The Docking Bay 94 Blog

Have you ever talked forever at a party and felt no one listened to anything you had to say? I feel like that everyday, so I try not to talk anymore. Fuck cocktail parties. Now I have my blog: Docking Bay 94: where my ideas and my crazy attempt at conveying my literacy take off. Until then, join me in the virtual Cantina.

The Last Decade

If you’ve paid some what attention to the podcast over the past year then you figured out about halfway through that I had a plan all along. The first ten episodes of the super 70 podcast are exclusively from the 1980s. I chose to do this for several reasons and for those of you who are curious about my personal journey to podcasting and what those ten movies mean to me…please tune in. If you’re not in the slightest bit curious I highly recommend you skip this all together.

My youth in the 80s must have been what most youths in the 80s was like. I was born in a middle class suburban neighborhood and went to an integrated school. I was a fan of pop culture like everyone my age and fell victim to it as well. I watched and watched and watched movies. I became to love, to worship film. I bought a skateboard after seeing Back to the Future and dressed like a Ghostbuster for my tenth Halloween. It never occurred to me that film was an art form until I got into college and met a friend. He was very perceptive and the first film we watched together was Kevin Smith’s Clerks which he had on laserdisc.

I once saw Hitchcock say in an interview that he thought film was an art form for the masses, not for the art house. Robert Ebert wrote thousands of film reviews and framed a career that felt a need to protect the regular movie goer from a Hollywood intent on making money by shelling out stupidity. We now have teenagers making films on their iPhone. On this long road to democratizing film as art, a kid from New Jersey who never went to college charged up 27 thousand dollars on his credit card and sold his film for three hundred grand. There are obvious downsides to Clerks as every internet troll will tell you. The camera is motionless, the grain is rough, the development is uneven and the actors are all college level amateurs or lower. However, how many of you have created something for 27 bucks and sold it for 300? Kevin Smith did more than this. His next film had a budget of 6 million, backed by a major Hollywood Studio where Steven Spielberg called the shots. He soon produced a film that garnered an oscar for best screenwriting and for those what-have-you-done-for-me-lately crowd Smith has tackled three different genres in the last six years that seemed to have been written, directed, and marketed to a critic proof audience. The masses might not see Smith’s films, but it does not mean they are not for them.

In 2006, Smith started his own podcast, which back then was an MP3 file you had to download from his website and burn to a CD to listen to. Because of the mode of distribution, podcasting back then was not very democratic. You had to know code, pay server fees, and be hip on software. Smith couldn’t do all this so he hired Ming Chen, the star of Comic Book Men, to write the code for Smodcast on www.viewaskew.com. At the time I faced a 90 minute commute every day and listened to Smodcast from Episode One.  

Ten years later I was faced with unemployment and uncertainty. I threw myself into finding work to support my family but I also had to fight the true enemy of the unemployed – boredom. I already had a website, www.thatdylandavis.com, and I had been mulling around the idea of starting a podcast on history but found the research and citations too much for someone who just wanted to do it on the side. Unlike Kevin Smith or Mike Duncan, the incredibly successful creator of the History of Rome Podcast, my podcast is not monetized and it is not a full time job. Because of my post graduate work in film studies, and because film is largely in the eye of the beholder, I decided to do a film commentary podcast. Most film podcasts were two or more people arguing about a film’s merits. The Projection Booth Podcast and the 80s All Over are two that I listen to every week. But no one seemed to be breaking it down scene by scene like were trained to do in film school. I knew it would not be for everyone, but that seemed a way to make it something special. I would do a scene by scene analysis and the Super 70 Podcast, named after Super 8 and 70mm film, was born.

Super 8 is an Eastman Kodak format for 8mm film released in 1965. It is the same size as the previous Regular 8mm format but has a greater exposed area on the sides because the perforations along one edge are smaller.  By 1973 it also included an oxide strip along one border that enabled live recording of sound. The film came in a cartridge that could support two and a half minutes at 24 frames per second, the professional motion picture standard, or three minutes and 20 seconds at 18 frames per second for people shooting home movies who wanted to economize. Super 8 became extremely popular through the 1970s. My grandfather had one, and it is still in use today. In the 1980s it was largely replaced by video tape but industry people still used Super 8, especially in the advent of the music video.

70mm is twice the size of a standard 35mm frame and has greater height. When projecting a film in 70mm you see an image four times the size of 35mm film with no loss in quality. The aspect ratio is 2.20 to 1.   70mm was developed in many forms from the 1930s and 1940s but it took Mike Todd, one of the founders of Cinerama, to make 70mm popular. Cinerama required three different film projectors running a single reel of a 35mm print to produce the 2.20 to 1 aspect ratio on a curved screen. As impressive as the experience was, it was cumbersome and expensive to pull off. Todd left Cinerama and collaborated with the American Optical Company to create Todd-AO, a single 70mm print with 6 channel sound on the same aspect ratio. 70mm was revealed in 1954 with Oklahoma!, and framed such epic films as The Sound of Music and Patton. I first saw 70mm watching Cleopatra in the early 90s and I knew I was seeing something special. Super Panavision 70 was a competitor that MGM used to film Ben-Hur, and the format was used to show Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, and more recently, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight which used an anamorphic squeeze to see a 65mm film on a 70mm without quality loss. As digital technology overtakes film in both image capture and projection, 70mm is on the decline, but audiences still love it, and I do too.

I am not against watching movies on your iPhone. I do understand how it irks some people, especially in the industry, that large scale projections are being miniaturized in a commercial process. I also understand that film as celluloid is special and takes talent to use. But it also takes talent to know what image you want to create using a RED or other digital camera. Super 8 and 70mm was to me the two ends of the movie making spectrum. One was extremely simple to use, the other only for global corporations to pull off. Super 8 was for everyone to use and 70mm was for everyone to enjoy. That’s why this podcast is called Super70.

I went to a rather liberal university, which should surprise no one, and I graduated with a philosophy degree in the 1990s. I was from a rather conservative background and I was struck how liberal everyone was from the staff to the student body. I was also struck how liberals viewed history, and almost all of my professors were liberal. I don’t view my education as slanted, if anything it helped me gain perspective. But this did mean I saw certain things in society and history interpreted in different ways. Not good, not bad, just different. History and film seemed like such black and white issues to me. It was strange to see them in tones of grey or in other cases flipped to white and black. One of the many issues that confused me was the color of the brush one used to paint all of the 1980s, including film, pop music, and literature.

