Friday, October 1, 2010

Father Land (Part III)

Okay. Now I'm going to take a break for a little bit.

Father Land (Part III)

There's no actual plan, except to cross the border, and head towards Kootenay Lake, home of the world's largest free ferry. It will allow us to make a loop through southern British Columbia, Washington, and back into northern Idaho.

If there's anything worth stopping for, I imagine we'll do so. But to make the trip in a day, it requires a good deal of driving. Thus, we're on our way.

My father and Laura have coffee in a town called Bonner, which has the shortest, one-lane strip of “downtown” I've ever seen. Afterwards, we drive through a wildlife habitat with signs on where it's appropriate to fish. I think I even spot a hunting license notice, but we're moving just fast enough that I can't be sure. Regardless, the land is beautiful and full of birds. Laura feels the need to point them out. “Look at those birds.”

“What's that?” My father's pointing towards something in the road. “Is it a squirrel or a dog, or...?”

“It's a fox!” exclaims Laura.

“Should we get out and take a picture?”

“He's moving too fast.”

“You should take one from the car.” I'm not sure who says this, but it's directed at me.

Suddenly, I feel like the worst kind of tourist. One who believes that to see, or understand, something means simply to drive past it. At best, it's to get out for several minutes and snap a digital photo. The evidence will be pieced together later to assume I've actually participated in an experience, but really, I've only sat in a car and stared out at the landscape I'm too afraid, or unable, to comprehend.

My greatest escape is sleep, and so that's what I do. The dreams I have are so literal they're scary.

I'm ten years old, huddled in the back of something large and humming. My father's rented an RV for this occasion. It's the first trip he'll take with his new family: Laura and her two children. My younger brother and I have come along because he wants us to remain family. We're the first my father's decided to keep instead of trade in for something (someone) new.

As far as I can tell, or remember, we're on our way to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone National Park. But this is a dream, so a destination is not relevant. Only this: I feel trapped. Perhaps it's a product of my waking state, but the memory is real, so I feel the dream must be too.

There are reasons I decline when, eight years later, my father asks me to accompany him to Europe with the rest of his (current) family. I'm in community college at the time, still living with my mother. The worst fate I can imagine is being stuck in my hometown. I'm taking summer classes to get out quicker, or even on time. A vacation, at this moment, seems like the offer a master might give to a slave: “I'll grant you a new bed and a better pair of shoes if you'll till my land for just a while longer.” Freedom seems more necessary, even if one must sleep on the ground and travel barefoot.

But that's not entirely it. Even if I want to be in Europe, or Wyoming, or Canada, and then back in the place I grew up, I wouldn't want to be there like this. I'm trying to imagine what I would do in such foreign locations if were I alone. I'd probably walk around, try to meet someone, hang out in the towns more than the mountains and valleys. I'd move to the cities because there are more people. But when I find I am alone there too, I'd approach a river, stream, or lake, and pour my bitter thoughts into it.

I can't do these things in the back of my father's car, but that's not entirely my problem. It's that I used to hate the man behind the wheel before he grew old, and tired, and reliably harmless. But I still have memories of that hate, and I can't stand the fact that I've allowed myself, once again, to be at the mercy of his will. Even if all he wants to do is drive around in a circle.

The sudden jolt of a newly idle car wakes me up. From the look of it, we're at the US/Canadian border.

“Have a good sleep?” asks my father.

I nod and hand him my passport. He nods and hands it to the lady outside his window. She smiles, asks some questions, then welcomes us to Canada.

“Look at those birds,” says Laura. I try to imagine how many times she said this when I was out cold.

The view is striking enough to keep me from going under. So even when I pretend to sleep, it doesn't actually work. I just get car sick.

Eventually, we arrive at the Kootenay Lake ferry port. I'm hungry so I approach the rustic-looking coffee shop hugging one corner of the parking lot. Both my father and Laura tell me they're in the mood for meat, so I order my vegetarian burrito alone.

Young, attractive hippies and old, miserable men stand in line for their cups of organic brew. “That's not how you make my coffee,” says one of the old men.

“Sorry,” replies the barista. “I'm new here, and no one's explained how to make Jake's Coffee.”

“If it looks like that, I won't drink it.”

“So less milk?” asks the barista.

The man shakes his head. All he says is, “Black. Black. Black.” Then before he exits the front door, “But with a little milk.”

I give the woman behind the counter a smile to get her back on track. She tells me, “Sorry.”

“It's okay,” I say. “Don't worry about it.”

I finish my burrito just as the ferry arrives. My father drives the car on board, and then we're off to explore the vessel. He and Laura go straight to the dining room, so I'm allowed more time to myself. I spend it looking between a middle-aged transsexual and a ten year old girl who narrates the events transpiring on her Nintendo DS.

