Thu 10 Jan 2008
I’m typing this from somewhere in snow-covered Manitoba, Canada, warm and in stocking feet inside a Via Rail train, the “legendary” (as our conductor keeps reminding us) Canadian. There is no wireless-internet out here, so I will post this when during out 50-minute stopover in Winnipeg. I have been living out of this train for the past two days, and still have more than 30 to go before the final stop in Toronto.
We left Anna’s house in Seattle early in the morning. I was blurry-eyed and rushed, Seattle was dark and dripping with rain. She dropped me off at the train station and then continued on to work, and I almost immediately realized I had left my water bottle at her house. My first sacrifice to the road.
I dropped my bags off at the train station, and spent a couple of hours wandering around Seattle, making a loop around the sports stadium, then continuing up to Pioneer Square to look at totem poles and closed storefronts. This is the problem with arriving too early in a foreign city — nothing is open! I had asked a police officer at the station where I should try to go, and he pointed me toward the Chinatown, but I never found what he was talking about. I doubt that it would have been open either, though.
Finally around 9 a.m. things started to come to life, and I visited a gold rush museum, book store and Seattle’s Best Coffee, whose name is apparently a misnomer. Attempts to find a new water bottle or place to get my hair cut were unsuccessful, and I had to be back at the train station by 10 a.m.
With a small group of travelers, who mostly seemed to be English or Australian, I boarded a big bus bound for Vancouver. We had to stop for customs at the border, which meant we were all unloaded and queued into a small room where one-by-one we were grilled by the customs officials. I had a hard time keeping my story straight — telling them I was from California when the address I had put an Oregon address on the form they made us fill out, and saying I used to be a student at Chapman, but then telling the officer how much my train pass was with a student discount. But they did let me through.
Perhaps all my fumbling was due to the fact that I was secretly smuggling a single Orange over the boarder in my bag of food. I ate it as soon as I realized this back on the bus, eager to destroy the evidence.
We pulled into Vancouver around 3 p.m., and it was even gloomier than Seattle. I stopped into a “traveler’s pub” next door to a hostel, hoping to get some tourist information or at least an idea of where I could get a good water bottle, but the pub was hardly filled with travelers, just soggy old locals, the sort of people who hang out in pubs at three in the afternoon. The bartender was a woman who looked to be in her late ’50s who wore a big sweatshirt that proclaimed “This Place is a Zoo!” She gave me a pint and none of the information I needed, except for the location of a hair salon across the street. I did not want to spent the two hours I had in Vancouver inside of a bar, so I drank my beer as fast as I could while reading the Canadian coverage of the American presidential campaign.
After wandering around the streets of Vancouver with my rain jacket pulled tight around me, I stopped into a grocery mart and bought a bottle of water from a very nice Iranian woman at the counter, and then made my way to the hair salon, which seemed to be run by a Vietnamese family. Between all of that and the people at the train station trying to speak to me in French, Vancouver seemed to have a distinctly international flavour.
I didn’t have a great feeling about the salon, but the important thing was that they could cut my hair fast, cheaply and for American money, since I hadn’t yet exchanged my currency. My stylist was a middle-aged Asian man with short and spiky hair, which looked like it had been dyed red about two weeks ago and then forgotten about, from the way his roots were coming in.
“How do you want it?” he asked me.
“Short,” I said, “Shorter on the sides.”
He frowned at me like I had not given him the answer he wanted.
“Like mine?” he asked, motioning to how his hair tapered on the sides.
“OK,” I said, resigned to my fate.
He pulled out his clippers and set to work, never speaking another word to me until he got out the hand mirror to show me the back and asked me how it looked.
It would be impolite to say “not very good,” so instead I just suggested, “perhaps you could cut it so it’s at least even in the front?”
“Your hair is very curly,” he said, like this was my problem, not his, made a couple of minor clips in the front, doused me with hairspray and sent me on my way.
As I paying and eyeing the jar of candies on the front counter, another customer came in and my stoic stylist suddenly became animated, chatting away in Vietnamese. That’s the way it goes, I guess. At least my hair was short, which was all I really wanted, and for the first time in my life, I could say that I had a Canadian haircut. Also, I stole a sucker from the candy jar.
We’re nearly in Winnipeg now, so I’ll have to finish this later. I’ve taken a lot of photos, but for some reason I can’t get my camera to talk to my computer, so for now you’ll just have to imagine photos of wet pigeons in Seattle, my dodgy haircut in Vancouver, and the majestic Canadian Rockies that we’ve passed in the train.
More to come, probably from Toronto.