A Boys Night out in Calgary, Drumheller, Banff (Bamf!), and Star Wars

This weekend, I did something a little different than usual. I went to Calgary.


Well, not totally alone. I went to visit Stuart, who I had only seen for a whopping six hours at Christmas. Ideally, I would have also visited Therese, but she was off in Halifax on a conference, and visiting her sister. Also visiting that weekend was Jay, one of Stuart’s friends from college, whom I had come to know quite well.

It was becoming the “Boy’s Weekend”.

The original intention behind all this was to get together to work on a script that Stuart and Jay had been working on extensively, that I had started to contribute to a few months ago. The weekend happened to coincide with the release of Star Wars: Episode 1. Lucky us.

When I arrived at Gate C34 at the airport, I noticed that there was a significantly larger number of people than there should be for a a flight not due to board for 40 minutes, let alone depart for an hour. It turned out that the flight before mine (also going to Calgary) was late.

Quickly deducing that my flight would be late arriving in Calgary, I decided to try playing my cards. I walked up to the desk and asked one of the two attendants if the flight leaving was full. When she told me it wasn’t, I asked if it was possible to change my flight from the 19:40 flight to the 18:30 flight (it ended up being the 19:00 by the time it actually got going).

A few minutes later, I was seated next to a window, waiting to get moving.

Luckily for me, timing was everything that evening. Jay arrived a couple of hours ahead of me, so he and Stuart had gone out for dinner. Arriving early, I attempted to call Stuart’s thinking he might be there. He wasn’t. My next task was to have him paged.

A moment after the page went out, I saw Jay and Stuart walking across the baggage claim floor. The weekend had begun.

We retreated to Stuart’s apartment and watched “Empire Strikes Back”, after engaging in a debate about where John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin from Cheers) appears in the movie. We were unsuccessful in our search. (Apparently he’s a Rebel — I mistakenly thought he was an Imperial.)

The following morning, we headed out into the partially cloudy and somewhat rainy Calgary. Following breakfast at Denny’s (which left Jay and I feeling a bit odd for most of the day), we traipsed about the downtown before finally ending up at Eau Claire Market, where we indulged ourselves on video games. We were killing time. We were seeing Star Wars that night, so we couldn’t really go anywhere without coming back late.

After a very small lunch, a couple of beers, and an IMAX movie later, we headed out towards the south end of Calgary. You really get an idea of how big Calgary actually is when you find it takes almost an hour to get from downtown to the south end. (Of course, we were driving through rush hour traffic, so that’s to be somewhat expected.)

We were not alone in our vigil — several of Stuart and Therese’s friends were also attending the affair.

We lined up just before 8pm in anticipation of the 10:10pm show. And just so you’re aware, there were others in the line before us — we weren’t the most desperate.

The atmosphere once we got into the theatre was like waiting for a concert to start. Lots of talking and laughing … even a beach ball that was flung around the room (at least until the management took it away; we booed the usher for ruining our fun).

It was an odd feeling, watching a new Star Wars movie. I couldn’t honestly tell you how many times I’ve seen the original trilogy. We’ll just leave at “a lot”. We actually had to read the introductory text as it scrolled by. Our excitement was uncontrolled because, as Stuart put it, we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen in the next moment.

A little over two hours later, we emerged from the theatre, mostly wired from some of the things we had seen. It was a good introduction to a long story (something that a lot of people were forgetting), with a lot of great action. We dreamed of many a lightsabre duel that night…

The following morning, we decided we would head into the mountains. Jay had never been to the mountains, and wanted to see them up close. The weather was good, so we opted to take the day amongst the snowy caps of the Rockies.

Before leaving Calgary, we picked up a friend of Jay’s who had moved to Calgary a year earlier, Kevin. Stuart knew Kevin through Jay, so I became the odd person out. Luckily, Kevin and I got along well, so it was a briefly-felt feeling.

Following a quick lunch at Pete’s Drive-In, we hauled the hour and a half into the mountains. Jay (who had bought a camera that morning so he could take pictures) almost sounded like a little kid as he clicked away with his camera, recording the imagery for posterity.

Our ultimate destination was Banff, although we were going first to Lake Lorna. Kevin quickly asked if any of us have been to Morraine Lake, to which the three of us all replied “no”. A third destination was added to the list.

As we drove along, we discussed a great many things, including the things we would do once we finally got to Banff. We even discussed the pronounciation of Banff. Technically, it is “Banff”. It quickly degraded to “bamf”. One of us saying “Banff” or “bamf” was followed by three “bamf"s.

Guys do weird things. Accept it.

On the way to Morraine Lake, we noticed something. Snow. Yeah, I know, that sounds really dumb. But there was a lot more snow up there than we expected. This led to, of course, a snowball fight.

Snowball fight in late May, Banff National Park, Alberta, 25 May 1999

It was short-lived (snowballs are really cold on unprotected hands).

For those of you who don’t remember Morraine Lake (and yes, all you Canadians have seen it before), find an old CDN$10 bill. Flip it over. Voila! Morraine Lake. Didn’t even know it was that close to Lake Louise.

Morraine Lake, Banff National Park, 25 May 1999

The snow there was pretty deep, almost burying the sign that describes the significance of the area. Luckily, a lot of people had been there before us, so we could walk across the snow without falling in. This was a good thing for me, because in all my haste to pack for Calgary, I forgot to bring shoes. All I had were my sandals.

Of course, this didn’t stop me from doing dumb things, like climbing the rock pile at the head of the lake with Stuart, Jay, and Kevin. (Luckily, I have good sandals that grip almost anything, and the rocks were bare.)

I was strange seeing Lake Louise again. The last time was a year and a half ago, when Gerry and I had stopped off on our way to Vancouver. Snow covered most of the mountains around the lake, and the lake itself still bore a sheet of ice. I felt sorry for Jay, not being able to witness the greeny-blue lake for himself.

We wandered about the Chateau for a while, debated on crashing a wedding (again, it’s a guy thing; but don’t worry, we wouldn’t actually do such a thing … without good reason, that is), and eventually left for Banff (bamf).

The townsite of Banff (bamf) hadn’t changed much in the year since I last visited (with Allison). After Stuart pulled into a well-hidden free parking spot (something that I wish I’d seen before), we proceeded to invade the downtown.

It seems that Banff (bamf) was also invaded by a squadron of Air Cadets — they were everywhere. On every corner, and usually scattered about the middle of each block. It almost seemed Dickensian; I expected to see a military Fagin lurking around the corners.

We wandered up Banff (bamf) Ave. towards the Park Administration building, then came down the other side. We stopped into various shops, but I abstained from buying anything — nothing there that really interested me. Jay and Kevin got sucked into a fudge shop where they indulged their sweet teeth. Tasty stuff, but it made my incisors vibrate.

Finally, it was time for dinner (we really hadn’t eaten yet), so we headed towards St. James Gate, an Irish pub that Stuart recommended. As we headed over, we realised that we weren’t too far from Banff’s (bamf) movie theatre.

It was playing Star Wars.

They still had tickets.

We figured popcorn would tie us over until we could get something else later.

Emerging two hours later, hopped up on a heap of adrenaline from the lightsabre duels (yeah, we focused on that a lot), we went to dinner. A nice lamb stew and an Irish ale really hit the spot.

After dinner, we ended up having to make a hard decision. Banff (bamf) is a great place to have fun. We thought we might stay the night, grab a hotel, and drive back in the morning. But then the little party-pooper in me thought about the plans for the next day — Drumheller. Driving from Banff (bamf) to Calgary and then to Drumheller wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. It seemed it wasn’t something Stuart or Jay wanted to do either.

The next time we’re in Banff (bamf), we’re spending the night, even if it means eight people crammed into a room.

We arrived in Calgary an hour later, initially at a loss for something to do. We ended up downtown at a pub called “The Barley Mill”, where we swapped jokes, movie quotes, and work-related annoyances, quaffed a couple pints, and listened to some really great jazz.

We got up a bit later the next morning, showered, hit Safeway to get hot dogs and buns, and headed out to Drumheller. I hadn’t been to Drumheller before, and really wanted to know what that area of Alberta was like. Jay hadn’t been there before either (he hadn’t been to Alberta before), and was excited about the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology.

It was a long drive. At least, it felt like a long drive. In reality, it probably wasn’t anything overly lengthy, but the heat and lack of features (it is the Prairies, after all) made it seem longer. Finally, the flatness gave way to an almost Grand Canyon-like valley (albeit significantly shallower), and the city of Drumheller.

Drumheller is one of these strange cities that base their entire existence on one thing. Usually, that one thing is a resource (i.e. a mine). In this case, it’s dinosaurs. I’m really curious to know what would happen to Drumheller if the Tyrell had been built somewhere else.

Our first stop was at McMullen Island, a small park where we had lunch. Then it was off to stare at Mr. T-Rex.

I’ve been to a few museums now in Alberta, and I will say that they have some of the best ones I’ve ever been to. It’s really quite impressive. It’s not just a few piles of bones for you to stare at — they purposely lead you through exhibits leading to the rise of the dinosaur. Finally, by the time you reach the actual exhibits, you understand why the dinosaurs came to be.

The museum works of the theory of evolution. You start with the single-celled organisms, progressing to the primitive ocean life. Then it’s on to the first plants on land, followed by the first land creatures. You start seeing the proto-dinosaurs, finally landing in a large room full of T-Rexes, triceratops, and Albertosauri.

But the exhibits do not stop there — they continue on the evolution through the extinction of the dinosaur and rise of the mammal. They show you the birth of the sabre-toothed cats, the mammoths, and then take you to the ultimate mammal exhibit … the gift shop. Think about it — where else can you see the ultimate mammal in their natural environment?

