The Girl From Saskatoon (Yet Another Christmas Story Of Sorts…)

In December of 1997 we had ourselves a month for the ages.

It started with us getting our first tour bus.
Well, it wasn’t so much of a tour bus like you’d see a rock star traveling in.
It was an Airporter Bus.
A 28 seater.
Perfect for us.
We had the seats ripped out and had bunks put in the back.
Up front, we had a couch on one side of the bus and on the other we had a couple of captains chairs facing each other with a table in between so we could play cards or chess or whatever…
All that mattered was that we were rolling in style now.

Our first trip in the bus was for a three night stand way up in Northern Alberta in the town of Peace River.

For the first 3 hours of our trip we were living the dream.
Life was good.
We were drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and playing chess.
Our tour manager, Ivo, was behind wheel.
It was 20 below zero outside the bus, but, inside was a different story.
In fact, it was rather comfortable.
We’d even taken our coats off.
Comfy cozy.
I was sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette.
Dave was reading a book.
Ernie and Derek were playing chess.
We looked like a bunch of scholars.

And then…
Just like that.
In the space of about six seconds, reality brought us back to the now.

As we rolled north towards Peace River, an 18 wheeler was heading south towards Edmonton.
As he roared by us we all heard a sound.
Like something popped.
A loud SNAP

“What was that?”
A rock?
A bolt?
A bullet?

Who knows?

But, it was something, alright.

Then nothing.


About 4 seconds after the initial pop, we heard a new sound.
The sound of cracking.
The sound of thousands of mini cracks.
It almost sounded fake.

Then the window caved in.

We were rumbling down the highway at about 70 miles an hour and this massive 24×36 window fell in on Ernie and Derek as they played chess.
Curtains blowing out the window.
Instantly the temperature in the bus was a balmy minus 20.
And that’s not counting the blistering wind howling in through the gaping wound on the side of bus.

We put on a workshop in “How To Swear With Gusto”.

It was a chorus of expletives.
A melody of foul language in 5 part harmony.
We were all yelling and screaming.
The chessboard got knocked over.
My coffee went flying through the air.
Mass insanity ensued.

It felt like an hour of absolute mayhem.

But it was probably only about 5 seconds of sheer terror.

We pulled the bus over.
There was glass everywhere.
We all lit up cigarettes.

“What the hell just happened?”

We found a massive piece of cardboard from somewhere and somehow managed to close the up the hole where once was a window.

I knew then and there what it must’ve felt like to be on the Titantic.
One minute, we’re in the lap of luxury.

“Nothing can go wrong, we’re unsinkable…”
“What could possibly go wrong?”
“Nothing at all, do you fancy a game of chess?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
“Did you hear that?”

The rest of the trip to Peace River was a frosty endeavor.

We bundled up.
Big time.
Hoodies on top of hoodies.
And then, for good measure, we wrapped ourselves in sleeping bags.
Yet somehow predictable.

We finally got to club and loaded in.

We sat around a table, chugged coffee and chained smoked cigarettes.
We’d started laugh at the situation.
We had no choice.
It was either laugh at nothing or cry about everything.
It’s the only way to survive on the road.

After we set up for the show, we went and checked into our hotel rooms.

Showtime was at 10PM.

I went back down to the club around eight.
I needed to restring my guitars and have a bite to eat.

There was a table right beside the stage and so I sat there.
The waitress took my order.
Steak Sandwich.

The bar was full of guys who worked on the oil rigs.
Guys who worked hard and drank even harder.

One thing I knew for sure, was they didn’t wanna hear some fucking band playing original music.

They wanted to hear the Tragically Hip.
Garth Brooks.
Van Halen.

I can’t say I blame ‘em.

I noticed that there was girl sitting at the table beside me.
She was pretty, in sad a way.
She was young, maybe 22 years old.

But she was dressed in an evening gown.


The look did not agree with her age at all.
It looked like she was playing dress up with her Mom’s clothes from the 1970’s.

“Hey there!” I said.
“Hi! Are you in the band?”
“Yep, you bet.”
“Cool. That must be fun.”
“Yeah, it can be. It has it’s moments, for sure.”

We made small talk as I changed the strings on my guitars.

I asked her if she was coming to the show.
She said that she had to work at nine.

I left it at that.

I went about changing my strings.

The girl finished her drink and said,
“Well, I guess I should get to work.”
She stood up, put on her coat and made her way to the door.
“Ok, see you later. Take care.”
“Yep, you too. Bye.”

We did the gig.
We played well, but no one cared.

The next day, same thing.
I went to the club around 8 o’clock to have a bite to eat and get ready for the show.

