Category: writing / words / language (page 1 of 2)

On failure

I think that in the end we all need our Nocturamas. Your Nocturama may, indeed, be the most important thing you ever do. Failure fortifies us. It moves us forward. It strips everything back to its essential nature and leaves us clean and pure, ready to begin again. You don’t create something as problematic as Nocturama without a certain risk and a little courage and the temerity to fail. I love this troubled record for that. It may just be my favourite. ~ Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files Issue #20

Fuck x 30

Fuck feeling like I need to give myself permission to write. Just fucking write. 1) it’s not hard and 2) who cares how it looks.

Fuck the time suck that is Facebook, with its endless fear of missing out interspersed with people missing the point.

Fuck only getting a clue now that I’m middle aged.

Fuck being this out of shape. 

Fuck my left knee.

Fuck STILL not being able to afford to do the things that are important to me.

Fuck herbal teas that always smell way better than they taste.

Fuck people who never try.

Fuck people who think I’m an inspiration. Aim higher, for fuck’s sake.

Fuck this squishy lap.

Fuck only figuring shit out now.

Fuck the ridiculously high US/CDN exchange rate.

Fuch autocorrect that keeps wanting to change fuck to duck.

Fuck not being able to put tech down for more than an hour.

Fuck poor self control.

Fuck losing my taste for beer (a temporary situation, I hope).

Fuck expensive wine that tastes like cheap wine.

Fuck acid reflux.

Fuck procrastination.

Fuck this city.

Fuck all my friends living so far away.

Fuck time poorly spent (I refuse to say wasted, but it’s close)

Fuck being introverted.

Fuck people who think I’m too stupid to figure things out for myself.

Fuck sometimes not being able to figure things out for myself.

Fuck being behind.

Fuck being left behind.

Fuck being bored.

Fuck trite sayings that happen to be true.

Fuck not taking photos of things that interest me. Why am I so uninspired? Is it time to pull the plug?

Fuch this burn on my thumb.

In which I attempt to write science fiction…

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do is to try my hand at writing fiction, specifically science fiction. The following story came about at my summer writing retreat with some amazing people at Firefly Creative Writing. The writing prompt was to find something in the cottage, and incorporate it into a story; I felt that a fish poacher (not unlike this one) seemed like a good jumping off point.

It was fun. I think I might write some more.


It was a dismal and grey day in Alaska the day the aliens landed. The aliens didn’t know it was a grey and dismal day, they were just happy that their long journey was over. They emerged from their craft in the non-corporal form they took for space flight, and looked for a life-form to emulate.

It was too bad that they landed where they did, that they hadn’t at least done a fly-over of this blue-green planet. They might have landed in New York City, London, Tokyo, Beijing. Things might have been so different. But no. Circumstances and coincidences shape the destiny of all things. The Sularg ship had been programmed to alight on the first land encountered before awakening the crew, and land it did, beside a slow moving river in the Chugach National Forest in southern Alaska.

There were five of Sularg on the ship, one complete pod. They floated beside their ship for a moment, taking in the environment, the oxygen-rich air, the breeze that made them bob and swoop to stay together.

This could work, thought-sent Childak, their leader by virtue of being the oldest by one slinoon. The rest of the pod thought-sent agreement and they began to slowly fan out from the ship for the next stage of their programming, to find the first suitable form for them to adopt. Traldak drifted toward the river, senses extended in the search for a suitable form. This planet is so rich she thought-kept, so much life and diversity. She probed each life type she found, trees, plants, insects, searching for one with enough complexity and sentience to hold their sparks. It wasn’t until she sent tendrils into the ribbon of water that she found anything close enough.

Here, she thought-sent, calling the rest back from their own discoveries. They came to her, leaving bears, wolves and ravens undiscovered. They each sent their own thought-tendrils into the water, and thought-sent agreement. A bit rudimentary, Childak thought-sent, but it will have to do. They were the only species on their planet with any sentience to speak of, and so it did not occur to them that might be others to keep look for on this one.

Childak sent the tendril back to the ship, and they drifted over the water waiting for the organic computer to sequence the information. A few moments later, they found themselves with mass again, and fell to the water. Garndak, who hated waiting and had been still sending tendrils out had  seen something moving in the trees and had begun to drift toward it.

