A Road Trip to Stratford, Ontario.

Posted: September 4, 2015 in Nikola Jajic, Ontario, Road Trip, Shakespeare, Stratford, Travel
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Stratford, Ontario. 2012

On the long and desolate drive, I kept myself occupied with a book on tape, or a cd in this case. I hadn’t discovered audible yet, and podcasts still weren’t a thing. The book was No One Belongs Here More Than You. A collection of short stories by Miranda July.

They were odd and strangely beautiful, but these stories were the type of reading better suited for warmer months. And they proved all the more heartbreaking, when listening to July’s tender voice, as she read them aloud, on a very cold, and very lonely stretch of highway.

This trip would prove to be the first of my driving-while-cry-vacuuming spells. An affliction where the afflicted, has too much time on their hands, and listens to, or thinks of, something that leads to an emotional swell. While also moving at a very rapid rate of speed, in a large, and potentially deadly, motor vehicle. Cry-vacuuming is the process in which the vacuumee fights off the sudden threat of tears, with a complex maneuver that bears a striking resemblance to an allergy attack in reverse.

It’s an inner-battle that is difficult to describe, but one that most of us have had to contend with at one time or another. The trick is to think of your face as an emotional vacuum cleaner. Turn it on, and suck up your tears and snot, leaving the weight of those emotions in the vacuum bag of your gut. This will most likely kill you over an abbreviated lifetime. But hey, at least you’re not crying like a baby, on the side of the road.

In company, I’m mostly a conversationalist. A pop-culture fueled blabber-mouth, who might resemble an extra from a Judd Apatow film. Although, when planted in the solitary confines of my car, for an extended period of time, moodiness will have its way.

I debated whether or not to pull over as I cry-vacuumed the tears from my blurry eyes. Deep breaths, calm shall conquer all. It was her words, or more likely her voice, that caught me at a moment of weakness. My eyes continued to well, and I was already too far gone.

I thought of my wife, as she gave birth to our first son, Aleks. There were slight complications, and an emergency caesarian was called for. Maria, drugged and beautiful, whispering to me. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Over and over again. Why I replayed that scene is beyond me. But in those moments, when true art delivers a swift kick in the pants, we can’t help but recall something from the past. Something that might be beautiful and terrible and real. It’s a fucked up game of tag we sometimes play with art.

After a few hours in the car, I become susceptible to either laughter or tears. This is dependent on a few factors: What I’m listening to, what I’m daydreaming about, the weather, human contact, and what I’ve eaten that day.

On this day, there was a slow, constant rainfall. It pattered rhythmically onto the windshield. Earlier, doing my finest imitation of a Burmese Python, I swallowed a quarter-pounder with cheese, somewhere in Northern Michigan. I was now in a different country, and the roaming charges alone, were reason enough not to call anyone. And for some reason, I was thinking about a scary blip in an otherwise pretty okay life. And the damn rain would not let up.

The dependent factors had given word from on high: My battery was in need of charging, and in all likelihood, this was going to be a miserable day.

I pulled over on the side of the road, and paused the book. I quietly cursed Miranda July. I cursed her voice, and her words. She needed to get out of my head. I quickly ejected the cd, and threw it in the back seat. I lit a cigarette and put in another cd, one featuring a bunch of songs I burned for just such an occasion (The road trip, not the cry-vacuuming).

I was back on the road, and it was time to rock out. After a while, I honed in on Shelter from the Storm. Dylan’s bleating vocals and lyrics boring their way into my subconscious. It was on repeat for the rest of the drive. He was a traveler too. And his storm was biblical in its telling. I tried to memorize each word as I sang along through multiple cigarettes and cold coffee.

I imagined myself singing it un-ironically during karaoke at a bar. Perhaps with my wife, and a few of our friends. Maybe a girl or two from the past, were there as well. How would the scene play out? I was no longer some drunken day player at a karaoke bar. Go big or go home. This was my fantasy after all.

His lyrics, now mine. As I sang along to the song in my tone-deaf way. I was Dylan, and I sang a song about a foreign land, and my own crown of thorns. Perhaps a crush from a lifetime ago was watching intently, the passion of the moment taking her, as she realized much too late, that we had something special there, for a second.

My wife and I locking eyes, and knowing in that split second, that there was more to it all. That the adventure was just beginning. And of course, there were the assholes from different eras of my life. As they looked away sheepishly, ashamed at how they did me wrong. Soon though, like most juvenile fantasies, mine lost its imaginary steam. And the daydream sputtered out, without so much as a whimper or a croon.

After a time, I found my way to Stratford. I navigated the town and ended up at a small hotel known as the Queen’s Inn.

