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This image is highly reminiscent of many a late-evening excursion of mine to the Westboro Village Circle K in Ottawa ON. With Rideau McDonald's dead and gone I suppose it will have to suffice for fast food pilgrimage spot.

Cinevangelism Summer Blockbuster: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
August 14, 2023
Cinevangelism Summer Blockbuster: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
This image is highly reminiscent of many a late-evening excursion of mine to the Westboro Village Circle K in Ottawa ON. With Rideau McDonald's dead and gone I suppose it will have to suffice for fast food pilgrimage spot.

The ten-week summer spanning the breadth of July and August remains, to this day, a particularly North American institution. Apocrypha has it that the casue for this comparably long stretch of allotted vacation is that it is simply too hot to teach in North America during the summer months. Many schools were built in the 1990s, 80s, 70s or earlier, and thus rarely had air conditioning to stifle the sweltering heat of Canadian summer. 

My high school was built in 1919 and was filled with asbestos and lead. It baked like a dutch oven year-round on account of its ancient and heavy boilers. I know this first hand from having been the kind of person to wear skinny jeans in June, and scarves, beanies (toques), and flannel shirts indoors for the sake of “fashion.” 

You’d have hated me in high school. Trust me on this—I sure as heck did.

Many places in the world with a climate more temperate or architecture more advanced than the wastes of North American city-sprawl have classes most of the year. My Welsh cousins have maybe six weeks from the end of July to the beginning of September which to call their “break.” The remaining days off are distributed across bank holidays and week-long term breaks.

In Japan, school children enjoy all of one month off—August. I learned this from a video essay, from a man who lived in Japan for ten years. Having read most of his work, I feel I can trust him on this. I’m subscribed to his Patreon.

To many having spent the majority of their life in the Canadian public education system, the beginning of July heralds the true start of summer. Elementary schools let out typically around the last weekend of June, high schools maybe a week earlier. The last days of June are punctuated by a liminal period in which one is functionally done school, though not, however, done exams. The first day of July, therefore, becomes the true measure of “summer.”

On July 1st, 2023, I found myself at 8:00PM in a Circle K in Peterborough, ON. Earlier that day I’d witnessed a bomb disposal firsthand .

When one thinks of marking Canada Day—the date of the arbitrary confederation of the settler colonial nation state in which I reside—I would imagine Circle K is not the presumed venue. Certainly, Circle K does not reflect the idyllic retreats to my grandparents’ rural Wolfe Island, ON farmhouse of my youth. Nor does it equally resemble the frenetic excitement of my teenaged years in downtown Ottawa, taking in the sights from the saddle of my bike. 

Nonetheless, it may well have been the best Canada Day I’ve ever had. If not the best, at least the most memorable—I did, after all, witness a bomb defusal.

As we left the Circle K, gas station slushies in hand, I recounted to my friend a series of off-hand anecdotes of my experience at that particular convenience chain. The recollection of said events catapulted me into a deluge of memory that was part of a different life.

“You know, a girl once took me on a first date to this Circle K,” I told him. 

This is true.

Two summers ago a girl taller than me took me on what I presumed to have been a first date to a Circle K. We were to meet in a park and go on a bike ride. Having completed the cumbersome task of extricating my bicycle from the basement of the squat postwar house in which I pay for tenancy, I had frantically pumped up the depressingly flat tires knowing I had scarcely fifteen minutes in which to make good on our agreed-upon meeting time.

I am notoriously good at strenuous arm-pumping related exercise—I bear several repetitive strain injuries to prove it. However, all the practice in the world can’t protect you from hard plastic, a truth I learned from the fetid blister gifted to me by the grip of the rusted fluorescent yellow bike pump from the 1990s gifted to me by my mother. 

Now bearing a fresh open wound, I biked a mad pace in jean shorts and fishnets to the place we were to meet. My arms were streaked black from chain grease. I could feel my eyeliner form baggy ringlets beneath my eye sockets as I sweat it off. The mascara in my lashes clumped together like pitch-stained cottage cheese. With the 250mb of data I received as a complementary bonus on my bare-bones frugal phone plan I checked my direct messages.

I’m probably going to be late btw
still have to shower lol

It had been sent only two minutes ago. 

