Week 44: Points West

Locations: Ann Arbor, MI; Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Minot, ND; Saskatoon, SK (?); Edmonton, AB


Dates: 6/15/97-6/21/97

Sunday I mostly worked on SWAPA. That night Chris and I went to see a movie (she lives mere blocks from about three theatres, not to mention numerous bookstores and cafés).

Monday was devoted largely to trying to finish my SWAPA 'zine. I took time out midafternoon to visit AAA and pick up maps for the entire rest of the trip (states, provinces, and a couple cities)—between the free maps and the free jumpstarts, I suspect my AAA membership has more than paid for itself. And the clerks don't even bat an eyelash when you ask for a dozen maps... I also bought a US/Canada/Mexico road atlas (for only $4.50!), something I should've done before I left home. (It proved invaluable when I got slightly lost in Minneapolis two days later; its Minneapolis map was slightly more detailed than that on the inset of the standalone Minnesota map, just enough so to show the road I needed.)

Tuesday morning I set off, pausing to mail a couple of items I'd been carrying around since England. The drive was uneventful; I continued to take tape-recorded notes for the novel. Drove through the middle of Chicago, probably costing me an hour or so in traffic, because that's the route I expect the characters to take. Arrived in Madison earlier than expected nonetheless. Met Jeff's housemates, then Jeff and I wandered off to dinner at a brewpub near the Capitol; food not bad, service incredibly slow (but friendly). We discussed Swatfolk of our mutual acquaintance, and academia, and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture (a posthumous building of Wright's is going to be the new convention center in Madison).

Turneresque storm clouds
Turneresque storm clouds

Wednesday morning I headed for Minneapolis. I still hadn't managed to contact Karen, though I'd left her various messages. Figured my characters were going to go to Minneapolis and I might as well go there too even if I didn't manage to reach Karen. Went to a very nice park on the western edge of the city (picked at random off the map), took photos, plotted escape routes, tried to work out an internally consistent psi power. Tried calling Karen again; no dice. Drove to the Lake of the Isles and sat on a bench working on SWAPA for a couple hours. Finally decided to try Karen one last time before heading on to Fargo—and lo and behold, she was home! Found my way to her place, met her housemates and cats. They all (except the cats) said I could stay there that night. Karen showed me some of the ingenious makeshift systems that keep their place going. We went to dinner nearby, then walked along the Mississippi and talked.

Clouds en route to Edmonton
Clouds en route to Edmonton

Thursday morning I drove northwest, listening to Minnesotans talk about fishing on the radio. (That is, they were talking (about fishing) on the radio, not talking about something called "fishing on the radio.") I was a bit disappointed that their accents weren't nearly as strong as those of the characters in Fargo. Drove through Fargo into North Dakota; left the interstate for undivided state highways passing through mile after mile of farmland. Changed my intended course at one point to visit the small town of Cathay, mused about the cool clouds like paint smears on the horizon, wondered where the Badlands were and whether they'd be good for landing a spaceship in, and eventually reached Minot (pronounced "MY-nott"). Followed billboards to the Sandman Motel ('cause said billboards listed the price of a room, which was lower than most motels), but didn't like the look of it, and found it was co-located with a casino/club, likely to be noisy. So I shifted across the highway to the Ho-Hum Motel, much more my speed. I had some difficulty obtaining an Internet connection (the required dialup string was one character longer than my software and/or hardware can handle), but eventually worked it out. Emailed my SWAPA'zine to Swarthmore. I would've slept well that night were it not for the smoke smell permeating the bedclothes (hadn't occurred to me to ask for a nonsmoking room, and I doubt there were any anyway).

Landscape en route to Edmonton
Landscape en route to Edmonton

Friday morning I left the motel and headed for the border, expecting another Customs ordeal. It actually turned out to be not too bad—the guy who searched my car was friendlier than the Niagara-area agents had been, though not particularly thorough. (He was very thorough on about half my bags, and didn't even open the other half.) I stopped in Estevan, SK, to pick up a camera battery and some Canadian currency; after a brief panic when the Wal-Mart ATM wouldn't accept my card, I found another ATM (following the directions of the very helpful Wal-Mart clerk) which did. I realized I'd been very lackadaisical about planning (or not planning) this trip into another country: hadn't converted currency, hadn't figured out where to stay, and so on. At least I had maps, and spoke the language.

Besides, US cultural imperialism has taken its toll here. McDonald's, Dairy Queen, Firestone, Comfort Inn... It's practically like staying home. Though after converting kilometers to miles, Centigrade to Fahrenheit, and US dollars to Canadian dollars, I glanced at the clock and tried to convert the time to metric, which didn't work at all.

I drove for six or eight hours through monotonous farmland (the monotony broken only by driving through the fringes of the occasional thunderstorm), listening to Canadian radio, which is much like US radio only with fewer stations. (Both sides of the border have a remarkable number of country stations—I knew country was popular these days, but didn't realize it was that popular.) Drove through Moose Jaw just so I could say I'd been there, though I took the around-the-outskirts highway and so didn't actually see anything resembling a city. Eventually reached Saskatoon, where I stopped for gas and consulted a phone book to find a motel. Found one that was relatively inexpensive and sounded friendly (and explicitly advertised computer-friendly phones in rooms); found my way there with little difficulty. Called PJ and finally spoke to her (had been leaving messages for her for days). Considered driving straight on to Edmonton (another 5-6 hours) but couldn't deal with the thought of that much more time on the road. (As it turned out, it was actually an hour earlier than I thought it was—Saskatchewan, like Arizona, doesn't do Daylight Savings—so I could've gotten to Edmonton well before midnight had I pressed on. But it probably wouldn't have been terribly safe for me to keep driving much longer; I was pretty tired.) Got dinner (quite good lemon chicken) from a bizarre Chinese-Canadian place next to the motel (where they thought "chow fun" meant "fried rice"); spent the evening reading and emailing. (Only it turned out that I couldn't get a data connection from my particular room after all. Oops.)

Saturday morning I checked out of the hotel an hour earlier than I had to (unaware of the time change) and had a remarkably good omelette at a little diner near the motel (if my experience there is representative, restaurants in Saskatoon (especially those that don't look like much) serve surprisingly good food). Drove west, through countryside and weather almost identical to those of the day before. Well, okay, perhaps a bit cooler and a bit more rain. Arrived in Edmonton around 3:30 pm (though I'm uncertain of exact time because I was very confused about the whole time-zone thing), and found PJ's place just to make sure I could. (She was at work, and wouldn't be home 'til 8:30 or so.) Drove around a little, parked at a nearby Denny's; got a very late lunch, and sat there working on updating my journal (I was three weeks behind) for the next four hours. Fortunately, I'd learned from Ananda that Denny's people don't seem to mind customers lingering, and the place was nearly empty all through dinnertime so I wasn't inconveniencing anyone. When I left, I discovered another car with California plates parked right next to mine...

Hung out in front of PJ's, reading, for half an hour or so 'til she got home. Spent the next few hours talking with her, then checked email, read a bit more, and went to sleep around 2:30 Sunday morning.

Movies, Books, etc.

Very funny, even for folks like me who don't usually like horror movies, and does a very nice job of keeping the audience on their toes. Not really particularly scary most of the time, and nothing especially deep—but I'm tempted to see it again just because I confused two characters with each other near the end and therefore missed some very important bits (which I think I've reconstructed, but would prefer to see with full comprehension).

(Last updated: 24 June 1997.)

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