July 29, 2010

The Intersection

The first day of our visit to the little town north of Edmonton, Alberta where my husband's sister and mother live, it rained. The day before, as we drove from our first stop in the sunny north Okanagan, through the neck-craning mountainscape of the Selkirks and the Rockies, we had driven toward the clouds. By the time we reached the rolling canola fields of Alberta the water was spraying up from the wheels of the trucks in front of us and with the fine, misty showers descending on us from above our visibility was almost nil. The rain subsided about an hour west of Edmonton and my husband was able then to concentrate on pointing out every landmark to do with the excavation of oil, the massive bison farm, and to remark at the speed of the infamous Alberta drivers passing us at regular intervals.

We arrived later than planned at my sister-in-law's house, but found my mother-in-law, sister-in-law (to be called Auntie from now on) and her two elderly, lovingly groomed dogs, Duchess the dalmatian and Casey the border collie/German shepherd eagerly awaiting our arrival. Our brother-in-law had gone to bed - he had to get up early to open the Harley Davidson motorcycle shop where he works. After a short visit we too, exhausted from the thirteen and a half hour drive that day, fell into our beds and slept hard until the eager dogs woke us all up in the morning. Auntie had taken a few days off from her administrative job in the oil industry in honour of our visit and had now assumed the role of super chef and uber-hostess. Bacon, eggs, and toast were placed before us, with juice and coffee to wash it down. "What do you guys want to do today?" she asked me.

Yes, what to do in Central Alberta on a rainy day... We would have the morning to catch up (I hadn't seen my sister-in-law in years) and play with the dogs and then Gramma would be arriving at noon to visit with us..."Why don't we take the kids to the West Edmonton Mall," I suggested. Eager to please, I knew that idea would go over well with everyone and so we agreed to leave after lunch and return in time for my mother-in-law (Gramma) to go to work for her evening shift as cleaner of the local bank.

The West Edmonton Mall is the world's second largest all-under-one-roof shopping experience. It used to be the largest until the monster sized Mall of America was built somewhere in Minnesota. The West Edmonton Mall boasts a huge water park, a roller coaster, a pirate ship complete with real leaping dolphins and barking seals, a skating rink, and of course, hundreds of shops on a variety of themes. There is a Bourbon Street wing complete with Cajun restaurants and a Paris, France wing with foreign shops and cafe au lait. People come from all over the world to experience the West Edmonton Mall, some even requiring a tour guide so they don't get lost. It is not exactly my idea of a destination resort, but it is a unique experience (and, I am sure, handy to have in a city as cold in winter as Edmonton). We also happened to be in the neighbourhood with three teenagers. And it was raining.

After lunch we headed off in two vehicles, Auntie leading the way with Gramma in the front and my two daughters in the back seat of her powerful Ford Mustang. The rest of us followed in Heidi the Honda. Roads are straight and wide in Alberta and people drive accordingly. Keeping up to the Mustang was out of the question. It was all we could do to keep it in our sights, often reaching 130 kms an hour to do so. We reached Edmonton in about forty minutes and began the series of starts and stops that make up city driving. At one such intersection, the Mustang was the first of a long line of vehicles to stop at a red light. We were directly behind her with one lane to our right and two to our left. Suddenly we heard a loud screech of tires and a bang to follow. I looked up to see a rusty old pickup truck doing a 180 degree spin in the middle of the intersection. As the truck spun, the loosely piled up load of scrap metal and assorted stuff in the box of the truck went flying like so many frisbees. A couple of rusty wheelbarrows, empty propane tanks, lengths of 2x6 lumber, axe heads, tire irons, and a small cooler filled with nails, screws, nuts and bolts opened and sprayed across the road and under the vehicles directly around us. When the debris stopped flying we rushed to the Mustang to make sure everyone was okay. Miraculously they were, even though most of the debris had ended up under the Mustang and some of it had hit the lower portion of the car, causing a few minor dents and scratches. As it happened a young man stopped just to our left, after checking on the driver of the old pickup and calling 911, told us he was a Ford mechanic. He checked out the Mustang and said it was mechanically uninjured. The fire department soon arrived and began to redirect the incredibly impatient traffic, interview witnesses, attend to the injured and clean up the mess. The cause of the accident lurked ashamedly on the edge of the accident scene. He, and his large, shiny black truck had run the red light in a moment of inattention. The elderly man in the aged brown pickup full of scrap had seen the black truck coming at his door, accelerated and was hit on the driver's side of the box instead. The impact had sent his truck spinning and presumably his head into whiplash, not to mention the poor old dog of a passenger, a blue-heeler cross with cataracts.

Two policewomen arrived after the fire department and began to hand out paperwork to the victims and the witnesses. We would all be stuck there until the road was cleared and the paperwork completed, so we began to help clean up the mess. Several juice bottles and soda cans had also littered the road and at one point Auntie said to me, 'Look!' A rough looking opportunist had jumped into the scene and was quickly picking up all the drink containers that were refundable for a deposit. He was gone in a flash. At least someone would benefit from the wreckage.

