Eurotruck Diaries #3: Aurora Australis

There should be a word for that apprehension we get, three weeks into a month-long holiday. That feeling of looking forward, and seeing the end.

Tears as it flies

When my family comes home there will be a slideshow. A long one. We’ll spend a good hour of our lives re-living, living vicariously. What motivates us to perform this ritual? Is it for those left at home, or for those returning? The recently bereaved.

Surely it’s to solidify our memories. The best way to remember something is to make up a story about it. By selecting which moments to show, we give them meaning, weld them into our brains. This, we declare, I will remember this.

If we forget it it’s gone.

***

This week there’ve been reports of the Southern Lights showing up as far north as New South Wales. Someone on the radio says this sort of thing only happens once every 11 years or so. I look out my window each night, wishing.

Never Be Complete

Driving a shipment of smoked eels through a tunnel, iTunes shuffles over to “This Is Your Life,” a song composed of clips from the movie Fight Club. 

It’s been a while since I thought about that film, so as I sit in my room on a Friday night, driving my fake truck across fake Canada (oops), the lyrics are an unexpected jab to the ribs.

    This is your life. Doesn’t get any better than this.

    This is your life, and it’s ending. One minute at a time.

***

Maybe the best way to immortalise a moment is to have it be terrible. We are experts at re-living disaster. One day on our walk Tiggy starts to limp. She struggles to walk, lurching feebly along the pavement. I carry her home, alarm bells ringing. I imagine the trip to the vet, the waiting. Paperwork. I’m not prepared.

When we get home I look at her paw, and notice a piece of foot that… isn’t. I pick at it and it comes loose, rolling – caked in mud and grease – into my palm. A seed pod, pinky fingernail size, lodged in both front paws. I let her go and she starts dancing down the hallway, fast and energetic. She’s fine.

Later I pull a U-turn on the highway.

Uh Oh

Music is another great way of connecting to memory. A song can take us back to the time when we first heard it, particularly – I find – when the mood of the music matches our own at the time.

What have my family been listening to this month? Will it affect how they remember this place? Themselves?

***

Of course there’s another school of thought, arguing that spending all your time archiving your experiences removes you from said experiences. In order to take a photo you have to not be in it, and so on.

Maybe they’re right. After all, isn’t trying to preserve a moment inherently futile? Our photos won’t last, and neither will we.

***

On a school trip to New York, our bus driver pulls up the intercom.

Take one last look, he says, the city rolling by across the river. We lean into the windows, trying to soak up every millilitre of light. We hold on tightly, for as long as we can, but the bus rolls on.

Later Someone Like You comes on the radio – again. We sing along, and when we look back it’ll seem kinda goofy, but for now we sing from our hearts.

Placid Lake

The themes I choose each week become self-fulfilling prophecies. Once I had the idea to write about aliens, I saw them everywhere. Go for a walk with the express purpose of photographing a certain colour and you will see that colour in places you never would have otherwise.

Maybe we’re not just archiving, when we document our travels, but experiencing a heightened awareness. Crafting our stories as we live them. It’s an easy kind of magic: Wishing, and then filtering reality to make that wish come true.

If we can’t find any Southern Lights, maybe we’ll just have to make some.

***

We can’t remember forever, but equally I’m not sure we can live forever ‘in the now’. It’s for the same reason we can’t live every moment like it’s our last. There’s just not enough energy in the world. We need down time. Time to reflect, to re-watch old movies. To drive our totally real truck to Saskatchewan or wherever.

I'm a bird of the night

The entry’s almost over, and the aurora has not appeared. Maybe I started too late in the week. Time’s been slipping away recently.

Maybe the person reading this could succeed where I failed. Carry the torch, so to speak. Just keep an eye out, skywards. Even though the end is coming, winter’s not over yet. You might see something.

***

However, this is the final entry in Eurotruck Diaries. This time next week my family will already be home, and my search ended. Hopefully I’ll find them before they board their plane, as I do have one last surprise in store… But in terms of this blog, yeah, we’re done.

