It’s been an interesting week here in Houston because the wifi in the hotel really blows so I have been having to fill my time with other things to do.
I’ve been working on a series of stories about some of my travel and spent the last two days finally finishing the revisions on a story about my first real road trip to Toronto.
If you have the time, and would like a good laugh or two with some insight into my life, feel free to read on.
A Dream Come True (Toronto)
My first major road trip will always hold a special place in my memory banks as it was one that was filled with countless entertaining hours in a car with one of my best friends at the time.
In 1995 I was working for a pizza place as a driver. It wasn’t anything glamorous but it was a steady paycheque which allowed me to afford having my own vehicle with a bit extra here and there. I was also able to save money when the opportunity came for me to do something a little bit more extravagant. Working as a driver, I got tips and commission for each delivery I did so over time they added up fast. A good Saturday night would give me $100-$150 of extra cash on top of the whole whopping $5.25/hr I was making.
I had never taken any road trips that were more than 4 hours to drive so I wanted to go somewhere that I hadn’t been to before, and I really wanted to make sure it was a big city. I had never been to Toronto and thought that would be a nice spot to start. I watched a lot of MuchMusic in those days and thought visiting the official HQ of theirs would be a nice touch. I booked my vacation about a month ahead of time but then I found out that my favorite band Faith No More would be performing in Toronto during a different week than I was scheduled to be there. I quickly made changes to my vacation dates so I could make it to the concert and then began putting my money away.
I reached out to a guy I had met through my indie music scene contacts to see if he would be able to purchase the tickets to Faith No More for me and I would send him the money. This was before concert tickets could be easily purchased online. Before I knew it, I had two tickets to see Faith No More in Toronto on May 22nd, 1995.
My friend Dale wanted to come but didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t have a lot to spare but I didn’t want to take this trip on my own so I told him to bring whatever money he had and that we’d figure the rest out later. That would turn out to be the best decision as having someone there with me made it a hell of a lot more fun. Dale was a smoker so to save him a little bit of money, I bought him one carton of smokes to start him off. The box didn’t last him for the whole trip but it did go longer than we both expected. I also knew that if he ran out early, I might go a little nuts dealing with his withdrawal and end up leaving him there.
On May 18th, 1995, at 7:00am we left Dale’s place and headed towards Toronto.
This was the mid-90s so the idea of having a phone in your pocket to take video and photos was unheard of. I brought my film camera and Dale had made a suggestion that we record a “log” of what we saw on the way. Since I did a lot of band interviews in my fanzine days, I had a little cassette recorder so we brought it with us. Every time we saw something notable, or we just wanted to have fun, we’d record a “log” on the tape. We modeled our logs after Star Trek and I was the captain, and Dale was the first officer. Turns out the content of that tape ended up being as entertaining as anything else we saw on that trip, save for the concert. I still have the tape and maybe one day I’ll convert it to MP3 so I have it digitally and can laugh at the hysterics from my past. I do have one digital file which has snippets from that tape as well as others all put to music. It comes up on rotation on my iPhone once in a while and I always smile when I hear it.
The other thing to remember about that time period was that it was pre-GPS. In the days prior to Google Maps and dashboard navigation, you had to use a good old fashion map to get you from one location to another. Dale was in charge of reading the map and navigating us to where we needed to go.
Given that neither of us had a lot of money, staying in hotels or motels for the duration of our trip was also out of the question. This was late spring, so we packed a couple of pillows, sleeping bags, and a small two person tent in the back of my Mercury Topaz and roughed it. We also brought a cooler with a little bit of food and some drinks. Sleeping in a tent was fine as campgrounds were cheap, and we were young and didn’t really care where we crashed during the wee hours.
At the time, Toronto was about an 18 hour drive from Moncton. We didn’t figure we would make it all the way in one night, so we got as far as the west side of Quebec City and crashed at a campground. We woke up the next morning and the weather was great so we hit the road nice and early. We made a pit stop in Kingston in hopes that we could find our college friend Plungerman but since we didn’t even know his address, or phone number, we just hoped we’d see him somewhere while we made a quick stop then continued on our way.
By the time we got to Toronto, we were pretty tired. We had made the decision to stay in a campground in Whitby which is just outside of the city. We got the tent put up, our stuff organized and despite the fact that we were pretty tired we still wanted to go downtown and see if we could find MuchMusic. We dug out the map, found Queen St East, got in the car, and headed into town.
