In which an attempt to escape is foiled by the law
Vancouver, July, 1977. Three black and whites chirped to a stop as I stepped out of the cab, surrounding the taxi and its startled driver. Seconds later, I was face down on the ground, handcuffed, with the cold steel muzzle of a .38 at my temple.
As I was bundled into the back of the nearest squad car, (watch your head sir, we don’t want you to have a nasty bruise in the morning), I started to blurt out that they’d got the wrong man, but the cliche caught in my throat, replaced quickly with a croak of laughter that I wisely managed to stifle. It was clear by now that any indication of me taking this lightly would not end well, so I shut up … for the time being.
I shouldn’t have wrapped the rifle in a blanket I suppose. Not that it was illegal in any way. I’d had the proper transportation permit, I’d removed the bolt and informed the bus driver of his cargo. Still, I guess it just didn’t look all that good.
And it didn’t help that at that very moment the police were hunting nation wide for the Rosedale Killer – a particularly nasty individual who had just murdered four teenagers in the Fraser Valley. And it certainly wasn’t in my favour that the face staring out from the composite sketch of the perp looked remarkably like mine.
Still, I felt put out. It was 6 a.m. and I had been looking forward to breakfast at Libby’s Cafe – down the railway tracks from my cosy little room on top of the historic West Vancouver train station, and up the rickety back stairs of the old pharmacy in Dundarave.
It wasn’t to be. Instead, here I was, trussed up in the back of a patrol car surrounded by the detritus of the previous night’s parade of suspected felons, a population amongst which I now appeared to be numbered. Still, it couldn’t hurt
to plead my case. After all, the faster I got released, the faster I could get to my eggs. So, poking my nose in between the bars I piped up.
“I’m sure you’ve taken a look at the rifle by now.” Silence.
“And you’ve probably noticed that it’s a .308.” Nothing.
“I happen to know from the news that you’re looking for a a 30-06.” Deafening silence.
“What was it guys, the blanket?”
It all started with a gig at the Airport Hyatt Hotel. I’d never had a six-nighter before, and some part of me refused to believe that I had signed on to appear every night, in the most peculiar of suits, at the beautiful Crow’s Nest Lounge, to play for a room full of diners and dancers.
As the weeks and months dragged on, the horror of my situation began to roost. Spring was turning to summer and a young man’s fancy was turning to … well … anything but this.
Sanity is a precious commodity on these gigs. It’s an odd activity, trotting out music for the chewers and the waddlers of the world, and one has to pay particular attention to staying in the traces. A wild horse does not fair well in his master’s employ. One too many shakes of the head, one too many snorts, and it’s the glue factory for Dobbin. And one evening I found myself one snort away from oblivion.
“Feelings”, the singer croaked; “nothing more than feelings” the band played on; “naughty little feelings”;
… and Mike Kalanj, our intrepid Hammond B3 player, turned to look at me with a face that said he’d just swallowed a quart of sour milk and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it down.
Then the chorus:
“Feeeelings … oh oh oh …”
… and I felt something snap. No … maybe not so much snap as release, like a wet diaper losing its grip. Or maybe more like … mmm … no … I don’t think I can top that one.
In any event, rather than hurling my guitar to the floor and stalking off the stage, which is what many musicians have done in similar circumstances, I found myself entering a state of serenity.
The moment I realized I was no longer willing to do this, a deep calm took over, and the evening turned into a delight. A benign smile creased my face; a benevolent look shaped my brow; and I gazed with a new outlook at the ladies and gentlemen enjoying cocktails on the terrace, perusing the fresh caught seafood at the buffet table, and tripping the light fantastic with alcohol induced gaits on the ‘plenty room for everyone’ dance floor.
Nodding hellos to festive patrons, and smiling conspiratorially with the band leader, I cruised through the remainder of the evening with a hail fellow well met attitude that would have guaranteed me that gig for eternity.
Mike looked at me like I was a madman, as I suppose I was. But the sheer freedom of knowing there was land in sight caused at least one member of this ship of fools to relax into the inevitability of his commercial music demise.
One of the side effects of playing gigs like this is that, after the first few nights of sorting stuff out, you can pretty well phone in your performance. This leaves your mind with all kinds of spare time. Spare time to think about stuff like:
‘Did I turn the stove off before I left the house?’ or; ‘I need to pay that phone bill before they cut me off,’ and; ‘how did Einstein prove his curvature of space theory again?’ – you know, the regular stream of consciousness.
One of the recurring themes of my mental lollygagging was a dream I’d been harbouring for some time – the one where I climbed in my car and took off to see the land. And now it appeared I had a long hot summer ahead to do just that. So with the jewel of the western provinces laid out before me, and a new spring in my step, I found myself filling up my 1956 Volkswagen with stuff for the road trip of a lifetime.
As fate would have it, my old cabin building pal, Jamie Stephen, was now the resident conservation officer in the little town of Atlin – a remote village of 150 people, roughly 35 miles south of the Yukon border, and approximately the same
distance from S.E. Alaska. It was a goldrush town and evidently one of the most beautiful places on earth. This was where I wanted to end up. It felt right. It felt like a return – like I was picking up where I left off in Skagway. The hunger to head north had never left, and the coming trip had all the weight of prophecy.
Leaving, I was like a cat on a hot tin roof. I couldn’t wait to finish packing and get on the road. Jamie had encouraged me to bring a rifle because he wanted to take me sheep hunting. As a result, one of my traveling companions was going to be my BSA .308. I didn’t have a case for it, so I wrapped it in a blanket which, as we now know, wasn’t such a great idea.
One of the weaknesses of the early Volkswagen engine was the cooling system. It was dicey. The motor was air cooled, and it depended on proper oil circulation for it to dissipate heat. Anything out of whack for too long and kapow! – your engine is blown. And blow it did. Right outside Banff Alberta.
Shortly after, I found myself humping my belongings into the bus terminal for the trip back home – belongings that included a rifle in a blanket – a rifle that the bus driver was evidently required to report. The next thing I knew, I was ‘face down on the ground, handcuffed, with the cold steel muzzle of a .38 at my temple.’
They eventually captured the Rosedale Killer. It wasn’t me, I swear. Walter Murray Madsen was charged with four counts of first degree murder in 1978.