Thursday, January 21, 2010

Vancouver to Calgary

I fetched up at the Vancouver Greyhound terminal around 8.30 in the morning, July 9th, 1986.  It was a typical Greyhound station with grainy travellers retching on godawful coffee and an attendant pack of scavengers waiting outside.  They always seemed to be attached to Greyhound terminals like those manora fish which glom onto sharks in the hope of a free feed.  I split a cab with an Aussie couple who were also heading to the youth hostel.  When I arrived I checked in and saw a Kiwi bloke who'd been in a pub at Portland were I'd slaked some thirst. Kiwi blokes always seemed to be called Tim or Ian.  This one was a Tim, and like a lot of Kiwis of the time was pro Greenpeace.  this was because the Frogs had sunk a Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland Harbour in July the previous year, The two DGSE agents were put away for a ten year sentence on several charges including manslaughter, and got out after a couple of years in the can.  A photographer died in the bombing and the whole affair cost the French Defence Minister his job.  The wash up at the time was that a lot of  Kiwis grew a hard on for a grab bag of Greenpeace, anti-nukes and anti-France.  So there was Tim with a pamphlet in hand for Expo '86.  I had a shower and changed into walking gear and off we went to the Expo grounds.  It was basically a seriies of pavillions where countries would display their best.  We checked out the Kiwi, Brit, U.S. and German turn outs and they were all suitably impressive.  We ventured over to the Australian pavillion and discovered a huge snaking queue of people wanting to get in, at least a half hour wait.  We'd also noticed that the Irish hall had a pub.  Lickety split over there and soon we were sitting with a couple of pints of Guiness to steady our nerves.  We had to have another one and then went back to the german pavillion which sported a beer hall.  A couple of steins later and I was ready to flake.  It was only early aftertnoon but the previous night's Greyhound trip didn't afford me much slumber.  The next park area we found I crashed out and got up a good buzz saw rhythm.  A few hours later I woke up with that dozey feeling you get when sleep's been jumbled and put back together like a two year old's attempt at a rubik's cube.  That was the Expo '86 experience for me.  Tim was keen on getting back to the hostel in time to shower and change to meet up with some Vancouverian connection that night.  I tagged along.

We started off at a bar down town and really can't remember its name.  My notes from the time are vague but from what I can decipher of my hungover scrawl we ended up near the expo site at a couple of bars and strip joints with a bloke named Frank.  he also insisted on showing us another couple of strip joints on the island, whatever the fuck that was.  My recollections include some girl called Lisa having a shower on stage and some lithe lass sitting on my lap making proper suggestions.  I really don't know whether that was on the island or in one of the other bars.  Somehow Tim and I managed to find Frank who gave us a drunken drive around Vancouver on our way home.  I do recall attempting to convince Frank that the left hand side of the road was the best place to drive.

The next morning we discovered that the hangover gorillas had attacked in great force.  You know those apes you see at the zoo throwing faeces around?  Imagine a few thousand of those critters running amok and once again there's further evidence of proof for Doug's Gorilla Hangover Theory.  Tim couldn't recollect much of the previous night's happenings and it bothered us that neither of us had evidence of bad behaviour. Usually after such nights a couple of blokes can piece things together after recalling parts of the evening but this one was a lost cause.  It must have been good because I'd blown about two weeks worth of travel budget in one night.  It was the night when Labbatts became my new best friend.  A big Canadian breakfast with gallons of coffee and juice helped us get somewhat mobile so we checked out the city and then the local neighbourhood.  Tim was really happy when we stumbled across a Greenpeace shop/office thing so he engaged the local greenies on all things anti-Frog.  They were chuffed to have a keen Kiwi and warm enough to have an indifferent and hungover Therbs in their shop.  After about twenty minutes I begged off and hung in a coffee shop, working out the next stage to Calgary.  When we were back at the hostel we went through the Railway pamphlets and immediately booked onto one the following night.  It looked great, an overnight from Vancouver with a promise of a morning rattling through the Rockies.  Yep, sounded great.
Tim went off to a Bruce Cockburn concert.  Cockburn was a popular Canadian folk/jazz singer songwriter who sung against the system.  Fair enough, but I was feeling the effetcs of the previous night and  stayed at the hostel talking to all sorts of Expo visitors and discussing travel stuff.  I did manage a bit of bourbon during all this, just to give my liver a chance to defrag some more alcohol.  It was a midnight crashing for me and I slept a solid eight and a half hours.