When looking back to the 80s, no one seemed to have a good thing to say. Reagan was a demented neo-con. The fact that he signed an amnesty for millions of Latinos and attempted to rid the world of all nuclear weapons was never discussed. His wife was a bobble head doll, empty on the inside despite a forceful persona that cared deeply for the nation’s youth. The culture of the 1980s was inherently connected to Reagan and thus was decadent and corrupt. There seemed no way to explain the marvelous art that occurred at the time following this narrative. The one hit wonders that cranked out of Great Britain that included Spandau Ballet, the Cutting Crew were seen as anemic bubble gum pop art that suffered under a simplistic fantasy created by John Hughes and pumped up with hypermasculinity from the likes of Sylvester Stallone. Cinema in the 70’s was known for being independent, feminist, and in the hands of the artist. Everyone cherishes and celebrates the decade though it was beset by a horrible war, degenerating scandal, and the decay of our economic system. I find this confusing. By the 80s the movie studios were being taken over by banks, junk bond companies and right wing media corporations intent on pushing the country to the right and destroying culture in the process. Time magazine even ran cover with an upside down picture of Reagan that declared the official record was being overturned. Yet I see the 80s as a richer version, and definitely more advant garde, than the 70's. 

The problem with the accepted narrative is that it leaves out a remarkable decade of all types of art, from Maplethorpe to Spielberg, and in the so called vacuum of 80s culture you will find David Byrne, David Bowie, and Dire Straits.  The 80s is not only rich with culture but extremely diverse. Blade Runner is a great American film financed by Hong Kong money and directed by a Brit. Many directors in the 80s like Mel Brooks were second generation Americans, some like him were Jewish, spoke French, served in the Second World War, and had a hell of a sense of humor. The decade was not just American by nature. Australia came into its own in the 80’s with fantastic action films like The Road Warrior and Japan cranked out title after title after title of classics that stand the test of time: Ran; Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind; Akira; The Ballad of Narayama won the Palme d’or at Cannes in 1983. China had its own successful run on and off the mainland. The Hong Kong action film was not invented in the 80’s, but the island exploded with the talent of John Woo and Jackie Chan. I picked ten films for very different reasons to confront the idea that the 80s are vacuous of culture as untrue.

Blade Runner is a perfect start for the 80s. It is at the beginning of the decade and so it is not saddled with any baggage. It points to where we should be going in 10 years and thus it is afraid of our dystopian future where cyberpunks and corporations push us around. Head Office pokes fun at the gaping holes in capitalism so we can laugh at the moral majority without too much self examination. Looker uses the thriller genre to examine beauty and more importantly, what importance we put on beauty and how the eye of the beholder is all things in the powerful temple of marketing. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind shows who we can be using a heroine good at heart despite the corruption in the world. Nausicaa is not an Eliot Ness who barges down the door with a gun, but someone who recognizes that the only way to change the world is to show the people who they can be by being that person yourself. And what is wrong with wanting to be a better person? Back to the Future shows some disturbing reactionary phenomenon, but it’s good natured romp through time gives us the belief that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. Ghostbusters tests this notion, passes it but at the same time warns that if we stay on this track, dogs and cats will eventually live together. John Carpenter told us to look deeper into our society with They Live, a shocking science fiction film that body slams yuppies, or rather, the dog eat dog glutinous attitude that yuppies live by. Gallipoli is the apex of the anti-war film. It could have been any battle of any war, and thus it’s meaning in the decade after we left vietnam transcends its time setting. This is important to look at after so many movies about the American war effort in Vietnam and so many books analyzing them. Gallipoli is so anti-war it is almost dangerous. You might get to a point where you don’t believe in war at all. And if that is the case then there would be no one to stop Hitler except Mel Brooks and his 35mm panavision...and his wit. To Be Or Not To Be keeps alive the dangers of fascism by pointing out that the absurd can kill you just as readily as the banal. And finally we come to Heathers, the final word on the 80s. It can be all you define it as: full of consumers or narcissists whose only good quality is they inspire others to murder them. Killing the yuppies, as much fun as John Carpenter shows that would be, though, is not the answer. Ultimately, Heathers concludes that you should find another way. Personally, I’m going to go rent some video tapes and watch them with my friends.

This was just my take on the 1980s. A time that was described to me as a reactionary far right vacuous culture seemed to me to be fairly liberal and although film in this time struggled with misogyny in Back to the Future and racism in Gallipoli, it seemed to also be discussing domestic and global issues such as pollution, consumerism, and the value of human life. The 80s didn't seem like a dead culture to me at all. It seemed very much alive, very rich and willing to take on issues that needed to be discussed. Film can be a microcosm into the times it was made, the hopes and dreams, and also the anxiety and fears of the audience. If you can see this in the 80’s you can see analyze any film from any decade, and that was my hope.  I don’t see a bunch of overboard homosexuality in the Lord of the Rings. I see a bunch of different people who strive to find their similarities in the face of evil.

In the next decade we’re going to take on some very different themes and the films won’t be so cogent this time. They’re going to be more spread out, less organized, but no less important. I’ll try to do a lot less rambling and drinking this time. I hope you’ll join me.

BEING KEVIN SMITH

I tread carefully in writing a blog about such an unconventional filmmaker. I am not afraid of the so-called “professional critics” who have lambasted Kevin Smith for being nothing more than an artist in control of his art, but rather that of the “world” we call the Internet. I refer to the Army of Trolls and associated haters, most of whom have never seen his films or if they have, have only seen Clerks, or those like minded basement beings who have elevated to to the mobile world of Twitter and who genuinely can’t stand to see a fat kid such as themselves make them look bad by achieving his dreams.

Unlike most of his peers his age, he never attended a formal film school. Rather, like peers his age he had short formal training at a certification course in Vancouver from which he dropped out (Richard Linklater had attended film classes at Austin Community College, Robert Rodriguez had animation classes at UT). Inspired by Linklater’s Slacker and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs he decided to sell his comic book and laserdisc collection and then run up newly applied credit cards to the tune of 27,000 dollars of personal debt. Controlling the debt meant he controlled the film, it’s future, and in time, his career. It is strange how the blue collar background that he comes from is so vocal about hating him - not just his work but him personally. Smith worked a number of shirt-name jobs before clerking the Quick Stop near his house where he shot his first film. Everyone worked on it for free. The only money spent on the film was for equipment rental and food snatched from the Quick Stop shelves. He had to leave the counter to fly across the country with his best friend and ‘producer’ Scott Mosier whom he met in Vancouver so they could push the film through circuits. They took red eyes back to New Jersey so he could sell donuts and cigarettes after doing late night Q & As across the country. At Sundance, he sold Clerks to Harvey Weinstein for 300,000 dollars. He paid off his parents mortgage, continued living at home, and bought his father, a postal worker, his first new car.

