A few years ago, I used to buy pot off a guy who lived in this house. A guy who was always wearing too many necklaces and bracelets that jangled when he walked. This was before it was legalized and you found yourself in strange places making shady, cash purchases, from eccentrics, every time you wanted to smoke a joint. There was no furniture in the house, just plants and half-finished paintings and a yoga ball, which I’d sit on while he carefully measured out 20 $ worth. Usually he’d prattle on about his day and the troubles he was having with the green camouflage painted scooter he buzzed around town on. I’d listen and nod and laugh when it seemed appropriate.
Today I’m here for an entirely different reason though. To meet a group of friends who I had no idea were connected to my old drug dealer. Phil and Liz and Lilly, their daughter. Phil and Liz are both tall and thin, dark haired, tattooed, with an air of tragic cool. Real god damn rock stars. Phil rents the big double garage in the alleyway to use as a shop and storage space for his motorcycles and the motorcycles of friends.
It’s not an ordinary shop. It’s a greasers dream. On one side, there are work benches lining the walls, with shelves and cabinets stocked well with tools and nuts and bolts and parts. There are manuals and guides and reference books stacked neatly. The walls are covered in paintings, tattoo art, motorcycle memorabilia and a mural of white flames on black paint. On the other side, there is a couch and a carpet and an old juke box, stalked with old classics. Besides that, there are three Harley choppers and an old Suzuki café racer. Outside is Phil’s chopper with a blood red peanut tank, gleaming in the afternoon sun.
While we wait for the others to arrive, we chit chat and kick around the shop. First Julius on his old Yamaha cruiser shows up. He’s working towards a biology degree and is a dead ringer for Keanu Reeves. Then Garth on his chopped out Harley with a silver peanut tank, long hair in skinny braids, he swaps his helmet for a bright orange toque rolled up, perched on top his head. Garth is a tattoo artist. Then a guy, I’ve not met before, named Nick, also a tattoo artist, who is tall and bespectacled with his jeans belted high up around his waist. Also on an old chopped out Harley
There are still a few more we’re waiting on so we all stand in the alleyway and joke around and shoot the shit. Lily draws in the dirt and examines rocks and plays with bugs. We smoke cigarettes, myself included. I’m not a smoker but it feels like the right thing to do in this moment… waiting.
An older couple who lives next door pulls out of their drive way and slowly drive by rolling down the window to talk to Phil. The woman is gregarious and smiling with twinkly eyes and frazzled bleached hair piled on her head, a mischievous type. Without prompting she launches into telling us a story about how her mattress caught on fire the other night with great gusto, clearly looking for a reaction. In the driver’s seat her husband peers over her shoulder nodding and chuckling as she talks but never saying a thing.
“Just went straight up in flames! Dad and I had to throw it out the door so it didn’t burn down the house!”
“Oh yah? I was wondering about that,” says Phil, “I saw it beside the garbage.”
We all stand and gape and murmur in sympathy and understanding although as soon as she leaves we talk amongst ourselves about how bizarre the story was. Strangely, she never says how the mattress had caught on fire but it’s better that way because after she drives away we come up with mad theories on how the mysterious mattress fire had occurred and that keeps us busy for about 5 minutes.
Not long after that Kenny, John, Jordan and Vern show up all on Harley’s of varying age and style. Kenny owns and runs a motorcycle shop, Ill Fated Kustoms, in the Blackfoot industrial area. Jordan and Vern work with him at the shop. John is a good friend of Kenny’s and I met this group of people from a bike night Kenny hosts out of his shop. That place is a good place. A hub for the weirdos and the wild ones and the marginalized folks of the world.
Everyone decides it’s time to leave.
My motorcycle, a 93 Suzuki Savage had up and died, gasping and choking when I tried to fire the engine the week before. Although I’d spent hours poking around it, charging batteries, changing filters and sparkplugs, tightening nuts and bolts, cursing, crying, drinking, I couldn’t get the damn things engine beating in time for this trip. So I am driving out and although I’m bummed I’m not on my motorcycle, I figure it’s better to drive out then to sit at home and stew. At least I can bring my guitar this way, anyhow.
Liz pack’s up Lilly into their SUV and I jump in my vehicle, and we tail the group of motorcycles on the way out of town, down 16th ave to the east where the highway emerges into the yellow expanse of the prairies; Blue above with towering, boiling, ominous clouds rolling in from the west.
