Book review - Straddling the Hound - The Curious Charms of Long-Distance Bus Travel · 30 August 2016 by colin newell
When humanity first put one foot in front of the other and locked its gaze on the horizon, the force of curiosity and exploration would inevitably build nations.
Without a curious nature and desire to follow the sun, we would be an entirely different people living in an entirely different world.
Retired medical doctor, Trevor Watson, is one such 21st-century explorer who finds the attraction of the open road impossible to resist. At a very early age, Trevor would sit in his bedroom and gaze at a large full colour Mercator map; he would imagine ocean journeys between tropical outposts. These junkets would often involve ingenious plans to avoid pirates, bandits, and encounters with malarial mosquitos.
Responsibility and practical demands of life in the adult world settled in and Trevor (in a candid and wry admittance) reluctantly decided on a career in family medicine. It would be a wise choice since it created an opportunity to meet his lovely wife of 46 years and travel and work in some interesting corners of the globe. Being a family physician also led him to write a column dealing with health issues for several Canadian newspapers in the 1990s.
In Trevor Watson’s debut release, Straddling the Hound he takes us on a series of explorations into the American hinterland. He frequently integrates etymological and linguistic analysis of place names, regional personalities and the very industry and infrastructure of the open road.
The book has more substance and surprises than what you would expect at first glance. Straddling the Hound is a very satisfying reading experience – as page after page of first person travel observations reveals unflinchingly detailed explanations of place names, people and the regional origins of successful businesses that ultimately thrived because of travel.
As you would expect, a book about bus travel in North America is not all about smiling faces. This is not the simpler times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A journey on a trans continental bus is as much about discovering something new as it is seeing the seedier side of the American experience:
One chap particularly caught my eye; he was as stocky as can be; his neck must have been 20” around. He was, I imagined, Carlos “Chopper” Ramirez, out on weekend parole. He had cryptic messages tattooed on his neck and bald scalp. His head actually seemed suffused, as though it was about to explode. Oddly enough, he had – of all things – a huge golden polo medal hanging around his neck. I’ll bet you anything it was stolen, or maybe won in a knife fight.
I found myself drawing the curtains on my suburban home as I fell deeper and deeper into Dr. Watson’s first person dystopian vision of downtown America. That feeling would pass as the writing gave way to a folksier and journalistic treatise on the very fabric of America’s open road, its people, the itinerant among us and the many meanings of our journey.
Straddling the Hound is not just about the bricks, mortar, concrete and blacktop of our interconnecting matrix of highways that connect all the people in their varied splendour. Its also a fearless gaze at the strata of society. Dr. Watson takes us on a sojourn under the soiled fingernails and into the duffle bags of the every day people that ride the bus – heading home, leaving home, and often away from a temporary home. He flirts with often acerbic descriptions of frustrated employees and drivers of Greyhound. He explains the origins of highway-byway diners like Denny’s:
Denny’s was founded in 1953, in Lakewood, California, by Richard Jezak and Harold Butler. The original name was Danny’s Donuts, but a few years later was changed to Denny’s to distinguish itself from a competing chain called Doughnut Dan’s.
More than anything else Trevor Watson wants to achieve his mission; to find out about the very essence of the people that he encounters; to understand them and their history and their place in the modern world. It is, I think, the thirst for knowledge that powers, in part, the motivation of the (as Trevor describes himself) hodophiliac – someone who’s fond of or loves traveling.
Dr. Watson (Photo above) takes us on a dusty road trip leaving us significantly more curious about the world around us. I am very confident that readers of this blog would definitely enjoy putting on their traveling shoes and taking a ride on this bus. Copies of “Straddling the Hound” are available on Amazon.ca and also at Tanners Books in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia, Bolen Books at the Hillside Mall and Ivy’s Books in Oak Bay.
Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, who is constantly in search of a great cup of coffee and a good book to read.
A slight book review - Adventures in Solitude · 11 August 2016 by colin newell
One would hardly think that we could improve on the relative paradise of Kona, Hawaii – a coastal village often basking in a seemingly endless summer sun, caressed by a cleansing surf and feeling the gentle quiet of the off season.
Despite this perfection, we did. And we did it with a book no less.
And what better book than one that dishes out surprises and regional familiarity by the pail full.
As a Canadian West coast resident who grew up in the in-between zone of not quite country but not quite city life of Southern Vancouver Island, it felt familiar reading a comprehensive, compelling and honest tale of a young man’s coming of age in the blustery South West coastal region of British Columbia. This area, often so unflinchingly merciless, so physically and mentally challenging, was the backyard of my childhood.
Although I have never been in the heart of Desolation Sound, I have been in the region. One of the towns mentioned in the book, Lund, which is the gateway to Desolation Sound, was one of my last stops on many roads trips exploring the area. It is up the road a ways from Powell River at the end of a fully paved 6600 mile road that reaches all the way to Santiago de Chile. And yet, it is, has been and will always be the road less traveled.
I have been to similar places to Lund on Vancouver Island like Port Renfrew, Port Hardy, Telegraph Bay, Ucluelet and many, many others. They are the very fabric of this region and offer a glimpse of what life is like in almost complete isolation.
As pages rolled by I would soon come to realize how much of B.C. wilderness was in my own blood – ready to be relived and re-appreciated.
Adventures in Solitude chronicles the life (particularly the early child development) of CBC host and journalist Grant Lawrence – a fellow who comes across as a chatty and witty pop culture expert and music critic perhaps lacking the kind of depth and dimensionality I have come to expect from other more seasoned and elderly statesmen of Canada’s beloved public broadcaster.
So, imagine the delight of tucking into a randomly selected volume from Victoria’s premier bookstore Munro’s for the purpose of getting me through the fairly routine 5 hour flight from the West Coast to Kona, Hawaii and realizing that there was something truly great between these soft covers. Its resonance with so many hardy Canadians, in part, explains why the book has picked up so many accolades so quickly.
Because, for me, a slightly outdoors kind of guy, here was a story that resonated so deeply in my coastal consciousness that on some minute level I felt like parts of me were incorporated into the book.
Raised in a dissimilar vein to my own, Grant’s background was from tony West Vancouver where lawyers, developers and family money call home. Grant’s dad was a property developer of some note and success and happened upon a piece of land in B.C.‘s coastal wilderness at one of those “just at the right time” moments. Spending summer after bucolic summer in Desolation Sound, the Lawrence family found themselves becoming part of the regional history and folklore of the area.
I do not want to spoil the story though folks – you will have to buy a copy for yourselves. Any long time B.C. resident or Canadian that loves the outdoors and spent part of their formative years anywhere near the coastal wild of the West Coast needs to read this book.
This book reminds me of a really good non-fiction version of a Doug Coupland novel – and I hope that neither of the authors find this insulting because I think Coupland is utterly brilliant – and of course as a British Columbian I relate to his work as well.
And another important lesson for me revealed – having figured out that Grant Lawrence was more than the sum of some City parts…
Never judge a Man… or a Book… by its cover.
On location in Kona, Hawaii – I am Colin Newell.
Are you ready? Chapter One · 9 April 2015 by colin newell
It is 2:22 AM on the dot when the ground starts to move in Victoria. You are sleeping soundly in your bed and, initially, the noise and vibration doesn’t fully awaken you. Like emerging from an under water dive, you gasp at first as you reorient yourself to the full reality of being awake. By now 10 seconds has passed by and the side to side movement appears to be intensifying. You are now fully aware as the thunderous grinding noises of earth and rock pitched against each other unfold. Everything moves helplessly atop this geologic canvas in a way that is at once fully terrifying and at the same time cartoonish.
Everything that is not tied down is being thrown around as if in a childhood toy box. And now, you are just one of the toys at the mercy of forces both devastating and unseen.
You roll out of bed trying to stand up and as you reach for some clothing in the darkness, you realize that you control nothing – you are entirely at the mercy of this event. It starts and ends when it is good and ready. Through the window and in the street power poles pendulum back and forth, whipping power lines taut. They fracture, power transformers hum, flash and explode in a shower of sparks.
Before you know it you are pushing your way to the front door of your home, oddly still standing, its corridors littered with a lifetime of personal possessions. Common sense mixed with a supreme quantity of fear and dread set in. You remember some of the things you have heard about earthquakes, how most of the injuries occur while fumbling around in the minutes following the shaking. Much to your astonishment, you discover that you have pulled on a pair of shoes because it is a good thing: the floor of your home and the outdoors are layered with broken glass. It’s everywhere.
The suburb where you live has just been hit with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 – the shaking lasted 27 seconds which seemed like much more. As you look around you are struck by the normality of everything on first glance. Nothing fell over, you think. As your hearing starts to kick in amidst the darkness and chatter of neighbors emerging from their homes, you take stock of your immediate surroundings. In the distance you can hear the hiss of broken gas lines, the report of people calling to each other, and even the sound of terror – those alone, staggering into the street wondering what is next.