In spite of this, when I post a positive comment about Smith on Reddit, I am bombarded by downvotes. When I ‘like’ something of his on Twitter, I have had to block replies to me by avid haters. This has led to me cautiously bringing up my View Askew fandom with people, bracing for verbal assault only to find his detractors are usually only on the internet. His fans are on the streets, and they are everywhere.

Universal producer Jim Jacks put six million on the line for Smith when he produced Mallrats, a ‘smart porky’s’ some said starring Shannen Doherty and former pro-skateboarder Jason Lee. The comic book posters seemed to be in line with Smith’s image but the commercials seemed to fall flat. It seemed not very enticing. “Go see this movie of someone you don’t like,” Smith chided the Universal marketing group later, “and someone you don’t know.” Mallrats tanked just as I was getting old enough to see R rated comedies - a rarity then and now. Smith had tons of projects on the go. All of them stopped. His bright and shining career seemed over… at least in Hollywood. It would take years, stretching into the next century for Mallrats to generate such huge video tape revenues that not only would it start making huge amounts of money in the Universal Canon, but would demand a special edition. Not many ‘bombs’ get that treatment. It is flawed, more flawed than his next film, but it is hysterically funny and typical of college 90’s males. Trust me. I was one.

Rather than go back to Jersey and sulk he went back with Mosier and pooled 300K to make Chasing Amy. I admit I am not a fan, but the film is fascinating to watch as most of the scenes are actually based on famous films. The long walk in the rain from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The scar story trading scene from Jaws. Not just filmmakers loved Chasing Amy, critics loved it, too. With the power of the shrinking press pushing it, the film hit big on the indie circuit and put Smith back on the Hollywood track. Dogma. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Jersey Girl.

The experience that was Dogma was followed by Smith earning his stripes for a few years script doctoring, much like his childhood Hollywood heroine Carrie Fisher - who cameo’d in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This led him to work on the famous Superman Reborn script that only became legend after his hysterical retelling on his View Askew only DVD An Evening With Kevin Smith. That and an anecdote about working for Prince for a week in Paisley Park kept Smith not only in the Hollywood crowd despite still living in Jersey but also fed his fan base with more recent editions of his unique humor and talking style so prevalent among his age group. He is our Dennis Miller. This is one reason why Smith has endured. His films, largely, talk like we do. And in an extended sense, they reason outside of his target audience. My Uncle was in his late 60’s when he took his wife to see Dogma. He shook his head when he asked me what purpose the big shit monster had in the film. “Don’t you understand,” I reasoned, “he’s a believer. Yes, the Golgotha is myth. It’s absurd. Separate that from the message.” It took a while to digest this, but it eventually happened. I grew up Catholic, like Smith, so I got it immediately. Protestants not so much. Perhaps that’s why the Catholic League was so violently against it (Smith received death threats and was the strange target of Anti-Semitism) and the Protestants didn’t really give a shit. No Pun Intended.

Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back is a fun romp but in the end just a ride to settle the score on a joke at the end of Mallrats. Rarely can someone do this with someone else’s money... but he did. His career rode the same lineup as his consistent star, Ben Affleck, whom he met for Mallrats and who subsequently starred in his next three films. Affleck shot so high up so fast it was hard to contemplate. Looking at his career now as he is directing his own films worth more than all of Smith’s put together, working with haute couture artists like David Fincher and Zack Tyler, is hard to square with the young Affleck that would pull his cock out at the drop of a hat to settle childish bets, drop anal jokes on the set, and who battled addictions with Jason Mewes ranging from prescriptions to pussy.

The blow-up was idiotic. In fact, it was a relationship. Caught in a world that is 100% fabrication, Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez generated a buzz that was at first healthy. Smith had no problems getting the money for Jersey Girl and signing Liv Tyler and legendary camera man Vilmos Zsigmond who won Oscars for The Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Deliverance. Shooting was in the can when the ‘mood’ in the media over ‘Benifer’ turned on it’s heel. They were engaged to start his first marriage and her third when their other co starring film Gigli (‘Rhymes with ‘really’’) bombed amazingly at the box office. The film is a very weird and final outing by Martin Brest, whose successful run through Hollywood started with Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman. His slide after those hits came to a screeching halt with Affleck hysterically pumping his iron in a mirror and Lopez sensually describing her vagina and what it means to her. These scenes in themselves were the what-the-fuck weird moments critics didn’t get, as if they never saw Charles Grodin pontificating fucking barnyard chickens with Robert DeNiro. But in the context of the film which tried to sell a leather jacket clad Italian mafia type in LA without Elmore Leonard and a Latina in low rise tight jeans as a lesbian assassin it fell flat. It was as if Brest were trying to tackle a serious drama using Smith’s dialogue. It doesn’t deserve the bottom-of-the-barrel 6% that it has on Rotten Tomatoes, clearly a result of the national ‘mood’ created and sold by the media cultural machine (“Jerkin’” to you Josie and the Pussycat fans), and thus the burnout of the powerhouse Hollywood couple (or some would say flameout) brought down not just one film, but two.

At first, Smith cut Lopez completely out of her cameo in Jersey Girl. Then, having plot and length issues, put her back in. He actually filmed a Benifer wedding that has never seen the light of day. Miramax spent 35 million on the film. It opened at 8 million. Before it went to video, it closed at 25 million. Although it would eventually break even and make money, the film put Smith permanently into the Hollywood doghouse. This result boggles the mind. The film is very endearing, on a parenting topic most do not want to face, with a humor which elevates the argument, with a visual style not seen in a Smith film before or since. George Carlin is rare in film, and is a joy here. But the end result was final. Some shake their heads at Gigli and comment on how Ben Affleck destroyed his own career. This is completely unfair. Affleck didn’t destroy his own career. He destroyed Smith’s.

