|Lasqueti Christmas||Belong||Outlaw||The Banana Boat||The Chicken Hunt|
|Border Crossing||Street Music||Cheech and Chong||Summer Trip|
Lasqueti ChristmasOur first winter on Lasqueti Island, 1977, was traumatic to say the least. There were four of us, Mara and I and the two kids, we were illegally in the country, squatting on land that we did not own and without the owner’s approval, although he was aware that there were squatters on the land and didn’t seem to be concerned about it. We had no money, no prospects and were running low on food and kerosene for light. Our neighbor, the Pirate, looked at me one day and said, ‘Well, I guess we are permanent residents of the island, permanent being defined as too poor to leave for the winter.”
This story added June 2, 2015
an aluminum canoe near the rocky shore of an island in the Gulf of Georgia,
British Columbia, carefully combing the eddies and nooks and crannies for usable
debris. Cold November day, clear, slight chop in the water, light NW wind.
Northern facing walls that never saw the sun at this time of year still frozen,
skimpy dwarf trees and bushes that managed to survive the harsh environment of
very little soil and much wind. Some large douglas fir that managed to grow
despite having roots splayed on top of the rock and little soil or nutrition.
When they grow so large that the tops can no longer be fed and the tops die and
eventually will be blown off in some super storm and maybe you wish on occasion
that you had not built your cabin right here. Moss. Looking from the canoe
seeing the pass between six small islands and the main island. Silent,
occasional float plane flies overhead, recognizing the few boats visible from
the canoe. Feeling of being at home. Very tactile and comfortable.
Managing to find a few boards that had at some time been lost from lumber barges and been banging around with the tide since god knows when. With drift lumber, plywood hatch covers and cedar shakes you could build anything. Lots of logs of course but I couldn’t do anything with them. There were some gypo salvage barges that would go into the bays and yard usable logs off the beach and take them to lumber mills but there weren’t many. Hard to make a living at log salvage. Hard to make a living at most money making schemes in these parts. Hard work and very little money..
Home, two beach-combed and scrounged shacks, the 8x12 foot kitchen and the 10x10 dirt floor sleeping house. Cost $40, $37 for plastic and $3 for staples. These palaces resided without consent on someone else’s property. Not owning this land; just living there, like all the other creatures. None of us accepted the concept of owning pieces of the earth.
In the kitchen stashed two months or so of food. Oyster bed just a few feet from the kitchen. Life was good. Not much cash (if any at that time).
Paddling the canoe into the cove, seeing the beauty and the sudden realization that I was taking no more that I needed and as such I was as entitled to live here as legitimately as the other creatures that inhabit the area. What a wonderful feeling.
I was exhausted by the time I got off the ferry after a day in town. I had been carrying over 100 pounds in my pack, 50 pounds of chicken feed and 60 pounds of food. On the dock the word was that the RCMP were on the island and stopping all the cars on the road. Since this was the wrong time of the year for a pot raid it was obvious that the purpose of this excursion was vehicle registration violations and anything else they could find.
The island was a sore spot for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a delight for the Canadian press. It was one of the few places that did not have a resident police station and the fact that they didn’t know what was going on everywhere in Canada drove the Mounties crazy, as it would police anywhere. Elimination of crime is not the goal of any police force on the face of the earth. They are too intelligent to even think of taking on such a hopeless task. Rather, the police mission is to control crime and to know what is going on. Information is their primary goal. It drives them totally insane not to know what is going on and that lack of knowledge can bring about terrible paranoid delusions. If they don’t have facts they will believe anything they hear or conjure as long as it is really weird. Of course they have informants, but the value of information from anyone who would be a police informant, especially in benign circumstances, should be accepted with skepticism. It rarely is.
On this day the police had barged a pickup to False Bay and had driven down the island, the direction I was headed going home. I took the chicken feed and stashed it under a house near the ferry. Then I hoisted the heavy pack and started walking the five miles down the road to my shack by the water. Ordinarily I would have tried to hitchhike from the bay, but I was afraid that the Mounties might be behind me, and I didn’t want to be seen and stopped. I was not a fugitive; as far as I know no one in authority even knew of my existence and I wanted it to stay that way. In this day and age I would be considered ‘undocumented’. So every time I heard a vehicle coming in either direction on the road I would plunge wildly into the underbrush and wait until the vehicle had passed. I had to jump into the bush at least six times by the time I got home. As it turned out most of the people in the vehicles were friends who would have been happy to give me a ride, but one of them did contain the police. I was one beat puppy when I finally took my pack off my back.
