Busking on Vancouver's Commercial Drive can be a mixed experience, Brad McCall says.
The passers-by love the music and are great for conversation. But the hippie-heavy crowds that form don't make the jam sessions as financially rewarding as they used to be back in Colorado Springs.
"They just don't have any money," McCall says.
Of course, playing anything on the streets of Colorado Springs right now would be unwise, if not impossible, for McCall, who months ago wore the title of "Private" in Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division. In late September, he crossed the Canadian border faced with the possibility that he might never be allowed to return to the United States without being court-martialed and imprisoned.
The 20-year-old made his northward trip after deciding his attempts to be discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector were going nowhere. He left behind family, friends and just about everything else he couldn't fit under the hatchback of his Hyundai.
"A man's got to go out on his own at some point," he said recently, speaking by phone. "He can't rely on his family for his entire life."
That's not to say McCall is on his own right now. A network of "war resisters" and people sympathetic to his cause is helping out while he tries to put together a life in Canada. He's applied for a work permit, but for now he is "relying on the kindness of others."
He says the people he's met, including his girlfriend of nearly a month, have essentially become his family.
Back in Colorado Springs a few months ago, McCall spoke openly to the Indy about his unhappiness with military life ("Getting out," News, Sept. 20). Though his hair was shorn to military standards, he spent most evenings off base, hanging and playing music with friends downtown, wearing decidedly non-military garb and a hemp necklace.
He said he was lured into the Army by a recruiter's slick pitch and the promise of a $20,000 signing bonus. After joining, though, his bonus only came to half that amount, he says, and he soon realized he could not support the Army's mission in Iraq, nor could he stomach the thought of having to kill a person.
With his inquiries to get out of the Army as a conscientious objector seemingly facing long odds, McCall made plans to hit the road instead, speaking nonchalantly with the Indy about his travel plans the night he left.
Getting into Canada did not turn out to be as easy as McCall expected. Canadian officials tried to turn him back at the border on Sept. 19, when he claimed to be a tourist, he says. He was jailed for two days after he changed his story and said he was seeking refugee status.
McCall believes Army officials had suspected he was going to Canada and tried to get help stopping him.
Since that minor ordeal, McCall says, there have been few reasons to worry about possible deportation. He has met with other war resisters, and he has spoken to reporters, school groups and others about his objections to the Iraq war and the Army in general.
A short stay in jail did not make him reconsider whether going to Canada was the right decision.
"It was well worth it," he says.