Following this was a hundred percent struggle, but Smith worked harder. Retreating to what he knew, he financed Clerks II independently, made more money than the first film, told a meaningful story in color: but all for not. Zack and Miri Make a Porno might be the funniest film he has ever made, and far surpases the stupid slapstick of the 90s everyone thought was so funny then but can’t remember now. It grossed two million opening weekend...a film about Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks making a sex tape somehow made less than Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz. Try to get that through your head. Smith watched hockey documentaries, smoked weed, and retreated into his fast-growing business of podcasting. He said he was retired. He never wanted to make another movie again. If you actually sat down and watched Jersey Girl, Clerks II, and Zack and Miri back to back, you wouldn’t understand why. What’s not to like? Or rather, what is there to hate?

It took months of Smodcast, his podcast with Mosier, to just get him out of the house. Stoned, and articulate, he pontificated on his rise and fall, the purpose of having a film career, and why he didn’t understand the focused hatred of the underclass for underclass films. Smith doesn’t make movies about film gods and rock stars. He makes films about servants and drug dealers, single parents who watch porn, use fleshlights, go to church and yoga classes. It’s not glorious. Perhaps the haters see too much of themselves in his films. As the years ticked by, his perspective grew more nuanced. Having never attended any college, Smith lacks the formal training most people in Hollywood get as Harvard or Yale trained actors or homeschooled daughters of moguls and casting directors. Instead, his head is filled with the finer points of pop culture. One episode of Smodcast hysterically recorded everything Smith and Mosier didn’t know about Helen Keller, only to be followed by an episode that chronicled the lives of BJ and the Bear, the real meaning of hockey to the spirit of working class Canadians...and, later on… the film career of Grizzly Adams. Smodcast grew so large, Smith started other podcasts just because he could. The ABCs of SNL, Smoviemakers, and his podcast company S.I.R. even earned public service awards for local history for Highlands, A Peephole History. Most of the podcasts he launched are defunct, but some of them boggle the mind in popularity. When Smith launched a podcast exclusively to talk to Jason Mewes about his struggles with addiction as a method of therapy to keep him sober, it debuted as number one in iTunes for a month.

Slowly, Smith started to recover. Of course the writing came first. Then short jobs here and there in TV and on lots. Then came the strange one-off when the director of A Couple of Dicks was fired with just weeks to go to principal photography. Smith stepped in almost last minute to make the best Tracy Morgan movie out of a bad situation starring Bruce Willis. Though he was forgiven by the community for not turning a buck in a bad project, he shook off what was Cop Out to do Red State the following year with his own money, and toured it to theatres around the country in a bus: the film print neatly tucked away next to his fleshlight and rolling papers. Red State did more than shock his fans, it shocked critics as well. Where were the dick and fart jokes? Where were the Burt Reynolds comments and orangutans? Red State instead was a rare bird even in Indie Cinema: a contemplation on fascism it all it’s forms: power, religion, the purpose of family and the interpretation of sin. The cast of John Goodman, Michael Park, and Melissa Leo was so powerful, Affleck picked them all up when he shot The Town the following year. That movie made money. Red State runs endlessly on Amazon Prime.

The power of Red State is glaringly obvious to anyone who watches it. Smith’s dialogue can be wordy and repetitious, a result of watching Carrie Fisher spout out “Governor Tarken. Only you could be so bold. I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” Red State cuts this down, shocks us with Peckinpaw-like brutality, and warns us of the danger of intolerance in an age of gay marriage. Michael Parks, the veteran actor of Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Grindhouse, From Dusk Til Dawn, and who had steadily worked in TV since 1960, played the best crazy preacher since Powers Boothe’s certified insane portrayal of the Reverend Jim Jones.  Red State was still a working class film, but was more akin to the Saw films than to what seemed by the credits the passing fad of Clerks. When he was done, he wasn’t done. Smith was more energized by what he did than the critics who failed to understand what he was doing, or dismissed it if they did. It reminded me of what Orson Welles said after F for Fake. ‘I thought I was on something,’ Orson had told the BBC. Peter Bogdanovich agreed, wondering what Welles could have done had he simply had the support to develop what he had discovered.

Smith didn’t wait for support. Within a year he was on fire. Smodcast was always full-bore, but up came Hollywood Babble-On to add yet another direction to Smith’s focused beam of regurgitation of cultural milestones. Obstensably a show about industry news by Los Angeles radio host Ralph Garman, Hollywood Babble-On now regularly sells out performance theaters on tour, stays in the top ten most downloaded podcasts every week, and generates interest among a generation of fans that now, 25 years later, have grown up after Clerks and therefore don’t have the same hangups as earlier critics and fanboys. Smith’s website, his books (My Boring Ass Life) and his monthly columns about living with anal fissures add to the Smodcast experience where he rants about getting kicked off SouthWest Airlines because he is ‘too fat,’ the trials and tribulations of raising a girl in today’s media minefield, and the mostly misunderstood but wonderful worldly people of the Great White North.

Smith had always been familiar with Canada. Mosier is from Vancouver, and the View Askewniverse constantly pays attention to it. In short order, Smith had written a soul searching script about hockey based on Levon Helm’s eternal song Hit Somebody, which was then optioned as a mini-series before being caught in development hell. Then he penned and directed a horror film based on a fake but hysterical UK advert about a man searching for a roommate who would perform in a walrus suit as part of his rent. From the Smodcast episode “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” Tusk mixed humor with horror, confusing critics already put off with Red State. Along the same timeline he performed several successful tours in Canada which included stops onto such revered shows as the CBC’s George Stromboulopolous where in a rare switch for the much loved Maple Leaf Host he could not get a word in edgewise with the excited social butterfly. Tusk had a hard landing at 1.8 million, but it’s budget of 3 million made sure it wasn’t long before after screen sales went into the black. Having then tackled political commentary with Red State and horror with Tusk, Smith switched gears again even more dramatically. Released just last year, Yoga Hosers, another film inspired by marrying elements of Smodcast with Hollywood Babble-On, is a decidedly tween movie, for tween girls, and not for critics or fan boys. Rotten Tomatoes indelible score recreates this split between the critics of Kevin Smith who scored a 20% and the audience who rated it a 39%.

