Author’s note: Part two in a series of recollections based on a trip to Sackville, NB the weekend of July 30-August 2 2010. Persons and events depicted herein are based in reality but names and details have been altered.
After showering and shaving (including scraping off that little bit of hair-growth from my usually bald head), I realized I needed to get myself a cheap travel alarm clock: while the year before I had the luxury of not worrying about waking up early the day I was to go back home, this year I had to make sure I caught the morning bus and made it back to Riverview in time for work on Monday. I already had to put a last-minute late start request in for that day. I’m probably paranoid about the whole thing but it always seemed like any type of concessions I sought with my job to allow myself to have a life outside of it were a huge imposition and I didn’t want to screw myself over.
A lot of the day really felt redundant, mainly because of repeated schleps to and from Campbell Hall. Stuff like getting that aforementioned alarm clock, insect repellant for my trip to the Waterfowl Park, and so forth. I didn’t want to be dangling a plastic bag all the time when I was at the shows, and there were times when I either left the dorm without my camera but then wanted it or I had my tripod with me for landscapes but didn’t want to lug it around in the tent. It probably would have done me good to draw up a loose schedule for going to shows and going to take pictures, but I preferred operating in a somewhat spontaneous manner.
Spontaneity was actually what marked my first trip to Sappyfest two years earlier. I had been interested in going the first two years it was held but work and financial obligations were bigger priorities for me then. What pushed me towards going was a blog post on my Livejournal friends feed that advertised just how wonderful and magical the festival and Sackville is. In most cases I dismiss the supernatural connotations as mere hyperbole, but for Sackville I definitely made an exception. I didn’t even bother finding a place to stay the night, which proved to be a foolish decision because it rained heavily at times and I ended up seeking shelter in bank ATM rooms and the covered bridge in the Waterfowl Park. I have no regrets about that though.
What really struck me about that trip is that this off-the-cuff thing in a limited window of time helped me connect with something vital inside myself, and I was more chatty, outgoing and social. I ran into Joris, the generous spirit whose path I had drifted back into late in my University days. He invited me up for some wine and company and we could hear the music waft up from Bridge Street. This was something I never expected to happen, and this chance meeting was something that defined the trip for me. Sadly, it would also be the last time I saw Joris alive. Later that night, I discussed at length about music and life with Lee, and this sense of connection I was experiencing for the first time in a few years was so present, so real, coming at a time when I was still trying to figure out how things I had learned about myself were going to affect my existing relationships with other people.
Running into other people I knew also reconnected me to a person that was slowly being ground out of me by a combination of a bad job and a lack of energy to socialize. But once that was over, I returned back into my routine. I got older. By the time I came back here I was dodging out of the crowds and trying to get out of conversations where I didn’t like the answers I was giving, full of rationalizations and veiled complaints. The crowds of bearded young men and countless girls in their uniforms of partially shaved heads and large Bailey Quarters-style glasses didn’t really invigorate me as I thought they did. I felt tired often, and kept going back to the dorm room and turning on the TV, hearing the jostle and footsteps of the couple arriving in the room next to mine. There was all this life outside that I was purposefully ignoring in favor of the same damn news items on CNN about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and the BP oil spill.
I did eventually crawl out of my room long enough to go down to the train station. I dawdled, stopping first at the swan pond and then slowly walking past the commotion and veering right onto Lorne Street. The further away I got from the centre of town, the more still everything became, and by the time I reached the station, you could hardly tell there was a music festival going on. I had my iPod, my camera and tripod, and spent a lot of time looking out over the landscape as the clouds became grayer and jazz guitar started coming up on my playlist.
I had another flashback to about five and a half years earlier. I was supposed to catch a train from that very station, but a terrible winter storm had reached Atlantic Canada, nicknamed “Winter Juan” after the hurricane that hit the region only a few months before. My train supposedly departed at about 4:30 but it got delayed for obvious reasons. It kept getting later and later, the snow paralyzing the town in the process except for a Tim Hortons by the highway, and by the time we found out that the train was stuck near Truro, NS and wouldn’t arrive until the next day, it was very late at night and I decided to stay in the station overnight rather than leave and have to trudge through the snow all the way back to my dorm room. When I woke up the next morning, we got word that the train wouldn’t come until the evening anyway and the weather had improved greatly, so I went back to my dorm and had a few hours sleep in a real bed.
I had thought about stopping by the Bridge Street Cafe for a little bit but as soon as I walked through the door, I remembered they don’t have air conditioning and it was such an oppressively hot day, so I decided to duck in to Mel’s Tearoom across the street. Mel’s is this little place on Bridge Street that despite the few requisite steps that keep it in the modern world, is a time warp to the 1940s, retro but not in the way that calls attention to itself like most of those “nostalgia” diners I’ve been to. It’s Sackville’s equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting. I had my familiar cheeseburger, poutine and milkshake and took out a notebook to sketch out a scene where two people were having breakfast in the same booth I was sitting, making awkward conversation after a drunken hookup.
I headed back to the dorm yet again to ditch my tripod, and didn’t re-emerge until darkness fell and the Mount Allison campus had an otherworldly artificial glow. I felt disquieted by the number of times I kept leaving the bustle and the life downtown in favor of solitude and rest. My usual inertia. Every trip to familiar territory felt warmed over, a cursory gesture towards a fading ideal of who I was five years ago, something I desperately clung to as my twenties dwindled away. Coming out to an independent music festival and running into familiar faces was a denial of who I was really growing into: a solitary figure clinging to routine, ultimately a consumer opting for a life of convenience but fraudulently claiming kinship and community with the creative and socially aware to live up to my own standards of who I should be. As I walked slowly past the Swan Pond, I kept feeling more and more ill at ease.
Downtown at the main tent, with a few more Picaroons Melon Heads and Blonde Ales in my system, I ran into Clive, who I had last seen at the previous Sappyfest the year before. This would be the turning point in the whole weekend, the point where I started to lose myself in the whole experience like I had wanted to. I accompanied him and his girlfriend to a late show at the legion hall and when it finally was time to get back home, it turned out they were the couple in the room next door. In our small talk we commiserated about the life of an hourly-paid call centre phone monkey, and while I told him that my promotion did improve my work situation over how it was last year, he could see through the upbeat spin I was putting on my improved work situation.
His advice was direct: “Get out of Bathurst”. He had confused Riverview with a small northern New Brunswick city my sister was living in, but for all intents and purposes I might as well have been living there. As Riverview was right next to Moncton it had an illusion of being of the same world, but the true distance between both was more apparent for someone lacking their own car, forced to rely on a buses that came once an hour, never after 7 on most nights and not at all on Sunday. My preferred bars were all across the river and cab fare of up to $15 made my self-imposed nights out more expensive. I had tried to find things to get involved with but work schedules, fatigue and a general hesitance and shyness on my part stopped my tentative reaches out.
I meditated on Clive’s words instead of hearing the music in my head I had found last year when the combination of drink and a succession of unfamiliar songs lingering in my subconscious kept spilling out, before slipping effortlessly into a vivid dream.