Chicago, IL I

Friday night has become Saturday morning and the frat boys and sorority girls who have flowered into young urban professionals fill Lincoln Avenue like a throbbing cloud of jellyfish. A multitude of faces under yellow lights: smiling, laughing, crying, shouting, vacant. Strong shadows play havoc with expressions, eyes glimmer in too-dark sockets, noses are accentuated, double-chins erased. Pulsing bass grooves undulate through brownstone walls while their treble counterparts flow through open doors, present one moment, absent the next.

On the west side of the street, in front of a hospital for children, a group of men in pale striped shirts is getting harassed by an aspiring boxer with a wife-beater and cornrows. The aspiring boxer prances stupidly from one foot to the next, facing the group as he hops backwards down the street. He swings his arms in wide, flailing arcs towards one of the men, hands open, pawing and fondling the shirt sleeves of his seething opponent. The group stops. The boxer stops in front of them. Angry words are exchanged. The boxer takes another provocative slap. Men in the group straighten their shirts and roll their necks, elaborately preparing for a fight as if Hollywood cameras were trained on them.

On the east side of the street, taxis jockey for fares in a huge, self-defeating automotive snarl. They clog up a six-way intersection and the traffic lights cycle impotently through colors as cars back up further and further. Horns add their shrill voices to the cacophony of human noises as emaciated hipsters dart between cars on their bicycles. Schools of pedestrians follow suit, abruptly wriggling from one side of the intersection to another, swimming against the current of taxis.

The girl in the electric blue dress isn't tall, but she is beautiful. Athletic, blonde, perfectly proportioned, hers is the kind of beauty that makes traffic tickets vanish, job opportunities materialize, and bartenders prompt and attentive—which seems to have been the story tonight. For some reason, she is alone and, perhaps for the same reason, she is completely and totally drunk. Her perfect teeth are exposed by a gently-moronic grin and her bleary eyes are fixed directly in front of her, across the street. Inspired or terrified by all of the noise and activity, she migrates and her excessive stilettos click unevenly on the cool pavement. Click, click, click. One frozen aisle of cabs and then another, she crosses perpendicular to the green, head locked forward, eyes fixed, smile still idiotic. What does she see on the far sidewalk? Not the taxi. The only taxi in motion. The taxi that has, finally, discovered a clear channel through the gridlock and is flying forward at twenty miles per hour. And the taxi doesn't see her, either, as she totters out from between two frozen cars into its path. Her beauty is irrelevant.

And there is a sound like a bear going through a dumpster, which is the taxi's hood. And there is a sound like a heavy duffel bag coming up a conveyor belt and thudding onto the carousel of an airport luggage claim, which is the girl. And both of these sounds happen at once. She rolls onto the taxi's hood and partway up its windshield, only to be hurled into the middle of the intersection as the car's wheels lock with a scream of rubber. She is a cartwheeling tangle of white and blue. She is a small pile of white and blue. Stationary now, illuminated in the middle of the huge, congested intersection by the taxi's white lights that look like spotlights and might as well be. The audience of drunken yuppies are all quiet, even the ones who didn't see the collision. Instinctual silence.

She twitches, breaking the fourth wall. Somebody runs into the intersection. Somebody else yells: "call an ambulance!" She is standing now, weaving slowly towards the curb, supported on a friendly arm. She sits down. Bruised, not bleeding. "Don't call an ambulance," she whispers, "I'm okay... I don't think I hit my head." Everything is motionless.

Then, the slurred voice of a young man affecting worldliness in front of his horrified small-town friends: "don't worry about it, this is Chicago, this happens all the time!" He repeats the phrase again, apparently unsatisfied by its reception the first time. His friends ignore him, their eyes glued to the bruised girl in the electric blue dress. This does not happen all the time—they will remember this night. The girl puts her head on the arm of the man who helped her out of the intersection and begins crying. "It's Chicago!" This does not happen all the time—she will remember this night. "The police deal with this shit every night!" The taxi's engine idles, doors closed, lights still glowing on the empty stage. The driver's hands are loosely on the wheel and his wide eyes peer out his side window. This does not happen all the time—he will remember this night.


Ann Arbor, MI II

Detroit isn't exactly lively, but it is alive. A small number of people walk around downtown and many of its skeletal buildings appear to be in use or, at least, not on fire. Outside of downtown, in the neighborhoods, the picture is bleaker. Every inhabited house has its abandoned, charred counterpart. Empty lots are commonplace, their surplus of weeds and trash flowing over curbs and into potholed streets. Commercial buildings with shattered windows and collapsing roofs expose their plumbing and wiring to the world, architectural autopsies, bodies without skin. But many houses—many beautiful houses—are still inhabited.

When Detroit isn't being ignored, it is generally trotted out as an example of catastrophic urban failure, discussed in the past tense, its collapse treated as a fait accompli. These may be fair characterizations, but they make it easy to overlook the large number of normal people who are still living in Detroit and, quietly, fighting to keep the city from degenerating into a no-man's land. On this swampy, overcast morning, they are out with weed-eaters and sun hats, ladders and paintbrushes, wrenches and spare parts. Some neighborhoods have pooled resources to hire private security guards who patrol select streets in tiny white cars. Others have invested in wrought iron bars for their windows. Retail stores and restaurants are hardly common, but the few that exist are doing a brisk trade. This is not the result of gentrification. While Detroit has its contingent of affluent, artistic young whites seeking the ever-elusive "real," the only urban revitalizers visible today are middle-aged and black.

"You've probably heard a lot of things about Detroit," the Dad says, "hopefully you're seeing that the picture is a little more complex." The Dad stands in front of the counter of The Black Whole, a shop owned and operated by DJ Blackman, one of the biggest names in Detroit's hip-hop scene and also the man who named Kid Rock. A gold album hangs discreetly on a back wall accompanied by a small plaque attesting to the DJ's crucial role in launching the star's career. Blackman sits behind the counter, eyes peering at the screen of his MacbookPro through oval glasses. He faintly shakes his head and his flowing black and silver beard waves slightly. The Dad is a producer, too. Like the DJ, he appears to be in his early forties but, unlike the DJ, he has not launched any gold-selling artists. Perhaps things would have been different, he speculates, if he had made his hardest decision the other way.

The Dad's hardest decision wasn't being a dad—that was a mistake—it was being a dad who stayed. He was eighteen and had just left Detroit for college. Getting out of town was a big deal, attending college even more so. Then a girl he had been dating back in Detroit called him... pregnant. He could have easily remained in college, evaded her, contested his parenthood. This would hardly have been an unprecedented move. He knew other men, both friends and family, who had ducked parental responsibility. His own father was one of them, a virtual nonentity in his life. And he missed him, resented him, didn't want to be like him. Eventually, his need to be different outweighed his educational and career aspirations. So, with little fanfare, he dropped out and moved home. Maybe he would have made it as a big name producer without the kids, he muses, but he has no regrets. They are out of the house now, young adults, and he couldn't wish for a better relationship with them. His immense pride in his children is obvious as he speaks, "and here I am, doing music anyway." A tune chirps out of Blackman's laptop and fills the incense-heavy air of the store. "Alright, so maybe a little more recognition and money wouldn't hurt," he says with a laugh, "but that'll happen."


