My observations from summer
“Irrelativity” is on the road as Barry tours his solo shows through the U.S. and Canada this summer. This dispatch is from Vancouver, B.C.Well, this is it – the last day of my summer Canadian tour. Later today, I do my final performance of “American Squatter” at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, then it’s on to Seattle and San Francisco and, of course, Fresno, for some more shows before heading home. I’m big in Fresno. Really.I’m experiencing some serious Personal Montage as I think back over probably the most epic summer of my life. By the time I get home (still about three columns away), I’ll have been on the road for four months. The last time I was on the road for that long was when I hitchhiked to Montana to visit Jesus, and before that it was when I went to England to live in a squat. Oddly enough, the reason I’m on the road NOW is to tell people about those other two times I was on the road. The circle keeps getting tighter.In Toronto, I was staying in someone’s basement while performing a show about living in Jesus’s basement. Not terribly weird – certainly we’ve all stayed in someone’s basement for a while, right? – but these little coincidences start to take on new proportions when you’ve lived on a diet of nothing but falafel for a while. Here in Vancouver I’m doing a show about living in squalor, and though I’m not currently living in squalor, you may not know this if you saw the inside of my van. Or the outside, for that matter.Vancouver is beautiful, clean and sunny, lots of water and bridges and boats and fish and chips. My show is going well here, a nice way to wrap up my time in Canada. I got good reviews in both papers. (“Once again [Smith] cleverly employs technology to elevate the art of monologue to a creative interaction …,” said the Vancouver Sun. The Georgia Straight called it an “… unfailingly engaging show.”) This sort of strokery certainly helps with audience size. My show opened last week to about a dozen people. This is not an inherently bad number, but when you consider the 198 seats that remained empty during this performance, well … make some noise, Vancouver.Things picked up after that, and the crowds have been increasing exponentially since that horrible, horrible day. Except that it wasn’t actually that horrible. The dozen people who were there seemed to really enjoy themselves, and I think I did a good show, so the empty seats soon vanished into my peripheral vision. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I’m sure, but I’m scared I’ll make more out if it than is necessary, so I’ll move on …Since I first crossed the border in early June, I’ve been keeping a list of “Canadian Moments” – those little flashes of experience or observation or overheard quote that, to me, were indicative of the subtle, less-than-tense Canada/USA relationship. This list was kept in preparation for this very column, my last column from Canada, the one where I planned to use my road honed literary skills to cleverly oversimplify the differences between several hundred million people who, in many instances, look, dress, act and speak alike. I look at this list right now and I see that I only have 10 items. In three months. Eight of them are pretty lame. One of them isn’t even a Canadian Moment – the one where I wrote, “The only thing more embarrassing than quoting Niche in an interview is to mispronounce ‘Niche’ while doing so.”That leaves me with one take-home observation from my entire summer, so you’d think it would be a good one, right? Something that lets you know that I’ve been able to put my finger on the pulse of the subtle Canada/America divide after months of poking said finger at it. Well, I think you’ll be pleased. Here it is … ahem:When you go to fill your gas tank in Canada, you can fill up without paying first. Just drive right up, no card swiping necessary, and pump in liter after liter of incredibly expensive gas on the honor system. BUT! Those little tabs on the gas pumps – you know, the ones that you flick down so that you can wander around your car while the gas pumps itself? Well, those have all been disengaged!Canada trusts you to pay for your gas after you’ve pumped it, but demands that you hold the handle during the entire pumping experience!Man, that’s good, huh! Clever, well-observed, multi-layered and succinct. And here I was afraid that I’d learned nothing this summer. Whew … Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays.