  We had been camping here and there for almost two weeks.  We were moving from north to south, somewhere just east of Toronto.  We almost reached a main east/west highway and were stopped by a Provincial Police officer.  He told us we’d have to go back and around another way, or find a place to park at the side of the road until “She” went through.  She, who??  Queen Elizabeth, of course!  He took pity on a family of campers, and told us how to get down to the little city ahead, and where to park, but insisted that we could not cross the main road until after the parade.

We followed his directions, and decided that, if we were stranded, we might as well get a vantage-point on the sidewalk.  Mom and Dad piled up at the back of the crowd.  Mom was 4’ 11”, I don’t know if she saw anything.  Dad was 6’, he might have.  I was about eight or nine.  I just insinuated myself through the crush until I was right down front.  The crowd ran right to the curb, and wasn’t allowing any room, even for a little kid, so I just stepped off the curb and stood in front.  As the Queen and Prince Philip rolled regally through town, I was only eight feet away from her.  Big F…..ng Deal!  Can we get back to camping now?

It happened again last Friday night.  The wife and I went down to the Rec room, to watch Jay Leno, and there was that damned woman interrupting my planned enjoyment again.  The Tonight show was delayed by an hour for a broadcast of the opening of the Olympic Games.  Well, it wasn’t just her.  I got to see David Beckham, a man who makes his living on dry land, row his boat up the Thames and pass off a fancy cigarette lighter to some other guy, who gave it to a passel of pre-teen arsonists, who managed to start a big fire on the ground.

Get the feeling I’m none too impressed, yet??  How observant!  Actually, as shows go, it was a decent show.  The pacing fireworks as Bend-it’s boat raced up the river, how the individual copper leaves on the ground rose on gas-pipes, to amalgamate and form the Cauldron, the fireworks that went off after the flame was lit, all of these were grand theater.  At least they went off in a timed display, not like San Diego’s 10-second, Fourth of July, boom and fizzle.  But theater was all it was.  Bread and circuses for the masses.  Proof of this is the fact that responsibility for the show was given to a Hollywood director.

Owned, sponsored and controlled by multi-national corporations, it reminded me of the movie Demolition Man.  Do you know that attendees’ clothing style was restricted and controlled?  If you were wearing a tee-shirt mentioning Pepsi-Cola, you would be prevented from entering, because Coca-Cola bought all soft-drink promotional rights?

Perhaps it’s because I learned early that I can’t compete, but I’ve always been more of a fan of co-operation.  For every competition, there’s only one winner, and all the rest of 203 countries, are just a bunch of losers.  It’s all just a feel-good societal ego sop.  Millions of dollars poured into each country’s athletes’ training and transportation.  Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of hours spent training for this soap opera, and when it’s all over, even if “we” garner a few fake medals, not a job has been created, our GNP has not increased, nor the national debt reduced, and banks still need bailing.

Us vs. Them prevails.  Tribalist chest thumping.  I wouldn’t be so cynical if people watched simply to see top-level athletic performance.  They’ll tell you that’s why they watch, but, the same folks who haven’t even driven past a swimming pool in the last four years, are suddenly experts on synchronized three-meter diving.

These games are supposed to promote international fellowship but their very competitive format prevents it.  It all boils down to, “Our team doctor is better at masking performance-enhancing drugs than your team doctor.”

Some of the “sports” that are getting in are just ridiculous.  One person synchronized swimming?  I could send over a dictionary so they can look up the meaning of synchronized.  And the little girls running around on gym mats, waving sticks with ribbons on them??!  Are they just so chi-chi that they got kicked out of drum-majorette school?  Trampoline?!  I thought the kids down the street were just playing.  Good Lord, what’s next, Tiddly-Winks and pie baking?

Ah well, it is the middle of the summer, and there’s almost nothing else on television.  Everyone can watch what they want but, I don’t watch chick-flicks.  If I watch something by a big movie director, it better have some adult language, rock-‘em-sock-‘em Kung Fu action, car chases, explosions, and maybe a little gratuitous nudity in it.  Why is Victoria fully clothed??!

I’ve kept my eyes tightly closed for a week now.  It’s half-way over.  Soon I won’t have to worry about this meaningless display for another four years.  What’s that??  What Winter Olympics in two years??  Will it include competitive Sno-Cone Serving?  Where’s a good movie when I need one?