Saturday, 13 May 2017

A Psychic History: A Magically-Imbued Walking Tour In Gander, Newfoundland

What you are about to experience is a magic spell. All of my word projects are, in a way. I imbue my thoughts and they travel along ley lines, from the neurons of my brain to the impulses which make my fingers hit keys on a keyboard. Those make electrical connections which send them onto the screen, and when I am done I use a cable which connects me to information on the rest of the world to place the words onto an Internet website and create a link... a link which you clicked, with your finger impulses led by the neurons in your brain. We're linked now, you and I. I call it the psychic link. Here, then, is the form that the magic takes. I borrow my phrasings from Pathfinder, the tabletop roleplaying game. This is not arcane magic, nor is it divine magic. It is psychic magic, and it is an art I have dabbled in before. I have created travel vlogs of my trips to Grand Bank, Newfoundland. In them I rant in a basement and occasionally go outside to show off interesting things. In this old Nintendo Project post, I wedded an average walk in my hometown area with the endless adventure that the two Legend Of Zelda games on the NES offered. This has had many names. Psychogeography. Psychochronography. I am opting to call what I do "psychic history". The spell has rules, as all spells should. I physically visit a place, inhabiting its streets and walking down them and experiencing them as is typical of any average day. I take photos (or video, in Grand Bank's case) of this place that I visit. I then share them, and write words about the experience of being in that place and what the buildings and sights mean to me personally. By sharing my own personal memories and imprints of what I saw, I give them extra power and imbue them with their own special psychic history... which then gets passed on to you. You are the recipients of the spell, and by taking in the words you gain part of the power of their memory. Perhaps even becoming more enlightened as a result!

Today, then, a little experiment in going wild with the nonsense pretention of psychic history. Last weekend I visited an old friend in the town of Gander, Newfoundland. Gander, unlike Grand Bank, is more of an urban center with lots of businesses and malls and chain restaurants and whatnot. The area he lives in is not quite as scenic and downhome as Grand Bank, and so there are few opportunities to film interesting videos of psychic history. I opt instead to go out shopping at video game stores, spend the rest of the trip playing games with him, get some food at the end of it all, and then go home. This time, though, I opted to experiment. I went out on two separate occasions to walk through a piece of Gander on foot, taking pictures all along the way. These pictures will be paired with me writing about the things in them, and in doing so I will recreate the experience of my existing in Gander this weekend. My impressions of what I saw, my personal memories of things, what I heard and smelled and sensed... it will all be shared. This is the reconstruction of a walk through a bustling town at the heart of a cold island in the North Atlantic. Prepare yourselves. The psychic magic spell is about to begin. Experiences and senses that are not your own are about to invade your input. Relax and roll with it. Now, let your mind be cast through time and space, to another time and another place...

MAY 6TH, 2017
11:51 AM- 12:26 PM

We begin on a grim note. Psychic history is all about psychic impressions, and there's one hell of a gravitic aura at the house in which I stay. Nestled inside what I have dubbed "the Anime Den" because my friend is a bit of a geek with lots of colorful Japanese RPGs and figurines and interesting pillows is a specific game. As I sit at his computer checking my Twitter and Discord and whatnot, it stands just inches from me. It is his copy of Metroid: Other M, on display and set out for whatever ungodly reason. Here is a game I have railed about in the past and will continue to rail about given the opportunity. It is not just a copy. It is THE copy. The very one I played and experienced and let into my home for months on a lend from him in 2010. This item is haunted. We need to get out of the house.

This is not quite near the house. I don't want to give away my friend's location or anything, so we have jumped ahead a bit in the narrative. Just a little psychic skip. I never said this was a seamless transition. There's a chill in the air as we look ahead towards the southwestern corner of the Gander Town Square. Here and now, in early May, Gander is shrugging off the last remnants of a near-apocalyptic series of blizzards which dumped untold numbers of snow onto the poor town. What we have here is an ugly aftermath, a messy and wet slop of stuff that persists even in the single digit degrees and shining sun. Oh well. Onward we turn, moving eastward behind the square's buildings to get to the road. As we pass by, the smell of some very good food wafts through the air. We are behind a pizza place at the moment, a pizza place I will visit in due time. Turning to the sidewalk and avoiding another messy dirty wet pile of snow, we watch out for traffic and time our road crossing just so. Gander, my friend tells me, is a notable hellhole when it comes to drivers. Speed demons and maniacs, the lot of them. Unfortunate for such a nice looking place.

