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.