Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Purpose of the Trip



Yesterday, I mentioned a phone call I got from my old friend Dan. Dan, who's been my friend for nearly 25 years, has been my partner-in-crime in a lot of the hijinks of my life. It was Dan who found the dead guy on his front lawn when he was in college. He was also involved in the road trip in which we were rescued by Elvis.

I was reminded of another yet another road trip Dan and I took a little over 20 years ago, in March of 1987.

In March of 1987, I was working at a downtown Chicago restaurant as an administrative assistant/headwaiter, a fine use of my Master's Degree in Political Science. Dan, who is a couple of years younger than me, was still in school at Eastern Illinois University, where he and I had met a few years earlier.

His spring break was approaching, and we'd decided that we needed to take a road trip. I needed to get out of town. My mother and I had had to hospitalize my father recently, I was in a relationship that was foundering, and I was beginning to really hate my job. I needed to get out of town and really tear it up.

Dan and I called back and forth trying to figure out our roadtrip destination. Oddly, both of us had the thought of going to the Alamo, probably in homage to Peewee's Big Adventure.

We even considered just staying in Chicago. Punk legend Iggy Pop, who'd just released "Blah Blah Blah," a big comeback album for him, was playing in Chicago.

In the end, we opted for Toronto. I'd heard wonderful things about the city for a long time. And the Hockey Hall of Fame was there. Dan and I are big hockey fans (he actually still plays it).

We decided to do an overnight run to Toronto. I had to work that day, so he swung into the city and picked me up at work. Since he was driving, I decided to get a headstart and have a few Wild Turkey and Cokes in honor of our Spritual Guide, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

The bartender was a friend of mine, and she was mixing me triples, so by the time Dan got there, I was feeling pretty good. We ran up to my apartment in Andersonville to pick up my suitcase and my copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," our guide for the trip.

We had one last stop before we embarked-- the Jewel's at Clark and Bryn Mawr, so that I could cash a check to finance the trip; since Dan was a poor college student, and was driving (I did not own a car at the time) and I had graduated and was actually employed, I offered to pay for the trip-- you fly, I'll buy.

I also grabbed a couple of tabloids so that I could get the skinny on the breaking Jim Bakker scandal.

Having just worked a sixty hour week, I soon fell asleep until Dan woke me up as we crossed the border into Canada at Windsor. It was there I first discovered that what I'd heard about Canadians-- that they are amazingly nice and polite-- was absolutely true. The border officer politely and pleasantly queried us about our trip and we were on our way.

We arrived in Toronto and found a motel on the shore of Lake Ontario in the Etobicoke neighborhood. We explored the neighborhood a bit; we found a great record store that specialized in vinyl-- cd's were in the process of replacing records in 1987. It was there that I found a masterpiece-- Karl Douglas's album "Kung Fu Fighting and other Great Love Songs." On it was a sticker that said "You Won't Find This On Compact Disc!"

Thinking back, I kick myself for not buying every copy they had of the record, maybe 20 records, which were 99 cents Canadian each. It would have made for years of great gift-giving, particularly with that sticker on them.

At night, we'd hop on the trolley and venture into downtown Toronto, exploring the clubs. We discovered that Iggy Pop was playing in Toronto-- we needn't have missed him-- if we'd only known.

It was during one of these forays that we discovered that unlike Chicago, Toronto does not have alleys.

One evening, Dan and I were taking the last trolley home and struck up a conversation with a guy with a mullet. He, like us, was a little lit, and we discussed good taverns to go to in Toronto. He told us his favorite, letting us know it was a heavy metal bar-- "I'm into metal, eh?"

We also ventured out in the daytime to see some of Toronto's fine cultural establishments. We didn't end up having enough time to go to the Molson brewery, but we did make it to the Ontario Science Center and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

At the Hockey Hall of Fame, we were surprised to find ourselves the only ones there. We enjoyed the exhibits on hockey greats and the Zamboni collection.

And suddenly, there it was. The Stanley Cup.

At first we thought it had to be a replica, but upon examination, the sign by it said it was the real deal.

It was under a protective case of plexiglass. There was no lock.

I don't know who said it first, but I knew we were thinking the same thing. This would be the ultimate souvenir!

We peeked over to the entrance and realized that the only security there was a polite, unarmed middle aged lady.

We discussed the pros and cons. We would have had no problem getting it out of there. However, we'd taken the bus there-- someone on the bus might notice a couple of hungover Yanks on the bus with the Stanley Cup. And we figured we'd probably have a problem getting it through customs.


Customs: "Do you have anything to declare?"

Dan and Johnny: "A twelve-pack of Molson Blue, two Toronto Bluejays caps, a copy of 'Kung Fu Fighting and Other Great Love Songs' and (mumbled) the Stanley Cup."

Customs: "What was that last one?"