Here we are, passing by the eastern arm of the Town Square. A lovely little strip of businesses, all in a row, with an underhang to protect their entrances from the elements. I don't know it yet, but I will visit this place in greater detail on my next excursion out. For now, we pull from Zelda and take a hidden path. Right at the southeastern corner of the square, we have a small alleyway whose roadway is obscured by snow. No traffic may pass at this time, but for a pair of pedestrians it's no trouble. It's quite gross, though, seeing the mounds of litter interspersed with the mounds of snow. Discarded and hidden in the snow, now revealed by spring's thaw. It's not pleasant, but we have made it through. What awaits is a back alley of sorts. To our right, the back of the first of Gander's two malls. To our left, the back of the eastern square's businesses. This is a secret place of sorts, something you will never see on a Google Map. We pass by the sewer grates as water babbles and gurgles into them, feeding a twisty maze of pipes that helpfully does not have a nightmare clown from the dawn of time lurking within them. Continuing further, we see the buildings look older and older from the back. Turning right, we have reached the front side of the Fraser Mall. It's a small place, this one... but there is absolute psychic memory buried within it for me. In we go.

This is where psychic memory becomes a sort of memorial. Ahead we see very little of note. A dollar store. A door leading to somewhere. Lurking within my own head is the memory of what was here. That door led to a movie theater. A single-screen one, but it played movies nonetheless. I saw exactly one film there. It was hardly a classic film. 2002's Britney Spears vehicle, Crossroads. A younger member of the family wanted to go. Still, it's part of the psychic memory even though it's gone now. Really, the Fraser Mall is full of stuff like this. Things I remember from 15 years ago that are no longer here.

Walk down its length with me, past the pubs and hair salons and bank. Perhaps stop for some candy at that vending machine train. Here we have another nondescript door. This is another memory memorial. This used to be where the dollar store was. Not that dollar store we saw earlier, but a different one. I remember it from 2002 again. Funny how all of that works, isn't it?

Oh, now this... this is something. This is memory, but not from 2002 for once. A central haven for geeks and dorks and dweebs. Geek Central is a fairly new addition to this place, and it specializes in dorky collectables. Funko Pops and blind box figures and wallets with Big Bang Theory or Walking Dead on them. Stuff like that. I have never bought anything from Geek Central, but I have gone in to look around. I once saw an actual honest to God Funko Pop of a nightmare clown from the dawn of time. Terrible stuff, but this is a burial ground. We are wandering about in a space which used to be something else. Here within these walls stood a store called Buddytoad. It was a lot like Geek Central, but with more of a comic bend to it. It eventually started dealing in old video games, and I anticipated going to it on several Gander trips. I bought Doctor Who books here. I bought a DVD of the Doctor Who story, Paradise Towers, which I praised in this article. I got Ecco the Dolphin and lord knows what else here... and then the store died. Its owner ran off, supposedly. I've no idea what happened but it faded away. There was something else, and it was not Geek Central... but that is something for later. At least they have a nice display case with some Pokemon cards and a Dalek and a My Little Pony and other recognizable dorky shit.