This is just one of the vicissitudes to be endured when you are an outlaw. You learn one of the great lessons of life. That even if you are careful one unlucky break can finish you off. You are constantly aware of the possibility of a cosmic joke. It happens. If you get seriously ill or get injured and have to go to a hospital you are on the books. Of course you have a legal residence in the States so you can claim to be visiting friends, but you are now in the system and will have to eventually leave the country and re-entry will be more difficult.
Another difficulty is that you have to be nice to everybody. You cannot make enemies. You know that there are informers around, and that you probably ride with them, drink a beer with them in the pub or sit next to them at gatherings. You cannot let anyone have negative speculations about you. If you have never been through this experience I will tell you that it can be psychologically exhausting. It's exciting though.
The Banana Boat
The banana boat was a much-used plywood skiff. It looked very much like a floating coffin with gunnels no higher than fourteen inches. We didn't have a boat that first winter and certainly no way to purchase one. There was an old yellow boat leaning against the bluff across the bay from us. It didn't look like much..
I found out that it belonged to Heather up at the corner. I asked her about it she said, "It's a dangerous boat for a family. You can have it if you want, and good riddance. Evidently she absconded in the boat after living for some time on Texada Island from an abusive relationship. I guess she related the boat to her experiences. Good-oh.
It became an important tool, small as it was. Since there was no road to our place it was essential to use it to collect and bring in fire wood and bark. We used it to haul buckets of drinking water from the other side of the bay. We used it to bring in supplies so we wouldn't have to pack them, and it provided transportation. Our very dear friends, the Varneys, lived about a mile and a half away, across the bay and then down an inlet called Long Bay. I remember several times Mara, Maia and I rowing across the bay for a visit. So here we were in this pitiful boat, the Air-sea Rescue helicopter came over us and hovered for a while. I guess they were waiting for us to sink. With the three of us there wasn't much freeboard. What an insult. They finally left and I continued rowing down the bay.
We had a nice dinner and party. Cecil, the patriarch was famous for his wine, one of which he called forty rod because you'll go forty rods and fall on your face. So it's time to start back, hoping to get back before it gets too dark. And we did. All of this without life jackets.
There are many logs infesting the shorelines and coves that you had to deal with. If the tide was out we could walk ashore and step over the logs. When the tide is up the logs are all floating and it's very difficult to get ashore. Well, that's what happened that night. I got Mara and Maia ashore then stepped on one of these floating logs, fell off and got every inch of my body soaked in a foot and a half of water. I guess that was my payback for rowing a mile and a half at night and fairly well blitzed.
My friend Marty came to visit shortly after he escaped from the Moonies. He came up several times and we played music around the island. There was a hole in the bottom of the boat and I stuffed a rag into it instead of patching it properly and the rag worked fine. Marty was out in the bay rowing around. I guess he saw the rag and wondered what it was there for. So he pulled it out and water came spurting into the boat. Marty let out a yell and said, "what should I do?" I answered, "Put the rag back in." I don't think he could handle it and started rowing furiously to get this sinking boat ashore.
So I guess the banana boat was a large part of our lives, but I didn't realize it until now.
Great Chicken Hunt
I have often wondered how anyone who had spent any time around a chicken run could be greatly impressed by human social behavior. Obviously a chicken wouldn't have much of a brain, even if its whole head contained neurons, which of course it doesn't, but in some ways the little buggers are so human that it's really endearing.
Of course, after belittling the chicken brain, I have noticed that they can learn, to a degree, and after several generations living in somewhat harsh conditions they seem to develop some survival skills. I remember one time we were all going south for Christmas, and figured to be gone for about a month. The question was, what we were going to do with the chickens. No one wanted to walk a mile down the trail in the rain to the cove to feed them. They don't lay when the weather gets cold anyway, so we decided to turn them loose, figuring that they would not survive on their own.
