It’s a few minutes after midnight.
Less than four hours ago I was in a church listening to a Boxwood concert. Right now I’m driving aimlessly around Yarmouth. I’m on the prowl to see what I can see between now and 6 a.m. Colleague Melanie Chambers is doing the same thing in Toronto. We’ve been in touch and agree to check in with each other every hour or two. We touch base around 12:20 a.m. She’s peddling toward the center of the city on her bike looking for a coffee shop to get some high-test java. She’s not having any luck.
Here in Yarmouth, it’s started to rain. There’s not a soul in sight save a guy parked in a blue SUV in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia. I assume he’s going there to get some money.
First stop: Jake’s Pizza, on Main Street, close to the bank. The last time I had a pizza after midnight was in 1962. I remember it well because it was my first year at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and the word “pizza” was new to me. It was also the first of many after-midnight pizzas I enjoyed before graduating.
So here I am in Jake’s, ready to embark on an all-nighter.
I have a brief yak with a couple of hungry paramedics. They order several items to take back to the main station. As soon as they leave, a young couple stroll in, obviously stoned. Not sure if it’s booze or drugs (or both). The guy orders two slices of pizza and two cans of Coke. They bring their food to a table, stare at their cell phones and don’t seem to remember how to use them. The phones may or may not be on. They don’t speak a word. Their food gets cold. Eventually, they wobble out.
I finish my pizza, put the cover on the unfinished bottle of Gingerale to take along with me, and head to my car between downpours. As I turn the key, I notice that the SUV parked in front of the bank is still there. So is the driver. “That’s odd” I say to myself … and move on.
Next stop: the Catholic cemetery. By now you know my fascination with cemeteries. A friend had suggested I visit this one after dark. As I get closer, I can see why. There are hundreds and hundreds of solar lights that people have placed on and around the headstones. It looks like a landing strip at an airport. Most bizarre.
I get out of the car and start to walk across the road. There’s a ditch in front of the sidewalk but it doesn’t look very deep. I quickly discover otherwise when I go up to my knees in muck and wet grass. Mercifully, my camera stays dry. But it’s a dreary, boring walk around the cemetery. I wish the RCMP would come by and ask what I’m doing there. I conjure up a few scenarios.
Meanwhile, back in the car, I decide to drive down past the golf club, around South End up to the airport, and back dowtown. “Enough of this,” I say to myself, deciding to check out the hospital before heading out out to the lighthouse. But I cave in, thinking I’ll give it one more shot.
I roll up and down Main street for the third time. Zip … save the guy in the SUV who’s still parked in front of the bank. He’s starting to creep me out. Then I drive down to the waterfront, around the ferry terminal, and zig-zag up and down the little side streets connecting Main and Water Streets. Although a lot of lights are on in people’s homes, I don’t actually see anyone. It’s around 2 a.m.
The only thing I “see” is a load of clothes and paraphernalia someone dumped in front of the Sally Ann. I wonder whey they didn’t put the clothes in the big bins to the right of the stairs. In a hurry? Lazy? Bins full? I drive behind the Grand Hotel and motels; nothing going on. I drive the back streets of town. Nadda. Shortly before 3 a.m. I decide to pick up a hot chocolate at Tims; they are closed. I park the car and call Melanie. No answer. I close my eyes for a few seconds and fall asleep. The wind wakes me up at 3:15 a.m.
I call Melanie. Still no answer. I drive down Main Street one more time. Yikes! That guy’s still there! I want to park, get out and knock on his window and ask what he’s going there, but I chicken out, turn down to Water Street, and head north to the hospital.
There’s not a soul in outpatients. This is unusual as people often go to the hospital during the night, either for emergencies or to get prescriptions filled. (I’m told that folks without a family doctor often do this). The nurse on duty sheds a little light on the lack of patients this morning. First of all the weather is lousy; this tends to keep people home. But the main reason there’s no one around is because it’s coming into a holiday weekend. “Lots of people go to their camps and only come to emerg if it really and truly is an emergency,” she says. “Otherwise they tend to tough things out until the holiday is over.”
I move on, heading to the lighthouse at Cape Forchu. I didn’t expect to see anyone there (and didn’t) but I wanted to sit on the giant chair and be photographed on the webcam—hoping to get a screen shot the next day–to prove I was there.
The rain had let up so that made it more pleasant to get out of the car. But that chair is a monster. (Just the front leg is taller than I am). It takes a huge amount of effort to get my fat rump up and onto the bloody thing. Not a pretty sight getting down.
On the way back to Yarmouth, a gray light starts to seep over the horizon. Well, not a light, actually. More like the sky shifts from a shade of charcoal to pale shade of grey. At some point I think about the guy parked in his car in front of the bank.
I can’t stand it any longer. I want to find out if he’s looking for a pickup, or if this was his way of coping with sleeplessness. Maybe he can’t afford a motel. Or maybe he’s lost. Or simply a weirdo.
