My Week 210: Swimming in the Hockey Pool

Yesterday, one of my colleagues said, “I’ll be back in a bit. I have to go to the hockey pool meeting.” And I was like, “There’s a hockey pool? Why didn’t I know about this?”

She said, “Were you in it last year? Because I think the invitation only went out to people who did it last year, but you can come with me if you want. I’m sure it will be fine.”

And that was all well and good, but I hate to go places where I’m not invited. I also hate to go places where I AM invited, if you’ll remember my anxiety last week over meeting Gary Numan. But I had conquered my fear last week, so maybe I was on a roll. After a little hemming and hawing, at which point she said, “Ok, see you later,” I yelled, “Wait up!” and went with her, the words ‘I’m sure it will be fine’ ringing ominously in my ears.

Sure enough, there was a reason for the ominous-osity. I walked in the room and said cheerfully, “Hey, does anyone mind if I join the hockey pool?” I was met with glares and complete silence. My poor colleague sat down at the far end of the table while I waited. Finally, the organizer sighed and said, “It shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll just create another team. It’ll mean less players available for everyone, but that’s…OK.”

Let me just state for the record right now that I don’t even like hockey particularly, nor do I follow any team. I had no idea what a ‘hockey pool’ even was—I thought we would just pick a team to win the Stanley Cup and in about ten years from now when this year’s hockey season is finally over, the person who picked the winning team would get kudos or whatnot. But I realized that things were quite a bit more complicated when I looked around the room and realized that everyone else had roster sheets, statistical analyses, and printouts of players listed by position. I had nothing but a vague sense that I was doing this wrong. In fact, I had to leave within the first couple of minutes to get my cellphone, because I had to set myself up in an app that would track my team, which was a “fantasy team” made up of any players I wanted. I have no idea what was said in my absence, but when I came back, it was pretty obvious that there was a certain level of impatience in the room as I tried to log on and get this sh*t done as fast as possible so that the DRAFT could start. Yes, draft. All 12 ROUNDS of it. 

We had to pick a number out of a hat, and I got 15. There were 16 people, so that meant I got to pick almost last, which sounds sh*tty, but I was relieved because it gave me some time to think about hockey and any players that I knew the names of. There were 2: PK Subban and John Tavares. They were both picked before it was my turn. When it came to me, I looked at the player list projected on the board and yelled out a random name. Everyone murmured in approval, so I was feeling a little more confident, but because I was second-last and the next round started from the bottom, I had to pick again almost right away.

With all eyes on me, I picked another random name, and the guy across from me said, rather snarkily, “You can’t pick HIM. You already have a goalie” to which I replied “Oh, is that what the G after his name meant?” and everyone rolled their eyes. The man next to me shoved a roster over and said, “Here. Pick from the D list” and I was about to say, “Oh come on—I’m sure SOME of them are very nice men” when I realized that D must stand for Defence and not what I initially thought it meant. So I picked another name, and there was a visible sense of relaxation around the table as it became apparent that I was no threat to anyone who, for the twenty dollar buy-in, was trying to build a serious, winning team.

We got through 6 rounds before someone came to the door demanding the use of the room for a webinar. So far, here are the players I picked and why:

1) Frederick Anderson: I like his last name. It reminds me of The Matrix, and hopefully he has some special powers like Neo. But he’s a goalie so I hope he doesn’t do that bend-y thing to dodge the puck. If he lets in a goal, I’m going to say, “Mr. Anderson…you disappoint me.” Also, he plays for Toronto, and that’s where I live sometimes.

2) Tyler Seguin: There’s a character in my new novel named Seguin. Maybe it’s an omen. A GOOD omen, not like those Damian movies. He’s also Canadian. I just looked him up and he won the Stanley Cup in his rookie year, so maybe I’m good at this after all.

3) Morgan Rielly: I’ve always liked the name Morgan, and I like that he spells Rielly in an eccentric way. He also plays for Toronto, and I’m trying to build a Maple Leafs roster as best I can, because THIS IS THEIR YEAR. We say that about the Leafs every year, but now I’m on board with that.

