“What’s that again?”
“There’s a folk music festival up-island. Three nights. We can camp out.”
I like all kinds of music, but three days of folk music surrounded by a crush of really old hippies…? Just the lines for the port-o-potties alone…
“How much are the tickets?”
My friend, Crusty, responded with a number that seemed impossibly high for an event that involved sleeping on the ground. I recalled that Crusty had once tricked me into overpaying to attend a James Taylor concert (when James was touring with half of the band from The Blues Brothers movie and thought he was bluesy — he’s not).
“I’ll head back to your place in Victoria, eh? You and your bride go have a good time. Plus, I have to pick up Thing #2 when his ship returns.”
I was in Canada primarily for Thing #2’s sailboat trip of a lifetime, originally scheduled to happen while we actually lived in Canada but, well, COVID. So, while Bride #1 and Thing #1 messed about in the US, I got Thing #2 on his ship and then went fishing with my friend, Crusty.
The weak point in this plan was my lack of a working phone. Bride #1 declared that she needed our phone that would work in the US, and Canada. With the confidence that comes from the fact that it wouldn’t affect her (only me), she told me it wouldn’t be a problem. If there was an issue aboard the ship the sailboat people could call Crusty.
My lack of interest in folk music festivals meant that I’d be back at Crusty’s place for several days with nothing to do but write. Crusty could, theoretically, email me if disaster occurred as I’d have WIFI at his place.
With that as a backdrop, I got up early about five days into Thing #2’s big trip and departed the spot Crusty and I had claimed as our base for fishing. I’d left my credit card at a store in a small town, Ucluelet, when I bought various things for our fishing outing there a few days before (the older I get, the more stuff falls off of me when I travel).
I arrived at the Co-op Food Store and made my way to the administrative office in the back to claim my card. The very nice lady there (shame on me for forgetting to ask her name) had said she’d have it waiting for me when I called.
Sure enough, when I pushed my large head into the open part of the Dutch door she appeared with my card. As I was tucking it away, she coughed uncomfortably.
“Um, your friend wants you to call him.”
She handed me a pink post-it note with Crusty’s cell number. I’d just left him two hours ago. He knew where I was going, but why would he call the store?
“Uh, ok. Thank you.” I stood there with a curious look on face for a beat then added, “I’m sorry, I don’t have a working phone.”
She glanced at the phone I’d laid on the counter.
“Oh, we live in Costa Rica, and my wife has our phone that works here.”
Her eyebrows raised slightly but, as a testament to just how trusting and wonderful a person she is, she put her iPhone on the counter and pushed it towards me.
“Please just use mine. And you don’t have to stand here. Please feel free to go wherever you need for privacy.”
Her generosity shamed me and the thoughts I’d immediately had about how bad an idea it was to hand someone your iPhone and turn them loose.
“Oh, no ma’am. Thank you. I don’t know why he called but I’ll call him from right here.”
She smiled. I dialed.
Crusty answered moments later.
“They threw Thing #2 off the boat. Covid. You’ve got to pick him up.”
My brain digested none of that information. He repeated it.
“Pick him up where?”
For those not intimately familiar with Vancouver Island, Campbell River, much like where I stood in Ucluelet, is a four-to-five-hour drive from Victoria. Unfortunately, Campbell River is on the east side of the quite wide island, while I was on the west.
“You’re going to want to call this lady, Kurstin.”
“She’s another one of the parents. Her daughter has COVID too. Kurstin already left Victoria and is on her way to Campbell River.”
My head spinning, I tried to come up with a plan. I could hear the smile on Crusty’s face. Like many, he finds my lack of luck refreshing.
I hung up with Crusty, begged the nice Co-op lady for one more use of use phone, and dialed Kurstin.
“Hi, is this Kurstin?”
There was an uncomfortable pause. “This is Kristen. Who is this?”
Crusty is fond of strong spirits and does his best work after noon (but before 5:00). His casual mishandling of her name started me off on the wrong foot with a woman who clearly did not want to be called Kurstin.
I apologized for many things, including quite a few that had nothing to do with me, and explained that I was Thing #2’s dad – and that he too had been kicked off the ship.
“And where are you?”
Another uncomfortable pause.
“And why are you calling me?”
That was a hell of a question. Crusty had failed to mention how he’d come across Kurstin/Kristen’s number. I assumed the sailboat people had told him.
With the nice Co-op lady staring at me, and her phone, I launched into an overly long explanation of how my wife wouldn’t let me have our phone that worked in Canada, so I was in Ucluelet picking up my credit card but really needed to find my son. Several other store employees began hanging out near me. I was the most interesting disaster to happen in days, if not weeks.
