So, fourteen days of self-isolation ended yesterday, and I went into the world. That, plus being super careful at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, meant I had not stepped into society for three and a half months (except for the inter-city bus ride to get me here).
Mask on face, I got on the city bus and sat in a designated seat, keeping folk (hopefully) at a healthy distance. Seating was reduced by half. Not everyone wore masks.
Reaching my destination, and out on the street where I could keep my distance, I pushed my mask off (though I did not put it away). There was moderate foot traffic, and it was not difficult to keep from getting close to people. I ‘d guess only one in twenty wore a mask.
I have a favourite walk along the harbour, and when I reached the water I attempted to set out on it. First, I did check to see if the public washroom was operating. It was. However, I found my usual trek was restricted by construction. I had to start along a city street, which is narrow this close to the harbour. There was no way not to be close to folk walking in my direction, and I pulled up my mask. Again, few others were wearing masks.
Once beside the water, where the wooden walkways are wide, it was much easier keeping away from other folk. There were many people there (it was a nice summer day) and the majority of them did not wear masks. Outside bars were open, and I saw groups of people (10 – 20) sitting at long tables. There were also folk in twos and threes sitting on public benches.
I knew there would be no cruise ships in port (that business is dead for the year), but I eventually realised there were no pleasure crafts, either. All of the moorings were deserted, and it made quite a difference. The only marine traffic I saw was a Pilot Boat on its way out.
I did sit awhile (a favourite pass time) at an individual chair, and looked out toward the Atlantic Ocean. And was happy there was some breeze.
As I continued, I was surprised that (I believe) all the restaurants were open. Folk were inside and out on the patios. No masks were visible (except on the servers). There were reduced numbers, of course, but I bet the restaurants were as full as they could be.
I eventually continued along the streets to get of a large grocery store. I had not been in a commercial building for three months. I lucked out when, as I entered, one employee was wiping down a shopping cart. I grabbed it. I was only getting a few items (though – as usual – there were some unplanned purchases). More shoppers had masks, but I’d guess 50% did not. Nor (you can believe this) did they all follow the arrows on the floor. Still, I was in and out quickly, paying with a credit card (I did see one person use cash).
Next door is a Liquor Store, and I made some purchases there. No one else wore masks. I did not stay long, knowing full well what I wanted.
The bus back was much like the one I took to the harbour. Enter by the side door. Designated seat. No ticket necessary.
So a day has passed. Purchases requiring refrigeration were disinfected and put away. The rest I’m just going to let sit until the respective safe time frames for the respective containers passes.
I decided to stay put today.
I crossed the border yesterday, in this time of Pandemic. On an intercity bus. Restricted to nine passengers. At least I had a seat to myself.
The last time I crossed a border under threat of reprisal was decades ago. I entered (and left) Czechoslovakia (as it was then called) by train. I had gone to Prague to follow the footsteps of Kafka. Then the concern of authorities was all about smuggling. Dire consequences that could put you in prison. And, on my way back out of the country, I was subject to a random search. Open my luggage, and spread what items the soldier decreed upon the seat and aisle, as he poked and prodded. He took interest in an object ( I forget what it was) which quite quickly could be seen to be a commercial souvenir. Thankfully. My careful packing had then to be shoved helter-skelter back into my luggage. Better a jumble than a jail.
So, crossing the border in the same country in this time of Pandemic was not as filled with anxiety, though anxious I still was. Although travel restrictions are being loosened and (at least in this neck of the woods) the Curve is being flattened,
Death stalks the Land / and keep washing your hands.
I did change my seat once, because a passenger changed seats to “have a better view”. That seat was across the aisle from me.
I was handed a form to fill out by the bus driver at a transfer station (nearly empty of people) to give to the border guards if they asked. Apparently they did not ask for it all that often. Where are you coming from/where are you going to. Name. Full address. Reason for travel. Do you have any symptoms?
So, with mask in place (well … a lot of the time – though always when off the bus) I had a reasonably pleasant trip on a reasonably pleasant day. Lots of elbow room. There was an hour’s delay at the actual border. When it was the turn for the bus, no officer actually did board to check us out. Or take our forms. However, the driver handed his PA microphone out the window so the officer could tell us that: “Anyone breaking the fourteen (14) day quarantine upon arrival was subject to a $1,000 fine.”
I’ve got thirteen (13) days left.
Bus rides do give one time to observe people – particularly a bus trip longer than one might want to take.