Still moving ahead, right next to Geek Central we have the Book Worm, a used book store. This is a recent relocation. The Book Worm used to be in the other mall in Gander, but it moved here due to not being able to afford its rent. The e-reader scene fucks around with it now, but I did my part and bought an original novelization based on Star Trek The Next Generation for 3.50. It ended up being quite a good book as well. Almost directly across from that is our true destination for this trip. Note the time. It's about noon and it's time for lunch. Ches's Fish and Chips here used to be an A&W in 2002. Across from it used to be a music store, and in 2002 I bought the soundtrack to Star Wars A New Hope from it. The clerk asked me if I was excited for the upcoming Star Wars film. I was. Who knew what it would be at that point, but in the here and now my precious mirrors betray me. I'm part of the shot. I'm part of this psychic spell now, caught in the vortex. The inside of Ches's is quite nice, with the theme of old fishing houses and ancient Newfoundland architecture. It was more expensive than it needed to be, but I got a poutine. Gander is a town that turns me into a major gourmand, and Ches's poutine is a thing of legend. Eating it for the first time was like tasting God. As you can see, it looks quite good. So ended my first excursion outside on May 6th... but I was nowhere near finished.

MAY 6TH, 2017
6:14 PM- 6:39 PM

The rest of the day was fine. We played Shovel Knight in co-op and cleared most of the levels in one sitting. My pal cooked up some tacos and they were just fine. With there still being some sunlight left in the day, it was time for me to go out yet again. There was a specific place I needed to go to for the purposes of our psychic memory spell. Here we are again, in an undisclosed portion of Gander near the Town Square. The apartment complexes and for rent living spaces dart this part of the heart of Gander, and that big brown building used to be a space for TV. It is now a living space of its own, my friend tells me. Very interesting. Back to the southwest corner of the square, which itself is an empty space. Psychic memory exists here, but it is vague. A building used to be here, connecting these two halves of strip. It burnt down and only this tiled foundation remains. This is a grave of capitalism, but to what and whom I do not know. All that lays here now is tile, covered by snow and wet and mud.

To the right, wall scrawlers. Someone named Brian Ryan is a rat. A darker psychic history at work here. To what crime did Brian Ryan confess? What disgruntled members of Gander's criminal underworld felt so betrayed as to scrawl their disgust on the wall? Like the flame which claimed the space I now inhabit, I will never know. We continue on from the space, walking into the square proper.

To my left, Co-Op. A nice little grocery store I have shopped at many times. Old black and white photos on its walls show the history of the store in Gander itself. As you enter, there is a picture of another place. A church on a tiny island, in a place called Newtown. I have never been there and it is 90 minutes away. Google Maps has no street view of it. Newtown, Newfoundland is an enigma. It is a place which exists, yes, but short of actually going there I have little proof of what its psychic history looks or feels like. I would like to go someday, as Google Maps with its aerial view makes it look like a series of tiny islands, all interconnected by roads. The smallest little archipelago, just 90 minutes away. Somewhere, at some time, a Newtownian has come here to Gander on a shopping trip and entered that Co-Op. They would have felt innate nostalgia for their church in their hometown on display. Their own personal psychic history would have manifested in that moment... but we are not Newtownian.

We move on. The front side of the other set of buildings shows us something interesting. Louis Gee's Pizza and Donairs, with a tiny edit of Mario Bros. art and an even tinier edit of a Mario character's name. Here in Gander, the copyright knockoff reigns king. We will return to this place, but for now we press onward.

Back to the Fraser Mall parking lot now, and we can see another strip of business ahead. The Flyer's Club and other places. They are places I have never been, and so I have no psychic history with them. Maybe one day I would cross that road to check them out, but that highway is notorious. Loads of traffic, befitting an urban center. As was said, this place was hammered by the winter storms a few months back. This monolithic monument to them still exists, but it will not in time. The warmth is coming back, albeit slowly. Soon green will grace Gander, but for now we press on. We are at the other end of the mall, and stretching on before us is a path forward. Huge rocks fence in the traffic and make it one continued stretch. The way ahead is clear, as is our destination.

