THE SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Encounters on the NYC Subway

Empire State Building from High Line Park
Empire State Building from High Line Park

NYC is a maze of surreal trapdoors. Especially the legendary subway, setting of innumerable horror flicks,  cop shows and true crime. 

So this happened….

After visiting the Mysterious Book Shop and the twin towers memorial, we boarded the R line.  We collapsed onto the hard plastic seats of the train car, the a/c bliss after the 30 degree heat.

A large Asian man wearing a green foam Statue of Liberty crown slumped onto the seat opposite us. He was clearly suffering from the heat.  Not so much though his  slimmer wife and teen-aged son.61Cas0H8X9L__SL1000_

“Do you live here?” the lady asked us after we exchanged a few pleasantries waiting for the train to get going.

“No,” we said, flattered. “We’re Canadian. From Toronto.”

“Well, I’ll be! That’s near Brantford, right? Have you been to the pow-wow there?” I replied sadly no, but it was on our bucket list. She broke into a huge smile. “You see, I’m Chippewa. An Indian married to an Indian!”

Dad shrugged and smiled. Teen-aged son squirmed. White liberals gringed, but Mother continued: “So 86th Street, right? Our young guy’s quite the artist so we’re taking him to see  Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. We’re off to the museum.”

Of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art! “Eighty-sixth you got it! Change at Times Square.”

“No, before that we’re going to the museum. You know, The Museum. It’s got everything in it you folks need to know about The Bible.”

Que?

“You must know about The Museum. You do love The Bible, don’t you? It’s the best museum in the whole wide world, put together for our brothers and sisters.” Mother beams and leans forward. “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!” 

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Angels on high are laughing!

Gotcha!

Sigh, sometimes the penny doesn’t drop, it floats down.

“You sure do need to visit The Museum. You would love it. It’s got money problems right now, so we’re gonna make sure we see it before they move it someplace else. Can I talk you two into coming along?”

“Sorry, no, we’re meeting some friends.”

Mother now turns her attention to the other passengers in the car. She teaches us all Chippewa expressions in between urging us to Praise the Lord.

Mercifully, the train starts up. Also mercifully, it’s an express. We’re at our stop in two minutes flat. 

We race out of the car, leaving Mother cheerfully proselytizing, Dad smiling beatifically and son sulking, while she aims to convert someone, anyone before Times Square.

This really happened: surreal NYC did not disappoint us!

It's weird out there!
It’s weird out there!

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Rattlesnakes & Elvis

Greetings Readers! Here’s the long-promised Surreal Trapdoor from Phoenix, Arizona.

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Saguaro Cactus
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More cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Left Coast Crime conference, I took a tour of the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Ghost Town , a faithful reconstruction of a western gold-mining town with Disney-style staged gun-fights. Good fun, but a surreal trapdoor opened up en route at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Ever see those 1950’s and 1960’s Westerns? They all look the same: rickety wooden buildings in the middle of a Roadrunner desert with lots of blowing dust and cactus. Well, there’s a reason for that. They were all shot on the same set: the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

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Old sign & rickety model
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My parents loved Have Gun Will Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the public’s thirst for Westerns faded. Apacheland became a theme park then fell into disuse. It cycled through a revival or two in the 1980’s followed by  – count ’em – two, ahem, mysterious fires. The bits that survived were moved to the museum: a barn and – yes, you heard it right – an Elvis Chapel.

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The Elvis Chapel. Everybody wants one…

Our guide explains: Elvis starred in an ill-fated Western called Charro where he tried to make it as a straight actor. No songs except for one on the soundtrack. Luckily the flop didn’t hurt his career. A host of other famous stars filmed at Apacheland, including John Wayne and a young Clint Eastwood.

Elvis did better in Hawaii
Elvis did better in Hawaii
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Clint Eastwood, Middle Row, 2nd right

 

 

 

 

 

The Superstition Mountains themselves are perilous: the rough terrain boasts many steep drop-offs, extreme heat and arid conditions. People regularly lose their way or fall victim to heat stroke or dehydration. In fact, our guide tells us, a hiker’s body was recovered the day before our visit.

The mountains have a lurid history, much related to the mythical Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  And at least one murder. They’ve also been home to wild characters and hermits like Hacksaw Tom who robbed stagecoaches.

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The legend of Hacksaw Tom.
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No $$ in that carpet bag, just junk.