I don’t know why I stayed. I don’t know why I do much of anything, really. Perhaps in spite of my professed belief that all people are fundamentally vain, egoistic, and self-interested, I still want to form meaningful connections with others. I’d probably be happier if I didn’t try to whatsoever, but being a romantic remains one of my many faults.

When finally she arrived—approximately an hour later, mind—she asked if we could stop at Circle K.

“I want to get a slushie,” she explained. She didn’t offer me anything. 

We biked from Circle K to a park on the other end of town, wheeled our bikes to the edge of the treeline and bushwhacked our way through the bracken. Here, we sat side by side on a log, smoking marijauna out of her blown glass pipe. It was shaped like a turtle. She told me his name was Rodrick.

“I could write a whole column about Circle K, man,” I told my friend in the present day, recalling this.

Even as I said this I was mentally piecing together the skeleton of this very column.

My best friend in middle school was Bill to my Ted. I’ll explain what exaclty that means in a little bit, but for now see it as you will. Perhaps our roles were reversed, though the point stands for exactly that reason. Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are not meaningfully different from one another. They are defined by their similarity. They reflect each other. The presence of one implies the other.

So it is that life and art conspire to imitate one another. 

My middle school best friend and I spent a lot of time together. We watched Transformers: the Movie and Pacific Rim. We played video games in each other’s basements. We drank disgusting amounts of Mountain Dew: Baja Blast. My middle school best friend’s father had a host of old home consoles. We used to play GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 with fervour. Rounds of “Proxim Mines” would sometimes last several hours. In summer, these sessions would sometimes last for the better part of a day. 

As middle school passed and high school came upon us, these lazy afternoons spent in basements gave way to other obligations. I had a job. I had a girlfriend. I was roped into drama productions and coffee houses and other extracurricular endeavours. My afternoons filled, and thus these afternoons spilled instead into evenings. 

After dinner, one of us would walk to the other’s house. We would converse amiably with the other’s parents while the other got ready (despite having had hours’ notice beforehand). Afterwards, we would wander through residential Ottawa at our leisure. Inevitably, we would wind up at Circle K.

Circle K was an idyllic place for an urban (though not-quite-downtown) teenager. It had 88¢ soft drinks in shitty styrofoam cups. They made the drinks taste bad—like tires, I used to say. As a kid who habitually chewed her pencil erasers I don’t know why I’d have thought that a bad thing. It was probably more to do with the feeling of the styrofoam in my hand, and the sound it made as it scraped against the plastic straw. To this day I prefer to drink my Diet Coke® out of a can.

Back in those days Circle K was called “Mac’s”. Mac’s had an owl on its sign. Apparently the owl used to be a cat, back before I was born. I remember the day they turned the Mac’s near my house into a Circle K in the summer of 2017. I remember because I made a Bill & Ted joke about it.

From this exact angle on Google Maps one can see this erstwhile Mac's in all of its former glory (as of August 2023). If one takes a figurative "step" in any cardinal direction, the sign will flit into Circle K. I myself bear no sentimentality towards corporate convenience chains, though I think this still says ... something?

To most who know the Circle K for any reason other than its ubiquity across the United States (and since its merger with Couche-Tard, Canada to its North), the chain is perhaps best known for the moment immortalized by Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where Ted “Theodore” Logan declares that “strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”

Bill & Ted is a comedy about two guys who are best friends. Bill and Ted as a double act together form the core of both the narrative and comedy. Such films which star double acts are often called “buddy comedies.” You can probably name several dozen off the top of your head—Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s The Naughty Nineties, The Blues Brothers, Step-Brothers, Wayne’s World, Superbad, Brokeback Mountain

Such double acts inevitably incur a wave of imitators, rip-offs, and subgenres—perhaps you’ve heard of “buddy cop" movies? You’ve probably seen 21 Jump Street. Maybe you’ve seen Bad Boys. If you’re an asshole, you probably have an opinion about Hot Fuzz.

Buddy cop movies suck, because cops aren’t funny. Cops shoot people, and work for the man. The only good “buddy cop” movie is Point Break, where Patrick Swayze plays a criminal whose buddy is a cop. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ted’s dad is a cop. Ted’s dad wants to send Ted to military boarding school. Bill and Ted probably hate cops.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t think most buddy comedies are all that funny—be they about cops or not. Compare, for instance, a comedy about a woman to a conventional movie about two guys. I’d wager the comedy about the woman is going to be more funny, because I’ve noticed that these movies better understand the humour of absurd situations. Buddy comedies consist mostly of two dudes standing around saying things the screenwriter thinks will be funny.

