JAIMIE VERNON: AT SEVENTEEN

vernon_1997As you read this I suspect that I am recovering from what would have been a rather eventful 17th anniversary with my wife. As an anniversary gift, we were invited out to see Lighthouse in Oshawa by the very charitable LightHouseSkip Prokop who has led the band since 1969 and is currently the subject of a biography I’m co-writing. As it turns out the current singer, Dan Clancy, has been an acquaintance of Sharon and I as well. He did double duty as a music teacher at Durham College and a judge at the school’s annual songwriting competition for which I volunteered as co-judge for half-a-dozen years as well. He’s also been on a number of recording sessions with artists that once graced my record label.

If all went according to plan the show would have been spectacularly splendiferous and feel-goody. Me and the Mrs. would have then retired for the evening and shared a saucy dish of Canoodle-O’s.

We haven’t always had the luxury of nice anniversaries – in fact, some of them have been downright sucky only because we’ve been stone broke or busy working trying to keep a damn roof over our heads. We take it in stride because other times of the year have had their fair share of great times. Still, some of our anniversaries have been quite memorable – a tradition that goes back to the honeymoon itself.

J and S2We were married on the Ides of March (deliberately) because it had been a stormy courtship – not by us but by outside forces trying to destroy what we had. Little did anyone know that it would be the love story to end all love stories; Well, except the one in that movie called ‘Love Story’ starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal where they have a passionate and torrid love affair only to have her die from Ali MacGraw’s Disease (defined by film critic Roger Ebert as: “a movie illness in which the only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches”). I mean, how could we ever compete with that? And you most certainly couldn’t compete with the Bro-mance of “Brian’s Song” either. But, I digress.

When Sharon and I first got together I decided the sure-fire test to see if we were compatible was to travel together. If you can’t spend three weeks on the Nightmare Vacationroad, in a car, living out of suitcases and sightseeing together – you shouldn’t get married. To me a long distance trip is a microcosm of everything good and bad that could be hurled at a relationship from budgeting money, to compromising on what direction to go (yes, I have a keen sense of direction…until getting lost in the rain in a bad part of New Orleans…then I asked for directions!) to enduring weather, traffic jams, and sleeping in a different bed every night.

So, in October 1994 we packed up my 2-door Turismo hatch-back and headed to the US of A. It was a cross-America sojourn from New York to L.A. (cue the Patsy Gallant song in 3, 2, 1…) .

We were on the road for 22 days and covered 11,000 kilometres hitting Vegas in time for Canadian Thanksgiving where we managed to find a Denton__Texasbuffet-ready turkey dinner for two at the Riviera Casino. Of course, there was an obligatory stop at the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, Denton Texas, the Carlsbad Caverns in White City, New Mexico and out to Los Angeles to visit the Queen Mary and Universal Studios. On the way back we were stopped by a State Trooper for speeding as I was coming out of a very dangerous hill from the Hoover Dam because an 18-wheeler was attempting to race us to the bottom a la Dennis Weaver in “Duel”

He saw that we were from Canada and sent us on our merry way with only a warning and to ‘be safe’. Otherwise, it was a J and S1phenomenal trip all round. We established that we were more than compatible and maybe getting married might be a neat-o idea after all.

So, on March 15th, 1996 we tied the knot in Markham, Ontario and had our reception at the West Rouge Community Centre where we had a Rock and Roll reception with DJ and live band(s) where we invited many of our musical friends to get up and perform. Sharon and I then went to the former Renaissance Hotel to stay before heading out on the honeymoon the next day. Instead of having sex we rolled around in all the money we got as gifts – it was going to pay for our next adventure.

