Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide: A True Story

There we were, two kids from Ottawa, at Carlo’s restaurant in Blind River. I had been craving the Lake Huron specialty- fresh whitefish and chips – for several hours. I remembered having an amazing portion here back in 2004, so good I’ve never gone back to my straight vegan ways.

Flash forward to almost three years later to the day, and all I could talk about with my not-entirely sympathetic driving mate was the juicy whitefish. I have been known to be a bit obsessive, but admitedly, this quirk gave me something to talk about through the long, rocky trek (read: boring) between Sudbury and the Soo. Tara wasn’t convinced, she wasn’t much of a fish-eater/killer, but she was still game. So, we pulled up to Blind River with Neil Young serenading us about this sweet little northern Ontario town of his youth, coincidentally the same spot my Dad was born, and we stumbled upon Carlo’s, the only place in town serving the white, fleshy gold.

As we sat at our table discussing whether we should finish the episode of Grey’s Anatomy we had pulled out while stalled due to a forest fire about 100 kms back in Nairn Centre, I looked over to the table across the resto and noticed a well-worn guitar. Next to it was a large, weighed-down backpack, a hitchhiker's classic.

I looked up to the attractive blond boy, animatedly in conversation, and thought he might be good company.

“What do you think Tara, should we give him a ride?” I needed to run this idea by her first, but I was sure she’d jump at it. She liked to think of herself as a rebel.

“Sure, why not? Good karma, right?” I could tell by her wry smile that she had never ridden with a hitchhiker before.

“Ok, I’ll go ask him what he thinks.”

I ambled over to the table, and asked, confidently: “One of you guys looking for a ride?” I gestured to the backpack and guitar.

The blond boy looked up: “Yeah, where you headed?” He had a much softer voice than I had imagined.

“We’re going west, past Sault-Ste-Marie tonight.”

“Past Sault Ste-Marie,” I could see this pleased him, “that’s great! Sure, I’d love to join you, when are you headed out?”

"We'll leave soon, we're almost done dinner."

He smiled and nodded in agreement.

Back at my table, I delivered the good news to Tara. A few minutes later, blond boy came over with his stuff. He held out his hand to both of us: “Hi, I’m Coady. Glad to ride with you.” Tara and I looked at each other approvingly. “I’ll wait for you outside, it’s a beautiful night.”

It was on the second morning we spent with Coady that our friendship began to take form. We had just spent a cold night in Sandbar Lake Provincial Park outside of Ignace, Ontario, nearly 300 kms west of Thunder Bay. We ate dinner together, played some music with our guitars and my cowbell, and just hung out before bed, as we had the night before. But on this early morning, Coady shone in both of our eyes, solidifying his place as someone you never entirely forget.

There we were, driving through Ignace at some ridiculously early hour, slow-waking Tara half-asleep, me speeding through town, and Coady has the nerve to ask, in total seriousness: “What do you think about heaven?”

For the next 90 minutes, we engaged in a heated session of Philosophy in the Morning, featuring religious, social, political, ethical and moral dimensions. We all had our own unique take. Tara started out a bit more optimistic about the potential behind religious forms of moral suasion, while I chipped away at this argument by expressing a more general disregard for any form of authoritative and institutional moral regulation. This is where Coady had his opportunity to bring in questions of ethics, and for a much younger pup than both Tara and I, he expressed himself quite well. I was impressed. In fact, for a few shining moments in the middle of the endless northern Ontario bog, I was almost proud of this young intellectual prodigy. And so it went, Tara and I butting heads over the potential behind any and all forms of moral regulation, and Coady acting as a buffer between our at times hostile exchange.

I forget the exact moment when it happened, but at some point, for sure by the time we reached Dryden, Coady was no longer someone riding with us, but a friend in the truest sense of the word. I think I might even have allowed him to select a CD to play on our trip soundtrack, near sacrilege, since Tara and I have a firm agreement to select tracks only when we’re driving, a privilege we guard jealously. But, forget about sharing food, stories, and song, it was Philosophy in the Morning, a new tradition in my car, that solidified my affections for Coady.

A few short hours later we pulled into a dripping Winnipeg, where we had decided to part ways. Coady needed to get to BC, while we were bunkering down in real beds at Tara’s cousins’ place. We had lunch together in Wolseley, and afterwards I drove him down Portage Avenue to the edge of town. After a firm hug, he hopped out of the car into the pouring rain, fully waterproofed. A white minivan, license plates Manitoba, picked him up out of the downpour a short minute later. We both waved as he propped the guitar against the sidewall. I watched as the van sped away through the thick Prairie rain, wondering when it would let up.


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