I woke to the sound of bicycle spokes zinging, bells ringing, and feet tromping as joggers stomped through the recreational path that lead to the overlook of Mount Royal. Almost immediately, I started making my way towards Angrignon in Montreal Quest wandering the busy city streets looking for Western Union and a “Pay-As-You-Go” SIM card to get service on my phone.
Tourists and passersby flooded the sidewalks almost as heavily as construction equipment occupied closed city streets where jackhammers rumbled the ground beneath my feet and blasted my ears like the thrumming of a freight train.
Montreal is booming with industry and in between the old gothic revival churches and its tall skyscrapers rests a city that is nearly 400 years old, rich with history, rampant with tourism, the fast-lane antics of materialism, greed, and its byproduct: drugs, homelessness, and urban blight.
Socialism does not fix these issues despite free health care for its citizens. When I set foot into Canada yesterday I had envisioned it would, but naiveté clouded my thoughts thinking this form of government would spur utopia; it doesn’t. Socialism is not much different than capitalism. The war on drugs, fight against the steady rise of housing costs, the influx of homelessness, prostitution and mental health issues, WILL always exist regardless of the social programs available, no matter the cost.
In my short time wandering west I learned ALL government experiences these issues no matter how hard they try to avoid or resolve them, it’s inevitable. The only difference in Canada is I felt the homeless, though overlooked, were still treated as people and not subhuman, which is often the case in many states around North America. Often times I find my thoughts wandering, ruminating these very issues I cannot resolve, issues I cannot change, which is why I walk. I walk to learn, to think, to wonder, to experience, to question authority and normality, to live on the fringe of society when I choose to while I blend in with it all from afar. Work is a means to an end, but travel, travel is infinite. Travel creates. Travel teaches. Travel is change. Travel is the only time I fit in, not with others, but with myself. Travel is pulchritude.
It is during these moments of travel I find my mind always wonders when I wander. I walk around and experience this new culture and my eyes discover the new lands which I’ve never before cast sight on except through pictures in books, on Nat Geo, or on the Internet. That’s one of the reasons I’m “out there” so often and this affliction WILL always affect my employment, but I’ve learned that life experiences and knowledge are far more important to me than a dollar based on a dying resource, crude oil, and bloodshed for those who try to break away from it or defend it. Instead, I try to lead my simple life between bouts of work, which is why I do these trips; for the scenery tramp can never get enough scenery, enough adventure, and it’s really just become an excuse to not work until I really need to support myself again. But, I would worry about this all towards the end of August, for now, my thoughts bounced around like a pinball inside my head as I watched the clouds filter through the skyline of skyscrapers above me.
I wasted much of my time tramping back and forth down the same bustling streets trying to find a currency exchange from USD to CAD and to activate service on my phone. After much confusion, a man at Virgin Mobile with a thick French accent directed me to a mall where I purchased a SIM card from Lucky Mobile. Then I located a Western Union with relative ease, exchanging $360 USD to CAD, which would last me a majority of my trip.
I had everything I needed now, the peace of mind to talk to my wife on a daily basis, the open road, the rays of sunshine smiling down on me, the extra strength from months of comfort eating indoors, and the raised spirits from the adventure that lay ahead of me, not knowing what would happen or how the journey would unfold. It felt both invigorating and a change of pace from the routine food prep, working cold bar, and scrubbing the same soiled plates that fed the mouths of so many rich people who stumbled upon the little Vermont town I lived in, which I now called home. But I didn’t have to worry about work. That was in the past like so many of the other jobs I had left behind when wanderlust struck my veins like a surge of adrenaline.
That hustle and bustle chime that echoed throughout the streets of Montreal filling cash registers with crisp bills in exchange for “needed” goods slowly dissipated as my wanderlust guided me through suburban neighborhoods to graffiti lining bruised brick walls by the railroad tracks. I studied the art, its detail, and thought about the mosaic of faces held behind that paint, the writers, their lives, the emotions they felt spraying each piece, how they created their styles and who inspired them. It was like trying to complete a puzzle without any of its pieces, only having the final image. But that anonymity, the credence held behind each tag, that’s what drove it. There was a point in my life where I never respected it, treated it like vandalism, drew the line treating it like black and white, but somewhere between riding freight, wandering around those endless roads leading nowhere, sleeping beneath so many needle-infested bridges and experiencing plethora cities, I respected it, revered it; I understood it—the grey area in life—happiness.
