Man, there’s a lot of nostalgia involved in going back to the place where you spent your undergraduate years. You start recognizing landmarks on the way into town, say around Cobourg. You drive though Kingston’s shitty, rundown neighbourhoods – hi, North of Princess! – and the memories start coming hard and fast. By the time you get into the Ghetto, you start having clear flashbacks to your time there. "Hey, I got drunk there!" "Hey, I puked in that alley!" "Hey, I was beaten by Kingston PD in that doorway! Wicked!"

Got to see a whole bunch of friends in K-town, too, which was awesome. Jenny put me up for a few days: her cat likes me, I think, and that’s never bad. Oh, and I ran into soon-to-be Professor Yonek outside the shiny new chem building, and went for drinks later with him and probably-never-to-be Colonel Ryan. Also, at various points I saw Dave, Sian, and Kem.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that nobody ever leaves Kingston. I half expect to wake up and find that the last years have all been a crazy dream. If that's the case, I fully plan on being a guy like the Arts ’72 dude who wanders around in his jacket. Because that guy's awesome.


I was late getting out of Montreal; I slept in, I got lost in the city. Apparently the concept that ‘major roads should lead to the highway’ is foreign to the Quebecois. In any case, as I was trying to make up time to get to Sudbury to pick up my parents from the airport, I got busted by the OPP. Since I was trying to catch up to the Winnebagos in front of me before we hit the oncoming passing lane, I was going… fast. Like 143 in a 90 fast.

The ticket was only $157 (got busted down; thank God I’m white!). I probably could’ve gotten it reduced if I’d paid it in person, but $157 is a reasonable price to pay to stay the fuck out of North Bay.

The Camp (which is what we call our family’s cottage) is nice, as ever. Restful. There’s nothing better than going for a swim at night, when the lake is like glass, and the Milky Way is there in duplicate, one version slightly rippled. Got a lot of reading done, too; all my insanely geeky sci-fi novels in the safety of the family compound, saving the more ‘literate’ novels for when I’m with friends. Shallow, I know, but I guess I’m just a superficial man. In any event, it was perfectly restful.

Oh, except for that tick that bit me on the eyelid. Yeah, ew. The fucking eyelid. Of all the places to potentially get infected with Lyme Disease, it’s there. I thought, initially, it was a glob of mascara, but then realized I hadn’t worn mascara since that one night in Tijuana. Picked it off, but apparently gave myself an ingrown hair on my lower eyelid. Ew ew ew ew ew. God, biology disgusts me sometimes.


Montréal: Best. City. Ever.

Montréal is the best city ever and I love it and I'm going to marry it and have its babies.

Probably not that last bit; birthing city-babies would sting.

In any case, this city is awesome. For those of you from Edmonton, picture Whyte Avenue. Now picture it being eight times as long. Oh, and there's two dozen Whyte Avenues, each hipper than the last. In fact, it's fair to say that this city is probably the hippest city on the face of the planet.

I could be wrong on that last statement, though; I've never been to Abu Dhabi, and I hear the ladies there get FREAKY underneath their robes. But I might just be starting rumours again.

I rolled in on Thursday; I spent the evening walking around Le Plateau and being awestruck by the sheer hipness. It takes a couple of days, but most people get over it.

Friday I went for a run on Mont-Royal; I'm most likely going to go again today. Nice spot for a jog. After, my friend Sofi, who's donated a bed in her apartment, hosted a party. Sofi throws great partys; let's just say it took me less than 36 hours to accomplish, in Montreal, more than I have in two years of living in Edmonton. Did I mention I love this city?

Saturday I slept most of the day, (and read Breakfast of Champions) but Sofi 'dragged' me to go see By Divine Right, who rock the motherfuck out. Yeah. Top 10 shows ever, man.

Sunday I went for sandwiches at Santropol (great restaurant); it's kind of neat how in Montreal everybody switches languages four or five times during the course of ordering a meal. You judge how well the other person is understanding you, and switch between English and French accordingly. There's no rhyme or reason; just people muddling through their Activities of Daily Living as best they can. After that we went to go see Les Tamtam, which is this crazy hippie remnant where a bunch of people go hang out on the slopes of Mont-Royal and play the bongos and smoke weed. You kids and your hippie shit. It kind of loses its counterculture credibility by being scheduled 'every Sunday.' Oh, and Vice has some good pictures of this. We saw the "Zurich-looking motherfucker" there. He didn't have any pants on.

After that, we went to go check out the Jazz Festival. They've blocked off a bunch of streets near Place-Des-Arts and put on a bunch of free concerts. Unfortunately, the only thing going on was the Cirque du Soleil production, and we couldn't get in to find seats, so we had to stand outside and watch it on TV. After it ended, I saw a bit of actual jazz, but I left early because it was 11:15 and my feet hurt and I had a 40-minute walk ahead of me.

Today I'm going to go check out the old city, and buy a hunk of meat from Schwartz's, and go see Los Straitjackets, who dress in Mexican wrestling masks and play surf music. Wicked-awesome.

God, I hope McGill doesn't have stupid Quebec red-tape nonsense. I'd love to come here for residency.


