During the Remembrance Day long weekend, I had the means to visit to the belly of the beast, the testing grounds of the "Prairie Fire" shot,
Wayne Gretzky's path to glory, the capital city of Alberta, Edmonton! A mighty wind blew against us from the west. It carried a void that obscured the mountains of McBride as we pulled in for a bite. Now meatloaf had preoccupied my mind for over a month. It's fluffy texture, it's mockery of gluten based loaves, and that intoxicating aroma of beef. Common knowledge asserts that Alberta's beef stands among and above the world's finest, but I couldn't wait another minute once I read "Meatloaf Sandwich" off the menu board in McBride. I gobbled down the sandwich the minute we got back into the truck. A certified brothel of sprouts, lettuce, fresh bread, tomato, cheese, and tasty loaf. I decided I'd save half for later, as the first half was hearty enough for the time being. About 40 minutes down the road, I started feeling waves of heat inside my body, followed by a drop into chills. The anxiety of how this could affect the coverage of the rodeo set in as well. We pulled over, I purged, we moved on.
"Maybe a one off?" I perused.
"Perhaps." Replied my cohort.
Though the road bore a glistening coat of fresh snow, eventually the curves, twists, and various G-forces gave way to unending straightaways of cold tarmac. Fields of white and yellow greeted us again and again until darkness cloaked the highway. Headlights tore pockets of visibility open inside the dense Canadian night as the surface's friction gave way. I dug into the other half sandwich, partly due to curiosity, partly due to a rejuvenated appetite. It didn't take long to realize it had been an exercise in masochism. I purged two more times before we made it to the grid surrounding Edmonton's citadels of energy. Even a temporary recovery evidenced at a stopover at my colleague's parents' home, had fooled my gut into inviting various cheeses, pates, and crackers. An error in judgement. In a fluke of foresight, my friends had already booked a hotel, described my personae to the concierge, and left to the Rodeo's first event. My cohort and I departed as he made his way to another adventure, and I headed up to the 9th floor and purged once more. The hotel's mattress comforted me, fully clothed, for about an hour until my posse arrived in the lobby. I was to meet them in the lounge where I managed to choke down a few chicken wings and a rye-ginger or two, with a theory that the whiskey would burn out any offending bacteria remaining in my gullet. Well, in practice that theory seemed to work as I staggered away from sobriety and into $40.00 of Casino winnings and a "UK" pub where 3 persons attempted first to insult me, then to solicit drugs. Though experts at their craft, I declined their invitations to commerce. This is the only photo snapped that night:
We woke to coffee and Irish Cream liqueur. Most of my comrades had been equalized to my weakened position due to their own poor choices made the day before. The coffee brought us all up to our feet and into an indulgent breakfast at the Mongolie Grill. I cried into my noodles once I realized just how much this extravagance cost (due entirely to my own miscalculation of volume to pork-weight ratios). Our dear friend Ed came to the rescue and disappeared our bills. With this example of great grace to imitate, we carried forth to Rexall Place to witness the greatest indoor show in Canada, The Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR)! One could argue that the best aspect of the CFR can be found within the Farm Exhibition (an admission to which is included in the purchase of your Rodeo seat.) If one needs to kill time, well the most prevalent serial killer of the west resides inside of this agricultural circus. Cocktails and brews can be found in every space, the source of which easy to spot. Caesars, screwdrivers, rye combos, and ubiquitous lagers drive the rodeo-goers into a show cattle frenzy. You may have heard of prize horses, shimmering stallions, and magnificent mares worth millions, a la The Godfather, but what about cattle? Well of COURSE they exist! Swiss Brown, Red Angus, Black Angus (an Alberta favourite), Hereford, Blonde d'Aquitaine, Charolais, Simmental, Highland, Overland, Underland, they all populated the Udderland of Edmonton's Agricom building.
The best of the west came to strut their stuff. Primped, primed, and pruned, these animals put down the Westminster Dog Show's best performance. Who knew that cattle could be be trained to stand still while someone airbrushed their fur black and shaved the fluffs on their scrotums from a bramble of disarray into a manicured field of barley.
Just check out the varieties of beef, and imagine the flavours:
Steak, steak, steak, burger, burger, burger! Just how many T-Bones can you fit inside this puppy!? Keeping these guys happy 24/7 is a JOB! If one gets upset, you're gonna' hear about it. A metric tonne of anything can cause trouble. These folks take care of their cattle better than their bank accounts in most cases.
After a few cocktails such as this caesar, farmers will try to talk you into to doing all kinds of things. For example, a young feller' tried to sell some semen packs and handed me this nifty ad (pictured above) for clarification and a little extra persuasion.
After the slaughter of time, we bumbled our way to the stadium. With nearly everybody in, the show was about to begin. The sight! The spectacle! The excitement! Flirting with the legality of indoor fires and explosions the celebration commenced. The best of the best came all the way to Edmonton, just as we had, to put on the best show they could, just as we had... intended.
If you click on the pic to the right, it feels exactly like you're there beside me. Except you've lost your sense of smell, your hearing has depleted, and you can't really see very well. It's exactly how I experienced it!
It became obvious that the professionals attended for a reason. They knew how to ride, and they knew how to win. We sat and drank through the visceral stimulation of barrel racing, calf roping, steer riding, saddle bronc, bareback, and always the bull riding to make the strong finish. As if the events needed any more pizazz than they inherently had, the CFR committee took the liberty of rigging fireworks, spotlights, and 80's hair metal to go off at the slightest moment of excitement.
It scared the crap out of me, but damned if it wasn't a rush. To even score a single point when Bull Riding, the rider has to stay on for an 8 second period. Since staying on the back of an jittery bull is difficult, not everyone stays on. When someone does stay on for the allotted 8 seconds, the fire crackers pop!
The only unfortunate aspect of the whole night resided inside the stark reality that we would not brand, or rope cattle ourselves later that evening.
What a glorious country we live in. Anywhere that allows the kind of lifestyle typified by the CFR and other such sporting events must be a magical place to live. Our veterans fought to preserve the freedom of expression in Canada that allows for this event to exist. Who knows what kind of feudal or fascist state we would live in otherwise. Is this one slice of the Canadian pie that keeps our soldiers motivated to carry the flag and push for freedom in other parts of the world? Whatever it is that makes Canada, Canada, and I a Canadian, I couldn't help but being happy myself, and proud of the country, for the whole Remembrance Day weekend (it's usually a different story when I turn on the news...). Here's to the long weekends, and to commemorating every soldier who made them possible. The little windows we can occasionally escape through to experience what our country has to offer, a few days at a time.