NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 3 )
Banff is to Alberta what Disneyland is to Florida. An adult amusement arcade in a sea of wilderness. It had been against my better judgement to make the detour. First, I had to pass the ten foot high security fence, built more, I guess to keep the tourist in than keep the animals out. Banff is a strange mixture of the vulgar and the tranquil. A cocktail that at first sip is bitter, but it grows on you. It's a place where city comforts have been shipped in so that the visitors can taste the wilderness without suffering food poisoning. Where spring water has to be chlorinated and cool mountain air requires the A/C treatment. Here big game hunters shoot with cameras not guns, fight to feed bears and not run away from them and are parted from their money not by hold-ups but by inflated prices.
You haven't lived until you have seen a tour bus disgorge a whole tribe of Japanese matchstick look-a-likes weighed down with cameras. Do they do anything else but take pictures? Japanese travel in packs, jog at a trot, and get up at 6:00 a.m. If you don't believe me, stake-out the Vancouver Hilton during tourist season. Japanese take snap shots of everything. Back in Tokyo there must be billions of color slides depicting fire hydrants, manhole covers, pedestrian cross-walks, phone booths and the piece-de-resistance, petrol station discount prices. "What are the Japanese doing with these pictures?" you may ask. It's also probably a question the Americans should have asked before Pearl Harbor. And what of the Americans, our 'Great to be in Ya' Country' southern neighbors with their 22-gallon Stetsons shading everything from their bleach blond heiresses with teeth that cost thousands to their inflated bellies. And I haven't finished yet. Down the street at the quaint 'Swiss Countryfied Chicken' was a group of Germans in beach attire. The old adage - the bigger the ass, the smaller the shorts-fit them down to a tee. And if you missed spotting their appendages you can sure hear them whispering to each other a block and a half away.
"Over here." I'd been spotted. Suddenly my rickshaw lit up like the fourth of July. Cameras came in from all angles. Pen and paper materialized in front of my face.
"Please, your name please?" I was now a name, date and file reference to be resurrected as a prize to be shown to women's groups from A to Z. Then the 'Brady Bunch' had arrived. Ten sticky fingers were playing with my bells and another ten were searching for souvenirs. Hello and Goodbye. It was time to leave.
By early afternoon the morning rain had run its course. Clouds were now high in the sky and Calgary was arched by a rainbow. The highway river had drained into a trickle and soon the only evidence that a storm had passed through were the occasional high tide marks of leaves. One hour later the C.N. Tower loomed out of the mist like a giant mushroom and sixty minutes after that, I had entered the 'STRIP'.
The Strip is a uniquely North American invention - a consumer belt of fast-food restaurants, discount gas bars and motels - that takes travellers in tired and hungry at one end, and rolls them out fed, fuelled and rested at the other. Its services for the masses on the run. They are drive-through havens, designed for cars with people in mind and, without both, wouldn't exist. They announce better than any milepost the 'City Limits' and if you can pass through their gauntlet of tacky billboards without stopping once, then you're a better man than me. I wasn't about to miss out on a milk shake and KFC's three-piece dinner special looked more than inviting. By the time I had exited down Crowchild Trail, I felt more like a stuffed pig than the lean mean travelling machine I had on entry.
At first glance, Calgary looks like a young kid who has long since outgrown his clothes. It's loud and brash and doesn't mind showing off its dirty underwear in public. It's a mixture of old time 'Y'a have a nice day', hospitality and gold rush vulgarity and it's my favorite city on the continent. It's a place where Country and Western reigns supreme and delicate table manners, like polite conversation, has very little currency. It still brags that men are men and women are expensive. From one end of 9th Avenue to the other, it's wall-to-wall glass, acres of it. It's like every mirror in Canada was bought, shipped out west and plastered onto the buildings. After ten days in the Rockies, Calgary's bright lights put all that healthy exercise into perspective. I couldn't wait to pig-out and indulge in its amusement arcade of entertainment.