I’ve had fun doing this. It’s been nice to weave myself into a narrative. Suddenly events have meaning. But I’m tempted to ask: would I have been better off spending this time talking to people? Catching up on the media backlog? Reading?

Would I have been more immersed in my truck adventures if I hadn’t stopped every few minutes to take photos?

Did it work? What do I remember from this month?

What happened?

 

 

Well, here comes July!

intruders

Eurotruck Diaries #2: The Company We Keep

I flag down a nearby security guard. Hi there I say.

Stoney silence.

SternGuy

Hey I’m just looking for my family. Have you seen three people in glasses? Middling to tall in height? Most likely wearing matching lumberjack outfits?

The guard raises a single eyebrow. How old, he asks.

I pause.

Well, it kinda depends what time zone you’re in…

***

Whenever I take pictures of a place, everyone always asks Where are the people? My eye darts to lighting fixtures, architecture and bodies of water. Animals, at best. My photos tell the story of a holiday on a dead planet.

Part of me feels like rectifying this.

So Similar!

This is Okhrana Obristana, my character in Eurotruck Simulator 2. She is both me and not me. We have a strange relationship. She is a Soviet spy.

Starting out with a tiny shack in Hannover, Okhrana set out to buy her own truck and spread her company (TWWWYTT Ltd.) across all of Western Europe. Three months later she has two employees, a proper garage, and is qualified to carry almost every kind of hazardous substance on the market. I am so proud of her.

***

Overall this second week has gone a little smoother than the first. No homework, no cooking dramas. The chickens are swimming in warm, cuddly wood shavings. Mojo hasn’t rolled in anything, and hasn’t left anything for me to step on in the morning. We’ve got a routine, we’ve got systems, I’ve got a fancy coat. Everything’s starting to click.

EVERYTHING BREATHES

People exist in the traces they leave. At the park I find a tiny clipping of purple flowers on the ground. Nearby is a small blue hairband. I picture a secret meeting, a romance fuelled by adventure. A parent’s voice cries out from down the street. They run.

***

We watch the Wallace and Gromit movie – Curse of the Were-Rabbit – and despite being ten years old, I think it’s the best movie I’ve seen in a while. All the different elements of this film interlock in a really satisfying way. Like it’s clear they wanted to play with old monster movie tropes, specifically with a small town going up against a monster that eats children. But it’s a kid’s movie, so what do they do? Swap ‘children’ with ‘vegetables!’

Babies

Then, logically, there has to be a ‘Biggest Vegetable Contest’ to make that relationship make sense, so of course Wallace and Gromit have to work in pest control, which puts them at the centre of the action when a giant rabbit starts demolishing people’s gardens, and then… it’s all just so neatly tied together.

It was also cool to see the film as a continuation of the evolving Wallace and Gromit formula. So much of the stuff in this film feels like ‘classic Aardman’ – the elaborate morning routine, Wallace’s bungling romance, animals flooding the house, technology causing problems – but these elements were only introduced two short films ago. Potentially with the exclusion of A Matter of Loaf and Death, each episode is better than the last. They build on each other. Their history strengthens them.

***

Driving over the Øresund Bridge – that famous Canadian landmark – I look out at the night sky and realise there’s no moon. The water below reflects a light with no source.

Zooming out with my camera to investigate, I notice that I’m being followed by a shadow woman.

SHADOW WORLD

I tell myself I’m safe even though I might not be.

***

I know his name is David even though I’ve never used it. He has a rapport with the other customers – they might call him ‘Dave,’ he might ask how their holiday went – but he and I have built up a stumbling, solemn relationship. I always bring a book, in case we’re alone, and are forced to wait out the cooking process in silence.

I think he noticed when I stopped coming. Now every couple of months when I skulk through his door – looking different but at the same time inherently familiar, stretched – I feel like he’s trying to win me back. He rounds down the price a little. He tells me to have a good night, and in his voice there’s this quiet desperation.

***

At one point Joanne stops by to pick up some lemons. She says hi.

Not Joanne

Traipsing through a local alleyway, I discover that someone has installed a tiny door in their back fence. It’s hinged along the top like a cat-flap, but it’s too short for a cat to fit through comfortably. It could probably allow six largish rats to exit at once, or possibly one komodo dragon.

***

Another week goes by, and Okhrana gets her final hazardous material permit. Flammable solids. To celebrate, she upgrades the headquarters. It’s a huge, gleaming warehouse now; with its own gas station so she can refill between jobs. All this progress in one week. Okhrana wonders at what could be achieved in ten weeks. Years. Decades. How powerful she’d be.

Composite Thing

We get better at what we do the more we do it. Truck driving, cooking, living. We may never reach a point where things aren’t hard, where we’ve nothing to worry about; difficulty has a way of scaling with our own growth. But it’s at least a little comforting, to think some day we’ll be bigger. We’ll wade through our old problems like they’re nothing. We’ll drive our big shiny truck straight through the wall of the UN, and declare that TWWWYTT Ltd – the company that owns all of Europe – is a front for the Soviet Union.

Soviet Union? the US Ambassador will breathe. I thought you guys broke up.

And we’ll laugh maniacally as our company logo extends outwards to reveal a hidden message.

THAT’S WHAT WE WANTED YOU TO THINK!

Thisun

Happy Birthday everyone!

Eurotruck Diaries #1: Somewhere Out There

The first alien is a bundle of thin black cords. Spread out evenly over the pavement, they stretch for half a block before converging around the corner. At first they seem inanimate, but as the dogs and I approach the tendrils pulse, sliding smoothly backwards and out of sight; like an octopus, flowing into a gap in the rocks.

Later that same walk Mojo rolls in shit. A poor omen.

CANADADSCanada is a burst of fresh air after the end-of-semester grind. I drive through pine forests, ride bridges over massive lakes. At night the skies are full of stars, but when you’re driving a truck stargazing becomes something of an extreme sport. Especially if you were to take your hands off the wheel to take photos – that would be an insane thing to do.

STARS1DSFinal assessments are four days of non-stop comic making, and I remember almost nothing from them. Some days I make good progress, and things are good. Other days I make less progress, and I walk through empty rooms, switching off each light with a limp, isolated snap.

***

The second alien lives in the trees. Late one night, Mojo senses a presence, starts growling up at the sky. I look where he’s pointing, manage to make out the shadow of something big looming amid the branches. A massive tail arches gracefully back and forth, with a strength that makes me think ‘Xenomorph.’ I can see something tensed against the tree trunk – clinging perpendicular to the ground, right above my dog – and for a minute all I can do is stand there and imagine it falling.

FRONCHDS

At first I’m confused that all the signs are in French but then I realise: French Canada. So now I have to deal with a language barrier, I guess. I think my sat nav is trying to kill me.

***

Cutting dangerously across a busy highway, I get T-boned by a jeep. The repairs take most of my profits, so it’s an angry drive to the nearest warehouse, where I find out they need someone to ship eighteen tonnes of fireworks. I had no idea you could carry fireworks in this game!

Cargo doesn’t matter in any real, material way. Toxic chemicals never spill, petrol never explodes. But picking and choosing your freight allows you to make up your own story about what you’re carrying, and to whom. I remember getting a job to carry ten tonnes of yoghurt to a warehouse around the block in fifteen minutes. Somebody just really needed that yoghurt, right away.

“There’s no time for protocol!” I roared, slamming my fist into the desk. “People are hungry.

***

Driving through a steep valley, I look up and see a statue of an enormous eagle. It sits on top of its hill, watching the forest and its visitors. I drive past and onward, with no way of explaining what I just saw. Truly, Canada is a land of mysteries.TURUKDS

I never see the third alien. Walking down an alleyway we come across a pile of blue, faintly luminous feathers. They’re scattered over the cobbles and out onto the adjoining street, spread by the wind. The dogs sniff at them hungrily, but I keep walking, scanning the street for movement.