4) William Nylander: Also a Maple Leaf. His name rhymes with Highlander. That was a great movie, and it would be f*cking fantastic if hockey was a competition where the teams fought with swords. I think the tagline for the movie was “There can be only one” and that’s just like winning the Stanley Cup.

5) Matthew Tkachuk: Early in my teaching career, in the year 1997, I had a student named Mike Tkachuk. I sent him to the office once for continually yelling out in class “This sucks!” He was talking about some music we were listening to—he wasn’t particularly inclined towards anything other than metal and spent a lot of time stoned (these are two separate facts about him—I’m not implying that people who like metal smoke a lot of marijuana). The principal made him write a list of 25 better ways to say “This sucks”. To his credit, he did it, and handed it to me at the end of the day. I laughed my ass off—number 10 was “Snow is better than this music”, number 15 was “This music is worse than vegetables”, and number 25 was “This isn’t music to my ears.” He was actually a pretty clever kid when he tried. He was so pleased that I found it funny that he never gave me a hard time again. I still have the list after 21 years. I hope Matthew Tkachuk is just like that. And he plays for Calgary, so at least he’s on a Canadian team.

And he carefully numbered it.

6) Mark Giordano: He was a panic pick. I had just realized that PK Subban’s brother Jordan plays for the Leafs so I was all set to pick him, but then everyone yelled at me that he was a rookie and probably would be playing in something called the AHL (?). My next pick was a guy who was 6 foot 5 because THAT’S TALL!!, but he was in some kind of contract negotiation, so I went with Giordano, who is the CAPTAIN of the Calgary Flames, so ha ha, hockey pool people.

Apparently, we have to do the last 6 rounds on Monday, but I’m getting pretty good at this. One of my favourite movies is Alien Vs. Predator, and not only is there a hockey team called the Predators, there’s a player on that team who looks just like the guy who works at the liquor store that I go to…

Thanks, Lord Stanley, for this awesome cup.

My Week 209: Vancouver Tour of Death, I Meet Gary Numan

Vancouver and the Tour of Death

The final leg of Ken’s and my grand adventure was Vancouver. The ship docked and since we didn’t want to drag our luggage all over the city, we opted for a bus tour that would show us the sights of Vancouver and then take us to our airport hotel. We got on the bus and set off, and that’s when the Tour of Death began. Our bus driver was called Len. His first announcement was that he was just the bus driver, not a tour guide, but he would do his best to tell us about Vancouver. Then he confided in us that he was actually a musician who had once had a record deal. “But now I’m a bus driver so that I don’t starve,” he intoned ominously. Len was apparently obsessed with the darker side of life, and the tour went something like this:

“The Vancouver Aquarium is somewhere over to the right. A couple of years ago, all the Belugas died. No one knows why. Now they have no Belugas. It’s too bad.”

“This is a nice park we’re driving through. In the spring, someone killed a lot of the Canada geese. The person was never caught. What a shame.”

“If you look to your left, you can see the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. It’s called that because in the 50s, part of it collapsed and killed a lot of ironworkers. They actually had to get divers to bring up the bodies. Very sad.”

“We’re now driving through Stanley Park. A few years ago, there was a terrible hurricane that killed most of the trees. When I was a teenager, we used to come here and get drunk. You can’t do that now, because there aren’t enough trees for cover.”

“This part of town used to be really nice, but there’s a lot of drugs here now. Trust me, you do NOT want to know what it looks like when someone ODs on fentanyl.”

“Now we’re in Gastown. Well, New Gastown really—the original area burned to the ground in the late 1800s. That was QUITE the fire. People were just, like, burning. Oh, check out that clock tower!”

“If you look to the right, you’ll see a restaurant called ‘The Old Spaghetti Factory’. It’s haunted by the ghosts of a little boy and girl whose bodies were found in the walls. It’s a great place to go for pasta.”

