Margaret Mole 22-01-09
Casa Loma, the most absurd of castles in the country sits perched on Austin terrace at the north end of Spadina Rd. It and its builder Sir Henry Mill Pellatts, facing the great depression, saw a reflection of themselves as plus sized examples of the times, standing, staring, insatiable and unsustainable at the brink of collapse. They would later be reborn as a prominent Toronto tourist attraction, a haven for trigger happy Japanese teen travellers, and a burden on the taxpayers of Toronto.
As I timidly turned the crank of the press I stared into the hopper. Pennies, hundreds of them, each one sporting the inscription, “IN GOD WE TRUST” and a depiction of Abraham Lincoln on the opposing side. I guess they were pulled from the cash box, deemed unsuitable for change at the ticket booth of such a great Canadian landmark. I turned the crank over and over watching the giant gears churn until I felt the resistance of the American copper squashed as the die rolled out the new image. I forced the last turn. She was swifly born into the little plexiglass tray on the side of the machine, a longish-oval, squashed American penny. On one side an indiscernible off-centered depiction of a knight in shining armour, and the words “Casa Loma Toronto Canada” crawling around the edges. On the other side, a now longish, somewhat smeared depiction of the profile of former President Lincoln and the barely readable date 1972, the year of my birth.
The phone lit up with all the usual pomp and ceremony including flashing lights, buzzing and call display showing clearly the name of the head of the Human Resources department, Robin M. Wark.
“Please come to my office” Reminiscent of the voice of god when he brought the news to Noah.
There was to be no surprise, there was a slight feeling of denial, mixed with a feeling that freedom was right through that door. I walked in and sat down. Like standing alone at the peak of a great mountain surrounded by rock cairns, and flags and notes left by past climbers, a feeling that you could continue climbing right over the desk without saying a word, stepping gingerly on her head, she was my friend afterall. Then ascend toward the heavens. However there undoubtedly was only one way to go from the 3rd floor offices of 70 Bond St. Straight down, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
It was brief and then it was done. Victim seven of ten, fallen into the crevasse that was the ever widening recession of 2009. We trickled into the Imperial Pub across the street as the afternoon wore on. The proprietor offered corresponding pitchers of beer as our numbers increased. Some of those that skirted the cull came to join us, they were welcomed to sit with us in solidarity. The air was light with relief for me and heavy with worries for others there would be no more waiting, there would be no more worry. It was done and we had been set free into the world, in some strange way together.
It was Jan 19th the eve of a day we all knew would be written into history, the inauguration of the 44th president of the U.S.A. Not even our political leader, but a momentous occasion nevertheless. I had wanted to go, but had been advised that it might not be the best of times to be out of the office, as we were all well aware something was about to go down.
It had been written, and told, that my services were no longer needed and I was free to go. After a quick drink and some words of support I headed out with a clear path in front of me.
I went home and gathered my things and made my way to the covered parking spaces of the monster Loblaws on St. Claire, I knew how this was done, I had in fact been a teenage rebel once. Early model American, realible and conspicuous. An 88 Olds delta 88, my lucky number, twice. With the good fortune of a broken door lock and my very large screwdriver I managed to crank that puppy over and cruise comfortably down the ramp and begin my adventure south. Maybe not the most honorable of choices but effective never the less. Deep breathing eased the adrenalin rush and I headed straight through town, southbound. First stop Buffalo NY.
The border crossing was easy. I was not alone in the pilgrimage to the Capital, and the border guards were proud that the Canadians were as excited as they were about the coming of a new President; and really, how much harm could I inflict when my plans included going to the city with the highest concentration of national guard in history next to New Orleans during the Katrina disaster.