Returning to the outside, we wandered about the trails near the museum, looking at the rock strata that form the valley the museum sits in, the strata that contains the bones of dinosaurs appearing in the museum. Before hitting the trails, though, we endulged on some frozen treats to try and counteract the 30-someodd degree heat.

A few times, as we walked about the rolling hills, we could hear good ol’ Prairie Silence. For those of you who haven’t visited the Prairies and parked yourself in the middle of nowhere, isolated from the machines that make the noise we hear every day of our lives, you’ll never really know what it was like 100 years ago. The silence is truly deafening. (For reference, the only place I’ve ever been that was quieter was 150 feet below ground in a cave.)

A short drive east from Drumheller took us to the Hoodoos. These are short clumps of rocks that have crowns. The crowns are make from less-soluable rock; they remain mostly untouched while the rocks beneath erode away. It makes for an interesting sight.

Stuart, Jay, and I (mostly Jay and I) hiked to the top of the hill to see what we could see. There’s a lot out there.

Another thing there was a lot of was sun — and I got a lot of it. Luckily, not so much to get a sun burn, but enough that my skin felt warm to the touch (even in the shade), and I really wished I had brought sun screen.

Coming down the hill was a little harder than going up. Trying not to lose one’s footing when wearing sandals is a bit of a challenge, especially when the ground is crumbly. I slid a short distance down the slope, but quickly regained by footing.

We stopped briefly at the Rosedale Suspension Bridge, put in place by the Star Mine company. The mines closed down in the 50’s, but the bridge continues to draw tourists. Rebuilt a few times since it’s original installation, the Suspension Bridge now features sturdy wooden towers and a steel grate floor.

After stopping briefly to obtain liquid refreshment (we were quite thirsty by that point), we headed back towards Calgary. The drive back was surprisingly faster than the drive out, despite the fact that we ended up at the south end of the city, and had to travel for about 10 minutes along the Trans Canada to get back in.

Stuart drove through the north of Calgary on our way back to his apartment, allowing me to see what the outskirts of the city look like. I cannot understand why anyone would want to live that far out. You might as well be living in High River for Airdale for all it really matters.

We rented a movie (Rocketman … a surprisingly funny movie) and ordered Chinese. After the movie ended, we went out for a walk to a local sports bar, where we dove back into the movie script again.

On the following morning, we headed out in search of Darth Maul action figures. Unfortunately, a few million people got there ahead of us. Both Toys ‘R Us and the Zellers we checked (not to mention the Bay) had their stocks depleted. Not a total surprise…

Stuart took us downtown to his office, to show off his little piece of the advertising world. His company (Parallel) does some pretty amazing stuff … Stuart’s office is plastered with a lot of that amazing work. There are people whose abilities impress me … Stuart’s talent just plain frightens me.

I remember his work when I was in high school. When I look back on his cartoony past and then look at the work he produces now, I admittedly get envious. He’s done very well on his skill, and it’s brought him many good things.

We drove around Calgary for a little while, fairly aimlessly (we weren’t in any rush to go anywhere). We drove by Big Rock Brewery, for whom Stuart had done quite a bit of work. (Those of you in the Calgary area might see the billboards for “Kold” or the new Big Rock Brewery trucks with the beer bottles on the side … that’s Stuart’s handiwork.)

At least some people get to see their work on public display. (For the record, Jay’s working on a kid’s cartoon show. He’ll get to see his work on TV.)

As we began to drift in the direction of the airport, a sudden pang of guilt began to wash over me. In the hectic flow of the weekend, I had neglected to contact my relatives. As we were in the north-east anyway, I asked if we could quickly pop by my aunt and uncle’s home.

I had been there twice before. I knew roughly where it was. But where I couldn’t remember the exact road to take us into their subdivision, Stuart did. He’d been there once.

Stuart’s got a good road memory. (It also helps that he lives in the same city, and IKEA’s in the same area.)

I got lucky, catching them after they had arrived home from camping. From Drumheller. The previous day. It’s truly a wonder that we didn’t run into each other over the course of the day.

We talked for a while, while Jay put Maggie (my aunt and uncle’s dalmatian) into total submission. Jay’s got a way with dogs. Jennifer (my cousin) came tearing through the room at one point. She was about a foot taller than the last time I’d seen her, with shorter hair, and new braces. She smiled, said “Hi”, and then tore back out of the room.

Sigh. I remember being that age.

Before long, we had to leave, and headed to the airport. Jay’s flight was before mine, and we didn’t want him to miss it. My flight wasn’t for an hour after his, so I would have time to kill.

We bade Jay farewell as he disappeared behind the security wall and eventually onto Toronto. Stuart and I turned to dinner at the Harvey’s, before it was my turn to depart.

It’s hard to say “goodbye” to friends, especially those that mean a lot in your life.

Hopefully, I’ll see more of my friends this summer. Exactly when I’ll see them is a completely different issue. But with luck, it’ll happen.