When we finally returned to Canada, we went across the bay to see if everything was OK. There were no chickens around, of course, and we were pretty much relieved that we wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. As our friend Billy once observed, ‘You fuck with them for awhile, then they fuck with you for awhile.’ After three or four days a hen came staggering out of the bush, looked around, saw us, started squawking excitedly and ran to the coop. We figured, ‘what the hell?’ and got out the feedbag. Over the next ten days about seven chickens wandered back to the farm. Incredible. There were many predators around this area, as well as a shortage of protein, so I can't imagine how they managed to survive.
Sometime later we decided that we couldn't keep chickens anymore, so we decided to put them in mason jars. I managed to get the bunch in a burlap sack and tie it up so they couldn't escape. We descended to the beach and rowed the skiff across the bay. When we were ready for the fowl deed, heh heh, I got the ax out and opened the sack. I told Mara, ‘for God's sake be careful taking these chickens out. If one of them gets away I don't know how we will catch it. She got kind of huffy, so I shut up.
We managed to kill several of them, then one of them slipped away and made for the brush. We finished the job, got the pressure canner going, and canned the birds.
After we got that done I went out to try to run the escapee down. We lived on a little shelf below a cliff, and the chicken could conceivably have found its way back to the old yard. It didn’t. It stayed near the cabin but not so close we could trap it. It made a lot of noise in the early morning, ate the cat’s food and was generally a pain in the ass. I tried to get close to it but no matter how stupid it acted or how innocently I walked around it would not let
anyone closer than about thirty feet.
I finally got tired of the whole thing and got out the single shot .22. I got as close as I could and knelt and waited for a good shot. It was not real good for hunting because there was a lot of brush and the chicken’s head bobbed above it infrequently. I waited, aimed and timed the head bob. The next time it popped up I fired and shot it through the ear. What a shot. Not a bear or a mountain lion of course, only a lousy chicken but I felt pretty good about my marksmanship. We cooked the chicken up for dinner and the great hunt was over.
Border Crossing Feeling Makes a Fool Out of a Man
Ain’t no God in Mexico, ain’t no way to understand,
How that border crossing feeling makes a fool out of a man,
If I hadn’t felt the sunshine, hell I would not cuss the rain,
If my feet would fit the railroad track I guess I’d have been a train.
Lyrics of 'Ain't no God in Mexico by Billy Joe Shavers
I guess that’s what it’s like trying to get across the border when both you and the Immigration people know that you shouldn’t be allowed to cross. I wasn’t a bad guy, I had my shit together, I loved Canada, would do anything for Canada. But I must not have looked like a desirable visitor.
Well, here it is 6:00 A. M. in a Greyhound bus, at the border crossing between Blaine, Wa. US fuckin A and Douglas, British Columbia, Oh, Canada. I’m very shabbily dressed; just suffice it to say that I could have been mistaken for someone who’s on the bum. I wasn’t that at all. I never begged and I never took welfare, except maybe some food stamps in the ‘70’s, but not proudly I might add. Anyway, food stamps probably saved a lot of trouble with some young people who might try lifting cars or something. Well, some people getting food stamps did lift cars or something, but not quite so enthusiastically.
Anyway, with my battered guitar case and the last patched remains of a Kelty pack that still ran, but was missing several cylinders, so to speak. And me with about $75 dollars in my pocket, old slouch cowboy hat, and hair in a graying ponytail to my waist graying beard down to mid-chest and standing in line at Customs and trying to figure out what story I can concoct to make him think I should not be shot, much less allowed to enter Canada.
Most normal people go through the customs line. If you’re not normal, like Asians, LA low riders, or people who looked even remotely like me, you’re always shunted to Immigration. Post haste. I don’t know why I even bothered to get in the Customs line at all. I knew where I’d end up. I found myself in that situation a number of times, and became quite good at fabrication, if I do say so myself.
You see, when you cross the border in a Greyhound bus, you are automatically judged to be questionable. Look around a bus station sometime. You’ll get the idea.
I did find one way of crossing that was even worse than riding the Greyhound and that was walking across the border. Oh my God. But the main problem with the immigration people was how to explain to them what I was going to be doing in Canada that I could possibly do on seventy five dollars. They had a point.
Back to present story. I actually had a decent story, and it might work if they were particularly bored this 6:00 A.M. The real trick is not just to get into Canada, but to get into Canada without getting a visa, a piece of paper that you must return to the border and hand in on your way back into the States before the prescribed number of days have passed. Having to return this paper was a real bummer if you happened to be living illegally in Canada and, if at all lucky, would not try to return to U.S. for at least nine months. Some people I know have mailed the paper to someone in the U.S. with a note attached and have their friend mail it back to Canadian Immigration explaining that they forgot to hand it in at the border. This would probably work, but I really didn’t want my name to be in the system at all.