I found driving there to be a lot less chaotic than I would have expected for such a large city. We also didn’t expect to see cable cars running in the main streets either. Dale spotted the MuchMusic building so we drove around trying to find a parking spot and eventually made our way.
Now what you have to understand is that in 1995, I was 21 years old and Dale was 22. Music was (and still is) a huge part of my life and in those days MuchMusic was a huge source of seeing new and upcoming bands emerge onto the scene. This was in a day when MuchMusic and MTV were known primarily for playing music videos and interviewing bands and reality TV didn’t exist yet. I remember vividly being introduced to the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam through a TV set tuned into MuchMusic. Dale and I were both avid viewers of many of the programs that ran on that station so for us, getting a chance to go see the main HQ where the VJs did their stuff was kind of a big deal. At the time, it would have been the closest we would come to seeing anyone even remotely famous.
But at that age, we also loved seeing pretty girls and on Friday nights, MuchMusic always ran a dance party show called Electric Circus. When we got there, we saw the famous jeep stuck out of the CHUM building (the HQ for MuchMusic) then walked around the corner to see if we could see anyone taping anything inside. The place was pretty quiet but we did spot one of their VJs coming out of a store across the street and Dale yelled out “Hey Steve” to which Steve Anthony (a VJ for Much) waved back to us. After visiting a few other notable spots in downtown Toronto, we came back to find that Electric Circus was doing “teen” night. It seemed a bit creepy for us “old guys” to be hanging out watching teen girls so we took off but not before spotting the super-hot VJ Monica Deol. They weren’t movie stars, but we did feel kind of cool getting to see these people we recognized from TV.
Beyond that, it was just wandering around downtown Toronto unsure of what to do with ourselves. The reality was, we really went there just for the concert and had no actual plans to see anything else while we were there so being downtown, it was a bit overwhelming to try and think about what we should do, especially with virtually no money. It was a Friday night but we didn’t really know the area and neither of us were really into clubs. We opted for a drive to see some more stuff and then headed back to the campground.
The next day started off with us trying to find “The Warehouse” which is where the concert was going to be. We wanted to make sure we knew where it was ahead of time so we’d be able to get in line nice and early on Monday afternoon. After that, we took a trip up to Peterborough to visit another college friend of ours. Looking back on our visit to see Mary, I think we just wanted to see a familiar face. Plus, I owed her a bag of cookies.
Mary was a girl I met in 1992 during my year away at college. I had developed a bit of a crush on her but nothing happened as she already had a boyfriend but the two of us became friends and over time, a running joke about Oreo cookies began. It started as one of those college things that just comes out of nowhere because you’re bored one night and things just happen. I’d occasionally hear someone babble something and have no idea what they said so I’d reply with “You did what to who in the backseat of whose car for how many double-stuffed Oreos?” I said this to Mary once and somehow I ended up on the hook for a bag of cookies.
So when I knew we’d be close to where she lived, I picked up a bag of double-stuffed Oreos, and me and Dale drove to her place. She certainly got a kick out of the cookies and we ended up hanging out there most of the day and then going to a club that night.
Now, you have to understand that Dale and I were geeks long before geeks were cool. We were into computer programming, hacking, science fiction and plenty of other non-interesting things to other people. I mean we used to spend hours in my basement putting lighter fluid gas into pop cans just so we could light them and see the fire shoot out the bottom. There were even times where a bunch of us would just sit around and make up stupid words only we knew the meanings for just to confuse other people. Going out bar hopping wasn’t exactly on our radar. The only reason we agreed to go to the club with Mary was that she really wanted to go, and we didn’t really have anything else we wanted to do. Plus, let’s face it, a pretty girl wanted to take us out somewhere so like all young men, we followed.
The club was exactly what all dance clubs are: lame. The music was awful and the only thing that was appealing about it was the fact that we were there with Mary and that as young guys, we liked looking at the cute girls dancing. However after a couple of hours of sheer boredom, we’d had enough and opted to bail. We decided to head back to the big city but by the time we got near our campground, we were pretty tired. So, we both crashed knowing we would have to pack the tent up in the morning for our next excursion.