Wait please– he had begun to thought-send when the change happened, and he found himself landing on the sandy bank beside the river. The shock of the new body contracted all his tendrils back into himself, and the thought of what he might have seen was pushed from him in the as he gasped on the gritty dry ground.

What– thought-sent Childak.

This isn’t right– Garndak replied.

The pod pushed an interrogative at him.

This body is failing – Garndak thought-sent. He could feel salmon instincts well up in him, and he felt the muscles contract and release rythmically. There was a tinge of panic edging into his movements as he tried to pull something into his body, something he needed for survival.

 Where are you?– thought-sent Childak. We’re fine– he added unhelpfully.

Fortunately for Garndak, his flopping had brought him to the waters edge, and his next movement sent him into the water.

He floated for a moment in the blissful coolness, letting this new environment soothe his skin. He pulled great gulps of the liquid into his mouth and out through openings on his sides, revelling in this new feeling of right-ness. The rest of the pod were near him, nothing moving but mouths and gills, and eyes that rolled to see him.

Are you all right? thought-sent Traldak.

Yes, he sent back, then sent his experiences to Ferndak, the podmate most interested in different life forms.

Interesting, replied Ferndak. -These bodies are meant for only one of this planet’s environments.-

Childak, who took his position and his age in the pod rather too seriously, throught-sent with a touch of irritation, Well now we’re all here, let’s get on with the mission.

How? came Coogdak’s challenge. Have you figured out how to move yet? Coogdak loved nothing more than to take Childak down a peg or two.

Before Childak could reply, Garndak sent, I think I’ve got it. Watch, and demonstrated the muscle spasming that had caused him to move on the riverbank. He used the same power that instinct had caused him to use, resulting in him swimming far beyond them. He experimented with the fin extensions from his body to turn and rejoin his pod.

He thought-sent the procedure to the pod, and soon all were practicing moving the bodies they had chosen.

This is fun, sent Ferndak as she swooped past Garndak. These are the best bodies ever!

Childak, who secretly agreed with Ferndak sent a time-to-go message, and they began to move downstream for no other reason that their bodies were becoming tired and it was easier. Soon they encountered the salmon that Traldak had seen, that they had all based their forms on.

Childak swam over to float in front of  it, so he could look it in the eyes

Take us to your leader, he thought-sent with a formal tone. We have information to share to help your planet.

The salmon merely regarded him, fins gyrating slowly to keep it in place.

Didn’t you hear me? Take us to your leader!

Still no response.

Childak  tried again with the formal opening, the one he had practiced by himself during the voyage. Coogdak thought-sent a smirk and smothered laugh, which irritated Childak as it was meant to do.

Childak ignored Coogdak and tried a third time. We are travellers in space and time. We can teach you better ways to travel, to live, to manage your planet. Don’t you want that? Hello?

Coogdak thought-sent deeper amusement. Exasperated, Childak sent the equivalent of ok smartass, you try.

Coogdak swam forward to the salmon and used simpler language. Where are your leaders?

This the salmon could answer. The Sularg had no way of knowing that salmon had only rudimentary language concepts that consisted of five “words” – food, spawn, where, upstream, downstream. The salmon understood “where” and helpfully replied “downstream” since the strangers were already pointed that way.

Downstream they went, asking each salmon they encountered. Childak shortened his practised speech to two words, where leaders, as it seemed to the only thing that got a response. And the response was always downstream.

The Slurag followed the current, which sped up now and then when the river narrowed. They revelled in this fluid environment and these bodies so very different from their own back home. They flipped and frolicked as they got used to the muscles and fins that propelled them. Once, Coogdak discovered that he could temporarily leave the river by swimming fast then flicking his tail just so, to leap from the water into a different place. The heavier gravity always sent him back into the water before the salmon body he wore became distressed in the air. He showed the rest of his pod, and it became a game to see who could leap the highest and for longest. The five of them were so delighted with this and so taken with the competition, that they sped past a final school of salmon that would have answered “upstream” to Childak’s question, the only way the salmon knew to warn these strangers of the air-breathers and their nets around the next bend in the river.


