On May 6, 2014 my childhood friend Marc Methé was killed in a tragic mining accident in our home town Sudbury, Canada. This is a tribute to his memory.
You encounter so many people in life. Most of the people you cross paths with, even those with whom you grow up during the very formative years of adolescence, fail to leave much of a mark upon your being, fail to really be memorable in any meaningful way. But then there are a few bright points of light; those few folks who—by dint of the people that they are, the outlandish things they do, the unbelievable stories they leave behind—you cannot help but keep at the top of your mind in spite of the inevitable encroachment of time and distance that comes with getting older.
My friend Marc was one of those bright points of light.
Maybe we all know a person like Marc. That guy in school who is relatively quiet, but hilarious. Way smarter than he lets on. Is the first to be involved with rogue stuff that will soon change the world (umm, like the Internet) but not interested in trumpeting it. Deeply cool in the effortless way that really cool people are. Attracted other cool people. Listened to cool music. Knew how to party pretty hard when it came down to it. People like this need to be, fundamentally, brave. Self-assured. Happy to sort of give the world the finger when necessary and do what they want to do. I’ve always admired people like this, people like Marc, and always wish I was just a little bit more like that myself.
Anyway, in the words of a friend, Marc could sometimes be “a crazy bastard”. The story that follows, as related to me first-hand by Marc himself, is (1) true and (2) one of the funniest, most ridiculous stories I’ve heard. In fact, I often recount this story myself to friends and strangers to give them a glimpse into the kind of tough-as-nails crazy bastards I grew up with in Northern Ontario.
It goes a little something like this:
We grew up in Chelmsford, a sleepy small town on the outskirts of Sudbury, a somewhat-less-sleepy small city that was a ~30 minute drive away, which was, as far as we were concerned, where all the action was. Needless to say, we’d often find ourselves going out to bars & clubs in Sudbury and would need to arrange for transportation home, most often with a designated driver due to non-existent public transit options.
On a cold wintery night many moons ago, Marc finds himself closing out the Townehouse Tavern (a classic Sudburian establishment if there ever was one) with our friend Mike who was to drive home. As they’re heading back to the car, Marc sees a slow-moving Canadian National (CN) freight train pulling out of the nearby rail yard.
An idea forms.
Why can’t a freight train be a commuter train?
Fueled by the warm glow of a few beers and the Superman-like feeling that accompanies it, Marc proposes a race home: he will ride the freight train and attempt to get to Chelmsford faster than our friend Mike in his car. Mike thinks this is funnier than dangerous, and agrees.
Marc clothed with nothing more than a white t-shirt, darts off.
He runs alongside the already-moving train and jumps aboard an empty flat-bed car (the kind you might otherwise imagine carrying a large tractor or something).
He hangs on tight.
We should pause here to note that this is taking place the middle of winter in Northern Ontario. The detail of just how cold it was has been lost to memory, but assume for the sake of this story that it was really f***ing cold and no one in their right mind should have been outside without a coat, let alone boarding an open-to-the-air freight train.
No one but Marc Methé, that is.
As the train pulls away, Marc is feeling like he’s got this race buttoned up. The train is easily faster than the car, topping out at well-over 100 KM/h. And surely it will slow down sufficiently, when it gets to Chelmsford’s rail crossing, allowing him to casually disembark and be waiting, heroically for Mike to arrive. This was the exit strategy that made this crazy plan any kind of sensible (if it could ever ever be thought of as such) in the first place.
To Marc’s dismay and growing horror however the freight train betrays no sign whatsoever of slowing down.
Instead, as it barrels westward toward our sleepy town in the middle of the night, it only picks up speed, refusing to decelerate at any of the crossings it approaches along the way.
As far as Marc can tell, the train quickly hits its top speed. And stays there.
On his flat bed rail car, he cuts through the winter air, exposed.
The wind chill is fierce.
The beer buzz is wearing off.
Sober reality setting in.
He weighs his options.
Ground frozen on either side.
Train moving way too fast for him to survive a landing.
These options are grim.
He is paralyzed by panic.