The following morning the car wouldn’t start. It was well below sub-zero…as any idiot getting married in Canada in the winter could have told us. We got a boost, did a few errands and went on our merry way. The destination this time was a return to New Orleans where we planned to spend at least one night on Bourbon Street and the remainder out in Harvey, Louisiana where it was quieter. However, we soon found ourselves stranded in Franklin, Kentucky with a completely dead battery – at 6PM on a Sunday night where Children of the Cornapparently they roll up the sidewalks, close the bars and shutter the windows so that the Children of the Corn are unable to kill the denizens of this quaint little Mayberry town in their sleep. With that issue we also couldn’t get anyone to give us a boost – or tell us where one might find a simple amenity like…a gas station or a tow truck. A guy sweeping up his pool hall/bar gave us a large Styrofoam cup full of water to put in the dried out battery. We also found a tap outside the City Hall/Library to give us more…but without a boost we were going to be sleeping in our car in the town square.

Gas stationA walk to a self-serve gas bar found us talking to a young gal whose “Y’all’s” were mighty thick and her tow-trucking brother/cousin/boyfriend (most probably one and the same guy) too far out of town to assist. Fortunately, bar-owner guy stumbled by with some mail for the post-office and saw that we were still stranded. He drove us back to our car, helped with a boost and offered to find us a B & B to stay at for the night. Except our car no longer generated enough power for our headlights and we lost him at a forked road in the dark. We decided to take our chances instead and headed back to the highway where we’d started in search of amenities like a garage or hotel. We found a Holiday Inn Express with a very friendly Pakistani gentleman who battery_chargerhooked us up with a room. The car could wait until the morning.

I looked through the Yellow Pages in the morning and the day-shift manager helped direct us to an Auto Zone dealership – ironically, just a block from where the “Y’all” Gal’s gas bar was. I went in to the store and sidled up to the battery counter – yes, they had an entire DEPARTMENT of nothing but batteries. The deep-fried Southerner behind the counter asked if he could help me.

“Yes, I want the highest cold-cranking amperage battery available on the planet.”
“Are you driving an 18-wheeler semi-rig?”
“No, I’m from Canada. This thing has to turn over at -40C”
“Canada? Wow. You’re a long way from home! Here. We have this Forever Ready Kick-Ass Voltage Morpher 1500 with Bun Toaster and Curling Iron. Should get you through any winter weather. It has a 5 year warranty. If it dies before that just bring it back, we’ll replace it for free.”
“Take no offense, sir, but I never plan on coming back to this town ever again. How much is it? I’ve got about $200 I can spend.”
“None taken. It’s $98. We’ll even install it for you.”

And with the transaction complete, the store’s bus-boy, Jethro, brought the battery out to the parking lot and had the car fixed up in about 9 minutes flat. Before he’d even slammed the hood shut we were on the highway and miles away waving at them in the rearview mirror.

We made it to New Orleans as planned via a trip down the historic Natchez-Trace Parkway – an amazingly pristine paved road through 444 miles of untouched forest http://www.nps.gov/natr/historyculture/index.htm where Natchez_Trace_Drivestage coaches and early settlers traded goods as far back as the early 1800’s but was home to the Choctaw and Chickasaw native Americans for nearly 2000 years. The road leads squarely into Natchez, Mississippi with some of the most awe-inspiring Antebellum homes in existence.

CemeteryIn New Orleans we did something truly odd for two honeymooners. We went on cemetery and ghost tours. Nothing creepier than being buzzed in a courtyard by a ‘spirit’ and having a perfectly functional camera fail to do its job during a visit to a theatre that has been noted to be one of the most haunted buildings in the world. I’m still not sure I’m a believer, but the creep factor was extremely high.

Swamp BoatAnd just for a lark, we decided to go on a truly clichéd Swamp Tour. Swamp people are real, folks. And they talk like they’ve got a fist lodged down their throats featuring dialects of Creole, Cajun, French and Hillbilly. Our boat guide was incomprehensible until we happened to come across some thawing, formerly hibernating, alligators on the shores of a lagoon at which point the boat Captain clearly stated: “Gators….is….stoopid….in…..March”. This coming from a guy who wasn’t exactly rocking the smarts at any point during the year.

