Confusion in Calgary

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August, 2008

Calgary emerges out of nowhere. Like the Emerald City of Oz rising in the distance, it emerges from the surrounding plains silently and discreetly, as if not to disturb the golden blades of grass encompassing the city limits. To be honest, after descending down from the Rockies, it didn’t seem like anything special.

Sunset outside of Calgary CanadaAs was becoming typical for us in Canada, we arrived in a late-afternoon thunderstorm, only this time under an umbrella of confusion as to where we were going to sleep for the night. After nearly an hour of lurking in the truck on our laptops, stealing free internet from some motel’s parking lot in search of cheap accommodation, we finally settled on some overpriced motel room on the outskirts of the city. For the record for anyone interested, I have seen cheaper places in my life to stay than in Calgary, Alberta. Devouring a greasy meal of Domino’s and breadsticks from a nearby strip mall, we lay and listened to the sound of thunder moving down from the mountains, hoping the entire time that we were going to have enough money to make it home.

The next day brought only more chaos. Aside from all of the sights you may see and wild or adventurous experiences you may have, one great thing about travel is that you really learn about yourself from situations that you are put in while on the road. While here in Calgary, I reaffirmed an already strong suspicion in my mind, that being that I simply cannot stand big cities. Rather, I am just so wildly out of my element it leads to frustration and general chaos. This realization came to fruition when we made a valiant attempt to explore downtown.

As we drove closer from the outskirts of town into the city center, two lanes became 4, and four became 6, but then WAIT…road construction, oh God get over this lane ends, but isn’t this our exit? Ugh, we missed our exit, just get off here…so we get off somewhere in downtown and narrowly escape 24 different types of accidents as seemingly everyone has someplace incredibly urgent they have to be, and are willing to risk the lives of all living creatures around them to let you know they’re in a hurry. We decided we may do better to simply park the car and set off on foot. Simply park in city? Ha! The audacity. After a litany of failed parking attempts at spots on the street due to increasingly obscure reasons, (fire hydrant, street sweeping, reserved, can’t park on days that end in Y, etc) we ducked into a 17 story parking garage to get off the street for a minute and away from the chaos. “How much is it to park here?” we inquire with a janitor as there logically were no signs posted. “$3 dollars per half an hour”. Criminals I tell you. Legal thievery. We decide that we’ll cruise around for an hour and swallow the $6 cost to enjoy a morning in the city. Simply park in a parking garage? Ha, again the audacity. Tires screeching at 5 miles an hour, we drive an interminable spiral into the sky vainly in search of any open spot.. Once we reach the top we somehow find ourselves in the exit lane, and confusingly start a descent on the other side of the building back to the street level from whence we came, still unable to locate a void in space large enough to temporarily station or vehicle. Finally the compiled passive aggressive energy of 8 billion cars silently not moving yet still keeping you from your intended goal becomes too much and we decide to get out of this claustrophobic concrete cruise ship and head back out on the road. Arriving at the little gate, the automated voice instructs us we must pay $3 because we have spent 22 minutes inside the deathtrap, and we must pay them for our harrowing experience. Naturally we phone the supervisor over the tiny little speaker from our car, which feels like calling technical support while at the drive thru. No way around it, we’re going to have to pay the $3 for occupying their air space for 22 minutes, and if we would like we could walk the 17 stories to the top, take some sort of secret elevator back into the bowels of the facility and file a formal complaint that will take 3-5 business days to review, and if successfully appealed we can be issued a check reimbursing us for our tragic loss. We pay the $3 and decide to get the hell out of Calgary.

But now we’re downtown. You can’t simply get out. Before you can get back on a highway that takes you out of town you first must do battle with the onslaught of one way streets, parades of professional pedestrians, and the realization that nobody is going to actually let you into their lane. Finally we make a sharp right down a street that seems clear of most traffic and perhaps an artery to the outside world where tranquility lives…o my God we’re on the train tracks, and here comes the train. Blaring on it’s horn, the electric train which apparently runs directly through the city barrels down on us from behind and I have just enough time to swing my wheels up on the curb and allow room for the hurtling metal box crammed with even more people apparently with somewhere to get very quickly. Bystanders chuckle and say, “look at these idiots on the trains tracks…why don’t you go back into the woods where you belong?” And so we did. Eventually we made our way out of the city, past probably 96 traffic lights, every fast food chain imaginable, waves of pawn shops, and lots of shiny insurance agents smiling from us at billboards all claiming they are #1. For someone who can barely walk in Wal-Mart because there are too many people, cities are simply going to have to wait.

blackNeedless to say we got out of Calgary and hit the road. It is unfair for me to rant on Calgary so hard, as I am sure it is a fantastic city where a unique western heritage meets modern urban charm. For the Vagabond, however, poor Calgary caught me on a case of real bad timing.

Leaving the city, we are definitely in Plains country now. Between Calgary and the American border endless fields stretch out to the horizon as the temperature sizzles over the 100 degree mark. With the town of Lethbridge being essentially the only break in the endless plains between here and the US border, we drove straight on through heat-swamped fields until finally repatriating ourselves on the border with Montana. We definitely left Canada with a whimper, and I look forward to splendid adventures of greater caliber on my next visit to the great nation of Canada.

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