My wife and I love to drive and so we do, clocking almost 160,000 km so far on our new vehicle that we purchased just over three years ago. During our vacation times we will often go for a drive that could easily turn into an all-day event, usually adding 700-1000 km by the time we pull back into our driveway at the end of the day. This type of behavior does draw some strange looks and comments from people, but the staff at the dealership where we bought our car seem to be enjoying our oddness, perhaps linked to the frequency in which we are in their service department getting ‘regular’ maintenance done.
However, it was my wife and I who were handing out the strange looks when we took to the road a few days ago for one of our ‘epic’ day road trips. We pointed the car east and began to drive with only a vague idea of where we wanted to go and with no real conviction that it would happen. All that was okay with us because if we made it, great, and if not, then great as well, because we would have made decisions in the moment that brought us joy, which is the whole point of a road trip in the first place.
Our first stop was a premature one just on the outskirts of the city as we hadn’t grabbed a bite to eat yet and wanted a coffee for the road. Pulling into a local coffee/sandwich shop we went inside. The restaurant was fairly empty, however the staffing levels indicated that they were expecting to get busy any moment. All eyes were on us as we made our way to the counter to place our order. Unaccustomed to how this store flowed, once the cashier took our order, he left to get our drinks, and being obscured by the various machines lining the counter-top, we had no idea where he had popped up again – let alone where to pick up our drinks. The cashier had wanted our name as we ordered – apparently so the sandwich clerk could call out our name when our order was ready. I declined, as I didn’t feel I was that close to any of them to offer up my name. Instead we opted to hover around the sandwich station until the order had been filled.
Dreary pop music blasted from the speakers above as we contemplated all but a moment as to whether we would sit down and enjoy our lunch before hitting the road once again. One look around the room gave us our answer as my stare was met by a few curious customers – those customers who were obviously regulars, staring at us who were obviously not. We hastily retreated to our car and ate our lunch in the safety of our Mazda before turning onto the road to continue our journey.
A few hours later we stopped at another coffee shop in the last town before the neighboring province. Using the bathroom we both commented to each other how there was no paper-towel, having been replaced with a 2-inch wide hot air unit that in this particular case did not blow hot air or even enough air to attempt to dry our hands. We both needed to retreat back to the bathroom stall to gather enough toilet paper to dry our hands. After settling on our second choice of snack and having our questions deflected to a dietary brochure rack behind us we quickly made our way back to our car to get out of this town and back onto the road. As my wife was settling into her seat her door shut gently but not completely. Before she had a chance to react an older woman had come up to the car – opened up her door and then shut it hard, commenting to the other older woman who was with her on the nice thing she had just done.
Feeling a bit violated and reflecting that this coffee shop was full of elderly white people only – including the staff, we picked up a bit of a weird vibe and decided to not only get back onto the road quickly but to add this stop and this community to our already long and exhaustive list of places and businesses that we will not be returning to. Such has been our experience with our drives as we stumble upon different businesses and communities. Given our experiences in such places we have compiled a long list of places to avoid while travelling. I can only suspect that we are not alone in this practice but perhaps it is this that adds to our oddity.
It was now coming up to dinner time as we were approaching the first larger city in the neighboring province. We both were getting quite hungry so we pulled up to a chain restaurant. We had eaten here before, in a previous drive, and although it was not a good experience there were other contributing circumstances as to why that might be the case. We therefore decided to give it another chance. thirty-five minutes later my wife opted to wait for me in the car while I waited to pay for our meal. Nope, even with the contributing circumstances not present this time, enough had still gone wrong to add this place to our list – with the city itself dangerously close to being added as well.
On a side note what has happened to the quality of food nowadays that it has to be buried under a tremendous amount of sauces and spices? It is a disturbing trend that is starting to freak me out a bit. But I digress.
At this point, given that we had already clocked a few uncomfortable experiences we opted to bail on our original goal and turn north instead to wind our way through a provincial park. It is a drive that is both scenic and offers a different driving experience to the prairie flat and straight roads, instead rolling hills, lots of corners, and forested land to look at. Situated in the middle of this provincial park is a resort, which as we drew closer to the location we were becoming more intrigued to check it out – having heard from a colleague about how awesome a place it is.
For being located smack-dab in the middle of the prairies this place on first glance was amazing. You drove into this place, off of the highway, shielded by forest all around until suddenly it opened up into a nice looking lake and a mini-tourist village full of quaint buildings, cabins, and shops. We drove around this village for a bit, taking it all in and wondering out loud to each other if this might be a place where we could rent a cabin and have all the children come out – perhaps for a family vacation or a place to spend Christmas together – that sort of thing.
The prairie culture when we first moved here reflected a people who did not take themselves too seriously, who reached out and helped their neighbor and who embraced a sense of community, welcoming to new people. That is, of course, until vacation time. To this end the people ferociously defend their secret turf, their hidden communities, their weekend getaways. Tired out from all of their ‘nice-ness’ throughout the week or even during the months in-between vacations they very quickly pack everything up and retreat to these places and a ‘no visitor’ sign is erected at its entrance gates.
Case in point was this resort destination. The websites that we could find on this place did not at all accurately reflect how scenically beautiful a place this was. Nothing talked about the quaint shops and storefronts that lined the touristy boulevard. I believe now that this was and is on purpose. When we inquired as to availability and price we were met with a long list of rules and conditions. It was as if the entire experience summed up one of my wife’s theories on friendship – the idea that a person can only manage a certain amount of friends and once full anyone new has to wait for an ‘opening’ to come up before a meaningful friendship can be had.
Such is the summary of this place, as long as there were no openings for new friends we were not really invited to be there. So, although the place was quaint and beautiful, we turned our car north once again and carried on.
About an hour or so later we arrived at the most northern town on our drive. Here we pulled in to use the washroom and got a bit of gas before turning back west to begin our drive home. We stopped again at another coffee shop, however the washroom facilities were less than ideal so I opted instead to take the car to the gas station next door in hopes that the service station bathroom was in better condition. I was right. We had entertained stopping here to take in a movie before heading back home, however still feeling a bit bummed about the most recent interaction we opted to hit the road instead, wondering if we could make it back home in time to watch a movie there.
An hour or so later we pulled into the first large city back in our province where I stopped to fill up the tank at the branded fuel station that we regularly use. My wife had opted out of using the bathroom back in that other city so I was to pick her up at a restaurant connected to the parking lot where I was fueling. As I pulled out of the gas station and began to drive through the parking lot to the restaurant I was cut off by two vehicles, with me needing to slam on my brakes to avoid them hitting me. Both of them seemed oblivious to the fact that I was there – content to drive like a maniac through a parking lot, cutting across parking stalls in some sort of secret race to the street exit. It was enough for me to want to find my wife and get back on the road once again – as fast as we could.
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, although we had opted to not make any more stops – and that included the movie – just to head straight home. And I guess that summarizes our driving experience. As long as we can minimize our pit stops we can find immense joy and satisfaction in these day trips, however we far too often end up with either uncomfortable experiences or very bad experiences that detract from the overall experience. To that end we are thankful for our Mazda and the amazing fuel efficiency it has so we can mark an X on our map and drive through these communities in search of a new and different place, with the expectation of a different experience. Perhaps this is a reflection of the definition of insanity – at least in our prairie experiences.