Sunday, 23 September 2007

Onward, To Calgary

I flew to Calgary today. Like most travel, it was a series of minor ordeals punctuated with moments of wonder and bepuzzlement.
The four-hour flight tracked over all of the Great Lakes and the states of Ontario, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and finally Alberta. Nowhere in this span did I see a single forest; in fact 90% of the landscape was corn and other crops, for hundreds of miles. To gaze out and see nothing but a flat patchwork quilt of harvester patterns, again and again and again, makes me realise how vast these countries are.
The patterns themselves were seldom the same. I would have thought that there would be a 'best' way to harvest a field, but there were symmetrical, asymmetrical, triangular, rectangular, diagonal and circular patterns in ever-reducing circles. There were harvesting patterns which resembled the fairway on a Masters' golf course. There were patterns which looked like crop circles. There were idiosyncratic jinking weaves which outlined small ponds and streams. This continued for hours.

I caught a bus, then a train from the airport. America and Canada allow you to continue travelling without paying more by getting a transfer from the first thing you get on. You can keep going in the same direction but you can't backtrack because the transfers are a different colour.
Downtown here has been affected by white flight; most of the people you see on the street are actually *on the street*. When I checked in to the hostel, there were four old homeless guys lounging in the grassy area beside the building.
I walked around downtown for several hours. The trains are free within the 1km central strip, so I hopped on and off a few times. I bought some Chuck Taylor-style shoes ($7.50) and went to the only supermarket in the area, Safeway.
Calgary had a strange feeling about it, which I couldn't quite place. I realised after a few hours what it was: there are no public spaces. I bought a Coke and some cookies (I love cookies) from a store and looked for a foodcourt, a park, an eating area of any kind. After half an hour I gave up and perched on the plinth of a statue near a street corner. I looked at people; people looked at me. It was weird. A rambling bunch of teenage boys in yellow livery came along. "Hey man, can we shine your shoes for a donation to cystic fibrosis?" I said yes. They looked surprised and, honest to god, cheered. People in Canada are so happy, it's like living in a Smurf village. Today I saw a rough-as-guts biker hold open a gate for a little old man with a cane.
'Help Wanted' and 'Now Hiring' signs are everywhere, often followed by, 'For All Positions'. The last few minutes of the flight today revealed significant development going on outside Calgary. It's a city which is in a boom phase, and now I'm here to grab my slice of the pie.
And maybe see a moose.

No comments: