Mopping My Way Across the Maritimes

I touched ground in Prince Edward Island during September of 2010, as I embarked on my first 10-day sales stint on the road. My first impression was that it was so green, all I could think of was Anne of Green Gables. I checked into a little motel nearby the Sears that I’d be working out of and got upgraded to a cottage for the same price. It almost felt like being on vacation, even more so when a forecast hurricane sent shoppers into a mad frenzy for bottled water and flashlights before all of the shops shut down in preparation. Suddenly, I found myself with the gift of free time and an opportunity to explore.

I took to the streets and got my first gander at Charlottetown, PEI. My first impression was that taters and lobster seemed to definitely be the leading industries there, right after tourism (which apparently has been helped along heaps by Regis and Kelly’s broadcast prior to my visit). It was very beautiful and quaint, and the island was very much ahead of the rest of the country when it came down to environmentalism. Each and every public trashcan had recycling and compost bins right next to it. On the other hand, they sure knew how to milk the hell out of that Anne of Green Gables business. And the good people loved their drink. Even the locals themselves kept telling me what a bunch of happy drunks inhabit the isle.

Charlottetown had some really cool little nooks and crannies. I found this great lounge with black & white baroque wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, prints of old movie stars and old, campy movies like “Lost, Lonely, and Vicious” that were projected on a big movie screen. Even the bathroom stalls had Hollywood stars on the doors. Would I step in and become Emma Peel or Audrey Hepburn? The joint was packed with plenty of real-life characters to rival the celluloid ones.

My impression of the locals was that they possessed am innocent quality about them, which could only come from living your life on a tiny, isolated island. Honestly, Charlottetown was the real-world version of Mayberry. At the same time, I discovered that tourism and development had exploded over the prior ten years. “Progress” came with the usual trappings, however, such as a spike in hardcore drug addiction and, in the words of one gentleman I spoke with, “a real dark period” that the town had experienced and apparently was only recently starting to bounce back from. I’m always fascinated by the gritty realities that lie beneath the sunny façade of tourism.

I spent a lot of my down time wandering about Charlottetown. I drifted in and out of people’s conversations and lives, however, more like a fly on the wall. It felt as if I were in my little cocoon there in Charlottetown, completely in my own world. At this time I also started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” and was completely transported by her stories of spiritual enlightenment & self-discovery. I almost felt as if I were living the experience along with her as I read, much like in “The Neverending Story”. It dawned on me that this weird, self-imposed solitary confinement of sorts was my own time in the Ashram. Solitary Vanessa, my own island on an island, followed Liz Gilbert from India to Bali while attempting to make sense of my own journey in the process.

Ten days flew by and before I knew it I was wrapping up my last day of work on the island. Afterwards I ventured into town to celebrate by sampling the local oysters and listening to some music. I went to a place called Sims and had a small sampling of the freshest and most delicious oysters I’ve ever enjoyed in my whole life. I chatted with another traveling saleswoman about life, travel, and enjoyment. I told her about my plans to eventually relocate to Vancouver and she said that I’d simply adore BC.

I crossed over the next morning from PEI to Moncton, New Brunswick, the next city I’d be peddling my microfiber mops out of. As lovely as the island was, I was rather glad to leave behind its smallness and insular feeling for one of our more vast provinces. Plus, it felt great to ride a real highway again! I was glad to be able to take a bus to that make the trip. Here I thought they’d jacked up the bridge tolls in the Bay Area Bay, yet try on for size a whopping $42 per individual car just to cross the Confederation Bridge out of PEI!

Upon arrival into Moncton, I settled into a cozy hostel that was teeming with cool folks from all over the place. I also spotted a cafe culture and plenty of vegetarian restaurants and organic food stores on the way in, so things already looked promising. Oh, and in keeping with the maritime theme of my travels, my room was titled “Island Retreat” and even my bed had a name (Gilligan, in case you were wondering). My first outing that afternoon brought me to the Pump House Brewery, which would soon become my home away from home during my stay. For one thing, I experienced beer nirvana in the form of blueberry ale. This sounds like it could either be totally disgusting or surprisingly and utterly delicious. Fortunately it was the latter, and they even put real blueberries in the pint glass. It also helped that they served a first class eggplant parmesan.