Gramma, in typical fashion, was busy talking and sympathizing with everyone involved - the firemen and policewomen, the guilty party in the black truck, the nice young Ford Mechanic - but she concentrated her concern on the elderly man and his dog who had been hit. She found out the man was seventy-two (though he looked much older), in shock, and that his dog was a biter. Gramma is an animal lover so she tried to talk to the dog, but it was obviously going to guard the truck of its injured master with its life. After the injured man was placed on a stretcher and taken off to hospital, the firemen were unsuccessful at reasoning with the dog, so they called animal control. Before long a woman arrived with what looked like a lasso on a stick and within seconds the poor, grizzled, traumatized dog was coaxed out of the cab of the pickup and into the back of a vehicle specially designed for cases like his. Gramma took down the license number of the old pickup and, if I know her, the man and the dog will be soon be receiving some help from the good people of Gramma's church, whether they like it or not.

With the last nails swept out from under the wheels of the Mustang, we were off to the mall, our time there now greatly reduced. We synchronized our watches and split up, the boys going off in search of music shops, the rest of us to see whatever sights we could manage in an hour and a half. We missed the dolphin show, but did get to watch the lemurs cuddle up with each other or leap from branch to branch in their glassed in cage. Auntie found enough time to buy each of our lucky kids a present and I, to purchase a London Fog (earl grey tea and steamed milk) from the Paris wing. And then it was time to get Gramma home. Auntie suggested the kids, their dad and I stay longer and make our own way home, but we declined. We didn't know the way back very well and we'd had enough excitement for one day. On the way out of the city we saw at least two more vehicles run red lights.

The next day was sunny so we went for a walk with the dogs and then played games in the park across the street from Auntie's house. When it got too hot we went back to the house where Auntie made the adults Margaritas and the kids drinks with juice and crushed ice. Uncle came home from work and barbecued steaks and chicken for us all. He brought the kids Harley Davidson t-shirts and told them stories from his previous life as an officer in the army and how he once clocked 237 kms an hour on his racing bike. No Margaritas for him; he stuck to rum and Coke and later, put out an enormous bowl of chips and three kinds of dip. The boys dove right in, but the girls and I went to bed.


  1. I loved reading this - it's so lively and detailed. Alberta sounds amazing - I want to get travelling. And the mall - wow! We have a big one near us... but not that big. And the accident - thank god all were unhurt, but the poor dog! Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading this snapshot of your life.

  2. One of the reasons that the Motorways in Europe have turns is directly because of Alberta and Iowa where the roads were laid out by a demented Roman Centurion. What happened at that junction, even in a city was marked and written about in academic studies in the 1920s. It is caused by a form of hypnosis. Or to put it this waythere is a very good reason why there is an Auto-pilot on all plains beyond crop dusters. So the guy in the black pickup might have driven in from three hours out. Or he might have been pissed off his head.

    Just a question, does your eldest have his own motor or did the whole lot of you travel in the single car from BC to Edmonton.
    Oh, there is a bit of an Irish connection there in Alberta.

  3. Not exactly the kind of adventure one seeks on a holiday, but it made an interesting read. Glad to hear that none of your family had to take a trip in that ambulance!

  4. Hi Kate: I'm happy you enjoyed the story. Have fun on your trip to Scotland!

    Vince: Well, that is very interesting. It is mesmerizing to drive in Alberta - rather like a cartoon when the same scenery is repeated over and over behind the characters when they are running. There are a few turns in the road down by Drumheller, and we remarked on them when they happpened :D
    Yes, all six of us travelled together in our seven passenger van. The three younger in the bench seat at the back and the eldest in the bucket seat in the middle for much of the journey, though they would trade every once in a while to break up the monotony. We are seasoned road travellers - that isn't to say no one ever complains, but we are resigned to sitting in cars for long spells.

    And I remember you saying something about a connection in Red Deer. We drove right past it. Relatives or friends?

    Diane: Yes, I could have done without that kind of excitement, but it did get me thinking about different worlds, different people colliding - thus the 'intesection' theme of this post.

  5. You recreate the scene so vividly and I am happy that no one was hurt in your family.

  6. Yeah! You are back! Just barely, from the sounds of things.

    I once knew I boy from Edmonton. Glenn Hermann, and he too drove a Mustang very fast. From him, and your story (the audacious mall, the bad drivers) I get the feeling that Alberta wants to be the US.

    Glad you are home safe and sound.

  7. Look at the place in the goo-earth, the entire place is defined by mad two-mile squares. The QE2 has that twist and bend to keep your Squeeze awake.

    And really, six persons in a motor, five of them sucking a full persons air.
    That's you stamping your foot.

  8. Tracey: Have you heard the expression "Everything's bigger in Texas"? Well, here, that applies to Alberta. In fact someone I know very well calls Alberta the Texas of the North. It certainly is like going to another country because the next province over, Saskatchewan is such a humble, quiet place. My son's friend is going to agricultural school in southern Alberta and told him that one's status at the college is directly related to the size of one's truck.
    Driving there was a bit like risking one's life, and when we crossed over to BC almost all the drivers that went roaring past us were from Alberta, except one really obnoxious RV driver - from Oklahoma :)

    Vince: Yes, Alberta is on a grid of roads, most of them called Range Roads, which lead to oil pumps and the like.
    Needless to say, I'm not anxious for another long car trip any time soon, especially since the air conditioning isn't working! But you have to believe me that it is easier now than when the kids were small - now they zone out on their ipods for much of the time. It's really not that bad.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!