Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Homecoming part II, Cops Who Can't Drive, Vikings, Mutilated Cattle and Giant Perogies.

Winnipeg, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Ok, busted.

That was Obi Wan talking about Mos Eisely space port in the first Star Wars movie, however, there are certainly parallels between these two cities, one fictional and one not.  I should be fair though, I do love the Peg.  I grew up there, went to elementary school there, got my first spankings there, and first began using this crazy imagination of mine there.  I love it, but I did see my best friend in grade three, Raymond Robbins, get used as a dart board by the neighborhood, BMX-riding bully.  I remember seeing a blue parlor dart get thrown into his flesh just below the shoulder.  I remember me and my other friends just left him there in that back alley (yes Winnipeg has alleys, which are both cool and nefarious simultaneously), to die.  Well, he lived, but man was he wailing.

All I am trying to do is illustrate that Winnipeg, is a colorful tapestry of pleasure and pain.  If you are a Winnipegger you will have experienced both.  The weather is hot and dry in the summer, but cold and windy in the winter, there is an amazing zoo, and  "the Northwest", a part of town cops avoid, there is great food and night life, there are drugs and thug life.  You get the point.

My Honda hit the city limits at sundown, and I texted my friend Andrew to let him know I was in town.  He texted me back saying he would be a half hour from meeting me.  I decided to take a trip down memory lane.  I hadn't seen the house I grew up in for twenty some odd years, or my old school or neighborhood.  I GPSed my way there and was immediately hit by a wave of nostalgia.  I pulled over and took a picture of 726 Banning Street.  To you, the reader, it means nothing, but I was transported back in time, if only for a few moments, to the beginning years of my life.  I remember everything being so much bigger in my mind, the distances between my house and my school, Sergeant Park, for instance.  When I was a kid, that walk felt like being in a caravan crossing the Sahara, it seemed to last forever, but I estimated the walking distance now to be eight minutes.  It was really wierd to me, that all the distances that seemed so vast in childhood were so small in my adult life.  It does make sense, our sense of time and distance as a kid seem to be longer, a summer was a lifetime back then.  We all know how that gets as you age...

I met Andrew (whom I refer to as Hopper) at his mom's house.  She was somewhere overseas and basically we had this nice quiet house all to ourselves.  I dumped my gear in one of the bedrooms and we headed out to Osborne Village to grab a bite to eat.

We find this nice little Vietnamese place and order a bowl of vermicelli with beef balls, BBQ pork and spring rolls.  The price is $6.95, so far one of the best deals on the 1GA.  While we are waiting for our food to arrive, Hopper calls his buddy Sasha, who lives in a high rise only a five minute walk away.  He shows up right after we get our food, which looks and smells and tastes awesome, and we start talking.  Sasha is a fast thinker and equally fast talker, he should be, he is a lawyer after all.  He tells us how he represented Steve-O of jackass fame, for an alleged assault (he sounded like he was the one assaulted) out in Calgary.  After we ate, Hopper covered the bill, and we headed over to Sasha's apartment.

Twenty one stories up we went, and the view from Sasha's deck was one of the best in town.  We talked and hung out and Sasha played us a couple of songs on his guitar.  Not only was Sasha a smart and accomplished lawyer, he was a talented musician as well.  Sometimes you meet people and you are in awe, Sasha certainly was one of those multi talented people I have met on this trip.  We headed out to a bar not to far away in Sasha's Mercedes, I am not a car guy, but I know even the most base model of any kind of Mercedes is a hundred times better then my 13 year old green Honda civic.   We went to the "Toad and the Hole" a somewhat grungy, beat up looking watering hole.  It was pretty busy for a Sunday night and the bar was alive with good tunes, good people, and good conversation.  The three of us talked until about midnight before we packed it in.

On the way home, Sasha handed me the keys to the Mercedes and asked me if I wanted to drive.  Of course I couldn't turn him down.  Driving the Mercedes I felt like 007, and the differences between his car and my car were that much more evident.  Mine was a car of function and reliability and his was of form and beauty.  Those Germans know how to build stuff.  We said goodbye to Sasha and headed back to the house.

The next day we headed out for the Winnipeg Zoo and drove through Assinaboine park.  Again the memories of good times at the park and zoo flooded my conscious awareness.  We wandered the zoo through the many awesome exhibits and took a break to watch a birds of prey demo.  They had all the bases covered; a vulture, a falcon, an owl, a hawk and an eagle.  The birds flew over the heads of the audiences awing both child and adult alike. 

I had called my Uncle Trent earlier that day in the hopes that I'd be able to see him, my Aunt and cousins.  During the birds of prey show, they had advised us at the beginning to not make any sudden movements or noises, and of course my cell phone decided to ring in the middle of the show when a falcon was flying only a few feet from my head.  I accepted his invitation for dinner that night as quickly as possible, and said I had to go for fear of having a falcon dive bomb my head and rip an eye out.  

After the zoo I put an add up on Kijiji, to try and see if I could get a passenger or two across the prairies.  Every dollar counts and I figured it was worth a shot.  It only took five minutes to put the add up.  I finished posting the add and headed for my Aunt and Uncle's place.

I arrived for dinner and was greeted by my Aunt Greta, a real sweetheart.  She gave me a big hug and invited me in.  My Uncle showed up, and I hugged him too.  I love my Uncle Trent, and when I was growing up in Winnipeg he was someone I looked up to.  He's member of the Winnipeg Police Department and what kid doesn't want an Uncle who is a cop in their relative repertoire.   We chatted a bit and my cousin Zack showed up and gave me a hug, the last time I saw Zack was at Bernier's Beach in Sioux Lookout four summers prior.  I remember putting on snorkeling gear and somehow attaching a rope from a small rubber raft to my swim trunks and pulling my young cousin across the lake.  I think my shorts almost came off.

My cousin Melissa and William showed up, both in their early twenties, with "Willy" being a couple years older.  We ate a small Chinese feast which we served up ourselves in the newly renovated kitchen and got caught up on what was going on in the family.

Two years ago, my Uncle who was off duty at the time, went to pick up Greta from work.  He was coming through one of the busiest intersections in the city when a police cruiser, that was travelling way too fast, careened into him.  These two green officers, only a few months out of academy t-boned my Uncle while responding to a low priority call.  There was no need for them to be using sirens and lights, and they were clocked going almost 6 times faster then protocol allows for proceeding through intersections.  Bottom line is these two young cops, because of their negligence, put a veteran cop, my Uncle out of work for the last 2 years.  His back and neck were broken and he has spent the last couple years just trying to get to a point where he can get back to his life in a normal way, that many of us, myself included take for granted.

He is doing much better these days, but he will never be on patrol again, which is tough since he was a good cop who loved his job, and loved being out there amongst the people.  It was a tough time for him and his family and I hope and pray that he continues his recovery, he is a really good man.

So my cousin Willy takes me downstairs and tells me he has something for me, he shoves three twenties in my hand and tells me he wishes he could give me more.  I am floored.  I have never asked anyone for money, people just keep giving it to me, I swear!  His generosity really warmed my heart, he is a great kid.  I thanked him and went upstairs and talked to my Uncle a bit more, and Aunty Greta hands me an envelope, the card inside wishing me a good journey, and their is another eighty dollars staring at me.  I did feel guilty, I am not out visiting family because I am looking for handouts, I'm really not.  I had no idea that I was going to leave my Aunt and Uncle's house that night 140 dollars richer.  I left that evening deeply grateful, to my family, and to something ethereal, and powerful, that has continued to guide and support me on this journey.  Life is surprising me, almost everyday, all I can do is continue to be in a state of gratitude.

During that day and into the next, my kijiji add started to pay dividends.  For my departure into the west I had lined up two passengers, a dude named Cory who had a farm on the outskirts of the city and worked in the oilsands, and a kid named Jonas, who was a young Dane.  This young man of Viking decent needed a lift to Lloydminster where he had found a job on Danish farm.  In total I was going to net $180 for my services as a long range taxi driver.  More abundance... more gratitude.

The next day I met up with cousin Sharol, My Uncle Victor's oldest daughter and we went to the Silver Heights Restaurant.  It was 2 for 1 night and Hopper told me the steak sandwiches were really good.  I was inclined to agree.  We talked for a couple hours and found that we had a lot in common.  We were both television broadcasting graduates, and we were both employed (she still is) on various productions.  We talked about her upcoming wedding, as well as that of my cousin in BC, Candace, who was less then a week from her date with destiny.  After we left, we continued talking out in front for a good twenty minutes.  Sharol is getting married in early September, and I hope I can make it back to the middle of Canada by then, it will be one for the books I am sure.

That night was the second night in a row I had the whole house to myself, as Hopper was at his girlfriends place.  We talked via text and he assured me he would arrive the next morning with coffee in hand to see me off.   I knew he wouldn't dissapoint, he had been an amazing host and friend over the last few days and wouldn't let me spend money, covering meals and driving me around town.

True to his word he arrived with coffee and a cinnamon roll.  I had done most of my packing the night before and was on the road at 7:45 am.  I was to meet my two passengers at the Assinaboine Downs, a horse track and casino on the western edge of the city.
I had arranged to meet Jonas and Cory at 8am, and I arrived about 5 minutes late. There were two cars, and two couples.  The boys got out, and the girls said their goodbyes.  It was a strange coincidence that I had picked up tow guys who were both leaving town to find work in Alberta.  I briefly shook their hands and helped them with their luggage which had the rear seats completely packed, I would be relying on side mirrors.  The only space left was a nook on the driver side behind me for the young Dane,  Cory was the bigger of the two, so it was agreed he would get shotgun.