The trick at the border was to have a plausible reason to want to enter the country, and a good legitimate way that you could survive on the amount of money you have on you. Having a guitar can be another problem area. “You’re not going to be playing music professionally are you?” Well, I’d just say oh, I don’t play that good. Maybe someone would think well, if he can’t play the son-of-a-bitch why do you think he’s lugging it everywhere?
I had one asset the helped me on at least one occasion. I had some young friends in Vancouver, so I could say that I was visiting them for the weekend. But if you’re short on cash, how are you going to get back to the border after you’re tapped out, as it were. One time they phoned my friend Dave at 6:30 A. M. on Saturday I think it was, and asked him if he was expecting me. His reply was “Yes, God Damn I am, and why the Christ you calling me at this time of the morning?” The guard said “and what do you do for a living Mr. Lidstone?” and he replied, “I’m a math professor at Langara College,” then hung up. Slam-dunk, more or less, but I chided myself for not having been more convincing. I felt bad that they had to wake Dave up. And of course I was going to be using my guitar to make money, God Willing.
Authorities smell paranoia. They see it every day. Especially Immigration authorities. I knew that I was going to be breaking the law while I was up there. I felt bad about that. I am a very private person, and I strongly support others’ privacy, probably somewhat akin to a Navajo in this respect. I also feel the privacy of a family to make its own decisions, and feel that cities and whole countries have that right. It really helped that I loved the Canada so much. I would do nothing to harm her. I would not intrude on their privacy. So here I was lying like a Dutchman to a Governmental official to get into the Country and break a whole bunch of laws.
My story was that I was a fisherman living in Bellingham Washington and was on the beach for a couple of weeks so I thought I would come up and visit some friends for the weekend.
The agent asked me, “how’s it been going down there?” I had nosed around a bit to find out what was happening on the dock so I replied, “fishing’s been doing pretty good until a week or so ago.” He asked why I had Oregon ID if I was working in Washington, and I told him I lived in Oregon in the off-season. As I said, he was pretty bored, and probably thought I couldn’t do any harm, so he waved me on through. Some crossings are tougher than others.
Back on the bus to Vancouver, downtown to the station. Where I will go from there depends on my immediate agenda. If I’m staying in town I’ll call Dave and either ask him to pick me up, or I’ll catch the City bus on South, across False Creek and walk the mile or so to Dave’s house, carrying a forty-pound pack and Guitar. Either that or I would somehow get to the Safeway on Fourth and Alma and hope that there were no musicians playing music at the liquor store and try to make a couple of bucks. Since all alcoholic beverages in British Columbia were sold in Government liquor stores in those days, that’s where the good busking was.
All street musicians knew this, so it could become crowded on occasion, since only one musician or group could work at a time. You could earn an honest day’s work busking liquor stores, except that I was certainly not being honest, just about 6 hours after having lied my way into Canada, promising that I would not play music for money. Ah, well.
If I were going up to the Islands I would never try to hitch from downtown. If I had an extra three or four dollars I would get a bus ticket for Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. This would get me on the ferry more or less in luxuriously. Ride right onto the boat. If I was short on funds I would fight to get on a city bus, which dropped you off at Horseshoe bay, hopefully without an hour and a half wait till the next sailing, or not arriving while the boat is loading and you have to run about ten blocks to get to the ticket window fast enough to buy a ticket and then run to board the ship before it debarked.
I was never able to get a bus ride all the way to Parksville, about 20 miles north of the ferry landing, so I would try to bum a ride up-island from one of the passengers. It helped that musicians often played on the ferry, outside on the deck in the sun if the weather was decent. We tried not to intrude on people who didn’t want to hear us, and we would never take money. It was just for fun, and it was, too, especially if I had some friends with me. Sometimes someone we never saw before pulled out an instrument and it got really fun. We could knock off a pretty good tune on occasion.
The only time I ever accepted money was from a pretty lady, after I played for a while inside the ferry. She reached over the seat and handed me ten dollars. I said, “no, I was just having fun, I really don’t want any money.” She said, “Take it. I spent 25 dollars on a Mose Allison concert last night and I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I did hearing you.”
