In Tofino, I went to the guy who ran a used-everything shop with the copy of “East of Eden” my ex-girlfriend gave me for my 30th birthday. I never read it and I was about as far west as one can be without spilling out into the Pacific, at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway, sniffing sea salt and hyacinths as Spring came up roses everywhere. I asked the proprietor of the shop if he did trades, and he said sure why not, and proceeded to try to sell me a television and a DVD player. I browsed his books and found a Murakami that I already owned, went to the register, and said, “Here. It’s a good deal.” He agreed, and I left. Ben and I drove back east.
The previous night, Ben had been completely shitfaced. He left the restaurant we were at fifteen minutes or so earlier than I did, went back to our motel room, and crashed, hard. It was around midnight. When I got back, I found that he had deadbolted the door shut, which wouldn’t be a problem if I’d had a key for the deadbolt, but which was because I didn’t. I pounded on the door for what seemed like an eternity. A woman below us came outside to let me know that people were trying to sleep.
“I’m kind of S.O.L. here,” I said. “If I had my car keys I’d just crash in the car, but those are in the room and my buddy is wasted and passed out.”
She said, “Okay, well, just don’t knock for too much longer.”
After calling the emergency motel number and receiving no answer, and weighing the pros and cons of walking into town and trying to find another room, I did what any former house painter would do — I walked around to the back of the motel and asked myself if I thought I could climb up to our room. I decided that Ben was probably too drunk to have locked the balcony door, that I saw a route that wasn’t too perilous. I began my ascent.
In retrospect, I don’t recommend doing what I did, because it was incredibly dangerous. Shimmying along balconies and using dividers as footholds and saying to yourself, “You’d better hold on and PULL now, because if you don’t, you’ll break your fucking neck” — none of that is OSHA approved, even less so in pitch black. When I finally thrust myself over the railing and opened the door to our room, I went to Ben and shook him awake and yelled at him:
“You’re a fucking idiot! What the fuck?” I said. “I just had to risk my fucking life to get into this fucking room because you’re too dumb to lock a door properly!” Ben apologized, I went out to the balcony for a cigarette, and when I came back in, he was passed out again.
My friend Will told me to go to Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park to romp around in old-growth forests, and so we did, Ben and I. I picked up our car at the Enterprise station in Victoria Tuesday morning. The gas tank was 3/8 full. No problem. We’d fuel up in Port Renfrew before we went into the trees.
Which is a good idea in theory. In practice, you should know that Port Renfrew’s one gas station is closed for six months every year. When we arrived in town, I slowed down at the sign that directs tourists to food, accommodations, gasoline. Beneath the pump symbol was a single word, all caps: “CLOSED.” I couldn’t help but laugh, point.
“What?” Ben asked.
“The gas station is closed,” I said.
We went to the general store and talked to the woman behind the register who told us that the guy who runs the dump might have gas, as he apparently did quite a fine side-business selling it to tourists who are too dumb to realize that, duh, Port Renfrew doesn’t sell gas in the winter. His name was Evan. “It’s just up the road on the left. Make a turn on the dirt road and drive up the hill. You can’t miss it.”
Of course, we missed it. We pulled up the second dirt road, where there was another man who lived in a trailer on grounds that could pass for a dump. We were greeted by his dog, yipping like a little shit and trying its very best to get run over.
“Hello?” we called out.
As the dog continued to bark, the man in the trailer was eventually roused from his sleep. It was probably around 1:00 in the afternoon. He did not acknowledge our “Hellos,” instead simply telling his dog to shut the fuck up and come here. I went around to the back to ask if he had gas. There, he put a shirt on and opened the tarp that separated him from the wild, informed me that he wasn’t Evan, and told us to turn around and go to the next dirt road. He was the picture of Santa Claus, if Santa Claus lived in abject poverty in the Canadian outback.
Evan was expecting us; people in Port Renfrew apparently call one another to tell them about the idiot tourists in their midst. Ben didn’t have any cash, so I paid with American dollars. $25 for half a tank. It was a bargain, and I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy as I was when we finally left, knowing that we could get to wherever we needed to end up without the car dying in the middle of the wilderness. We went into the forest and flirted with 1,000 year-old giant trees, and then drove through the mountains and the rain to Nanaimo, where I flirted shamelessly with a young woman from Germany named Anita before Ben and I eventually went back to our room and slept.
In Courtenay, we were greeted by Ron and Leanne. Ron is one of Ben’s dad’s oldest friends. We brought them beer and scotch to thank them for hosting us for a night, and Ron took us out on a tour of the area at dusk to see deer and geese in the pastures.
I told Ben, “I fucking hate deer.” But I didn’t tell Ron.
Ron is kind of a hippy and not-a-little-bit nutty, but he’s got a house and a barn and horses and chickens, and he lives like he wants to live, so I have nothing but respect for him. As the night wore on, I snuck out to the car to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey and look at the stars. Jesus Christ, the stars. And eventually, after his son and daughter-in-law had left, we all decided to hit the hay for the night. I told Ron, “Oh, I’ll be up at 6:00 or so, so we can do coffee together before your doctor’s appointment.” Ron has a bum knee that won’t go away. It’s probably somewhat shitty getting old. I guess I’ll know soon enough.
I was up at 5:30, and Ron was up an hour or so later. We had coffee and talked about this and that as Leanne got up. We watched the morning news before Ben came downstairs and Ron left for the doctor. When he came back, it was pouring rain and I helped him with some firewood and we all pretty much agreed that the conditions were pretty shitty for the fishing we had planned. Instead we played cribbage. Ron won the first game, and I won the second. Leanne went to her spin class and Ben and I gave her hugs and thanked her for everything. Then we went out for lunch.
Ron brought us to what might be the shittiest diner I’ve ever been to, but it was the thought that counted. I had a sandwich. Ron paid. At the end, when we were leaving and doing another set of hugs, Ron told Ben and me, “Take care of one another.” Which maybe is what the whole vacation had been about, after all.