Friday, March 1, 2013

A lake and an ocean

….…. when we last left our hero, Ed Bryce, he had successfully thwarted an attempted streetcar hijacking, got involved in a tram street-race, and successfully chased down a suspect, but as a consequence was temporarily demoted to a lower rank while these events were under review. His new assignment was to investigate UFO sightings by hippies on the west coast…….

I had never travelled on the trans-Canada mag-lev before. Flying to Ward’s Pacific Island out on the west coast was outside the budget of my department, so mag-lev it was. Not first class mind you, but I can’t complain. This train was a luxurious ride even in the cheap seat I was in.

I got on at Confederation Station in New Toronto. The train was fairly full by then from its earlier stops in Montreal and St. John’s. Luckily, there weren’t any more stops between here and Winnipeg. From there it was an uninterrupted 500 kilometre-an-hour run to the coast. I’d easily be on Ward’s for a late dinner if I caught my InterTrack connection in Victoria.

Seated across from me was a chatty railfan, Melissa Messina. She’d gotten on in Newfoundland and was heading to a concert in B.C. Some band I’d never heard of, but it’s not like I was plugged into that stuff anymore.  I spend too much time at work these days. I need to get out more. Melissa had gone up to the hospitality car to see the promotional video the mag-way company shows on every run. I wasn’t interested. It’s all propaganda courtesy of its Chinese owners.

The ‘lev was getting close to the launch point for its Lake Superior crossing as Melissa came walking down the aisle looking for her seat. I caught her attention and nodded.

“How was the movie?” I asked Melissa.

“Great, but I left before it finished. I wanted to get back to get a good view as we cross. I picked a seat in this car just for this part.” She dropped into the open window seat across from me and got settled for the ride ahead.

Every seat was a window seat in this car. Even though we were sitting in second-class, this was one of those panoramic observation cars. The roof and the upper half of the side-walls was a seamless clear glass enclosure. The lower half of the car’s side walls were the usual metal, but had observation windows cut into them. Air-conditioning and active light filtering in all that glass prevented the sun from cooking us.

The ‘lev track – if that’s what you want to call it – was held high above Superior’s waters by huge concrete towers that doubled as supports for the east-west oil pipeline: two ‘lev tracks on top, and just below, two pipes carrying crude to eastern seaports. The ‘lev was essentially a deal sweetener the Chinese threw in as part of the bigger and stranger deal to build a pipeline from the oil fields in their western territories – known as ‘China-ada’ in the more irreverent  papers – to ports on the coasts.

But, be that as it may, the view from high atop those massive towers, snug inside a speeding mag-lev was awe inspiring. Especially when you were way out in the middle of Lake Superior. It was a beautiful blue, cloudless summer day, and Superior wasn’t showing any of the pitiless bleak horror it was known for when the weather turned ugly.

“You haven’t told me what you do?” Melissa asked me.

I thought I’d try the truth for a change, “I’m investigating aliens on Ward’s Pacific Island.” That didn’t quite come out the way I had meant it. Coming up with the truth isn’t my forte.

“Aliens isn’t a good word for immigrants. I guess you’re with the government?” She wrinkled her nose.

“I meant UFOs.” 

Melissa gave me a quizzical look, but before she could reply there was an announcement on the car’s speaker system, “Passengers please return to your seats as we will soon begin our crossing of Lake Superior. Thank you.”

We left the conversation hanging and attended more important business: checking out the view.

Many stragglers returned to their places. Some rebels stayed where they were. Their loss.

After some muted shuffling noises as passengers got themselves organized, a hush fell over our car.

The shore was now here and so were we.

We blasted from the edge of Ontario and followed the gradual upward arc of the bridge out over the great lake with just blue skies, green trees, gray rocks and black water in our view. Whatever civilization was out there, we couldn’t see it. For a moment we left the union’s turgid realpolitik and re-entered its primal spirit.

We were riveted to the view, as was everyone else onboard.

The silence became deafening as we sped high above the water. Whatever the water had to say, we couldn’t hear it.

But, at ‘lev speeds it was over nearly as soon as it started and we were soon decelerating for the Manisota shore just on the horizon. 

The next – and greatest - wonder on our trip would happen in a few hours when we were crossing the Rockies and soaring onto Vancouver Island. That would make this look like puddle jumping. A twenty year long ordeal of tunnelling and bridging and just plain sci-fi style terra-forming, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 19th century, had re-sculpted and tamed the landscape into a smooth, almost childish mag-way super-highway. It wasn’t one of the wonders of the world for nothing.

But that was still to come.

The next instalment can be found here.

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