Ann Arbor, MI I

At 100 kilometers the blue sky drains white. Is there weather to the west? Fog? High clouds? No. The sun shines through the whiteness. At 60 kilometers the white sky regains pigment, now the sandy color of a dust storm, but the air is still. At 40 kilometers the sky darkens to brown, like the toxic cloud downwind of a forest fire, yet no trees are burning. The sun is dim and watery, the atmosphere suffocating.

Over 2.5 million people live in Toronto and far more inhabit the lower Ontario megalopolis—hardly large by international standards, but large enough to overwhelm. By three in the afternoon, everyone is on the freeway. Sitting still. Sitting alone. Engines hum. Hundreds of thousands of air conditioners and sound systems create hundreds of thousands of steel cocoons, tenuous havens from the loud, fuming sea of engines stretching for miles. Drivers start and stop, irritably punching their accelerators and stomping on their brakes. Billions of gallons of gasoline creating vast amounts of unused horsepower. Billions of hours of human life dedicated to the thoughtless, infuriating task of waiting in line to go home. And we do this daily. Volitionally. It is perfectly normal. It is also perfectly insane.

Throw a person in the middle of the urban freeway. His puny body is obsolete, legs too slow to compete with engines, skeleton too frail to rumble with welded automotive chassis. His lungs burn and convulse from an excess of carbon monoxide fumes. His eyes clog with road-grit. Concrete dividers hem in his movements. There are no sidewalks for him to retreat to. Without the life support of his own machine, he cannot survive in the freeway environment—he might as well be tossed into the middle of the ocean without a boat. But the ocean is not manmade.


Ivy Lea, ON

The RV pants into its campsite and stops with a shuddering wheeze. Imagine a snake digesting a large rabbit—slow, swollen, stupid—cringing and vulnerable in the middle of the road. If you were to give this snake a mechanical incarnation, it would surely be the RV. It is big enough to hold two city busses, or a rock band... or a rock concert. The trees on either side of its parking space claw at it in a futile attempt to relax their branches. The RV sits quiescent for a moment and then makes bumping and creaking noises. The sounds of digestion? Two extensions pop out of the left side. The bolus moves! Then, a thudding noise and the crunch of branches and leaves. Another thud follows and wooden fingers scrape quietly across metal. Small scales of tan paint flutter to the soft earth. A small door opens on the side of the behemoth and two couples venture forth from its bowels. They stare irritably at the small tree blocking their right wing from deploying. One scraggly kindling-stick with the audacity to prevent the great snake from swelling to its full enormity. The older couple vanishes back inside the snake and the man reemerges with a hand-axe. Seconds later, with a tremendous grunt, he is standing on the locked hands of his son-in-law and plunging the axe into the offending tree's upper branches. The branches are gangly and frail, but the man's axe strokes are wildly inaccurate as he struggles to maintain balance. The son-in-law puffs something in French and the two pause from their efforts. After a rest, they repeat the process. And repeat the process again. The tree, slowly mutilated, finally surrenders after their third attack, dropping its offending branch to the ground with a soft whoosh. The men smile. The reptile swells. The tree's branch finds its way into the forest. A television satellite appears and a generator growls to life.

Québec City, QC II

15:44. The Referee is working part time in a shop selling Inuit art, walrus figurines carved from tusks, small hunters of polished stone mounted in chunks of driftwood. This is a part time gig, he says, a prelude to the professional wrestling costume business that he is about to launch with his girlfriend. They make and sell costumes now, but the dream is go full time and continue refereeing during the evenings and weekends. Hardest decisions? He makes difficult decisions in the ring all the time. He made one last weekend. "They're fast, but they're very hard." It's intimidating, a lot rides on them. "Professional wrestling is theater, right? It's got a script. Everything is scripted. I'm an actor, and it is a hard role to get. But sometimes things go off script, maybe one of the guys gets angry and starts knocking the other guy around for real. The crowd probably can't tell the difference, but I can." Elderly tourists wander into the art shop and The Referee pauses his story. They prod and nose objects without making eye contact with The Referee. Then, without a word, they abruptly walk out. "It's supposed to be about protecting your opponent—that is the big rule. And, last weekend, this guy kept dropping his opponent on his head. The guy was getting dazed and slow. When you get knocked on the head and you're not expecting it, it really stuns you. So I have to decide: do I stop the show? For real?" How much thrashing is too much? Will the guys go back to the script or will someone end up with a broken neck? If he stops the show prematurely the crowd will be disappointed and the wrestlers and managers will be angry. "I could lose my job. There are a lot of other people who want to be in professional wrestling." Conversely, if he doesn't stop the fight and a wrestler gets injured, he will lose his job. "People aren't supposed to get hurt on my watch. I'm an actor, but sometimes it's real. Sometimes you have to make that decision and you have to make it in a split second."

20:23. The fleeting warmth of Canada's summer infuses Québecois with manic energy. Shoppers buzz from produce markets to bakeries, clothing shops to electronics stores. Along Rue Saint-Jean , it is hardly an exaggeration to say that every retail business is interspersed by restaurant. French food is available, of course, but burger joints hold their ground along with a good contingent of Lebanese and Vietnamese—linguistic connections drawing in ethnic cuisines from the old empire. Québec City's gutterpunks glower down upon the consumer melee from the parapets of the fortress. They spend most of their days up there, blasting the Dead Kennedys from their tinny boom-boxes and drinking cheap beer. In a few months winter will drive them back into their parents' basements but, for now, they exhibit their antiestablishment plumage and summer tans to everyone below. A man with a green mohawk stands up on a turret with his electric guitar and catches the sunset light. He flails around passionately and one can only assume that he is shredding through a wicked solo but, due to lack of power on the fortress wall, his guitar is unplugged and the only sound audible is traffic from below.

01:09. Away from the main drag, the streets of the old city are silent apart from muffled laughing echoing off rows of houses. Pedestrians are rare, windows dark. The red LEDs of car alarms flicker on and off in shining black vehicles. The laughter continues, loud one moment, muted the next. An outburst. The laughter pours from a painfully bright basement window that projects a conspicuous green square onto the deep yellow sidewalk. The window is at ground level, the room it exposes somewhat lower. Two young men sit inside the room, one white and one black. They are playing monopoly at a rickety card table. In shorts. Just shorts. Both have gold chain necklaces. No alcohol is in sight. One counts money. The other says something in French. Both laugh. It is the only sound for blocks.


Québec City, QC I

If the old area of Québec City looks good during the day, it looks even better at night. Narrow houses line curving streets and the bulky walls of the old fortress encircle buildings that appear to be genuinely sturdy. It seems authentically European. Throngs of young, fashionably dressed pedestrians cover sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Restaurants are packed, their patrons sitting outside enjoying the mild evening air. Laughter and exclamations in French echo off stone edifices. A disco ball the size of a SmartCar glitters in front of a bar. Locals say that Québec City is regarded as the small, stodgy cousin of Montréal. It feels like neither of these things, though the downtown is suspiciously idyllic. It's too clean, too vibrant. The people look frighteningly healthy and, while the level of drunkenness competes with the best American cities, the atmospheric belligerence-pressure is fairly low. Half a million residents in the city and no gun murders last year. There must be something wrong.

