The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816

Most of you know how hard it is sometimes to catch a train. Sometimes you’re running late, or the train’s early, or your watch stopped and you’re not really sure what time it is — any number of a dozen reasons why you’d be running your heart out trying to get there before you hear: “Stand clear of the doors, please.”

Imagine trying to catch a train for two days. That’s what I did this weekend…

Okay, so I wasn’t trying to ride it, but keeping pace with it was something else, I’ll tell you.

Continue reading “The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816”

Mark and Darla’s Wedding in Toronto, Appleby College, Hart House

Well, I had meant to write this earlier this week, but after what happened on Tuesday, I hope you can understand why there’s a delay.

Most of you probably don’t know that I went back to Toronto on the weekend. It was a little longer than the whip-in/whip-out trips I usually do for such things — normally I fly out Friday evenings and fly back Sunday evenings, but I took two extra days this time. Work has been stressful, and this was a more special event than normal, so I wanted to take my time.

The event was the wedding of perhaps my oldest friend, Mark Robinson. How old? Well, let me put it to you this way — many people can remember, at least vaguely, when they first met someone. I don’t remember when I met the Robinsons. Our parents met about 30 years ago. My mother and Mrs. Robinson are best of friends (we’ve often joked about putting in a dedicated phone between the two houses). We used to have Christmas and New Years dinners together. It’s a long, sordid history.

Mark, his sister Julie, my sister Cathy, myself, and two other neighbourhood kids, AJ and Kelly, made up the neighbourhood mob. We played baseball (with tennis balls), swam, help mini-Olympics, and generally raised a ruckus around the blocks. Mark was generally the ringleader, being the oldest of us — me being just shy of two years younger.

When Mark was enrolled in Appleby College in Grade 4 or 5 (can’t remember which), we started seeing less of him. When Grade 9 rolled around, he stayed at Appleby nearly all the time (it was a requirement). Then came university, and I saw less of almost everyone. Over the years, separation was inevitable.

Cathy, on the other hand, stuck to the Robinsons like glue — Julie still being one of Cathy’s best friends. As a result, Cathy got to know Mark’s friends from Appleby and university. (The keg parties were talk of legend after a while.)

When news of Mark’s engagement came around last December, I felt like I’d missed something. About 15 years, to be exact. Once upon a time, I’d looked up to Mark — he was my role model as a child. He was strong, brave, and a natural leader. Sure, we had our disagreements (most friends do), but overall I still admired him. News of the engagement drew pangs of regret — I’d stayed away so long, I’d missed watching one of my friends grow up. I barely knew the person I had once aspired to be. I didn’t even know his fiancĂ©e, Darla.

So needless to say, I was quite happy to hear I would be invited to the wedding. I had missed Julie’s wedding (I couldn’t afford the flight to Antigua from Calgary at the time), but I wasn’t about to miss another Robinson wedding. So I booked a flight (a bit more expensive than I would have liked, admittedly) and whisked myself back to Ontario.

I left Friday morning. That morning, it was 3 degrees Celsius in Calgary. It would be 29 degrees when I landed in Toronto. Choosing an appropriate set of clothes to handle the change in weather was mildly difficult — I froze in Calgary, and boiled in Oakville.

The wedding was on the Saturday, and would be the first one I’d been to that started in late afternoon (4:30). It was a little odd, because it meant I was idle for most of the morning. So naturally, there was a massive rush around 3:50 to get everyone together and out the door so we could make it on time. As Appleby College is in Oakville, it was a quick trip over.

The ceremony was in Appleby’s chapel, an old ivy-covered building designed in the traditional British school chapel style, with pews running perpendicular to the altar, rather than parallel. It was also traditional in that it had no air conditioning. Although my new suit is much lighter than my previous ones, it was still very warm. Most people were sweating profusely (I can only imagine what Mark and Darla must’ve felt like).

It was a large affair — about 150 people (that’s a complete guesstimate, I have no idea really how many people showed up). The wedding party had four people apiece. Family was everywhere.

Being an Anglican ceremony, it was quick. A few quick words, the odd speech, and in 15 minutes, we were back outside. Although still 30-odd degrees, it was cooler than inside, and had a breeze. We stood around, took lots of pictures of the newlyweds, before heading off back home for a quick stop.

Then it was off to downtown Toronto, and the reception at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. Hart House (just west of Queen’s Park) is one of UofT’s oldest buildings, constructed in the late 19th century. It’s built in the London gothic style, and provided an unbelievable backdrop for the wedding. Mark and Darla had provided for their guests lavishly — oysters on the half-shell, smoked salmon, and an open bar with nearly unlimited supplies of excellent red and white Henry of Pelham wines. (Two of their wedding party — a married couple — run the vinery.)

And that was just the pre-reception. Dinner was yet to follow.

After another round of pictures in the Hart House courtyard, we moved indoors to the grand Great Hall for dinner. I was seated with my parents, the Robinson’s, and their relatives (not all of them, anyway), right in front of the head table. Mr. Robinson gave his speech in typically Mr. Robinson style (a combination of dry wit, bad jokes, and the odd bout of seriousness), followed by speeches by the best man (Brent) and maid of honour (Darla’s sister, Jillian).

Then dinner was served.

Wow.

I can’t really think of anything else to say, but “wow”. It was an amazing meal — Mark and Darla, unfortunately, had a reputation to uphold (started with Mark’s keg parties), and they had to deliver. They did so in exceptional style and taste:

The appetizer was roasted butternut squash soup with fresh rosemary with a dollop of low fat maple yogurt. It was followed by baby spinach leaves with toasted pecans, strawberries, and crumbled Stilton cheese with an apple-Dijon dressing. Eyaa. The entree were medallions of beef tenderloin (the “medallions” were huge — the size of coffee cups) with roasted shallots in a port reduction. Yowza. Dessert was fresh fruit with a warm triple sec sabayon and a crisp wafer. Topped off with a small glass of Late Harvest Vidal dessert wine.

My tastebuds were in Heaven.

I was one of few who actually ate everything. Most people couldn’t pack it all back. Their loss — the dinner was outstanding. Although it did take a while to digest.

Mark and Darla seemed to hardly eat. They spent a good chunk of time visiting the tables, seeing the people they invited, and being the quintessential hosts. They made brief trips back to the table for bites of food, but spent most of the their time walking around. Their only other interruptions were for kisses.

Goofy tradition, that kissing thing. Never understood that. But things were different here. No tinking of glasses. This round involved answering trivia questions, kept in balloons that had to be popped before a question could be answered. (I presume this was to prevent people from looking at a question and then backing off if they didn’t know the answer — the popping balloon put the people at centre stage.) I was impressed with myself — I actually knew most of the questions about Mark. I felt a little relieved that I hadn’t drifted so far away.

After dinner, it was time for Mark’s speech. (He spoke for Darla as well — I guess she didn’t want to make a speech herself.) It started off with:

I can’t believe I’m married … and she’s hot!

Mark’s speech used humour, history, and few tugs at the heartstrings. (Julie threatened to kill Mark if he ever made her cry like that again.) Suddenly, I didn’t feel quite so distant.

Dancing would have began after that, but first one little bit of housekeeping had to be taken care of. From the day Mark proposed to Darla, there had been a joke floating around, and Ed (one of the groomsmen) was to be the instrument of delivery. Originally planned for the Recessional during the marriage ceremony, it had been delayed until the end of dinner.

Ed walked over to the dance floor, picked up his guitar, and prepared to play. A few of us knew what he was going to sing. As far as I knew, Darla didn’t know — which, I believe, was the point. After a quick tune, he started strumming and singing. A few people picked it up right away, but it wasn’t really until the chorus that most people, Darla included, realized he was singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”. He would follow up with a U2 song, but I’m at a loss to remember which one…

The First Dance came soon after. People then began to mill around — some danced, some went outdoors, and few began to trickle out the door to go home. We stuck around until closing time, somehow…

Perhaps it was the drink, perhaps it was exhaustion, perhaps it was the heat — I still had trouble looking at Mark and accepting that he was married. (I still have that trouble with Julie, and she’s been married for 10 months.) It seems that the time from when I entered high school until now has just vanished. I’ve missed so much, and gained so little.

Hopefully, the next 15 years won’t go so quickly.

Reaction to September 11, 2001 (9/11)

Yesterday, someone whacked the biggest kid in the yard in the back of the head with a 2×4. And now he’s very, very angry.

Yesterday morning, for me, was of little consequence when I got up. I was tired, mostly due to jet lag. The temperature was 5 degrees. I checked the Weather Channel at 6:43am MST for an update. Just as all hell was beginning to break loose in New York.

Oblivious to all that, I resumed my morning pattern of dressing, shaving, brushing teeth, and heading off to work. I walked — using my scooter, although faster, is a little awkward in pants. Even without headphones, I heard nothing out of the ordinary. To me, it was a cool, overcast morning. Perfectly normal.

Arriving at work around 7:30, I logged in, started reading email, and looked at my daily miscellany of comics. Completely unaware that anything else was going on. Just before 8:00, I headed downstairs to get my breakfast, still holding to my daily schedule. Everything seemed normal — no news, no hints.

As I climbed back up the stairs, I ran into a conversation that involved two planes hitting two towers. My immediate thoughts were small single-engine aircraft hitting electrical towers — a rare, but nonetheless believable scenario. Then Evelyn, our HR manager, mentioned something about the World Trade Center.

Returning to my computer, I tried to log onto cnn.com. No response — it was overloaded. I tried cbc.ca. It, too, would not respond to my requests. Then I got the globeandmail.ca — the first news was … well, it was unbelievable. News started to fly around the room with fantastic speed — those of us just finding out were obtaining new bits of information from those who already knew. Commercial jets colliding with both towers of the World Trade Center.

My first impression, like many people, was of disbelief. It didn’t make sense. From initial reports and accounts, it seemed like a hoax — a very well engineered prank by a bunch of hackers that had caught mainstream media off-guard. But as I kept hunting around, things didn’t seem so perfect — especially when I found my first image at the Houston Chronicle’s website. A fireball erupting from the side of the south tower. Reality slowly began to sink in.

More and more people arrived, some already knowing what had happened, some unaware and succumbing to shock. Work ground to a halt as people started to talk amongst themselves, try to get information from websites, and listen to radio broadcasts.

The Pentagon had been hit; part of it was collapsing. One of the World Trade Center towers collapsed from the damage. People were jumping from windows, some on fire, some (presumably) out of sheer desperation. Another plane crashed in a lonely corn field in rural Pennsylvania. The second World Trade Center tower crumbled. Death toll estimates were going as high as 50,000.

I couldn’t stop the shivers running up and down my spine.

Many of us gathered in the Met — the only meeting room with a video device — to watch an online broadcast of the BBC to learn anything we didn’t already know. Our company president, one of our lead Art Directors, and one of our business people were in New York. We had an office in New York. We didn’t know what their status was. Thirty minutes later, a phone call from a cell phone let us know that our comrades were okay, albeit stranded in Manhattan.

Work resumed slowly, and remained slow for the remainder of the day. Some people were able to concentrate, but most couldn’t. Meetings, no matter the subject, spent more time discussing the tragedy in New York than how much budget to allocate for next year (that meeting had to be taken off-site so it could be completed) or how to fix a particular problem for a client.

The day was pockmarked with bits of news and endless emails of links to images and video of the crashes. Cnn.com slowly came back up over the course of the day, its site stripped of all the basic essentials of text and the most simple of images. Even globeandmail.ca and cbc.ca had to redesign their sites to remove extraneous items.

I somehow managed to forge through the day, leaving around 7:00pm. I walked home quickly, wanting to get the most up-to-date information from the news. Downtown Calgary was mostly deserted. Flags were being flown at half-staff. Even the venerable Starbucks at the corner of 8th Ave. and 4th St. SW bore a sign saying it would be closed due to the tragic events, and would reopen Wednesday.

Almost every channel ran news feeds — either their own, or CNN’s. Commercial-free, and constantly reporting on new events, running footage from earlier in the day, or gathering commentary from experts and laymen alike. Although I had seen some of the video of the crashes and collapses throughout the day, nothing prepared me for the full clarity of watching a Boeing 767-200ER accelerate and arc effortlessly into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

We think of skyscrapers as huge, hulking, and nigh-invulnerable edifices, able to take the most punishing abuse. They’re built with modern materials, armed with the most high-tech devices. As I watched as United Airlines flight 175 slipping into the south tower’s structure like a rock thrown into a pond, I found myself feeling less and less safe in my own apartment.

I find little truly shocks me. This did, far more than I ever could have imagined.

Until nearly 12:30am, I flipped between CBC, Global National, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, trying to learn all that I could, see what really transpired. Part of me wished I had been in New York — not to experience the horror first-hand, but to help. Part of me wished I could erase it from human history — I can only imagine how children must have to deal with such an unspeakable act, and how their parents will have to explain it.

One of the many phrases that was regularly quoted by many people about yesterday was: “It was like a movie.” And that is possibly the single best description for something so surreal. Something so strange, so odd, and so utterly horrific. Because only in a movie would we consider something as terrible as we witnessed yesterday.

That sentiment was echoed by others. One American, quoted on one of the hundreds of web pages I read yesterday, said: “This showed us that we are truly vulnerable.” Rex Murphy, commentator for the CBC, had a similar thought: We are as open to global terrorism as any other part of the world.

This is a belief that has been engrained in Western Civilization, and most strongly in North America. We, as Canadians, could look at the United States and say that their arrogance was what set them up — poking noses where they’re not wanted, saying what’s on their mind even if the rest of the world doesn’t care, showing up at the world’s doorstep with their fancy weapons dictating politics. But we in Canada were equally as shocked. As Rex Murphy pointed out, we are no longer mere spectators — as much as the American psyche was shaken to the ground, so was the Canadian belief that we, too, are invulnerable. We are as exposed and defenceless as a newborn baby to someone determined enough to do us harm.