Sunday consisted of driving to Thamesford to visit my aunt and her family but before we hit the road, we made a stop at the Eaton’s Centre downtown. I snapped a photo of Dale poking fun at some of the other tourists. When we got back to the car, we knew we would not be using anything left in the cooler so we dumped it out. There was still one steak left but it had been sitting in that cooler for a few days with very little ice. Instead of just throwing it out, we took the steak and put it under the tire of some high end, fancy car, and left it there. Like I said, we were definitely different.
We got to Thamesford that afternoon and were glad that we’d be staying in a real bed that night. However, to this day, neither me or Dale can hear the song “Free Bird” and not think of that evening. I was really happy to see my relatives mainly because it was rare they came out east for any visiting. After a few hours of hanging out, me and Dale were sitting in one room and my uncle came out, and he was quite drunk. I mean, really drunk. He proceeded to tell us that we needed to hear some good music so he put on “Free Bird” and turned the stereo up quite high. At first, there was this horribly awful noise that came out of the speakers that sounded like a drunk dog trying to sing. I then realized that was just the song. But then my uncle opted to crank the volume to 11 and everything became even more distorted than the song was originally. Me and Dale just sat there, enduring this ridiculously loud music, watching my uncle head bang.
Now when I think of him that night, I think of Stan’s dad Randy from South Park after he’s had a few drinks and starts wailing. That was pretty much my uncle that night. We sat there waiting and wondering exactly what we should do. It didn’t feel right to just get up and leave but we also didn’t want to sit there and deal with the horribly loud, bad music. He had insisted on keeping it on repeat. Do you know how long that song is? It’s even longer when you have to listen to it on repeat again, and again, and again. Eventually we did get out of there and went out to a local diner with my cousins who were close to our age. We sat around talking until the early hours of the morning. The next day we got up and said our farewells then headed back to the city to make our way to the concert.
With the exception of crashing at my aunt’s place, we had been sleeping in a tent mainly because it was cheap. But knowing how intense the concert was going to be, I opted to find a motel room in Mississauga and we dropped our stuff off there. The reality was I knew that when the concert was over, I’d want to sleep in a real bed before getting up the next morning to come home. Funny enough, Dale was so beat he fell asleep on the floor not long after we got back.
Just before we got to the venue, I stopped at a store and bought a disposable film camera (again, pre-smartphone days) and my intention was to sneak it into the venue to snap a few photos. When we got to The Warehouse, there weren’t that many people there so we were very happy and even more so when we ultimately ended up first in line. We were even happier when the band came through the back and we got to see them all. I got an autograph from the drummer and talked to the keyboardist whom I’d interviewed for my fanzine just weeks earlier.
We had brought a bag of swag to give the band. The swag was all of the issues of our fanzine for them to have. The zine was partially inspired by the band and we really wanted to give it to them. Standing in the line, as the band members are walking into the building, Dale yells out “Puffy!” This was the nickname for the drummer, who immediately spotted Dale and came over. We handed him the bag and said thanks. No idea if they ever looked at what was in it, but it was still pretty cool.
After sitting in line for 4 hours, we were let into the building, and got through security. I had stuffed the camera into my pants near my crotch and it never got discovered. We eventually got to the front of the stage and had to sit through Steel Pole Bathtub’s awful set. After what felt like forever, Faith No More finally took the stage. I had seen a lot of bands perform back home and had been excited to see shows before, but you can’t possibly know how excited I was to be there.
I credit Faith No More, and their singer Mike Patton in particular, as having a heavy influence not just in my interest in many flavors of music, but as someone that helped me get through the awkward years of high school and college. I was exposed to drugs and alcohol through my friends but had always made a conscious decision to steer clear. Part of that came from my upbringing and dealing with two alcoholic grandparents and a mom who told me to be responsible. The other part came from reading and hearing countless stories about Mike Patton’s insistence that he didn’t need drugs or alcohol to do crazy stuff and believe me, his stage antics would convince anyone he was stoned or drunk. But even his bandmates would say his only drug was sugar and that he just didn’t need anything else to be wild. For some reason, this really struck a chord with me and helped bring me out of my shell.