"Everyone who lives in town walks around... they're all thin," Marc-Antoine says as he pats his stomach and laughs. "You can tell I'm from the country, can't you?" A posse of toned blonde women walk by in heels and he sighs: "Beautiful, right? We have to stay healthy or we get out of breath following them up the hills." In this era of quantification, it is surprising that no phony social scientist has tried to empirically discover the most beautiful urban populace in the world—but, if such an absurd undertaking were to be pursued, Québec City would probably win. Marc-Antoine grins: "you hear the story about why the women are so beautiful here? The king was sending girls... ah, what's the word? Orphans? The king was sending orphan girls over to Québec and the first place the ships would dock was Québec City, so all the men would pick the most beautiful girls as wives. Trois-Rivieres was next and," he laughs, "Montréal was last."


Mt. Carlton, NB

The road traces the coast, but you cannot see the coast. Instead, endless trees stretch in every direction, a mix of dark pines and light birch. Road signs transition from English over French to French over English as Canadian flags become scarce—northern New Brunswick claims to be the heart of Acadian country. Whether or not it is the heart of Acadian country, it is certainly the epicenter of Acadian pride. Acadian flags cover the landscape; a French tricolor with a gold star set against the blue. They wave in front of virtually every immaculate white house, they are on vanity license plates, outdoor sculptures, phone poles. Their bright colors accent the hypergreen landscape of trees and close-cropped lawns, blues, reds, and whites fluttering with a pale orange tint in the afternoon light. The flags also send a message to the rest of Canada: Acadians are different. Many of them speak English but, like the Québécois, they actively resist assimilation into Anglophone culture. The British savagely deported Acadian settlers after wresting Canada from the French during the 18th century and, not surprisingly, themes of exodus remain at the core of Acadian cultural identity. In one small town, a single house bristles with Canadian flags, its grassy moat dividing it from a throng of Acadian neighbors. Nobody sits on the porch.

A group of Harley riders with strikingly normal waistlines lounges at a shaded wicker table outside the boulangerie in Caraquet. They sip coffee, eat pear tarts, and converse in French. Inside the boulangerie, someone with strongly accented English asks if Arizona is in South America. Most Arizonans would probably assume New Brunswick is in Europe and, if blindfolded and dropped off in the middle of Acadian country, they would doubtless be convinced of their assumption. The boulangerie closes, V-twins thud, roar, recede. Leaves rustle over the warm street.

It is difficult to comprehend that the pavement outside your front door connects, unbroken, to virtually every corner of North America, one gargantuan system of arteries and capillaries shuttling people and goods around like blood cells.

Two Acadian teenagers in a lowered Honda Civic back out of a parking lot and, deliberately popping their clutch, peel out with a screech. They wear sports jerseys, backwards hats, and wrap-around shades—poseur frat-boys blasting the theme from Smokey and the Bandit out of their shivering little car.

east-bound and down, loaded up and truckin'

The acrid smell of burning rubber fills the air. Elsewhere on the web of pavement, a tractor trailer slowly bumps a car in stop-and-go Los Angeles traffic and both drivers stand outside their vehicles to exchange information. In a quiet suburb of Tulsa, a middle-aged woman with an persistent summer cold walks out to her mailbox in slippers. In Seattle, an office drone curses as he drops a fresh chicken samosa in a puddle outside of his favorite Pakistani food cart. In Caraquet, smoke dissipates into the air as two rubber scars appear on Boulevard Saint Pierre Ouest. Millions of unrelated dramas simultaneously playing out the stage of asphalt.


Shediac, NB

Lobster Man emerges from the Lobster Shack with a whoop, scuttling around the front porch with maniac geisha-steps. The Lobster Shack looks like most seafood-themed tourist traps in the Northeast, a dilapidated pile of wood painted colors that must have been bright and punchy three decades ago. Now, however, the paint peels and its decorative buoys and fishing nets give it the appearance of a trash midden rather than an exciting gateway to North Atlantic fishing culture. A Roman candle explodes and small bubbles of fire float into the air. Lobster Man whoops again and raises his stumpy arms heavenwards before taking a shambling victory-lap around the porch and vanishing inside.

Inside. Lobster Man begins yelling in a thick Scotian accent. He yells so loudly that his immense mouth covers the better part of his face, the overhanging ledge of his top teeth appearing like a yellow-ivory mustache. His eyes are crushed to slits by the pressure, barely visible behind thick glasses. The empty Lobster Shack reverberates: "YOU NEED ORANGE JUICE!" Lobster Man pounces on his victims and places styrofoam cups in their hands, reaching into a fridge and pulling out a half-empty carton of orange juice: "YOU NEED VITAMIN C!" Orange juice flows. "AN ARIZONAN! WE LOVE JOHN MCCAIN HERE! THE MAN WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN PRESIDENT! COME HERE!" An enormous poster of John McCain hangs on a wall behind the register, surrounded by smaller photos of political figures, an assortment of non-Canadian flags, and hanging marine detritus. "AND A NEW YORKER! FROM THE EMPIRE STATE! I'LL BET YOU DON'T RECOGNIZE YOUR OWN FLAG!" He produces several tiny blue state flags. The New Yorker does not recognize them. "SEE! YOU NEED CRANBERRY JUICE! YOU NEED VITAMIN C!" Lobster Man produces cranberry juice in a fresh set of styrofoam cups. Then, with another whoop, Lobster Man runs from the Lobster Shack.

There is no menu at the Lobster Shack. There are no listed prices. There is only lobster. Three crustaceans appear without prompting, borne out of the kitchen by a short, elderly woman wearing a pained expression. Who ordered lobsters? There is confusion. She says there is always confusion. How much do the lobsters cost? $30 each. And the pawed-over styrofoam juice cups? $3.50. She returns to the kitchen but will not take the lobsters with her. The lobsters ooze on their plates, dead black eyes reflecting the florescent lights overhead. After a pause, two of the lobsters are returned to the woman's kitchen and she mutters about being confused. A whoop comes from outside. Lobster Man has resurfaced and sparklers burn on the porch. "WE NEED A LITTLE PATRIOTIC MUSIC! WE NEEED A LITTLE JOHN PHILIPS SUSA!" Lobster Man makes trumpeting noises with his mouth and his compact potbelly quivers.

Lobster Man explodes back inside. "I HAVE DONUTS! HAVE SOME DONUTS! YOU WANT WHEAT DONUTS? HEALTHY DONUTS!" He has cardboard box full of strange, off brand dough-tubes covered in sugar. They look several years old but unlikely to expire. Some of them are brown, but none of them are wheat. He throws bags of them on the table and then quickly snatches them back: "BUT YOU HAVE TO PROMISE TO VOTE G.O.P. THAT'S 'GOD'S OWN PARTY!' PEOPLE HAVE DIED SO YOU CAN VOTE G.O.P." There is no pause in the noise, the Lobster Man needs no response. "WE HAVE CHERRIES HERE! COME GET SOME CHERRIES!" The donut bags fall back on the table and Lobster Man flings himself out the back door. Outside, a cherry tree is fruiting. Lobster Man plunges into its branches and flails around, emerging with a paw-full of delicate red and yellow cherries. "TAKE THESE TO BUDDY! TELL BUDDY TO COME PICK CHERRIES!" Lobster Man vanishes and explosions sound from the direction of the front porch.