Upon check in, I walked through the Boar’s Head pub, situated on the first floor. I noticed it packed with locals, working their way through what I assumed were after-work drinks. I passed on a drink of my own, and headed directly for my room. I threw down my bag and lay on the bed. After a few minutes of staring at nothing, I jumped with a start. My body’s self-preservation mechanism had kicked in. Something was not right. I scanned the room.

There were way too many fucking doors. The room had four separate doors. There was the front door, which I walked in from. Two doors on the wall in front of me, and a fourth door to the small bathroom on my right. After thinking it over, it did make sense. One of the other doors was for the closet, and the other, a connector for the rooms. Still, it seemed like way too many doors for one room. Usually, there’s a turn or even a second room, which splits up the amount of doors from the hotel patron’s view.

This was unsettling. I stood, and moved to open the closet door, and then thought better of it. I imagined a black hole. Ready and waiting to swallow me up into the abyss. Or maybe a tiger. I wasn’t sure which would be worse. I needed to walk.

Stratford was a bit different, even for Canada. I hadn’t researched much about the city before I arrived. The fact being, I was there for a work-related meeting. So, I was taken aback when I noticed how many restaurants and theaters were condensed into such a small town. It was considerable overkill for a population of perhaps 30,000. I stopped to read some of the signs and posters around town.

There was quite a bit about Shakespeare. Again, it seemed like too much culture for a town of this size. And I was fairly certain the bard never got out this way. So, I didn’t think it had anything to do with historical sites on his behalf. It was all very curious. This was a case that needed solving. One that would require my finest deductive skills in doing so. Plainly put, I would have to ask someone what in the hell was going on.

The city itself had more of a European feel, architecturally, than a lot of what I had already seen of Ontario. It felt as if the town was transplanted from Switzerland, or perhaps Belgium. I had never been to either Switzerland or Belgium, but both of those countries seemed right to me for some reason.

I ate dinner at a small restaurant. I took my meal at the bar. It’s not as sad when you’re eating alone at the bar. A person, by themselves at a table, always looks as if they were just stood up on that first date, but they’re going to finish their meal anyhow. The stubborn sort, which may explain why they were stood up in the first place.

The bartender was good for a bit of company. Although, the TV news was going on about election coverage. And all he seemed to want to do was snort in disgust at anything one of the TV pundits uttered. I couldn’t blame him however, pundits have a knack for bringing out the inner-snorter in any moderate individual.

It was 2012, and Obama was owning Romney in the polls. I guess I was pleased by this. The bartender, knowing I was American, wanted a partner in his political discourse. I am not a fan of politics, nor snorting, and even less a fan of political discussions with strangers. This topic of discussion always seems to begin with that strange feeling out process. Is he one of ours? And this was further complicated by an international context, even if in this scenario, the countries were bordering one another.

Soon though, we both commiserated over the fact that neither of us liked Romney all that much. Albeit, this wasn’t a difficult common ground to find. Unfortunately, I could tell, in that salesman-y way of mine, that the politics flowed passionately in my bartender. I tried to divert our path, but it was not the success I had hoped for, and I left soon after. I made sure to over-tip, and hoped this would lighten his thoughts on folks south of his border.

It had begun to snow, on my way back to the hotel. Big flakes, dancing slow and gracefully down onto the street. There was no wind, and it was quiet, almost silent outside. A nice night for a walk, and a pleasant town to do so in. And I had it all to myself, for a time.

I stopped downstairs at the Boar’s Head for a drink. I bellied up to the bar, and had a nice conversation with a grizzled older fellow. He cared less about politics, and imposing his will on the world, and more about passing a cold night with warm conversation. He told me of the town, and the famous Bieber kid, who came from it. A twinge of pride evident, even in his ribbing of the beebs.

He answered my questions on Shakespeare’s strange influence, here. And he told me about the Shakespeare festival, and of the tourists from around the world, that would flock to it. I made a mental note of going to see more plays in general. The only one I had actually seen in person, not counting Blue Man Group, or carnivals, was a version of True West performed by a cast of college theater kids at Lewis University. A friend of a friend performed in it, and while it was entertaining enough, It left me underwhelmed.

Piece by piece, the puzzle that was Stratford came together. Its doors opening, each one revealing a bit more of its history and its people. Or what a traveling salesman from Chicagoland could put together of it, in the brevity of a single night. Still, the city had stories to tell, Shakespearian and otherwise.

I finished my drink and went outside for one last cigarette, before calling it a night. A night that found a second wind and its third act.

I watched, as across the street, a man and woman stood by their parked cars, hoods popped, speaking to one another as the snow fell. Jumper cables connected their cars, and batteries were being charged.



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