Usually the screenwriter is wrong.

I’m not saying this is true of every comedy film or series. Nor am I saying that the only good comedy films are one which star women. The Lego Movie is pretty funny. Birdman won an Oscar. Hell, Wes Anderson has probably made at least one good movie, and all of his are listed as “ “ comedies “ “ (though let's save that for another column). I’d here advance Scott Pilgrim as the definitive exercise in situational comedy starring a man—a single shot from that movie speaks louder than a million Step-Brothers. However, I have already reviewed that film and reached the conclusion that Scott Pilgrim is probably a woman, thus effectively undercutting my point!

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a 1989 buddy comedy about two guys from California who, faced with the prospect of failing their imminent history finals, are gifted a time-travelling phone booth from denizens of a future civilization where the pair are worshipped as messianic idols, which they used to kidnap historical figures from across the time space continuum who they present as their history final.

In the film’s 1991 sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a would-be usurper from this idyllic future of Bill and Ted’s creation sends a pair of robotic dopplegangers of the two back to the 1990s to kill Bill and Ted—which they succeed in doing, thereby aborting the future—prompting Bill and Ted’s eternal souls to trick the grim reaper into helping them cheat mortality.

In both instances, hijinks ensue.

It’s novel to see two supremely affable characters react affably to situations in which any characters less bespokely underwritten would inevitably fall prey to predictable expository dialogue. For all the effort which something like Back to the Future Part III puts into constructing a convincing feel of “the Wild West,” it fails in the face of the effortless simplicity of two dudes rocking up to a saloon and introducing themselves to a wanted fugitive with a cry of “What’s good Mr. the Kid?”

What sets Bill & Ted apart from movies about guys standing around telling unfunny “ “ jokes “ “ to one another is that, in spite of the absurdity of the situations in which they consistently find themselves, the pair always feel sincere. Bill and Ted say dumb things—lots of them, to be precise—they finish each other’s sentences, but they never say anything that feels exactly like a scriptwriter reaching through the screen to throttle you.

While more conventional characters quip, or gripe, or comment on their circumstances in ways that feel just slightly-too-aware of there being a fourth wall between them and the screen, Bill and Ted display no such irony. When they exclaim “Iron Maiden? Excellent!” when being threatened with a medieval torture device, there is no wink to the camera, no follow-up “did you get it?”

Bill and Ted don’t talk like movie characters. They just talk like guys.

To this end I find more truth in Bill and Ted than I do a thousand more nuanced, profound, and complexly written characters in films both more self-serious and self-assured. In an entertainment industry which consistently postures towards the imitation or replication of actuality, some sense of reality is lost. For as much as we can say Ryan Gosling in Drive is “literally me,” he’s not even a real person, much less literally you. Ryan Gosling is just a bunch of poetic word vomit in a screenwriter’s notebook.

Even Ken has Greta Gerwig's proverbial finger prints all over him.

Last summer, at a particularly low point of my life I returned to my hometown of Ottawa. 

My middle school best friend met me for a walk. Inevitably we found ourselves at Circle K.

I bought a lighter and a can of Monster Energy. I'd grown up with a particular White liberal guilt about smoking which was quickly expunged once I’d gone to university and continued reading about Communism. Try to find a Marxist who doesn’t smoke and you’ll see what I mean.

Being myself a resident of Peterborough, ON, I have habitually carried cigarettes on my person in past. Even after covid wrought me of any respiratory capability—let alone desire—to partake of this lung-poisoning passtime I continued to do so for selfless reasons.

In Peterborough, after all, anyone stopping you on the street is likely asking for money or cigarettes. Seeing as I rarely carry cash on my person and what little comes into my possession tends to be spent on DIY shows or given away, the cigarettes prove a reasonable compromise. 

I’ve admittedly neglected to mention the third type of person to accost you on the street in Peterborough—the kind asking (often drunkenly, sometimes implicitly) for sex. This type is, however, predominantly older, male and confined to a 10m radius of sidewalk immediately around 180 Hunter Street, and therefore not indicative of a general Peterborough archetype.