Your earthquake check list is well established in your head. You instinctively reach for your tool kit that you keep in your car (and an extra set in the garage) and shut off the gas main to the house. Thankfully, there is no water rushing into the street as evidenced by a ruptured water main. Even though you are almost frozen with fear, you keep moving and pushing yourself through the experience.
Your check list scrolls in your head:
a.) Water… got at least a weeks worth in bottles (and lots of beer!)
b.) Candles… check c.) dried food… (enough for a dozen or so neighbors for a week!)
d.) first aid kit… check e.) shelter… house is still standing. It’s summer and I have a 4 person tent. Excellent.
f.) Radio. You grab it on the way out of the house. It’s tuned to a local AM station and has fresh batteries.
The local radio station is running on emergency power. This is your first and primary way of assessing what has happened on a broader scale. Your cell phone is currently a paper weight overloaded by panicked 911 calls and toppled towers. As you divide your attention between the crackling radio and the downtown horizon in the distance, you are overwhelmed by the site of a rising orange glow over the city.
To be continued
Colin Newell is a writer, technician and advocate for emergency preparedness – who is, more or less, prepared for anything nature can throw at him.
We interview jazz diva Maureen Washington - home at Christmas · 11 December 2014 by colin newell
Bonus audio interview |
It was a windy and wet Thursday night at Habit Coffee & Culture on Yates Street at the Atrium in downtown Victoria when we spoke with the lovely Maureen Washington – Jazz singer, mom of five, vocal coach, and mentor.
Born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia, Ms. Washington draws upon roots in frontier Canada with connections to Mississippi. The granddaughter of a musician, a singing cowboy no less, her musical fabric draws upon influences as diverse as Etta James, Holly Cole, and (to my ears) a very young Momma Thorton.
There is a certain purity, drive and laser focus in the work of Ms. Washington that defies explanation. It’s visceral, heartfelt, uncompromisingly grounded and targeted directly at the heart.
Some of the greatest music of all time is born of pain and is germinated and cultivated in disparity and conflict. Examples include some of the best works by the likes of The Police, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and others. Ms. Washington has certainly had her share of challenges but she processes life differently than most of us. She takes life’s most unpredictable curve balls and turns them into positivity. She then distills that positive energy into a musical phrase and the amalgam of this life experience is a beautiful sound, boiled down to its rhythmic essence. For the ears and the heart, it’s a wonderful thing.
Our conversation moved towards Christmas and why, according to Ms. Washington, “it’s the best time of the year and the toughest time of the year.” Her voice takes on a very special strength when tackling some traditional and seasonal material, as it does in her latest Christmas album (available over on CD-Baby). What could have been a painful journey is, in fact, a love story to her husband, her family and the world around her. In her latest CD, “Christmas Is…” Maureen Washington offers up a compendium of seasonal favorites. When taken as a whole, it illustrates a woman’s journey through adversity, guiding us into the now and is a pure celebration of the moment.
I love the overall sound of this CD. It has timeless classics delivered by a skillful vocalist. Ms. Washington comes across as everyone’s next door neighbor during a time of need with a hug and a hot cup of coffee on a snowy Christmas eve.
Ms. Washington is an artist to watch and performs locally and throughout British Columbia. You can visit her webpage over here. Catch her while you can!
Listen to the interview |
Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.
Katie and a world of cards. · 29 November 2014 by colin newell
Katie is a lovely 18 year old girl who has Cerebral Palsy. Together with her mom, Sue, they have been making stamped cards since 2007. Prior to receiving assistive technology, Sue used to help her daughter stamp the images on the cards.
Katie has a head controlled stamping machine made for her four years ago by CanAssist. She is now able to stamp the images for her cards through a switch control using her head.
Card making is Katie’s thing and it brings her great joy. She loves making cards and sharing them. Making and selling cards has given her a unique way to connect with people in the community. Additionally, this also allows Katie to give back to the community with the profits from her cards.
Katie has recently had hip surgery which has taken her out of card making commission.
Mom Sue and some of the neighbors put their heads together to see if they could come up with a plan to brighten her recovery. Sue suggested, “Since Katie will not be making cards for a couple weeks, I thought that it would be amazing if bright, beautiful cards made their way to her. Near and Far.”
“We have a world map up. Her sisters will open up the cards and we can mark on the map were they have come from. We have also created a box of inspiration. When someone sends a card if they could put in a single button or piece of ribbon – something cute that Katie can put on a card… That would be great. Once she is back to making her cards she will then have pieces of inspiration from everyone to put on her cards.”
