We have once again reached a point in my life where I must say farewell to a friend. “Trouble,” a long time confidant from the time of Augustana, is embarking for places unknown. Well, Scotland really. She just always wanted to travel the world, and figured she ain’t getting any younger. Scotland is the first stop, where she’ll spend a year or two living with a friend and working for living. From there, it’ll be a nomadic existence as she works her way across Europe. She figures she’ll be home by 2010. But of course, I wasn’t going to let her go without one final day together.
Being the political junkies that we are, we had occasionally talked about heading to the Edmonton Legislature grounds and taking the tour. In more recent times, we had discussed taking Edmonton’s High Level Bridge streetcar and enjoying the view. Sounded like a full day. Since she recently developed a propensity for being late, I made the cryptic appointment: “9 AM. Your place. Be dressed.”
I showed up promptly at 9 and, having forgotten her apartment number, I stood outside her window and screamed for her. Luckily, she was awake, so I didn’t have to scream. And she didn’t dare let me into her apartment, as it was a horrible mess from all the packing, and she has a thing about letting people see how messy she can be. She met me downstairs. The Alberta Legislature Building was a short LRT ride from her apartment, so I left my car parked at her place and we revelled in the joys of public transportation.
(You think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. I love rail travel, from the majesty of the transcontinental to the practicality of the city subway.)
We arrived at the Legislature grounds, and navigated the underground catacombs from the station to the Legislature itself. Along the way, we did what we generally do, which is talk about mutual friends, slag the government, and just be geeks. We arrived at the Legislature gift shop – the starting point for tours – and were informed that the next tour didn’t start for 45 minutes. I didn’t want to spend the time wandering through the gift shop, as the more time I spent there, the more I felt obligated to buy something. We decided to kill time by heading outside and exploring the grounds.
The grounds of the Alberta Legislature are a rather expansive park, dotted with various monuments and fountains. Something about that day reminded me of Japan. Be it the overcast skies or the overwhelming scent of chorine from the fountains, it just seemed very much like my Japanese experiences. The roar of the intricately connected man-made creeks drowned out any attempts at conversation, and before long we were gazing into the centerpiece: a massive reflecting pool. It was giant man-made body of water, and eerily still. On warm days, it’s a popular spot for people to wade, but not on this grey day, with the threat of rain in the air.
We started heading back to the gift shop, but still had a good 15 minutes before the tour. So, we took our time. And it was a good thing we did, because as soon as we arrived, our tour guide was waiting.
We headed across the grounds and towards the magnificent sandstone building that is the Alberta Legislature. It had been ages since I’d been inside and taken the tour. I’m fairly certain that the last time was a school field trip in grade 5. We went in through the main entrance, and we joined with some more tourists who didn’t know that the tours started at the gift shop. It was a Japanese family. If it didn’t feel like Japan before….
It was the start of June, a time when most schools have their field trips. I’m guessing that the Legislature building is a popular destination for most schools. In the legislature rotunda, there were already at least 3 other field trips ahead of us. Our tour guide immediately began modifying the tour, in a futile attempt to stay ahead of the field trips. Many times, we were about to duck down one area of the building, only to have our tour guide turn us around and say, “Nope. There’s already another tour down there. We’ll come back later.”
But it was still fun, as we went through the legislature. We saw the statues of significant people, we looked upon the portraits of the previous premiers and lieutenant governors. We threw pennies in the fountain and stood in the “magic spot.” Guess I should explain that one. On the third floor of the legislature, there’s this one spot where, if you stand in it, it sounds like water is trickling down from the ceiling and on to your head. It’s an acoustic trick, having to do with the fountain on the main floor and how the sound echoes through the building. The magic spot is at the front of the lieutenant governor’s office. Our tour guide explained how the lieutenant governor’s office is designed with a balcony, so the visiting Queen can look at a crowd of well-wishers. “And the Queen visits often, does she?” Trouble sarcastically asked.
