Saskatoon became buried in snow overnight. “I heard you were looking for Canada,” the snow seemed to say. “Well, here I am!” Elisia warmed up Eddie Murphy and we borrowed a mason jar from Keighlagh and Ryan for the sea monkeys. We filled up the jar with warm water and added the eggs and growth food and let the whole civilization sit comfortably in Eddie Murphy’s cup holder while we waited for the miracle of life. And with that, we were off, heading south for Cypress.
Along the way, we passed through Rosetown, Saskatchewan, where we saw a sign for “Riches Antiques and Collectibles” and decided to pull over. The barn-shaped building held countless tiny treasures from ages past, from collectible Coke bottles to stacks of old records to shaving sets from Prohibition. They even had a full shelf of real Polaroid cameras, which we took a picture of with our newfangled copycat camera. The owner, Rich (you can appreciate the pun in the store name), was a portly, silver-haired man with a chalkboard green shirt and a black fedora. He wandered the store with us, telling us stories about the various trinkets we came across.
When Elisia was wandering somewhere else in the store, Rich asked me where we were from. I told him.
“So what brings you to Rosetown?” he asked.
I said we were doing a road trip for a travel literature class in order to write a creative paper in the vein of Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.
“Oh, Travels With Charley, sure,” he said.
“You’ve heard of it?” I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Yes sir, long time ago. It’s what got me into Steinbeck. Mice and Men.”
“And Cannery Row. East of Eden.”
“Grapes of Wrath.”
How did I forget Grapes of Wrath? I thought it was a delightful coincidence that he knew Travels With Charley. Maybe he made it up—I didn’t quiz him on it—but if it was an attempt to inspire me to buy something, he was a wise businessman. We wandered the store for over half an hour looking for souvenirs that wouldn’t break the bank. Eventually I found a large, wood grain ceramic beer stein that had a depiction of an old man with a rifle and a dog sitting next to him, all seemingly carved out of wood. The man and the dog reminded me of Steinbeck and Charley even though the dog wasn’t a poodle and the old man looked more like Hemingway, or maybe Bill Murray. I assumed it was too expensive, though there was no price tag. I eventually asked, got a reasonable twenty-dollar quote, and bought it. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter as we speak.
We said goodbye and dusted the snow off Eddie Murphy and hit the road again, feasting on the PB&J sandwiches Keighlagh made us for our trip. We checked the sea monkeys. There did not seem to be life in the grey-green water. The powdery eggs and food sat at the bottom of the jar like sand. But the instructions said 24 hours and it had only been five.
After a few more hours of driving, we managed to pass the dark clouds that had been blanketing us since Meadow Lake and we decided to pull over to look at the stars. By now we were far enough south that we wouldn’t see the northern lights, but it’s always a treat to look at the sky when you’re far away from the electric glow of the city. We turned into a side road leading into farmland and parked Eddie Murphy next to an assortment of tractors and farming equipment. There were no streetlights and aside from Eddie’s headlights and the stars, the prairies were pitch black.
“This is kinda scary,” said Elisia before stepping out of the car. “It reminds me of Jeepers Creepers.”
“Should I sing the song?” I offered.
“Don’t you dare! Seriously, don’t.”
I considered at least whistling the tune the scarecrow-like killer whistles in the movie, but since she was the driver and I didn’t want to be left out there I decided against it.
What can I say about the stars that legions of poets haven’t said in the past? Almost anything you can say about them now is cliché, and, let’s face it, we all know that stars are beautiful. And they were. There were just more of them than I’d seen in a very long time, and despite the cold and the dark and the ominous growl of Eddie’s engine, I felt at peace. I thought about what it might be like two centuries ago on the frontier, riding a horse across the plains (a donkey might be better suited elsewhere), and making campfire under the stars.
Well, surely I would freeze to death. We decided to go back to the warm car.
We never did stop in Cypress that night. By now it was just too dark to appreciate anything other than the night sky, so we resolved to find a hotel in Medicine Hat and try for Cypress in the daylight.
Soon enough we were back in Alberta. Specificically, Medicine Hat, the gas city. I always thought Edmonton’s obsession with oil was rather ridiculous, but proudly calling yourself the gas city? If that’s not the perfect setting for a juvenile comedy, I don’t know what is.
We got a room at a Super 8 and looked up places to eat supper. We wanted something specific to Medicine Hat—not McDonalds again—and we settled on an Italian place called From Scratch and the Red Stage. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be two different things, perhaps at different times, but the menu we found online seemed reasonably priced, so off we went.
It was then—not in the prairies, or on the Alberta highways—that we nearly hit a deer.
I was looking out the side window, daydreaming as usual, when Elisia exclaimed, “What?!” and hit the brakes. I looked around to try to find what she was laughing at, when it walked right in front of my view. A confused, medium-sized buck, crossing the street in the middle of the gas city. We had only seen one other deer on our trip after leaving Edmonton, and then only barely as the truck in front of us slowed for it to pass, but we had not had any other surprises so far.
Medicine Hat. What a place to find nature.
We laughed about it all the way to From Scratch, a small, homey-looking restaurant attached to a strip of other stores. Little did we know this would be one of the highlights of the trip.
You know how a restaurant menu has a handful of good-looking items, and then a lot of things you wonder who would ever eat? This place took those last things out and only left the delicious-looking stuff. I wanted to eat everything. I nearly did. I ordered the chicken parmesan, a Moretti, and an order of bread, while Elisia ordered two appetizers, a Moretti, and the daily special. Oh, and we also got a pizza for later.
Every single thing was amazing. Not just the food, but the whole place. An assortment of tables and chairs, red velvet curtains, a mural on the wall displaying several famous musicians (Sinatra being the foremost in my mind because it was the only signature we couldn’t read—the waitress had to tell us who it was), and, as suggested, a red stage with a piano, drums, guitars, and more. Sadly, there was no live music playing, but it was eight at night and the place closed at nine. That might also explain why there was only one other occupied table. At least we got plenty of attention, and the food came out quick. By the end we were so stuffed we couldn’t imagine touching the pizza until the next day.
We passed out almost as soon as we got back to the hotel. Good food will do that to you.