It’s really a matter of the odds, isn’t it? I mean, it’s more or less holiday season right now even if summer hasn’t really arrived in the form of weather. But if historically speaking if you’ve had holidays on a more or less regular basis, chances are you are going to have a really bad one once in a while.
It’s just a simple matter of the universal laws of cosmic balance that state: “If a piece of shrapnel has your name on it, you’re going to get it no matter where you are.” And also that other law — Murphy’s Law — often comes into play. “What can go wrong, will go wrong” — or, as Murphy himself once put it: “When you are on a big family holiday with a car full of kids and the transmission drops out of your vehicle, you will be in a deserted valley somewhere between Hanna and Drumheller with no cellphone reception. And you’ve forgotten to renew your AMA membership.” (Murphy was a pessimistic dude.)
I’m sure we could all regale one another with wild and woolly tales of holiday hell, many of them three-beverage discussions of epic proportions that most often end with having to take time off work when you get back, just to recuperate from your vacation.
I seem to have had an inordinate amount of those. It’s hardly fair, really.
I’ve told everyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t about the time my buddies and I hitchhiked to B.C. on account of the age to get into a pub was 21 years in Alberta and 19 years in good old hippie land (we were 19 at the time of course), so we decided to basically walk to B.C. to have a beverage. Legally.
That’s the time we ended up camping unbeknownst in the pitch dark in the middle of a baseball diamond on a humongous army camp by the highway. When we got out of jail (kidding) I decided to hitchhike back home alone, and nobody would pick me up for many, many weary miles (copious tired kilometres) and I ended up, disheveled and discouraged, a lost and jaded youth, at a bus depot phoning home for some money for a bus ticket.
There was the time my Better Half and I decided to go to Montana for no particular reason, and save money by camping in a little 1985 Dodge Aries station wagon. This was not a good idea. Between the claustrophobia, heat prostration, overall discomfort and the common mistake of generally spending too much time in a Dodge, we finally rattled off into the spooky, narrow roads winding ominously into unfamiliar mountain passes in search of a hotel.
We finally found one (unfortunately) and to this day I’m not sure where in Montana it was, or what it was called, or in fact if it actually existed at all. (Cue Twilight Zone Nee-nee-Nee-nee-Nee-nee theme music.)
Also, the song Hotel California echoed in my head as we checked in: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I practically expected to have to scratch my signature on a huge register with a quill dipped in blood.
This strange and positively creepy old hotel with the heads of various beasts hanging on every square inch (seven mm) of every wall immediately reminded both of us of the movie The Shining. Stephen King’s The Shining — that scariest of all scary guesthouse movies — is about a strange and positively creepy hotel with a lot more than severed heads of animals hanging about, I can tell you. You don’t want to stay anywhere near any hotel that even remotely reminds you of The Shining, believe me.
But our only other choice was another eight or 10 hours in the Dodge so of course we opted for the supernatural horrors of The Montana Shining Hotel or the Super 8 or whatever it was called. After an uneasy sleepless night in a room that looked a lot like Hannibal Lector’s cell in that other creepy movie, Silence of the Lambs, we managed to leave but we never stopped to check out, which I thought was a nice twist on the Hotel California lyrics. But every once in a while, even after all these year, we get an odd unexplainable charge on our Visa card. (Just kidding — Nee-nee-Nee-nee.)
And once when our Rotten Kid, the son one, was relatively new we decided to be really brave and head all the way to Cyprus Hills in Saskabush with a little child and a little tent trailer. It being about 95F (300C) with no air conditioning in the car and tires the size of Timmy’s honey glaze donuts spinning wildly on the tent trailer, we broke down on a nowhere highway somewhere outside of Medicine Hat. Something called “bearings” in one of those Hot Wheels mini-donut tires had literally melted.
Cue crying baby, frazzled parents and heat stroke all around. On the side of the highway. Before cellphone had been invented. With an expired AMA membership.
But you know what? After the hitchhiking disaster I ended up riding in a comfy bus through the Rocky Mountains sitting beside a fascinating 75-year-old retired professor from New York University who was riding the bus just to see the Canadian Rockies before he “tipped over.” We had one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. He was eating an ice cream cone when I sat down.
And after The Shining Montana Super 8 Hotel? The old Dodge didn’t seem so bad, and we ended up having a lovely time living out of a station wagon for a while.
And the big Saskabush breakdown trip? We unhooked the car, drove to a hotel with life-saving air conditioning and a refreshing pool and had the time of our lives teaching our little RK how to swim.
So here’s to holidays — the good, the bad and the ugly — because as someone wise once said: “No matter where you go, there you are.”
Might as well make the best of it, because sometimes you never know when you might end up meeting a friend, sleeping in a station wagon or teaching a baby how to swim.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.