I then sauntered into a shoe store manned by a vibrant and fun East German immigrant. She told me about how once she never could’ve imagined that she and her family would ever fly in a plane, much less that she would come to own her own shoe store in the Maritimes of Canada. A shoe store that also had the exclusive rights in Moncton to sell John Fluevog, along with other to-die-for brands of individually handcrafted boots from Portugal. She graciously let me play dress up and try on some boots. Each pair was truly a work of art, and so comfy! I crossed over from beer to boot heaven as I tried on one pair of chocolate brown and tan patchwork boots with a geometrical, pyramid-shaped heel.

Since I had one final free day ahead of me before going back to work, I aimed to sample the nightlife. Some adorable Halifax boys I’d met at Pump House tipped me off about the hot spots to hit up. So later on I first wandered out of the hostel towards a place called Plan B because I was told that it was the place to be. Plan B quickly became Plan F as I spied a glassy-eyed, grinning geezer outside, and a kid inside who looked wired from too many hours playing video games. I also couldn’t help but notice a nearby sign that was advertising what, based on the frequency of my sightings, seemed to be this Maritime phenomena of comedian hypnotists. And I realized that I’d never seen such a proliferation of baseball caps as in the Maritimes. No matter, I loved it there all the same. Everyone punctuated their sentences with “Love” and “Dear”.

It’s safe to say that I totally dug the whole Moncton vibe. If Quebec City and Montreal got married and had a three-way with the love child of Halifax and some quaint European village, this would be their offspring. There was definitely an interesting buzz there, a distinctly English/Gaelic vibe mixed with a European feel. Like someone broke it down to me, it’s the perfect mix of English culture, which on its own can be a bit bland and reserved, mixed with the crazy French vibe, which on its own can be a tad too much. But the two temper one another nicely, and those Acadians apparently know how to party! I’m told that once the bars let out there’s always a guaranteed afterparty, then another afterparty, all the way into the morning light. And the people are down to earth and no bullshit like in PEI, minus the Mayberry element and some of the naivete (which can really only be so charming for so long). But there were some really beautiful people here, in every sense of the word. And, for the first time since moving to Ottawa, I was being exposed to men with actual sex appeal! I’d never seen so many sexy men in a small mile radius. Go figure.

Charming though it was, I did get the sense that Moncton is one of those places where it’d probably be best to make a life with someone as, sexy men aside, it’d be pretty tough to find love in a place like that. We already know women’s woes but it sounds, based on my conversation with one of the guys in Sears’ shipping and receiving (who was such a doll) that it’s no picnic being a single man either. According to him, the women from there whom he’d been acquainted with tended to hit their mid-thirties and fall straight into a mid-life crisis of sorts, reverting to the ways of a wayward teenager and partying their brains out while sleeping around. Bless his heart, he said that it was too bad that I wasn’t hanging around longer because maybe then we could have hung out and gotten to know one another, which I thought was sweet.

Which brings me to the lovely Faye, a woman who looked to be in her 70’s and who approached my stage in Sears after one of my demos. She wore a kerchief round her neck and bore a twinkle in her eye. I swear, she looked like she should have been named Dot and manning a diner somewhere in the southwest. She was just cute as a button. She told me that I should look for love at this ski lodge on Lake Louise. That’s where her granddaughter “found her soulmate” after dating some real duds. Apparently, lots of people find true love there. It was a nice notion.

While all of this was going on, I started selling mops and fell back into my usual frustration with the company I was working for. For some reason, I was always fighting that company for my money. A colleague urged me to repair my relationship with money, to reprogram myself. She also had some interesting insights about the nature of our work and our employer. She called it “a job for people who are on the run”. And it really was something like that. Why else would any of us opt for life on the road that consisted of us paying our own way while doing demos in Sears for mops and lint rollers?

On the other hand, I did meet all kinds of people and had an awful lot of fun along the way. The Halifax boys met up with me and whisked me away to Magnetic Mountain (I couldn’t even make that one up). One of the boys, Jay, and I spoke about life. I was really touched by the sweetness and sincerity of his assertion that I will succeed in creating the life I want, and that I am capable of creating good and beautiful things. Just as sweet was the man working at the pita place in the mall food court the day before, he told me that I have a sincere smile and urged me to keep my chin up. And then there was Michelle Marchand, my roomie at the hostel, tipping me off as to the pertinent topics and websites I should look up and telling me that I should definitely stick to this writing thing. Those were my angels, delivering their affirmations.

On another occasion, I got to know a fellow traveler named Stephane as we conversed over lemon drops in a casbah-like lounge. He told me that Moncton lies smack in the middle of a positive energy vortex, which is really no surprise as I’m still amazed at how effective my powers of manifestion were while I was there. He also said that I’m a “zebra person” and we don’t think and act like the majority of the population.