As I walked the narrow dirt path behind the bruised plum facades of apartment buildings, to a lot that opened up with loose trash, abandoned cars and other junk speckling the ground, more paint adorned the capitalist walls of industry, beautifying urban sprawl through strings of various letters. Its vibrancy covered every brick end-to-end in a rainbow of aerosol and through all the letters, one throwup stuck out above the rest, “ICHOR.” Seeing ICHABOD the Rail God bomb a wall was like shaking the hand of God. He is an absolute legend in the Graff World. For every train slithering across those narrow bands of steel, slicin’ up mountain passes, zippin’ through the high desert, traversin’ the endless prairies, rippin’ along the coast through the thick, salty, air and highballin’ it through cities, her long, curved body of freight cars is probably christened with at least one “ICH” plastered somewhere on that two-mile stretch of train.
As a traveler, it’s an inexplicable feeling to stumble upon wax and paint marks that your eyes catch as the blur of a train zips past you in a new town, in a new yard, or as you stagger beneath a new bridge slightly intoxicated, drooping your eyes for a night’s rest. It’s like a condolence saying, “Hey, I was here too, just doin’ what I do.” It felt great to experience such creative works of art decorating city walls with simple throwups to huge murals and everything in between.
I continued walking through the maze of art until the city spit me out along a dirty canal in Angrignon that separated me from strings of hectic highway and the quiet railroad tracks in the distance. The white noise of droning traffic that buzzed in my ears made me take the long way to the signals wandering an adjacent bike path just beyond a pedestrian bridge. My eyes followed the smooth hand railing and locked onto it mid-bridge as I stared at the moniker of a Fox, a moniker I had seen scribbled all over North America. I just smirked as I followed the same footsteps of another rider who wandered my same path, days, months or years prior to me. That was the writing on the wall. A mark as subtle and hidden to most passersby always piqued my interest. I wondered who they were, what their story was, how they leapt onto their first freight train and why—like me—did they keep on moving around to keep their sanity?
I would never know, but that made it even more beautiful. It took years of wandering for me to truly understand this feat, to understand the intimacy involved with concealed identity and the man behind the mask—for so many years I never understood these marks and often overlooked this hobohemia that smacked me right in the face—I was oblivious. This day for nothing else, I made a vow to myself to flick more shots of moniker art and graffiti and to step into this underground world for which I immersed myself for so many years without knowing it. I too finally felt a part of the culture.
With all this thought rattling my brain, it made it hard to put in the miles and reach the hop out, but my nerves and innocence stained the path I walked with purity. I did not know what to expect in Canada. I did not know the lines. I did not know the security measures, the hop outs, the trains to catch. It brought me back to the very first time I caught a train out of Flagstaff on an open boxcar and had no idea what I was doin’ or where I was goin’, I just wanted to ride. It felt very much the same and I liked the feelin’.
So I walked almost methodically, pacing myself down each sidewalk along each busy stretch of highway running rampant with vehicles. I wanted nothing to do with entering yards and catching trains in daylight. I wanted a night train. I wanted an easy catch. I wanted to spend as much time in Canada as I could wallowing in that warm summer breeze before cold-hearted winter made me scurry back to my routine life in the states.
I watched the steel tracks shimmer in the light as I tromped down the hill of an empty access road to the signals. When I reached the same grade as the tracks I snuck into the woods, hopping behind silt fencing, rustling through branches as the bugs swarmed around my sweaty face. Each step forward felt like miles as the forest wrestled me back with its twisted arms. I stepped in pits of mud along the silt fencing and stumbled forward noticing the pockets of trash left by other riders. This was the spot, the spot indeed!
But I wanted to move further down the line for a better catch out. So I kept tussling through the muck of weeds as the ground swallowed my boots until I finally crawled back over the fence. Knee-high grass swished against my pants and after a few minutes of walking beside the woods, I plopped my ass down behind a grassy embankment, concealing me from traffic and any oncoming trains as I waited for my ride to Toronto.
The sun drooped behind the clouds and slowly faded with each passing hour as the temperature dropped and dew began to moisten each blade of grass beneath me. I rolled out my cocoon and just waited, resting my eyes ever so slightly until the night consumed me. Would I catch a night train or spend my next day writing poems in the high-weeds?