The Saturation Point

The Saturation Point is defined by Dictionary.com as the point in which a final capacity is reached. When no more of a substance can be added or held. When it comes to getting caught out in the rain, this is the point in which your clothing is so thoroughly soaked that you simply cannot hold any more water.

It is rare that we hit our saturation point, as despite complaining about getting caught out in the rain, with our modern conveniences it is rare to be thoroughly waterlogged. Shelter and towels are usually close at hand and for those that are impatient with the rate of evaporation, hair dryers and clothes dryers provide speedy alternatives.

Vehicles make transportation luxurious as we no longer must we trudge through the elements to travel…

…unless we want to!

In May of 2015, I elected to trudge.

While running Kickstarter campaign, a man told me that self-promotion is a full-contact sport. The message resonated with me, particularly as I was pulling 15-18 hour days at conventions demonstrating my game in an effort to raise funds for the campaign. The whole process was alleviated by the fact that I genuinely enjoy talking to people, but still; 18 hours of talking non-stop is still 18 hours.

After speaking to people for so long, I felt the impulse to take a few hours to myself. During a convention called Keycon, I planned to repeat my annual walk home at 2:00 A.M to be my downtime, a period of 2.5 hours to reflect on the convention and catch up on the latest episode of my favorite podcast: Hardcore History.

The previous year the walk home had been easy, as summer nights in Winnipeg are typically calm and serene with gentle breezes that take the edge of the hot and humid days.

May 16, 2015 was not one of these serene night.

After a hot and muggy week, I watched through the windows of the convention’s game room as dark clouds accumulated throughout the evening. At around 1:00 A.M it began to drizzle and by 2:00, it had progressed into a mid-summer shower.

Being stubborn about sticking to plans, I decided that shower or not, I was going on my contemplative walk. I began by stuffing all my belongings into a water-proof bag and zipped up my water-resistant jacket (not to be confused with water-proof).

I said goodbye to the stragglers in the gaming room, namely two men engaged in a three day game of Star Wars miniatures with enough figurines to re-mortgage a house. After learning of what I was about to attempt, they informed me in no uncertain terms that I was clearly insane and begged me to reconsider my travel plan.

I brushed it off with the inane response only a particular sub-section of geek subculture that the three of us inhabited could understand, namely that that “I loved Bladerunner”. [This is not hyperbole, it is Why I Write]

I then walked into the rain-slick cityscape, confident in having established myself as a bona fide insane game designer.

When I began to walk, the rain remained mild; neither a drizzle nor a downpour. Accompanying me was the voice of Dan Carlin in his most recent episode of Hardcore History, which covered the trials and tribulations of World War I.

At about the fifteen minute mark and just as I was in the middle of an open bridge with no shelter, Poseidon suddenly began to play hard-ball and the rain and wind rose in synch, creating a torrential downpour.

For my part, I took solace in the thought that in these conditions, I was probably safer from muggings or harassment during this late night stroll then at any other point in my life.

Not knowing what else to do, I also turned up the volume of my podcast.

This was a mistake.

In the two hour trudge through waterlogged streets and alleyways, I struggled to distract myself with the podcast. The trouble was that this particular episode had decided to spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject of trench warfare and the horrific conditions soldiers endured perpetually wet in the muddy trenches. At one point, Dan Carlin commented that people today don’t know what it is like to experience being so wet, so thoroughly saturated.

This did not take my mind off the rain.

After an hour and a half, I had reached the saturation point in more ways than one. Physically, I was entirely soaked. Water dripped from every piece of clothing and every exposed extremity. My shoes made a disconcerting squashing sound as it slowly transformed into an aquarium for my foot.

Mentally, I was also at my capacity to hear about the extremes of WWI trench warfare. “Screw you, Dan Carlin” I said aloud. “I have pretty good idea of what it is to be wet.

Removing my rain-slicked ear buds, I decided to simply take in the environment around me. I marveled at the iconic downtown skyscrapers that illuminated the sky like torches and became enamored with how the city’s lights danced on the rain puddles. Neon signs glowed with product placement and reflected off store windows and passing cars like the futuristic films and books I enjoy so much.

For another hour, I simply pushed forward. Buses had stopped running before I started my journey and there was only one option left. Walk forward and admire the present.

Though I have never found guided meditation to be very effective, this small odyssey through the cityscape of Winnipeg gave me time to reflect on life, my journey so far and on the world I live in.