Many fireworks later, at the register, Lobster Man reiterates the urgency of voting Republican, getting enough vitamin C, and taking a box of Little Debbie cream-filled cookies. "DO YOU WANT TO LEAVE A TIP FOR THE OLD WOMAN IN THE KITCHEN? SHE DOES ALL THE WORK AROUND HERE!" In the kitchen, the old woman beams as the twosie is dropped into her cupped hands and her eyes threaten to tear up beneath her hairnet: "I am sorry about the confusion. There's always confusion. Please... understand." Back outside, to a backdrop of fireworks, Lobster Man jumps up and down then struts back and forth: "GOODBYE BUDDIES! GOODBYE BIKER BUDDIES!" Engines start hurriedly, gloves and helmets are thrown on sloppily, earplugs forgotten. Screeching from the porch: "AND DON'T FORGET WHAT I TOLD YOU! LET'S MAKE THIS A ONE-TERM PRESIDENT! YOU KNOW WHAT WE THINK ABOUT HIM!" He squats, pinches his nose, and makes farting noises. Engines roar and, in the rearview mirror, a miniature Lobster Man dances on the porch, jiggling disaster in a baggy white t-shirt.

If the New Yorker ever writes an account of the Lobster Shack, you will probably find it here: http://www.angryspidermonkey.com/


MV Leif Ericson, North Atlantic

The green carpet makes squishing noises underfoot, slick moss and blueberry bushes partially inundated by rust colored water. It stretches across most of Cape Spear's point, a living mat interrupted only by faded pink-gray rocks. The Cape is the easternmost point in North America; it may also be the sole point of entry for the entire continent's wind. The few pines foolish enough to homestead the Cape are emaciated, their spindly trunks growing at 45° angles. A Canadian flag is blown with such force that appears perfectly rigid, more like a rectangle of plastic than cloth. On top of the hill, the white tower of a lighthouse is set into relief by dark skies, its electric green lamp burning in puny defiance of horizon-to-horizon blackness. Waves crash. The damp air scours nostrils with its salty oceanic stink. The scene is filled with all the overblown, Good versus Evil iconography of a Tolkien novel—except that it takes place in 21st century Canada. Offshore, a geyser of water erupts from the sea and is closely followed by the curved arcing movement a huge dorsal fin. Pink tourists squeal in delight. Sauron is forgotten and slouches home in a funk.

The Great Boat is broken. The Intermediate Boat is broken. The Lesser Boat is broken, too, but it generally floats, so all of the contents of the Great Boat are stuffed into it. The Lesser Boat plies the waters early in the morning, churning and rocking, cramped refugees lying face-first on the well-trodden carpet, their bodies swaddled in air that reeks of sweat and diesel.


St. John's, NL II

"You wouldn't hitchhike in America?" The 23 year-old girls are incredulous. They are traveling across Canada for the summer, mostly by car, but they have ditched their ride in a stranger's yard in Nova Scotia and now they are hitching across Newfoundland. "Not even as a guy? Really?" They walk out the front door, backpacks filled with clothes, cameras, fresh vegetables. They have no destinations planned, but one of their hands tightly clutches a sign that reads: WEST. "What are you so afraid of?" they asked.

The Fabricator used to work with metal. General construction jobs around the island. Like most Newfoundlanders, he went abroad to the mainland to earn money. Also like most Newfoundlanders, he hated life on the plains and returned home where there was, still, no work. So he decided to abandon his trade and return to school and for degrees in geology and teaching. After decades of spotty work, he is unemployed and not especially well off, financially. "There isn't a big need for geologists here, right?" In retrospect, he wishes that he hadn't have returned to school. Eking out a living through metal fabrication would have been difficult, but it couldn't have been any worse. He is not nostalgic about the value of education—he undertook school pragmatically in an effort to find a niche in a crippled economy. It was a gamble, a losing gamble, and he wonders how severely he damaged his prospects of retirement. Sitting in a chair in the middle of his brother's cluttered used appliance store, he coughs and stops speaking as his clear gray eyes scan the machines sitting in front of him.


St. John's, NL I

Sunday. A day of warm air and light tinged the yellow-white color of roasted corn. The Canadian Weather Office has issued an alert about dangerous UV levels. This is an odd suggestion in a nation where tanning salons adjoin all manner of businesses, from laundromats to coffee shops.

The doors are wide open at the bar in Salvage, a long, spare hall with a high, curved ceiling of wooden slates that could easily be a repurposed longship. Empty tables line the walls and a bright female handwriting in a blackboard advertises homemade chowder and partridgeberry tarts. The bartender moves efficiently, bringing cheap American beer to a clientele of local middle-aged men. A few tourists stop at the bar and quickly scuttle outside where a deck offers views of a calm blue harbor and the steep, rocky arms hugging the town. Behind the bartender, a woman makes something with flour in the kitchen. Perfectly amber-brown loaves of raisin bread are piled next to her. A breeze wanders through the side door, carrying the muted tones of a relaxed conversation on the deck. It's four in the afternoon.

The men at the bar talk about Alberta and the monetary lure of distant oil-sands. "Everybody's been out there, eh." Most of the older generation, men who worked the boom in the seventies and early eighties, have all returned. Some returned richer, some poorer, but all were deeply homesick for the rock: "some guys would actually cry when they had to go back to Alberta after a visit. Grown men." The oil boom played out in the eighties, but resumed a decade later and many of these men have watched their children departing for jobs out west. Talk turns to the younger generation. Do they miss Newfoundland as acutely? Will they remain in Alberta? They can earn between $60k and $100k a year without a college degree, "but they don't often come out no richer, just accustomed to having the biggest truck or the biggest TV... they make a thousand dollars a week, but they'll spend eleven-hundred." Somber heads nod, seconding his disapproval. Some of the men, two fishers and a logger, regard the decision to emigrate to Alberta as a prioritization of money over community. One of the fishermen, whose roots stretch back to the 18th century, offers a thought: "you don't make much here, but you don't need much to live on. A little car or a quad'll get you from here to there as well as a Corvette. And there are a lot of things we have that they don't." Yet the logger, who has raised a family and seen his kids venture out on their own, contemplates heading west for temporary work... money is money. What will he loose? Arms raise beer glasses rhythmically up and down, pumping liquid like a derricks.

Newfoundland's greatest source of pride is its hospitality and the strength of its communal sensibility. This subject invariably surfaces in any conversation between an islander and a mainlander and their bombastic self-affirmation is hardly cheap marketing. Their reality is so cordial that it appears staged to visiting urbanites. Newfoundlanders make eye contact. They say hello—to everyone. They know each other, wave on the road, invite strangers into their homes for dinner. These things can happen in small towns anywhere, but small towns are equally likely to be places intensely hostile towards outsiders, a trait that is rare in Newfoundland. But can this survive for another generation? Can it survive population growth? The men wonder. Will the alienating, materialist culture of Alberta return to Newfoundland? Or will the latest generation of young Newfoundlanders remain on the mainland? The logger peers into an empty glass.