In many ways, I emulated Patton’s antics among my friends and became known for being the guy that would pretty much do anything. It also steered me clear of a lot of crap I saw in my youth, and gave birth to a hell of a lot of insane and silly experiences. So for me, seeing the band live was not only a musical experience I had dreamed of, it was also a way for me to see firsthand this person I had looked up to for so many years.
I had told Dale that I really hoped they played the song “Ricochet” which was my favorite tune of theirs at the time and was on the new album for which they were touring for. Much to my delight, the show opened with that song and it was a non-stop intense hammering of music for the rest of the night.
Of all things I had experienced in my life up to that point, that show was one of the few that stuck out in my mind. Anyone who knows me knows that I pretty much worshipped this band in those days and would have gone anywhere to see them. So to finally see these guys perform really was a dream come true. Unfortunately, I had tried to get the camera out of my pants during their set but it had slid down my pant leg, and since I was basically being crushed by the crowd, there was no way I was going to get to it. I opted to say the hell with it and just enjoyed the show. They played an incredible set and joked with the crowd, and by the time the show was over, Dale & I barely had enough strength to walk to the car. I didn’t care. I had seen Faith No More, met a few guys from the band, and lived through the concert. How was I ever going to top that?
When the show was over, we managed somehow to get back to the motel room and basically died for the night. We needed to rest. When we got up in the morning, we had to figure out what to do about getting home.
To keep the scenery different, we decided to travel through the US. The actual travel time was considerably longer than going through Canada, but we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. This was when you could cross the border with just your driver’s license. We left Toronto and drove to Niagara Falls and thought about stopping to see the falls but didn’t see a quick and easy spot to park so we paused on the bridge as we crossed into the US, Dale jumped out, snapped a few photos, got back in the car, and we kept on trucking.
We got into the US and started the drive. The plan was to go straight through and not stop. Dale didn’t have his license so I did all the driving and it definitely took a toll on me. We got stopped by the cops several times for a blown headlight. We explained to the cop that we were just on our way back home to Canada. Having New Brunswick plates on the car certainly helped back that story as well. Thankfully, we were given a defect card by the cops which basically meant that if we got stopped again we could just show the card and be left alone. I remember going into an Irving station in Maine and wanting to purchase a replacement headlight but the Royal Bank ATM wouldn’t take my bank card. A Canadian bank in a Canadian owned gas station wouldn’t accept a Canadian ATM card. I was pretty mad. Not long later, we got stopped by the cops a second time and this time I grabbed the defect card, and held it up as the cop came over. He took one look at it, thanked us for our time, and let us go. Within an hour, we had yet another cop follow us for quite a while before turning around and opting to leave us alone. We pushed towards Moncton and got to the Canadian border early in the morning around six or seven. I was beat but we only had a few more hours to get home.
The last three hours of driving through New Brunswick were really hard. I was falling asleep at the wheel repeatedly so I would roll the window down to let the wind help keep me awake. I drank countless bottles of Coke to ante up the caffeine. By the time I got to Sussex, which is only 45 minutes away from home, we took a pause at a gas station and I sort of half snoozed for about 10 minutes. We got back in the car, pointed it east, and made it home in one piece.
With all of the travel I have done now in my life, that trip seems so tame but yet still sits far above many of the other places I have visited since. I think the biggest reason for that is it was my first real road trip. Dale and I had gone to a few other cities near home, but this was the first time we ever did a real trip to somewhere big. It also represented an extension of my desire to be exposed to things beyond my own borders. Sure, I had lived in a big city, and had even been back to Edmonton by this point, but I was now starting to feel the urge to explore areas I had never seen before. Add to that the fact that I got to see my favorite band for the first time, it definitely made it a more memorable trip.
The entire time I drove back to Moncton I kept thinking about how I was ever going to top that trip. At 21, being able to stand with the stage directly in front of me, watching my favorite band, led by a man I had a serious hero-worship for, seemed like it could never be topped. But as I got closer to Moncton, I finally came up with my answer about what would come next. I decided that I wanted to give myself a goal of seeing Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles, and Vancouver all before I turned 25. I could cross Toronto off that list now, but had three more cities to go. Then I thought about which of those would be next and out of nowhere the idea of going to New York City to see a taping of David Letterman just appeared in my head. I sat on the idea as I got closer to home and by the time I got back into my own bed, and settled in for a nice nap, I was already thinking about how I could get to NYC next year.