I returned home carrying my own body weight in wet clothing but surprisingly at ease mentally. I lived in a city that upon close inspection, resembled much of the science fiction worlds I read and dreamed about growing up. In my free time, I was promoting a game to the public, a task that has since culminated in the funding and present manufacturing of my very own game, marking the achievement of a life goal I have held for many years

In short, life on the whole was pretty darn good. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of discomfort to see it.

A Hotel of Last Resort

Note: This article is not intended to criticize Traveller’s Inn as a whole, nor to criticize the hotel I stayed at as it exists presently. This story is simply meant to relay an experience I had four years ago that I felt was amusing.

Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of family. Not only am I close to my parents and spend a great deal of time with them, but as a group we strive to visit our relatives whenever possible. On my few plane rides to Victoria on the west coast of Canada,  the purpose has always been for family. With my mother’s brother having settled down with three children, it is now the Lehmann’s family obligation to travel to Victoria, as there was no way in hell that my uncle was taking three spastic toddlers half-way across the country.

Hence, my flight out in December of 2007  to Victoria was a combination of trepidation and enthusiasm. I had never spent Christmas outside of Manitoba, but the concept of spending it in a land where the greenery grows year-round, freezing rain is the closest thing to snow, and that the holidays would be spent with three screaming children generated a lot of mixed feelings in me. Being an only child and a quiet one at that, hearing toddlers scream repeatedly in my ears was a shock to the system.

These feelings quickly spread to my parents, as soon after landing we spent lunch with our extended family. Observing the maelstrom that is mealtime with toddlers; where the act of eating is quickly discarded by children in favour of engaging in mortal combat with your siblings, my parents decided that we would stay in a hotel and my relatives quickly agreed. I being an only child.

My family now faced the challenge of finding a hotel on such short notice. Thankfully, Victoria is littered with a hotel chain called Travellers Inn and driving downtown, having spotted at least four on the way to our uncle’s house. Retracing our footsteps, we quickly came to what was considered the most “affordable” Traveller’s Inn in Victoria. My first tip-off that this may not be the ideal location came from the Christmas lights. Given that it was near Christmas, the idea of decorative lighting was not an issue in itself; the concern was with the location. Most hotels chose to line their roofs, signs and parking lot with lights to attract customers. This Traveller’s Inn chose to line their outdoor pool’s water slide with lights. Back in Manitoba, this wouldn’t be a concern as the frigid weather means that outdoor pools are closed during the winter months. In Victoria however, the warm weather meant the pool remained open and a deathtrap to anyone foolish enough to go swimming around live electrical wires. To give the patrons of Traveller’s Inn credit however, I did not see one person use that pool throughout my stay in Victoria.

Stepping out of the car, I recalled a silly public service announcement from my childhood about a cartoon firefly that constantly sang about “playing it safe around electricity”. Good advice, perhaps the owners of the Traveller’s Inn should have listened to it. Upon entering the lobby, the negative image I had conjured up regarding the type of staff that install live wiring next to a recreational pool was not alleviated. The air was thick with the sweet smell of marijuana and a bleary-eyed clerk looked up from behind the desk. To the clerk’s credit he did pre-empt service, opening with “Hey man, can I park your car for you?”

“Not on your life”, my father responded.

On the opposite side of the room was a complimentary computer from the early 90’s. A stumpy 10” CRT monitor proudly radiated a Windows 95 desktop colors and staggeringly dated features. I would never have a chance to experience these features however, as a man who looked to be in his early 50’s with wispy grey hair and sunken facial features would hoard the machine all hours of the day and night. By the end of my stay, I began to wonder if the man came with the computer.

Once we signed in and entered our room, we were greeted by a mosaic of discoloring cracks running across walls. Opening the cupboard, my mother noticed a portion of the wall completely torn out, giving the impression that the typical patrons of this hotel are the type that hide things in the walls. Remembering that the alternative was my uncle’s house packed with defiant toddlers, I accepted the room as a suitable alternative.

After settling in, we walked over to my grandparents’ room to see if smugglers also frequented their room. Opening the door, I was greeted first by my grandmother and then by the sight of small blood specks highlighted against the white walls.

“Grandma, is this blood on the wall”, I half-shouted in a horrified tone?

“Maybe a little” she replied, her voice taking on a fretful tone. “I cleaned up most it though, but your old grandmother must have missed a spot”.

Upon later reflection, I have come to realize that my grandmother was more agitated at the thought of being a sub-par cleaner than she was at cleaning up a crime scene. At the time however, I was focused on the idea that there was blood stains in the hotel room and that my grandparents were sleeping in crime scene; though depending on what was in that hole in the wall, potentially so were we.