No doubt old Tom felt right at home with the dozen kinds of rattlers in the area. The snakes are avid patrons of the museum, as evidenced by the warning signs. And in the summer, our guide says, the rattlers especially enjoy lounging in the coolness under the pop machine. Caveat emptor indeed!

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All kinds & sizes of rattlers
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Snakes don’t need tickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderings: Street Art and Alleys

My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units.  View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.

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Biological beer can that bleeds?

The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” –  means roadway.  In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs,  giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.

Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.

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Scary urban alley by daylight

Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!

Strange dino-beasts
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Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t believe all you read!
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Viaducts, Street Art and Suicides

I’m training  for my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Up to now, I’ve braved icy roads and braced frigid head winds.  Finally this week decent conditions, so I took my favorite route down the Don Valley trail.

Spring at last!
Spring at last!

The trail meanders between the bucolic waters  of the Don River and the ear-deafening stream of cars along the Don Valley Expressway.  It’s frequented by dog walkers, elderly hikers, birdwatchers, other bike maniacs, a few homeless and the odd city worker doing some nameless, incomprehensible task.

Street artists have been hard at work, too. Crossing under a viaduct, I spot this amazing painting.

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Street Art at base of viaduct

Sadly the viaducts are a favorite of suicides.  The enormous Bloor viaduct sports a remarkable barrier that has proven 100% effective in prevention though cynics point out that it may merely drive unfortunates north to this one.

 Structurally beautiful, the Bloor viaduct barrier was created by Harvard-educated architect, Ellis Kirkland, who originally designed it to be lit up at night.

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Bloor Street Viaduct Wannabe

In a macabre twist of fate, Kirkland became the centre of a downtown drama last month. She stabbed the concierge at her apartment building, fled and was rescued from jumping off a 27th floor balcony at a nearby hotel.  Fortunately, both she and the concierge survived. Read the full and tragically ironic story here.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Abandoned Beauty

Real or CGI – who cares?
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Adieu Disney

Abandon writer’s block, all ye who enter here!

I recently joined Pinterest and picked my Fav Five categories.

How could I resist Abandoned Mansions? I love old things. The intrigue of deserted places overwhelms me. What happens to a human structure left to the elements? Who lived here once? What are the stories of the inhabitants, their history? And most of all, why were these places abandoned in the first place?

Here are some of my favs. I wandered through the maze of images for hours: a  Chinese box of websites within websites of lost stories.

 

There are boards devoted to abandoned amusement parks. Even forsaken Disney parks!

Nara-Dreamland Japan
Nara-Dreamland Japan
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Lost library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where books started – full cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghostly piano

 

Derelict church Detroit
Derelict church in Detroit

Pianos only spirits enjoy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the ruin-in-progress, the de-urbanizing legend that is Detroit. In the theme of Wasn’t the Future Wonderful, do check out the extraordinary documentary, Detropia.

More soon! 

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

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Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

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Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

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Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building fan fits in
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Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: The Beer-swilling Pomeranian (WLT – Part 2)

Opening of the World’s Largest Surreal Trapdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part 1, we narrowly avoided a debate about the best bullets for dispatching a neighbour’s pesky cats. Nine mm vs 22’s, you pick. We escaped into the truck bling on display at the World’s Largest Truckstop, but then this  strange encounter actually happened.

A large, 60-ish lady  materialized beside the rack of sheepskin covers for truck seats. She bore a scary resemblance to Large Marge of Pee Wee Herman fame.

“You like them sheepskins?” she asked me.

“Um, sure,” I replied.

“My little doggie had one of her own. Just threw ‘er in the washing machine and she come out real nice.”

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Sheepskin seat covers

Dog or sheepskin?

“And you know what?” The lady stroked the sheepskin fondly. “The day she died, her sheepskin fell apart. Put it in the washing machine and it turned into this big lump of fuzz.”

“Interesting,” I said, edging away.

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Pomeranian dog

“She was a good dog. A Pomeranian. A real good dog. Cute, too. Except when she didn’t get her beer. When I come home off the road after driving my rig, she’d be right there waiting for me.  And if I didn’t give her that pint of beer right away, she’d be on my leg, growling, biting till she got it. Man, she loved her beer.”

“That’s nice,” I said, edging away further, but the lady stuck with us.

“She was a good dog. Why when she died, I just laid her out in the back of my truck. Hadda leave her there for three days but she never smelled. Not one bit. She was a good dog.”

“Probably pickled,” Ed whispered. By now we’d worked our way past the chrome exhaust pipes.