Cross-Canada Road Trip Days 3 & 4: I Never Want To Drive Again

July 8, 2004

I didn't write anything yesterday because I was ensconced at the Kelly Family compound west of Sudbury. Ha, 'compound' makes it sound like we should have an arsenal of firearms and a rabid, racist version of Christianity going on. Instead, we have a sauna and Sleeman's. I prefer our kind of compound, frankly.

It's good that I stopped and took some time to chill with the grandparents (who are named Kelly, if that wasn't glaringly obvious) and my aunt and uncle and cousins. It's probably the only thing keeping me from shooting myself in the face, the stretch from Sault Ste. Marie to Mattawa (east of North Bay) being the worst stretch of highway on the face of the planet. It's potholed and rough, and passed through scrub and rock and shitty little mining towns, and is one lane with no passing lanes to get around the Winnebagos. Christ, the motherfucking WINNEBAGOS. The unpassable hulks are EVERYWHERE.

One thing I noticed on my way down is the patented Northern Ontario Rock Graffiti (tm). There's no overpasses along the highway from about Winnipeg to North Bay - 2000 kilometres or so. However, since the road's been blasted out of solid granite, what there are are tons of roadside rock faces. Nearly every one is tagged with spray paint, either declaring the eternal love of two seventeen-year-olds who broke up three months later (PAM + MIKE 4 EVER) or the supremacy of WHITE RIVER HIGH SCHOOL GRAD '86. Highway 17 is a 21-hour film reel of kids from small towns mutely trying to leave their permanent mark on the world through gallons of white paint.

I can't imagine feeling any accomplishment in that, though: "Boys, we've done it. Everyone will know that GRAD 95 does, in fact, RULE. Now let's go home, be unemployed, and drink!" This 12-hour drive from hell gets a hard F.

The Ottawa Valley, by contrast, is really nice, and the roads are better. The road from Mattawa is hilly and lined with giant spruce forests; it reminds me of B.C., but with less in the way of pot. Ottawa itself is a gorgeous city; I might have to try for residency there if U of O doesn't suck ass. The road to Montreal gets a hefty A.

Cross-Canada Road Trip Day 2: Wow, That's A Lot of Trees

July 6, 2004

I take back what I said yesterday about Saskatchewan being boring: It's got nothing on northern Ontario. At least there's people in Saskatchewan. The stretch of highway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay is bordered by a featureless wall of spruce, poplar, and birch. That's it. For seven hours. Nothing else.

Of course, I'd probably be in a better state of mind about the trip if I hadn't spent most of it stuck behind assholes who thought it'd be a great idea to do 75 on the fucking HIGHWAY. I've got six cylinders of Detroit steel* here, people! Let me use them! At least give me a passing lane more than every fifty clicks! This stretch of ass gets a D-.

*steel may actually be from Oshawa.**
**steel may actually be some kind of aluminum-containing alloy.

The landscape gets a lot better once you hit the shore of Lake Superior, though. I stopped at the wonderfully-named Kakabeka (hee hee) Falls, and took a random turnoff at Ahma- er, Ahunt- er, Awaskawinaweekawoona Gorge. I don't know, it started with "A." It was next to Terrace Bay. Don't judge me. In any case, it was nice and I have good pictures but have no idea how to host them on blogspot. And the stretch of highway between Thunder Bay and White River gets a big B+ from me, with all its passing lanes and hills that you can pretend you're on a rollercoaster on. But not too much, because you don't want to be taking your hands off the wheel when you're passing semis. Trust me on this.

I didn't make it to Sault Ste. Marie, like I'd been planning. Hell, I didn't even make it to Wawa. I made it to White River, 300 km up the road from the Soo. Why? The moose came out. Mooses. Meese. Whatever the plural is, they're fuck you up bad if you hit them, since their legs are exactly the right length for the nose of your car to take them out and launch a thousand pounds of angry, thrashing woodland critter into your lap. You think your airbag's gonna stop that?

In any case, it got dark and rainy and full of moose and I had to stop. Unfortunately, all three motels in White River were full, but one of the owners was nice enough to rent me a trailer for forty bucks. Which is why I'm writing this in an RV that smells like chemical toilet.

Cross-Canada Road Trip Day 1: I Can See My House From Winnipeg!

July 5, 2004

Distances have been rendered largely abstract by air travel. We look at a map, see that Edmonton is 3000 kilometres from Toronto, and say: "Huh. That's a five-hour flight. Wonder what the movie's gonna be."

Driving, however, you feel on a visceral level how incomprehensibly vast the Prairie is. Saskatchewan sprawls endlessly in front and behind and to all sides - the illusion is completed by the sheer distance you can see on the flatlands. And when you realized that you're only seeing a small slice of the entire plain, you feel awed by the sheer expanse.

Driving is a layer of disconnect away from WALKING that distance, however: one day of experiencing the flow of the land as opposed to several weeks. But it's as close as any of us are liable to get in our lifetimes, and we watch the repetitive countryside scroll by like the repeating-hallway background in a cartoon.

