Sunday, December 21, 2008

In This Country

Had Canadian Railroad Trilogy running through my head as we wandered east along the south shore of the St.Lawrence, a quick glimpse of Quebec City off to our left and then on to Riviere Du Loup, rugged hills on either side of us. Flat like the south of Ontario except for sudden rugged nodes that appear out of the plain from nowhere, rocky knolls rising up from the flatness, visible from miles around. Beyond Riviere Du Loup the vast expanse of the Gaspe but that one is for a future summer trip as we veer south to the Maritimes.

Seventeen hundred kilometres from Toronto to Charlottetown with a short detour to St. John for a visit on Friday night. Seventeen hundred kilometers of good weather in a Canadian December except for a brief flurry of snow showers rushing in off of the water outside of Shediac. Fleeing Toronto Thursday afternoon through the endless suburbs, row upon row of new developments along the 401, past the soon to be extinct wealth of Whitby and Oshawa, up along the last of the Great Lakes and then Kingston, white limestone old streets down by the water. Further along and darkness falls and then Montreal rising brilliant in the night and my daughter impressed and then into Quebec, all of the kids sleeping, pushing it as far as we can go, fantasies of Quebec City until we hit Drummondville and decide to call it on account of exhaustion, the five of us stuffing ourselves into a hotel room, unloading Christmas gifts and the beer we’ve brought for my father in law (the beer selection in PEI is the worst in the Western world), laptops and travel bags, DVD screens and the cooler.

Up the next morning and pack it back up in the bitter cold that arrived overnight. Back in the van and pushing east, past Quebec City and along the seemingly endless South Shore, the ice choked St. Lawrence magnificent in glimpses. Finally south and then into New Brunswick, the rolling forested hills for miles until we hit Fredericton. Then along the dark highway to St. John, an early night for us.

And finally Saturday we sped up from St. John, a boring stretch of highway if there ever was one, more forest and hills and now the end of the trip just ahead of us, past Moncton and then along Highway 15 through the easternmost reaches of Acadia and then over the bridge onto the Island and the last race through the villages and gently rolling fields, century old churches overlooking the farms that have been there for generations, the red clay hidden under a thick blanket of snow.

And we’re here.


The highlight of the trip, into a gas station bathroom for one of innumerable bathroom breaks and a trucker in the stall letting free a thousand miles worth of coffee and soup, cigarettes and chili, ham and eggs. The boy beside himself with impending doom and so I gear him down, lift him up and he relieves himself in the urinal, a first for him.

Later that day, a Tim Horton’s this time and my daughter rushes into the stall. As I oversee her preparations I turn to see my son, pants around his ankles, trying to aim into the urinal, a good foot up. Disaster averted as I rush over and lift him just in time.

The remainder of the trip he ducks into the stall himself, closing the door behind him, declining offers of help. The first time Dad shows him the way of it. Make sure you are tall enough to get over the lip of the bowl. Grab and point. Shake off the excess. Wipe and flush.

Another milestone reached.


I’ve seen a lot of this country and driven much of it. From Vancouver to Kelowna and back. From Kelowna across the Kootenays to Cranbrook and then on to Calgary. All over my country, along the north shore of Huron and Superior as far west as White River. North to Timmins and Cochrane, along the back highways to Chapleau and up the railway to James Bay. A million lakes and endless pine and spruce forests springing from the granite Shield.

And all over Nova Scotia, along the shore to Yarmouth and the other way to Cape Breton. Along the highway from New Glasgow to Amherst once I was caught in a vicious blizzard, inching along and suddenly my control taken from me and spinning on the highway, dead stop across the road and traffic coming and this might be ugly and then all of them stopping easily and I’m alright.

And south of Sudbury one Christmas, before kids, just us and the dog in our old Civic inching along the snow covered highway, nowhere to pull over, nowhere to go but to keep on moving, gently eating up the miles as we tried to get out of the middle of nowhere.

The Kootenays, the eastern end of BC between Fernie and the border of Alberta, the vastness of Northern Ontario and the south shore of Quebec, the rolling hills of New Brunswick and south shore of Nova Scotia. Even back highways in PEI.