I spent the greater part of the drive talking with Cory, since he was right beside me.  I learned that he himself had a farm, a small but economical operation where he had some livestock and crops.  Jonas was a quiet, polite kid, who was surely decended of Viking descent.  He had fallen in love with a Canadian girl when he was traveling in Australia, had come here to be with her, and needed to make some money to get home, back to Denmark.  I assumed it was not a voyage by boat.

Cory and I had an awesome conversation, he further expanded my knowledge of things I knew little about; farming, machines, agriculture and her economics.  I would like to hope I was able to provide him with a fraction of the knowledge he provided me.  Thank the stars I had these two, because the drive through the prairies is a monotonous one.  I am not saying it wasn't beautiful, it was, but it gets to be very repetitive after a while.

As we were driving through St. Albert Saskatchewan, Cory relayed to me some interesting information.  A few years ago in this sleepy farming town, some strange things started to take place.  Cows were showing up dead, their tongues, eyes, sex and other internal organs, being removed with surgical, laser like precision.  One of Cory's relatives had a few of his cattle mutilated in this fashion, and the big mystery was why, and how?  The cuts made were fully cauterized as if they had been taken out with an unknown sophisticated technology.  Many believed that these were experiments being done by beings from another planet.  I asked Cory what he thought, he didn't have an explanation.
After 1200 kms, we arrived in Lloydminster, a town straddling the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta.  We passed a large red pole which was the symbolic border into Alberta and looked for a Dairy Queen, our rendezvous point for meeting a truck full of Danish farmers, who would soon be abducting Jonas into their fold.

We spotted the Dairy Queen and the big white pickup truck full of more Viking men.  I drove into the parking space beside them and was bombarded with greetings in a language I could only assume was Danish.  I shook some hands, and saw Jonas grab his luggage, he was greeted like he had been away a long time at sea, on an expedition in the frozen Atlantic.  Even though he knew none of these Danes, he was immediately welcomed like family.  I thanked Jonas, he thanked me, and that was it.  I had a second passenger to attend to, and so off we went, to a place called Elk Lake.

The landscape started to change, from flat prairie to rolling hills and meadows.  I started to see the far reaching influences of the oil industry in Canada.  Many of the hills on these farms had small oil derricks in place, pumping out crude.  Cory explained that the companies paid big bucks to lease the land from the farmers in exchange for the oil under their properties.  He also explained how the companies were becoming more complacent and were sucking up oil, and more sand, quicker, in their extraction attempts.  He further explained that these temporary wells used to be pumped and drained over several years, and now the focus was on increased production.  I was amazed to see the capitalistic system at work, even in the boonies of Alberta.

After a few twist and turns down some dirt roads, I dropped Cory at his friend's farm just outside of Elk Lake.  His car was stored there as well as some possessions.  I thanked Cory, told him to stay in touch, and headed off.

When I was in Newfoundland I met Samantha and Lindsey, and we had a discussion about a giant perogie.  I promised them if I was within 100 kilometers I would visit this totem of the Ukrainian peoples.  I checked my GPS and Glendon was only 35 kilometers north to where I was.  Now there are coincidences, and then there is fate.  As fate would have it, I had a date with a giant perogie.

I don't like driving after dark because I don't want to contribute roadkill, or "me-kill", but I made an exception this night and after twenty five minutes I was in the tiny community of Glendon, population: 500.  I drove around, and for the life of me couldn't find this damn perogie.  The town was quiet, it was a weeknight and after dark, and I was about to give up when I saw two teenage girls walking down the main drag.  Now I didn't want to be that creepy guy with the Ontario plates, but I had come too far and was out of options.  I pulled over and just said "Uhmm, sorry to bother you, I know this may seem strange, but I promised a couple of girls in Newfoundland I'd get a picture of your giant perogie, can you tell me where it is?"  The girls giggled and gave me some clear directions.  I said thank you, and after a few twists and turns spotted the world's largest Ukrainian potato dumpling.

Now where do I buy a giant tub of sour cream?

I took a little video for the archives and a few snapshots as proof to my Ontarian-Newfie friends.  I was getting tired and had 230 kms to get to Edmonton.  I was hoping to get to my Uncle Ricky's before 1am but realized that possibility was now completely ruled out, as it was already after midnight.  Another road sleep was in the books for me.

I got to Edmonton, found a parking lot close to where uncle Ricky lived and got into the back seat and passed out....the next morning I'd stop in for a coffee and be on my way through the Rocky mountains.   I had in my pocket just over 600 bucks, not only enough to easily get through to BC, but enough to hit one of my bonus destinations, Whitehorse and the Yukon Territory.   I was happy, yet again, on the One Grand Adventure.

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