Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I’m on the first leg of my mostly-summer-long Canadian tour. Here are some random observations of life on the road.
• I spent two summers touring Canada, east to west, all summer long, and when I finished I tried to sum up the differences in our cultures in one bold observations. It was this: In Canada, you can pull up to a gas station, whip out the nozzle and fill your tank without so much as a “how do you do, eh?” No visit to the person inside the station, no need to swipe a card, no pre-pay required. BUT. The pumps don’t have those little catches that allow you to auto-fill. You have to stand there squeezing the lever the whole time.
Yep. That’s what I got from eight months of research. Look, I never claimed to be a cultural anthropologist.
I wrote about this in a column a few years ago. You may have forgotten it. I know I did. Because my first trip to the pump in Canada I went inside to ask to fill up on pump No. 3. The woman looked at me, wondering why I was telling her such a thing – like walking up to a stranger and saying, “I have a sandwich in my backpack. I’d like to eat it now.” Yeah? So?
My point – if you can call it that – apparently I go through life learning nothing. And it takes Canada to remind me of that.
I filled the tank, went inside to pay, and asked where the washroom is. I called it “washroom” because my travel savvy was starting to return. She said there wasn’t one, but the employees got to use the one around the corner. She handed me her keys. Not just a bathroom key, her entire key ring, like with her car key and stuff on it. She asked me to remember to bring them back to her.
• There was an earthquake in Ottawa! I’m staying in an apartment on the top floor of a five-story building, and it was a good ride. I lived near L.A. for years, and have ridden out a few quakes in my time, so I knew what was happening but it was so surreal. They have earthquakes in Canada? Everyone is so nice, I just assumed the tectonic plates would be the same.
• Speaking of nice, there seems to be G20 riots happening in Toronto right now. I’m heading down there to perform next. Today, in fact. I’ve never tried to hand out fliers while being tear gassed before. “Hey, if you guys want to unwind after your anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-patriarchy, queer positive protests, you might want to come check out my little comedy show. It’s mostly about me, and it’s got pictures! Opening night is half off if you wear a balaclava.”
• Three months. No caffeine. Just sayin’.
• It’s Canada Day this week. Canada Day is kind of the Canadian Fourth of July. Sorta. But, unlike “Fourth of July,” it’s really fun to say. Try it, right now, out loud. Canada Day. Canada Day. Canadaday. See? Travel really broadens one’s horizons.
• This will be my fourth visit to Canada, and I will once again not eat poutine. Poutine is French fries topped with gravy and cheese curd. It’s a popular dish – Canada’s equivalent of pizza, I guess, and people tell me it’s good. Still…ugh…
• While hanging out in the Ottawa Fringe Festival beer tent, I met some guy and told him which show I was doing and his eyes lit up. He said, “If I don’t get to see your show I will kill myself.” He sounded serious, said he’d heard great things about it and was really trying to work out his schedule so he could catch my last show. Now, I don’t think my show is worth killing yourself over, but I would also never try to talk anyone down from whatever level of enthusiasm they care to muster. I’m embarrassed to say that I was flattered.
Well, my final show was yesterday, and he wasn’t in the audience, and I saw him later that night in the beer tent looking very much alive. In fact, he even seemed to be happy. Loser.
(Next time – more stuff from the road.)
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