Travels in the last quarter of 2011 began six days in, when I flew to Calgary on behalf of SATMAP, the software company for which I still do a bit of work. The ride north was mostly cloudy, and we landed in light rain and single digits (Celsius, that is). After answering the immigration officer’s questions, and her welcome to Canada, I couldn’t not offer a comment I’ve wanted to say on many previous visits: “Ma’am, I just want to tell you how happy I am to be in a country where a mom doesn’t have to choose between buying groceries and taking her sick kid to the doctor.” It took a moment to register, then she simply replied, “thank you.” I may reprise the comment on future visits.
The hotel was close to Calgary airport, and the prospect was walking distance from there, so the original plan was not to get a car, but my Canadian SATMAP colleague, Bruce Williams, asked me to rent a car, so I picked up a sweet new Ford Fusion (see my laudatory comment a couple of months ago about another Detroit product). Traffic was impossible (wrecks in the rain), but I finally made it the few miles from terminal to Hilton Garden Inn. First, though, a detour to a late, light lunch at Tim Horton’s (where there’s always a queue, no matter the time of day; no wonder it’s a signal Canadian institution!).
Worked my e-mail and hopped back in the car, motoring a couple of miles east to a Calgary Transit Park and Ride station, then onto their “CTrain” light rail into downtown. A little vignette of polyglot Canada: more than half of the passengers in our car were Sikh men with turbans of burgundy, mauve, grey, teal. We were in the big city in 25 minutes. The rain had stopped, and I ambled around, admiring all the public art (another endearing thing about Canada; yes, Governor Perry, it costs money, but it makes us civil and it makes us smile). Walked north to the Bow River across a channel, and onto Prince’s Island and a big park. Snapped some pictures and continued north, across the main channel of the Bow (From Wikipedia: “The name “Bow” refers to the reeds that grew along its banks and which were used by the local First Nations peoples to make bows).
Walked back south, across downtown at rush hour, to the District brewpub on 11th Avenue SW. I was glad I did a bit of research a day earlier and spotted an agreeable place. Ordered an Ambush IPA and struck up a delightful conversation with young Cassandra behind the bar. It was a ten-minute download of my travels in Canada, hitchhiking (like most young people, she was amazed at the distance I covered), and related travel topics, with her lobbing in some of her life story starting with growing up in Powell River, British Columbia. Talking to strangers is such fun. Worked my e-mail, surfed the web, relaxed. Enjoyed half a dozen oysters fresh from Qualicum, B.C., and a swell organic hamburger (with bacon cured on premises, yum) and fries. Spent nearly three hours in a very agreeable place, then ambled out into the rain (I brought my new L.L. Bean long rain parka, a good move), and back to the hotel on the train.
It was still raining Friday morning, so motored a few blocks to breakfast at Tim Horton’s, and back to the hotel to work. At 11, I returned to the airport and picked up Bruce, who had just flown in from Toronto. Drove to lunch, then back to the hotel to work a bit, and at 2:30 made our sales call, a good meeting with some engaged prospects. It was the start of the long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, so Bruce opted to fly home at six. We debriefed in an airport bar, I said goodbye, zoomed back to the hotel and changed clothes.
Keep moving! At seven I met longtime friend Norah Carmichael and son Mark (who I had not seen in 8 years, when he was an early teen). I met Norah in the mid-1990s when she worked for the late Canadian Airlines. We motored to an Indian-Pakistani restaurant nearby for a spicy dinner and a great catch-up. Mark graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 2010, and recently took a job with Fluor Corp. On nights and weekends he’s an unpaid scout, looking for talent in the Western Hockey League, a minor group but with strong talent. We had a good yak about that fast game, U.S. politics (Canadians are concerned!), the booming Alberta economy, gay rights, and more. Clocked out, up way, way before dawn the next day, back to the airport, and south to Texas, where lots of mothers do have to decide between buying groceries and taking their sick child to the doctor. Canadians like Mark and Norah have it right.