Johnny Paladin says, “Have you ever been to Montana? Why is the sky so big there?”
He’s trying to explain the allure of the Yukon; he keeps interrupting himself to talk about the air and the grandeur of the sky. He compares it to Montana, and makes a circle with his thumb and pointer-finger to show how big the stars look there.
Anthony Anderson says they’re living off the grid.
He’s leaning against the side of his RV. It cost him $350; he talked the seller down. He drove it up to Whitehorse from Quesnel three weeks ago. He came to Whitehorse because he has an ex here, and a son.
He has a seasonal job. It used to be fulltime, but he says immigrants were hired for a lower wage, and his hours were cut. He used to live in cabins and pay rent, but not anymore.
Paladin came to the Yukon, this year, on May 17. He lives in Mexico and Central America in the winter, but can’t stop heading north in the summer.
“People here,” he indicates around him, at a parking lot resplendent with RVs, “they’re wanderers and drifters, happy-go-lucky people. I like that.”
He takes a swig from his pink travel mug and says it’s real nice of Walmart to let them live here.
It’s Anderson’s 31st birthday. He’s drinking Budweiser from a plastic cup. He says, “I like living. I don’t need a lot of money. All the things I need are right here.”
Starbucks for the washroom and wireless, Walmart, the gas stations.
Paladin says he walks up to the Canada Games Centre to shower. Anderson has a newly installed woodstove in his RV, and he makes tea and breakfast in the morning before work.
A woman in a blue shirt comes to say hi. She’s older and has the telltale drawl; Paladin asks where she’s from.
Without preamble she says, “I’ve got a story for you,” and launches into a play-by-play of their border crossing.
She and her husband have been driving up to Alaska since 1994. She talks to Paladin and Anderson like they’re from America, too.
A man with a buttoned up shirt joins in to thank Paladin for the tip about moving his RV. He’s from North Carolina and says when they hit Alaska, it will be their 50th state. He tells a story about the desert in Nevada, and everybody laughs. He leaves, saying he wants to know how much diesel costs in Canada.
Paladin says, “It’s neat waking up in the morning to see who’s here. Where they’ve been, where they’re going. Everyone’s in a good mood.
“There’s something about the air here, it’s not as thick as B.C.”
Paladin is 69.
He says when he was a kid at school in central B.C., they used to have to memorize Robert Service poems. He loved the adventure of the poems. He flew to Anchorage in 1964, but didn’t have money to fly home, so he hitchhiked from Anchorage to Prince George.
He says it’s a nice life it you’re not married.
“Women can’t live like this. They need stability.”
Paladin says some people shun how he lives.
“They got their nose in the air, got a nice place, a nice home, but they’re on their way to the emergency room. They’re so unhappy, and out of shape. They work so hard just to survive that they can’t enjoy life.”
Paladin says a nice part about succumbing to the allure of wanderlust is you don’t know people.
“It’s neat to find out about people. If you know everything about someone, that’s boring.”
He says, “There’s something about the air here. You feel freer.”