Standing in the salty Prince Rupert rain, thumbing my way off the ferry, I questioned the fate that had brought me there. I was coming home jobless having sought to find work on an Alaskan fishing boat. It was poor timing and a down season, and I was without a visa. Even in 1998, I guess that worked against me.
So there I was, hoping to stretch my last few bucks by snagging a free ride. Just another hitchhiker on the Highway of Tears. It wasn't popularly known yet by that name, and I'm white and male. But my experiences traveling it, both east and west, had opened my eyes to the poverty and injustice that eventually earned its reputation.
I was beginning to doubt my prospects when a large brownish van with rusted wheelhubs and yellowed, tassled curtains on the windows pulled over to the shoulder. I pulled the passenger door, peered in at a young guy in his early 20s (like me) and hopped in.
As a younger man, I loved the romanticism of hitchhiking. It hinted at unpredictability, trusting fate, testing your wiles, negotiating risk and opportunity, and above all, embracing the unknown in the truest sense of adventure.
I also happened to be a big fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. One of the things I loved about Douglas Adam's five-part trilogy is that it makes the universal truly universal, and at the same time mundane and individual. He celebrates our insignificance as a thing of beauty and meaning, and our significance as bleak meaninglessness.
At its essence, we are all hitchhikers on planet Earth's journey through the galaxy. And like all things, at some point each journey must come to an end, as it did for my best friend in March, 2020.
Kirk was 42. Scratch that - we were 42, our friendship was 42. We met at one year of age, our birthdays were four days apart in April, so we were a month from celebrating our milestones. Instead, as COVID-19 transformed the world, I mourned in isolation. From sleepovers with cereal and comics, to morning-after recaps as uni roommates, to ski hill escapes, to weddings and babies, all the times we had, and all the futures we dreamed of yet.
Back in June of 2019, I freelanced as Edmonton location manager for Wideoyster.com, a media production team from Amsterdam - Marco Barneveld and Rene Maria-Kloster. In due course Marco asked how old I was, and when I said 42, he replied, "Ah, the answer to life, the universe and everything."
It hit me like a floodlight. I hadn't thought of the Hitchhiker's Guide for a long time, and definitely hadn't thought to associate my age with that magical number from HG2G. I'd been struggling with ageing since entering my fourth decade, but that comment somehow brought humour and inspiration back to the process. Here I was just another Arthur Dent, oblivious to the sweeping crush of chance and circumstance, looking for answers. Here I was, a hitchhiker again.
When you're hitchhiking, you only take what you can carry. Everything has to serve a purpose. (The ultimate accessory according to HG2G is a towel - preferably white - because it is immensely practical and multi-purpose.)
Hitchhiking has this effect of stripping away the inessential and focusing us on the cosmically absurd moments in which we always dwell. Because, really, what is more absurd than this moment we are living, except maybe for the one that follows it?
That ride from Prince Rupert turned out pretty good, in the end. I got back to Edmonton, where I house-sat and couch-surfed my way through a summer of odd jobs. Wherever I went, I always had a towel.
I'm not 42 anymore, having celebrated my birthday in April. And I don't feel like I quite have the answer yet. But I've decided to interpret the meaning of that milestone differently. As Adams said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by."
I now consider 42 like a checkpoint - the turnstile through which I've now walked, as I begin to comprehend life, the universe and everything with new perspective. So in a sense, like my best friend, I will remain 42 forever (LOL OMG that's like double 21 Forever! Totes ancient).
I have Kirk to thank for that, as with so many other things. His death has been a catalyst for me to attempt to understand and appreciate life better. He is a major reason that I have started this project - to explore the wilderness of human experience, as only I can, and share it as only I know how.
I hope you'll find it worth following along. After all, we're all in this thing together apart connected somehow for good anyway ...
Let's be honest. We're all just in this thing.
May 25 is also known among HG2G fans as Towel Day
Holy crap! In writing this I discovered that 2020 is the year that the Hitchhiker's Guide turns 42