Let me explain. Mose Allison is one of my musical gods. His Mississippi blues piano and voice just knock me out. “Parchman Farm.” My God. This woman was obviously a lunatic, but even though she obviously had no taste at all, I thought, “well, if she really enjoyed me more than Mose, that’s an honor. I took the 10 dollars.” It was bullshit, of course, but what could I do?
OK, I would get off the Canadian version of the Greyhound after the bus parks on the ferry. The bus station in Nanaimo is way downtown in the opposite direction I am heading. I would probably walk around and look at the pretty girls, watch the magnificent scenery, the Ocean, the Islands rising out of the sea in sharp high peaks that almost look like fjords. Then I would sit down somewhere, pull out the guitar and play and sing for anyone who is interested. When I reach Nanaimo, almost two hours out of Horseshoe Bay I had two choices. If I had a ride I'd load up and head north. If not I pack up tight and get ready for the race.
When driving off the ferry there was no place for drivers to stop to pick up hitchhikers anywhere on the compound. The exit street wound in an arc to the left for about a quarter of a mile, then the up-island traffic made about a 270 degree turn to the North and up a steep grade which had places for cars to pull over. If you were going to hitch-hike, you had to run out of the compound to get ahead of as many North-bound cars as you could and find a spot on the upgrade.
The way this works: As soon as the mate opens the rope gate, all foot passengers take off like puffed wheat shot from a cannon. Most of them either have cars in the parking lot, friends waiting for them, or bicycles. That left the riff-raff. You walk as fast as you can alongside the cars. This can be a little dangerous because outside the compound against the grade there is very little shoulder, and of course the drivers are going like a bat out of hell. Trucks scare the hell out of you. All people, goods and services traveling to Vancouver Island get there by surface ship or submarine.
I run, hobble, walk along that road with all the traffic going by me, huffing and puffing I finally reach a break in the brush on the hillside and take the trail cutting up the hill to the road above. It’s about 75 feet straight up, as we mountain hiking prevaricators say. Fast, fast. We need to beat as many cars as possible, up, up, puff, pant ah, we made it. Tear off the pack, lay pack and guitar against the road sign, and then stick out the thumb. I can relax now; it’s all in God’s hands at this point. If you didn’t believe that, you had no business hitchhiking in the first place. I did my part, getting here as fast as I could, at great personal inconvenience I might add, ahead of as many cars as possible, and I almost always got a ride North from here. But I digress. Ah yesss, border crossings.
Music, Street Music
I was standing on the sidewalk with a guitar strapped around my shoulder, harmonica holder around my neck, guitar case open with some coins in it, strumming and singing as loud as I could. (But always playing clean).
I happened to look over my shoulder and almost froze. Busted I thought. It is a very strange thing to suddenly understand that there is someone with a video recorder about ten feet from you and someone else holding a device that looks something like a bazooka pointing right at you. The only thing I could think was 'busted'. I learned that the bazooka-like thing was a directional shotgun microphone, not a weapon, but that was later. The problem was that I was illegally in Canada at the time of the incident and certainly was not allowed to make money doing anything. Of course, making street music was not the only illegal way I had made money while I was living up there. After all, unless you are independently wealthy how many other ways are there to make money legally when you’re not allowed to earn money?
The guys doing the taping said that they were making a video about street musicians in Vancouver. They asked me if I could be interviewed and I gracefully declined. I don’t know if the piece was ever shown. Maybe I’m famous and don’t know it.
The best thing about playing on the street in Canada at the time was that all liquor was sold in government liquor stores. It was possible to purchase off-sale beer or wine from pubs in hotels at a horrible markup of already expensive liquor. There were only about three liquor stores in downtown Vancouver, so everyone who drank eventually ended up at one of these three spots. It seems that people felt a little guilty about their purchases because they seemed to tip the huskers a little better than at other places on the street, therefore street musicians vied for these prime spots to make music.
At the time of this incident I was playing in front of the Fourth and Alma liquor store, which was in a small pocket shopping center. You learn a lot when playing street music. One thing I know for sure is the clattering old Volkswagen four-banger is the loudest car on the road especially when it moves between buildings that will cause the noise to echo. As a musician you must learn to play over vehicle noise.