“That looks delicious,” said the woman. She and her husband were out for their anniversary dinner at The Kincaid Grill, the best restaurant in Anchorage. They had saved for months so they could splurge.

The waiter lifted a piece of salmon from the large fish poaching salver and placed it on her plate.

How fresh is it, her husband asked as the waiter carefully ladled a dill Bernaise sauce over the salmon he had just plated.

“Very fresh,” he told the man as he repeated the procedure. “Chef likes to go fishing in the morning, and caught five of them this morning. He said it was the damnedest thing, they practically jumped into his boat, like they wanted to be caught and go with him or something.”

With that, he bid them bon appetit and left them to their anniversary dinner.

Trading card time

It has been a week of doing that thing I most hate doing – writing about myself.

I know, I know, I write about myself all the time; there’s Twitter, Facebook and here. But those are different, fun. Writing something serious or semi-serious about myself for other people to read makes my procrastination gene work overtime.

This morning, I emailed my portfolio for the Brewmaster application. It’s been proofread and edited by 3 people other than myself, and I still found a grammar issue this morning upon the eleventy-hundredth reading. *head desk. I did the two tricks I was shown when I worked at the print shop – read it out loud (2 more issues) and read it backwards word by word (no more issues). I could re-write sentences forever, so made myself finally hit the Send button. I only checked 5 times before sending that I had attached the right file. And so far, 4 times after sending. Yes, I am that paranoid about it.

Then on to the other one. This is substantially less critical, but still needs to be right. It’s time to write my copy for the Toronto Roller Derby trading cards. I couldn’t help but laugh at the typo on last year’s – it’s so me. What made it funnier was the fact that it wasn’t my typo!

After much thought, this is what I’m going with:

Spirit Animal: Grumpy Cat*

Three Likes: Beer, motorcycles and Doctor Who

Three dislikes: Bad coffee, romantic comedies and To Do lists

Is known for: Refusing to act her age

I’ve decided to go with last year’s picture as it’s one of the few pictures of me that I like. That and the fact I’ve put on weight during my unemployment, and I can’t keep denying how much if I have actual proof, now can I?


*Keith asked me why Grumpy Cat – she can’t help the fact that she looks so grumpy all the time, and apparently is quite a lovely and sweet cat. Not that I’m saying I’m lovely and sweet, but I’m a damn sight nicer than my Resting Bitch Face  would lead people to believe.


Oops, forgot to hit Publish last night.


From last night’s writing session;


It was our second day in Dawson city. We had moved from one of the apartment-style rooms to the renovated Gold Rush cabin. I loved the cabin, with its odd mix of old rustic and new modern. I liked to put one splayed hand against an exposed log on the wall, and the other against the fridge or TV and pretend that I could feel the years channelling through me, that i could send a vision of the room in the luxurious now to its former occupant in a wild and rough past.

We had spent the day exploring Dawson City. We had taken the ferry back across the river and looked around the ship graveyard, where most of the old steamships that plied the Klondike river had been pulled to shore and left to disintegrate. In any other place, in any other national park, there would have been an interpretation centre, and paths with signs to tell you the history of each one. Not here. The first person we spoke to at the Dawson City visitors centre didn’t even know about it and had to go ask. An older woman managed to find a much-photocopied hand drawn map and gave us the instructions to “take the ferry to the campground, walk all the way through it and follow the path”. The path proved so long and so overgrown that we began to wonder if perhaps we’d missed something when the prow of a paddle wheeler, rusted and covered with moss, appeared from undergrowth.

We poked around the wrecks for an hour or so. We only found 5 of the 6 or 7 before the drizzle prevented us for delving too deep into the thick underbrush. we went back to town and had lunch in former bordello. What is it about former bordellos that lend themselves to becoming restaurants? We’d seen the same thing in Skagway and Haines. Bars, maybe, but a restaurant?
But I digress.

We tried to avoid the bus groups taking tours of old part of town, and found ourselves walking in and out of the residential areas as we wandered up and down the dirt roads. We found the liquor store and a grocery store in our travels and decided to make dinner in the cabin than eat out yet again. We made it back to the cabin in time to watch the opening of the Beijing Olympic games before grilling our steaks. We sat on the porch overlooking the Klondike, and as we ate we talked about what it must have been like a mere hundred years before.