Up ahead, though, comes a brush with my own personal history. A huge chain drug store, Shopper's Drug Mart. My nostalgic haunt of Grand Bank, Newfoundland has one of these as well. It's much smaller than this giant, but it exists and I go in there every time. I haven't bought anything in that one in a while, but for a brief few years I purchased Nintendo Powers from it whenever I visited. This one, on the other hand, is not only a drug store but a grocery store. And a post office. That is the key clue to some personal psychic history. A friend of mine named Stella once sold me a holy grail of video game collecting; her physical copy of Earthbound, with the guide book. I paid her for this and got a bargain on it, but the money order that was sent to her was sent from this very place. Here, then, is where I threw down $130 to get a priceless artifact. To its side we can see that the melting wastes have created a small pond, and seagulls swim in its temporary waters. Ahead and on our way we go, crossing the road as we do so.

Ahead and to the right is Gander's other big mall, aptly named the Gander Mall. I did not venture that much further ahead, but how this place crackles with psychic memory! The Book Worm used to be here, and in the old days of the early 2000's I purchased quite a few secondhand video game magazines and hint books made in the 90's. Nintendo Powers, Game Players Magazines... and Super NES Game Secrets 2. An entire other article could be written about the psychic influence of those books and the games they led me to play. I'll share one, briefly; the tip book had hints and full maps for a SNES dungeon crawler called Arcana, which I downloaded as a teenage ROM fiend and fell in love with. I gave it 5 out of 5 socks on Socks Make People Sexy... and there's another article that's lurking within me. Lots of proper fiction books in my collection came from this original location as well... and speaking of books, the magazine store just up ahead inside the mall is where I grabbed volumes of the Higurashi manga. A proper haunting, the Gander Mall. Beyond it would be Dominion, a grocery chain with attached liquor store. Here is where I usually grab goodies and, if I have the cash, booze. It is here where I first tried Kraken Spiced Rum, and many a flask of that and Iceberg brand vodka have originated here. We are not going ahead. We instead turn left, to pay homage to a ruin.

As I move to pay respects, I hear many things. The continued gurgling of water into sewers that may or may not be feeding ancient things. The splat, just a few feet ahead and to to the right, of a seagull divebombing a shit. Ahead of all of that, then, is another ruin of capitalism. The Game Cave was a successor to that Buddytoad place that mysteriously vanished a few years back. This, for a few years, became my go-to shrine in Gander. It had lots of geeky stuff like Geek Central currently has, but it mainly contained
video games. Secondhand video games of all types for all consoles. I am quite the sucker for physically owning old video games, and there's just this tactile special feeling from getting one in a store as opposed to emulating it or ordering it online. I get the same feeling from another place, Peninsula Videogames in Marystown, Newfoundland. That town is the shopping center on the Burin Peninsula, visited whenever I am in the Grand Bank area. It, too, is
lined with video games old and new. The Game Cave was a little less extensive and full when it came to the older stuff, but I still got some gems from it. Most memorable for me is when I spotted a complete-in-box copy of Ghouls n Ghosts for the Genesis, and paid $40 for it. Pricey business, but as big a Ghouls n Ghosts nut as I am I could not resist. Other great things in my collection came from there, and they are mine. They are imbued with the memory of this place, as I am. As these words are. Now, it is empty. What you see here is where the counter and back shelves stood. Right in that lower left corner, around the "E" is where they kept the NES games. Further in were all the disc-based games and other geeky apparel.

Now, The Game Cave is gone. Its owner still runs things online via Facebook and I have been meaning to sell some things off to her on a Gander visit. For now, on May 6th as the sun begins to set, I look into the window of what once was and weep for the future that could have become psychic history. This was my destination. It is time to go back.

Along the way I pass by the exterior of the Fraser Mall, just taking a few candid snaps here and there. The parking lot is mostly deserted at half-past 6 on a Saturday evening, so I am relatively alone. Two people talk outside the entrance to the pub, its tiny burgundy canopy inviting. I decide to go a different route than before. Instead of walking right alongside the mall and ending back up in those secluded alleys, I go the other way. I discover a place I did not know existed.

Lilly's Landing, the family restaurant. The gourmand in me wonders how their food is, and the gourmand in me will be wowed as I make my way back towards the Gander Town Square. Further ahead, the Jumping Bean Coffee Company. Gurahna be praised. I have been meaning to get my friend Tom some of the Newfie Screech coffee. Newfie Screech, for those not in the know, is a powerful rum. It's rum coffee, because in Newfoundland we go hard like that. Don't even get me started on the "screeching in" process.

