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  • I planted three of them.

    Days ago, I spent the sunlight hunched over a shiny new metal rake, de-thatching the back lawn. Funny enough, the only time you really get to yourself in a subdivision is the middle of the day when everyone else is at work. It’s the quietest it will get. The feel of warm breezes teased my uncovered arms from beneath the T-shirt I was able to get away with; it seemed like years since the sun had checked in. There’s something about working up a sweat outside that I either took for granted before this winter, or I simply never appreciated. As I worked my way across the lawn, the grass slowly began to stand free of the dead things that covered it from the sun. It had been flattened by this winter’s weight and intensity. If the grass could talk, I think we’d have a lot to say to each other.

    Don’t worry, I’m not about to start hugging trees.

    But as I worked, my mind began to wander… about where 17 and 18 year old Brad thought 25 year old Brad would be. What he would look and sound like. If I could show them any moment, I don’t know that they’d ever forgive me. They were entirely different people. They were slow to learn, and were frequent employers of trial by fire. And I burned a lot. Knowing what I know now, if I’d have given them what they wanted, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.

    I’ve always aimed big, thinking that happiness and achieving my dreams could only be found in film roles and telling amazing stories. I wanted big things. But even more than that, I wanted people to think that I was capable of big things. I was in love with my interests and talents and concepts more than I was about doing anything about it. I didn’t know to love the work. And in that moment of realization, I’d never been happier just raking leaves.

    ‘Your head’s in the clouds, kid.’

    I always knew phrases like that said a lot. But after the fires had finally died, I understood. As if on cue, I looked down to find that there was much more than dirt, dead leaves, bird seed and other lawn scum protruding from the earth - there were hundreds of little green leaves sprouting up from those dead things. They were trees, waiting all winter long for their chance. And the dead things from last year weren’t going to stop them.

    I’ve been learning that lesson for a long time, to plant a seed. Never would I write the story that would change the world over night, nor would I become the actor I wanted to be in a single monologue. But I wanted big things. I still want big things.

    I uprooted three of the trees, knowing that they wouldn’t all be permitted to grow. Although I wasn’t the 17 or 18 year old I was before, I felt perhaps there wasn’t anything to lose by planting something that day. I put them safely in a water bottle I’d cut in half. And I named them.

    Toronto, Melbourne and Tokyo.

    The next morning was easier to pull myself out of bed with the excitement of a days road trip ahead of me. I left the house at 6am to drive to meet my road trip partner by 7am. The roads were clear, the lights were green, and the sun would meet us on the way. The Ambassador Bridge guided us to the lonely toll booths, which was a miracle in itself; never had I imagined passing into another country to be so simple and quick. But that’s the nature of Canada - friendly, accepting and full of wild adventure, as we were about to find out. We put the border in our rear view mirror, switched our phones to airplane mode, and noted that the miles were behind us. From here on out, it was kilometers. Somehow, that small change in familiarity set a fire of excitement beneath us. Before long, we were on our way to Toronto.

    I’ve now deleted seven failed attempts of a metaphor about a seed that needs time to grow, but I just couldn’t publish it. It may be true, but it makes me laugh. That’s not what this trip was about. I wasn’t thinking about those trees I’d planted as we drove past the hundreds of corn fields in Ontario.

    But that was kind of the point.

    It wasn’t long before the front seats were filled with wrappers and paper from gas stations, Panera, Starbucks and, of course, Tim Hortons. Fuel comes in many forms, and we wanted to make sure we were plenty ready for our adventure. Ingrid Michaelson is an artist I’m new to, and a sound I’m quickly falling in love with, but we both knew that this adventure was more about the kilometers it would take to get to her. She would be playing in Detroit only the next day, but my road trip partner and I were excited to do all we could with the day that was right in front of us.

    What if the whole world was a little less limited in the way we viewed things? I’m not talking about world problems or hate or even holding a grudge. I’m talking about something small. So many times I’ve been discouraged in the middle of a story because of the sudden, dawning realization that ‘I have so much longer to go’. I’m not saying that everyone should get in the car and drive to Toronto to go to a Starbucks instead of going to the one down the street, but I think people might have a better attitude about what they should and shouldn’t worry about in life. I won’t remember on my deathbed, or even in a month that it took 5 hours to get there. I’ll only remember that I went.

    The road is a magical place, whether it moves in miles or kilometers. It’s the thing that makes everything possible, and separates those who aren’t willing to go the distance of adventure, from those who are. You can reach anything you want on the road, and pit stops were all but few and far between. Although we quickly vetoed my idea to stop at every Tim Hortons we saw (we would need more than a day to get to Toronto), we did find a big red chair, we found a farmer with a horse drawn plow, and we played tag for over 200 kilometers (I was always it).

    Toronto is a city that always displaces me, yet I find myself wishing I could stay longer. It’s an amazing city - massive and still growing; a city of cranes and buildings that are always getting taller. As the 403 brought us around the bend in a cliff, the skyline of Toronto waved to us in the distance. The last time I’d been there, I was leading the charge into the city as the best man for my brother’s bachelor party. Needless to say, I don’t remember as much as I’d like.

    We didn’t want to stray far from the concert hall, but we were bound and determined to find a place to eat that we would both be happy with. Even in familiar territory, this was a difficult task for a carnivore and a vegetarian. It was entirely my fault - I didn’t know what I was in the mood for, just that I was famished. Yet all the menus we came across appeared less than appetizing. We searched for an hour and a half, walking up and down the same 5 blocks of Greektown looking for something that wasn’t there. It was finally when my friend suggested we expand our search one more block farther down from the end of Greektown that we finally found it: a small pizza place with a quiet dining area and a corner booth in the sun just for us.