“just think” Keith said. “there must have been a time at this very spot with someone eating steak and beans outside. We could be like an echo”.

“Yeah, an echo with propane, a four piece bath and hot and cold water on demand.”

I’d seen photos during the day that stripped away any of the period’s romance. Would we even have been among the ones that survived it?

After dinner, I headed to Diamond-toothed Gerties, a gambling hall at the north end of town. Every vacation, I pick someplace, state I want to fill in the blank here, and make that a goal of sorts for the trip.
On this trip I had decided I wanted to go to Diamond toothed gerties, play some poker and add another poker chip to my collection.

The gambling hall itself wasn’t really what I expected; from the pictures I’d seen of the stage where they put on old dance hall shows and of the casino floor, I was expecting it to look like more of a period building on the outside, as had the other buildings we’d looked at during the day. Instead, it had the look of a small town hockey arena or community centre, with white painted cinder blocks and siding.

I’d just made it through the external door into a small foyer and was beginning to greet the two employees inside when the power went out. Immediately, thin back up lights came on, and my way into the casino was blocked by the larger man, the one in the period outfit with Gerties embroidered on the pocket.

“sorry ma’am, I can’t let you in while the power’s out.”

Over his shoulder, i could see dealers quickly cover and lock the chips and cash boxes. Their movements were smooth and practised, and the casino patrons seemed to be taking it all in stride. I wondered how often it happened.

“No, I understand” I told him. “I know this is a stupid question, but any idea how long?”

“it’s been going off periodically all day. Give it a few minutes.”

I walked back outside and past a group of men, standing by a side door, smoking and listening to one guy complain about a bad beat in the last poker hand. I hid a smile as I past and wondered if the same rule applied where you had to pay your listeners a buck after forcing them to hear your bad beat story, your poker tale of woe.

I walked around a few blocks, and took some pictures of abandoned and decaying buildings and of a very friendly cat that twined itself around my ankles but soon ran off in the direction of a woman calling “blackie, dinner!”

I headed back to the casino but could see that the power was still off. The desire to complete my goal of playing some poker in a Gold Rush town was still there, but it was starting to wane. The combination of waiting around outside in the damp and knowing that I had beer in the fridge and bubble bath for the cabin’s claw foot tub won out over standing around, waiting.

It will give me a reason to come back, I thought as I abandoned the goal I’d had in mind for months and headed back for the triumvirate of beer, book and bubble bath.

The streets were deserted on the walk back, even by the ferry landing that had been busy all day. I found it kind of surprising until I looked at my watch to find that it was well past 10. The light in the land of the midnight sun made it seem like much earlier.

I was close to the cabin when my attention was caught by two ravens on a street light above me. The one on the left had a large piece of food firmly gripped in its beak, and the one on the right was being very vocal. I had to anthropomorphize, but there seemed to be something very questioning about the raven’s gurglings and caws. As I stood watching and listening, I realized that there was a pattern, there were three distinctive calls repeated over and over.

Watcha got? Where’d ya get it? Whatcha gonna do with it?

The raven with the food stared straight ahead, ignoring the other. This went on for a quite a while and I was just about to give up and continue down the street when the raven on the left suddenly ruffled its feathers and turned to caw at his neighbour, and so dropping the food it had had in its beak. The vocal raven immediately launched off the street light, swooped down to grab the food and flapped off over the trees. I couldn’t help but laugh at the the look the remaining raven gave to its now departing companion, earning me a blink from a beady eye and a rough gurgle in my direction before it flew off in a different direction.

I was still smiling about it later as I lowered myself into a bubble filled antique claw foot tub in a renovated Gold Rush cabin.

FUNemployment, week 1

It’s been just over a week since I walked out of the school for the last time, and so far it feels just like any summer break I’ve taken over the last 12 years.

Well, except for the occasional stomach-dropping, headache-inducing moment of utter panic when I remember that I am an unemployed 51-year-old with no formal education and no real clue about what she wants to be when/if she grows up. But then I talk to Keith or call/text/email a friend who will patiently list my many positives for the umpteenth time until I stop hyperventilating and step away from the ledge.

