Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 05.29.13
Stanstead, Quebec


Westfalia, like nouveau hippiedom, is no longer an option

I was walking through town on the weekend when I noticed a Volkswagen Westfalia for sale -- old, drab, not the least bit sexy, and the van was pretty unspectacular as well.

"We should buy it," said Deb, who usually doesn't take much interest in these things (and, again, to be clear, I'm talking about the van). But Westalias are different.

While Deb and I tend to scoff at the rolling resorts that clog up campgrounds and remind us that we have no money, the humble Westfalia van speaks to something deep and simple within us, emphasis on "simple."

When we first got together in our twenties and it looked like, yes, well, this might work, our big plan was to quit our jobs and drive across Canada, surviving off our wits, the good will of strangers, and the one-and-a-half Bachelor of Arts degrees between us.

-The other part of my plan was to write a book en route documenting graffiti in public washrooms. This was before the Internet killed the bathroom-graffiti-publishing industry.

When we ended up having our first child instead, we put that plan on hold. Then we had another child. And another. Well, at least we were having our children early, which meant that we could still plan for youthful excursions come empty nest time. Then we had another child.

Clearly, planning is not our forte.

So whenever we see a Westfalia -- for of course we were going to cross the country in a Westfalia! -- it taps deep into the nostalgia for those days when we were late-eighties pseudo-hippies nostalgic for late-sixties genuine hippies.

I peered through the driver's window of the boxy grey-blue van -- 314,000 kilometres but undoubtedly good-karma kilometres! -- and I mentally noted the phone number, just in case, and also so I could do a reverse-lookup on the computer to see who was selling it, an invasion of privacy that would have appalled pseudo-hippie me and my genuine hippie progenitors.

But what if we actually bought the Westfalia? What if we did get our motor running, head out on the highway, looking for Tim Horton's or whatever convenient rest stop comes our way? (After four kids and with the ancient Volkswagen suspension, my wife's going to need a lot of pee breaks.)

We'd ditch our jobs, naturally, and by "ditch" I mean "take our allotted vacation times plus some personal days we had coming to us." Then we'd head off into the great beyond, with a pit stop first at the kennel for the dog.

I can just see us driving down the road, grooving to CBC Radio 2 and sporting our Peruvian hippie hoodies -- with maybe a Roots sweatshirt on top, what with the chill in the air. We'd let impulse guide our decisions, pulling off to swim in a crystal stream, maybe, or join a drum circle or -- look! -- a sale at Winners!

Fate would determine where we'd stop for the night -- the campsite near the washrooms or the one near the pool, we'd just go with the flow, man.

During the day, we'd hit the towns and earn some bread, me on the corner with my "Will Proofread for Food" sign, Deb offering to take people's unwanted pets off their hands for $5 (negotiable).

We'd be super open and friendly with strangers, except for the ones who, you know, you can just sort of tell.

We'd attend all the open air music festivals, but at the back because of the crowds and the speakers being so loud, and I don't think that's cigarette smoke! The young kids would gather around us to hear our tales, like marching in the Earth Day parade back in '90 and the importance of sunblock.

We won't buy the Westfalia, of course, not because our dreams have died or that we ourselves are the Grateful Nearly-Dead. It's because I've gained wisdom, and if I've learned one thing since I was in my twenties, it's that tie-dye is not my colour.