"Now can I ask you a question, mister? Are you doing this radio thing just to make fun of us Newfies?" Newfoundlanders are the butt of jokes across Canada, typically jokes about intellect, or its absence. The stupid Newfie is a staple of Canadian humor in much the same way as the inbred West Virginian is of American jokes. But, unlike West Virginians, Newfoundlanders have poured out of their provence in huge numbers looking for work and their presence is not always welcomed, even when their labor is needed. They are, at once, the West Virginian and the Mexican. Graffiti reading: "Newfie go home!" appeared in one man's work camp in Alberta. Another one overheard his foreman complaining that he wished they could enclose the Newfoundlanders' company housing with a fence. It is impossible to know what life experiences made the skeptic at the bar so fearful of ridicule—maybe he's just a paranoid guy—but he is genuinely surprised to hear a mainlander heaping praise on his island. Satisfied or bored, he picks up his beer and heads for the deck.


Terra Nova, NL

Larry and Debbie live in a small, dark red house with green trim. The living room is lined with dark, yet hospitable wood paneling and its large windows overlook the bay outside. Larry's small powerboat bobs calmly up and down in the water. The afternoon is dark and misty clouds hang low over over the rugged landscape of steep granite hills, jagged inlets, and clusters of tiny islets. Larry removes his camouflage hat and puts his feet up on the hassock. He is in his fifties, a man with a solid build and a closely cropped salt-and-pepper mustache. If he got out of his black diesel truck and approached you in America you would almost certainly run, but this is Newfoundland—instead of leveling a pistol at you, Larry will invite you over for dinner with his family. "We have company over all the time. Had this fellow from Osaka stay with us for a night... he was hitchhiking across Canada. Just started. It was pouring rain," he says in his thick Celtic accent. American travelers, yes, they tend to be a little squeamish at first: "had a Californian through the other day. He didn't seem comfortable when I invited him, but I said we're Christians up here, it's not like we're going to do anything to you!" He smiles a smile both genuine and understated.

In the kitchen, Debbie makes spaghetti. She is a tall, soft-spoken woman with long hair, a long apron, and a round face that is calmly benevolent. "Wish we could offer you something a little more Newfoundland," Larry apologizes, but the pasta lands and it is more than tasty. Their eldest son and his girlfriend are visiting from Alberta and they join at the table with their three year-old daughter. Larry says grace and food vanishes. Stories volley back and forth, anecdotes about beautiful and remote parts of the island, places where "the white pine are so big, me and me eldest couldn't wrap our arms around them." When Larry listens he cocks his head slightly and squints with one eye while opening the other wide, a gleaming gray iris appraising your every word. His backcountry lore is impressive, his hunting experience voluminous. He makes a point to state that most locals hunt and fish for food. Even after almost three decades of working as a mechanic at the local boatyard, his employment isn't steady enough to ensure a large salary; felling a moose can feed the family for a long time and commercial meat is expensive. The pasta is a memory and the white toast that accompanied it quickly follows suit. Then Debbie brings out her homemade molasses rolls—lassie buns—a recipe she got from Larry's mother. A recipe that is perfect in both conception and execution, the rolls being sweet, spicy, and gooey all at once. The conversation migrates back to the living room. The family sits in a circle. The living room is not centered around the altar of a television.

Larry is bored with being a mechanic. The challenge is gone. He has a pipe dream, though. Many years ago, he and Debbie met an elderly couple traveling from South Carolina and, true to form, invited them over for dinner. They swiftly became friends and Larry took them out to a cabin he built on a small island 21 miles out towards the Atlantic. They had a wonderful time and returned to visit again several years later. The friendship endured until the couple passed away. But Larry still remembers how happy they were to visit, their smiles as they disembarked on the island. Their excitement made him feel good. He thinks he could give other visitors the same experience and, perhaps, turn into a highly personalized adventure tour guide. He could host from his house, use his own cabin, boat, or quads. He and Debbie have been going into remote areas of the woods for their entire lives and they are masters of the forest picnic. "She's a great cook," he says with a smile, "and I've got something of a reputation in he area for being able to build wilderness privies with a view!" Larry certainly has the charisma and the experience to make a fabulous host, but he is daunted by the marketing. He needs affluent Americans or Canadians who like eco-tourism of the grittier variety. "I wouldn't really know where to start finding these people..." There are other technicalities, too. "As a Christian, I would have to let them know that I don't allow alcohol in my house. And I don't think I would be comfortable with a homosexual couple staying here, either." He pauses and thinks. It is a complicated decision to weigh, a tremendous financial risk, and a minefield of potentially uncomfortable situations. The world teems with idiosyncratic people—opening the door to them as a business is very different from opening the door as a generous individual. But it could be fun. Yeah, it could be really fun. He scrunches one eye and ponders a rack of moose antlers hanging from the wall.


South Brook, NL

A low and impenetrable mist clogs up the fjords of Gros Morne National Park. It is so thick, so pervasive, that the landscape appears to have recently experienced a downpour. A pine branch sparkles, its needles covered in refracting orbs of water that magnify and distort the bulbous nose that will collide with them a few seconds later. The misty mis-en-place does not charm the moose, nor does the opaque air make its poor eyesight any worse. It is huge, indomitable, apathetic. Water droplets patter on chocolate-pudding earth as the animal vandalizes another tree with its face. It is difficult to believe that these creatures did not live on Newfoundland until a century ago, when they were introduced as a food source. While they have certainly become a food source, they seem to have turned the island's forests into their own food source and gotten the better end of the deal.

In the campground, a conversation about cultural differences under a sky so clear galaxies are readily seen. Similarities between the United States and Canada are so extensive that differences become all the more interesting. Is it fair to generalize about national characters? Do Americans have a darker outlook? Are they morbidly fascinated by dreams of apocalypse and judgement? Is this fixation unhealthy or do are they realistically appraising a declining nation, a threadbare morality, and a poisoned environment? Why don't Canadians seem to be talking about millenarian disasters? "I don't think it's any different," a Canadian says. "Not long ago, I got caught in traffic just underneath a railroad overpass. As I was stuck there, a train come overhead. Everything shook. You couldn't hear anything. And all I could think was: it's going to come off the tracks and fall on me. It's going to come off the tracks and crush me. And I'm stuck here in traffic."


Steady Brook, NL II

Where are the bumper stickers? The tasteless, righteous, squealing that adorns so many vehicles? Are their no angry eco-feminist-vegans in Canada? No belligerent Christ-thumpers? Why don't the semi's have printed pieces of cloth that resemble teeth strapped to their grills? Does nobody here support their troops? Where are the national flags? And the shallow political vitriol? Where is cartoon-Calvin kneeling at the cross or, alternately, peeing the words "Ex-Wife"? The cars are clean and bland. No mudflap babes, no antenna balls, no trailer-hitch balls.

A decision: to call the police on an ex-girlfriend, the bipolar mother of your child, the woman whose temper causes her to attack you as you are holding your infant son. You know that calling the police will be a declaration of war, a final termination of a dysfunctional entente. You know it will make seeing your son harder, at least in the short term. But you call them anyway because you fear that she will accidentally hurt the child. She is briefly detained. You are awarded a court order awarding you regular visitations but his mother evades you. Her phone whisks you to voicemail, her doorbell is unanswered and, when you intercept her at the doctor's office for your son's checkup you weren't invited to, she talks about leaving the provence. Was your decision the right one? In retrospect, you feel that there was no alternative... so you proceed with your newly hired lawyer.