Cars switching lanes separate me from the pack of motorcycles and they pull ahead. About 10 minutes out of town there is the exit that takes us to Drumheller, our destination. The exit loops around back onto an overpass that crossed the highway and heads North. Set back a few minutes I see the motorcycles tear one after the other across the overpass, framed by the deep blue sky.
They’re a ways ahead now, so I just make my own way North and then East into the badlands but about 10 minutes outside of Drumheller I get a text saying that they stopped off at a gas station in Beiseker and are just leaving now. Since I’m ahead I decide to pull off and wait and try to get some good video of the group as they drive by. Sitting on the side of the road amongst the Foxtails and Asters and Daisies I listen. After about 10 minutes, I hear them. I hear them before I see them, growling and rumbling and then emerging one by one, tiny dots in the distance from around the bend in the highway. The ground shakes under my feet as they hurtle by me and although I’m filled with envy that I’m not flying along with them, I can’t help the smile that stretches across my face as I stand on the side of the road, the momentum of their movement blowing my hair back.
We’re camping out in a little town called Wayne in the river valley of the badlands. The town isn’t really a town, just an old saloon and a few properties scattered along a river. The sandstone hoodoo’s rise up around us striped in red and orange and tan; A striking and alien landscape. Everyone sets their tents and sleeping bags up. Having thrown a bunch of pillows and blankets in the boot of my SUV, I sit around on the picnic bench, quietly playing my guitar just for something to do.
Once everyone has their set up, we go to the saloon and order cheddar and mushroom Hamburgers and microwaved nachos and beer. Liz and I find we have a shared fascination of the morbid and disturbing and get to talking about serial killer podcasts and crime scene photograph Instagram accounts. Everyone, impressively has an extremely high tolerance for discussing severed limbs and bashed in brains without so much as a flinching as they happily much hamburgers and fries.
Garths wife, Phil’s sister, Aimee shows up with her 6 year old daughter Audrey. Aimee’s got this wild, wavy, incredible blonde hair that grows down to her waist. Right around this point another joins the group too, Georgia. Georgia rides a newer Harley and has taken it across Canada. She is tough as nails and soaked to the bone, having come through a rainstorm. The rain follows soon after. I’ve had a few at this point and am feeling loose and giggly and when it starts to pour rain and Aimee invites me to sit in their SUV to wait it out I accept. They’ve made a little bed for Audrey in the boot with all sorts of pink and purple pillows and blankets and stuffed animals and Audrey jumps in the back and hollers for me to get in too. Crammed in the back with my beer and a little girl I can’t stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation. We scream when the thunder booms above us and Audrey shows me all her little toys.
Finally we decide to go back into the saloon, where there is a musician playing old rock and country songs. In the corner, I see a guy who I just met today named Eric and decide I might as well get to know him a little. A tall bald man, with a long red beard, sectioned off with several hair ties. He looks like a viking. Sitting beside him we strike up a conversation about working and not working and responsibility and freedom and life choices and how the grass is almost always greener on the other side and existential crises. That of course leads to talking about drugs and psychedelics and their merits in handling existential crises. Then Eric offers me a weed gummy, which he informs me is in his boot but wrapped in plastic so it won’t be weird or anything. I of course happily accept because there is certainly nothing strange about that.
The rest of the night becomes a little blurry from this point forth. However, I do remember standing outside smoking in the drizzling rain and off a ways there is an old dude, with long curly white hair dumping gas on a fire. Flames shoot up to double his size and then we watch him running back and forth flapping his arm around which most definitely lit on fire. And I remember getting into a very deep and meaningful conversation with Kenny about what it all means and suffering and joy. Then Jordan interrupts us laughing to inform us that we are discussing essentially the same thing that Georgia and Vern are getting into not but a foot away. And then there’s laughing really hard around the fire and noting that I have no idea what I’m laughing about but everyone else is and it feels good and so it is good. Then rocking myself awake after falling asleep sitting on the bench beside the fire and looking around and seeing everyone talking and smiling and laughing and feeling like this is the right place to be. Waking up in the back of my SUV, piled in with all my blankets and pillows, cozy and looking up through the sunroof and seeing the milky way stretching across the sky, an expansive swath of shimmering blue white light and my soul melting up into the stars and being carried off in that river of light.
These are just the types of things that happen when you eat gummies out of strangers boots with bikers in the badlands.