I sat down at my usual table
And at the table next to me, was the girl from the night before.
Different evening gown.
Same era.

We made small talk.

Same thing as the night before.
She had to work at nine.

I felt like I was in “Groundhog Day”

“Ok, see you later. Take care.”
“Yep, you too. Bye.”

Once again, we did the gig.
We played well, but no one cared.

The next day was Saturday, our last day in Peace River.
We had to leave right after the show and drive all the way to Southern Alberta for a gig in Lethbridge the next night.
It’s all of a 12 hour drive at that time of year.

It had warmed up a little bit.
It was probably only minus 10.
So I decided to walk the 5 or 6 blocks to the gig from the hotel.

Around 7:30, I made my way to the club.

It was a beautiful winter night.

It was snowing.

As I walked, I could hear the snow crunch under my boots.

I heard Christmas music.

Bing Crosby.

“I’m dreaming of a White…. Christmas…”

I came around the corner and there was an outdoor skating rink.

There were probably 50 or 60 people on the ice.

It looked like the beginning of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

It looked like a postcard.
People in scarves and toques.
Everyone smiling.
Kids laughing.
A soft snow was coming down perfectly.

The music kept playing.

“…Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me…”

The sound of skates on the ice.

It was about as close to a Norman Rockwell moment as I’d ever seen.

I kept walking towards the venue.
I walked in the front door, humming “ A Winter Wonderland”.
I sat down at my table.

And again the girl was sitting at her table.
Another evening gown.

“What’s up?”
“Not much.”
“In for a drink before you go to work?”

Like before most shows, I was messing around with my guitars again.

We continued with the small talk.

Then, for no real good reason, other than to avoid dead air or awkward silence, I asked her where she worked.

She took a drag off her cigarette.

“I work in the house just across the parking lot…”
“Oh yeah, what d’ya do over there?”
“Well… I take care of the guys there, if you know what I mean…”

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard.

“So, you work there…?”
“Yeah, I do…”

Oddly enough, it seemed that awkward silence was on the menu that night.

So to kick start the conversation and to try and shift gears, I asked her where she was from.

“How long have you been here?”
“4 years.”
“Do you get home much?”
“No. Never.”
“Do your folks know you’re here?”
“They know I’m in Alberta. But no, they don’t know I’m here and they certainly don’t know I do this for a living.”

I’d never really had this kind of conversation before.

I couldn’t think of what to say, so I just let her talk.

Then she started talking about how she’d love to go home for Christmas, but didn’t think she could get away.

“What do you mean, you can’t get away? You mean you can’t get the time off? Or you can’t get away get away?”
“I can’t get away get away. There’s no way he’ll let me go. He knows I won’t come back.”

This was heavy.
I didn’t have to ask her who “he” was.
I knew exactly who she was talking about.
The guy running the “establishment”.

Her pimp.

Just then, Ivo walked in and sat down at my table.
I introduced him to her.
She said hello, finished her drink, butted out her cigarette and then stood up to leave.

“Ok, well, see you later. Take care.”
“Yep, you too. Bye.”

She walked out the door.

Ivo said, “She’s kinda cute. What’s her story?”

“Ivo, you don’t know the half of it…”

Over dinner, I told him her story.

At ten o’clock, we walked on stage.

We did the gig.
We played well, but no one cared.

By 2AM, we’d packed up and loaded out.
The bus had been warming up for about 2 hours.
And surprisingly, cardboard window and all, it was pretty warm inside.
The rest of the guys in band had already crawled into their bunks and gone to sleep.
The big diesel engine chuckled the way big diesels do.

We did one last check of the stage to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything of value.
We were all ready to go when Ivo and I decided to have one more cup of coffee before we headed back out on the highway for the snowy, six hour drive back down to Edmonton.

I lit up a cigarette.

“Hey Ivo.”
“That chick.”
“Yeah, what about her?”
“Let’s go get her.”
“What d’ya mean, “Go get her.”?”
“I mean, she doesn’t wanna be here anymore and she’s too scared to leave. Let’s help her take that first step..”
“Okay, that sounds good to me. Let’s do it.”

And so we did.

We jumped in the bus and drove across the parking lot.
We parked in front of the house.

As we were getting out of the bus, Ivo grabbed his Mag-Lite and stuffed it his sleeve.

The music was blaring.
We walked up to the front door.
Not surprisingly, it was locked.
We banged on the door.

A guy finally came to the door.

“Private party.” he said.

Over his shoulder, I could see that there were a bunch of guys sitting around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

All waiting their turn, I figured.

The girl was standing there in her evening gown.
She looked embarrassed.
I could tell she was shocked to see us.
Maybe even disappointed to see us.
Part of me wondered if she thought we were at the door to experience some of these services that she was talking about.