Steady Brook, NL I

The day was hot by Newfoundland standards—85° and sunny, a welcome break from an unusually chilly summer. The temperature drops slightly around dusk and the islanders, wearing t-shirts and shorts saved for this very occasion, flock around the gas station at the foot of the mountain. The mountain is dark, faint outlines of ski lifts visible from the parking lot in the gloaming light. A small pod of Harleys thunders into the parking lot and their riders dismount and potter around waiting to be admired. More arrive, and then more. They are generally, but not exclusively, middle-aged. Men drive, women ride. Expensive branded outfits match bikes. Other bikes start appearing, younger, thinner people on insectoid crotch-rockets with their own panoplies of matching armor and helmets bright with decals of flames and skulls. A gangly neon-green chopper with a back tire so round it looks like a basketball becomes a locus of conversation. The large parking lot is full of bikers now, but the two subspecies do not intermingle. Engines rev, snorting and buzzing. Night descends and bikes start departing in small groups, racing onto the Trans-Canada Highway at dangerous speeds. Ten minutes later the parking lot is empty aside from a few cars parked in front of Tim Horton's for evening pastries. The bikes will return tomorrow.

The dilapidated Toyota 4-Runner pulls up next to the bank of the river blasting a techno-remix of Santogold that nobody particularly wants to listen to. It's late, nearly midnight, and the adventure tour guides jump out the doors and hustle to pull two huge inflatable rafts out of the river. They laugh and verbally abuse each other as the flabby boats slide up the bank and onto their trailer. One, two, then a several kayaks and a canoe are heaped precariously on top of the rafts. Colorful ropes fly through the air, securing the mess of floating things to the trailer. The Toyota shudders to life, paddles bristling out its windows like oars, and the techno nobody wants to listen to blares. The transmission engages with a clunk and the vehicle and boats surge into the night. Adventure tours will be leaving early the next morning, and the next, and the next. They will be departing all day long until nine at night, at which point preparation will begin for the next day. But the guides are ebullient. They will work like fiends for the next three months until the cold banishes the tourists and then... they wait for next year.


Channel-Port-aux-Basques, NL

Middle Head is a granite tongue sticking out at the North Atlantic. Today, the Atlantic responds to the gesture with wind strong enough that it slightly flattens exposed skin, like gentle contact with a physical object. Its gusts are stumble-inducing, which pairs nicely with the jagged precipices on both sides of Middle Head. The sky is light gray to the north, dark and foggy around the sheer brown and green cliffs of the peninsula to the south. A neon rainbow of buoys convulses in foamy waters. Then, inevitably, the rain returns, a gradient of wetness going from shy drizzle to drunkenly uninhibited downpour.

The MV Caribou is named after the SS Caribou, a passenger ferry that sailed between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from the mid-1920s until the Germans torpedoed it in 1943. The commemorative plaques delicately waltz around this topic, employing the passive voice in reference to vague "enemy" U-boats. There are no conspicuously German tourists on this voyage, but they may be a larger traveling demographic than is apparent—perhaps they are on board, but are cleverly disguised as Albertans? It is not beneath them.

There are multiple yellow warning signs throughout the ship. They read: "No Crocs are allowed on the escalator!"


Ingonish, NS

The rain marches in from the southwest and treads heavily on Cape Breton Island. Dark pines, dark water, dark granite, dark skies. Gloom suits the empty landscape and causes the few white buildings to glow as if surrounded by a corona. The Trans-Canada parkway merges down to a thin, black hose of a road that winds through monotonous forest. Progressing east, the ambiguously Scotch-Irish accent becomes thicker and unpronounceable Gaelic place names appear on road signs. The quality of roadside baked goods increases proportionally as locals become indecipherable: tea cakes, oat cakes, molasses biscuits—all are world-class. Hitchhikers, unfazed by rain, walk along the highway, four pale Anglos and one determined-looking Native American with a warmup jacket and a black garbage bag. Along with one or two native curio shops, he is the only reminder that this isn't Scotland. The slop-slopping of his soggy boots on pavement resonates as a persistent tap-tapping on the inside of one's skull, a sound that banishes Celtic romance and darkens the landscape with a gloom surpassing the heaviest clouds.


Halifax, NS II

A decision: to try to make a living as an artist. Forgoing the 9 to 5 route was hard, not merely because of the personal financial risk, but because, well, kids. You know. Is it irresponsible to conspicuously attempt a career where you might not be able to provide the material comforts of life as fully as you might like? Stop. Flip that on its head. Is it irresponsible to be an unhappy parent? Which is worse for a child: an unhappy household or a frugal household? Ultimately, this is the decision. "I think of those airplane safety videos, the ones where they tell the parent to put their oxygen masks on first. If they don't do that, make sure they're okay, nobody will make it.

"I think this card cost me twenty dollars," and he holds up a piece of green plastic with a typically unflattering government mugshot. "It's provence by provence, so when you move to a new place you register... and that's kind of it." The piece of green plastic is a Canadian health care card. "If I was rich, I would probably buy supplementary insurance so I could go to America for specialty stuff—you guys have more advanced medical facilities. Not that ours our bad, we do lots of research on our own... but sometimes the waiting lists can be kind of long." At the microbrewery the sales tax is 15%. This does not phase him. Perhaps this is because he does not fear a sudden parental illness might bankrupt him and his family. He hears the story of The Mechanic in disbelief.


Halifax, NS I

There is a thin sinew of land connecting New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. The thick forests that dominate both provinces are on intermission here, replaced by rolling, tan grassland. A clump of red and white thorns bristle heavenwards, their signal lights strobing on and off in the distance. Normally, radio antennas are found in small groups, but this group is far larger, far taller. Black wires run from the apex of one antenna to the next, supporting a loose mesh a cables stretching from tower to tower. A batting cage for the gods? The world's largest driving range? 23 acre spider web? Thickets of satellite dishes surround the base of each tower, themselves surrounded by a tall, barbed-wire fence. An ice cube of a building with too few windows to be trustworthy sits in the center. The nerve center. The sort of building that explodes at the end of every action movie, a quick rack-focus shifting it into fiery bokeh while a threateningly attractive couple French kisses in the foreground. A sign appears. Radio Canada International. They are probably broadcasting insipid educational material.

"I mean, we have road rage, but it's not like anyone is going to get killed." They haven't traveled in the States much, but they have been on edge the few times that they have. "Some guy cut us off while we were driving and my dad was about to flip him off and I was like 'Stop it! Stop it! They might shoot us!' It actually like of scared me." Laughter. Pause. They say Detroit was scary. Detroit is scary. Detroit is also Detroit, one burned cinder worked into a larger, more colorful mosaic. Not to say that there aren't a lot of other burned cinders... After a tequila shot he says: "so, really now, do most people own guns?" Less so in the coastal cities but, yes, many do. After a tequila shot she says: "I heard LA is a war zone, like gangs and shootings everywhere." It's not. Compton, two decades ago, yeah. "We have lots of rifles for hunting, but you guys have mostly handguns, don't you?" Probably. "Why?" People are scared. "Why?" Pause. "Do you own a gun?"