Occasionally, I'll stare out the window or wander outside. Kootenay Lake is massive enough to hold me in awe the entire the entire thirty-five minute ferry ride, but I don't give it the chance. I'm just too pissed off about my dream, and the fact that amidst such natural beauty, I can't help but feel bored.

When we're back on the Canadian highway, my father says, “The food on the ferry was awful. I need something real to eat.”

Laura agrees. “I couldn't even finish my sandwich.”

“My burrito was good,” I chime in.

“Well, can you eat something else?” asks my father.


The restaurant is pointed out to us by locals of a town I don't care to remember. It looks like Sandpoint in the same way that Sandpoint looks like Nevada City. My agitation grows by the simple fact that everything around me seems like a watered down version of the place I grew up in. Not to say that anything here is “less” than what I'm used to. It just lacks the similarities that matter, the nostalgia, the sense that I once fit in.

But the food is good, and the only thing that fails a muscle test is the pile of tomatoes on my father's plate. And, of course, the chlorinated tap water.

Once the bill is paid, we drive, drive, and then drive some more.

Back in Idaho, my father says, “Well, now we've seen Canada. Don't think I need to go back there.”

I laugh casually.

“It was getting a little old by the end, don't you think?” This simple remark puts my mind to rest. Because he's my father, because I can empathize with such a basic point, and because, really, nothing has actually happened this day to make me feel so much like shit.

The following morning, the sky is gray and the ground wet. My father says we have to stay inside. And just like that, a feeling of dread returns.

I hide in the guest room and finish a novel. When that's through, I play scrabble on my phone. It's my last day here so it's not that bad, but then I start thinking the world may end.

I'm saved only by a crack in the clouds, and my father's sudden willingness to take me on a bike ride.

We head to town, and race back and forth across a bridge. “Should I take your picture?” asks my father. “I didn't bring a camera but you've got that thing there.” He points towards my phone. “Then you can take one of me.”

I smile, which is surprisingly easy. It's either the view or the excess of endorphins pumping through my system. But I don't think about it much. It just happens.

The moment is like a childhood memory I've seen in a movie or television commercial. Riding bikes with my father in the middle of a mountain paradise is too picture-perfect to actually feel real. But it instigates a connection. We have our first real conversation over lunch at a lakeside diner.

“Sometimes I find that I really have to force myself to stop working and actually enjoy my surroundings. I don't know if you can relate to that,” says my father.

“I don't know. You're at the end of your career, but I'm still trying to get mine started. It never seems like a good time to relax, because I don't know that I've really accomplished anything.”

“When people ask you what you do, what do you tell them?” he asks.

“It depends on the circumstances. If I'm around porn-friendly people or not. Mostly, I say I work whatever jobs I can get in the film industry, which is true, and fairly common in Los Angeles. No one seems to question that.”

“Remember that man who spoke at your graduation ceremony?” asks my father.

“Yeah, I forget his name. But the Dreamworks guy.”

“He said sometimes you have to start at the bottom. He was a 'what do you call it?'”

“He started out as a production assistant. And I know what you mean, but that guy still doesn't make movies. I mean, he gets them made, but he's not involved creatively. At least, not the way I'd like to be. He's a producer.”

“So that's not what you want to do?”

“Not really, but...” I zone out on the lake. “No one offers jobs to direct. You kind of just have to do it. Maybe nothing will ever come of it, but I'd like to at least say I tried.”

He seems to respect this decision.

“If it doesn't work out, I guess I'll have to start my way from the bottom. I mean, that's where I am now.”

There's nothing more to say about Idaho. Nothing more but this:

When I get back to the airport, my first meal gives me diarrhea. My first breath of LA air is 113 degrees and toxic. I drive fifteen miles home, which takes me an hour and a half. My apartment is just as filthy as I left it. During my walk to the local gym, I pass more people than I remember seeing in Sandpoint. But something about it all makes me feel at ease. Not because of what it is, but because it's my choice to be here. And if I fuck it up, I'll say, “At least I got away from that other place. At least I fucking tried.”

I imagine it's the same thought my father has when he treads new territory, or reinvents his life. When he calls me on the phone. When he tries to live simply, or more comfortably large. When he drives through Canada to show his son the world, he might think, "At least I tried."

It's the best proof I have that I am my father's son. Besides a birth certificate and all the rest. So if this thought rings through me, what good is fleeing? I still walk my father's land.


  1. This was actually kind of touching, and there's a lot to relate with here. This is really good, thanks for putting it up! :)

  2. Do you remember which college your father attended to become a Doctor?