“That’s, um, sad you lost your dog,” I said. “But we’ve really got to get back on the road. We’re doing another two hundred miles today” 

“Hadda funeral for her,” the trucker continued, undeterred. “Buried her in the back yard. My son helped and you know, while he was digging her grave, all the cats and dogs round our place turned up. Stood there watching, paying their respects.”

Paying respects
Paying respects?

“Imagine.” We’d reached the shelves full of Doulton figurines.

“I couldn’t just leave her. Had to do right by my little doggie. So I buried a 6-pack of beer with her. My son was real mad, thought it was a waste a’ beer, but she was a good dog.  Least I could do for her.”

“Of course, best thing.” We neared the ceramic eagles and John Wayne memorabilia.

“Got me a new dog now. Another Pom. Keeps my husbint in line.”

“That’s nice. We really have to go. We’re Canadian. Bye.” We fled into the parking lot. 

“Well, that was weird,” Ed said, starting the Miata. “Care to bet how long that 6-pack of beer stayed buried.”

No I wouldn’t.

To quote Max Bialystock in The Producers: They all come here. How do they find me?

The Surreal Trapdoor: World’s Largest Truckstop – Part 1

Big trucks! Big food! Big ceramic eagles – and even bigger truckers! You’ll see all this and more at the World’s Largest Truckstop on Iowa 80.  For the unwary though some truly scary Surreal Trapdoors are lying in wait just for you.

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You think I’m kidding? Read on, my friends, for the tale transcribed herein truly happened.   

Ed and I were heading down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the Hillerman Writers Conference. Hwy 80 took us through Walcott, Iowa where we spotted WLT’s neon sign. Hungry and tired, we pulled in and parked our tiny Miata sports car well away from the fleet of tractor trailers.

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WLT Services

WLT covers 75 acres of land and provides parking for 900 trucks. An estimated 5000 visitors trek through the 67,000 sq ft complex every single day.  The building sports 9 restaurants, a 60-seat movie theatre, a TV lounge with leather recliners, 24 private showers,  a barber shop – even a dentist and a chiropractor!

If you want to bling out your truck, you will never find a better selection of lights and fancy exhaust pipes. Even art! In the 2-storey, 30,000 sq ft showroom, we admired the mural on the show truck as it spun round on a rotating platform. Its cab featured comfortable sleeping quarters, a DVD player, a microwave oven and a state-of-the-art navigation system: a trucker’s life looks pretty damn awesome!

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Tractor Mural

 

Truck Bling
Truck Bling
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Chrome Exhaust Pipes

 

 

 

 

 

Off we went to the cavernous 350-seat café which lay in perpetual twilight except for the bright spotlights on the extensive buffet and salad bar. Several solitary, weighty, middle-aged men were seated along one of the U-shaped diner counters. Feeling out of place – and wimpy – we slipped into two seats well away from them, perused a menu the size of a road sign and ordered.

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Salad bar? Not really
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Much more representative

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we waited for our burgers, it became apparent that the men at the counter were having a long-range conversation with one another.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with hitting my boy,” said the older, grey-haired guy on our left. “My daddy whupped my ass. Did me a world of good. No govermint’s gonna tell me how to raise my kids.”

“Damn right!” echoed down the line.  

The waitress set a plate with a 5-inch pile of sliced raw onions down in front of the heavy-set man sitting on the opposite side of the counter directly in front of us.  He wiped his black goatee with a paper napkin and dug into the crunchy offering.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in his truck tonight,” said Ed, not so sotto voce. I elbowed him, but  Goatee wasn’t listening. The waitress had placed 5-inch plate of fried bacon down next to the onions.

“I gotta problem,” declared Old Trucker as Goatee tucked into his meal. “My neighbour and her cats.  Damn cats keep coming into my garden to do their business, you follow? Only one way to handle things as far as I can see. My 9 mm pistol.”

“You don’t want to waste 9 mm fire power on a cat,” Goatee said between bites. “The cat’ll just explode. A 22’ll do the job and the ammo’s way cheaper.”  

“Well, I got a 1000 rounds of 9mm just sitting round the house. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

Ample evidence that our counter companions weren’t Democrats. I’d guessed right, go figure. Two timid Canadians down their burgers, paid fast and with cash then took refuge in the truck showroom. 

Refuge? Hardly. One of the weirdest Surreal Trapdoors in my life was about to open.  Tune in next Monday, Readers, for my tale of the beer-swilling Pomeranian.

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Surreal Entertainment