I figure I'd add a review of the places I've been. You feel so much more meaningful when you're passing judgement...

Alberta: is surprisingly lush in early July. The wheat is still young and green and hugs the contours of the land, and the canola is early enough that it provides only a hint of the mustard explosions that'll dot the land like a spastic work of modern art. Also, if you're an idiot and forget your camera, you can buy a cheap digital one in Lloydminster without paying PST! Sweet! Alberta gets a B+, because they were nice enough to twin the damn highway.

Saskatchewan: kind of boring. The landscape gets drier and scrubbier, with short grasses replacing the crops in places. And the highway is single-lane, which sucks when you're stuck behind farm vehicles. Bleah. Saskatoon has some nice bridges, though, and I stopped for gas in this small town called Lanigan, which has a nice main street lined on both sides and in the middle with shade trees. It's cute, albeit in a Village of the Damned kind of way. Saskatchewan gets a C.

Manitoba: seems almost impossibly green after Saskatchewan; if you're driving along the Yellowhead, you'll find yourself spit out into the trees and water of the Assiniboine Valley and, if you make it around 7:00 or so, you'll see the opposite bank set on fire by the sun. It's something.

I laughed my ass off coming into Winnipeg: the signs greeting visitors have the motto "ONE GREAT CITY!" and I finally get the title of that Weakerthans song. Not that I HATE Winnipeg, per se, since my experience is limited to the Comfort Inn off the highway I'm writing this in, but still... in any case, Manitoba gets a B.


Mystery Writing 101

I originally wrote this for the Gateway, the University of Alberta's much cooler version of the Queen's Journal. There's no GW-analogue here, you see, so you get the funny people who WOULD have gravitated there together with the Journal twats. Unfortunately, the Gateway doesn't print fiction, as I found out. Pity. There's little outlet for semi-insane ravings at the U of A... anyhow, perhaps someone will read it here, and get some enjoyment out of it.


Welcome, class, to the eighth installment in our exclusive course, ‘Writing Airport Fiction.’ As you’ll recall, last week’s lecture was Legal Thrillers: Oh No, My Law Firm Is Corrupt! (John Grisham version: Oh No, My Law Firm Is Corrupt and Southern!) Today, we’ll be discussing what makes formulaic mystery novels tick.

Chapter 1: The Murder

Never begin by introducing your protagonist. That’s cliché. Instead, be like everyone else and begin by taking the perspective of the initial victim and describing her (invariably her) murder in graphic detail. Let the reader think that the victim is your protagonist. It makes you a better writer, you see, because you’re messing with their heads.

Chapter 2: The Hardboiled Detective

Introduce your protagonist – whoa! It’s not who we thought it was, says the reader! – with a phone call, waking him up from a fitful slumber. Alcoholic comas are also acceptable. He’ll be unsurprised to hear it’s another murder, which will make sense, as he’s a homicide detective, and probably expects chalk outlines to crop up at his daughter’s school play. Anyhow, if he’s not already drunk, have him belt down five or six shots of scotch while looking at the photo of his wife who left him because he’s married to the job. This shows the reader just how very hardboiled he is, as well as introducing a convenient character flaw. Exploit this in a tense confrontation with his superior officer in Chapter 15.

Chapter 3: The Crime Scene

Our hero will, despite the booze, hold it together long enough to make it to the crime scene without hitting any pedestrians. He may run over a squirrel if you’re feeling saucy. He should, however, hold it together in a gritty fashion. ‘Grit’ and its derivatives are key words in the genre, and you should use them as much as possible, to the point of having every character constantly devouring grits while gritting their teeth.

At this point, our hero will meet the tough-as-nails-but-gorgeous future love interest, who is deeply involved in this investigation. They will have a personality conflict, based on him being hardboiled and her being tough-as-nails.

Chapters 4-18: The Filler

The details of the investigation are unimportant, because the reader doesn’t have anything better to do except watch Jack Frost on the teeny little LCD screen above him. You’re up against Michael Keaton as a snowman; you really don’t need to put much effort into this. Just rip off CSI. At some point, the detective will say: “We won’t know until he kills again.” Three pages later, he will kill again. And they will, most likely, know.

Chapter 19: Requisite Sex Scene

Flight’s over, time to wake up the reader. You don’t even need to build up any sexual tension, you’re just expected to write about sex now. Remember, your characters are too hardboiled to fuck in a bed. Kitchen floors work fine, and are easy to clean if you’re a stickler for excruciating detail.

Chapters 20-24: More Filler

Rip off CSI: Miami this time, for variety’s sake.

Chapter 25: The Shocking Conclusion

Everything in the book should have led up to one character being the murderer. Above all else, the murderer cannot be that person. Instead, the real killer is someone the detective knows and trusts; bonus points if it’s the tough-as-nails love interest. Don’t worry if every mystery writer uses this plot twist: remember, your audience is composed of idiots, and everything surprises them, particularly shiny things.

Congratulations! You may now sell this book to people who think reading Maxim on planes makes them look shallow. Next week: The Romance Novel: 1001 Useful Euphemisms for ‘Fucking.’