Friday, August 5, 2016

Five Days at Walmart

Day One ~ Nesting

Walmart Flyer
The drive north on 6th Avenue toward the downtown district of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan is quiet until Frank motors over the crest above the train tracks and says in an excited voice, “Honey, we’re home!” He is referring to Walmart Supercentre.

We laugh at our recognising one of the safest overnight sites to set our RV. A cluster of five other motorhomes is nestled in the south-east corner of the property. Unlike many of the department store parking lots across the prairie provinces, this one does not display any warning signs.

Bold Big White
Sometimes, even if there is a no-overnight-parking warning we’ve broken the rule taking after the friendly advice of other travellers and the store manager. One good example is our bold act of pulling up alongside the posting in St. Albert, Alberta. There were seven other vehicles parked in the immediate area. We felt safe and a bit righteous. We approached a couple who were relaxing in their van and asked about our staying overnight.

“Stay as long as you like,” the man said. “We are doing drywall work here and have been staying in the lot for almost two weeks.”

He swept his arms wide and said that all these vehicles had been there for a while. We remained huddled with the other trekkers for three nights.

Here in Prince Albert, we settle in amongst the established RVs. Frank ritually attaches a string of bells to the trailer we haul with our motorbike tucked under a custom-made tarpaulin. A little later, we step out of the bus and engage in a conversation with a local woman.

“We’ve noticed a significant number of security people in Walmart and a City Police officer driving an ATV on the property,” Frank says. “Why is that?”

“We’ve got security all over the place because we’re a crime hub,” she says. “There is a big meth problem here and other drugs too, and alcohol. Where are you from?” she says.

Frank engages the young woman in a lengthy rendition of our current lifestyle as nomads, travelling through British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, visiting small towns, meeting up with friends and relatives, seeking isolated Baha’is and house and pet sitting.

“What an awesome thing to do!”

“Oh. Anyone can do it. There’s always a way,” Frank says.

I ask about the library and she points west in the direction of the Midtown district.

“Cross 6th Avenue, walk down 13th Street, turn right on 1st Avenue and it’s right there,” she says.

We settle in for the night to the sound of squawking scavenger birds, the squeal of tires on pavement, loud voices, and new explorers seeking a resting spot. By zero three hundred hours, the Walmart parking lot is quiet.

Seagull with Chip Bag

Day Two ~ Library Visit

Cooked Porridge
Frank’s breakfast over the last fifteen years never changes. He cooks porridge, sprinkles it with a generous topping of brown sugar, and floats it with coconut milk. In the meantime, he toasts two slices of bread and slathers them with organic peanut butter and jam. We sip coffee together. I usually eat a banana and wait later to have a slice of toast.

“Today is library day,” I say.

Frank nods. He knows our habit of visiting the Bibliotheque to access the Internet, our resource for finding house and pet sitting engagements.

The trek to the J.M. Cluelenaere library offers us a full display of the lifestyle suited for this quarter of the city. The entire five blocks are lined with distinct structures including a haunted house. Most of the homes are covered in stucco, several are dilapidated and abandoned and one of the structures is under construction. Most of the hedges are overgrown hiding a variety of fences, themselves leaning over or held up by ropes attached to the porch or a tree. We listen to barking dogs, crying children and shouting adult voices. The gauntlet includes ducking under trees and walking single file on a small portion of pavement between the encroachment of grass from the boulevard and the homeowner’s property. Trash litters our narrow path.

J.M. Cluelenaere Library
We are greeted at the library entrance by a security guard. She asks to check our backpack and we comply.

“We’ve been to many libraries across the prairies this summer and this is the first time we’ve experienced on-site security in the library,” I say. “Can you tell me why this one has security?”

“We’re in a really bad area of town and we want the library patrons to feel safe,” she says. “There are druggies and prostitutes all along these streets.”

I thank her and walk to where Frank is setting up our laptop.

Our mutual practice of staying out of each other’s way, on this glorious travel adventure, is to satisfy ourselves with our individual hobbies. Together, we search for house and pet sitting jobs on the Internet, explore the town and take photographs; Frank plays his violin in the bus if it is raining or outdoors in the good weather, and I use the library facilities to write stories.