There was a lot of gamesmanship involved in getting and keeping good busking locations. There were protocols to be followed. If an individual had played for a reasonable amount of time at a location and someone else showed up, the player usually relinquished the location to the newcomer and tried somewhere else, or he (or she) would leave and return later on. Sometimes musicians would cruise locations to see if they were free and they would stop if there was no one there playing, otherwise they would continue cruising. That meant that as long as they saw someone actually playing at a spot they would not stop.
It was worthwhile keeping a spot because during that summer I averaged $7.50 per hour playing in front of liquor stores and this was pretty good pay for a musician. I remember one time I was playing at Fourth and Alma and for some reason I needed quite a bit of money. I kept playing and no one showed up to take the spot. It was a hot summer day and I was dehydrated but I was reluctant to stop playing. I ended up playing continuously for six and a half hours without stopping before I just had to quit. I made about fifty dollars. I went to a pay phone and called my friend Dave. I told him I was in town and he said, 'good, come on over and we can play a few tunes.' I said, 'Dave, I’ve just been playing continuously for over six hours.' He said, 'That’s OK, a few more tunes won’t hurt you.' He was right, of course.
Problems can occur. One time when I was playing at Fourth and Alma a drunken Indian harassed me. Of course no one would come near to listen to the music or drop a little change in the guitar case while he was hanging around, so I closed down and melted into the shadows so to speak. Pretty soon two patrol cars showed up. The store manager must have called the police.
I watched as it took four cops and two cars an hour to finally collect this guy and take him away. Then I went back to my spot and started playing again. Another time, at the Safeway on Broadway, two drunken derelicts who hadn’t washed or changed their clothes in some time showed up. They really liked my music and kept requesting songs. Everyone else stayed down wind, so that didn’t turn out to be my most remunerative day.
I found a very good and relaxing place to play, the overlook at Queen Elizabeth park. The overlook is on the top of a hill looking down on this gorgeous location. there was no competition for the spot and no cars driving through. Sometimes a Japanese tour bus would come by. It could be good or not so good. After having their pictures taken with me they would leave a tip. Everyone would match whatever the first person put in. If he put in a dollar or two everyone else would match it. One time however the first person put in a small coin and everyone else matched it. I don't think I could have redeemed it anyplace this side of Tokyo.
For the first four years I had been in Canada I made very little money and kept a low profile, living in the bush on an island off the B.C. coast. Then I changed my lifestyle radically, playing music in pubs, on the street and was seen at music and craft festivals. Because I had a long hair, gray beard and goat roper hat and was in my early 40’s, I was a natural for the media when I was playing in public. I remember one time I was on a news clip while jamming at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Local color; pretty heady stuff for someone who six months before was diving into the bush every time he encountered someone he didn’t know.
At the time of this story, around 1979, I was a regular performer at the Coombs (B.C.) Country Opera and had sung several times on the local radio station for charity events. If you want to escape suspicion you must be either very low or very high profile. I had been both and to be truthful I enjoyed them both. I guess one of the beguiling things about street music is that's where you really get paid what you're worth as an entertainer. I probably didn't do the professional musician thing exactly the way other people did. For one thing, I didn't have any electronic equipment that first summer. I did have a Radio Shack four channel mike mixer that ran off a nine-volt battery, and a De Armond detachable string guitar pickup. I also had a Bill Lawrence clamp-in guitar pickup but they both burned up when my sleeping house burned down. I've played in the street in Victoria, B.C., Vancouver, B.C. (a lot), Portland, Ore., Eugene, Ore., Ashland, Ore, Corvallis, Ore., Lebanon, Ore., Salem, Ore., Sacramento, Ca. Not exactly everywhere, but enough. And, oh, yes, I was the official street musician at the first West Coast Country Music Roundup in Langley, B. C.
If you are interested in making some money on the street (Some being the operative word here) then you have to give out a little energy. Obviously there are many places to play, some good, some not so good. I guess I classify all busking as being street music. Any playing for money that you are not hired to do.
The summer before, maybe 1980 I had played music pretty regularly at pubs in mid Vancouver Island, part of the time with Julie as Redbone Hound, and the rest solo. After spending the winter in Sweet Home Oregon I went back up to Vancouver island, but I had bought a '64 Falcon, so I was mobile this summer. Last summer it was strictly hitch hike to get to gigs, which was somewhat stressful. When I was traveling with Julie we typically were perched beside the road with two people, two guitars, two backpacks, maybe a flute and of course Pekoe, the lab retriever. We always made our gigs but it was uncomfortable.