St. John, NB

The Blueberry House is a large geodesic dome painted suitably blue and surrounded by large blue buoys, blue fences, and a blue mini-golf course. As you drive north on the last rutted stretch of Highway 1, numerous signs herald the Blueberry House, proclaiming it the center of global blueberry goodness. Between the bombast of the faded signs and the characteristically eccentric architecture, it seems like the sort of place that would be closed, as so many of the best roadside establishments are. Thankfully, this is not the case. Though its funkiness makes it appear like a child of the seventies, the Blueberry House is only a decade old, the dream of a local family of berry farmers. Inside, surrounded by shelves of kitsch treasures, the founder's son throws together a blueberry milkshake so brutally delicious it could be used to wean junkies off heroin. It actually tastes like blueberries, a flavor that is wholly different from the mealy or bitter off-season things marketed as "blueberries" in supermarkets. The shake is so good that it will ruin every other blueberry-themed snack for the rest of a person's lifetime, making a mockery of scones, muffins, and commercial ice cream. But the window for such deliciousness is short: "maybe a month?" the son says. "We can usually go for six weeks because we do all of our own processing here... ouch, ouch, ouch!" The blender's motor stops whirring and he lets go of the frosty metal blender cup and flails his right arm: "I think I just got a cold headache in my hand... I don't make these very often. Nobody really orders them." Back outside, the highway wanders to the northeast, escorted by red-green fields of lowbush blueberries. They look similar to a Scottish moor.

Fog camps out north of the Canadian border and the sunny afternoon evacuates to higher altitudes. Winter arrives with the fog and the air temperature plummets. Southern New Brunswick is a land of hills that are bulky rather than steep, hills so long and wide and low that they are closer to waves of land than hills. Towns are small and scattered, a few white houses and faded barns amidst dark expanses of pines and birches. But all of this is consumed by the particles of water vapor and the trans-Canadian Highway becomes a thin causeway through nothing and into nothing. It is a bright fog, shining like snow, necessitating sunglasses, but opaque all the same. Cars appear and vanish, becoming memories almost before they are perceived.


Seawall, ME II

You could probably count the full-time population of Seal Cove, Maine on your fingers, but the diminutive town harbors one of America's largest collections of brass-era automobiles. Early Fords are the only recognizable vehicles to the uninitiated, but the long corrugated metal showroom is filled to the brim with more exotic machines, many resembling carriages, some powered by steam. The craftsmanship reveals the small flaws and idiosyncrasies of human hands and is all the more beautiful because of it. Each car is accompanied by a plaque of technical jargon, but many contain accounts of the eccentric individuals behind the cars—overambitious bicycle fabricators, thrill-seeking sons of iron nail manufacturers, tinkerers, dabblers, and amateurs. About half of them seemed to have come from Ohio and western New England. Transmissions are bewilderingly different from car to car, each one necessitating the headache of learning to drive all over again. Each one requiring a different set of nonstandard tools to fix. Many of the sparkling vehicles were kept by the manufacturers on behalf of wealthy owners, only to be removed from the safekeeping of factory garages by trained operators. The breadth of experimental thought is both maddening and inspiring. More than anything else, it is different. These machines betray their age not so much by the primitivism of their mechanics, but by the vanished cultural sensibilities embedded in their very conception of use. They are ludicrous and grossly opulent, but they are also beautiful.

Lobster shacks are more common than gas stations on the drive into Bar Harbor. Tourist vehicles line the roads, their wheels sinking into soft dirt and grass at the roadside. "Do Not Block Driveway" signs adorn the gates of nearby residents, but they are largely ignored. The A-list shacks feature wide stone hearths outside, most of which have four tubs of boiling water embedded over the fire. Each tub is accompanied by a little, cone-topped smokestack and the whole ensemble appears like a filthy power plant seen from a distance. The afternoon is nearly over and the combination of steam and smoke hangs in the air like an amber cloud. A lobster cook emerges from one of the shacks, backwards hat on his head, smeared apron covering a dark t-shirt. He enters the glowing cloud and transforms into a black outline, a Godzilla-like figure towering over the power plant. The sun is lost behind pines, the last silhouetted image being of a monster angrily swinging a set of tongs.


Seawall, ME I

Brett's mammoth BMW motorcycle is piled high with metal cases and extra tires. Most people couldn't lift their leg up high enough to even get on his bike, much less to handle the machine comfortably on the dirt, but Brett is a towering figure with a knuckle-crushing handshake and a direct, self-confident manner of speech. As he explains his plans, he seems completely undaunted by their ambition.

This morning he left Boston, the first day of a year-long ride. First, up to Newfoundland, then a ferry to Labrador where he will ride the long, empty dirt highway into Quebec. Solo. Across Canada, Alaska, California, Mexico, Central America, around Columbia, and down to the tip of South America. From there? "I hope to fly over to Australia or Indonesia... we'll see how far I can get." He has been planning this adventure for a year and can afford to take a year off—the fruits of working for a Bermudan asphalt contractor. A few friends will join him for stretches here and there, but it is mostly his own project. "You know how it is with these things."

He meditates on his next motorcycle adventure. Perhaps a ride across Siberia? But first a motel and a conference call tomorrow. The BMW purrs quietly as it slices into turns down the road. May it be a long, safe road.

He is blogging. bhm007.wordpress.com


Portland, ME II

The Woman has closely cropped salt and pepper hair. Her dress is frumpy an ill-fitting black sports t-shirt, sweatpants, and pastel flip-flops. She repeats "come on, Thompson! Come on!" This does not make her insane—Thompson is, in fact, not coming on. Instead, he is putting his small pink nose up to a drainage pipe and wincing in disgust. She calls again and Thompson responds, trotting down the street after her. He is gray and black striped, thin, inquisitive. He is not on a leash. He gets sidetracked by a few scraggly weeds pushing through a crack in the sidewalk, a fixture of Portland's landscaping. "Come on, Thompson! Come on!" The Woman repeats this phrase every thirty seconds or so and the modulation of her voice is identical every time, like a message repeated from an airport loudspeaker. She stops and looks around as Thompson trots up to her and smears his facial pheromones on her ankle. She stares down at him blankly before resuming her slow walk down the street. Her call to Thompson is audible long after she rounds the corner, a monastic incantation between footsteps. Thompson is a very patient cat.


Portland, ME I

The door swings open with a bang: "I'll take a soggy," the Golfer says to nobody. His voice is unhurried, perfectly self-assured—the voice of a man accustomed to command. His eyes roam around the SnackShack, going from the wall covered in collegiate golf balls to the cooler full of brightly colored corn syrup. He seems to deliberately ignore the person behind the counter. The person behind the counter fetches him an ashen hot dog that looks closer to scat excavated by an archaeologist than food. "Would you like any condiments with that?" The Golfer is preoccupied under his white visor: "it's brutally hot today. Get me a Gatorade." The person behind the counter pulls red fructose from the refrigerator. "Ice?" the Golfer finally makes eye contact with the person and smiles pityingly. "Sure, I guess. God it's hot today." It is 85° with low humidity outside. The red fluid and gray meat tube rest on the counter and the Golfer is, once again, too preoccupied to answer the person behind the counter's question about condiments. His friend breezes through the door and is weirdly excited by the flaccid and perspiring hotdog. "Oh, I'll take one too, just don't tell my doctor!" If a grown man could titter, he titters. The two men grab a leather container on the counter, choose numbers, and roll out small numbered beads to determine whose tab the food goes on. "Would you like condiments?" The question is finally answered and condiments appear. Two sweaty pink faces appear at a knee-high window at the other end of the SnackShack. Caddies. They cannot enter the sanctum of the shack and must get their drinks outside. The Golfer and his friend Josh each other and drift out the door with neither a thank-you or a goodbye to the person behind the counter. They pay $36k a year for the privilege.