This divide is so far below what we know as the bar from High School that we are quick to judge. It is, to many, the difference between shit and whipped cream on shit. Variety was especially harsh on Smith himself. After trashing the film as nonsense, Variety attacked Kevin Smith for ‘shackling’ his daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Lily Rose Depp to material so dreadful that it “could be reasonably construed as an awfully expensive form of child abuse.” As if on queue, Yoga Hosers hit the internet with a thud sounding more like a turd dropping into water. Trolls and haters kicked into high gear, criticized Smith for slutting out his daughter, abusing his long time relationship with actor Johnny Depp, and for suspending his talent as a director to push forward the career of his Hollywood Babble-On partner Ralph Garman. When i turned on Yoga Hosers on netflix I was shocked to see a four star rating. I was even more shocked, bracing for a cringe binge film, to find the film not just unworthy of both low tomatoes, but actually funny and endearing. My daughter and I watched it twice and laughed at the bratzis, played by Smith himself, enjoying the Batman ‘66 like ending which seemed to try to redeem the ideas of Tusk’s finale. The critics were especially harsh on Ralph Garmin’s constant string of impressions while by my kids asked me to replay them over and over and over. The 19 point divide on Rotten Tomatoes would be more appreciated if we saw it in terms of 61 to an 80. A divide that great would give us pause. But because it is a Smith film, we shrug and watch Glee instead.

Twitter is still awash over the crimes of Kevin Smith, but I seem to be seeing a more distant view of his films for two reasons. First, he seems to have made his films critic-proof because of his branding, and secondly he seems to have found a niche more important than his blue collar stoner movies: keeping his audience guessing. Just in the past year, Smith has directed episodes of the Flash and Supergirl. He wrote a screenplay for Mallrats II which turned into a ten part miniseries starring Shannen Doherty which was later put on hold because of her struggle with cancer. While penning Moose Jaws to be shot this summer and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Smith also came to terms with the fact that Clerks III will never see the light of day due to rumors Jeff Anderson does not want to return as Randall. During this same time period his show Hollyweed has been shot and is in post-production as a cable series about clerks in a marijuana dispensary. He is nearing the end of the first season of Geeking Out with co-host and JJ Abrams sidekick Greg Grunberg and the start of the 7th season of AMC’s ratings cleaner Comic Book Men. Just last month he flew to Florida for a week to shoot the first installment of a monster series based on his shelved Krampus story, Kilroy was Here.

With everything going on just in the past two years, the question isn’t why do people watch Kevin Smith. The question is why do people still hate him...because he is everywhere. Whether he is in Vancouver shooting for the WB or in New York hosting a comic con seminar or in London doing a live show of Hollywood Babble-On or on his toilet in Ben Affleck’s old house writing the next screenplay that he wants to write… Smith is on fire. Whether you like his films are not, they cover their budget. Whether you find him funny or not, people download his podcasts. Whether you find him distasteful or not, millions tuned in online to watch his one on one interviews for IMDB aboard their San Diego Comic Con yacht. If Smith is so hated, why is he everywhere? It reminds me of all the trash talking of Hootie and Blowfish back in the 90s only to find out that everyone you knew had Cracked Rear View in their collection. How many Smith haters have something from View Askew? I’m not a fan of Brian De Palma, but even I have one of his films stuffed somewhere in a CD wallet.

In 2016, Smith announced on Hollywood Babble-On, perhaps when he shouldn’t have, that MGM has pulled him into exploratory discussions about a Buckaroo Banzai sequel. Right off the cuff, Smith convinced them to give the gift that keeps on giving in syndication rights: A ten part miniseries. “In each episode the villain would be a cast member from the original,” Smith repeated for the crowd who started fantasizing about Peter Weller from Robocop, Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future; an endless list of bankable villains. The first season would be a re-telling of the film but would explore Buckaroo’s neurosurgeon experience, pop band world tours, and discovering the 8th dimension. Clancy Brown repeated the story on Variety’s podcast. “I don’t know a single one of us who wouldn’t be interested,” Brown told Kristopher Tapley, who switched the subject as fast as he could.

The image that Smith is some kind of conversation killer among journalists is now so renowned it has become a joke. Smith held an entire podcast with Ralph Garman just to read the Yoga Hosers reviews. Garman took umbrage with so many personal jibes unrelated to the film, while Smith shrugged them off after years of umbrage taking himself. “That’s their experience,” he defend, “how can you argue with that?”

This brings to mind a post Smith put on his View Askew Blog over a decade ago about getting such reviews. He posted a video of two people on a catapult type thrill ride at some nameless amusement park. One participant was having the time of their life. The other one was begging the good lord Jesus to please let it stop. Both riders were undergoing the same experience and yet received two drastically different reactions. That’s what it is to be a Smith fan. It’s the ability to enjoy his films despite the strange sensation that others around you relate them as worse than the Holocaust. I’ve learned to shrug off this annoying notion because there is no way to fight it. When researching an article about Killroy is Here for this blog, the writer ended by asking his audience “What do you think about Smith taking on the Killroy is Here Anthology? Would you rather he stick to his View Askewniverse style?” I find this strange since the View Askewniverse is only six of his films, the last one released in 2006. Since then he has released another six film unrelated to Jay and Silent Bob. Though Killroy is Here is not a VA film, he has written a script for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Underlying this statement, though, is the implicit meaning that the writer and the audience care, that they wish to exert influence over what Smith does and does not create. This is even stranger. He has never let such influence affect what he does and does not do, he has only let the opinion of his work get under his skin...and that in itself seems over.

It is a strange question, though. To go among his peers one might ask ‘would you rather Robert Rodriguez stick to his kid friendly films? Or should he stick to his immigrant bitching mode?’ Should we ask Tarantino fans if they want him to finally kick his pretentiousness and just make another four or five Pulp Fictions? Does Darren Aronofsky give a shit what his fans want him to do? I’m willing to bet none of them do, including Smith. Because really, if you care to tell a director what you want them to direct… then you’re not really a fan.











 

Royale With Cheese (Reflections Upon a Canadian Life)

I just completed an almost seven year stint in Canada working as an Oil Patch guru. Most people I know in my native Texas have never been anywhere, much less lived anywhere else, and always ask me what it is like to live in a foreign country. I’ve always quoted John Travolta from Pulp Fiction in return:

Vincent: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules: No.        

Vincent: It's just a little different. I mean, they got the same shit over there as they do over here, just...over there...it's just a little different.

Jules: Example?

This leads to a hysterical exchange over fast food and theatre fair which ends with this rather low, innocuous point which may have proved the film worthy to European audiences enough to garner it support for the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Vincent:               And do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at McDonald’s?

Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

Vincent: No, they got the metric system over there they don't know what the fuck a quarter pound is.

Jules:                    Then what do they call it?

Vincent:               They call it…uh…Royale with Cheese.

This is how I describe Canada… Cunuckistan I sometimes joke… to my American friends and family. They got the same shit over there as they do over here. It’s just a little different. Example?

