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.