And these are the places I have been. Not the interior of Newfoundland (been to St. John’s, the greatest of cities) or the Prairies or the vast north.

And everywhere, the middle of nowhere. No cities or towns, no villages or crossroad hamlets, no Walmarts thankfully, no Essos or Petrocans. Nobody. You slide off the road in a blizzard and you might be there for a while unless you are lucky. Everywhere you go you are nowhere.


Incommunicado for three days and turn on the computer and Sundin is a Canuck and Mansbridge has his lead for Friday night (SNOW IN TORONTO) and the Oilers have lost again, careening down a back highway up from St. Bruno or Capreol or Wood Islands, sliding dangerously close to the edge and it looks like they’re going to end up in the ditch.

The loss to Anaheim and the promised revival of just two weeks ago has disappeared in a very bad week that included a pounding by Chicago. One game means nothing but now its one point out of a possible six and MacTavish has publically called out another player and the Flames and Canucks look to be opening up some distance, the latter despite their star goalie being out.

Meanwhile the organization seems to be focussed on one thing and one thing only, a new arena, with Little Gary in town to tell the citizens that not only the team but the city needs a new arena, as if the town itself will fold without it. And the charge led by Laforge, who reminds me of the guy in the old Western, the one with the ramshackle cart selling “Cure For Whatever Ails You”, until the angry populace burns his cart of snake oil and the laconic drifter caps it all off by tying him to the pommel of his saddle and drags him up and down the main street behind his horse.

The arrogance of Laforge has filtered down the ranks to the staff of the arena who block the CBC truck in retribution for Crawford’s remark that the Rexall ice is no longer what it once was, something that everyone knows but nobody apparently is allowed to say. No longer the best ice in the league, now just another rink that way. No longer a proud franchise, now just another one mired in mediocrity.

Meanwhile the coaching staff is left with three goalies and a roster that is short of veterans once again, management’s fault, but the coaches have deployed the strengths of the roster poorly, putting key players in spots where they will fail rather then succeed, mysteriously exiling last year’s number one goalie, gutting the formerly invincible PK through poor tactics and strange personnel choices.

And above it all Teflon Lowe, like Tito or Franco President for Life, surveys the mess that he has wrought and talks of Cups won long ago and throttling any who dare question the great Oz.

It’s a sad time to be a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, a team that befits this great country, sadly, as they wander in a vast nothingness, made all the more difficult to take in that its mediocrity is tinged by a brash arrogance that is embarassing in that its so completely unearned.


Billy said...

DUDE!!! That was incredible writing!!! I've read a ton of books, blogs, etc.. over the years, and the top half of your post was right up there with the best. Well done to say the least.

As for the other half, i'm tired of the season already. 50 more games of "big" wins, "tough" losses and endless conference standings all for the sake of millionaire kids who dont really care anyways. If only there was a way to kill the fan in me :)

Bruce said...

BDHS: Wonderful stuff, as usual. As one who rode in the family car from St.John's to Edmonton and back and back again at the ages of 6, 8, and 15 respectively I share your abiding love for the vast and magnificent "nowhere" that is Canada. As an adult I've had a couple of opportunities to explore the northern territories (tho' not by car) which are not so much the middle of nowhere as its outer extremities. Recommended, even (perhaps especially) in winter.

Thanks for the memories. Your kids are very fortunate indeed.

hunter1909 said...

Dog: You're so much better than I'll ever be that the only thing keeping me from jumping out the window is my basement flat.

andy grabia said...

The arrogance of Laforge has filtered down the ranks to the staff of the arena who block the CBC truck in retribution for Crawford’s remark that the Rexall ice is no longer what it once was

What? What the heck happened here?

doritogrande said...

"And finally Saturday we sped up from St. John, a boring stretch of highway if there ever was one"

I notice you've never driven the prairies, and it shows with this sentence.

I can see Regina from my front yard. That's how flat and boring the #1 is from Winnipeg to Swift Current. It's farms, agriculture and the occasional cow. If not for blaring rock music, or I guess in your case a crying child, you'd fall asleep.

