Opinion
3 min

On the road

The best way to experience a place is to live, work & play with the locals

I travelled a lot as a kid. It was not unusual to come home from school to find that my “no impulse control” parents had packed our meagre belongs into a trailer and were waiting with the car running. We’d drive off to another town, move into another house and start at a new school without really missing a beat.

We spent family holidays on endless drives between BC and Alberta in a tiny vehicle containing two adults, four kids and at least two dogs. We sped through the truly horrifying two-lane highways that wound through the mountain roads — a steep cliff down one side and a steep cliff up the other — that connected the two provinces in the first half of the 1960s. Both parents smoked with the windows rolled up, and my father drank beer after beer, sticking his arm through the driver’s window and heaving the empties across the roof of the car into the ditch on the other side of the road. We kids read comic books, played “eye spy” indifferently and mostly fought. I would curse my parents for being too cheap to buy the Gravol that other parents stuffed into their children to render them unconscious for such journeys.

When I was a teen, my fractured family finally settled in Edmonton, and there were a number of years with no travel at all as we were too broke to take anything like a holiday. The few times I returned to BC for a visit, it was on the Greyhound. Buses have never been the carriers of society’s most cultured classes, and while I was sometimes titillated by the frisson of danger such a ride could involve, I remember most of it as nothing but endless boredom and stinky people.

There was a period when I was 20, after living in Edmonton for seven years, when I felt like I was trapped on a small island surrounded by a sea of farmland from which I’d never escape. Luckily, the theatre came to my rescue and, over the next 35 years, my travels would range across the country and around the world. While these trips were often business related, I usually found some time for recreation. I’m still of the mind that the best way to experience a new place is to live, work and play with the locals. I’ve done a few of the “nice hotel/packaged resort” things, and they all remind me of being at home but with better weather. I don’t travel for weather; I travel for stimulation.

It does get tiring, though. There was a point in the last season of Queer as Folk when I was flying weekly between LA and Toronto, as well as whatever supplemental travel was required for the other things I was working on at the time. Playing with the locals isn’t nearly as interesting when they all share the same bland, North American culture. A hotel of a certain price is the same no matter where you are. The gay bars and clubs I once loved to party at all started to feel the same no matter where I went. After the show wrapped, I started to turn down as many offers to work elsewhere as I could afford. When you’re always working somewhere else, it can be very hard to become a part of the city where you actually live and the lives of your friends.

Over the last seven years, I’ve managed to reclaim my life in Toronto and establish a home again. It’s been a welcome respite. But, like everything, that is now changing. If the career I’ve chosen for myself didn’t already demand frequent change, life would anyway. The travelling, literally and metaphorically, is about to start again. My new play, Kill Me Now, is opening in Edmonton in early September, and I’m directing it. Despite my history in the city where I was born, this is my first professional premiere there. I find a sort of lovely symmetry about this, knowing I left Edmonton on my first commercial air flight to work on my first professional play in Toronto way back in 1981.

I’ve also been accepted to do a master’s degree at the University of Toronto in the coming year and am in the process of signing my first publishing deal for a series of four novels. It’s for these reasons, as well as a number of other professional obligations, that this will be my last column for a while. However, I will be back in the pages when something moves me to write and when I have the time, so it’s not goodbye, it’s just adieu.

If you want to keep abreast of these upcoming travels, “friend” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @fraser_brad.

Thanks for your part in the journey.