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.

My Week 196: Four Vignettes, or Whuh?

Four Vignettes

1) Last weekend, Ken and I pulled into our driveway just as two very small boys about 7 years old walked past our house. They were each carrying a puppy. Neither puppy was wearing a collar or had a leash. I’m going to let that sink in for a second. By the time we had gotten out of the car, they were down the road. I stood there, mouth hanging open, watching as they disappeared into the distance.

Me: Um…there are puppies.
Ken (unpacking groceries): Looks like it.
Me: I want to carry one too.
Ken: Who knows where they came from?
Me: From a magical place in town where there are puppies that people are allowed to CARRY, KEN!
Ken: I—
Me: They’re going towards the park! You know, I forgot to get…(mumbles) you know. I’m just gonna hop back into the car and go to the store.
Ken: I could use some help with the groceries.
Me: I’ll be right back!!

I drove slowly down the street as the two boys seemed to meet up with an older man who was pushing a baby carriage and walking a dog. I drove up and as they started around the corner into the back entrance to the park, I rolled down my window and called out to the guy, “I like your puppies!” in the hope that he might reply, “Why, thank you. Would you, perhaps, like to pet one?”

But he turned to look at me and smiled. “Oh, they’re not mine. I don’t know those kids.” And then the two boys and the puppies disappeared into the park. I drove around the block to the park’s front entrance and went in. It was super-crowded and I was hoping that was because there was some kind of Puppy Petting Zoo, or a Puppy Cavalcade, or a “Puppies on Parade” thing, but it was only a stupid softball tournament. Dejected, I made my way home, convinced that I would never see the puppies again. But then, in a strange twist of fate, I was weeding the garden after dinner when the same two little boys carrying the same two puppies walked by the house once again. It was a golden opportunity and I wasn’t going to let it go by.

Me: Hey!! Are those your puppies?!
Little Boy 1: Yes.
Me: Can I pet them?
Little Boy 2: OK.
Me: What kind are they?
Little Boy 1: They’re a bulldog and sharpei cross. We have lots.
Me: Are you selling them or something? How much are they?
Little Boy 1: One Thousand Dollars.

But I got to pet them for free. Suckers.

2) On Wednesday, I was at a high level meeting at work, with all the directors and the CEO, discussing a new policy. I was doing what I normally do, which is trying to pay attention and not think about puppies, or the fact that “Sugar, How’d You Get So Fly?” is my new favourite song for absolutely NO undiscernible reason, or how I’d had too much green tea AGAIN but there was no way I was using the bathroom during the meeting, when suddenly the person leading the meeting said, “Is there anyone else?” and my director looked at me and said, “Don’t forget ours.” So I shook myself out of my reverie and replied, “Oh right, there’s also that,” to which the person running the meeting said, “OK, guide me through it.”

I was at a complete loss. Not because I’m incompetent (REALLY), but because I was thrown by his turn of phrase and I had no idea what he meant. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I have a very poor sense of direction, and certainly can’t be counted on to guide ANYONE ANYWHERE. Last weekend, I took Ken for a beer tour, but he had to navigate. At the second last place, I asked how to get to the next brewery and the brewery owner said, “Take this street to the main road, then go North.” My response was, “Is that left or right?” North means nothing to me except “UP”. I’d be the best sherpa on the planet ie: “We go North!!” but otherwise, I’m pretty useless.

So I did what virtually NO ONE would do—I looked at the dude leading the meeting and I said, “Whuh?” Not “Pardon?” Not “Certainly.” Not even “What?” I said, “Whuh?” He kind of looked at me askance, then my director jumped in and ‘guided him through it’. Let me clarify. I am a 52 year old professional, both well-educated and well-groomed. I have several degrees and I’m a published novelist. Yet my go-to is “whuh?” It’s a damn good job that I can write up a stellar business case with secondary sources in under half an hour or my ass would be grass.

3) I saw an ad on the internet for writers who could create interesting posts about clipping their dog’s toenails. It paid 20 pounds, which is the equivalent of around $50 Canadian dollars. So I thought about applying, but I’d never clipped a dog’s toenails before so it occurred to me that I should practice first.

Me: Hey, do you want a pedicure?
Titus: What’s that?
Me: It’s when I gently massage your legs, and rub lotion into your paw pads…(whispering) and then I clip your nails…
Titus: No f*cking way. But nice try seducing me with the massage and whatnot.
Me: C’mon. It’s for fifty bucks. I’ll split it with you.
Titus: Split my toenails more like.
Me: I’ll be careful. Wouldn’t it be better for ALL of us if you didn’t gouge our faces when we asked for high fives?
Titus: It’s the chance you take.
Me: Seriously. Let me try.
Titus: Well, OK. Wait—what’s that?!
Me: Those are the clippers. Hold still.
Titus: They look really sharp—I—Nope!! Nope nope!! Stop it—I said No!!
Me: YOU’RE. BEING. A. BABY! Hold still! Don’t pull away—that will only prolong things! There. All done.
Titus: You’ve made me very unhappy.
Me: I’m going to write this up. I’ll buy you some cookies with my hard-won earnings.
Titus: They’d better be liver-flavoured. Get me my squeaky hippo, you sadist.
Me: For fifty bucks, I’ll buy you a new one.

Be gentle with me.

4) Ken and I are going on vacation soon, so I rented a car through Avis. I hadn’t received a confirmation number so on Thursday, I called their rental centre in Calgary. Unbeknownst to me, that number sends you to a central location somewhere in the United States. After screaming “Speak to a representative!!” several times at my phone, I was finally put through to Jeremy:

Jeremy: Hi there! My name is Jeremy. I’m here to help you. What’s your name?
Me: Suzanne.
Jeremy: OK, can I have your confirmation number?
Me: That’s the problem. I was never sent one.
Jeremy: OK. Can you spell out your last name for me?…Great—I see it in the system. Just to verify—what’s your first name again?
Me: Suzanne.
Jeremy: Can you spell that for me?
Me: Sure. Ess—You—Zed—Ehh—Enn—Enn—Ee
Jeremy: What?
Me (spells it again).
Jeremy: I’m sorry—your name is Su-zed-anne?
Me: What? NO. It’s Suzanne. With a zed.
Jeremy: Su-zed…I don’t understand.
Me: ZED is the last letter of the alphabet. THE 26
TH
LETTER.
Jeremy: Oh, you mean like Zee?
Me: Ah, you’re American. Yes. Just like Zee, only the RIGHT way to say it.
Jeremy: Pardon?
Me: Whut?