While at the hostel, I also fell in with a trio named Sergio, Alice, and Bertrand. They actually felt like family to me by my second week. I adored all of this lively energy around me as people from all over the world moved in and out of the environment, especially after my having been holed up in isolation on PEI. I loved their stories. I loved hearing a thousand different languages. I loved my daily conversations with Sergio, in which we’d talk about astrology and the underlying spiritual meaning of events. I loved finding out more about how the rest of the world exists. And I even loved the random craziness, like the hillbilly father and son who raised quite a ruckus by getting drunk and unruly. They woke the whole hostel up one night. I also loved how my Halifax friend came calling for me one night only to be met by dear Bertrand, who was French and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot of English. According to Jay, Bertrand looked at him quizzically when he asked for me (“like a horse”) and then, after ten minutes of signing and pantomime, brightened and said, “Yes, I know her! She left. You want bed?”

As if life at the homestead weren’t strange enough, I went into Sears and sold a mop to an old man who proceeded to sit on the mattresses across from my stage and tell me corny jokes for 25 minutes straight. I offered him a spot doing the intermission show on my stage. On another day, I had the sweetest encounter with this dear old man. He came up to me when I was at work and he had this bright smile and a twinkle in his eye. He said that it was nice to see me. He had initially mistaken me for someone else but then we got to chatting. He told me that he was 93-years-old and was married to his sweetheart for 64 years. He then, in true When Harry Met Sally fashion, proceeded to tell me the story of how they met:

“I didn’t take the bus much back then but one day I decided to get on and there she was. I could hardly speak. I didn’t see her again for a year, at a dance. I asked her to dance but I didn’t want to bother her too much, but later I did ask her if she wanted to go for a drive and see the planes. We went with our chaperones. We were together ever since. When I asked her to marry me and she said yes, I was so happy! She thought the world of me and we were married 64 years. I called her ‘sweetie’ every day.”

I cannot even describe how touched I was, and I told him that his tale of true love inspired me. He kept hugging me and saying, “I’m so glad to see you. You’re a very sweet girl, I can tell, I hope I see you again!” He also sported a fedora with a feather, no doubt the original cool grandaddy of all those hipster feather heads. He absolutely made my day.

The Universe delivered all kinds of people to my stage. On another day, it was a social worker who asked me if I was an artist. She then shared with me her techniques for group counseling: Keep it simple, not too cerebral. Play a song and ask patients which words stick out for them and why. Also ask them to make a drawing of how they’re feeling, then ask them to explain or elaborate. It all gets people to open up and to share like nothing else. I took this as a very good omen at the time that I should indeed pursue art therapy.

Again, time flew by and soon my stint in Moncton was coming to a close. I spent such a fun last night with Bertrand and two of our new friends: Terry from Iowa, who was in the wind turbine business , and a man from Quebec City. We were listening to music on Bertrand’s computer and then found out that he was using Katy Perry’s dreadful “California Girls” to teach himself English. He loved that song! So he asked us about the lyrics and we tried to translate for him. This led to a discussion amongst myself, Terry and Bertrand, in which Terry and I tried to explain to a Frenchman (while piecing together the explanation in both French and English) the meaning of, “The grass is always greener”. This somehow led to me cite an Aesop’s fable, which we also had to clarify for him. As Terry said, “This is awesome…we’re dissecting Katy Perry and drawing parallels to Aesop!” Clearly, we all needed help because finally our Quebec friend pointed out that the green grass referred to weed, which led to an “Aha!” moment in which we realized, “So that’s why the mention of Snoop Dogg!”

And then for the cherry on the icing of the cake of this whole lil experience, when Bertrand shared with us his slideshow of photos of his whole Canadian experience. He’d been here in this country for a few months, beginning in BC and working his away across Canada on farms, or “wwoofing”. Some of his tasks included gutting chickens and shaving llamas. His slideshow was accompanied by who else but Katy Perry and her California Girls. This was one of the finest presentations I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. Picture cute little Bertrand in the opening shots doing handstands and cartwheels, followed by random shots of tree animals (“Look, there’s heez foot!”), a bear that you can barely make out (“Look! Eez bear we saw!”), shots of Bertrand carving his chickens, then pictures of the llamas, followed by all kinds of other randomness. I really think that Katy Perry ought to replace her video with this one. California Girls and Bertrand’s Summer Adventures in Canada are peanut butter & chocolate. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks.

And then I sat back and realized that that was one of a series of special and odd moments that my life seems to be choc full of, and that I would never have it any other way.

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