“This area of the downtown is renowned for its foodtrucks. They’re all licenced so that people don’t catch some kind of infection. Do you know how many people die EVERY YEAR from food poisoning? It’s A LOT.”

“I hear that you guys saw a lot of smoke on your trip from all the forest fires. We should take a moment to remember all the animals and people who lost their lives in forest fires over the years.”

“Wow—the tour is done. I can’t believe it went by so fast. Just give me a minute though, folks—parking this bus is a blood sport.”

It was so bad that every time he started to point out a site, Ken and I would try to guess what new tragedy had happened there. A stabbing? People dying of smallpox? A small, unexpected tornado? But the best part was when he started plugging for tips: “I have two great kids—a boy and a girl. I don’t have much but I promised to take them to Disneyland when we can afford it. We have a jar on the kitchen counter that I put any extra money in, and you should see their little faces when that jar looks fuller. I tell them, ‘One day, kids, one day’….”

When he started that last story, I said to Ken, “Please tell me his children are OK!” so we were both pretty relieved that it was just a gratuitous ploy for a gratuity, one which we did not oblige him with.


I Meet Gary Numan

This past Tuesday, I got to do something I’d always wanted to do—I met Gary Numan. He’s a musician in case you didn’t know—big in the Eighties, but has consistently been putting out albums his whole career, including his latest, “Savage”, which is outstanding. He’s sixty years old now and still touring like the rock star that he is. Leading up to the Meet and Greet, I was a real wreck, because I have a LOT of anxiety about going to new places and meeting people by myself, but Ken was working and couldn’t come to Toronto. The venue was just around the corner from work, and with a lot of encouragement from my work superhero posse, The Kickboxer, J-Nine, and the French Connection, I made my way to The Phoenix Concert Hall. I was second in line with about 25 other people, and when I walked up the ramp to the stage to meet Gary, my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest. He was wonderful and kind and very easy to talk to, and he put on an incredible show. But by the end of the whole experience, I came to a startling revelation—I AM OLD. Here’s why:

1) When I came back down the ramp, my first thought was, ‘They really need to put handrails on this thing—someone could fall!’ Also, I said it to myself in a very annoyed voice.

2) The guy who was organizing the Meet and Greet, Dave, was super-enthusiastic but he swore A LOT:

Dave: Hey Everyone! You’re looking f*cking great! So happy you could come to this f*cking thing!

Later, I had a chance to speak to Dave personally:

Dave: Toronto is a f*cking nice city!
Me: Yes. Yes, it is.
Dave: The people are so f*cking friendly!
Me: Yes. We certainly are that.

I mean, I swear A LOT myself, yet I found myself talking to Dave like I was his elderly aunt instead of saying, “You’re f*cking right it’s nice!” I found myself at one point thinking, ‘Gosh, Dave likes to swear’, and then I thought, ‘Stop being such a f*cking prude.’

3) I originally didn’t have a ticket to the show because I didn’t realize the Meet and Greet didn’t include it. When I went to the box office, the girl said, “Oh, we only have tickets left for the floor but I can put you at the side of the stage.” I was like, “Side of the stage? Excellent!” She took me to an area with chairs that was barricaded off from the rest of the floor and handed me over to the security guard, who showed me to my seat.

Me: This is great! What awesome seats!
Security Guard: Well, when we realized that the clientele for this show was a more elderly crowd and might have certain needs, we set up this special area. You’ll be safe here, and you can sit down when you get tired.
Me (thinks, then shrugs and smiles): That’s very kind of you, dear.

4) When the opening band came out, I thought the guitarist looked an awful lot like Dave. Then he stepped up to the mike and said, “Hey Toronto, how the f*ck are you?!” I smiled indulgently and said to the woman next to me, “Oh, that Dave!” Then they started to play, and the thought that immediately went through my mind was, “Wow. This is very loud.”

5) I rocked out hard when Gary Numan came on, and barely sat in my chair at all. The next morning, I woke up, got out of bed, and realized that my knees were killing me. My voice was hoarse from singing along and yelling (I may or may not have screamed “We love you Gary!!” at more than one point during the show—it was dark—nobody knew me), and I spent the day exhausted, just like the old lady that I am. But it was f*cking worth it.