500 miles of dark and lonely highway, The snowstorm kept the speed down but there was no rush, Obama didn’t go on until 11am that was at least 15 hours away. I would have time for a nap and sleep really wasn’t in the cards anyway. There really is not much interstate after Buffalo until you get close to D.C. itself so it was slow going but nice to be in America, not just speeding down a strip of pavement with no connection to where you are at all. Hours along snowy winding highways, byways, turn pikes and routes, from time to time stopping in at what would become my favorite watering hole, “Sheetz” service station and coffee bar, 8 flavored coffees to choose from “and we make fresh pots every 20 minutes even if no one has drank a cup” the clerk cheerfully proclaims. A pack of Kool Box 20’s and a couple of “tree” air fresheners, ahhh minty freshness. It had been some time since I had smoked in a car, I was feeling bad-ass and living up to that reputation. Well, as bad-ass as you can get smoking menthol.
The road was long and dark and lonely, the radio muttered to itself in the background and I concentrated on the drive. I had no plan, but had procured a couple of road maps and yesterdays paper with all the “inauguration day pullouts”, parade route maps, schedules, and interesting historical tidbits. Surviving on cinnamon bun swirl flavored coffee and Irresistible brand dark chocolate chunk cookies I sought nothing more. There was no sense of urgency no anxiety or anticipation, just a cold dark calmness awaiting the dawn of a new day and a new age.
150 miles to go and nothing will keep the sleep away, I pull off into the darkest town I can find, no strip malls, no franchised fast food restaurants. Houses, a community center and a church with a sign that read “the light of the world knows no power failure“ I chose the church, I was in fact in need of forgiveness having broken one of the ten commandments, I somehow felt I would one day right this wrong. I parked in the back, put on my coat and hat, layed the seat out as far as it would go and tried to sleep.
It took about thirty minutes for the extreme cold to penetrate the glass and steel of the rusting Olds, I warmed her up and slept for another hour. Time to go I still had no idea how to get into town. As the sun rose on what would be a crisp bright day in the Capital, the last leg of the drive was glorious, as dawn ascended, revealing the absence of snow and the simple beauty of rural Maryland. Rolling hills and farm-houses.
Follow signs for Washington.
I turned into an upscale, rural, residential neighborhood about 5 miles out of town, you know, the kind with the big Victorian homes and large estate type lots. Guided by the sun, I had no idea where I was going. I pulled into a service station where a car with two state troopers was parked and went in to ask for directions, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was driving a stolen car. The only trouble the 88 gave me was an unwanted attention getting screeching fan-belt when it was started cold.
After a little back and forth from the state troopers and the service station attendant it was clear that the troopers had no idea what was going on but the service station attendant did and he dictated a curious list of directions to the nearest suburban metro station, The only way into the city.
I followed the cops out of the station, hopped in the car, and did my best to hide the fact that I was starting it with a screwdriver. They were so busy fumbling with their zippers I probably could have driven off with their car. I pulled out of the service station and got to the 2nd of the 17 directions I had been given, and found another of the many roads that had been blocked with state troopers and their cars and, in this case, a snowplow, they were obviously very serious about keeping people out of the city considering there was no snow to be seen I felt it was a good use for an out of work snowplow and I will add, quite intimidating. I followed the sun.
I eventually stumbled upon an enclave west of the city known as Court House, well that’s what the Metro station is called so that’s what I’ll call it.
I went down into the cavernous Metro station and bought my ticket, return. Boarded the train; which was not very full and trained it into town.
Soon after leaving the platform there was announcement that recommended passengers disembark the trains at Foggy Bottom Station, a couple of stops before Metro Center due to the very high volume of riders that were causing severe congestion in the stations. I was more than happy to walk the mile to the Lincoln Memorial, where I had planned my visit would officially begin. After having been seated in a car for the past 14 hours, my legs thanked me.
This would prove to be a record day for the Washington metro with a shattering million plus riders. Only one person got pushed onto the tracks from the overstuffed metro platforms, I never heard if she made it though.
Upon arrival at the memorial after a pleasant stroll in that nations capital and having been adorned with various buttons, pins, flags and other inaugural paraphernalia I walked calmly toward the memorial. As I got closer, I was touched by the plethora of what I believed to be volunteers saying “good morning” to everyone that passed, there were so many that even the not volunteers began doing it until it was this massive button decorated walking parade of smiling faces of hope genuinely saying good morning to everyone else. With the sun in our faces the buttons and flags and the hope of a new day, we could ask for nothing more.
