Saturday, 19 July 2014

Driving Through The Flames

I am headed home today, or at least as close to home as I can get. It is the height of the summer forest fire season, along with the summer vacation season, the fires across the province ripping their way through the tinder dry forest floor in so many places across this province. It is not unusual for roads to be so choked in forest fire smoke as to make them nearly unpassable, the drifting ash and smell causing traffic to move at a the pace of an overweight shopper in rural Alabama moving through the Walmart discount ice cream section.

What should be a 12 hour run from Abbotsford to Calgary could become a two day affair, the challenge being finding a hotel in Revelstoke or Golden amidst all the other road trippers facing the same obstacles. I will make it, moving carefully amongst the maddended crowds driven madder by the smell of forests aflame, they having stopped to see a hillside burst into flame or a pine tree candle into an incendiary whirling dervish. I will make way for the fire crews, stop for the forestry barricades and do that which I am commanded by local officials, all in an effort to be a good, cooperative Canadian traveler.

In fact the biggest difficulty in my day, the thing that is becoming the bane of my existence, is the hotel checkout time. As I become more and more prone to sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00 each day, I consistently run into the hard stop, or rather the hard start, demanded by the hotel wanting access to my room so they can prepare it for the incoming guests to follow.

My usual response these days to the demand of a hotel checkout time is to call the front desk and ask for a late checkout. I explain my wheelchair issues and packing issues; in most cases hotels are quite willing to give me an extra hour or two, sometimes even more. All of this means that in most cases I can leave at around noon with limited consequence other than that of my travel plans.

I did that this morning. I called the front desk. The young man at the desk checked with the manager, subsequently assuring me that a noon checkout would be fine. He then said "Thank you, Mr. Richard." It is an expression of thanks I often hear when traveling in the Middle East or Asia, places where your family name is usually your first name; it is not something I hear in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. It reminded me once again that the town which was once my home has changed; it continues to experience massive changes in the immigrant population, new Canadians bringing new ways from their country of origin to their country of choice.

I wonder what these new Canadians think of summer fire season here in BC. I wonder if they know how big this place really is, how many forests can be ablaze at the same time, how many homes will be threatened and how many vacations will be interrupted. I suspect not. They need to do a road trip as a part of their visa permit requirements, just to get a sense of it all.

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