But other than those moments, it’s been a fun week. School finished on the Thursday, capped by an evening out on a local patio, drinking with my soon-to-be-former colleagues. There were speeches for the staff departing; mine was given by Andy, my fellow beer-loving punk-rocker. It the longest, sweetest, most eloquent and had the added benefit of making the principal who fired me look like she had just taken a bite of an apple only to find half a worm dangling from the core. There were hugs at the end of the night, and promises to keep in touch in varying degrees of sincerity, which will likely not happen now that the only common ground has been removed.

I left the next morning for my writing retreat, feeling only very slightly hung over. I was on the bike, it was a sunny day and I was heading to a cottage on the shores of Georgian Bay to spend a weekend doing some of the things I like the best. It was a great ride along roads I’d not been on before with a stop at the Meaford waterfront park for one of the best burgers I’ve ever had from a chip truck. I arrived at Chris’s family cottage around 2, settled in, and sat on the beach for a while drinking in a view filled with only sky and water. Everyone else arrived, and the day was filled with laughter and workshops.

My sense of peace and equanimity went to shit sometime after breakfast the next day. My period started and I experienced cramps so painful that I couldn’t sit up for the morning workshop (I blame the Super Moon!), and spent the afternoon in bed cuddled up to a hot water bottle and letting the hormone roller coaster take me for a spin out of control. No writing, just crying. It wasn’t pretty. Bad-ass biker chick cover was completely blown. The day was saved by the kindness of the women around me – I can’t describe just how awesome they all were.

I couldn’t really get completely out from under the shadow of Saturday’s melt-down though. I had been looking forward to the weekend for months, and I felt like I’d blown it, wasted my money by not partaking.  I did get a few things written, but not what I’d wanted.

Sigh. File it under Shit Happens, and move on.

The rest of the week was moderately productive. Keith was working the Toronto Jazz Festival all week, so I spent my afternoons knitting and watching Torchwood on Netflix. I finished a pair of socks in 8 days – a new record that only sounds good if you’re a knitter. Otherwise, it’s just kind of sad.

The Headstones played on Thursday, a private event for the fans (like me) who had backed their new album on As always, it was a great show, but a bit surreal to be back in Lee’s Palace after a decade away. The scene of so many bad decisions  looked both bigger and smaller, vastly different and yet completely the same, proving once again that memory is a tricky thing.

I crossed over to the dark side on Saturday – I bought a Macbook Pro. It’s used and the battery is crap, but it’s got the software I need on it and I can do the programming I need anywhere. I’ve been working on it for three days now. I am still waiting for it to change my life.

Sunday was a lazy day – we went to a friend’s cottage and basically hung out on the deck and chatted about everything and nothing while listening to the wind in the pine trees.

Which brings us to yesterday, Canada Day. We talked about going out and doing something, seeing a movie or going for a walk, but inertia proved stronger than desire. I made strawberry jam for the first time since leaving my parent’s house and Keith made scones and coffee. We feasted on them all day as we watched odd movies like Sushi Girl (think Tarantino wanna-be), and finished them off as we sat at the window and watched fireworks around the city.



stuff and crap

So, I was told on May 3rd that the school would not be renewing my contract after 12 years of teaching there.

Just imagine the initial reaction. The stress kept me awake for days.

A week later and there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train. While I was completely blindsided by this, I’ve come to realize that the change is going to be interesting. And wild. And fun. And awkward. And hard. And occasionally stressful. I am smart, capable and have an affinity with technology. Opportunities abound.

I am humbled by the support that has been offered by friends and colleagues, and by Keith. I am fortunate beyond measure.


I *finally* have the final class M motorcycle license. Thankfully, this one doesn’t expire.


Last night’s writing class was based on scent as memory trigger. I buried my nose in a old paperback and wrote:

It is the smell of summer nights, reading by flashlight in a tent or a cabin. It is the smell of winter days, home, sick, with nothing to do but read upstairs while Mum watched her stories downstairs. It is the smell of Chur-Lee Lodge, of being enveloped by the old mushy and musty sofa by the bookcase while listening to the rain drum on the roof then drip past the windows.