Other newscasters had their comments, thoughts, and concerns. By the time I headed to bed, tired even from the beginning of the day (let alone the rest of the day’s events), the comments were becoming more incoherent, more strained, and weary. Peter Jennings was out of energy, and fidgeting in his seat. Dan Rather looked 10 years older. Even Peter Mansbridge looked like he was trying to pull another 30-hour marathon in front of the camera.

We praise our media for bringing us the most recent news as quickly as possible. Yesterday, someone put that desire to their advantage to shock a continent. I know I shall have a hard time forgetting what I saw. The media, however, is what we wanted, and up-to-the-minute horror is what we got. A chalkboard sign out in front of Darby O’Gills, a pub just down the block from where I live, put it best in three simple words:

We have CNN.

Raider’s of the Lost Ark, Rowley and the Horseshoe Canyon

Another summer has come and (almost) gone. Luckily, it wasn’t a summer spent indoors, stuck in front of my computer (as much as it might have actually felt like that). Given, I had hoped to get out more to places I hadn’t been before, but at least I got to a couple.

The weekend started with sleep. The past couple of weeks have been extremely tiring, and I needed the Saturday to sleep. I rose with ample time to get ready to go outside … to go see a movie.

Yeah, I know, with all the trouble I went through to get out of the office, you’d think I’d be trying to go somewhere and be one with nature. Well, there’s plenty of time for that — it’s not every day you can catch a running of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in a theatre.

It was an original print — 20 years old. The colour had faded slightly, the sound and picture was a little scratchy, and even a few scenes were missing. But even with the flaws, you would have had a hard time trying to remove the grin from my face. I hadn’t felt that good seeing a matinee since I was a teenager.

I also realized for the first time that there was such a thing as a “modern classic” film. I had a concern for many years that there would never been a true “classic” film made during my lifetime. Sure, there would be the big budget Hollywood blockbusters, which are all fine and dandy to watch once in a while, but are generally fluff. As I watched “Raiders”, I came the realization that it was possible. It sounds a little weird to notice something like that, but for some reason, it suddenly made the movie all the better. And seeing it without all the digital processing made it seem even more real.

The day barely half-over, I opted to go for a walk after the movie. I wound my way down to 17th Avenue, where a good portion of Calgary’s downtown life normally resides. I say “normally” because it wasn’t there that day. Calgary Public Works had cut off traffic from 3rd Street to 8th Street so they could repave. The area was close to dead.

Which means perfect for shopping.

Okay, so I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. But when Blockbuster starts selling off their used movies at rock-bottom prices, well, it’s kinda hard to resist. And it didn’t hurt that I finally found the perfect cheese shop — no Kraft, thank you. The most mass-produced cheese they had was from Balderson’s, which as far as I’m concerned is premium.

I’m really beginning to like this city.

On Sunday, I made the attempt to go to Warden to work on 6060. Although I arrived a little late (9:15), no-one was there to greet me. I had been somewhat concerned that no-one would be there. Normally, they call me and let me know if no-one will be there. Having received no such call, I figured I was safe. Dopey me.

Waiting around until 10:00, I decided I was on my own, and headed off in search of something I hadn’t seen before. There’s a lot of prairie out here, and a lot to see. One example: Rowley. It’s a very small little town (population: about 10, including the dog I saw wandering down the road) nestled in the middle of nowhere. It used to have a rail line (the same one that runs from Stettler to Big Valley, before CN ripped up the rest of the line that ran all the way down to Drumheller), but now has only a railway station, three grain elevators (none in use) and some old, empty buildings.

I continued down through Drumheller, and out to Horseshoe Canyon. Usually, you can wander through without seeing too many people. But on this long weekend, it was packed. (The campgrounds west of Calgary and south of the TransCanada highway were closed for fire hazard, so people had to find something else to do.) I didn’t hang around too long. I zig-zagged the rest of my way across the plains until I got home, around 3:00 that afternoon.

On Monday, we met up with Stuart, Therese, and Geoff. Geoff is one of Therese’s classmates who had just returned from a year in the States on a practicum. We celebrated with the best thing going — dim sum, of course. It was an extra long one for us — nearly two hours.

Following our repast, we followed the two general rituals: Buying candy in the mall next door, and then shopping. We started off on 17th Avenue, but eventually ended up at Chinook Centre to continue the spree. Oddly enough, I was pretty much the only one who bought anything. (Usually, it’s the other way around.)

That evening, I spent my last few hours of summerly freedom wandering around in the dying light, taking pictures of Calgarians trying to get their last good burst of summer.

Good thing, too. It was 3 degrees this morning.