On our first anniversary we were hurting for cash but decided to return to the scene of the final night of our honeymoon – Niagara Falls. The original visit was fraught with a comic evening involving a hotel that was partially closed and unheated (what with it being off-season for tourists in March) and a heart-shaped bathtub that spewed bubble bath…everywhere.

Casino_NiagaraWe chose a different hotel this time – at Clifton Hill – directly behind the newly opened Casino Niagara. We decided to try our luck at a little gambling. In less than 20 minutes Sharon had won enough money to cover our weekend and we celebrated with a show at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club. The comedian that night was one Glen “That Canadian Guy” Foster who I would be introduced to properly in the early 2000’s, was signed to my record label and helped release the first EVER Canadian stand-up comedy DVD (long before that Russell Peter’s guy) called ‘Shot at the Empire’

 .

bellagioFor our 10th anniversary we had planned to return to New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina had destroyed the city. We were willing to spend our tourist dollars there to help the people, but most of the city’s infrastructure was gone. We decided to return to Vegas to actually do some sightseeing. We went high-end this time – staying at the Bellaggio which is world famous for its outdoor fountains.

Gambling wasn’t our thing. We still wanted to travel and check out the surrounding area and so we rented a vehicle. I decided to surprise Sharon and took her to a place in Utah called Zion Canyon – a magnificent natural wonder which is beautiful even in the coolish temperatures of March. The town outside the canyon even sported a western restaurant where you could buy a sirloin steak fresh off the cow.

ExtraterrestrialOn the second of our day trips we did something totally insane. We decided to try and go to Area 51. Yes, THAT Area 51. And, yes, it exists. About an hour outside of Vegas through a truly barren area of Nevada is the Extra-terrestrial Highway – the alien superhighway. Well, a two-lane strip of desolate flat-top, actually. It leads to a run down oasis of a ‘town’ called Rachel, Nevada. It isn’t really a town. It’s not even four corners. It’s a gas station, a motel and greasy spoon restaurant with some of the best breakfast food anywhere outside of Route 66. It’s also a tourist trap filled with the tackiest chotchkies, T-shirts, inflatable beach aliens, shot glasses, bumper stickers…and two entire walls full of UFO Polaroids and other photographs brought there by visitors from around the world. Forget the ‘official’ shit you’ve seen for decades on TV. These pictures tell a whole different story. If you never believed in visitors from another world before – these photos might just change your mind. Of course, this is the same location where Roland Emmerich filmed “Independence Day” so the entire atmosphere has been juiced by Hollywood.

What isn’t in question is Area 52 – the supposed last resting place of three aliens who supposedly died in a UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The case is the basis for modern conspiracy theorists and has fascinated people for more than 50 years. We were there just to sniff the rarified air of a place that lives beyond mythology. The issue at hand, though, was: where was it?

Little AleinnThe Jane Eastwood-like waitress at the greasy spoon – known affectionately as The Little Ale’inn – sold us a map for $2.00 with a warning that trespassers would be shot on sight and we might also suffer jail-time and a very expensive fine – which ever came first. But, we were disappointed to find out that the US military was so tired of tourists that they bought up another 3 square miles of property and moved the Area 51 boundary to the back-side of the hilltop where clandestine UFO-hunters had always been able to set up camp to observe the military base’s activities. Still, it was worth a trip to see how close we could get.

Warning signsWe got to the first check-point that was strategically placed between two hill crests. A jeep filled with military personnel – and guns – watched us from one side. Several video cameras watched us from the other. We got out of our van. And watched to see if the Black Ops guys were going to swoop down, put black hoods on our heads and whisk us off in a helicopter. Nothing. But we were scared as shit. It seemed like a fun idea when we started. But once we were there I was scared shitless. Sharon took a picture of the warning signs and we high-tailed it out of there. It was exhilarating. A little bit of excitement for an otherwise stately old married couple.

And then there was the anniversary where Sharon took me to Kingston, Ontario to go see an ex-Bay City Roller. But that’s a story for another time….

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON: AT SEVENTEEN”

  1. You must have married the right woman, there are Navy Seals who would blanche at sharing these adventures with you!

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