So, I had time on my hands to observe the fellow across the aisle. I’ll take a guess at early thirties, well-dressed, though well-dressed for travel on a bus. He had a fashionable pea coat, tailored jeans, and rugged dressy boots or dressy rugged boots. He was of slender but muscular build, with short hair and a chiseled face. The man exuded military.
He had a neatly appointed carry bag for his food stuffs. It seemed each compartment had its own designation. There was one for sandwiches, one for granola bars, one for fruit. There was even a compartment for a slender, space age-looking thermos. I am not certain what it might have held.
When he used his iPhone, though I was too far away to actually read anything, I noted the cycle of images he went through. There was a deep red shield with a crest and wings; a large silver image of vertical slashing lightning bolts; and a photo of an almost-smiling attractive brunette. Whatever messages he sent seemed to consist of only a couple of lines of text, all done with his thumb.
About half way through the trip he took a book from another case. It was large enough to read the title across the aisle. It was “Merry Hell: The Story of the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919” .
No, I wasn’t able to read all that from across the aisle, but a book search of key words led me to it a few minutes ago. And a fitting tale, think I, for a military chap.
When the bus reached its destination, he kindly indicated that I could precede him to disembark. For which I thanked him. And, as I waited to get my luggage, I saw him embraced – fulsomely – by the attractive brunette on his iPhone. A smiling brunette. An embrace he, as-fulsomely, returned.
Buddy and I are waiting for a bus. Hours ahead await us on the trip, though we go to different destinations. I guess proximity is the reason he starts to talk to me, there being nobody else close.
This conversation is edited, though mostly for continuity.
Buddy : Gotta great day.
Me: Yes. (and it is – the weather is some grand)
Buddy: I’ve come half way across Canada, and still have to take the boat to Newfoundland. (this means another 8 hours on the bus for him, and 9 hours on the ferry)
Me: Hope you can sleep on the boat.
Buddy: And then another twelve hours hitching across the province.
Me: You sure have me beat. (I have 7 hours ahead of me, half by train)
Buddy: I don’t know what will happen. My friend says the church will help people.
Me: You’re not going home?
Buddy; Nope – all dead.
Me: That’s tough.
Buddy: That’s my Mom there. (he points to one of his bags) Got her ashes to bury.
Me: You have a sad time.
Buddy: Found her at the end of the driveway.
Buddy: In the urn. My girlfriend threw all my stuff out. That’s where it rolled.
Me: All your things?
Buddy: I had to store my stuff. Just money left for the bus and the ferry.
Me: I gotta say that sounds cold.
Buddy: She’s keeping my last disability cheque.
Buddy $1,700. Says I owe her.
Me: Do you?
Buddy: I guess. Anyway, there’s no going back there.
Me: That’s what it sounds like.
(At this point the bus driver arrives, asking what luggage is to go under the bus)
Buddy: Not that one. (he points to the one with the ashes) That comes with me.
It was clear weather (easier to choose when one can take the time), and I was waiting for the bus a good hour before departure. I wait outside so I can walk around. There are always a few others who do this, and one fellow approached to ask if I would watch his luggage for a few minutes. I agreed, and said perhaps he could do the same for me. “Sure,” he said. “We gotta look out for each other.” I took that as some Seasonal good will.
While I pondered in the sunshine (the last sunshine, it turns out, that I was to see for four days), I heard a sound that I interpreted as either a roaring bus engine or a plane flying overhead. When neither was revealed, I went looking. On the far side of the bus station is the large parking lot of a large grocery store. In one corner of the parking lot was a forest of cut and bundled Christmas trees. One of the tree vendors was removing the bindings of the trees. He then placed the cut base of the tree on a circular metal platform. He turned on an engine (the sound I had heard), held the tree, and the metal base shook violently. It shook so much that it shook all the loose needles off the tree. The fellow then removed the shaken tree, stood it aside, and did another one. Tools for everything.
As I was watching this performance, an elderly gentleman approached me. Perhaps because I was immersed in a woodland of felled trees, his clothing reminded me of someone from the back woods. His work boots were unlaced, his heavy coat was well worn, and his face was both creased and had the stubble of three days growth. He had a guitar of similar vintage slung over his back.
“Nice day,” said he.
“I’m a Busker,” said he. “I’ll give you a Christmas carol for two bucks. I don’t have enough for smokes.”
“That’s OK,” said I. “I’ll gladly give you two dollars.”
“No – I’m going to sing for it.”