I take my kids to school and there is a picture of the Queen on the wall. Despite the similar English accent, I run across Francophones pretty normally. There is, astoundingly, a lack of black people in Canada. So much so that when I shake hands with a descendant of Africa I’m more certain that he or she is from Ghana or Kenya as opposed to New York or Florida. Though my car is in miles, everything around me is in metric, and the double-it-add-thirty doesn’t exactly work. Canadians are known for being astoundingly nice, but I have to outline the great difference here. I’m from the South. We are incessantly nice. We call it Southern Hospitality. But in Canada, it’s not lip service. When my RV broke down, a kids half my age retrieved my driveshaft and lugged it a hundred meters to me. Another one towed me off the road. Everyone I knew by first name in my neighborhood offered me tools for projects, shoveled my walkway, and when I was laid off this kindness went a long way to keeping me sane. This led me to think there was something in their culture or perhaps in their government structure we should take a look at. Maybe that would help us govern ourselves more kindly.

The current Prime Minister has detractors, but no one is calling him a fascist or a communist. He is one among hundreds in the legislature that has the top executive office of the land. As such, he could be dismissed, without notice, by the voters or by a vote of no confidence either by the Parliament in general or by his party in caucus. How’d you like to dismiss your President with no notice? I’d love it. And how about Question Period? Let’s say for six hours every Tuesday afternoon, the President of the United States has to go down to the Senate and answer questions live on TV? I’d eat popcorn and live off of CSPAN that day. We’d have different Presidents, I’m sure. Federal elections in Canada have a 28 day election cycle, not two years like ours. Though elections are scheduled, they can be performed by law on short notice if the PM is dismissed, resigns, or loses an election. This is what I called the Brewster’s Millions Challenge. Our election system just ran through two billion dollars. Try to spend that in 28 days. I’ll bet you can’t. Best yet…all the provinces run this way, too. So there is a Parliament in Edmonton, Regina, St. John’s, etc. that has to abide by the same rules. The result is the voters keep their representatives on their toes. There are many political parties, so compromise is key to keep things moving. In the States, compromise has become a dirty word. In some districts, if you use the word ‘compromise’ in the same sentence as the word ‘liberal’ you would be strung up and drawn. In Canada, it means you have a better chance to live longer, even if you’re paying more taxes.

And if you want something different, let’s look at the tax system. Remember this Royale with Cheese is very small. There are more people in Texas than in all of Canada, about 90% of them live within 200 miles of the US border, and it is the second largest country in the world. So for all intents and purposes it looks like Egypt, where people live along the Nile, and Chile, where they are packed up against the coast because of the Andes Mountain range. Oh, and it’s about five thousand miles across. It is challenging to live in this environment, and almost half of all Canadians live within commuting distance of Toronto. The taxes then are disproportionately settled at the Provincial level. The federal government has a laughable 9% rate for your first 40K of income and then 13% or so for your second 40K…but only on that second 40. You still have the 9% on your first 40K. So you could be paying closer to 11.5% total to the feds. This bracket continues by 40K until you get to the Dragon’s Den and then of course there is a huge jump. As admiring as this is, the Provincial bracket balances out the aspirations with a crushing average of 15% depending on which province you’re in. Alberta’s was 10% while I was there and it was just raised to 12% - a 20% increase. This coupled with a carbon tax and a federal sales tax of 7.5% is not easy to live with. Some Provinces like Newfoundland have an additional 7.5% sales tax so you pay 15% on everything you buy. This, coupled with my American taxes I was obligated to pay, meant I was shelling out close to half my salary every year. It was the price for keeping my citizenship. The cheese on that Royale was hard to taste sometimes.

I remember being in some class thirty years ago saying the US Department of Transportation figured out that any mass concentration of a given distance of 250,000 people or more required at least one Interstate level freeway. Doubling this population to 500,000 meant a second freeway was needed. We all know this can’t be true. New York City is pushing thirteen million and has essentially only FDR Drive semi-circling it. Los Angeles on the other hand seemingly has very close to the same amount and yet only has sixteen freeways. As a radial city, Houston very much sucks to live in. However, over the years, the spokes have fanned out with the business districts. The Medical Center has shifted the working population and ExxonMobil’s surprising move to The Woodlands (yes, I am aware it’s really north Spring) has people wondering if the gentrification of the ghettoes can be balanced out by moving more centers of labor to the outskirts. The XOM move was shocking not just because it was a move out of downtown…but because it was a move outside the beltway. A four hour commute to Dallas was cut by 25%. For Anadarko Corp, this was old news. But XOM is about 58 times larger than Anadarko and you don’t see any Anadarko gas stations around, do you? And when GE decided to double down on their paltry O&G Division where did they go? The Beltway and Richmond.

Canada has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to freeways. I found it astounding and refreshing that I could travel around all of St. John’s (a city of maybe 100,000) on two freeways. Yet if I tried to cross the Island there were innumerable lights to sit through, marking towns sometimes as large at five thousand. I loved that Halifax had an open thoroughfare into New Brunswick and pained to leave this amazing construction project to stop every five minutes on my way to Frederic, their capitol. Calgary likewise has just one freeway plowing through it, the Deerfoot, and everyone is either trying to get onto the Deerfoot or trying to stay away from it. It only serves the East half of the city and does not even touch downtown, forcing everyone trying to get downtown to either fight through the boulevards, the lights on the expressways (the ones on Crowfoot are laughable) or exit and wait fifteen minutes to turn left or right off the Deerfoot onto Memorial so they can fight around the zoo. The city’s only solution to this is to ignore the painful reality of turning all of Crowfoot into a freeway from Banff through Chinook to Regina and instead ask the federal government for more money they don’t have and pour it into horrible ideas involving rail. Calgary Transit is now a shining example of what Houston should have done thirty years ago, but they are about to fuck all that up for pipe dreams that are ten times worse than the bullshit in Houston.