“She’s coming with us.” I said.
“Who is?”
“She is.”
“Oh I don’t think so!” he said.
“Yeah, she is, man. She wants to go home. She’s going home. Go pack yer stuff. Let’s go! She’s coming with us.”
“Fuck that, she’s ain’t going nowhere.”
“Sorry man, she’s coming with us.”

She ran to her room.
Ivo and I followed her.
We stood guard at her door as packed her suitcase and threw on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie.

Oddly enough, and thankfully, none of the “patrons” seemed to feel the urge to stop us from taking this girl with us.
Maybe their conscience got the better of them.
I don’t know.

We pushed our way out the door.

The whole time he’s yelling at her at the top of his lungs.

“You slut! You whore. You’ll be back.”
“FUCK YOU!!!” she said.

It sounded like she’d been waiting a long time to say that to him.

She flipped him the bird as we roared out of the parking lot and off into the December night.

Suddenly, things weren’t so Norman Rockwell anymore.

Suddenly, life got really weird.

The entire six hour drive back to Edmonton was done in complete silence.
Not a word was said.

The only sounds were that of the diesel engine and the sound of frozen tires on a frozen highway.

I sat across from the girl.
But I didn’t look at her.
I just looked straight ahead.
She did her best to muffle her sobbing
I gave her my sleeping bag to wrap up in.
She curled up in ball and cried herself to sleep.

I looked out through windshield and watched the snow come at us in the headlights.

I was dying to talk to Ivo about what we’d just been though but, there’d be time to talk about this down the road.
She certainly didn’t need to relive it.

So I chain smoked.
Probably smoked a pack and a half on that trip to Edmonton.

Around 8 in the morning, we pulled up to the Greyhound Station in downtown Edmonton.

She’d just woke up.
Her eyes were puffy from crying most the night.
In her sweatpants and hoodie she looked even younger than twenty two years old.
She could’ve been 18, for all I knew.

We helped her with her bags.

We stood there with her on the sidewalk for about 30 seconds.

“Okay, well, we should get a move on. We still got another 5 or 6 hours before we get to Lethbridge.”
“Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“It was no problem at all, glad we could help.” Ivo said, like we’d just changed her tire or something.
“Just go home. Get some sleep. I bet you’ll be so happy when you get home.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait. I can’t believe I’m gonna be home for Christmas!”
“Yeah, no kidding. Ok then, take care. Merry Christmas.”
“Yeah, Merry Christmas and thanks again for the getting me out of there.”
“Don’t worry about it… it’s okay…”

As we pulled away from the curb, I watched her walk into the bus station, dragging her suitcase and her backpack.

I lit a cigarette.

Not surprisingly, Ernie, Dave and Derek had slept through the entire ordeal.
They were still sleeping.

About 30 minutes later we were on the south side of town.

I’d been feeling pretty good about our actions the night before.
I’d felt like we’d done something to help a girl out of an awful awful situation.

Just then, something caught my eye.

Her purse.

Jesus Christ, she forgot her purse!

“Ivo, fuck man, she for forgot her fucking purse!!! We gotta go back!!!”

She’d forgotten her purse on our bus.
Oh God.
I looked inside.
There must’ve been 10 thousand dollars, if not more.
There was a wad of money about 4 inches think.
Money earned the hard way.
Money earned the worst way.

The entire way back to the bus station I couldn’t believe what was happening.
I could only imagine what she was thinking.

She was probably thinking that she was better off on her back in a brothel in Peace River, than she was, standing in a bus station in Edmonton, without a dime to her name after having been robbed by a couple guys pretending to be good people.

Jesus, that poor girl.

We finally pulled up to the curb.
I jumped out and raced into to the bus station.
I had to find her.
I ran up to the ticket counter.
There was a hundred people in line.
But not her.

I ran on to the bus that had “SASKATOON” written on the front.

My eyes were scanning everywhere.

She was gone.

I couldn’t believe it.

My heart sank.

I could only imagine how she felt.

Then, through a sea of people hustling around the bus station, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.
She was sitting on the floor with her back against the wall.
Her head in the crook of her elbow.

People were walking past her.
Around her.
Over her.
No one was paying any attention to her.
Everyone was too busy getting to wherever it was they were going to.

All the while, Christmas music played…

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in Holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…”

I walked up and stood in front of her.

“You forgot something…”

She looked up.
She didn’t say a word.
She didn’t have to.

I handed back her purse.

She looked inside.

“It’s all there. Don’t worry.”

I turned and walked away.

She didn’t say a word.
She didn’t have to.

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