***

We’re addicted to stories, and places are a great way to get our fix. Moving through a space is like submerging your head into a pool of narrative – all those details to make sense of. It’s only when we stay in one place long enough, walking the same paths each day, that the stories start to run dry.

So we get on a plane. Board a ship, drive all night, and when the sun rises we look out over a world of details. The engines in our head start to churn.

***

But aren’t these new, exciting spaces – in the end – just someone else’s boring neighbourhood? This isn’t to say that our sense of wonder is misguided, but rather that travel is a state of mind. Every place has its secrets, and it seems unlikely that they can ever truly be exhausted. Maybe with some effort, we can make a familiar place strange again. My family tell stories of bear cubs, fractions of whales – and I count aliens.

SICK PLANE DS

The level of customisation in this game is amazing to the point of stupidity. You can change your hubcaps, visor, door handles – all in the interest of self expression. Your truck is a story you tell yourself. A story about someone pretending to be Canadian.

***

There’s even a custom license plate you can stick in your front window, allowing you to send a message to other (fictional) drivers. I’ve never had much use for it because oh my god wait wait wait WAIT –

I just had an idea.

SORRYsmallDSSORRYBIGDS

AMAZING. THIS GAME IS AMAZING.

***

The last alien is a big tarp, and I know it’s a tarp. But one night I’m sitting beside the heater, and the wind is rattling against the roof. The beam of a streetlight illuminates a large blue shape, clambering up the steps to my door. It breathes with its whole body, skin shimmering in the dark as it expands and contracts. After catching its breath, the creature stretches upwards at an impossible angle, folding itself inside out, and its insides are an ocean. It laps placidly at the edges of the door, and I think about what a great shape that is for an alien to be. A breathing blob, with an ocean in its belly. So strange. So incomprehensible.

INTHEDARKDS

See you next week!

Prologue

The wheel shifts under my hands and the truck veers at 60 k’s an hour off the side of the highway. I wrestle for control, pull the handbrake, but it’s too late – the cabin lurching inevitably up off the road and onto a steep, grassy incline. A metallic clang as our cargo – twenty two tonnes of packed glass – bumps against the chassis. I bring the truck to a halt and just sit there, head in my hands. God, I’m an idiot. I was trying to take a screenshot of rain.

2015-06-04_00003DS

This is Eurotruck Simulator 2, and if you’d told me three months ago that I’d end up pouring upwards of 40 hours into it I would have laughed in your face. ‘Who wants to play a game where you just drive down roads?’ I would have asked. ‘Why not just get a job as an actual truck driver?’ Well there’s an easy answer to that second one, namely that I don’t want to die (see above paragraph for details.)

But it’s more than immortality that keeps bringing me back. Eurotruck 2 is a game about listening to music as you cruise through the woods at sunset. It’s about the satisfaction of backing a trailer neatly into its parking space – something you swore you’d never be able to do. And when I realised this game had a dedicated Photo Mode… that’s when I developed a problem.

2015-05-29_00001DS

2015-05-27_00009DS

2015-05-25_00007DS

That’s my truck, Furiosa, and over the next few weeks I’d like to bring you along on my journey through this ama –

Wait a minute. Where is everybody?

My whole house is empty. What –

The dogs are barking. Mojo’s got something in his fur. The nail clippers aren’t in their usual place in the drawer. Something’s wrong. Have I – How long have I been driving this truck?

I shake the thought off. My family has disappeared and it’s up to me to find them. I set out on my quest.

Search1DS

SEARCH2DS

SEARCH3DS

Finally, I find something.

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 11.34.19 am

It’s not much to go on, but it’s all I have at this point.

Could my family really have gotten all the way to Canada without my noticing? How is that possible? What could have kept me that preoccupi – You know what it doesn’t matter. I set a course for the nearest sea port and arrange passage on the first ship to the provinces. We set sail at dawn.

I realise this will not be an easy task. I know I’ll have to contend with foreign road rules, unfamiliar streets. I’ll have to learn the ins and outs of the area. Ask around. Gain the trust of the people.

I’m going to have to blend in.

PERFECTDS

TO BE CONTINUED