Ended up to going to the gym last night, to do a bit of climbing with my friend David. Around 9, an older man walks in, say mid- to late-40s. The guy looked like he was a holdover from the summer of love, had that not occurred 32 years ago. (Which makes me wonder: if anyone is 30 to 32, do you wonder if your folks were ingesting illicit chemicals back then, and that you are the result of their alterred states?) Anyhow, the guy’s got long, scraggly hair tied up in a braid, his skin looks like the result of being subjected to years of sun and wind, tinged with a grayish palour brought on by mucho cigarettes over the years. Thin, but mostly wiry. Had this been the 1700s, I would have thought him a mariner. I remarked to David that the new guy was probably climbing in the ’70s, when pot smoking was de rigueur in order to “climb higher.”
So, the guy comes in, and just plonks himself at the base of the hardest wall in the gym. Now, normally, you go climbing with at least one other person, since you need a partner to climb — Allez-Up is definitely not a pick-up joint — and you usually try to be with someone you trust. Not Mr. Deadhead. Just sat there for about 20 minutes, warming up, massaging his arms.
I walk over at one point and ask him if he wants me to be his partner for a climb or two. The guy’s grateful and proceeds to climb. Does it with style, nothing too flashy, just straightforward. Good enough, we introduce ourselves and start shooting the shit. The fella tells me his name is Shaaman/Shamik/Sha-something. He’s Polish and an itinerant carpenter. It turns out that he spends the winter living on the beach in Thailand, and the summer in California. Finds odd jobs where he can and just gets by. Funny, he was bemoaning the fact that Thailand is become expensive, since the rent for a bungalow is now about $10/night. So David asked him what he was doing in Montreal, to which the guy replied he was getting some money together to leave again. “Okay, so where do you live?” Shaaman answers that he lives in his VW van.
As I left the gym, I took a look at said van. Now, I expected something from the ’80s, perhaps a bit run-down but still functional. This thing, however, was mind-blowing; it must have dated back to the ’60s. Full of various stickers, all the seats ripped out of the back so that there are only the two front seats remaining. The fan is overflowing with camping equipment, climbing equipment and carpentry stuff. The funkiest thing, however, was the dashboard. About as simple as can be, I don’t remember seeing either a radio or anything. Oh, and the steering column rose out of the middle of floor for about 3 feet to end at the steering wheel. And this is where Shaaman lives.
It’s strange, but after awhile, you meet a lot of people like this in campgrounds. A roadtrip, done properly, costs about $5 a day, and you’re sitting pretty. Down in Kentucky, home of Ale-8, you can camp on the field behind Miguel’s Pizzeria for $2, surrounded by bucolic splendor and, when you can no longer bear to smell yourself, you splurge and pay a buck for a hot shower. VW vans rules in these places, but regular pickups and vans work just as well, and everyone gathers around someone’s truck or van at least once a day to see what modifications the owner has made to it. Mind you, this isn’t a bunch of good ole boys talking gaz mileage and cylinders here; it’s more like, “Wow, you put in shelves and a secret floor?! Cool.” or “Dhude, excellent use of storage space. It’ll go, man.”
Honestly, I think we’re all interior designers at heart. Your job now is to count the number of non sequitars in this post.