Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: David Sapp

After a four-hour layover in the Buffalo bus terminal, after crossing the Peace Bridge in the middle of the night and disembarking again, an honest and earnest young man, I naively informed the customs officer I would be “earning my keep” in Canada. Big mistake. No one told me what to say. I was pulled aside, ordered to go here and sit there, and watched through the windows as the other more fortunate and savvy passengers climbed aboard the Greyhound and pulled away, privileged to be trekking into the dark expanse of Ontario.

It was during the Reagan administration. I was escaping trickle-down economics by heading toward Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, to a little run-down farmhouse and a few out buildings, a place called “Dandelion.” It was a modest commune in the middle of nowhere, at the end of telephone and electric poles. About ten Canadian and American twenty-something men and women lived and worked together there weaving hammocks, tending an impressive garden, smoking a little pot now and then, and generally attempting to live a simple, peaceful, egalitarian life according to the utopia in B. F. Skinner’s Walden II. This, I thought, was my moment, and this might be the place where I might find an authentic sense of self – to pursue my ideals. And just maybe find love. When waiting with my dad for the bus north, the zipper on my bag split open. Dad took off his belt and cinched the whole thing closed. What was I doing? We both choked up, and my feet were heavy on the bus steps. My ideals faltered, but I found a seat.

Turned away at the border, I was dazed, lost, my future uncertain – with no idea what to do next. A taxi must have been called. The cabbie led me to the car, picked up my bag, placed it in the trunk, opened the door and motioned me into the front seat. On the way back to the U.S., he quietly provided me with instructions for another attempt at the border. He seemed to recite these directions from experience: walk nine blocks back to the Buffalo station, find the number 10 city bus to drop me near the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls. Ask the bus driver. He’ll know. Try again. Lie. Keep it simple. Years later, on a nostalgic visit to Dandelion with my wife, we drove over the Peace Bridge corridor in daylight. It was all concrete and asphalt punctuated by orange construction barrels and lines of big rigs. The few grim buildings were blockish and dull, the water flat and gray. This was exactly what I felt and imagined when I travelled this way that night.

After dropping me on the U.S. side, as I watched him pull away, I realized that the soft-spoken cabbie didn’t mention the fare. Still reeling and as that was the first time I rode in a taxi and was unfamiliar with the protocol, it did not occur to me to dig out some cash. He gave me great advice and didn’t charge for the ride. What a good human being, such a contrast to the cold demeanor and the crisp, impeccable uniforms of the customs officers. The U.S. officials asked for identification and questioned my citizenship. I stated too sarcastically that I was just turned away in Canada. Where else would I go? Dawn was breaking as I quickened my step through the Buffalo neighborhoods. I wondered, what if it was raining? According to the cabbie’s prescription, I found my way to the Rainbow Bridge and though I was anxious about where to go next if I wasn’t turned away again, I paused and took in the horseshoe falls halfway across, beneath the American and Canadian flags flapping side-by-side. The vast immensity, the roar of the falls, and the swirling mist were breathtaking though fleeting. I recalled the painter Frederick Church and his portrayal of the sublime landscape. I considered, momentarily and perversely, how fortunate I was to be in this distressing predicament. At the toll booth I paid ten cents and when the pleasant woman asked about my stay in Canada I declared, “Just visiting friends – a week or two tops.” She smiled, knowingly I thought, and waved me on. Somehow, I found a bus terminal, my ticket was good for the next connection in a weird bit of luck, and I took a seat next to a kindly lady who reminded me of an aunt. We talked of Canada and Ohio on the way to Toronto. She spoke of her grandchildren. I wistfully described my grandparents’ farm in the rolling green hills of Knox County. She needed a little reassurance that I was not a runaway teenager. The passengers on this leg of the journey were a stark contrast to the rough, sullen crowd between Cleveland and Buffalo.

At the Toronto layover I browsed through the World’s Largest Bookstore and picked up a corned beef on rye at a very loud, bustling, and confusing delicatessen – my first deli experience. I was ordered by the patron to go here and stand there. From there I made it, thankfully and uneventfully, to Kingston and Dandelion. But I didn’t find love. It was all worthwhile I suppose; however, after four months of hammock weaving, jerry-rigged construction projects, wincing at residents’ attempts at self-taught guitar, and listening to pointless petty squabbles between couples, I determined that people were about the same everywhere and that my ideals could be actualized most anywhere – even Ohio. I discovered that authenticity prevailed more in the kindness and generosity of that Buffalo cabbie than in the subsequent months playing the enlightened hippie.


David Sapp, writer, artist, and professor, lives along the southern shore of Lake Erie in North America. A Pushcart nominee, he was awarded Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Grants for poetry and the visual arts. His poetry and prose appear widely in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His publications include articles in the Journal of Creative Behavior, chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha, a novel Flying Over Erie, and a book of poems and drawingstitled Drawing Nirvana.

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