“Please mark on the back of the cards were they are from. I know that Katie will want to look at each and every one for years to come. We are going to put the world map up in her room so she can always see it.”
If you feel like sending a card to Katie, which would be awesome, send them to:
6898 Central Saanich Rd.,
Katie thanks you!
Vinyl Tap Stories - Randy Bachman - A book review · 5 October 2014 by colin newell
If you were as lucky as I was, young and impressionable, growing up in the mid-sixties – you were about to face down a musical and cultural revolution like no other in Canadian history. And if you were fortunate enough to be of that delicate age and being raised in Canada, you were most definitely in the front row seats for dramatic change, evolution, and revolution where everything the establishment held dear… would be turned on its ear…
At least for a while.
That was the mid-sixties. Growing up in the relatively idyllic confines of the West Coast on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island, a kid like me was surrounded by change – coming at me from all directions. And like any other kid growing up in Canada, our soundtrack was AM radio and Black and White television. And at the time, the AM radio generally got in way more of our attention than the TV.
TV for us, was restricted to the handful of channels we could pick up from a roof top mounted antenna system. And as I recall, we could pick from the following: Channel 2 (CBC Vancouver), Channel 4 (ABC Seattle), Channel 5 (NBC Seattle), Channel 6 (CHEK Victoria) – Channels 7,8,9 would come in depending on the weather conditions – and channels 11 and 12 (CBS Bellingham) would pretty reliable as well. In the 999 channel Universe in which we live, that would seem pretty limiting, but in fact, it was everything.
The TV may have provided the news (often grim reports from Vietnam, global strife in the Middle East, and rioting in the streets of America…) but it was the AM radio that provided the background music, the driving rhythm of our lives. It touched me. It touched every kid of every stripe anywhere in Canada. The CBC and independent AM radio would guarantee that. It was on a portable AM radio that I would tote with my everywhere where I would first hear the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Doors… and soon, very soon, Canadian popular music!
AM radio in the mid-sixties was generally all American and British all of the time. From time to time one would hear a Canadian artist on the radio but they were generally not identified as such – because it was not cool to be Canadian. It would be the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, David Clayton-Thomas, Ian and Sylvia, Niel Young, and many others in turn who would change the very ways we perceived ourselves as Canadians and how we forged a place for ourselves in the global music experience.
In Randy Bachman’s uncompromisingly complete “Vinyl Tap Stories”, he outlines, with impeccable and unrelenting detail, his journey, key role, partnership and often incidental participation in so much of the 60’s (and 70’s) mosaic. It was, after all, Randy and his musical partner Burton Cummings, who would musically score the theme music to every Canadian kid’s life between the age of 4 and 24 in the late sixties. Their songs, along with hit after hit by Gordon Lightfoot became part of our fabric, woven into our very nature, defining us as creative and sentient individuals… Canadians all!
Randy’s style, it should be noted, it not particularly dry or clinical – His easy going repartee is that of a story telling uncle… everything in no particular order… but his historical accounting is generally dictionary perfect with lots of “Hey, even I didn’t know that!” twists and turns at the end of many of his accounts.
Randy establishes, early on, that with a lot of hard work, sobriety, faith, dedication and unflinching focus (and a little actual creative talent thrown in…) that even a kid from Winnipeg (and some friends) can put it all on the line and make something big for themselves, and ultimately their fellow Canadians.
And they did. And the Guess Who would put Canada on the map of global cultural history and the history of rock for all time. In later incarnations of Randy Bachman’s musical vision (with the likes of the bands Brave Belt and Bachman Turner Overdrive), he would create music that was shoe-horn fit-perfect for the next generation of kids being raised on radio rock and roll.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is not just a book about the work of The Guess Who – it is a wonderful read on the important history of Canada’s place in the counter cultural mind-set of the time. Furthermore, Randy reveals the many influences that every other successful English and American artist had on him and his Winnipeg based musical collaborators. There are even passages about how Antonín Leopold Dvořák (a late 19th century Czech composer) influenced one of his songs!
Randy Bachman is one of very few, if any, important artists in our time that reveals the inner secrets of so many of these great songs – how they came into being – the moments of their conception and so on. If you are a music lover or practicing musician (as I am…) you will love the sweetness of each and every reveal.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is a welcome addition to my “Canadian heavy” musical library and a perfect companion piece to his tireless radio program “Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio. Enjoy!