We refer to it now as Godawful Prince George. I realize beauty is in the eye, and in this case the nostril, of the beholder. Maybe someone else would have found it altogether lovely. My wife and I spent a month there one night.
Prince George is in British Columbia. So much of that western Canadian province is spectacularly beautiful. It is, as author Edward Hoagland said in a book about B.C., like collecting notes from the century before. Prince George, however, was and is somewhere in the great scarred flats, and to us it seemed as though somebody had collected garbage from the evening before. I'm not sure, even now, what the smell was from--perhaps a paper mill, or a brace of them.
About an hour earlier, the Canadian National Railway had kicked us from our snuggly Pullman compartments, which had pressed cotton sheets and blue woolen snap-down drapes and reading lamps and ingenious little pockets for your watch and keys. "The track is out up ahead," the porter had come through and announced about l0 p.m. (Was there a note of relish in his voice?) "Everybody will have to get off at Prince George. We've arranged for buses to take you on through."
"But we don't want no stinking buses," I heard myself mumbling from behind my drapes. "My wife and I booked this train just so we could experience real Pullmans."
"Then you'll have to stay over for a couple days in Prince George and hope the track gets fixed," he said. "Maybe it'll be fixed by tomorrow, maybe it won't. And by the way, sarge, you'll have to be out of your bed and have your baggage in the vestibule in the next 15 minutes."
Everybody else elected to sit up all night in a bus. We elected to stay over in Prince George and wait for the track to get fixed. The only room we could find was in the railroad hotel. Some mining blokes were having a party next door. We had to have the window open to breathe, which meant we got the full treatment from the sulfurous paper mill. The bed, of which there was only one, was about the size of an ambulance litter; at one point I tried sleeping at the foot, while Ceil took the top. That didn't work, as my wife has very large, if lovely, feet. I kept getting them in my mouth.
All that next long day we took a car and tried to see the countryside, of which there seemed none. Of course there was plenty, but our eyes didn't want to find it. Everything as felt scenic as greater Gary.
Late that night the train came through. The track had been fixed. We got aboard, used the remaining portions of our tickets, reclaimed our sweet Pullman beds. The train went singing through the dark toward the coast and we fell through a shaft of unconsciousness. In the morning omelets and sunshine cracked open our day. The world had fairness in it again. We got to the Pacific, caught the Alaska Ferry, steamed off toward eternity through the inland passageway.
Every once in a while now, we get out our Alaska slides, recount that trip, hoot and say, "Remember Godawful Prince George?" Course, we probably didn't look so hot to them, either. I wonder what Prince George would say about us.