This summer I could drive. I met up with Jerry Massop and we became friends and he introduced me to the island entertainment scene. In rural Canada with their isolated populace the local pub was the local meeting place for men and women. Many of them provided musical entertainment so there were jobs available and the standard pay was fifty dollars per three set performances. Many of the hotels booked week-long gigs, Monday through Saturday, $450, room and half meals if you ate at the establishment. It was not a bad gig at all. I did two of these, one at the Quinsam Hotel, or the Quinny, as the locals in Campbell River called it.
Typically the place would hold several hundred people, and Canadians like to drink. The waiters would cruse the hall carrying trays of glasses of draft beer. The audience at the Quinny was definitely not genteel, although there were no fights the week I was there; I have had to play through fights several times. Since I didn't have the confidence to try to imitate any other singer, my stuff was borderline, but I always knew that my job was to entertain. I know I was pretty awful a lot of the time, that just shows you how fortunate I was to get this connection at that time.
Six nights is a lot, if you get the same customers every night you have to try to vary your repertoire as much from night to night. The guy who ran the place was not overwhelmed, but satisfied with my stint.
Having a car was problematical. It had Oregon plates and obviously I was not legally in the country at all. I was hoping that the Immigration folks wouldn't ask me about the guitar and amp in the back seat. They didn't. But, since I was taking money irregularly I didn't want to be associated with the car any more than necessary.
To this point, there was a denizen of Parksville, a young man fairly tall and muscular, blond hair. He could be seen striding all over town all day. He took huge strides and smiled and waved at everyone he met. His name was Phil St. Luke and known locally as batty but harmless and nicknamed Flying Phil by everyone. To everyone's joy he was selected to be the first Mr. Parksville, and he really deserved it. He did learn to talk however. He had seen my license plate, so I was walking down the street one day and he came up and said, "It's my friend from Oregon." Oh no. I was thinking that I didn't want him blurting this out randomly, but we never connected again. I didn't want anyone to know I was from Oregon. I used Lasqueti Island as a bit of cover, but there's a lot of stuff that can screw you up.
I got a gig at Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. I drove up, maybe 150 miles north of Nanaimo. It was a communication hub for all the sea and logging interests. The fishing boats came in and out and the loggers would be flown in occasionally from their camps in the bush. Most of the ferries traveling up the coast to Alaska left from Port Hardy. The first night, Monday, the place was full and everyone was having a gas. It was one of the most fun nights I ever had. Then I didn't draw shit for the rest of the week. What a bummer. I think that may have been the turning point. It was way, way too stressful. I was a decent performer but I had absolutely no future there. I panicked and high-tailed it back to Lasqueti. The car had conveniently died, or I thought it did, and I gave it to Jerry. I lived on Lasqueti for the next five years, and played some gigs but stayed out of the fire.
When I arrived at Port Hardy I was unaware that this week Port Hardy hooked
up to cable and was going to get television for the first time. Everyone was
excited. Me too, since I had a TV in my room. The irony is that the first night
they were hooked up the network movie was Cheech and Chong's 'Up In Smoke.' I
walked around the next day and seeing people shaking their heads and saying,
"I'm not sure this was such a great idea." I'm sure they got used to
Well, here we are again, eh? Main road on Lasqueti Island in the Middle of the Gulf of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada, at the South end farm about 5/6 the of the way down island from the ferry terminal at False Bay. Sitting beside the road, sitting on my sleeping bag roll with my pocket computer on my knees. The road is in a gentle arc in front of me. Oops, I think I hear a car coming. Nope, just the wind through the trees. My ears must be a bit rusty. Back in the old days I could tell the type of car and how fast it was going a long way down the road. Of course, in those days hitching was the only way for me to get around the island. That and walking or rowing a boat, so I became very proficient at hitching.
It is perfectly quiet here. Well, a few sounds. The breeze through the trees, a prop plane somewhere in the sky a long way away, a wasp buzzing around me. Now two of them. They must smell the residual odors of my recent breakfast of whole wheat bread with a gnaw of German butter cheese in between bites of bread, and yogurt covered peanuts for dessert.
