What’s a senior getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning for?
Yeah, yeah, besides that . . .
Well, this senior got out of his bed yesterday morning at 4:30 to begin a 2,000-kilometre trip around Northern Ontario in less than a week.
No, I’m not being paid for it. No, I’m not compelled to do it. No. I’m doing it for pure pleasure.
You see, I love to write, and writing requires research, which means finding out how the rest of the world lives, or has lived in the past.
My goal was to reach Timmins by nightfall, with multiple stops along the way at Hearst, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Cochrane, and at roadside. Yes, from time to time I’d pass a transport or motorcyclist and then I’d pull over on the shoulder and scribble stuff in my notebook and then I’d catch up with the transport or motorcyclist and pass them again. Yes, that’s what writers do.
Okay, that’s what THIS writer does.
Okay, I did have a companion. Her name is Garmin. Okay, Garmin is my GPS navigational system. Garmin is helpful in countries with wild geography. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an address in a foreign village when the natives do not publish maps and they hide the street name signs? Even Garmin was confused most of the time.
Between Hearst and Cochrane my cell phone went on strike, so I could not reserve a hotel room until suppertime.
Speaking of eating, I was too busy to eat until I reached Timmins. I thought I deserved a beer. Research, and writing, is sometimes an exhausting, demanding job that requires dedication, mental fortitude, and physical stamina.
I love a craft beer, which I can find only in cities. Timmins is a city. It is chock-full of traffic, and pollution of all descriptions, and crowdedness. I found a place that serves beer fresh from the tap. Wacky Wings.
Wacky Wings is a tavern, not a funny farm. But its goal is to be a funny farm.
Wacky Wings has everything you can desire in a funny farm – heavy traffic, pollution, and crowdedness. But the ten spigots of draft beer lined up at the long bar made my decision for me. I choose the brand that had local flavour. I chose Stella Artois. Originally brewed in Belgium.
I sat at the long bar with two other consumers, who were consumed with chatting. The rest of the crowd preferred to lose themselves among the forest of cedar poles and shady nooks. I had ten television monitors all to myself.
Two monitors were tuned to a sports trivia channel. Two were tuned to a poker channel. Six were tuned to a music video – the same music video on all six monitors. Eight monitors were the size of Madonna’s bed. Two were the size of the Senate Chamber – but not so red. Noise poured out of all ten monitors.
And I couldn’t hear a thing. That’s city living for you.
Earlier in the day, in Cochrane, I was interviewing an old-timer who worked on the construction of the Geraldton-Hearst highway in the early ‘40s. He was a teenager at that time. He loved driving trucks. He lived in an isolated camp in the untamed wilderness of Northern Ontario and drove a truck ten hours a day. For twenty-five cents an hour. And after supper, he put in another four hours overtime, for twenty-five cents an hour, driving a truck along tote roads, shuttling full 45-gallon fuel drums that he loaded himself.
I know you’re wondering what a tote road is. There are two ways to drive in an untamed wilderness. One is to drive through the bush, but you hit a lot of trees that way. The other way is to use a tote road, which is a trail with most of the trees removed. When you go off the tote road, you cut down a couple of fresh trees, stick them under the drive wheels, and lever yourself back on the trail.
Marcel Labelle loved that job because he loved trucking. He saved enough quarters that he could afford his own truck, and he grew that truck into one of the biggest trucking firms in Northern Ontario. Kids in those days, eh?
I love writing. That is why at Wacky Wings I was prepared to eat chicken noodle soup (the only choice) from a square bowl. Yes, it was a challenge to get the last drops out of the corners. And I fed myself a Greek salad from a square bowl. And I gazed at the poker channel, which did not show you any of the cards the players had. And I gave up on the sports trivia after two seconds.
I read some of the posters behind the bar: “Who says happy is just an hour.” Yeah, that was a mental challenge. “Steve’s Roadkill Café – You kill it, We grill it.” Gee, never heard that one before. And the best one? “People say I have a bad attitude. I say, screw them.”
When I finally tracked down the Labelles in Cochrane (Garmin was no help), they welcomed me warmly into their palatial home. We had a great chat. Marcel is ninety-three years of age, fully follicled, perfect eyesight, excellent hearing, athletic of bearing . . . all of which I am not. Frances is a diminutive lady, full of grace, passionate about her husband and her interests. They would not let me leave. They thrust books upon me, gave me a tour of the estate, and insisted I appreciate their rock collection. I mean, after you’ve seen an ancient stone knife Marcel retrieved from the Montreal River, a chunk of anthracite from James Bay, and a piece of coral reef from the Caribbean, all you’ve really seen are rocks. You’d think that millionaires would devote time to more exotic pursuits, such as eating from square bowls.
Eating and drinking are not the only attractions at Wacky Wings in Timmins. There were several hundred thousands of dollars invested in electronic games that no one, when I was there, was playing. There were signs tacked up stating that the distance to Santiago, Chile was 9,160 kilometres, and to Attawapiskat, 492 klicks.
Attawapiskat. A nice Northern touch. Wacky Wings tells us its franchise was founded to give patrons the ambience of life in the North. Hence the cedar poles. A forest of them.
The highlight of Wacky Wings is the outhouses. That’s what they call ‘em. One of the Roosters and one for the Hens. Real Northern lingo, that. In the Roosters coop, there were three urinals, side by side, in a cramped space. It would be so much fun to jostle shoulder to shoulder with inebriated patrons as they aimed their pistols at the sweet spots. And the wash basins were one long horse trough. Fortunately, when I used it, the equines were stabled for the night.
This morning I woke up at 4:30 for you know what. I was still tossing and turning at 6:30, so I got up. I wrote this post for you. Yes, I am mentally and physically exhausted, but that’s normal for a writer.
And I am having so much fun.
Today I will be having a wild time at Timmins public library and archives. I can’t begin to imagine what I will discover in the real world of research.
Wish you were here. In fact, the Labelles have invited me back, along with friends. Their home could accommodate everyone, but not so, I’m afraid, Wacky Wings.
But you’d probably find Wacky Wings a little dull after what you’d discover in the real world.