84round-trip385x300Randy Fred. Photo by Brian Howell.
An email message to Geist from Randy Fred, describing his journey from his home on Vancouver Island to Penticton, in the interior of BC. He travelled there to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Theytus Books, a First Nations book publishing company that he founded. Fred is the subject of the profile “New World Publisher” in Geist 83. He is blind.
I thought the best way for me to get to Penticton by myself was to catch the Greyhound. I boarded the bus in Nanaimo, and the driver dawdled at the bus depot and then at the ferry terminal. When he finally handed us our tickets to get on the boat, five of us rushed into the ferry terminal, but they had already locked the doors. We had to wait two hours for the next ferry.
So I missed my 2:15 p.m. bus from Vancouver to Penticton, because we arrived at the Vancouver depot at 3:00 p.m. I had to wait until 12:30 a.m. for the next bus. It’s a good thing the McDonald’s in the station had a wireless internet connection. I did a bunch of work. 9.5 hours at the Vancouver bus depot is a very long time.
I arrived in Penticton at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday. I went straight to the Days Inn to have a shower and change for the first event, at 10:00 a.m. Jeannette Armstrong read from her children’s books and poetry books. It was awesome. A class of grade 4 kids and a bunch of other people were there.
The actual celebration started at 6:00 p.m. and quite a few people attended. The MP, the mayor and the president of the Chamber of Commerce showed up. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Chief Clarence Louie were there, as was the chief of Penticton Indian Band. Chief Clarence Louie asked me to autograph a Theytus book he had bought. He had worked with Theytus during the summer after he graduated from high school. He is probably the most famous chief in Canada right now.
I assumed there would be some speeches and then they would ask me to say a few words. So I was surprised and humbled when it turned out to be an evening of honouring Mr. Randy Fred. That’s what they called me. I was presented with a beautiful blanket, honouring me. Then I gave my little talk and think I did a good job as I threw in some laughs.
I told Chief Stewart Phillip about my horrible trip and he offered to drive me to Vancouver, since he had to go there for a meeting. He picked me up at my hotel at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. When we got to Merritt it was a beautiful sunny day. Twenty minutes later we were driving through a terrible snowstorm. Then we had to come to a stop at the end of a very long lineup on the road, and we ended up sitting in that spot for 1.5 hours. Apparently a semi had jackknifed across the highway. When we finally started moving, we did 5 km/h. It took us 5.5 hours to drive down the Coquihalla.
I arrived at 10 p.m. at my brother-in-law’s place in North Vancouver, where I spent the night. I finally made it home to Nanaimo on Saturday afternoon.
Of course everyone in Penticton felt bad about my nightmare of a trip, so they offered to fly me up for an event next year. I told them they must give me the blind man’s tour of their beautiful building. The room where they host gatherings has a turtle covering the entire floor.