Thursday, March 5, 2009

Paging Wallace Stegner (Day Four Continued)

Paging Wallace Stegner (Day Four Continued)

This is what I have been anticipating for nearly a year. Every detail, every weather forecast, Mapquest direction, Farmer's Almanac chart, review, etc.

But most of all, was the house.

I left Harlem, and took a road north towards the Canada border. The land starts to rise and I rise with it.

The topography spreads out before me. It stretches until you cant see it anymore - One long, wide, flat plain. The snow has melted so much, that wheat and corn stalks show their yellow poking out of the brown earth, Prairie Dogs run about the fields, and birds flicker about across the road in a near suicidal manner.

I turn on the satellite radio for the first time (183 channels) and the first song I hear is "Devil Woman" by Cliff Richard (first time in 10 years, at least) followed by "What Is Life" by George Harrison. Then I hear some comedy by Lewis Black, who is ranting about Jermaine Jackson naming his kid "Jermajesty". I burst out laughing.

I get caught up in this a little too much, because up ahead, I suddenly see the International Border. It says STOP AND PARK HERE. I stop the car, gather my passport card, and get out to walk into the building.

Bad idea!

A head pops out of the window of the office, and says to me in a stern voice.

"Sir? please get back in your car and drive to the window!"

"okay", I reply (feeling like an idiot).

I pull up, as if I am at a drive-thru bank teller.

"where are you coming from, and what is the nature of your visit?"

I explain the nature of my visit in no small detail, but I am never good at making consistent eye contact with anyone. This immediately makes him suspicious.

"what is this 'artist residency'?'

I explain again, including the benefit show I am to play on the 7th.

"Do you have any alcoholic beverages in the car?"

"Just a couple of cans of Guinness"

I detect a slight smile, his teeth are brown - like he has been eating baked beans and bacon.

He still doesn't buy my explanation of the benefit show, and he wants more details.

I offer him to look at the copy of the poster for the event, and he readily accepts it.

"I'll be back with this and your passport in a moment"

(tenseness ensues...)

He comes back with more questions.

"Have you ever been to Canada before?"

"Yes sir"

"Have you ever been arrested before, or been denied entry into the country?"

"No sir"

He hands me back my documents and says, "Enjoy your visit"

Relieved: I respond, in a near breathless, "Thank you"

I pull the car up about 50 feet, and naturally take another picture.

Now I head towards Climax (birthplace of former Boston Bruin, Gordie Kluzak) and I snap a picture of the grain tower (every town has one out here).

A few seconds later, I nearly drop my camera as the pavement disappears underneath me.

"WHAT THE FUCK???" I yell, as the car starts bouncing around.

Turns out, they are ripping up the pavement for several miles, and the road is now reduced to loose dirt and rocks.

I can't shift into All Wheel Drive on the fly, and I don't dare stop, for fear the car will sink into the soft dirt, so I skitter along as if I am driving on the worst beach ever. All the joy and serenity I previously held, is now replaced by grave concern!

My GPS device does not guide me into Canada, and I see no road signs. I can only assume I am going the right way. Eventually the road becomes repaved, and I continue for the next 40 minutes into Shaunavon.

The countryside looks prehistoric once again, as I descend into the Frenchman River Valley. As I turn West towards Eastend, I see small oil pumping rigs, and the previously ultra-clean air smells like gas.

Eventually, things clear up, and the final 10 miles are serene.

I am now in Eastend.

I need no directions at this point, as I have been researching the town for a year. I instinctively turn onto Tamarack Ave North, as if Wallace Stegner himself is guiding me.

And there it is.

I park the car, snap one last picture, and step inside.

There is a note on the door for me, containing the key.

My hands shake a little as I open it, and only read a little of the note as I grab the key and unlock the door.

It reads: "Welcome to the Stegner House, Scott"

I look up the stairs to where I will be staying for the next week, as a year's worth of plans, and 15 years of literary admiration have built up to the final release.

I'm finally here.

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