I could not judge if his voice was more rough than the guitar. The guitar was out of tune. Some strings were loose. ‘Hollow’ and ‘twang’ come to mind. I got a hoarse rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. He included three verses.
Then he took my two dollars and wended his way to the large grocery store.
~~ Bernardino Luini – Nursing Madonna
Sometimes, when you read a novel, you come across a described incident you know just has to be true, because even the most inventive author could not make it up.
I will now describe an encounter I had on a five hour bus trip one weekend. It was a fairly full bus. I assumed my tenure of being able to sit by myself would not last the whole time.
In this I proved correct.
At a ten minutes stop, which allowed me to get off and stretch my legs, I returned to find a fellow in the seat beside me.
Early twenties, a tall, thin, white male with a head of blond dreadlocks. He was also dressed totally in white, and expressed surprise my seat was taken (though I had left my knapsack upon it).
Three minutes after the bus leaves, even before we are out of town and on the highway, he asks:
“Are you a Christian?”
This – generally – is not a positive ice-breaker.
I replied ‘more-or-less’, which set him aback.
Asking me what I meant, I said that many people classing themselves as Christians do not follow the teachings of Christ as I understand them, so one man’s Christian can be another man’s Antichrist.
He – surprisingly – agreed.
I confess to being monosyllabic in my responses to his religious-oriented questions, which he spread out over the next hour. He might have had an evangelical intent, but he was not insistent. He did, during his disjointed discourse, relate that he was an ‘art student’. He had some of his drawings in his backpack – might I want to see them?
He expressed no displeasure.
He did ask some other routine questions among his religious comments.
Finding I was a writer he (of course) relayed a dream which would “…make a great story or book.” He planned to write it some day.
He asked after my books. I expected some unwanted enthusiasm when I mentioned The Elephant Talks To God. However, after ascertaining they were ‘short stories’ and that the title was ‘To God’ and not ‘With God’ (which I now ponder might have been a more accurate title) he did not pursue the point, other than to find out if he could purchase the book.
I assured him that he could, over the internet and on Kindle. He did not know what Kindle was.
While sitting beside me he had discussions (I interpreted) with God of his own. He did engage in heated (though muted) conversations with no one visibly present. Indeed, upon occasion, he seemed surprised at some of the comments he ‘heard’.
It was in the midst of this type of behaviour, and related to nothing I said, that he turned to me to relate this brief tale. A tale no author can make up.
He described how once he was staying with his girlfriend in Montreal. An apartment he bet he could still find if given the time.
One afternoon, God instructed him to draw a picture of Christ upon a wall. The only pigment he had was his girlfriend’s nail polish. And, upon the wall (guided, you must accept, by God’s hand) he drew The Christ with the head of Alvin-the-Chipmunk. And wearing an Alvin-the-Chipmunk red tunic, which was often (he said) the colour of the clothes that medieval painters gave Christ.
About ten minutes before we came into the stop where we would part company, he started to engage two ladies across the aisle in conversation.
He used much the same patter (though no Christian talk) that he had used with me. It turned out they were interested in seeing his drawings. He began to unroll a tight wad of papers (about the length of a roll of paper towels), ready to reach them across the aisle.
They were of nude women.
Not poorly done, neither.
There are all sorts and conditions of people who take the bus (myself included). A few years ago I made particular note of the two talkative folk who sat in front of me, one on either side of the aisle.
Directly in front was a handsome young man in his twenties. He had, that morning, just been released from penitentiary. He was on his way home. Across the aisle from him was a grizzled and bearded man in his mid-life who had never taken a bus ride before.
They talked. I listened.
The convicted felon (a cheerful and polite fellow) had, with a partner, robbed a grocery store. Stole the safe. Got a lot of money (thousands in the double digits).
They got away with it.
However, some days later, his partner got a case of the ‘guilts’ and turned himself in.
And told what had happened.
His buddy, unplanned and unwanted, soon followed. Fourteen months.
The bearded fellow – never on the bus – had a host of motorcycles and vans, and travelled in them. He took a header when he hit an empty pop bottle. He was a hippy from way back, and more or less continues to this day. Even the bus driver recognized the van he described, famous for its art work.
The former inmate revealed:
how to make ‘moonshine’ from unimaginable ingredients;
how to make money from ‘nicotene patches’ (by cutting them into strips and selling the contents);
how cigarettes behind bars cost $15 each.
Oh – yes – he also lost his girlfriend because of his actions. “A BIG mistake,” he said.
I gotta admit, all this plus the beautiful scenery wiled away the time.