The very first person I met when I arrived in London on my three month backpacking trip was one of my roommates at St. Christopher’s Inn. Jason was from Guelph, Canada and we hit it off immediately. He was the first Canadian I had ever met who totally lived up to the stereotype set forth in Strange Brew by ending every single sentence with “eh!” He was twenty years old and drank and smoked heavily.
Did I mention he liked to smoke? His cigarettes of choice were Players, a Canadian brand that grotesquely depicted on the front side of the package what prolonged smoking can do to your teeth and gums. Here in America we figure that a written statement on the back of the pack is good enough. You know – “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.” I can only wonder if they use photos of premature babies on cigarette packages in Canada. When you think about it, it’s not a bad idea. Most smokers disregard the written warnings anyway. But put a picture of a dead premature baby on the cover of the pack and people, especially pregnant women, might think twice before lighting up. Maybe those wacky Canadians are onto something. Maybe the Canadian government, who gives free healthcare to all of its citizens, realized that they could spend less money on medical treatment for people with lung cancer, gum disease, and premature babies by scaring the hell out of them with graphic photos of the consequences of smoking.
Nonetheless, none of this seemed to be working for Jason. But then again, Jason didn’t always make the best decisions. When he was 15 he got busted for making $2500 in counterfeit money. I gotta give it to him, making fake money at 15 is quite an accomplishment regardless of how illegal it may be. However, going to the same store three times in one day to make change with his fake money is just plain dumb. So yes, he got caught and was put on one year’s probation along with 40 hours of community service. I can see it now, Jason sitting in a room with a Canadian officer of the law saying to him, “Now Jason, don’t you know counterfeiting is bad, eh? It’s bad! Now run along and be a good boy, eh! And don’t forget your community service, eh!” Once again, I have to go with the Canadians on this one. Here, we just lock kids up in juvenile detention homes with other young aspiring criminals so they can share ideas about new ways to break the law and get away with it. It just doesn’t seem well thought out. Hell, send them back to their parents! It’s probably their fault in the first place that their children are criminals. Better yet, send the parents to lockup. But I’m not sure if that would work either because then you would have bad parents sharing ideas with other bad parents on how to raise bad children. Let’s just hope they’re too old to have children when they get out. But Jason was 20 now and he seemed fine. I can only imagine what he would have been like now if he had been locked up.
After London, I ended up running into him once again at a hostel in Berlin about a month later. He was completely broke and had more than a month of traveling to do before his scheduled flight back to Canada. But he somehow had enough money for cigarettes. The last time I saw him was in Prague a few days later. He was “living” at the hostel, about to move into a cheap room for rent, and working as a tour guide for Mike’s Bikes until he could make enough money to fly home early. He was down but he wasn’t out. I’m sure he could have called his parents and told them he was robbed and had no money and wanted to come home, but he didn’t. He was going to find a way. And he did. Maybe he had learned something after all when he was 15.