Road Tripping Part 3: When All Else Fails, Blame Hamilton, ON

When Hamilton, Ontario comes to mind, I often think of one of the most fun times I have ever had.

In July 1996, I took the long greyhound bus ride from my home in London, Ontario to Hamilton. I went to visit my friend from UWO, Jenn, who had left London and moved in with her boyfriend to a highrise apartment in Hamilton. Jenn and I both have birthdays in July, so the trip was to celebrate. It was during this trip we both spontaneously decided to cut off all our hair super short. Having spent years with long hair, I had just cut about six inches off into a chin-length bob two weeks prior, and I hated it. My hair is fine with a natural curl, and with London’s humid weather, it winged out into a fro. I was itching to cut it all off and start over. Jenn, forever a chameleon without fear, decided she’d buzz hers off; my sights were on a pixie cut. On top of new ‘dos, we went dancing, went shopping downtown (I bought an awesome leather jacket at a little consignment shop) and just had a great time…That was a fun trip. Great memories!

In the last couple of years though, I have gone to Hamilton only wanting to immediately leave it. When we visit the hubs’ grandmother in nearby Waterdown, Ontario, we often cut through Hamilton to take her out to eat. Every time we’ve driven through, there has been some type of serious construction or gridlock. The navigation through the town stresses me out, and I seriously feel disoriented driving there.

Hamilton is home to a gaming shop that seems to elude us – 1 Up Games. Every time we have made the attempt to drive by this store, the place is locked up tight, almost giving the impression the store is closed down. Except, I know it isn’t: 1 Up Games is often present at gaming conventions, and were even featured in one of the Game Chasers’ YouTube videos recently. What’s the deal, then? I know what it is now: Bad timing.

My husband and I had Monday, June 30 off from work. The hubs cooked a plan of taking a day trip to Hamilton with his sights on 1 Up Games. He checked the store’s website – open Mondays – why not go? I wasn’t as anxious to hop in the car and head to Hamilton…I had a nagging feeling it was going to be a wild goose chase. But, I was a little bit interested in a road adventure…so after a bit of convincing, I said okay.

A word about navigating – I blow at it. I also don’t like to drive in unfamiliar places, but it’s the lesser of two evils. The hubs is much better at figuring out a map and where to go. With that in mind, I drove, while he led us through the one-way streets of Hamilton using our TomTom GPS.

This day, we took the 401 through Toronto which can make you steely at best. Then down the 427 to the QEW. The drive is not that interesting, if a little heavy on traffic at times. Before we knew it, we reached Hamilton with little fanfare. It was when we came upon 1 Up Games that this trip started turning into a foolish game. Driving by, we noticed their storefront security bars were up.

“It looks closed down,” I said. Shit!

I offered to stop the car so we could have a closer look. We turned into a Metro parking lot and walked the short distance to the store. Sure enough, it was closed. A handwritten sign was taped to the door that said the store was closed for the Canada Day long weekend. Canada day this year fell on a Tuesday. As such, many places, including where I work decided to shut down on the Monday to make it a nice 4-day weekend. I don’t begrudge any business that wants to take time off – not at all. But would it kill these businesses to post a message on their website that they will be closed? I said to the hubs that perhaps we should have called ahead? We’ll take partial blame for driving an hour for nothing, but I can’t deny that I was irritated by this turn of events. Damn!

After that, I was itching to disappear from Hamilton; Cut and run.

The hubs said 1 Up Games has another location in Hamilton that we should check out before we leave. He suggested we do a drive-by and try to find the place. While we’re at it, let’s check to see if we can hit up a Value Village on the way. Maybe we’ll find a place to eat. He concluded with optimism, “Let’s try to turn this trip around! And if nothing works out in our favour, we’ll just blame Hamilton.”

First, we hit up a Value Village that was supposedly on the way to 1 Up Game’s other store. Value Village is situated in a strip mall that has a Harvey’s and a bookstore called the Gospel Lighthouse nearby. It was a decent-sized thrift shop, but we didn’t find anything. We continued down the road toward the other 1 Up Games, relying on the GPS – big mistake. Not only could we not find the second location, we ran out of road! The GPS kept telling us that we had reached our destination and to “turn around when possible.” We never did locate this second store, assuming it had closed down, or the GPS had brought up a phantom location as it has done in the past.

Hungry and irritated, we decided to look for a place to eat. Again, similar to our recent trip to Peterborough, our TomTom brought up every single restaurant that ever existed in Hamilton, so we figured we’d forget about using the GPS and find a spot with our own eyes instead.

I somehow drove us to a seemingly familiar location…Stoney Creek, which is a suburb of Hamilton. I was having some serious deja vu! Somehow, we found ourselves at the same location where my friend Jenn lived that summer in 1996. It was the scene of the crime – the Eastgate Square mall – where my chin-length bob got styled into a pixie. There was a huge Fortinos on the corner and apartment buildings close by – my memory snapping me back to that great event where I was brave enough to “cut it all off”.

We turned into the Square and decided to stop at the Jack Astor’s for lunch. We hadn’t eaten at Jack Astor’s in about 10 years – certainly not since leaving Barrie, Ontario – not for any reason other than our preference is more for diners and less for roadhouse-style dining which is Jack Astor’s forte. I had a chicken caesar wrap which was very tasty.

We were almost ready to hit the road home until we discovered that according to the GPS, there is another Value Village to check out! Let’s hit it up!

Following our GPS, we left Stoney Creek and headed towards this other Value Village. We drove for what seemed like forever. Then we came upon the Value Village’s side entrance. We parked the car and walked toward the store’s front entrance. Rounding the corner I felt like I had been here before – there’s a Harvey’s…the Gospel Lighthouse bookstore…Wait a second, We were just at this Value Village earlier today! I just turned around and said, “We were just here…”

Our GPS had basically led us around Hamilton in one big circle back to the same Value Village! We had come from the other direction, not knowing from the side of the building that we had been here before.

I was done at this stage.

“Can we go home now?” I asked.

Defeated, we turned the car around and headed home. Hamilton was a bust. We would later cleanse our bad luck with a trip to Peterborough, which turned out to be excellent. 1 Up Games continues to elude us. We’ll have to plan another trip to Hamilton when the planets are more in line…