Railroading North America

17/ Jasper

17-jasper-mountedpox-poster-dsc06506-useme1DAY 17
Jasper, Alberta
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I was scheduled to take the train this afternoon today to Prince George, and then return to Jasper tomorrow night. If I had done this I would have missed the Thursday train to Vancouver and have to spend another two full days in Jasper.

Jasper has proven to be a nice town with nice people, but I covered it in a few hours. Besides the stories about bad behaving elk and ducks that use the sidewalks as their Lou, I’m having trouble mining many more stories.

I return to the train station to see Sue, the VIA Rail clerk to get new tickets. One of the yardmen is filling in for Sue.

Trouble begins. I meet Yarl the Yardman. Yarl doesn’t have the customer relations’ thing down.

I have to cancel three reservations — the Jasper-Prince George, the Prince George-Jasper and change the date of my Jasper-Vancouver from Saturday to Thursday.

Yarl (names have been changed to protect the irritating) hums to himself, which I find it irritating and disconcerting. Recently, I have been told that I increasingly hum to myself and other people find it disconcerting and dotty. I decide to here and now to stop humming to myself because if this guy is driving me nuts, I must be driving other people crazy. Also, I note, I don’t like his choice of music.

I am due a refund on my Jasper-Vancouver trip. Yarl the Yardman working the counter tells me he will credit me $84.

I object. The previous day Sue told me it would be $240. He argues. I am steadfast. He yells, “Sue! Hey, Sue! Come talk to this guy” and Sue appears from an inner office.

Sue is the stationmaster. She swiftly shows him how to cancel my reservations and starts to show him how to figure my refund, confirming that I am due $240. His radio crackles and he steps away from the counter. “I’m trying to show you how this is done if you can give me a moment,” she says nicely. He cannot spare her a moment.

I think about Yarl for a moment, and then ask Sue, “Is he responsible for getting my checked bag on the train?”

The Canadian has pulled in from Vancouver on its way back east. I walk along the train counting cars as it begins to glide away.

I count twelve cars plus two engines. This is a much shorter train than I took from Toronto to Winnipeg.

At that moment, “Carleton Manor” the car that contained my compartment from Toronto to Winnipeg glides by. Wow. A moment later here comes Tweedsmuir Park, the rear observation car where I have spent so much time passes, heading back east.

Seeing these two cars is like seeing old friends. I’m excited. Seeing them quickly allows me to figure out how the VIA Rail rolling stock gets around. Tweedsmuir and Carleton Manor are likely to be on every third train heading east and west and because they are the last two cars on the train, they likely travel together.

Given my schedule, I’ll not see them again.

My breakfast/waitress/Australian (a new one) tells me she has a year contract to work in Jasper. I’m surprised she is only 18 — I would have guessed 23 or 24. She says she wants to stay in Canada for two years, the length of her visa.

The restaurant is empty. She hangs around and tells me her life story as I eat. She will never go to the United States again, or at least she “will never go again until I am twenty-one and I can drink, if ever, because of the way they treated me. ”

“Treated you? Who…?” I struggle because what she says doesn’t always track.

“I flew into Portland and then flew on to Vancouver. The American customs people hassled me. I don’t know why because I was just changing planes. They were ugly to me and I never did anything. I was just changing planes.”

I try to defend my country.

“Well, I don’t want to go back ever,” she says. “I don’t know how I’ll get home without going back through the States, but maybe I can figure out something. Maybe Cuba. Can I get home through Cuba?”

“Will they let you drink in Cuba?”

“Well. I don’t know about that.” She thinks about it. “I’ll find out.”

And I think: Way to go TSA. Fifty years from now this young woman will be badmouthing the United States to her grandchildren.

Four local policemen sit down behind me today at my favorite coffee shop, The Other Paw. It is the morning after the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States and, these guys sound like they are Canadian McCain-istas.

I eavesdrop. I am appalled at what I hear.

One of them laughs that the Secret Service will not be able to keep Mr. Obama safe and that “he soon will be dead.”

Another questions the intelligence of the American voter. “They picked a guy who won’t keep them safe — they need a guy who knows how to fight and who knows war.”

And more. They sound like Survivalists from Idaho.

I ease over to get more coffee and have a look at them. They are young, very young. I decide three of them are mostly just going along with the fourth. All three become increasingly quiet as the one policeman thunders on.

Then one gets up abruptly, “gotta go,” he says, and the others quickly follow, leaving the cop who was talking sitting alone.

“Hey,” he yells at a guy at another table. “What’dya think of that American election, eh?” He starts in again.

(Photograph, replica of a Royal Canadian Mounted Recruiting Poster from the 19th or early 20th century in a Jasper storefront; residential area one street away from the train station)

VIA Rail Canada Train #001, “The Canadian”
Distance Winnipeg to Jasper: 1054 miles / 1657 km
Distance Total: 5,768 miles / 9,283 kilometers


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