I don’t know what Toronto is. I don’t think it knows either. It’s a Canadian city – Canada’s biggest city – geographically lying below America’s most northern states, knocking at the door to come in out of the cold. It’s a part of the Commonwealth, yet inescapably American in everything from sport, music, television, ‘wing nights,’ old people clinging to the imperial system, left hand drive and – let’s be honest – accent.
Not to be confused with its Texan namesake of live music and university fame, Austin, Manitoba, is a town of 12,000 people in central Canada with an amateur radio museum and two grocery stores. And of all the places on the continent this is where our van sputtered to a lacklustre death. I’m sure Austin serves its purpose for the community but it wasn’t a place we wanted to linger while on a time limit. After a final night’s sleep in what was now Lynn’s rotting carcass we rose early the next day to evaluate our options. Guiseppie, our hitchhiker, was particularly upset. He had only had two nights in Lynn and would now have to ride inter-city public transport like a common thug.
I should have said yes to the ear plugs. It had been a few years since the one and only time I’d fired a gun. Now the ringing in my ears reminded me the blast is a lot louder than on TV. I even forgot where I’d put my beer down as I struggled to regain my equilibrium. Safety first, I’d been told, always put your beer down when you’re handling a weapon. It was time to stop for a moment anyway, I had fired way high and possibly into a distant highway.
She was 18-years-old but looked a lot older due to years of abuse and neglect and a lifetime spent enduring the elements, from being left outside in the snow and wind and rain in Canada’s sometimes hellish climate. She could take nine men at once, five of them if they wanted comfort.
We named her Lynn because she was wide, loud and rough, like a girl we used to know back home. A girl named Lynn. At $300 she was a steal, her only task was to carry us and our luggage 3,500 kilometres from Tofino, on Canada’s western coast, to Toronto, while doubling as our accommodation.
Lynn was a 1988 Chevy Suburban. She was a beautiful sky blue with some scratches and rust adding charm and character to her substantial frame. Inside were three wide bench seats and enough space in the back for unexpected guests.
I’ve always known about that song that goes: ‘I’m in the OPP. Yeah, you know me!’ I never really knew or cared what OPP was or who the song was by. It was just a song that came on the radio every now and then and got stuck in my head for a day or so before I forgot about it completely for another six months. Then, as I sat behind bars in New Orleans and looked down at my orange jumpsuit, I saw printed the letters O-P-P. Then it hit me. Orleans Parish Prison! ‘I’m in the OPP.’ And there I was too. It was sort of like living a dream, but more precisely, a horrible, horrible nightmare.