Kristen, to her credit, skipped past the many thoughts she must be having and just said, “Fine, I’ll get him when I pick up my daughter.”
We then tried to solve for the equation of how I could eventually find Kristen, and Thing #2 – not easy with no working phone. Kristen once again stepped up and said she’d bring Thing #2 to Crusty’s place in Victoria. I thanked her profusely, ignored questions in my head about whether or not the sailboat people would release my COVID-stricken son to a woman he didn’t know, and prepared to drive four-and-a-half-hours with no ability to contact the outside world.
I hung up, took a deep breath to calm my nerves, and handed the phone back to the Co-op lady. She shook her head and passed another post-it to me.
“You may want to call them too. I didn’t know how to bring it up.”
I looked at the post-it. Above the phone number it said “RCMP” – Royal Canadian Mounted Police for those of you not familiar. One of the other employees was now hanging out with me on my side of the Dutch door, a big grin on his face.
“Um…why do I need to call the police?”
Co-op lady smiled sheepishly and said, “I don’t know, but they called for you.”
Many thoughts ran through my thick head. Crusty had made a cryptic comment about watching out for the RCMP. Had he called them and told them to pull me over and deliver the news regarding Thing #2? And maybe most importantly, why had the Co-op lady given her phone to a guy who she knew was “of interest” to the police?
I decided nothing good could come of further introspection and dialed the number. There were now several Co-op employees eavesdropping. I didn’t blame them. I too wanted to know what the hell was going on.
A woman answered. Knowing that I needed to get in my rental and speed back to Victoria to meet Kristen and, hopefully, Thing #2, I sped through a quick explanation of who I was, why I was calling, and what I was about to do.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
I shared a glance with the Co-op lady, who smiled conspiratorially.
“I apologize. I was just told to call this number. I don’t know why I need to talk to you either.”
I couldn’t have said anything worse. The RCMP was now fully engaged. They wanted to get to the bottom of everything, and they wanted to do it now – when I needed to be driving to Victoria.
“Sir, if you could start at the beginning. I please need your full name and contact information. I then need the details regarding your son and this woman you said is driving him to Victoria.”
We went back and forth for a minute. All I could think was that I needed to be driving, and how convoluted my answers were to basic questions like “where do you live” and “how long have you lived there?”
“Ok, let’s focus on a few things. This Kristen lady, what is her last name?”
“I have no idea.”
“And how do you know her?”
“I don’t. Her daughter was tossed from the same ship.”
“And you’ve given permission to someone you’ve never met – a person you know only as Kristen – to pick up your son and drive him to your friend’s condo in Victoria?”
That really sounded bad. It was bad.
The rest of my conversation with the RCMP was no better. I finally convinced them that I had to go drive like hell – but under the speed limit as far as the RCMP was concerned – if I ever wanted to see my son again. I was released.
The Co-op employee crowd seemed like they were about to applaud as I laid the phone down on the counter and thanked them all. I ran from the store to my rental car. It didn’t take much to notice that a giant RCMP SUV sitting next to it.
“Marshall Cobb?” The RCMP officer opened his door and blocked my way.
“Um. Yes. Can I help you?”
“I don’t know, Sir. I have a request to find you and make sure you call a friend of yours because your son has been evicted from a ship on the east side of the island.”
I blew out a long breath.
“Yes, Sir. I actually just spoke to your office. It’s all been handled. I’m on my way to pick up my son now.”
“You spoke to my office?”
“I think so. I spoke to someone with the RCMP.”
The officer leaned back into his SUV and typed something on his laptop. He grunted, typed again, and then emerged.
“I’m not seeing it. Do you know who you spoke with?”
I silently went through the long list of people I’d spoken with over the last few minutes – most of whom I’d never met and few I could even assign a name.
The officer sniffed, then lost interest. “Ok, go get your son. Is there a number where I can contact you if there are any other questions?”
He didn’t like my answer any more than I liked giving it.
About four and a half hours later, sitting out in front of Crusty’s place, I met the wonderful Kristen, her sad and sick daughter (Sabrina?) and Thing #2. Thing #2 was shoeless, angry and unable to speak as his throat had swollen shut. Any questions I asked (for example, “Where are your shoes?”) were met with wild arm movements and absolutely no information.
I insisted that the amazing Kristen take money to cover her gas, wished her daughter well, and brought my COVID-laden son inside for a nice bit of quarantine. Three days later, likely due to the filthiness of Thing #2, I too fell victim to COVID. Effectively, this ended my attempt at a Canadian vacation (Bride #1 and Thing #1 continued on, unimpeded).
Should I actually make it home – no guarantee with the recent performance of Air Canada – it will probably be a minute before I ever again agree to leave. And so it goes.