I try to stick to travel themes and news in this blog. But occasionally travel can take you to a rather personal space, so allow me a small indulgence today.
To set up the story, I've got to go back in time a bit. I grew up in a small town outside San Francisco called Castro Valley; a semi-rural (at the time) township where former Blue Jays General Manager Pat Gillick once worked on a chicken farm that was either owned by my Uncle Jerry or was right across the street (neither of us could quite figure it out last time we talked).
It was so traditionally American that it's to laugh; mostly white, fairly conservative, with jocks occupying the top of the social ladder and a main drag where folks would actually cruise on a Friday night in 1974. Much like they do in Modesto, California in American Graffiti, which I watched Thursday night on a flight from Toronto to San Francisco, which is kinda the theme to my Friday posting.
The movie, a masterpiece in my humble opinion, came out in the early 1970's. And it was hugely popular at my high school, where I was (sorry if this sounds like bragging) senior class president and reasonably well known if not top of the social scene. I was getting ready to head out of town to go to university in Los Angeles. A few kids in my high school were going to university in the Bay Area, but only a few of us were venturing so far away.
It's not quite like American Graffiti, where two of the four main male characters are spending their last night in Modesto before (they think) heading East to college. But it's similar.
The joke in my high school, I guess, is that I was something of a Ron Howard (see photo above) kind of guy. Pretty straight, involved in student council, all that. I didn't date the head cheerleader like Howard's character, Steve Bolander. A shame, that.
At the end of the film, Steve reverses the course he talks about all movie long and decides to stay with his pretty girlfriend in Modesto. His buddy, Curt, played marvellously by Richard Dreyfuss, opts to ignore his previous instincts and fly east to explore the world.
The similarities between Bolander/Howard and I were strong enough that when the time came for my high school paper to put out an end-of-term, pretend look at where various Castro Valley High students would be in ten years, some smart-ass dplace me in the same spot as Bolander. The school paper story mirrored the end of the movie by stating that 10 years after graduation I'd be the same as Ron Howard's character, namely "Insurance Salesman, Modesto, California."
It was pretty funny, I gotta admit. And I've laughed about it over the years whenever I've thought of the movie or of Modesto or my semi-awkward days in high school, where I really wanted to be the cool football player and not a student council geek.
I got on the plane on Thursday night to fly back to my childhood home to visit my Dad in the San Francisco Bay Area. I scanned the movie list on Air Canada and, lo and behold, found American Graffiti. I watched it and smiled and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of a marvellous, marvellous movie that's touching and ironic and interesting and fun and wonderful in every way.
I've thought about the movie a lot over the years. I had a great time at UCLA and took a trip to Europe after I graduated. In Italy I met a wonderful girl from Don Mills who I ultimately fell in love with. I ended up moving to Toronto in 1981, where I've been working in journalism (32 years at the Star come August) ever since.
Anyway, as the movie ends, they flash up the main characters and explain where they were later in their pretend lives. I laughed when I saw the bit about Steve Bolander being an insurance guy in his hometown. But what slew me was the next part, which I'd completely forgotten about. The next sequence in the bit about "where are they now" is an update on what happens to Curt (see photo), the Richard Dreyfuss character who left the clutches of his small town home for a college life back east. What do they have him doing? "A writer living in Canada."
Wow. All these years I've laughed about being pegged as the insurance guy, played by Ron Howard. Instead, my life arc took me in the direction of Richard Dreyfuss, who became a writer living in Canada.
I was freaked out. I mean, what are the odds of a movie that takes place in a town so similar to where I grew up plays out so much like my life, and then my watching it for the first time in years on a plane from Canada, where I work in journalism, back to my Modesto-like home town in California? It was so bizarre. I was gobsmacked and had to get up and shake out the cobwebs. One of the flight attendants asked me what was wrong, so I guess I was either white as a ghost or talking to myself. Or both.
I explained the whole movie/life thing to her. I think she thought I was nuts. And maybe I am. But it just slays me. I mean, whoever wrote that high school story and put me as Steve Bolander had the right movie, just the wrong guy. I was Curt, Steve's best friend. But I guess I could easily have been Steve if I hadn't wanted to see the world a bit. Or maybe if a cute cheerleader had thrown her arms around me after a drag race crash and begged me not to leave my hometown for the lights of L.A.
Life is like that. You take a left turn walking down the street in Barcelona and in seconds you find something that changes your life. In my case, I was in Rome in 1979 with some girls who I liked a bit but not a lot. We were supposed to meet at the main train station in Rome one morning and travel together to Florence. I couldn't find them so I hopped on the train and started chatting with one of several girls travelling together. One of them ended up being my wife of nearly 32 years, bless her patient soul.
Typing up this blog on Friday I'm still shaking my head over the movie and how it intertwines with my life. And I'm glad I wasn't one of the other main male characters in the film. John Milner, the tough guy/racer with a heart of gold, ends up being killed by a drunk driver. Terry, the nerd who dates the goofy, ditzy blonde, ends up dying in Vietnam.
I got to be the writer living my dream job in a great country like Canada. How lucky is that?
CHINA ON THE MOVE
I wrote the other day about how China has become the number two source of tourists for Canada, surpassed only by the United States. Now I see there's a United Nations World Tourism Organization report that saw CHina is the top tourist source market IN THE WORLD.
I guess it was only a matter of time, but in 2012 Chinese folks spent $102 billion abroad.
Back in 2000, only 10 million Chinese went abroad. Last year? Try 83 million.
In 2011, Chinese tourists spent 73 billion dollars abroad. Last year it was $102 billion, an increase of 40 per cent, said Xinhua news agency in China.
Back in 2005, China was seventh in terms of international tourism spending. Now they're on the top of the heap. And I can't see them giving up the title any time soon.
Also rising up are Brazil, wiith $22 billion in spending, and Russia, which saw international spending jump 32 per cent last year, according to Xinhua.
No wonder every tourism board in the world is chasing the Chinese, Russians and Brazilians.
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