I was driven relentlessly, from as young as I can remember, to explore and adventure. I didn’t chose the moniker ‘Habitual Runaway’ simply because I liked to travel. I chose it because I once was a habitual runaway.
Sure, we had some drama at home, but what family doesn’t? That was not my issue. My issue was that I felt I had seen and experienced everything that was on offer in the small, isolated town of less than 300, that I grew up in.
CAUSING MUM SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
I really had seen pretty much everything. Starting at about age 7 (which is when I got my first ‘big girl bike’), I spend hours randomly cycling the countryside. Sometimes travelling many kilometres away from home on dirt roads, exploring abandoned buildings, hitchhiking without a destination – even staying out over night – alone.
Surely I caused my Mum many sleepless nights.
I couldn’t wait to get out and experience life. At age 7 I wrote in my diary that I wished ‘to see all of the countries (places) in the world’. In another diary, at age 12 I lamented that;
‘…one of the true disappointments of life is that it cannot be experienced all at once.’
Much to the chagrin of my poor Mother (who eventually grew to accept and support my flighty, exploratory ways), I decided I had to head out (under the age of 16), to make it on my own.
THE NEWTONVILLE HOTEL
The Newtonville Hotel was the first stop on my journey to far away, big city Toronto.
Located in Newtonville Ontario, a small hamlet that once had a pay phone, single convenience store, auction house and about 300 people, the hotel (motel?) had been renovated right before I moved in. It would have been the mid 1980’s.
I remember when I arrived at the ‘reception’ – just another room with an old smokey lady living in it – being asked if I could afford the weekly rate – and if I was old enough. I lied on both counts.
At the time I had no way to afford the discounted $70 per week she expected of me.
She asked if I was leaving an abusive husband, I lied again and said yes, and no further questions were ever asked.
She may have been suspicious when the school bus picked me up weekday mornings in front of the hotel, but she never said anything.
NEW NEIGHBOURS & A LACK OF POWER
There were some scary, creepy types living long term at the isolated motel. Across from me was a leery, stinky dude that the old lady told me to stay away from.
Then there was the alcoholic, porn addicted (I could hear his goings on through the paper thin wall between us), twenty something neighbour, that always happened to be outside looking to ‘chat’ when I would leave my cabin.
Surely he could hear me too, and would listen for me getting ready to leave so he could have a chance to interact with me.
And there was a serious power issue. As mentioned in the film, there was only enough juice to power one thing at a time. I lived there in the winter. I usually chose heat – when it worked.
Plus, the pet problem. I simply had too many pets – and I brought them all. A dog, birds, fish, newts and I had a ‘friend’ dump a violent cat off to me on top of everything else. All in 100 square feet of living space.
I remember the cats name was Flower. Flower was hideous. The dog I referred to was my best friend for almost 20 years. She died the year the film was taken, on Feb 14 2000.
I had to protect the old dog from Flower!
It wasn’t more than a couple of months or so before my Mother, desperate to get me to come home, busted the whole operation.
I can remember her trying to convince me that I was too young to be living independently, and would never be able to manage on my own. I had to prove her wrong, of course.
I moved straight to Toronto. I figured I had a few years behind me managing my adventures, and I was not going to be stopped.
I would ‘move’ more than 50 times across Canada, the States (with a few stops in Europe and the UK) before turning 21. Yes, really.
I was out of my mind.
Newtonville’s population and services have declined even further since my childhood. Now, you cannot find stats on the hamlets population.
The pay phone has been removed, and if it were not for a very devoted family, surely there would be no convenience store – the one service Newtonville can say it has.
The m/hotel was demolished after years of neglect and disuse, shortly after this film was taken in April of 2000.
Do I miss my ‘home town’? No. Not at all. That is certainly one of the reasons I currently live 4472 km away – or about 47 hours driving time.
LIVING IT ALL AT ONCE
I have not changed much since the 80’s. I still have ‘ants in my pants’, and am always desperate for adventure and experience. Indeed to me, one of the deepest disappointments of life is that it cannot successfully be lived all at once.
To be happy, healthy, settled and fulfilled, you must make choices. Choices lead you down paths, paths give you life experience. There are countless numbers of routes at every moment – and you cannot chose more than one at a time and maintain your sanity. Shame that.
So, about the film. You might want to watch it if you have 5 minutes and appreciate abandoned, disappeared architecture, are curious about less inhabited southern Ontario, or if you are interested in a snapshot of the Runaway in her 20’s (seems like yesterday, yikes).
Please pardon my foul mouth – you may note a singular ‘S’ & (singular) ‘F’ bomb making an appearance early in the video. I blame it on youth – I would have been an excitable (rude) 27 at the time.
Thanks to my dear friend Tim for driving me to the middle of nowhere, listening to my childhood rant, and having the presence of mind to take this footage before time inevitably took over – and for hosting it online even though nobody cares about Newtonville – or the now demolished motel of the same name.
And to my Mother (and my 20 year old daughter), I just want you (both) to know that if my child had pulled a similar stunt at the same age, I would have been down there with duct tape, rope, a can of fuel and a blow torch!
So thank you both – Mom: for being patient and not killing the lady that let me move in, then setting the place on fire (ruining our lives forever and perhaps even altering my venturesome ways) – and Kid: for not putting me through that hell when you were a teenager!
So there it is. The history of the Habitual Runaway.