Compared to the travesty that is Houston’s main street line, Calgary’s Red Line is well thought out, cheap to use, and heavily trafficked. The main street line in H-Town started at UHD and went to the Medical Center. Unless you lived and worked in the Medical Center, it was useless. No one goes from work downtown to work in the Medical Center. Patients tend to call an ambulance. Houston’s second line goes from UH to the Galleria, because someone apparently thinks college students like to shop at Sacks. The Brown Line runs through the financial districts, where there are no residences and where the patrons drive Land Rovers and BMWs. Only the Green Line makes any sense, and only because it links a blue collar poor Latino neighborhood, Mag Park, to downtown jobs. The Purple Line hopefully can extend as the Green one. The Calgary LRT is a model of sober planning. Both lines run through poorer parts of town, downtown, and then onto white collar neighborhoods. Unlike Houston, Calgary’s LRT runs out to the ‘suburbs’ where people drive in to park for free and pay for the monthly pass. While Houston’s LRTs are still to this day rather naked and bare after ten years, Calgary’s are packed all the time. They are looking to add a third right down the spine of the city which is going to be brutal, costly, and not perfect. But when it is done and the dust clears, it will provide a purpose to those who use it. By contrast, the South bus lane idea is idiotic, remote, and does not even go downtown. Southern thinking has apparently made it up north. Other extensions are quite possible: to the airport, more access to the blue collar neighborhoods, through the reservations. While this is being decided Houston will be content to wallow on the freeways in a city quickly transforming into the Los Angeles of the late 80’s.

These are governed by local politics and when it comes to even this I must raise my hat to the City of Calgary. My wife and I thought it was strange when we moved there. People were talking about taxes, and bridges, and tunnels and libraries. People wanted more parks and more community swimming pools. It seems Houston was constantly trying to fight inner zoning wars: Condos in West U, warehouse lofts in Chinatown, gentrification in the old Slave Sector that no one wants to document or talk about. Access to Calgary’s east side is critical to the city’s fight against crime. They have built a major police compound there, pour money into refugee relief and social services. This keeps crime low and localized. In over six years in Canada I was never burglarized, never had anything stolen out of my yard, never locked my front door over night or my back door during the day. I rarely locked my car at work or even at the mall if it had anything in it. It was also rare to hear about a crime. Cops weren’t rare but to hear a siren was. To hear an ambulance was a cause of concern. To see one prompted a little more. Within the span of a month in Houston, I witnessed police shoot a suspect dead, had my car stolen at an upscale mall, and ran through a neighborhood searching for a sinister looking man observing my children playing in a cul-de-sac. In Canada, you would call the ‘Police Service.’ Here the man was found by neighbors in their quad cab monster trucks, his license photographed on a smart phone, and told in no uncertain terms what would happen if he were to be found lingering around that neighborhood again.

I was at Home Depot last night looking at a fire arm safe. I have many and need something secure for quick retrieval in case of home invasion. Telling my Canadian friends this elicits a shaking head over Skype. I see security camera kits for 1,500 bucks that give you access on your phone. Later that night I’m at a Mexican food place that I dearly love and sorely miss. The asshat with the weird hairdo is on TV. His name is on bumper stickers out in the parking lot. I’m enjoying an Iced Tea – another missing item up north. I ponder my last six years and my next six years.  I’m glad to be among family. I know I made the right decision to come here: for my kids, for our future. But I am going to miss that Royale with Cheese.

MISSING TEXAS

After I moved to the socialist paradise that is Canada, I did as the Romans did. I joined the free healthcare club, drank Molson products, and bundled up in expensive North Face fare when Yukon decided we were too warm. But the longer I was up there, and even the more I enjoyed Alberta (“North Texas” my wife and I joked to our friends) there was more and more that I missed about Texas. As we move back we are becoming reacquainted with the things we love in no short supply. Calgary being the largest city in a thousand miles in four directions, we began to reminisce about the simple things you could not get and as we’re back I remember that regardless of being forced to leave my adopted land, I remind myself that my first thirty-four years in Texas went perfectly fine.  

There is no replacing Tex-Mex food. It is not Mexican food. It is not a taco truck. It is not meat and cheese thrown into a tortilla. It is a culinary art. Have you ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant and not seen people of Chinese descent running the place? Well, in Canada it’s much the same with “Mexican food.” I’m not just talking about that lime flavored goodness that is the steak fajitas at Lupe Tortillas, or even the small chain of Mamacitas that serve that ENORMOUS beef burrito that I had to stop ordering all those years ago for the sake of my stomach lining. I’m really talking about the Taquerias I would raid in college or in the middle of the night coming home from a bar. The “Tamale Man” who would park off FM 2351 and the Gulf Freeway. I’m talking about the small store fronts all across the city with signs that say “Dos Mas” and “El Gato Negro” that just PROMISE the experience of saying “holy shit, that was good. Get me another one!” The only thing I miss about teaching were those random times my students, the overwhelming majority of which were Latino, would come to my classroom with a brown bag full of whatever they helped their mother make the night before. Tamales. Enchiladas. Breakfast burritos. Empanadas. Sopapias. And I would graciously thank them while trying not to embarrass myself by scarfing it down in front of them. There is no hiding it. “Mexican food” in Canada sucks.

There were more Vietnamese in my high school than black kids, all of whom I knew personally. When you graduate in a class of 200 you pretty much know everyone. Trang. Jason. The Castillo Family. The Brown brothers. I come from a super white family but I went to a pretty diverse suburban high school and my college brought me into contact with Arabs, Jews, Brazilians, Caribs, and Africans of every stripe. Canada is becoming a pretty diverse place but its diversity is mainly South Asian and East African. The Chinese are already there. They’re not Chinese anymore. They’re Canadian. But Texas is filled with generations of ethnic groups that have been here more than long enough to say ‘ya’ll’, drink a Tecate, and bitch about the heat. Immigrants are everywhere, and trying to stim the tide is a joke, but I missed the color palate of my State, the hues of cool, the cultural experience of growing up together, going to school together, learning new shit together, because we were all Texans regardless of where our parents were from: South Vietnam or West Texas. There were more mosques in Calgary than Southern Baptist Churches, and that felt odd. Not because I have anything against Muslims, but because I grew up with a SHITLOAD of Southern Baptists.. and though I’m not a Christian… I did miss them.