I know now why old paperbacks smell the way they do*, that the chemicals used to make paper breaks it down after time, makes it powdery so that you pick up traces of every page you turn, absorbing them through your skin to carry with you always.

* Why Do Old Books Smell?


There is no rhyme or reason to my thought process today. Maybe I should go have a nap before heading out to derby later.


My nights at Firefly Creative Writing with my writing group are becoming my favourite nights of the month. There’s always much laughter along with the tea and treats.

It might have something to do with the writing exercises that Chris prepares. For last night’s opening exercise she handed us a page from Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers about snapdragon varieties, a pair of scissors and scotch tape with the instructions, “Make a poem. A sexy poem”.


well, #&@%!

I really feel like blogging something today. It’s been building all month.

However, all I really feel like writing is a long stream of curse words used with the creativity of an artist and the subtlety of an on-coming train, a litany of invective so scorching it would make a sailor blush.

There’s no particular reason why. I’ve been having a pretty good day/week/month. I just feel like cursing. A lot.

But rather than me writing it, let’s just take it as a given. You’re an imaginative lot and know me well enough to fill in the blanks, and I’ll use the time to go make some soup and grilled cheese, and watch another episode of Lost Girl on Netflix. 

June 20

Day 20 – Fave photo I’ve ever taken

this is my all time favourite photograph. Everytime I look at it, I remember how tired and sweaty I felt, how hot I was. But most importantly, I remember the night we stayed at the Canyonlands Motel.


Baby Boo and the Canyonlands Motel

You can always tell the people who have never really “ridden off into the sunset”. They’re the ones who still think it’s romantic.

The reality is anything but romantic. The sun is blazing into your eyes, and no matter how you squint, you can’t really see what’s up ahead. You can feel the mother of all headaches begin to take up residence between your temples. You’re hot. You’re tired, and tired of being on the road. You’re hoping that a decent motel will magiclly appear over the horizon, one with air conditioning and a mini bar. And you discover that hell is an empty, westward highway that never ends.

That is where I was late one August day. We’d been riding since the morning, through a desert heat that we were not used to. We were both dehydrated and tired. Monument Valley was visually dramatic in the late afternoon sunshine, but the view was not enough to stop me from wishing I’d forced a stop in Mexican Hat a half hour before. We hadn’t seen another vehicle on the road and I figured we were about halfway between Mexican Hat and Kayenta, quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a view I had to photograph. Keith was ahead of me and I knew he wouldn’t be happy about a delay, but I pulled over anyway. I watched him ride off, taking the camera gear with him. While I waited for him to notice I wasn’t there anymore, I took the water bottle out of my pack and took a long swig of the tepid water that did nothing to wash away the bright metallic taste of the heat and the dust.

The look on Keith’s face as he pulled off his helmet matched the tone of his voice as he said, “What now?”. I gestured back the way that we had came, at what I had seen in the mirror.

“I need to take a photo.”

He looked the view, really looked at the vivid red desert bisected by new blacktop so straight that it seemed like it went through the distant red cliff rather than curve around it. He saw the same thing I did, and handed me the camera. He smiled and said, “Good eye. I’d have missed that one.”

He gave me some hints on composition, and we talked sporadically while I aimed the camera at the scenes around me.

“I’m about done”, he said as I sat in the middle of the road, focusing on the distant hills. I pressed the shutter button twice before I answered.

“Yeah, me too. Where do suppose we are?”

Keith helped me up and took the camera to take some shots of the dusty bikes in that golden sunshine.

“Middle. Of. Nowhere.”

“Literally. What do you figure, we’re about halfway to the next town?””

“The question now, ” he said as he put the camera away, “is do we go on? Or do we go back?”

I remembered the two-story hotel I had seen beside the river in Mexican Hat, the one with the all-important air-conditioning grills under each of the windows that overlooked the San Juan River. I mentioned it to Keith and added, “Plus, we’ll have the sun at our backs for the half hour, rather than it glaring in our eyes”.

