I was traveling through Scotland in the dead of winter. Most of my life was spent holed up in a guest house in Inverness, sitting by the fireplace and reading Ulysses. I was content, mostly, but every day I forced myself to get out and do at least one thing.
Typically this meant I made it all the way to the pub down the street, where I drank a pint of heavy and sat by the fireplace and read Ulysses.
After about a week of this, the owner of the guest house gave me a coupon for a bus tour around Loch Ness. The Monster Tour. A stop at the Monster Museum. Kitschy, of course, but free, thanks to the coupon. And scenic. And sort of interesting, maybe.
I knew I didn’t like monsters. But I liked deception, especially self-deception, and I loved a good myth in an anthropological sort of way. There was something childlike about belief in the Loch Ness Monster that appealed to me. Something historic. Something connected to the land.
I walked down the hill to the bus depot under a cloudy sky and presented my ticket. The tour was as bad as all guided tours everywhere: bad jokes told by a guide who mixed information with spooky sound effects that even he had a hard time putting any gusto behind. As usual I sat there thinking, He says this ten times a day, every single day. Is he insane? Will he be soon?
Naturally I was the only one under the age of sixty. Most of my fellow passengers were enjoying the tour, groaning at the puns and snapping pictures for their grandchildren.
I was sitting up front, by myself. The guide seemed to recognize my likely cynicism. “Don’t worry,” he said to me, off-mike, as the wheels started turning. “We get some really good views. And I’ll point out the Led Zeppelin house. They were into the occult.”
I nodded. Two hours. Two hours to burn. Then the pub, and the pint of heavy, and back into Ulysses. It was good to be out; I liked looking at the fog and rain and green. Someone said we’ll be going high enough to feel the cold. Not a problem: I was wearing the coat I had worn in Tibet. I would survive.
And then, as we’re pulling out of the lot onto the highway that circumnavigates the Loch, the bus suddenly jerks to a halt. The guide stops his patter in mid-sentence and whirls around. Grumbling, the driver points out his windshield.
On the road, a man stands in front of the bus, holding up both arms to force the bus to stop. The man wants to join the tour.
“What does he think this is?” the driver mutters as the guide opens the door. “Tiananmen Square?” Continue reading