One journalist's musings about the beautiful, bizarre world in which we live
A couple of weeks ago, my travel partner Dan Fridman wrote this blog post about visiting six Canadian cities in six weeks.
While I didn’t make to the West Coast, I am plowing through five major Canadian cities in a month: Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, in addition to several little towns and villages. I think I’m doing alright.
And despite my occasional frustrations with this country, I appreciate many things in it – especially the people.
I’ll begin my tale when I finished my job for the military. On Oct. 24, we reporters spent a night on the town of Wainwright, where the base is located. We dined at the local Boston Pizza, an institution in small-town Alberta.
After dinner, we barhopped as much as possible in the 5,426-person municipality, checking out the fine establishments. We drank with locals; we danced with actors from the scenario. I had a lovely time. That’s all I have to say about that.
Although it has the usual signs of an Albertan town, Wainwright has a different dynamic from most of the small towns I have visited due to the proximity to the base. People, businesses and jobs are influenced by its presence. They even have a couple fine dining restaurants, two of which I have visited.
This is the other W-town that has served as the background to some important scenes in my life. This is where I got my first official reporting job in 2009, working for the Westlock News.
In mid-November, I drove into town for the first time in a year. It felt like home.
I first went to the office. I entered through the front door, not sure if I could use the usual back-door entrance. Similar people, similar jobs were there. In my old office, my old co-worker Kevin still sat in his beat-up red chair. The new guy Doug had stationed himself at a new reporter space near the window. The new woman had set up shop in my old spot between the two, though she was not there when I arrived.
Doug, Kevin and I took ourselves to the Westlock Legion for a couple of beers and rounds of pool. Doug was champion of the billiards.
After the game, I met with Erin – the woman who was my best friend while I lived in the town, and a part of the “Westlock Family” at whose house I ate dinner every Sunday. We talked about new and old endeavors in life, spending a couple of nights at the kitchen table putting together an old map of the world.
I had a last lunch with Kevin at – you guessed it! – Boston Pizza.
I managed to score a $20 rideshare into Calgary Friday, Nov. 4. I was dropped off at my friend Sean’s house. Sean and I did the military training together in October. He is a beautiful person inside-and-out, and I thoroughly enjoy his company.
Our beauty-queen colleague Bebeci joined us, and drove us in her Hello-Kittied VW Beetle to the bar where she works. WEST. The two-storey facility plus upstairs patio is located in a mall, and can hold more than 1,000 people on a good night, I’m told. It was the fanciest drinking establishment I have visited in a while.
Because Bebeci knew everyone there, we got a lot of free drinks. As Sean noted, we were kind of like her back woods country cousins, in our plaid shirts asking for dinner before ordering our gin&tonic and scotch.
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I think my favourite part about the Calgary trip was the free Nov. 5 Log Driver’s Waltz Gala.
Hosted as a part of the GIRAF animation festival, Sean and I joined hundreds of other plaid-wearing hipsters watching animated shorts, roasting marshmallows and drinking cheap beer at The Jube (the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium).
Bebeci came, too – and came prepared. She brought her own marshmallows, a blanket, a bag of nachos and salsa and chocolates. We all sat by the fire, watching great videos like “Neighbours” by Norman McLaren.
Over my three days in his city, I met Sean’s parents and a number of his friends. I got to see a little slice of his life. From creating novel art for Calgary’s streets to eating Persian food on Eid, my visit with him was thoroughly enjoyable.
An important part of my Calgary trip was going to the splendid, book-filled house of the man I call one of my mentors, Dave. Newspaper clippings from past centuries were framed on his walls. A twisty winding staircase took people to the top room in his library. He gave me a coffee, made with a French press, in an “A Room of One’s Own” mug. The conversation, as almost always with Dave, was wonderful.
Bebeci and Sean took me to the Greyhound bus station Sunday. It was a heartfelt goodbye, and I’m sorry I won’t see either for a while.
My partner’s family lives in Edmonton. I love them to bits and pieces, and I like to think they’re fond of me, as well.
When I left Alberta last year, his father and stepmother took my cat, Napoleon Buonaparte, under their wing. Over the course of the year, he has become their furry (grand)son. When I returned, The Little General certainly remembered me, purring and rubbing my face with his when I aggressively pulled him up from the ground and mauled him with hugs.
I don’t know how much my partner’s family would appreciate me writing about them in a public forum, but I must say their food is fabulous. The cheesy cornbread. The chicken masala. The homemade pear-and-goat-ricotta pasta with white wine sauce. The homemade hummus. Banana chocolate chip muffins. Plum and sherry tart. White fish with tomato sauce. Boned and stuffed chicken. That fantastic South American bean-and-beef thing. My god, I ate so much.
My partner’s 91-year-old grandmother – his mother’s mother – also lives in Edmonton. One day, I took her to a place called Vi’s for Pies. We split a lovely spaghetti-and-meatball lunch. She wanted dessert, so we each had a slice of sweet, delicious chocolate cake. Sharing wine with my partner’s mother afterward, I found out his grandmother is diabetic. Oy.
On Hallowe’en weekend, I took myself to Blues on Whyte with my English PhD friend, Greg. He and I have spent a lot of good times at that ol’ place, often with me avoiding the lusty grabs of odd men. This time, in my tight black-and-green costume, I drew no attention from anyone. Greg, however, dressed as himself, became The Desired of an assertive Freddy Mercury lookalike, who bought him a beer and tried very hard to make him dance. Much to his drunken chagrin, Freddy was not successful in his attempts.
Stay tuned for “Cross-country Canada – Part 2,” where I’ll discuss how I got a job in Toronto, visiting the “family” in Ottawa and the food in Montreal.