The next few days were comparatively quiet. Once you got used to the holes in the wall, omnipresent marijuana cloud in the front lobby, and deathtrap of an outdoor pool, the hotel was like any other. The image I held of the hotel being a hotbed of criminal activity was reinforced however, by one final incident shortly before the end of our stay.

On the last night, sleep alluded me and I tossed and turned for several hours. At about 1:00 A.M. I finally drifted off to sleep, only to be awoken by a banging at the door. “Police”, the voice announced. “Open up or we are going to kick down the door!”

I sprinted to the door wearing all the protection afforded by a runner’s underwear. “Wait, we can talk about this”, I shouted at the inside of the door! Being half-asleep, I somehow reasoned that it would be preferable to keep the door shut so that the police could not see me in my state of undress.

“Not for you”, came the response, before further pounding on a door made realize that the police raid was being conducted on an adjacent room.

At this point, still being in a catatonic state, I stumbled back to my bed and collapsed, falling asleep to the sound of someone running down the hall, followed shortly by the sounds of a scuffle and then a crashing crescendo as I heard and felt a man being thrown into the hallway wall. So that’s where the cracks in the wall came from I thought as I fell asleep amidst the police raid.

A Rampage through Montana

A scenic view of Montana...taken at 100+ MPH

A scenic view of Montana…taken at 100+ MPH

 

Every year in August, a convention catering to fans of video and board games as well as geek culture in general occurs in Seattle. The event is called the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and it is a sort of gaming Mecca for fans of games. As gamers living in Manitoba however and being too adventurous/cheap to fly, my friends and I have always elected to drive on an automotive pilgrimage that we have repeated three times.

The first trip occurred in the summer of 2007 following High School graduation. To celebrate our graduation, my friends and I decided to go on a road trip. Our destination was Seattle, an American city on the west coast that was hosting the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), a three day game convention for geeks of all types. Being the geeks and bad/dumb asses that we were, my friends and I decided to drive nearly 2500km from Manitoba to Seattle over a two day period. After stuffing as much computer equipment into my friend Nickel’s CRV as humanly possible, we were off to our dream event.

The trip began with a bump, Nickel forgot to renew his car insurance, resulting in a mad scramble in the early morning as we narrowly avoided attempting to leave the country with an uninsured vehicle (border guards typically don’t like that type of thing). Aside from this initial licensing issue, however, the rest of the day proved to be an gorgeous journey over the sweeping American landscape and a great deal of banter and joking…mostly around Star Wars.

As night fell however, our adventure took a turn for the worst. To get to our first hotel in Billings, Montana, we took to increasing our car’s speed to the tune of twenty or thirty miles above the posted speed limit. My friend Matthew, who was behind the wheel, assured me that we would not be ticketed, pointing out that until recently, Montana had posted speed limits of “reasonable and prudent.” No sooner had my friend Matt finished his rationale than the distinctive lights of a police cruiser illuminated the darkness behind us. Seeing as there was no other motorists on the interstate on either horizon, we accepted our vehicle as the intended target. Matt kept his cool and pulled over the side of the deserted interstate. “Just let me do the talking and everything will be fine,” Matt reassured us as he rolled down the window, his calm attitude restraining the panic building up inside of me.

That cool demeanour shattered in an instant as a state trooper screamed, “Driver, put your hands out the window.” Well, it wasn’t so much the scream as the fact that looking back, we saw to our abject horror the officer had his gun drawn. We all went white and Matt quickly obeyed. “Now put your hands on the weather stripping,” came the next order as the state trooper circled around the car to the driver’s window, his pistol trained on the cab the entire time. Here a problem arose, as no one in the car knew what weather stripping was, resulting in Matt hopelessly touching various parts of the car window while the rest of us sat dumbfounded. We were broken from our befuddled state by an order to put our hands on the seats in front of us. Matt’s floundering was likewise ended by a statement of “close enough” from the trooper.

Next, Matt was promptly grabbed and, in one smooth motion, dragged from the car and pulled into the darkness by other officers materializing from behind the car. As we sat in pure fear, Nickel and I now faced a series of questions: “Do you have any firearms in the car”, shouted the officer? “No officer,” I replied meekly.

“Do you have any incendiaries or explosives?” “No officer.”

“Bow and Arrows?” “No.”

The listing of every conceivable projectile weapon continued for some time. Eventually the officer stopped, seemingly satisfied before dragging us out of the vehicle and beginning a new line of questioning. “Do you have anything in your pockets before I search you” the officer stated? I began to stammer and spit out the long list of contents within deep pockets. “In my left pocket, you will find a pocket watch, cell phone, two keys, passport and spare batteries while in my right, you will find a camera, wallet, and I.D holder, and Kleenexes…some of them used”. An officer searched my pockets in silence, save for a slightly disgusted grunt when I mentioned the Kleenexes.