My Week 208: Alaska Is Cold, Stuffed Squirrels

The journey continues…

First, just for the record, I did NOT pull the emergency brake on Canada One.

(As a side note, I’d like to share that I finally had the chance to do the following on my regular train this week as I was sitting in a group of 3 other people by the emergency exit:

Car Attendant: So you all know what to do in case of emergency?
Me: Absolutely. I call out “Mjolnir”, the hammer inside the box flies into my hand, I use it to break the window, and I lead everyone to safety.
Car Attendant: Uh…
Other People: *stare in confusion*
Me: The hammer won’t come if I call it?
Car Attendant (laughs): No, but I enjoyed the Thor reference, ma’am.
Me: Please—just call me TrainWine.

TrainWine is my superhero name in case you haven’t read My Week 191.)

Anyway, the Canada One train that Ken and I were on did, however, eventually stop in Vancouver, and that’s where the next leg of the journey began. We boarded our ship, the Celebrity Infinity, in record time. I have to say it was an excellent ship—there was a lot to do, and our cabin was extremely comfortable with a lovely balcony that we couldn’t use because it was freezing; in fact, if Ken had a dollar for every time I said, “Why? WHY IS IT SO COLD?!” he could have paid for the whole trip. If you know anything about me, you know that I’m always cold, and a trip to Alaska, in retrospect, is something I should have thought more carefully about.

So cold it’s glacial.

At any rate, we had a lot of fun onboard, going to lectures, silent discos, and trivia contests, where we met a lovely pair of English couples who, at the end of the trip, gave us their names so we could look them up on Facebook. Unfortunately, the names they gave us were supercommon, like “Mary Jones” and “Jane Smith” and there are hundreds of those names on Facebook so now I’m worried that they didn’t really like us after all, and we’ve been ghosted by English people.

In addition to fun times on the ship, we also did 3 shore excursions. Here are the highlights:

1) Icy Strait Point

We paid $90 each for a tour called “Taste of Hoonah”. It was advertised as a tour of the town, with a stop for an “Alaskan Beer and Local Cuisine Tasting”. The driver’s name was Bill. The tour consisted of three stops: the ferry dock (there was no ferry but we learned that it cost Bill’s family $400 to go to Juneau for shopping), the local public school (Go Braves!), and the Icy Strait Lodge, where we had the tasting. The lodge owners greeted us with “So what do you want to drink? The first one’s free.” Um, beer…? Then everyone got a small dish that had three tiny things on it—a piece of halibut wrapped in bacon, smoked salmon on a cracker, and a miniscule crab cake. I have a severe shellfish allergy but I also love bacon, so I told the woman about the allergy and asked, “Was the bacon halibut thing cooked near the crab cake?” and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course not!!” she exclaimed. “Everything was cooked separately.” So I ate the halibut. 3 hours later, when I was doubled over in the ship’s bathroom, I whispered to Ken, “I think that woman lied to me.” Luckily it was just a little cross-contamination so I didn’t need my epipen.

6 out of 10 for Bill, because he was very sincere and it wasn’t his fault that Hoonah is boring.
2 out of 10 for Icy Strait Lodge and its crabby halibut and dishonesty (the 2 points are for the bacon).

2) Juneau

Our tour in Juneau was “Gold Panning and a Salmon Bake”. Our tour bus driver was also named Bill. The tour was very disorganized, with buses coming and being too full. We chose to wait for a second bus and received tremendous gratitude and goodwill from the tour company, but little did they know we had a hidden agenda—the other people who would be on the first bus with us were an extended family of 6 adults and 9 kids under the age of 10 from Las Vegas. One of the kids was named Tyler. I know this because every two minutes, one of the women would scream, “Tyler!! Stop that!!” So we had to wait fifteen minutes for the next bus, but I’m pretty sure it was worth it. At the gold panning, they gave us pans with dirt in them, and everyone immediately found some teeny flakes of gold. It was really exciting until I realized that the pans were pre-loaded—when Ken and I scooped our own dirt from the river, there was nothing, and I was sad because I had visions of finding a huge nugget and waving it in Tyler’s face (yes, his entire family was still goldpanning when we arrived. Tyler had, at that point, fallen in the river and was wandering around soaking wet as the woman continued to scream his name). But we came away with a small vial of our gold flakes as a souvenir.

