Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 34: Little Chicago

I locked up my motel room and decided to walk downtown. The neighborhood I am staying in was clearly up and coming 30 years ago. At one intersection two furniture stores grin at each other across the street, both promising "real oak", and both closed permanently. The residential section has fared no better. All the paint is peeling, and every other house has a "Beware of Dog" sign posted. From behind their locked front doors the horrible screaming arguments of people in need is overheard without eavesdropping.

I had a feeling of apprehension about my visit to town. It took two hours of thirsty pedaling to get here from the east side of the park, I could have sworn the attendant at the first motel refused me a room because of my scummy appearance, and here I was shacking up for the night in the slums.

And then a thought of correction made its way into my head. "Kevin, you always hate a town the first night. Give it a chance this time!"

A man hailed me as I walked by on the sidewalk, asking if the bus was still in service. Looking at the peeling orange paint and unkept appearance of the bench, it seemed doubtful to me. But I had no idea, and told him I had just arrived in town. So had he, and he was quite excited about it. He had just bought a house for $68,000, and being a professional carpenter he was going to fix it up and sell it in a year for twice as much. He'd lived in Calgary and Regina, but didn't enjoy the price of staying in those towns.

When I told him I was walking downtown, he quite animatedly told me "You'll love it. You know what they used to call this town in the 1920's? Little Chicago. Al Capone came up here sometimes." Apparently, to run his business when things got uncomfortable in the States.

I walked by a grand building, a library/gallery/museum/gift shop, according to its sign. It sits next to a little park with a creek running through it, and here are many strange things to look at, even with the library closed. There was one path running into the park, posted with three signs. The first two read "Pedestrians only" and "Service traffic only", and I spent some time in confusion over whether the conjunction or disjunction was implied here. The third was easier to understand: "Waterfowl can be aggressive." Most of the waterfowl were mallards.

There are also two time capsules celebrating Moose Jaw's centennial, both to be opened a hundred years after their sealing. The first was to be opened on Moose Jaw's bicentennial in 2082, and the second to be opened on the occasion of Moose Jaw's bicentennial in 2103. And that took a bit longer to figure out.

So much for the park, except there was one entrance dedicated to the memory of a man surnamed "Gate". I kid you not.

This being a Friday night, there was not much for me to do downtown. I have never been one for the bar scene, and feel awkward in a situation where I know the names of neither the people nor the drinks. It probably wouldn't help that I had mud on my face, and was wearing jogging pants and a bright green t-shirt both made baggy by my paddling diet. But then again, I could be wrong as well. As I say, not my scene.

Most of the places I would visit the next day, a borscht sampling salon, a smoothie bar, and the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, were closed. I spent some time in Reader's Book Shop, which is a used bookstore that also has Internet terminals, and seem, with its wall of manga and Magic: the Gathering cards, to be transitioning to serve a geekier audience. I scanned the shelves searching for my current two favorite authors. John Steinbeck and Tom Stoppard. They've become favorites by writing the only two entertainment books I have with me, "Travels with Charley" and "Arcadia', respectively, both well worn and falling apart from the rigors of adventure and rereading.

Finding nothing to my taste, I return to my motel room. Although the sign reads "Newly Renovated!", every surface but the carpeted floor is covered in wood paneling - and poorly, I might add, with white paint showing behind every knot. On the wall was what appeared at first glance to be a framed cross-stitch of John 3:16, but on closer inspection proved to be a photocopy on certificate paper.

Although I have a bed available to me for the first time in over a month, it seems the comfortable toilet seat was a greater blessing to me. For, I have painful diarrhea all night long.

Day 34 ended: 50*35.691N, 105*24.672

(These are the canoe's coordinates, at the park boat launch. I do not have the coordinates of the motel.)

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