After feeling satisfied in their search, Nickel and I were ordered to the ditch under guard of the Deputy Sherriff. A broad shouldered man in his mid-thirties who, despite an intimidating Kevlar suit, became quite talkative once he realized we were from Canada and in his words, “not going to be carrying any guns.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I would normally prefer a talkative individual over a silent one any day of the week. These were exceptionally unfavourable circumstances however and I would prefer to be left to my own thoughts. Additionally, aside from mentioning that he was also the volunteer fire chief of Billings County,, our conversation was dominated by the deputy explaining his talent with firearms.

Despite our best efforts to change the conversation, the deputy insisted on describing his absolute prowess with a shotgun and a rifle, but lack of accuracy with pistols. “That’s why I attach this here laser sight to the pistol” he declared, proudly displaying the handgun to our paling faces. Desperate to derail the deputy from the subject of firearms, I timidly asked “well, I guess you don’t have to use those guns too often, right officer?” “Are you kidding me” retorted the deputy; “I got to use it this s’morning.” My heart and lungs stopped functioning in unison upon hearing this statement.

“Why, I had a wounded deer in these here woods that I had to finish off with a shotgun earlier today,” the deputy continued proudly. I stared blankly, swaying back and forth before finally resuming normal body functions as my brain processed the explanation.

From here on out, the conversation gradually improved. I managed to bring the subject of gun control into the conversation, a concept that much to our surprise, was given strong support from the deputy. Eventually, our conversation was interrupted by the return of Matthew accompanied and the original state trooper. It was at this point that I had my first inkling to look at my surroundings, a choice that only compounded my horror and confusion. Barricading the interstate behind our car sat two police cruisers and a police van, with brief glimpses of officers outfitted in Kevlar and shotguns revealed by the scattering of red and blue lights on the otherwise pitch black interstate. Flanking either side of the interstate was a thicket of obscuring trees, with ourselves and the officers the only human beings on either horizon.

At this point, I began to have flashbacks of the movie Deliverance, the dueling banjos theme bouncing around the inside of my head.

Registering utter confusion on my face, the state trooper’s face softened and in a tone far more apologetic than the one exuded previously, he began to explain the circumstances of our predicament. Apparently, earlier that day we passed one of many semi-trucks due to our…above average speeds. A problem arose however, when a rock flew off our tire without our knowledge and struck the side mirror of the semi-truck, shattering it in the process.

Now a typical driver, while understandably upset and aggravated at having his mirror smashed, would see it as an unfortunate and faultless fluke. Not this driver. This wonderful human being decided to call the police and report it as a shooting. After getting this report, the officers were understandably on guard, what with the threat of rampaging Canadians tearing up the fine county of Billings. Not wanting to take any chances, they brought a squadron of officers outfitted in Kevlar and a full ballistics array to meet the Canadian menace.

After finishing his explanation and receiving sombre nods from the three of us, the officer brightened slightly. “We hope this here experience doesn’t tarnish your view of the fine state of Montana,” the state trooper declared, a sheepish grin creeping across his face. “Not at all officer”, I replied quickly, not wanting to be rude and wishing to end the conversation as quickly as possible. “Can we go now officer?” I continued after a brief and awkward pause. “Absolutely boys,” came the quick response.

We began to shuffle back to our vehicle, our legs feeling and functioning like stilts under the residual shock of the whole event. We got no more than ten paces from the officer before we froze to the trooper’s command of “Wait a minute boys”.

My brain went into overdrive as my fears came flooding back. Oh God, this is it. Everything from Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and the Blair Witch Project are about to come true. Is that officer in the distance holding a banjo? Oh God, we are going to die and I never even got to see PAX.

“I had to drive damn fast to catch up with you boys,” the trooper announced. “In the state of Montana we take driving very seriously.” At this point, my mind went blank as a stress limit was achieved and blissful shock set in. “At your peak speed you were going twenty miles over the speed limit and in the state of Montana, that equates to a forty dollar fine and a possible demerit”. The trooper paused, wearing a combination of pride and authority on his face before continuing. “Given the circumstances however, I think we will let you off with a warning this time”. My mind returned, the stress melting away and I began to thank the officer profusely. Swelling with satisfaction from my praise, the officer wished us a safe trip and we returned to our vehicle. As we entered the vehicle, we sat in silence for five or ten minutes. I finally asked my friends, “did I mishear him or did he say forty dollars?”