The situation worsens with every moment as the train continues to speed along, making an exit less and less possible, making his panic more and more intense.
A vicious cycle.
The train approaches Chelmsford, our small town.
This was to be his moment of glory.
The moment where he nonchalantly hops from the train to declare victory.
Instead, the train refuses to slow.
It blows through the fated crossing in a high speed blur.
Wait, was that Mike?
Regardless, exit strategy: gone.
Now, while this is happening Mike, our friend in the car, manages to beat the train to the crossing.
He watches all this unfold. CN train zooms by. No sign of Marc.
He figures the freighter had been moving so fast that Marc would have long since bailed out and hopefully made it home, somehow. Impossible to imagine otherwise; it would have been insane to remain aboard train moving that fast. And at this time of night there was little more to be done, so Mike heads home with the intention of gloating in the morning.
Meanwhile, Marc is on the rocketing train, no longer feeling so much like Superman, warm glow now long faded. As the train heads out to territory beyond, Marc calculates that there are only 3 nearby small towns remaining before a vast expanse of Northern Ontario from which he will certainly not return: Dowling, Levac, Cartier.
He is feeling the effects of the bitter cold.
He knows he’s in trouble if he can’t get off this train.
Minutes later, the train blows through Dowling’s crossing without slowing.
More frozen time goes by.
Levac up next. The train still not slowing.
It blows through Levac’s crossing without slowing.
Maybe it’s actually still accelerating even further?
There’s only one chance left.
The train approaches Cartier, last stop before nothingness.
Marc knows the next moments will seal his fate.
He will jump at full speed if necessary.
Doesn’t the train suddenly start to decelerate at this crossing, for whatever unknown reason…
Marc, seizing the moment despite his frozen/dejected/hardly-still-buzzed stupor, realizes that this is his one, and final, opportunity to get out of this sticky situation alive.
The train, though somewhat slowed from its top speed, is still moving dangerously fast, and the ground is still frozen and he’s in the middle of nowhere, but never mind all that—he simply has no choice.
This is survival.
He summons all courage.
Tries to pick his moment to find a suitably fluffy-looking snowbank.
He visualizes the kind of shoulder-first-and-then-roll-multiple-times landing you see stunt men perform in action movies.
And then, he does it.
He jumps from the moving train to save his life.
He hits the snow with a dull thud.
He fails to execute the impressive ninja roll he’d imagined.
Train rumbles on past.
Marc is alive.
And, inexplicably, relatively unharmed.
With one small catch: he’s still wearing but a t-shirt in the dead of winter and is now stranded in godforsaken CARTIER without means of contacting anyone (ed: this is before cellphones). Now only without even a train to take him home…
Cartier, an even-smaller, even-sleepier small town about 50 clicks (kilometers) from our own, has nothing going on at the best of times, let alone in the middle of the night. No help to be found here. Nothing but the very quiet HWY 144, with little traffic. His only option is to put his thumb out and hope for a willing car to come by. To hope that maybe his good buddy Mike will be looking for him. To hope for a miracle.
And waits some more.
Not a single car.
He walks slowly towards home along the dark pavement.
15 chilly minutes go by.
It’s still the middle of winter.
Half an hour.
Still no cars.
He loses track of time.
Then, out of nowhere, headlights.
But in the wrong direction. It’s heading away from where he needs to go.
The vehicle approaches.
Incredibly, it slows down. Pulls over.
The guy asks Marc where he’s going. He points. An hour back that way. Home.
The driver tells Marc to hop in, and turns the truck around driving him all the way back into Chelmsford, obviously completely out of his way.
Marc is incredulous.
He cannot believe his good fortune, after what just transpired.
The Good Samaritan-ness of this guy. Without much exaggeration saving him from freezing to death in a ditch.
He makes it home to his sleeping parents safe and sound. A bit of frostbite on the extremities perhaps, but otherwise intact.
Marc ends the story by telling me that even though he’d been a devout atheist for many years, one of the first at our Catholic school to openly question the existence of God—despite all that, on that night, in that moment when the stranger agreed to turn around and take him home, he could not help but feeling like he had just seen the face of God.
Rest in peace, good buddy.