By the time I arrive back on Main Street, I’ve mustered up the courage to knock on his car door and strike up conversation. My heart skips a beat with an adrenaline rush. That usually happens when I’m scared or nervous, but it feels good. I’m wide awake, operating on all cylinders, and focused on my approach. Only, when I get downtown, the SUV is no longer there. I feel a profound disappointment. I had missed my only opportunity for a story. And it’s not as if I didn’t have several chances to tap on his window.
Deflated, feeling as if I had been on a treasure hunt and came up empty handed, I decide to head home. But first, a pit stop at MacDonalds for a pee and a coffee. There’s only one customer at the counter. He has gorgeous tattoos on his legs.
That was the highlight of my expedition.
Meanwhile, back in TO, Melanie’s phone had conked our hours earlier. We hadn’t been in touch since 2 a.m. But she sent me a text saying that things got really REALLY interesting. Can’t wait to read about it on her blog.
But I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy.
PS: Remember sitting on the giant chair at the lighthouse? And my plan to get a screen shot of me there? I forgot about it for a couple of days. Then it was too late. They only keep records for a few hours.
Interesting theme emerging here, Sandra, that being the many face(t)s of light.
Light: the lighthouse, solar lights in the graveyard, the yellow glare of MacDonald’s arches, the charcoal grey light evolving into a softer donkey grey, the ‘light’ of the webcam that recorded and deleted your image, the glow from cellphones belonging to two people whose lights had ‘gone out.’ Even your wording about the nurse shedding “a little light” about the unusually empty emerg room.
So your post-midnight sojourn reflects not so much on what happens during the night as on what happens in the absence of light. Or the unusual presence of light. Which brings to mind the light and dark within us all: how do we keep a flame flickering when we enter darkness? How do we handle the absence of light? How can we consciously, deliberately focus on whatever sliver of light pierces the cracks when we’re enveloped in personal or cosmic gloom? How do we keep the faith, knowing all the while that dawn follows dusk?
Oh Gwen. You raise so many interesting questions! There were some insightful moments that I noted (don’t tend to discuss these things in public … perhaps saving for “insights” gathered along the way kind of post later.
But, seeing as you asked
one thing I noticed was that my eyes seemed to adjust to the lack of light throughout the night. At some point I was digging around for something in the car and didn’t turn the overhead light on. I went back to the night we had the nightwalk in Clare and remembered how we could actually walk in the woods in a pitch black night save for the stars. Normally, we’d move around with headlamps on or a flashlight in our hands.
So, that’s one thing. We can see a lot more than we normally can see in the dark. If we choose to. Therein lies the trick.
In terms of “cosmic gloom,” here I think of clinical depression, having experienced it, and the absence of light was terrifying. For a period of time, others (psychiatrist, family and friends) provided the light (support) which kept me on track and alive. Otherwise I would have ventured off the edge of the world.
As to your other questions, I’m going to give those some thought and get back to you. Thanks so much for posing them here.
I want to go on an All Nighter with you !!!! Surely there must be some super hidden happenings…..
Yikes Helena, I didn’t see this note! Would LOVE to go on an All Nighter with you. haha. It’s not too late. We can do something wild and wonderful this fall or winter!
I so want to go on one of these “All Nighters” with you. Surely there must be some Hidden Happenings…
Haha Helena. We’d get into trouble for sure. And, no doubt, there’s plenty of Hidden Happenings. But I actually sat outside a known drug house for awhile. Nuttin’ going on that night!
The photos that you took are gorgeous, (except, of course for the one of the Salvation Army). Did the whole experience make you think about what it must feel like to be homeless? At least you had a vehicle. It must be terribly lonely to be out there in the middle of the night when everyone else is tucked in, snug in their homes. I think it’s a very good thing that nothing much happens during the night in Yarmouth.
Aren’t you tempted to get someone to check to see if that man in the blue SUV comes back another night?
Jennie, thinking about what it must be like to be homeless didn’t even occur to me. It’s something I can barely comprehend. No doubt it’s horrid and I’m sure people who are void of homes, food, family, but also be void of any sense of happiness and pleasure. I can’t imagine it. The one thing I thought about was what was going on behind closed doors and drawn curtains. Of course one’s imagination goes wild. I also remembered walking south end when we lived in town for a couple of years. I used to love walking there as I always met interesting characters sitting in doorways or on the bench in front of the Red & White and ad some great chats. About that guy in the blue SUV. Maybe he was an undercover cop. haha. And, no, never occurred to me to get someone to check and see if he returned.
What a lonely, quiet evening. Personally I’m glad it was quiet and that you didn’t have any unusual experiences. AND I’m very happy the fellow in the SUV moved on! I liked the references to light and its manifestations mentioned by Gwen, perceptive.
Great to see you pop into view Anne Marie! I actually thought I may see some people changing shifts, or night workers ( I actually did see a chap driving a town truck cleaning the streets around 5 a.m. and forgot to mention that.)