“Sold. Let’s go.”The ride back seemed quicker, as it always does when you know that the end is in sight. We pulled into the hotel’s courtyard and smiled at each other in relief as we walked into the office. An older woman with long white hair, wearing a white tshirt over an ankle length red peasant skirt, smiled at us and gently explained that there was no vacancy, hadn’t we seen the sign?

I know I blinked in surprise. No vacancy? WTF does that mean? It took me a second to remember that it meant no room at the inn. In all of our travels over the previous years, we had never encountered No Vacancy in any of the budget or mom and pop motels wh had ever stopped in. There was always room and we had grown complacent.

The wind had been knocked out of my sails, but Keith still had the presence of mind to ask her if she could recommend another hotel in town, someplace clean and cheap.

“Go to the Canyonlands Motel. It’s up the hill on the left, beside the gas station. Don’t even bother with the other ones, they’re crap.”

Off we went, up the hill and turned left into an uneven gravel parking lot. The Canyonlands Motel looked pretty dismal, with cracked stucco around each door and a broken neon sign that now only said “Budget Rat s”.

“Well, this is special.” I muttered to Keith as we headed to the office after making sure that the NO part of NO VACANCY was unlit on both sides of the sign.

“At least it will be cheap,” he replied. He really is a most frugal man.

We opened the door, and I worked to keep my face blank. I’m sure it was a tidy place once, but now it had the look of a place that had slipped quietly by inches. It wasn’t dirty, just messy as hell. People had put stuff just anywhere rather than put it away. Folded linens were piled high on the end of the counter in a tower that had a decided lean to it. A large dented industrial vacuum squatted in the corner in front of red vinyl chairs that had been new a few decades before. One of the chairs had a dirty white plastic bucket on it, filled with cleaning supplies with a pair of used yellow rubber gloves tossed over them. A box of cheap garbage bags sat on the other chair. Magazines and rolls of hotel toilet paper and boxes of thin motel soap were set down anywhere with no attempt at organization.

A teenage girl sat at a computer on the other side of the counter, sitting back in an old office chair with her feet up on the counter. She slowly put her feet down when we asked her if they had any rooms available.

“Sure,” she said, giving us a wide smile through snaggle teeth. It was my turn to get the accommodations so I chatted with her as I filled out the card. She was friendly, if a bit odd. Her hair had been dyed black, but a while ago and her roots were coming in a mousy blond. Frankly, it looked like it had been cut by a lawn mower, choppy and spikey in the most peculiar way. She wore black eyeshadow which only served to highlight how small and porcine her eyes were in that round white face, and the scarlet lipstick had been applied outside the lip line giving her a clownish look. She stood up as I finished filling in the our information, and I saw that her glitter nailpolish had been picked off and chipped halfway down each bitten nail.

The crowning glory of her look had to be her tshirt. It had to be at least 2 sizes too small and covered her ample form like a sausage casing ready to split. A black and red banner design had been airbrushed on it and the words Baby Boo was written in a bilious purple script that warped and distorted as the tshirt stretched over her chest.

“If ya need anythin, just call. I’m ______ and I’ll be happy to help ya.”

We both forgot her name immediately. To us, she would always be just Baby Boo.

A green rental car pulled into the parking lot as we walked out of the office, disgorging two couples that spoke in German to each other. The men talked to each other in that way that said what a great adventure this is and sauntered to the office. The women stayed by the car with slightly shell-shocked expressions and looked silently at the motel buildings. One caught my eye and we exchanged a smile and a slight shrug, silently commiserating with each other that we had ended up here in this dismal spot.

Keith started to unpack his bike while I wrestled with an aged sliding glass door, trying to get into the room. Finally he had to come and help. So much gravel and dust had settled in the tracks that the whole exercise took far longer than it should have, and nothing we did could get them closed again. Frankly that was just as well; the room was stuffy and hot after being closed up all afternoon and the faint breeze was more important than security right then.

The room held no surprises. It was as dejected as the rest of the place. A brown and beige shag carpet filled the room and was matted with more gravel and dust from years of travellers coming in from the parking lot. Both double beds slumped noticeably in the middle and the cheap nylon comforters had pulls and snags distorting the shiny satin-like surface. Everything seemed clean though and the scent of bleach overlaid the smell of heat and dust. I won’t touch anything but the sheets, I thought. AndNO WAY am I walking on that floor in bare feet.