The Maine Welcome Center bristles with signs offering advice: suggestions of places to visit, dietary pointers, and germ-conscious admonitions against rooting through trash cans. The building is so armor plated with signage that its function as a welcome center is somewhat obscure. It is certainly obscure to the Cabby, a tall, dark man with a thick Caribbean accent wandering around the parking lot in confusion. His cab sprawls across several parking spaces, engine running, a wide-eyed Asian woman with thick glasses and a USA baseball cap pressed to the window of the back seat. "Do YOU know where Ex-eh-tah street is?" The Cabby's odd intonation conveys his sense of being lost more than he words do. A head shakes. He approaches a minivan full of Asian tourists and asks again, but their English is more fragmentary than his own and the conversation is quickly abandoned with smiles and shrugs. He approaches an elderly African-American man on a ride-on mower: "Hi Boss, you know where Ex-eh-tah street is?" The Groundskeeper shuts off the mower and they talk for a while and point in many directions. The mower starts back up and the Groundskeeper drives towards the Welcome Center, the Cabby following behind the puttering machine. They vanish through doors. The Asian woman continues to peer through the cab's window. She seems terrified but not angry. The cab has a Massachusetts plate. The airline ad on its roof clamors about cheap flights from Logan International. He is sixty miles, two states, and one toll booth away from home. The Cabby steps out of the Welcome Center laughing with the Groundskeeper: "this is Maine! This is Maine! Crazy, man!"

Fireworks explode over the Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine as a local orchestra saws out a few patriotic—and inaudible—grooves. The night is warm and mostly clear, a spectacular sunset making a perfect prelude to the colorful explosions. The promenade is standing room only for much of its length. Families and groups of friends stroll down the centers of closed streets on the hills above. Kids with glowstick bracelets and necklaces fence parents with LED-lit lightsabers. An explosion, a flash, and tentacles of gold dust stretch Earthwards through blackness. A man in a creaking lawn chair yells: "oh baby, this one's gonna be big!" Another man wearing athletic pants and a backward New England Patriots baseball cap bellows: "AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!" He is quickly told to clean up his language from a nearby mom who is, in all probability, his junior in years. "How about frick yeah? Is that better?" The mom's eyes narrow. "AMERICA! FRICK YEAH!" The fireworks end and the crowd siphons back over the hill to their houses and cars. People smile, laugh, and a few complain that the show was boringly long this year. Explosions continue on the ground, a few errant missiles of color flying across the sky at low angles. A steady orange glow appears and backlights a stand of pine trees. Fireworks resume at erratic intervals, blowing up close to the ground and setting more fires. A few faces in the receding crowd look back, but the crowd isn't interested in having a fiery disaster ruin their patriotic buzz. A siren wails in the distance.


Narragansett, RI II

The Biker stands next to his candy-apple red Yamaha cruiser in the parking lot of Iggy's Doughboys and Chowder Shack. He has square shoulders and a similarly square head topped with thick white hair. He gazes harshly through his bifocals and pushes his suspenders out slightly with his thumbs: "this country is going to hell and it's our own damn fault. We don't got common sense no more and it's gettin worse with every generation." His nasal Jersey accent is thick, but his bike has a Rhode Island plate. He continues: "I mean, these politicians break all the laws they pass—and we just keep voting them in and voting them in!" The Biker's rant flows smoothly, like it is well rehearsed, and his riding buddies roll their eyes and pretend to check their voicemail. "What's this Patriot Act all about, anyway? I mean, sure, it sounds good, fightin terrorism sounds good, but what kinda terrorist is gonna go through airport security when you got forty million Guatemalans running across the border? You think a trained terrorist couldn't get across? Think about it! There's no common sense!" Bored, one of his friends starts up a deafeningly loud Harley and opens the throttle. The Biker is forced to yell at the top of his lungs to be heard. "Come on, Frank! You just blew out my one good ear drum! But yeah, no Democrats, no Republicans, we need to vote in people who respect the Constitution! We need common sense!" Frank's Harley thuds impatiently and, moments later, The Biker caves to peer pressure and hops on his ride, their bikes careening into traffic with a deafening roar. Two miles later they will be talking to a police officer, presumably about something other than politics.

A decision: to change peer groups in high school, abandoning old friends who weren't the partying types, who didn't fit in with the athletic crowd. Initial hopes of living with a foot in two social worlds proved illusory—both cliques speak viciously about each other behind backs and their meanness is contagious. How to stay above the mudslinging? This is an ongoing problem. Impact of the decision: a better, more exciting social life. Regrets? Yes. Staying with the old crew would have lead to a greater sense of personal equilibrium. Was it worth it? Perhaps.


Narragansett, RI I

I-95 northbound flows like a pressurized hose delivering water to a fire. Vehicles flood out of Connecticut towards cramped, overpopulated beaches in Rhode Island, disregarding the comedically slow New England speed limits. RVs hurdle forward at eighty, swaying lightly like boxers shifting weight from foot to foot. Cars go faster. Four lanes solid and everybody tailgates and is tailgated. The Highway Patrol pulls over an overambitious BMW in the emergency lane and is promptly rear-ended. The stampede slows, but only for a moment. With one cruiser down and several attending to its rescue, the traffic accelerates as if liberated. Gas pedals thud onto floorboards causing engines to buzz like a flock of airplane-sized hummingbirds. Drivers with angry red faces honk and swerve and swear—furious haste to achieve congested oceanside relaxation.

The metallic flow crests a low hill and courses into a valley, slowing down too late to avoid the notice of the Highway Patrol skulking in the grassy median. Hundreds of pairs of red lights glow, rippling backwards down the freeway. Brakes squeak when, suddenly, the orange and white streak appears. Time decelerates faster than traffic. Hundreds of pairs of panicked eyes shift from the gray cruiser to the streak which is parallel to the car now, bounding frantically across the median. As deer go, it isn't the largest, but it is large enough. Sandwiched between eight lanes of noise and motion and machine-stink, the panicked animal flings itself into the metallic flow without hesitation. Legs extended in both directions, it miraculously gets across the first lane. Then it vanishes in front of a red truck and a motor home. The truck's nose dives and the motorhome kneels like an elephant as hot rubber tires lock and release and lock and release on sizzling asphalt. The thud is audible several cars back, over engines, through ear plugs. Chunks of deer and truck fly into the air, the majority of the animal cartwheeling over the truck and shattering against the blunt face of the RV. The traffic is moving slowly now and the red truck limps off the road. The deer's body lies in the third lane of traffic, its neck twisted around like a corkscrew, vacant eyes staring up at the silhouette of the motorcycle riding around its head. Traffic speeds back up, the motorhome rumbling forward nonplussed.

If, by some freak chance, the deer had survived its sprint, where would it have gone? The beach in Rhode Island? Perhaps a thicket of quiet trees surrounding a parking lot full of clinking, cooling engines.