Past that, we get a really old-looking truck. This thing looks like it time warped out of the 1940s to get parked here in the Square. Gander's history is coming alive right in front of me, as I find another mirror towards Grand Bank. This placard detailing the history of the town is quite nice... and it reminds me of the identical-in-style placard that is in Grand Bank, detailing the history of that place. Twin placards, each a monument of the psychic history. Gander's history?

The air. Witness the beauty of the wireframe biplane. Onward we go, walking past the line of buildings on the east side of the Town Square. There are really quite a few Chinese restaurants here! Here's one with Chinese and Szechuan cuisine, and an all you can eat buffet. I want to try it someday, but the gourmand in me has other ideas.

As I move ahead, a car comes out of a space between two buildings. Once it passes, I look between them and see another alleyway. This one can also fit a car, a handy little shortcut in the interior of Gander past the highway. One can get from the Fraser Mall to the Square without ever hitting the main road, even in a vehicle. On and on we go.

Here's the Highlight Restaurant, which I know nothing about but the lettering suggests is another Asian cuisine hot spot. Breaking up that streak is Greco Pizza, and wouldn't you know it? Grand Bank has one of those too. They do pizza and donairs, much like that Louis Gee's place, but they are of a different flavor. Still, it is a welcome flavor for sure.

Rounding all of that out is the Jade Garden restaurant, the third place for Chinese cuisine in this one strip of buildings. Gander must really love their Chinese food, I suppose. We have returned to where we started, and now the purpose of going outside is clear. My gourmand tastes have decided on something familiar. I will get a donair from Louis Gee's.

Under the brick canopy, the neon signs inform me that the place is happily open and ready to serve my needs. The interior of Louis Gee's is small, but with a few places to sit. A huge wooden cutout of Louis Gee, looking for all the world like the edited Mario Bros. art it is, hangs on my left as I approach the counter. The older gentleman in the back nods his head to me, awaiting my order. Medium donair. Extra cheese. Within moments my donair is prepared. It is dinner tomorrow, and in 23 hours it will be unwrapped at home, chilled and leftover but still with all the totemic tummy-busting power a medium donair a la Louis Gee has. Barely contained within its soft pita is heaps of spiced beef, slathered with the sweet garlic-ish sauce that is near indescribable but still delicious... and a nice sprinkle of cheese as well. It has become my new favorite must-get food item in Gander, and I am determined to sample it at every opportunity. What terrifies me is that Medium is the second-smallest size. They have Large and Super, and though I wish to try them one day I am also concerned that the sheer amount of fat and food and grease would end me as a human.

One final thing to close my trip, as I stroll out of Louis Gee's. I look down and see things in the sidewalk. Names are inscribed, a psychic history pouring from them. Who were these people, and how long ago did they sign their names in wet cement? Further ahead, literal footprints from history. Who were you? How were you? I may never know. With the donair in hand, I go back to my friend's place to play more computer games and watch Doctor Who. It's mediocre.

This ends the psychic spell. It is my hope that, in reading this, I have conveyed the power that Gander has over me as I walk through it. It's been one week but I can still cast the spell that gives it such power. From my fingertips to your eyes, Gander has been given power. The malls, the ruined game caves, the Chinese places and historical placards and giant logs of donair. All of it has power and meaning to me, and now it's in your heads. What you do with it is up to you. I don't really have any other fancy way to end this, so I leave you with the power of memory. Go and do something you love today. Walk to a place. Treat yourself to a favorite meal at your local greasy spoon. Then... tell someone about it. Become a psychic magician like I have, and cast your own spell from your words to someone's perceptions.

As above, so below.

1 comment:

  1. I hate shopping but I love ancient retail. That mall looks awesome. I spent a while last year trying to wander down my half-remembered late '80s shopping mall history, and ended up mostly sad at how little of it still exists to connect to.