Frank Chats with Local in Small Town

Day Three ~ Meeting Some of the Locals

Frank prepares breakfast
There is a knock on our door.

“Allah’u’abha,” a stranger says.

“Allah’u’abha,” we chorus back. Frank lifts himself from his lawn chair, sets his morning coffee on the counter and reaches to open the front door of the bus.

“Come in. Do you want a coffee?”

“If you’re having one. Yes,” the thin man says. He extends his hand for a shake. “I’m Stuart. I got your phone message and found you here in the parking lot.”

Our new friend invites us to his home to celebrate the Feast of Kamal on August 1st. We exchange stories for an hour and watch as he rides away on his bicycle.

Tim Hortons coffee
Part of our daily routine is to walk over to Timmy’s coffee shop and check further on possible house and pet sits. We overhear a conversation telling why this outlet has blue lights in its bathrooms - to prevent drug users from seeing their veins. “It’s so they can’t shoot up,” the young woman at the nearby table says.

Later, a vagrant approaches us standing outside Big White and explains that she is very tired and asks if we would allow her to rest in our camper. We politely decline her request. She must have a short memory because she asks us again that evening.

We learn from several other locals loading their vehicles with groceries that Prince Alberta is known as ‘Prison City’. 

It is surrounded by three corrections facilities; Saskatchewan Federal Penitentiary and Riverbend Institution, Pinegrove Correctional Centre, and Prince Albert Correctional Centre. We understand the need for added security in many of the local stores, parks, museums and the library.

We prepare our Murphy Bed for the night. The prominent noise-makers this evening are the Saturday night party crowd. They contribute yelling and screeching tires to the sound of emergency vehicle sirens. The notorious squawk of the predator birds has not let up.

Susan nestled in Murphy Bed

Day Four ~ Trek to the Casino

A cool breeze sails through the screened windows of the bus. We sip casually on our morning coffee.

“Do you want to hike up to the Casino today?” Frank says.

“Oh, I heard it’s far from here,” I say.

“I was told it isn’t that far, and I know how much you like to walk. So, let’s pack water and head out,” he says.

We begin our trek travelling south on 6th Avenue, over the crest of the hill covering the railway tracks. My legs are aching by the time I reach East Hill and there we ask for directions.

“Oh, you’ve got a ways to go yet,” the young man says. “Go straight down this road ‘til you get to 1st Street and turn left. It’s another three blocks up the road.”

I sip on my water and step forward. Frank and I march for several blocks not speaking.

“Hey, let’s stop here to check if we’re on the right path,” Frank says.

I hope we are. I’m tired and sweating. Our direction is confirmed by the store butcher and we carry on bravely. As we turn the corner at 1st Street we see a long line of ten-foot high metal fencing topped with barbed wire. The Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centre.

“Gee, imagine investing in a house next door to this place,” Frank says.

I nod in amazement at the prospect.

Northern Lights Casino
We step over the threshold of the air-conditioned gambling house and search for the toilets. Afterward, we approach the front desk worker and ask about our bringing our RV to their parking lot for an overnight stay. They agree to it and ask if we are registered with them. We answer no. An announcement interrupts our conversation with the most spectacular declaration I’d heard in a long time.

“The shuttle bus will be leaving in fifteen minutes,” the speaker says.

Frank and I look at each other. I believe he’s thinking what I’m thinking. That’s our ride to Big White. The driver lets us off right beside our home. We nestle in for the night and fall asleep to the sound of the carnival underway just behind Walmart Supercentre.

Aftermath of rain storm

Day Five ~ Bon Voyage

Nine-pointed Star
This day begins with our checking house and pet-sit status at Tim Hortons, stocking up on a few groceries we would need on the road, and concludes by attending a Feast of Perfection at Stuart’s home.

The gathering consists of reciting prayers and readings from 
books authored by Baha'ullah and Abdu’l-Baha. It is satisfying being surrounded by like-minded friends who enjoy a laugh, prayers, and love.

The following morning, after checking the map, Frank starts the engine and we glide out of the Walmart parking lot onto Highway 3 West. We are excited about our next destination – a house and pet sit in Lloydminster, Alberta. We take secondary roads less so that we may enjoy the sights and sounds of small towns along the way.

On the road again

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