Then we went to the salmon bake. The food was great, and there was live entertainment in the form of a woman playing guitar and singing famous songs that she had ‘modified’ for the tourists. Our favourite was her rendition of “Proud Mary” which included the lines ‘Salmon keep on churning, cruise ships keep on burning,’ and if that wasn’t f*cking ominous and perhaps a little telling about her attitude towards tourists, I don’t know what was.

Rating :          
8 out of 10 for the Gold Panning because for most of it I was super optimistic that I would end up rich.
7 out of 10 for the Salmon Bake because the food was great but I’m pretty sure that the singer was throwing some very passive-aggressive shade at us.
10 out of 10 for Tyler because of his ability to not give a single f*ck.

3) Ketchikan

It was pouring rain when we arrived in Ketchikan, and it didn’t stop all day. We were soaked by the time we got on the tour bus, whose driver was called Helen. She was oblivious to the fact that we were cold and wet, and that the windows of the bus were so fogged up by our dampness that no one could see out of them. This kind of ruined her tour “patter” which consisted mostly of her saying stuff like “If you look out the window to the right, you can see a bald eagle” or “If you look out the window to the left, you can see a totem pole”. We were all too busy trying to wipe the windows off and shivering to see much of anything. The best part of the tour was when she took us to a totem-carving centre where they had these bizarre stuffed squirrels dressed like explorers, cowboys, and other things.

Price Tag: $265

Also, at the end of the tour, we stopped by a river to see bears fishing for salmon. Now, normally I’m terrified of at the mere thought of bears, but there were several elderly people in our tour, 2 of them with walkers, and I knew I could outrun at least half of them, and probably Ken too if I had to, so I was like “Bears? Cool. Whatevs.”

6 out of 10 for the cold, foggy bus.
10 out of 10 for the creative taxidermy.
8 out of 10 for me for overcoming my fear of bears. I’m deducting 2 points because my attitude was a little mercenary.

Overall, Alaska was beautiful, despite the frigid August weather, and the cruise ship was the nicest one I’ve been on so far. Next week, I’ll finish up with a quick tale about our return to Vancouver and the Tour of Death, and then we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled lunacy. Cool? Whatevs.

Howdy, pardner.

My Week 207: Vacation Part Two: Crazy Train, Braking News, A Little More News

I left off last week at the point where Ken and I were about to board the train. According to my Via Rail GPS tracker, the train was over two hours late, so I called Via to make sure. “Oh no!” said the woman on the phone. “Those trackers are never right. The train is absolutely on time. IN FACT, it’s early. You should get over there right now!” So Ken and I packed up everything superfast and called a cab. The cab driver was very pleasant and chatted with us amicably while he drove extremely slowly and took as many detours as he could, because the train station was only 5 minutes away and he wanted to extend the ride as much as possible, even tucking himself in behind a slow-moving dumptruck.

We were getting a little panicky, but we got to the train station in Edmonton, which is quite possibly the dirtiest, sketchiest station I’ve ever been to, with about 10 minutes to spare. “Oh no!” said the man behind the desk. “Those people at the call centre are never right. The train is absolutely two and a half hours late. IN FACT, you should go find something to do.” So Ken and I checked our bags superfast and called a cab to take us to the shopping centre we saw on the way over to buy a magnifying mirror (I had forgotten mine at home, and I needed it to put on mascara, which sounds stupid, but if you have to wear reading glasses, you’ll understand how necessary one of those is to not gouging your own eye out with a mascara wand). The second cab driver was also very pleasant and chatted with us amicably as he too took the slowest way possible back. We would repeat this one more time before the morning was over but we are now intimately familiar with 121st Street and all of its numerical tributaries.