That was about it for the tour. I looked over at Trouble and assured her that I enjoyed myself. And I did. It’s actually quite fun. From here, we went to the gift shop, stood in line, and bought our souvenir miniature balls of twine. I bought a couple postcards, “Greetings from the twine ball, wish you were here!” Won’t the folks at home be jealous!
(I spent 10 minutes explaining to Trouble what that was referencing.)
From here, it was off to the streetcar! This is a fairly new addition to Edmonton’s summers. It’s a streetcar that takes you from downtown Edmonton – Jasper Avenue – down to Edmonton’s trendy Whyte Avenue. Along the way, you cross the North Saskatchewan River on the top deck of the High Level Bridge. As Trouble and I waited for the streetcar, we shared stories of long lost mutual friends. Apparently, one friend has taken to wearing a kilt. And he’s not Scottish. And he likes wearing one made of denim for everyday wear. “So, he’s prancing around in a denim skirt?” I asked. “Ooo, look at me! I’m not a transvestite! I’m exploring other cultures!” It’s fun mocking people behind their back.
Before long, our streetcar arrived, and we were coasting across the High Level Bridge. Of course, as we were coasting, I had to answer all of Trouble’s questions about the trip:
“Why is everything on this streetcar in Japanese?”
“Well, this streetcar used to run in Osaka. When Osaka retired their streetcars in 1990, the Edmonton Streetcar Club bought this one with the idea of stripping it and using it for parts. But it was in such good condition, they decided to keep it as is and keep running it.”
“Why are there railway tracks on top of the High Level Bridge?”
“Well, many, many years ago, when there were still rail yards in downtown Edmonton, this was the start of the main line from Edmonton to Calgary. Every southbound train left crossing this bridge, and every northbound train passed through the city across this bridge.”
“That must have been quite the sight to see.”
Needless to say, the view is amazing, and at mere $3 for the round trip, why haven’t you done it?
We arrived at Whyte Avenue and began prowling the streets. It was around lunchtime, so I suggested we find a place to eat. We went to one of Whyte Avenue’s trendy little cafes that Trouble is fond of, and I paid way too much for a plate of rice and curry. So, as we sat there in one of Edmonton’s trendy districts, eating our trendy meals and sipping our trendy teas, that’s when I realized I am living a lie.
I’ve been to Japan, where I dined in the finer restaurants. I’ve been to Vancouver, where my friends took me to their favourite out-of-the-way diners. And, at this moment, I was eating at one of the trendier cafes in Edmonton. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I know I stick out like a complete freak. No matter how much I try to elevate myself, I always be some hick from small town Alberta. I am forever trapped by who I am.
I shared this epiphany with Trouble. She dismissed it as one of my typical low-self-esteem ramblings.
We continued browsing the shops of Whyte Avenue. Most of the smelled funny. How come a sign of “trendy” is the reek of marijuana smoke?
The hour was growing late. We hopped back on the streetcar and headed back to Trouble’s home. Across the river, we transferred to the LRT and arrived back at her apartment. And that’s when I revealed my true motive.
About a year ago, Trouble was cleaning out her apartment and found several dozen half-completed letters and postcards that she was going to send to me when I was in Japan, but she never remembered to. Of course, for the past year, she kept saying she was going to give them to me, but always forgot to bring them every time we got together. Now, with me at her front door, she had no excuse!
I revealed this plan to her, and she told me that I couldn’t have them. Seems that they were already in the bottom of a box destined for Scotland.
I was reminded of one of my cousins when I was a kid. Every time he came to visit, he would boast of having the really big, really cool, really expensive Transformers: Metroplex, Trypticon, Omega Supreme, et al. Every time I went to visit him, I would ask to see them, and he would say that he’d broken them and thrown them out since the last time we saw each other. Soon, I began doubting his ever having had these Transformers.
But I knew Trouble wouldn’t make up such a grandiose tale just to seem cool in my eyes. I just chalked this up to her general scatterbrained nature and admitted that I’d never ever see those letters and postcards.
I said my farewells and drove off into the sunset. I know it’ll be a really long time before I see her again. Hell, I’ll probably never see her again.
But the time we’ve spent together…the memories we’ll always have.
I will always remember her.