Sunday, November 12, 2006

Highway games

Blank fields and familiar towns, foothills and mountains out the left-hand window fading with the daylight... the same trucks in their same truckstops... boring burn through Calgary, Red Deer, past the treadmill dude, into the commercial hellscape of Gateway Boulevard… how many of you are as totally bored with Highway 2 as I am? We’ve been riding that deadly, and deadly dull, ribbon of road since before that bloated sea monkey Cosmo was a glimmer in some commercial illustrator’s lifeless eye, since Calgary was surrounded by heart-stirring dun hillsides rather than soulless boomtown favelas, since forever. A busride up and down this divided cart-track is not only “time to kill”… it’s time that deserves to die.

Having made the Edmonton-to-Vulcan round trip (to answer your question, yes; I have marveled at the concrete Enterprise) three times in the last two months, it’s weird I haven’t done more to murder its six-hour (incl. heel-cooling hours in the cleaner-reeking grimness of the Calgary station) duration with the poison of videogames. I always bring my DS along, but there’s something about the Greyhound that usually makes me too restless and distracted to play; turns out, I’m mostly into the standard travel pastimes of books, magazines, and constant fiddling with the cord of my cheap headphones to keep the sweet sound of pirated MP3s coming to both ears simultaneously.

But there are games being played all around me. Three rows up on the left side, a milk-fed young lady in an unfortunate-pink BUM sweatshirt is playing an exhibition match of Telephone Mindgame on her cel: “What? What? Nothing! I’m on the bus. I’m not mad. I’m on the bus! I’m not. I'm not. What the fuck? Nothing. What’s your problem? Nothing! (etc.).” And back behind me a couple of rows, two girls – an early teen and an eightish-year-old by the sound of it – are deeply engaged in “Guess the Animal”, in their outside voices.

“Is it small?”


“Is it large?”


“So, what is it?”

“It’s meeedium!”

Since the laughing dude beside me has things well in hand on the movie front, enjoying the in-drive presentation of Freaky Friday more than enough for both of us, I decide to give videogaming another try. I have a copy of Clubhouse Games for my DS, and somewhere in its 42-game arsenal of classroom and card-table classics I figure there must be something that’ll shut out the motorcoach soundscape, distract me from the sciatic twinge aching down my left leg, and make the last, longest leg of the run – the slo-mo nightmare eternity of Red Deer to Leduc – pass by relatively painlessly.

Playing cards is fun; playing cards against depersonalized computer opponents on a pair of tiny screens in your lap is futile and depressing. I like the variety Clubhouse Games presents, but something about the way it lays out its virtual felt makes following the play kind of impossible, and few of its non-card games have much single-player appeal… and once again, the fun-capacity of wireless multiplayer remains for me theoretical. After about thirty seconds each of Blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em and a Battleship knockoff, I settle on that reliable old procrastinator’s standby, Solitaire, and the minutes and miles melt away.

Vaguely, through the hypnotic haze of mindless reflexive card-matching, I detect that another player, a teenaged boy with the faggiest lisp I’ve heard in a long time, has hijacked “Guess the Animal”; now, the kids are playing the second-most-dangerous (after “Truth or Dare”) childhood basement game, “Would You Rather?” The youngest girl’s a little at sea, but trying to show her grown-up maturity:

“Would you rather… kiss a boy, or be gay?”

“They’re the thame thing, thtupid!”

“OK, then, ummmm… would you rather kiss your mom, or—“

“Eww! My mom is your mom, you little perv!”

“OK, would you rather kiss our mom, or—“

“No, it’th my turn. Would you rather have both your armth cut off, or be a hermaphrodite?”

“What’s a hemafronite?”

And so on; you know how it goes. I finally find the Escherian knot that allows my headphones’ hair-thin strand of fractured copper wire to make contact with itself, and as the treadmill dude comes into view Slayer drowns out the kids’ creepy erotic naivety. By the time “Raining Blood” comes up, we’ll be pulling into the station. Next time, I swear, I’m bringing industrial hearing protection and kicking it childhood style with a stack of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books…

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