A somewhat pretentious moniker.

The train finally arrived though, and Ken and I proceeded to our car, named Elgin Manor. Manor, indeed, if the grand home in question had worn carpeting, torn upholstery, and smelled like a urinal cake. Still, there’s a certain charm to rail travel, so I’m told, and when we were shown to our room, which was approximately 8×8, with a large window and its own sink and toilet, I was actually quite pleased with the whole set-up. And then we were off. By this time, it was lunch and we made our way to the dining car. Via actually has its own on-board chefs, servers, and a rather smarmy maître-d, Philip, who greeted us and showed us to a table for 4.

We weren’t sitting there for more than two minutes when he showed up again with an elderly man and said, “Right here, sir.” The man sat down and I looked at Philip questioningly. “Oh,” he said, “It’s a busy time so we need to put people together at the tables.” If you know anything about me at all, you know that being forced to talk with a random stranger is something I would NEVER willingly do, yet there we were. Luckily, Ken did all the heavy lifting/chatting, and the old dude was actually pretty interesting, having fought in ‘Nam and been on an aircraft carrier. But for the whole meal, we were literally the only people in the dining car, so I was calling bullsh*t on the “busy time” rationale for forcing me to eat with a stranger. Then later, when it was dinnertime, it got worse, as Philip immediately took us to a table already populated by a couple a little older than us. I was about ready to scream, but I didn’t want to offend the couple, and Ken was excited about taking pictures of the scenery. Unfortunately, the woman we were seated with didn’t have a problem being offensive herself.

Me: That’s a great shot, Ken. Too bad there’s such a glare on the windows.
Woman: There’s ALWAYS a glare on the windows. It’s because of the light inside the train.

5 minutes later…

Woman: And then we climbed Chichen Itza.
Me: Oh nice. I climbed a Mayan pyramid once too.
Me: I don’t think so. One of the other ones.
Woman: TULUM.
Me: No, not that one. It was in Costa Maya.
Me: I’m pretty sure there are more than just those two. I can’t remember its name, sorry.

They’re actually not, lady, but I really didn’t want to argue with her anymore about it, and I just looked it up now and it was Chacchoben. The final straw came though when she made what seemed to be a racist remark, and I was done with her sh*t so we left them and the still empty dining car. The next morning at breakfast, when Philip arrived to take us to a table, I announced loudly, “I’m not sitting with anyone. We want our own table.” Philip looked pretty pissed off, but since there were 12 tables empty, he didn’t have much choice. Do not force me to make friends, PHILIP—I will throat punch you.

Prestige Class Observation Car: Only allowed in here after 4.

It was really pleasant though, sitting in our cabin, or up in one of the Observation Cars, watching the scenery roll by. The mountains were gorgeous, and at one point, the engineer slowed down so we could all ogle a bear walking along beside the tracks out in the middle of nowhere. Then it was time for bed. Our car attendant came in, and with the pull of a few levers, our chairs collapsed and bunkbeds came out of the wall and ceiling. I looked at them skeptically, already planning for a worst case scenario.

Me: I’ll take the top bunk.
Ken: I thought you wanted the bottom?
Me: We don’t know how secure these things are, Ken. You outweigh me by a good 75 pounds. If the top bunk collapses, it’s probably better for both of us if I’m in it. I promise not to crush you.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Can you help me get down the ladder? I need to go to the bathroom.

2 hours later:

Me: Ken! Ladder! I have to go to the bathroom again!

1 hour later:

Me: Ken–
Ken: Why did you have to drink so much wine?!