While Keith fiddled with the TV and looked for the air conditioning controls I checked out the bathroom. Clean but dingy pretty much sums it up. While the porcelain and tiles were clean, everything was just a little chipped and shabby. I wondered how I would ever get dry with towels as threadbare as the ones hanging on a pitted chrome rail.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” Keith called from the other room.

“Only one channel?”

“Worse. No air conditioning.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!?”

“There’s this space up near the ceiling, but I don’t know if that’s it.”

I sighed. “Well, let’s go ask on our way to get some food.”

“You going to shower first?”

“No, let’s just go. I’ll just get all sweaty and dusty again. I’ll shower before bed.”

Baby Boo was still in the office, and looked genuinely puzzled when Keith explained that there was no air conditioner in the room.

“Oh there totally is. There’s one in every room. It’s just a little different that what most people are used to.”

That was our introduction to swamp coolers, also known as evaporative coolers. It is not, as Baby Boo claimed, an air conditioner. It is a fan that blows air over water, and cools by adding humidity into the room. She told Keith how to turn it on, and I waited by the road while he went back to the room to get it started.

“You’re not going to like it,” he said to me when he came back.

“Like what?”

We started walking down the road to find a restaurant.

“The room is getting damp, but not cool. I think separate beds tonight”

I sighed. I didn’t like it very much, but we’d learned that a night spent trying not to roll into the dip in the middle of an old bed didn’t make for a good night’s rest.

We passed another hotel as we walked, and we tried to peer into the dim lobby as we passed it.

“How bad does this place have to be, if it’s worse than the Canyonlands?” I asked Keith.

“Maybe the woman at the San Juan Inn gets a kick back.”

“Just how much of a kick back can one expect from a $60 a night room?” I wondered.

Mexican Hat is not a big place, one of those blink-and-you-miss-it towns, so we soon found a sign for the Swingin’ Steakhouse. The smell of barbeque was too good for us to look for another restaurant. We walked around a fence to find ourselves on a partially covered patio. There was a bar at one end, and about 10 old-style melamine tables with mismatched chrome chairs. The flag stones were uneven, and everything wobbled no matter how we shifted our chairs or propped up a table leg with a folded napkin. We turned our chairs so we could see the other end of the patio.

Here was a large firepit, maybe one meter by three meters with a grill hanging from chains suspended over the glowing charcoal fire. It was attended by a young man in a dark cowboy hat with black jeans and tshirt, who drank from a steady supply of long-neck Budweiser bottles as he tended to the orders on the grill and kept it swinging steadily over the flame

“You want chicken or beef,” asked the heavily tanned blond who could have been 30, could have been 50. “There’s nothin’ else.”

We both settled on the beef, and I added a Bud to my order. Keith wondered idly what vegetarians would order.

“There’s salad and beans and bread that comes with,” said our waitress helpfully.

“Guess this isn’t the place to be a vegetarian,” Keith remarked after she left.

“Umm…no,” I said, laughing as I looked at the big slabs of steak on the grill

We sat on the patio and watched the stars come out in a perfectly clear sky as we enjoyed what is possibly the best steak dinner we have ever had. I splurged and followed it up with a piece of home made apple crumble a la mode (“that means it comes with ice cream, ya know”), that was so good it made me sleepy with contentment.

We walked back to the motel hand-in-hand, pleased with the dinner at the Swingin’ Steak. and the night in general. While I waited for the eight daddy-long-leg spiders that had been lingering in the tub to wash down the drain before I stepped in for my shower, I thought about what had been a good day’s ride followed by a good dinner with good company. And as Keith later remarked, even though it wasn’t the best of accommodations, Baby Boo and the Canyonlands Motel made for a good story.


The next morning, we rode along the same route. It turned out that where we stopped so I could take the photo had actually been much closer to Kayenta than Mexican Hat. If we had carried on another 15 minutes, we would have been in the kind of town you find where two highways intersect, with chain hotels, Denny’s and MacDonalds. Air conditioning a-plenty, but no good stories.


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