We figured that pilfering the Stanley Cup was probably a capital crime in Canada, so we decided against it.

It turned out that this was a prudent move. The U.S. Border Patrol guy, who was neither pleasant nor polite, tore apart the car looking in vain for contraband when we went back home.

The last night we were there, we went to the bar the mulleted guy had told us about. He had not steered us wrong; the bar was great. We walked in and a Black Sabbath cover band was playing. The singer, who looked and sounded more like Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzy Osbourne himself, was belting out "War Pigs." The Molsons were large, cold and cheap. And we discovered that in Canada, even the metalheads are polite.

The next morning, we departed Toronto, feeling tired, yet reinvigorated at the same time. I felt ready to go back to Chicago and deal with my various problems.

Dan's car broke down on the way home, starting a long tradition-- for years, whenever I rode in his car, it would break down. For several years, he forbade me to ride in, touch, or even look at his car.

A little over a year later, in 1988, Dan, our friend Mark and I got an apartment together in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood. Our antics there will be a source of future blog posts.

One day I had a day off of work and decided to unpack some things I had and put them up on our walls. One of those things was a certificate I'd bought at the Hockey Hall of Fame attesting to the fact that I'd been there. I filled it out, except for the date. I wracked my brain trying to remember the exact date we'd gone to the Hall of Fame. I suddenly remembered the check I'd written, and realized we'd gone two days after I wrote the check. I dug out the box I kept cancelled checks in (this was back in the days when banks still returned your cancelled checks) and found the check.

I found the date I was looking for-- and one more thing that I'd forgotten.

In the "memo" line, while under the influence of Wild Turkey and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I'd written down the purpose of our roadtrip:

"To Finance Spiritual Cleansing."

12 comments:

GETkristiLOVE said...

"We figured that pilfering the Stanley Cup was probably a capital crime in Canada, so we decided against it."

That's hilarious.

busterp said...

Funny post (and link to dead man). I've been to Canada a couple times. Love it there. Eh???.

Molson Brador was a beer we found that had quite a high alcohol content. It was a favorite back here in the states. Especially getting unsuspecting friends buzzed.

Bakker? Ha. We used to make up names and call in pledges. It sounds bad in a way but we could see through him. We sure were right.

kim said...

Oh my God, now that this story has been recorded, does that mean I don't have to hear it anymore?

Wow. Didn't we just throw that trophy away when we were going through the basement?

Danielle said...

Great great great. Nostalgia is sugary sweet. I have only crossed the border to drink long ago at Niagra Falls ended up missing the last bus back to Buffalo and had to hitchhike for the first and last time in my life. But it was a great time indeed.
Great stuff Cool Cat

Skylers Dad said...

You should have at least scratched your name on the cup with a nail as an homage to the old puckheads!

Dale said...

You might be an honourary Canadian for your politeness in leaving the cup where you found it Johnny!

The dead guy story is one of my favourites.

Dead Drunks Wife said...

Ah-ha! It was you and your little friends who wrote that letter!

If I wasn't so drunk I'd...

Anon. Blogger said...

Great story. Isn't it fun to unfold your own personal mysteries? I love how you tracked down the date from your check.

Beth said...

You've had some great spiritual cleansing trips, haven't you?

The Elk said...

i can vouch for the accuracy of this account, but dude! you left out mention of the singing mountie!

Johnny Yen said...

Kristi-
The Canadian people are very nice, but their tolerance has limits, especially when it comes to hockey.

Busterp-
Nice country, eh?

Kim-
That's okay-- when you're senile, I'll tell it every day.

Danielle-
I've crossed near Niagara, on a crosscountry trip with my brother in college. Saw the falls at night-- an awesome sight.

Skyler's Dad-
Yeah, but they might just have figured out who did it.

When I was a little kid, my one idiot brother (I've blogged a bit about him) scratched his name into the beautiful maple finish of my mother's Singer sewing machine with scissors. It was hilarious-- he tried to deny it.

He's not gotten any smarter.

Dale-
That would be quite an honor.

After visiting, I gave serious thought to living in Toronto. It's quite a lovely city you've got there. I've heard some pretty nice people live near there : )

Dead Drunks Wife-
Guilty as charged.

Maybe we can get Darin to re-enact "Murray Choate Climbs to the Top of the World" at Atwoodfest.

Anon. Blogger-
I can pretty clever when I want to be. Or devious, some would say.

Beth-
Well, one needs them once in a while. Of course, some of us have spirits that need cleansing more than others. And of course, there are usually spirits involved in that cleansing.

Elk-
I edited it out to keep the story from getting too long-- I decided to save it for another post.

"Crime stoppers......"

leazwell said...

WE didn't make it to the Science Center - next trip. Wow! Sounds like a fantastic adventure. Or trip although whirl windy was much more sedate!