But the bunkbeds were very comfortable, even if the ladder was a pain in both of our asses. The next day was pretty leisurely, and we spent time wandering around the train, which was kind of like Snowpiercer (if you’ve seen the bizarre movie with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, you’ll get the reference) in that it was over a quarter mile long, had 19 cars and two engines, and its own class system where one end of the train was the Economy class where people slept sitting up in their seats, the middle section went from berths to “Sleeper Plus” where Ken and I were, and it got more exclusive until the other end of the train, where the Prestige cabins were. The Prestige people had their own lounge, which the rest of us plebeians were allowed to enter after 4 pm, although I heard that the Prestige folk were a snobby, tightknit group who gave everyone else dirty looks when they came in and muttered ominously about amputating people’s arms by sticking them out the train windows.

There are at least five…

And that’s where I saw the Emergency Brake sign that said you could pull it if you had a valid reason. So I leave you with this—the top 5 valid reasons to pull the emergency brake. Next week, we will explore Alaska and have fun in Vancouver!

Top Five Valid Reasons to Pull the Train’s Emergency Brake

5) I need a better picture of that bear. There was a glare on the window.
4) I appreciate the “History of Alaska” lecture, but William Seward did not say, “7 million dollars? Whatevs.”
3) Philip, you’re a dick. Get off the train.
2) The Economy passengers have organized a coup and are marching on the Prestige Lounge.
1) Racist on board!

A Little News

Some of you might already know this if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, but I just had my second YA novel accepted for publication. The Dome will be coming to a bookstore near you in 2019, and I’m over the moon!

My Week 206: Vacation Part One: All Signs Point to Edmonton

So, a few weeks ago, I reposted my very first blog from four years ago in which I had used a can of Febreze with the scent of “Alaskan Spring” and I wondered if Alaska really smelled like stale Old Spice cologne. After having just returned from Alaska, I can say with absolute certainty that the Febreze people are WAY off base. That can of Febreze should have smelled like a combination of salmon and Sitka pine tree because that’s what Alaska ACTUALLY smelled like. Not to say it was a bad smell—after a while you got used to it, and it’s certainly better than downtown Toronto, which I will always associate with garbage and urine. It’s funny how certain smells are linked to memory; for example, the scent of lavender always reminds me vividly of the first time I went to Scotland, where the house we stayed in had lavender pomanders scattered everywhere. I was nine years old, I’d never smelled lavender before and even today, it’s one of my favourite things—I grow it in my garden, I have sachets of it under my pillow, and many of my infamous jar candles are lavender-scented. However, I digress.

Ken and I just got back from our vacation, which involved flying to Calgary, driving to Edmonton, taking a train overnight to Vancouver, and then getting on a ship to Alaska. It was a long and complex trip, so I’ll be dividing my review into three parts, starting with the first 24 hours entitled (drum roll, please)…Alberta—What The F*ck Is With Your Signs and Streets?

I’m used to travelling abroad and seeing signage that’s very different than what we have at home in Ontario. For example, years ago, we went to Jamaica and were baffled by a road sign that said “Sleeping Policeman”. Turns out, that’s what they call speed bumps, which makes sense in a kind of weird way. In Key West, I saw this bizarre sign:

No coconuts?

It was outside of Ernest Hemingway’s house/museum where they have a lot of cats, but how many people were picking up the cats that they had to have a fancy sign made just for that? Were the people like, “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I want a cat.” And those cats were all like, “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.”?* (There’s a reason for this asterisk–check out the end). I don’t even know where to begin with the prohibition of coconuts—were people using them to lure the cats into being picked up as in “Here kitty, kitty—I’ve got a lovely coconut for you”?

But the signs that we saw on the way to Edmonton from Calgary were like if you were living in a parallel universe where things were almost the same but just slightly different enough that you got confused. For instance, in Ontario, we have signs that say “Avoid use of engine brakes”. Engine brakes are internal brakes that slow the engine down instead of external brakes on the tires. They’re apparently more efficient but they make an incredibly loud noise and in residential areas, they can be “extremely disruptive”. In Alberta, the signs have the same purpose but they say “Avoid use of engine retarder brakes”, which is completely redundant since “retarder” means “to slow down” and a brake is “a device for slowing down or stopping” so essentially what you’re saying is “Don’t use your slow-y down things to slow down.” They also had signs for a “water spray park” as opposed to a water park (guess they feel it’s necessary to be super specific about the agressiveness of the water), “wildlife on road” instead of a picture of a leaping deer (all I could think was ‘Is this the same thing as ‘roadkill’ or do I need to look out for a bunch of deer having a party? They’re redundant about brakes but can’t be bothered to say “moving wildlife?’) and something called a “car turnout area” which is a place where you stop your car, and throw all your garbage into bins. These aren’t ‘picnic areas’ like we have in Ontario—there’s no seating, just a row of garbage cans, so what the hell are people in Alberta doing in their cars that they need these ‘turnout areas’ every few kilometres? The funniest was this one though:

Me: That’s a weird billboard. It’s an ad for a moving company called ‘2 Burley Guys’.
Ken: That’s makes some kind of sense, I guess.
Me: I’d agree, but they spelled ‘burly’ wrong.
Ken: Maybe it’s actually their last name and they’re trying to be clever.
Me: Maybe the name ‘Burly Guys’ was already taken so they added the ‘e’ to avoid getting sued. Although I can’t imagine there would be two companies with that same name. Think of all the alternatives: Husky Helpers, Rugged Removers…
Ken: Strapping Sapiens, Muscular Men…

5 miles down the road, we passed another billboard. It was an ad for a moving company. The moving company was called ‘The Burly Boyz’.

Ken and me together: Ah.

Then we finally arrived in Edmonton, and went to drop off our rental car. We had rented through Avis, which is the most laidback car rental agency on the planet. When I called Enterprise to get a quote, they said, “Well, you’re not dropping the car off at the same place you rented it from, and then there’s the tax, and the insurance etc., so it will be three hundred and sixty-four dollars and twenty three cents.” Then I called Avis, and they said, “Sixty bucks. Bring it back in one piece and fill up the tank before you drop it off.” When we had picked it up at the airport, I asked the guy, “I rented it, but can my husband be the primary driver?” and the guy just looked at me and said, “Yeah, whatever.” The drop-off in Edmonton was in the middle of a construction site, and it was hell trying to find it. We realized that we were miles from our hotel, and when we got to Avis, the girl said, “Oh, we have a store right near your hotel. Why don’t you take the car back there and they’ll drive you?” So, OK. Then we asked her for directions and she laughed:

Girl: Oh, you know, that’s not my strong suit. Let me check Google. OK. You go left on 103rd St., then right on 103rd Ave. Then go right on 104th St. and then left on 104th Ave. Then right on 109th St. and right on 109th Ave. Then you’ll turn onto 105th St., and it’s just a couple of blocks up.
Me: Is that close to 105th Ave.?
Girl: Yes, it is! Do you know the city?
Me: No. Lucky guess.

Apparently, in Edmonton they don’t believe in giving streets actual names—they just use numbers to f*ck up the tourists. Anyway, we finally found the Avis store, and dropped off the car again. Then the rental car agent there almost killed us by driving straight into oncoming traffic (he actually asked obliviously, “What’s all that honking about?” as people were swerving to avoid him). We finally got to our hotel, a beautiful place called the Chateau Louis Conference Centre. It was decorated like a French Castle, and the room was really comfy. The best part was that it was a five minute cab ride to the train station, which was located at…12360 121st Street.

The next day, we got on the train, which was only 3 hours late, and set off for Vancouver—but that’s another story. Stay tuned, but here’s a teaser for now. Imagine the list of “valid reasons” I might have come up with…

I can think of several…

On a side note, I’ve returned to work and things are completely back to normal. On Wednesday, I was at a meeting and one of the managers said, “Due to government cutbacks, we’re short-staffed at the warehouse, so we’ll all have to take shifts there.” I immediately clapped my hands together in glee and asked, “Ooh, can I drive the forklift?!” and everyone laughed, because it turns out he was ONLY JOKING. But I wasn’t, so my intense inner embarrassment was outweighed only by my extreme disappointment.

*Also, bonus marks to anyone who knows what Hemingway short stories these pieces of dialogue are from.