Admittedly, women older than me frequently make advances towards me outside the Only Cafe, often remarking that “I was in high school before you were born,” or “you know, my kids aren’t that much younger than you.” Admittedly again, these advances are far from unwelcome.

Ladies, if you're reading, my business email is located prominently on my author page and I am looking for ways to pay for grad school.

I had come into possession of a pack of Canadian Menthols at an anarchist rap show in the spring of that year. I smoked exactly one before I got Covid. My lungs felt like sandpaper for three months. Sometimes they still do today.

Months later, in Ottawa, I sat on a park bench with my middle school best friend, smoking a cigarette just to feel worse about myself. I’d been slowly giving away the rest of that pack to a girl from high school I was hanging out with that summer. I don’t know why I decided to smoke that one—I think I just had something to prove. 

Sitting there, on that bench, in the dark, wallowing in my own misery, I realized that me and this once-inseperable friend had grown apart. I’d felt this in my heart for a while, though only in that moment could I know it with absolute certainty and mentally rotate this truth like a cube.

I had gone through something bad earlier that year. “Bad” doesn’t really even begin to quantify it, but then, words fail. I’d needed this friend of mine, but by no fault of their own, we lived worlds apart. When we came together again, we were no longer the same people as we were, and I could not need them in the way I did. 

There’s something monumental about losing a friend like that. If the presence of one implies the other, how can one of a like pair exist alone? It’s not Bill or Ted, after all—never one or the other. What if, underneath everything, we are alone in the universe? What does it mean to be literally just you?

I was writing Barbie (2023) in my head a year before its release.

The last pack of cigarettes I bought was in November of 2022, for my friend who had neglected to bring his own to work. Per consequence, it fell to me to drive up Chemong Rd. to deliver him a pack of Ligett-Ducatts and a Tim Hortons coffee watered down by three servings of oat milk.

As I brought these to him he greeted me with query of “what’s up, fag?” In that moment I was reminded of the scene in the first movie in which Bill and Ted passionately embrace, Bill having thought moments before that Ted was dead. The two step back, assess one another, and declare “fag!”

Just in case you were worried these two guys who do everything together were gay, their calling one another a homophobic slur should assuage any doubts. From: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (Orion Pictures).

Out of every moment across the three films in which Bill & Ted feature, this thirty-second sequence strikes me as the most emotionally affecting of all. Bill expresses genuine distress at the idea of his best friend dead. In that moment he is forced to reckon with the prospect of capital-"B" Being without him.

Having thought all of these thoughts a thousand times before this moment, I thought them again as my friend and I ate Tim Hortons Farmer’s Wraps—the fast food menu item most closely resembling alchemically synthesized heaven—outside of the strip mall dispensary at which he worked.

Silently, he slid to occupy the spot of “Bill” in my mental roster.

Earlier I implied that in high school, I was like Bill and Ted. Now I know that to be a lie. 

Bill and Ted are the same people, forever, and no one is the same person forever—least of all I, who was but four some years ago an entirely different gender. Necesarilly, one can never really be them. 

Part of the charm of Bill and Ted as a duo is how unflinching, unrelentingly positive they are. They reserve little in the way of resentment for anyone, and approach every situation with sincere excitement and optimism. They are as close as anyone can come to being “perfect” people. I’ve yet to meet anyone even marginally as perfect as them.

A lot of this column represents an attempt to expunge muddied formative perceptions of myself learned through the lens of a film camera. I’ve articulated this in many ways, though the sentiment remains largely the same. 

However, no matter how many words I write around this concept I’m scared it might never prove enough, because even if I was ever—at any point—Bill or Ted, I never will be ever again. To be human is to be in perennial flux. There is no escaping this beautifully cruel fact. 

Even over the brief tenure of this column I’ve managed to freeze innumerable versions of myself within prisons of prose so that others might enjoy their spectacle. I could never have done as such had I always been the same person throughout. So I lay to rest another piece of the person I was. 

All the “literally me”s in the world will never freeze us in time, and sooner or later we all have to learn to accept this fact.

Our lives are not movies, our personal growth not preordained or beholden to any prescribed beats of an unknowable plot. We needn’t talk like we’re in on a joke with a screenwriter, because there isn’t one, and doing so makes you sound like kind of an asshole.

None of us will ever be Ryan Gosling. 

None of us will ever be Bill and Ted.

The good news is that learning to be yourself is infinitely more interesting.

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