At the coffee shop across form the bus stop where the girls with
hats materialize almost as quickly as those without, sometimes it
is hard to get any work done. No problems when it's mid-day, mid-rush,
when it is busy and loud - the shrieked hiss of steam, swoop of
newspaper pages turning, small children asking, "dad, dad,
dad, can I put, dad, can I put the sugar in?"
One group of people cancel the chatter of another; white noise
generators; the SkyTrain attendants bass rumbling negating the teenaged
shriekers; a conversation about the need to limit one's exposure
to negative thinkers obscured by a lecture on the shit-state of
everything and how the Liberals are to blame. The noise wraps around
itself, a steady roar like surf. Only the occasional words crawl
from the clamour, conversations mingling: "Mark's girlfriend
Jen," "yeah," "well, you know," "yeah,"
"huh," "can't wait it out," "yup,"
"still looking," "yeah," "see you tomorrow."
If I wanted I could operate: a typewriter, on an un-anaesthetized
child with or without an inflamed appendix, loud heavy machinery;
no one would notice. I can read the text I'm editing aloud, or
read it silently, no distractions.
"Hey, hey, check out dudes' hair."
"C'mon, check it out."
"We need two more fries, eh?"
"I'm telling you, look at his"
In Ontario, on the 101 there are convenient rest stop compounds
- a combination of ESSO, Tim Hortons and Wendy's. The Tims and the
Wendy's are housed in conjoined domes, the kitchen and counter at
one end, tables with attached seats that spin part way around fill
the circular space. The domed ceilings are encircled with metal
- I'll say steel even if it isn't - all the way around where the
walls meet the ceiling.
"Who's on fryer? You shits, who's on fryer?"
In June, my sister Megan and I were two-fifths through our East-West
travels, eating, sitting in Wendy's and spinning on our chairs.
I kept hearing voices, and I was spinning in my chair and not seeing
where the voices were coming from and not wanting to ask Megan about
it yet, in case she didn't hear it too.
"No, this weekend we're going to Orangeville."
"To get drunk? Man, last weekend we got so hammer- hey, get
back here. You can't go on break until April comes back. We still
need two fries."
It took a minute to stop pivoting my head and notice that the voices,
which seemed to emanate from somewhere very close, were in sync
with the moving mouths of the Wendy's staff sixty feet away. The
metal loop at the base of the dome was transmitting their voices
around the perimeter with digital clarity, like they were sitting
greasy next to me. I considered the architectural foul-up as I ate
my square hamburger patty in its round bun, and burned myself on
the medium black. The meat tasted boiled but the coffee was decent.
It is February, late, the coffee shop waits for closing time on
a slow day. Individual conversations separate from the general mutter
of talk. Under the mushroom patch of hanging ceiling lights - silver
growths, long and thin, that light the walls and squat black toadstools
that illuminate everything else - voices are reflected by the glass
wall that faces the bus stop; they meander around the room loudly,
making themselves hard to ignore.
There is an exchange at the counter and the customer protests, "-but,
honey never goes bad."
"It crystallizes eventually, but it never goes bad."
"Oh, maybe I knew that. Anyway, we don't have any left. Sorry."
We were somewhere in Northern Ontario I drove from Charlottetown
to Vancouver, so I know: the Ontario to elsewhere ratio is skewed
in Ontario's favour, whether you like it or not - when I started
to get the shakes because I had been drinking only caffeinated
beverages, coffees and cokes, for the last two days and had become
very dehydrated. I didn't realize all of that right away. I was
very tired. I said mean things to Megan because everything was
"I'm a writer," someone at a table near the bathroom says,
"since New Years. I just decided." He is speaking with
someone quieter than himself.
"I used to give speeches, but there wasn't a lot of money.
I was, I called myself a community educator."
"Speeches about anything, yeah. Have you seen The Bourne Identity?
The movie ruined the book."
"Robert Ludlow is one of my favourite contemporaries. The
movie had a really clichéd plot, it was too Hollywood; you
should really read the book."
The dump truck had a sign on its ass that said, "Do Not Push"
so I didn't push. I hung back, looked for an opening. Passed.
Between Marathon and the Ontario border only five cars passed
my Hyundai. Except when we stopped to pee, to eat, to get coffee
lots of cars passed us then, but I wasn't counting.
Off topic, not getting much work done. Shaming me with their obvious
work ethic, people at the bus stop are helping their selves with
soft-cover books they hope will dispel the hum of disappointment
they feel, that they don't talk about much, that they couch in
a positive attitude that they don't feel yet, but might sink in
with more repetition. Even now, at night, under the street lights
they are learning the power of now, of financial fitness, how
to be a self starter, while waiting they wait for the bus
a loud brake-screeching example of the success they've not yet
achieved, but really hope and work for.
The tone of voice makes implicit that while he would like his co-worker
to be attracted to him, he is not attracted to her. He declines
the obvious openings she tries to create with her sad stories, flirts
with flirting with her.
"You're a young, good looking girl," he says offhand,
audibly not looking her in the eyes.
"Really?" she replied, "I didn't know they did that
"Anywhere. Bars make lots of money from young women
guys will go wherever there's women, so, you should get in to
any bar without cover."
"I guess that makes sense."
The silence is awkward.
"Yeah. Did you know honey never goes bad?"
"Never, eventually it crystallizes, but"
I'm out the door and gone.