the true stories
There is a highway running north from Vancouver that winds through my life. It used to be called the Squamish Highway and today it is known as the Sea To Sky Highway. It connects North Vancouver to Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet. I lived in Squamish in my senior year of high school and many are the miles I have logged on that cliff-hugging ribbon of asphalt since.
As a driver and a hitch-hiker, in all four seasons, I made it my own. Once in a while a boulder would come down on an unhappy motorist and this was always in the back of my mind when navigating up the Howe Sound. Dotted along the way, then and yet, are wide spots to pull over and take in the view of the Sound and the Gulf Islands.
The view is something world-class for those who have never seen it and something of timeless wonder to local inhabitants. The vista never looks the same twice. A thousand smokey shades of lavender-gray in the winter become sparkling jade, turquoise and quicksilver in the other seasons. It is obligatory for Vancouver residents to treat their out of town guests to this drive if at all possible.
There used to be a little passenger train one could hire in North Vancouver for about six dollars. It ran parallel to the highway but much closer to the water and had an even more spectacular view. The cars had green wooden benches piled with drunks sleeping one off to the gentle sound of the empties rolling back and forth on the floors. You could still smoke on board in those days. In fact, it was recommended.
I have driven the Squamish in a U-Haul, a 1956 Morris Minor, a Corvair, a Beaumont, a VW van, a bicycle, three different Suzukis, a Datsun, a Toyota pick-up, a Celica, a Parisienne and an ex-Post Office Step-Van. Over the years I have supplied the soundtrack for this matchless drive via my own lungs, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, Am Radio, FM Stereo, CD and MP3 players.
I have driven it three sheets to the wind, stone cold sober, cold, stoned and every way between. I have pierced through fogs so thick that headlights would have been dangerous. Through rain so hard I could hear dislodged rocks tumbling down off the Coast Mountains along the debris chutes to the sea. I have driven in snow with and without snow-tires and in the rubber-melting summer.
Up this same road, beyond Squamish and ten miles from Pemberton, an Italian hiker found my father's abandoned car off the highway on a logging road one summer day. Some distance farther he discovered my father's body. He had been dead for days. After being taken by the RCMP to see the location with my mother and sisters and having made a monument of stones, a poem and a harmonica, I drove my deceased father's car back down the Squamish Highway. For a number of years after that I avoided that road.
Eventually I made a purposeful drive to overcome the hex that had been put upon the road by the tragedy. I went to the scene and searched in vain for the monument I had made by the side of the logging road. It was a cold gray day and the only familiar thing was the hum of the high-tension power lines. Somehow peace came to me and when I left at dusk, I went with the knowledge that there were happier miles to share with this road.
Once I towed a fellow's car from North Vancouver up to Squamish behind mine on a rope at night. We had about four plies of manila and ten feet of space between our vehicles. The trick was to let the guy behind be the brakes for both vehicles and to only work the gas-pedal. In that way, the tow-rope stayed taught. The front car supplied the headlights and gas and the back car supplied the brakes and brake-lights.
It was imperative that both men trusted absolutely the person in the other car. Both our lives were in each others hands and feet. This was made easier because we didn't know each other very well. My first wife was so impressed she ran off to Squamish to live with the man I had helped. I left her, she left the country and he got deported shortly thereafter. He was a bit older than either of us and the moral of the story is, “You can't push a sport car up a hill with a piece of rope.”
One day after my first divorce, I found myself single, still young and heading south on the Squamish Highway. I had been thinking about how I would have to work on my social skills if I wanted to find another gal. I never could flirt worth a damn and I have a certified disability when it comes to dancing. A friend of mine in Texas came into my mind who was a born ladies man. He made flirting look easy and had Steve McQueen confidence to back it up.
I tried to cast my mind back to junior high days and see if I couldn't recall some vignettes of that master at work. Firstly, I remembered that he was bold. Women liked that. He always told them what he innately knew they wanted to hear and rarely, if ever, told them the truth. They seemed to like that as well. He used his eyebrows and many facial expressions to decorate his speech. They really liked that. I usually told the truth in a monotone voice with a deadpan face and then only if encouraged to talk.
These reveries were interrupted by the sight of a white Volkswagen convertible looming larger in my rear-view mirror. It came right up and I could see that the driver was a beautiful young woman with long flowing hair the colour of Pilsner. She looked by her clothes to be somewhere between upper-middle class and rich. Probably a West Vancouverite, I reckoned.
She stayed put and I could clearly see her face in my mirror. She had lips painted the colour of wild roses and her skin was the colour of Dutch butter-crust bread. She wore silver hoops in her ears, a turquoise bracelet and had on sunglasses. She wore a blue and white horizontal striped shirt like a Russian sailorette.
I sped up a bit and increased the gap between us. I needed time to think. What was unsettling was how fast she had appeared as soon as my mind had turned to the subject of romance. God works in mysterious ways but the devil never sleeps. I was listening to a Bob Seger song at that moment and it was called Against The Wind.
“Let the cowboys ride against the wind,” said the tape deck and that made me bold. Since I couldn't speak to the lady, I opted for practicing the facial expressions. When I got far enough ahead that I was sure she couldn't possibly see what I was about to do, I looked right into the rear-view mirror and pursed my lips into a kiss.
It felt BOLD to do and I was just about to process the euphoria when the young woman started beeping her horn, blowing extravagant sweeping kisses and downshifting to overtake my pick-up truck. She must have had eyesight like a red-tailed hawk. She blew past me and settled in front about the same distance I had maintained in the beginning. Now I knew what that warning on side-view mirrors meant about objects appearing smaller than they really are.
At the next pull-out, she hove to and kneeled on her front seat facing backwards and beckoned wildly for me to stop. I can still see her silhouette against the misty islands and the sea like molten pewter. Did I stop? Let me say that when gauging my level of fear in all my days since then, nothing has approached that mark. I'm older now but still running against the wind.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.