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On Our Way Home... or somewhere else? On the road with Ding and Art asleep, Gary driving the truck, 1977.

Gary, Art, Ding and Colin outside the San Diego Cabaret, Fort St. John, BC. 1977

Pine Pass, BC (between Prince George and Dawson Creek), with Ding posing outside the truck, while Art & Gary keep warm inside. Photo by the rather foolhardy Captain Maniac 1977

by Colin “Captain Maniac” Hartridge

Dawson Creek, BC. Gary, Colin and Art at the Mile 0 marker, start of the Alaska Highway, a thousand-mile long gravel road.

But back to Sparkling Apple in 1977: we had no such Suspect misfortune -- until we arrived in Fort St. John. We were booked into a rather grim dive known as The San Diego Club, which was as far removed from San Diego as chalk is from cheese. In a small town like Fort St. John, the entertainment opportunities are limited, (much like 100-Mile House) but given a choice, the townspeople would definitely avoid the San Diego Club no matter if the Rolling Stones were the featured attraction. It was that nasty, mainly due to the neurotic behaviour of its manager. When we were introduced to the club owner Mr. Bolan, to our way of thinking he was an overweight & mentally-challenged individual with a lisp like Elmer Fudd, who possessed a Gestapo agent disguised as a pet Doberman (“you haf your PAPERS??”). Mr. Bolan informed us that this dog, Baron, was a speciality purebred hound with the highfalutin name of Baron Von Bolan, although in his Elmer Fudd voice, it came out as “Bawon Bon Bowan”. Not only would Baron & his supply of Kennel Rations share the upstairs accommodations with us, but also Mr. Bolan’s godforsaken cat, which was more interested in shedding fur and scratching to smithereens whatever was set within a five-mile radius. Over the course of a week’s stay, the kitty soon became airborne after we became so disillusioned that our devil-may-care attitude sent him flying down a flight of stairs. Our kitchenette and sleeping arrangements would do Tom Waits proud (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”), and turned out to be somewhat of an oasis after performing at the nightclub downstairs...

Much like the rival factions in Nelson, Fort St. John ALSO boasted two groups who hated the sight of each other: the cowboys and the oil-riggers. The cowboys were a longstanding fixture of the surrounding range country area, but in recent years, oil and gas discoveries had attracted roughnecks to man the oil rigs as well. When members of these two camps were in direct confrontation, a fight would start at the drop of a hat (usually a cowboy hat). One night at the San Diego we were attempting to be our rocking selves, although country & western music appeared to be more to the audience’s liking -- if you can imagine the Sparkling Apple version of Your Cheatin’ Heart and Heartaches by the Number, which we did. At some point in the evening’s festivities, a fight began between two of the warring factions, who proceeded to wallop the crap out of each other. The cowboy & the oilrigger literally hit the dance floor, hockey-scrap style, and were rolling about, perilously close to the bandstand. They rolled towards a fire exit, which some enterprising soul kicked open so that the fighters could roll out into the snow. When this was accomplished, the door was closed behind them and rocking and rolling resumed in earnest. Thanks for playing, contestants!

Hockey was and has always been one of Art’s passions, so to pass the time in Fort St. John, he and Ding would grab sticks of some kind and proceed to play a little road hockey in the snow with a tennis ball substituting for a puck. Unfortunately, the weather was so cold that before long the tennis ball froze, and became more of a cannonball than a hockey puck. This eventually became a dangerous projectile, and if memory serves, Ding was rewarded with bruised shins as a result.

Indoor activities included bundling up and shuffling down to the St. Charles Hotel, to view the new phenomenon of female strippers in bars. Yes, exotic dancers, as they later came to be known (or “peelers” in popular usage) , have been a fixture in Western society for years. It wasn’t until the mid-70s that they began to take off, so to speak, at actual beer parlours. It was at this time that MALE strippers appeared. The likes of the Chippendales, Thunder Down Under and “ladies night” all had their start during this point in our fabled history. We got to know one of the first male strippers in Canada -- his stage name was Shy Guy, but we referred to him as “Raging Pecker”! (seen in newspaper clipping at right) 

YET ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: Talking of country & western music -- country music has often played a small part in the Saga of Sparkling Apple. While playing at the Tally-Ho in Nanaimo, were were approached during one of our breaks by a would-be country songwriter. He was of the story-song Tom Connors school, and presented us with a tune he had written, concerning his daughter’s obsession with the Beatles, his wife’s enthusiasm for bingo, and the fact that he spent most nights home alone:

“My wife’s out playin’ bingo,
My daughter’s phonin’ Ringo
And I’m just sittin’ here watchin’ Huckleberry Hound...”

Well, we never played the tune, but it’s been fondly remembered for the last 35 years!