I walked up the steps of the memorial, crowded with inaugurationists calmly waiting for the address from a man, the next president, that would be standing nearly a mile away but directly in front of them, obscured not only by the distance but by the massive Obelisk commemorating Washington that stands between the two. I cannot explain what it meant for them to be in that particular place directly between Lincoln and Obama but no one questioned it. Everywhere along the national mall people packed into the middle like some force was to radiate in a line from Obama through the obelisk to the statue of Lincoln. There was a wonderful sense of peace, kindness, joy and calmness.
I walked up one side of the memorial steps where they had left open a path and stood under the familiar statue of Abe in his very large chair, stood for a moment and began to weep. Not sure why, I guess I was just tired, turned to my left and slowly read his first inaugural address that was carved into the stone of the wall beside his statue when a weight fell upon me and I realized that coming here was going to be a bigger moment for me than I could have imagined.
I did not stay long, I politely asked woman to take my picture, turned and gingerly descended the steps into the sunshine on my way toward the Capital.
I knew I would not make it to the capital building, “I had no ticket” it was a gargantuan understatement that only one who attended could understand. There was no need to “get close” at an event of this magnitude even a mile away was close enough.
I walked along the north side of the reflecting pool in the sunshine along with thousands of others toward the National WWII Memorial. There was a great density of people here, it was not the best of viewing points as it was low ground, but it was an important place for people to gather on this day, the memorial fulfilling its purpose as memorial. The people in its embrace, remembering. Emotion was in the air and it was dense, again I was overwhelmed. An hour and a half is just not enough sleep I tried to tell myself but that was not it at all. I had come to a place that was remembering the people of a nation that gave their lives for the freedom of my mother, my father and their families, and I recalled very clearly the story my mother would tell about the day the Americans drove through their village after the war had been declared over, and gave chocolates to the children including her. I quietly thanked the people of this nation and especially the ones who had died in the fight for the freedom of my family, then I continued toward the Capital.
I stood in front of the Washington monument, and listened.
And he spoke.
He spoke of crisis and challenges, of greatness and strength, of struggle, sacrifices and of journeys and diversity and of liberty and freedom. We listened all 1million 800 thousand of us and we hung on every word. I will never forget his voice from that day.
That evening I ate at a restaurant behind the Whitehouse surrounded by people who worked in Washington, they talked about him like he was a friend of theirs or at least a friend of a friend. He left the dinner he had been invited to and went out into the streets and walked with the people. One block from where I ate my steak and watched him on T.V. I didn’t feel like I had to run out to see him. People were happy, truly happy.
The city was grid-locked with pedestrians like I will never see again in my life.
I eventually made my way through the streets of Washington back to the car, I will never see so many people as I did that evening in the streets of any city. There was a great feeling of calmness around us.
I took my time and a couple of days coming home, took advantage of some recession priced lodgings along the way and how could I miss the Great Falls of Niagara! At night in the dead of winter.
I eventually returned the car back to the Loblaws parking lot and left it with a full tank of gas and $237 US in the ashtray (which I emptied and washed in the service station bathroom) and an “Obama 01-20-09” button pinned to the passenger seat headrest.
Then I walked home took a shower, went to get my coat from the drycleaners and on my way back stopped in to visit Casa Loma I had passed it every day on my way to and from work and I figured I might be leaving here soon and would not have the opportunity to visit it.
That’s how I ended up with my squished Lincoln penny with the year of my birth on one side and a weird representation of these days on the other. I will keep that penny in a box where I keep other odd things that jog memories of times that I felt were important in my life. And when I find it again or when I tell this story I will remember a time when I had questioned my ideals and the power of what I believed in only to be shown by so many that I was in fact on what I believe to be a righteous path and that I should continue, (except the part about the car of course) Amen. That is my story.