By KAITLYN BAILEY
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
'I have cat saliva on my hand," Jamie said,when I held out my arm to introduce myself.
We stood in the parking lot of a Toronto shopping mall, meeting for the first time before departing on a cross-Canada road trip. I had contacted Jamie three weeks earlier in response to his ad: "I am going to Vancouver, anyone need a ride?" I was starting a job tree planting in British Columbia and was boycotting planes after learning that the environmental benefits gained from my year of vegetarianism would be negated with one flight.
All of our correspondence leading up to our departure had been over e-mail. Jamie asked if I took a long time getting ready in the mornings, and whether I snored.
He told me he was a software developer - a job he could do remotely - and that he was moving to Vancouver for a change of scenery. When I googled his company to check his credentials, I saw that his cat was listed as a staff member; his skills included sunbathing and maintaining tranquility within the office.
"I've never really found anyone on Kijiji to do a road trip with but I think it should be fun," Jamie e-mailed a few days before we were set to meet. I was getting excited about our trip, too. I'd lived in B.C. for a couple of years, but I'd always travelled by plane and had only seen the Prairies from the air.
My parents didn't share my enthusiasm. They offered to buy my plane ticket, despite my insistence that it wasn't about the cost.
Both my mom and dad insisted on coming to drop me off. They watched our initial encounter from a van parked nearby, and when Jamie went into the mall to wash the cat saliva off his hands, they came running over.
"Where is he going? What was he like?" Mom asked.
Dad wasted no time initiating a thorough pretrip inspection of Jamie's red, four-door sedan and Mom took photos of the car and licence plate in case I went missing.
This was the first time I'd had a chance to look inside the vehicle myself. The backseat was crammed to the roof with suitcases and boxes, and directly behind the driver's seat was a small section of unutilized space. I wondered if Jamie had reserved this spot for my bag - he had told me I could only bring one since his stuff would take up the rest.
But then, I saw something move and realized that the space was already taken. Perched upon a red suitcase was the alleged drooling cat, Hogan. He looked like he was meowing but I couldn't hear through the glass.
When Jamie re-emerged from the mall, I shooed my parents back to their van with hugs and a promise for daily updates. Jamie helped me shove my backpack into the trunk and off we went.
We had agreed to share hotel rooms to save costs but I insisted on always having my own bed. On our first night, after I helped unload the last of the suitcases from the car, I came into the room and found Jamie kneeling in front of his bed, six-inches away from Hogan's face.
"What are you doing?" "It's a trust exercise," Jamie replied. "I blink really slowly within scratching distance of Hogan to prove that I trust him." When he asked if I wanted to try, I politely declined, suggesting that maybe Hogan and I weren't there yet in our relationship.
Our days quickly became routine. In the mornings, I made us peanut butter and jam sandwiches when the motel offered a complimentary breakfast, and then we drove six or seven hours before stopping for the night. Hogan was the reason we didn't drive farther each day. Jamie thought it was too stressful for him, and so a trip that many people did in three or four days took us six.
We lost our radio signal in Northern Ontario, and it took only one day of driving in silence to break Jamie.
In Winnipeg, he bought a few CDs that we listened to on repeat: Now 24, Much Dance 2014 and Best of 80s Rock. I never thought I'd feel so relieved to be serenaded by Nick Jonas.
By the last day, I had cabin fever. I couldn't wait to reach Kelowna, where Jamie would be dropping me off. He, on the other hand, seemed determined to stretch out our final day. When he wanted to stop at Lake Louise, I groaned. It wasn't far from the highway but I knew it would add at least an hour to our day. Unfortunately, he was driving, so he had the final word. The lake was frozen and covered in a thick blanket of snow. I wasn't surprised, considering it was still April.
"This is why I didn't want to come," I said under my breath. If Jamie heard, he ignored me.
He took what felt like endless photos. When he finished he told me he wanted a picture of Hogan. He returned quickly with the cat on a leash, screeching in protest. I was coerced into taking the photo while Jamie positioned Hogan on top of a large boulder. He ducked out of the shot, then made a waving motion with his arms to signal me to start clicking.
Onlookers congregated around us out of concern for the visibly distraught pet. "They're torturing that poor cat," one couple said, loud enough for me to hear. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to burrow into the snow and stay there until everyone left. In one of the photos, you can see the hairs on Jamie's head poking just above the boulder.
After our trip, Jamie and I stayed in contact for a few months. He e-mailed me updates about Hogan's trip to the dentist and described what it was like living in Vancouver, but eventually we lost contact.
In today's world of skepticism and wariness, I find it comforting that I was able let myself rely on a stranger, that I had the confidence and faith in another person to jump into their crammed car and drive almost 4,000 kilometres together.
Since our trip, I haven't hopped into any more cars with people I don't know, but I have slept on countless strangers' couches and am currently paying off my debt of kindness by hosting passing travellers.
I see it as a great opportunity to meet someone who you might not otherwise encounter and hopefully to learn something new from them.
Kaitlyn Bailey lives in Victoria First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers Have a story to tell? Please see the guidelines on our website tgam.ca/essayguide, and e-mail it to email@example.com
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