Sometimes I would stand at the Target at Bay Area and just marvel at the rows and rows of shit. Neosporin. A-1 Steak Sauce. Forty types of Gatorade. Wolf Brand Chili (NO BEANS!). Canada has a content law for just about everything. It’s another way of tariff protection. The Canadian dollar keeps most people out anyway. Best Buy squeezed in by purchasing the Canadian knock-off Future Shop. But there were tons of things missing in Alberta. A lot of it was the population – there are more people in Texas than in all of Canada and more people in Houston than in all of Alberta. The demand just wasn’t there and trends likely took something off the shelves that you really liked. Living in a consumer country of 300 million ensures that no matter what I want, I can get it, and now, for just a price. I hated driving across town in the middle of the night looking for that one pharmacy that was 24 hours. How do pregnant women cope with no supermarkets open past nine PM? You’d be hard pressed to find a Walgreens here that’s not open to midnight and finding a 24 hour CVS is just not a problem. Even some Walmart’s ever close their doors. Service here is an opportunity. People are happy to work because they view it as something to take them somewhere. In Canada, it’s a fucking drag, and they don’t owe you anything for that fifteen percent tip. I once had to return a car multiple times for servicing the same problem. I didn’t have to pay. It was never about the money. And it wasn’t incompetence. It’s just that they didn’t care. Whereas in Texas, if it isn’t fixed the first time, the earth will be moved to satisfy the customer.  That kind of service, the service I give my clients and the service I expect, is just not present north of the border, and they’re fine with that.

A real beach. Movie tickets that are only seven bucks – four bucks on a matinee (which does not exist north of the 49th Parallel). Going down the river in the summer. State Universities. But above all else, my family. I really missed my family. Even those who don’t like me. 

MISSING ALBERTA

I have been out of work for seven months. After two-hundred and fifty applications, I had five callbacks and three interviews. I nailed every interview, only to see the job slip through my fingers due to circumstances beyond my control. After two weeks of international effort, I found a job in Houston, my hometown. I landed the job over the phone, packed my bags, and started two weeks later. It’s a huge pay cut, but a bigger opportunity. I’m lucky I have the advantage to go across the border. Most Albertans don’t. There are lots of things I won’t miss about Alberta: the lack of U-Turns, or real Tex-Mex restaurants, having only one freeway and they country’s hostility over what it means to be an “Albertan.” But there are many things that I will miss, and I thought I would enumerate them here in no particular order.

There simply is no comparing where I was born to where I spent the past seven years. Some might not think so, but I think Alberta is the Garden of Eden in a country that far surpasses most of the world in terms or beauty. It is simply gorgeous all over – even on the windswept plains. The never-ending forests and of course the Rockies, the Rockies, the Rockies. On my back porch I can see for thirty miles – over the horizon – and I know I will miss it every day.

Any place can be beautiful but it won’t be much fun if the people suck, and Albertans are without a doubt, the best kind of people in Canada. I have traveled throughout the Great White North and I have a special affinity for Newfoundlanders, but I simply cannot describe the kindness I have received from Albertans. Once on my way to Banff my driveshaft fell out of the bottom of my RV and though he suffered an accident himself just a half hour before, an over the hill oil patch worker helped tow my five ton monstrosity off the road with his Ram. I’ve stopped to clear blown tires and stray ladders off the road, only to be beaten there by someone who had a smile and a wave. It took me a lifetime to gather friends in Texas, all of them through the trial by fire of high school and college. But in Alberta Friends are easy, and they mean it. Weekends are full of back porch barbeques, camping in the hills or forests, mountains or foothill ponds. When I witnessed a car plow through a crowd of people, I was surprised how many dozens of witnesses stopped their day to fill out an incident report. The dozens stacked up. After I received my summons to appear an officer called me to tell me that my 911 call… and the three others that night… forced the defendant to settle. Yes, they are Canadians, but they are Albertans. They are not flawless but there is a genuine togetherness, a sense of community that exists past Stampede, and while we’re at it, I’m going to miss that, too.

Stampede is actually amazingly small. The first time I went I was surprised at how miniature it was compared to the famed Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which easily dwarfs it. The Saddledome, impressive from afar, shrinks when you think the entire stadium could fit on the field of the Astrodome. Calgary actually misses out on dozens of summer tours because no one want to play in a venue so small in which you cannot hang your stage lights from the ceiling. The rodeo is unbelievably expensive and is a pittance of the Houston competition in which seventy-thousand people in Houston regularly attend… and some for twenty dollars.

But Stampede is so ingrained into the culture of Calgary that it’s attendance rating is through the roof in terms of participation. The city practically shuts down from seven to ten every morning the week BEFORE Stampede as to feed everyone in the vicinity a free breakfast. At first, I attended only the company’s pancake breakfast that I worked for. Then, I hit my competitors who invited me to theirs. My wife’s company held one in the parking lot and invited the vast blocks of the residential neighborhood behind them to join. You could not travel anywhere across the city without seeing signs telling perfect strangers they were welcome to pull over and have a free breakfast. This past Stampede, that was mired in the horrible downward spiral of an economy in freefall, pulled out all the stops. For half the days of the Stampeded, the first five thousand ticket holders received a free pancake breakfast. The lines were long. The families full of children were grateful. It seems in Houston, perhaps ten or fifteen percent of the city participates in the Rodeo. There are almost six million people here, and we all can’t go. Some of us never go. Most of us only one day a week. But in Calgary, I’m willing to bet participation is almost 70%. During the floods of 2012, which endangered the very existence of Stampede, forty thousand volunteers all across the city descended onto the Stampede Grounds to shovel, sweep, and mop every inch to get it ready in time. The Saddledome had to be abandoned, the flooding was too much. But new dirt was trucked in, the stalls repainted, and every energy company that had a conscience let their employees go down with a company barbeque pit – a personal one if necessary – to make burgers for the helpers because there simply were no stores open to provide meals. My children will be bewildered when I take them to the Houston Rodeo, but they will never forget Stampede.

Calgary particularly has a kind heart for children. I was lucky mine were so young while we lived there. Skating lessons, fencing, hockey, soccer, just about any sport you could possibly imagine. This teamed with free Lego classes at our local community center, next to dance and drama where I took my children to Beaver Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Guides and Brownies. There we attended book clubs, took the kids to the playground and swam in the only open air community pool in the city. When the city declared they had to close the pool because to replace the aging wonder would be close to a million dollars, the entire neighborhood launched a bottle drive to save it. And save it they did. This mindset, coupled with the people’s desire to have parks, parks, and more parks, to take the LRT and decrease pollution, to smile and say thank you to everyone regardless of what they did for you or with you, of their race or religion…this is what makes Alberta special.

In minus thirty degrees Celsius, we can take our kids to indoor water parks that rival California. For a thousand dollars you can go to Toronto but for five hundred you can go to Hawaii. The border dashes we would make to Costco in Helena and Spokane before or after our camping trips or flights home for Christmas. To come home after a long day to see your neighbor had shoveled your walkway because they knew you would be home late. I was always home late. I was always at work. I was always missing my family. I never worried. I knew Alberta was taking care of them.