Happy Holidays.

Pat H said...

WOW. Nice stuff. That last paragraph especially really hits the nail on the head.

gold, Jerry, gold!

Black Dog said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

dg - yeah never driven the Prairies but I've heard. Will still do it one day I suspect.

Andy - last Saturday Crawford made a comment about the Rexall ice not being all that. Got back to arena staff, I guess, and they blocked in the production truck with the Zamboni so they couldn't get out for quite a while apparently.


I think it was Matheson's article last Sunday that mentioned it.

Fucking embarassing.

Swabbubba said...

Hmmm lets see I have to agree I once made the drive from Edmonton to Kenora ON in one day. Good thing for kick ass stereo in my car or would drove into a tree somewhere MB from boredom. Although have to give it to the cuisine in SK the little gas stations with the huge burgers... mmm... cholesterol.
CBC lets see Hemmers name is Ales not Alex, they usually tilt for the opposing team, and if they want to be like that ask Howie Meeker how it went for him back in the day.
Chicago ran the table so in the grand scheme it was not that awful point wise. The spread is not that much. I do believe that MacT is done though.
So feds are giving 3B for some car workers. Infrastructure needs? maybe this means new arenas for both cities. They built the Jubes with Fed money if I recall correctly. They can build some docks out east. Maybe buy the Nashville Preds and relocate them to WPG.
Hire Nolan

Bruce said...

the little gas stations with the huge burgers

On one of our trips across Canada we passed such a joint which had a sign in the window saying "Eat here and get gas". My mum laughed about that from time to time for the rest of her life.

doritogrande said...

"dg - yeah never driven the Prairies but I've heard. Will still do it one day I suspect."

Take a Manitoban's word for it. West of Falcon Lake Provincial Park until you hit Swift Current SK is not a necessary drive in Canada. Drive from the aforementioned Falcon Lake to Winnipeg, consume pints of delicious local Half Pints brew and get your ass on a plane to Edmonton. At least it's cheap to live in Manitoba, because the scenery leaves a bit to be desired. It's part of the reason I trek out to the wilderness of Northwest Ontario or the Rocky Mountains at least once a year.

Brad said...

It is truly getting harder and harder to be a fan outside the city of Edmonton. What is it with the 2 once great and proud franchises? Danny Machoke-ya gets promoted up in the Esks front office after what was pretty much a lucky Grey Cup win and then 2 seasons off the playoff map. Lowe getting same treatment from the Oilers. Last year the injuries took their tole and we waited patiently. This year there have been no excuses. We`re healthy and young. We should be exciting, beating Chicago at their own game, not letting them come to town, our building (where, no, the ice is not the same) and watching as Kane and company play in December how the Oilers looked in March 08.
Was Chicago`s goaltending situation that much different from our own this year? They have made it work, Lowe, Tamby and co have not.
BDHS, as an aside, I found you through the new association with the score. You`re now on my RSS feeds. Keep giving us outside AB the Oil truth and nothing but the truth sir!

Black Dog said...

Agreed Brad and welcome.

DeBakey said...

Merry Christmas Black Dog

Give my Love to Anne when you see her

Black Dog said...

Best of the Season to you Mr. D.

Unleaded said...

Brad, I have to say that you're wrong. It's harder to be a fan in Edmonton. At least when you're not here, you aren't inundated with the follies of others who claim to be Oilers fans. You don't have to suffer through a 9-2 loss in person. Or watch relatives throw money away on clubs that cannot win consistently because management is untouchable.

If there is one thing I can't stand its mediocrity enforced with a lack of accountability. I love my Oilers and I used to love the Esks. But I am getting to the point where I may need to begin boycotting my hockey team in addition to my football team.

Merry Christmas all of you. And especially for the little ones Black Dog. I hope it's one for the photo album.

Steve said...

As a newly-minted New Brunswicker, I feel it's incumbent on my to point out that the New Brunswick city is "Saint John", not "St. John".

Black Dog said...

incumbent on my? wha?

Fair enough, at least you didn't say I was from Southern Ontario