Two fellers just walked by on their way north, one older with small white beard, the other younger, burly, grinning. Both of them have small packs. He asked if I were waiting for the bus, I said whatever, they smiled and continued. I don't really look forward to saddling up. In the first place I have trod every foot of this rock many times, so it wouldn't be a novel experience to walk, say 8 miles up and down hills, with my pack and guitar. Heavy pack; probably really exhausting. I May have to do that, however. So peaceful here, wasps still lingering but not attacking. Fair enough. Toyota pickup just came by going the other way. Craig McFeely. He waved. I saw him at the cafe yesterday. Don't know if he remembered me. My squatter camp was near his old family place, but he wasn't living on the island at that time, so I didn't get to know him then.
Bike rider with tight nylon gear just came by. Anyway, I'm sitting beneath a small maple tree. The sun isn't out yet, I can see glimpses through the swaying tree boughs. Right across the road there are some fairly young alders with salmon berries and huckleberries between them, also sword ferns. A few cedars, more alders and maples and behind them a few large seeder Douglas firs and a couple of dead trees covered with moss but still standing. Oh God, here comes a 2-cycle motorcycle down the road. God I hate those things.
Time to go, been here long enough. Pack up and go, one foot in front of the other. Walked about a mile. Time to stop for a rest; I'll wait until I get to the end of Collins' farm. What's this? I hear a car coming. Yep, it's Craig McFeely again. He's going to the ferry terminal. I tell him I'll go as far as the Bakery. Ah, how many times have I ridden in the back of a loaded pickup, sitting over the wheel well, bouncing, dust but at least not walking.
Ducks Bakery, what can you say? Since Dazy and Alex started the business they have been skimming off a lot of the spare change on the Island. They are only open on Monday and Friday, ferry days. If you want to see anyone on the Island on those days all you have to do is hang out at the bakery and they will probably show sooner or later. I saw my friend Jim Roscoe, who is working carpentry, and he said he would be by after work and we could hoist a couple down at the Pub.
I decided to visit Jodi, who lived next to the road about 3 miles from False Bay, and I managed to get a ride with the guy who brought the mail from the Post Office in Parksville to the Post Office on Lasqueti by way the ferry. He was with his wife and a teenage boy named something like Ingo who had adopted the island so to speak, and was now living in a squatter's shack somewhere in the bush. He was evidently a bicycling demon, well respected even among the young bicycling population of the island. He was riding in a car because we had to make a usual Lasqueti side trip. It seemed that Jacob, another teenager, had left his homemade shack on his folks' property and bought into a piece of land. He had built a very nice cabin, and had left a pedal-powered generator, which he had given or loaned to Ingo, if he would pick it up and take it home. He was very excited. We finally found the generator in Jacob's old cabin, and two of us carried it, mounted to a small board, about 250 yards through brush to the car. A very typical Lasqueti type errand. We then proceeded to Jodi's house. Jodi and I had a visit and she poured a bit of homemade blackberry wine. I took off, because she was going berry picking and I needed to get back downtown.
I pottered around false bay for the day, visiting the Art Center, buying gifts at the 'Crystals and Chamomile’, shake roof and side pentagon, having breakfast in the Cafe, visiting. Jim finally showed up and we went to the pub. I listened to one tune by the very good band, then walked back to the bakery, got my gear and set up my tent between the Post Office and the Art Center.
The next morning I had breakfast at the Cafe after packing my gear, then started down the road headed for the Community center and the Fall Fair. I had walked about a half mile when I was picked up by Gail, who had been the school bus driver when I was living on the Island and was teaching Liz, the girl with C.P. Gail seems to have loosened up quite a lot in the last few years. She is now delivering the mail on the Island.
We arrived at the hall and nothing much was happening. I decided to visit Nancy Varney, who lived near the center. I picked my way along the path, past the well from which we got our utility water when Justine and I had lived in the little cabin half way down the trail and worked for Nancy. The Varney family had really taken us in, as it were, when Mara and I first arrived. I became great friends with Dick, her son, and had done much work of various types for them over the years.
Man, I really remember that hill. Up several hundred feet over about a quarter of a mile. Always tough, especially after a hard day’s work. I remember many times when I had finished a hot day's work splitting firewood, or something equally demanding, then climbing the hill, mounting my 5 speed bicycle and pedaling up and down hills for 4 miles back home. Not something you relish after a hard day.
So much for this trip as a tourist.