NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 1 )
Outside the thunder rolled. From my bedroom window the sky was a psychedelic hell hole of jet black, royal blues and shades of red. It was 6:00 am. Five hours ago, I was nursing an alcoholic glow. My nerves were shot. I had been downing beers like there was no tomorrow, emptying change into a midnight juke-box and trying my darndest to enter the world of happy endings. Five months before I'd made a promise. Now it was payback time.
"Hey, Bernie its arrived."
"The rickshaw stupid. Man it's bloody amazing."
I was in shock. I'd actually pulled it off. All those letters and phone calls. All those months of embassy red tape. I'd beaten all the odds and got an authentic Pakistani rickshaw and free, to boot. For a moment, I forgot about the phone call. I was flip flopping through time, piecing together events that led me here. I'm not your stereotypical go-getter. I don't create waves, carry banners or stick my neck above the crowd. In fact, I'm no different than your average Joe-that is, except for one more tick.
Ticks, I've been told, are mutant genes. A flu-like bug that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Mine is a fine mixture of Gaelic romance and British tenacity. My tick is the fertile soil that germinates ideas like wild flowers. They grow totally out of control. I catch large doses of tunnel vision. Reason flies out of the window, and so it was with the rickshaw. From the start, cycling across Canada never entered my head. I wanted a rickshaw only for display purposes. I had a travel exhibition coming up. I needed a calling card to attract custom and a bicycle rickshaw fitted the bill.
In those days Multiculturalism was the flavor of the month, and Toronto's 'Bike Week' was just around the corner. It was a unique opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Bikes and culture, the media would lap it up. I started drafting out a letter to the Pakistani Embassy in Ottawa,
I would like you to donate...bla...bla...bla...bring our countries closer together...bla...bla.
Then I pulled in every IOU I could think of, from the Mayor of Toronto to the Explorers Club of Canada. The only thing that was missing was the all-important HOOK. It would be a one shot deal. The art exhibition sounded a little weak. Even the support letters didn't jump-out and grab you. 'You don't get anything for nothing in this life', my mother used to say. But what could I offer in return? I got some friends together, brain-stormed through a couple six packs, then we got it.
"WHY DON'T YOU TELL THEM YOU'LL CYCLE THE RICKSHAW ACROSS CANADA?"
It was easy as that, and until today, I hadn't given it another thought. End of phone call, I hurriedly took off to my friends bike shop and my rendezvous with karma.
Holy shit! I was gob-smacked. The rickshaw stretched from here to eternity. The intervening years had not only shortened my memory but its size. Somewhere along the line, I'd conveniently blocked out the truth. I had completely forgotten they had one gear, weighed nearly two hundred pounds when empty and could do a pretty good imitation of an 'eskimo roll' when attempting 90 degree turns. Back then rickshaws were no more than three-wheeled projectiles, more to be missed than observed. What had I let myself in for?
It was 7:30 a.m. I had just finished a condemned man's breakfast of limp toast and lumpy porridge. Outside the rain was pelting down. Curbs had turned into mini-waterfalls and streets into rapids. My brain said let's go, but my body wouldn't budge. Bernie was not a happy camper. I was as we North American's put it, psyched out. For sixty minutes I stayed glued to the spot. I was excusing myself. Too much rain. Too much traffic. One last cigarette. I was just beginning to enjoy the misery when the rain stopped. The sun popped out and the streets started to steam.
It was 9:30 a.m. by the time I found Victoria's famous MILE 0 signpost marking the beginning of the Trans Canada Highway. There were no media in attendance, no trans Canada groupies to talk to, or early morning joggers to wave at. I didn't dip my toe into the Pacific, break a glass of champagne over the rickshaw, or ask for God's blessing. If I was to feel special, it didn't happen. The 6000 plus kilometers I would have to cycle to the finish line hadn't even registered. I couldn't even think past the next bend, let alone Newfoundland. The whole morning had been a non-event. I took out my camera, set its timer, focused in on MILE 0, sat on my rickshaw, said 'cheese' for the record, then peddled away.
FOR CHAPTER 2, PLEASE PRESS THE LINK BELOW.