How Gordon Lightfoot saved my life.

I’ve written before about my move to Oregon when I was 20 years old. On the heels of a messy breakup, the prospect of another grey downtown winter had as much appeal as, well, a grey downtown winter coated with a blanket of heartsick depression. I knew 1992 was poised to be a grim year unless I made some extreme changes in my life. Seemingly, the easiest way to do it with one fell swoop was to leave home and see what new lives were living out there for me to find.

Early in that year, I struck out on the most unholy modes of transportation and rode the Greyhound bus from Buffalo, NY to Eugene, OR. It was a harrowing journey that stretched over 5 days. I have the whole thing written down somewhere. Some of it is here. The bullet point report includes having my life threatened, my left eardrum rupturing, my only coat stolen and ending up in a seedy motel room in San Francisco full of Schedule A drugs. Even more crazy shit went down in the ‘short’ trip from San Francisco to Eugene and I was at my wit’s end by its end. The bus was arriving in Eugene at something like 2AM. All I asked for, as if it was my last day on earth, was for a cheap motel by the bus terminal.

We rolled in and there it was, the Timbers Motel, lit bright with a vacancy sign. I grabbed my backpack and walked, unburdened by a warm winter coat, across the parking lot in the cold early morning. I got to the motel office, which resembled a box office. A young man not much older than me was barely awake. I asked how much a room was. “$32” he said.
Low on cash, I asked if there was anything cheaper. “We have a couple of rooms in the basement. No windows though. $24”.
Perfect, I wasn’t looking for a parking lot view anyway. After four nights sleeping in a bus seat and one scary night in a lousy motel bed, I was eager for one more. All I wanted was a shower and a quiet place to sleep .

After 5 days of travel with some questionable companions, fed by bus station french fries and vending machines, a painful earache and endless time to revisit all my perceived shortcomings, I was more than a bit shattered.
I was far from a home that had grown cold and felt like I now had none. I was in a strange place where I didn’t know a single soul. I had no one at this moment and could only hope for some in my future.
I trudged down to my windowless basement room. Unlocking the door, I found what most would call a bunker. Painted cinder block walls and a shag rug were my home for the next few hours. I quickly ran a hot shower to wash the Greyhound out of my long hair. Unfortunately, the budget kill locker I had hired for the night didn’t come with any shampoo so it was bar soap’s job to do the trick.

It was the best damn shower I ever had.

As I brushed the many tangles a bus seat creates out of my hair, I turned toward the 70s motel TV that had a built-in FM radio. Turning on the radio and scanning the dial, a familiar song filled my hobbyist torture chamber.

I can see her lying back in her satin dress
In a room where you do what you don’t confess

I think I had paid $24 for just such a room.

She’s been looking like a queen in a sailor’s dream
And she don’t always say what she really means

She did.
And she didn’t.

Sometimes I think it’s a sin
When I feel like I’m winning, when I’m losing again

Story of my life too, Gord.

There I was, thousands of miles from home, most of the time wondering what the hell I was doing, second-guessing myself. Wanting to turn around and beg for everything mediocre to bad back again.
But the sound of this song brought home to me. It brought the familiarity and the sense of safety back. It reminded me that home was where I was if that’s what I wanted.

I could be the beaten man in Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown. Or I could wake up in a few hours to start my new life. I crawled into that panic room bed and shut the light off feeling like everything may just turn out alright.

Thanks, Gord.


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