    From working in restaurants, I am well aware of the power of a warm meal. I do not take it for granted, and I think it’s important. It’s what grandma taught me. Had I not have had that, I don’t know that I would have been able to get through the concert. Not that Ingrid or the company weren't amazing (even the opening bands killed it), but standing in one place without being able to move became quite painful and claustrophobic after 5 straight hours and a day of walking.

    The life of a hardcore Ingrid fan and her trusty adventurer begged us to return to the 403 right after the concert. The ride home was one of those drives when you just don’t feel the need to turn the radio on. I like to think that it was because we both took the time to process the day and relive the adventure of Toronto.

    Personally, my heart was still throbbing from the pasta and shrimp. My feet were conflicted between exhaustion and overwhelmed excitement. My eyelids were conflicted between rushing towards dreaming, and fulfilling my end of the bargain to get us home safely. But a mere 60 kilometers away from the border, I had to stop. But we continued on, towards the border with me riding shotgun.

    There are several people who warned me how much of a dick the US Border Patrol can be to Americans and… well, everyone, coming back into the country. When we recrossed the Ambassador Bridge at 4:30AM, neither of us were expecting them to ask us to pull our car around to be searched. I don’t know if it was because of my level of exhaustion, but I wasn’t surprised as we sat in a waiting room at the US checkpoint while they searched out car.

    This is perhaps one of the most interesting places to be at such an hour of the night. No one here was waking up and beginning their day, except, perhaps the guards. All of these people were either finishing, or continuing a long hike in the dark. America’s border control did not suggest they wished these travelers any fortune. As I sat there, staring tunnel-visioned into the empty chair in front of me, completely missing the wired banter of my anxious and exhausted co-pilot, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d stopped us. Perhaps it was because it was 4:30AM and they were stopping everyone? But, what were they doing? Why had they asked us to leave out phones in the car? What if we had been children, would they have held us then? Interrogated us for breakfast? Did they want us to be angry with them? Off to my right, an officer entered the waiting room and made an announcement:

    “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. Please just have your documents ready and be attentive when your name is called,” he announced with the hour in mind. He was a sturdy, bald middle aged African American man who enunciated with clarity. “We’ll get you out of here as quickly as we can.”

    Finally, an American who gave a shit. As he turned away to get back behind the counter, the officer behind him came into view. It took my unfocused eyes a moment to catch up to him leaning with his back against the counter, shaking his head as he looked at the list of those checked in.

    “Uh ah…” he said from the back of his throat with the faintest hint of a smile on his face.

    Perhaps it was the late hour, or my eyes playing tricks on me, but this man openly objected to the happiness, well-being and convenience of everyone in this room. It was pure, unreasonable, unmotivated hate and abuse of control.

    Behind me, the voice of a third man spoke to a family of three. Something about the wife being a British citizen, and an annoyed comment about why this wasn’t voiced. Through the muffled noises and sounds of despair, another man called our names. He took our passports and asked us where we lived. He asked us how long we were in Toronto, and why we’d traveled. Kinda makes sense. But then he began typing as if he were blowing through the epic climax of an action novel, slowly briefly to raise an eyebrow our way:

    “Have a seat, I’ll call you when you’re all set.”

    What. In the world. Could he have possibly been TYPING?

    It was at this time that a small parade of people filed into the waiting from, filling the small space from wall to wall. They were led by a man in a blazer who carried a clipboard who quickly pulled the one friendly officer aside to whisper, “I’ve got 6 total with me, only 2 that speak English.”

    The guard quietly instructed the man to have his people wait in a small room connected to ours, and led the man to the desk, “Okay, come with me and we’ll get you all taken care of real quick.”

    A small, selfish voice in my head cried out ‘We were here first!’ but was silenced by my better half.

    Finally, our names were called and we dragged ourselves up to the front desk to face a man who held our passports in his outstretched hand. There was no explanation, no eye contact, no ‘thank you’.

    “You’re all set.”

    But that wasn’t what disturbed me. A pestered laugh came from our right, from the the African American guard who spoke to the non-English speaking man and woman who stood next to their liaison.

    “I can’t do anything about this. They don’t understand me - they don’t speak English,” the guard complained. “What do you want me to do about it? I thought deaf people were supposed to pick things up faster.”

    These were people from Sweden who were just trying to visit the country. Granted, I don’t speak Swedish, but I’m sure that this process of not being able to understand what a federal official was trying to tell them. They were not doing this on purpose. I think a common frustration from which several issues in this country spawn from are the fact that Americans don’t like to be inconvenienced. We really don’t know what it feels like. We have all the guns, so we don’t need to understand.

    I think there’s something very wrong with that.

    My road trip partner and I went our separate ways. I drove home on a new fuel. The miles passed with boiling blood until I finally pulled back into my driveway at 6:04AM. It had been a full 24 hours since I’d left.

    And seeing the comforts of home, my eyelids grew anxious again, knowing that dreams were just around the corner. They’d be better, like back when things were measured in kilometers. I made myself a promise to write about what I’d just seen.

    I glided into the house. And before I could get to sleep, I somehow remembered to step outside onto the back porch. I found the halved water bottle full of dirt where I’d left it on the patio table. I poured my last bit of water from the trip into the soil and set it where I knew the sun would find it. Then, finally, I went to bed with a last glance out the window at the rising sun.
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