Aug 29, 2007

Tales of an Analog Enthusiast Volume Two... kinda

This weekend I had rented a car, as on the Sunday it was Decoration Day in my hometown, where people decorate the stones of their deceased loved ones. We were celebrating our anniversary on the Sunday, therefore I opted to go pay my respects on the Saturday instead. This trip had ulterior motives too, as along the way I would make a pit stop at any Cash Converters, hock shop or thrift store I could find along the way, all in the name of finding cheapo video tapes.

Ah, my faithful reader, you're probably thinking, "Didn't he get his fill at Sam's?" Well yes, but specifically today's hunt was for some place that would be selling VHS tapes en masse for really cheap, as when ESR publishes the "VHS RIP" issue next month, it is my intention to package the magazine with party favours-- a mystery VHS tape. Even so as the day crept on, and my number one duty for the day would be further pushed back, I never took the time to inquire at a couple of places that were selling VHS's off at a buck each if they would do a wholesale deal. (But all is not lost, I still found some Interglobal titles for my own collection.)

In addition, it was my hope to snap some pictures of drive-ins for my website "See You At the Drive-In". When my father and I travelled to London last month to see about his treatments, I could swear we passed a drive-in on Highway 53, and I attempted to find it on the drive down to Simcoe. Well before I knew it I was in Woodstock, and being in a blinding rainstorm didn't help, so I decided to stop screwing around and go pay my respects proper.

I arrived in Simcoe at 4:30 in the afternoon, affording me enough time to purchase two armloads of artificial floral arrangements for the cemetery. It was weirdly fitting that the sun came out at the precise moment I was picking out the decorations. In the past four years, for whatever personal reasons I've gone back to Simcoe, I've managed to squeak in these moments where I drive by old haunts, always intrigued by the notion of how things have changed since I left them. In some cases, it is a melancholy experience, in in others it is strangely comforting as I briefly encounter the ghosts of my past.

This night, I decided to detour to Tillsonburg on the way back... for two reasons. First, in the hamlet of Courtland just on the east side, there used to be the Skylark Drive-In, which closed in 1992. I hadn't visited either of these towns since then, thus I was curious to see if there were still any remnants of the drive-in, and a resounding "nope" there. Now proudly sits a lumber store where the screen under the stars used to be (at least it's not a fricken condo). So much for today's photo ops. Anyway, in a few more minutes I was in downtown Tillsonburg trying to find pieces of me from 15 years ago.

Back in 1992, I had a second job on weekends working at the convenience store up the street from my house (my mother worked full-time there on weekdays), and in addition, once a week at about 6 AM, I would drive to Tillsonburg to the wholesale store where shopowners would customarily buy canned goods, soda and other such things, to stock up on provisions for the store. You may remember in my first volume of "Analog Enthusiast", discussing people who travelled the county circuit, filling convenience stores with their inventories of movies, as in those days mom and pop variety stores could seldom afford such overhead. Like Ronnie, previously celebrated in Volume One, my boss Steph was another who travelled the circuit with crates of movies to replenish variety stores with video rentals. But in addition to that, he owned two convenience stores of his own. Besides the one in Simcoe that my mother and I worked at, he also had a store in Tillsonburg- and would frequently work shifts there as he also lived in that town. When I ventured to Tillsonburg, I would often stop off at Steph's store to drop off a few supplies. Since Steph was a distributor of movie rentals, most of his store was filled to the brim with movie boxes, much more than the two shelves of films in Simcoe's store. And usually, in addition to dropping off supplies, I would shoot the breeze with him for a few minutes, as he sure knew hell of a lot about film. In fact, I was doing a little video project at that time, and Steph allowed me to do a quick shoot in his store, as I needed a shot of myself looking at movies in a video store.

Yet coming back into Tillsonburg that Saturday night reminded me of another ghost in the past that I hadn't thought of in a long time... part of the summer of 1990 was spent in Tillsonburg selling Filter Queen vacuums! This memory was perhaps enforced by the sights of the same kind of Sad Sacks I used to attempt to sell vacuum cleaners to 17 years ago standing in front of the Tim Horton's staring out at the empty street looking for something, anything. This image is further given melancholy by the pervasive 60's crooners that populated the bandwidth of the town's AM Radio station, whose musical melodies gave imagery of a dreamland far, far away from the people that I would attempt to sell a vacuum to.

AM Radio figures a lot in my recollections of Tillsonburg, as those weekly jaunts at the crack of dawn were also filled with golden oldies blaring in my car. In fact one piece of mental cinema that remains lodged in my memory, is driving by this retro truck-stop diner on a lonely southern stretch of the highway, as the pink horizon broke in the background, while Joni Mitchell's "Coyote" played in the car. In fact, I tried to find that restaurant Saturday night, but it too may be gone now-- it's been 15 years.

But also, I had spent some time trying to find that little side street that Steph had his store, and after much trial and error, I found it, and the effect was not unlike Paul Newman in The Color of Money visiting this loft full of junk where a pool hall had once been 25 years previously. In truth, I still expected the store to be functional, and, I'll admit it, I had half expected Steph to still be there. Who knows? Maybe he would have sold me some old VHS tapes. But instead, the store had been turned into a residence, yet they still kept the design of the buildling intact (although with all the aluminum siding and the slanted roof, I believe it had been a residence prior to being a store).

Visiting my relatives at cemetery can be a sometimes overwhelming experience, especially when I visit the site shared by my mother and my oldest brother. And I suppose my brother would laugh at the irony, that after the whole day, the thing that would eventually choke me up was a Hollies CD I bought in a hock shop for three bucks! This greatest hits collection also had the AM staple "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", which strikes me with more resonance because shortly after my brother passed away, a public service announcement using this song was frequently shown on television. And so, after playing this CD in my car all day, and pulling in back in front of my house in Toronto, at the end of the night, it was then that everything hit me, now that my mind had managed to stop for a while. And hearing this song for the nth time while I was parked, seeing my reflection in the car window while looking up at the moon, is when the day finally caught up with me, and I wept right at the wheel. As much as it is somewhat cleansing for me to visit old haunts and seeing that the ghosts of my memories still dance there, it is also an overwhelming one. Yes, it is a painful process sometimes to relive pieces of time that cannot be replicated, with people no longer among the living, but I do not consider the past to be dead. It still dances on in my soul.

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