Our train was due to take off at 3.30 p.m. so we headed down to the station around midday with another bloke called Mark in tow.  He was an Aussie on his way to Banff, which was also Tim's stop off.  I was headed to Calgary to meet up with Canaussie (Gary) from my European ramblings (London and Oktoberfest a couple of years previously).  I was just hoping he'd received my letter announcing my intentions.  We hung in a cafe for an hour or so after checking out the local area, then it was time to hop on board.  After securing our seats and deciding that the suburbs of Vancouver were like any other suburbs we hit the bar car for a couple of settlers, then explored the train.  We found the panorama seats which were going to be best for the views of the Rockies in the morning.  Skimping on meals, we had a picnic dinner consisting of cold cuts, bread, salad, cheese and fruit. After eating healthily the only thing left for us was to visit the bar car again.  We sat a table with a group of Canadians and Americans, a half dozen of us in all.  Pretty soon we'd swapped enough bullshit and drunk enough Labbatts to get a poker game started.  This was in the days before the Hold 'Em fad.  We played straight five card draw.  You get five cards, discard, then get replacements and start betting and raising.  It was nickle-dime stuff but a few of the pots got a bit willing.  Early on I lost a five dollar note on a three of a kind getting beaten by a straight.  A few hands later I managed to win it back plus a little bit more and that's how it went for a few hours.  No-one lost that many hands and the pot seemed to go back and forth quite well.  At one stage we did the cigar smoking bit, trying to look coolly mean.  Must have looked fucking silly but we had a good time.  The barman at one stage said what we were doing was illegal, then he came around with a six pack of Labbatss on the house.  He reckoned it was one of the funniest nights he'd worked.  Not only were we playing cards but we were taking ten types of shit out of each other at the same time, doing bad attempts at each other's accents, slagging off at each other's countries and generally being arseholes to each other,  It was a fucking hoot.  Eventually we'd had enough (at about two in the morning) and let the barman close up shop, leaving him the final pot as an extra tip.  Only abouut ten bucks in it but he didn't expect it after getting tips all night and didn't realise we'd organised the final hand that way.

The next morning I didn't even feel slightly hungover.  Part of the reason was the scenery.  We were slap bang in the Rockies as dawn broke and it was senfuckingsational.  I'd crashed out across a couple of the seats in the panorama deck and was gob smacked.  Those around me were equally impressed and we sat there for a fuil half hour before the needs of body and breakfast tore me away.  I quickly abluted, grabbed a breakfast tray and like my eggs,  scrambled my way back to my seat, still in awe of those mountains.  The breadth and scope of them impressed me in a similar way as had the Swiss Alps around Lauterbrunned a couple of years previously. The Rockies however were more vast.  The forests, firm and brave in the valleys grew sparser and more timidly stunted and bent in the higher reaches until they gave way to boulders, scree and snow.  Occasionally a river would sing past, glad that its snow had found the right stream, and like any other traveller it seemed happy in its trip to the seaside.  We were still contentedly watching these elements of nature's mastery when we aproached Banff.  I said goodbye to Tim and Mark and sat reflective as the train brought me closer to Calgary and its Stampede.

I was in a buoyant mood later in the afternoon as Gumby and I decamped at Calgary and went and found the hostel.  I reserved a bed in case Gary was either not around or wanted to avoid me and my drunken ways.
Fortunately for me I was sitting in the common room when Gary walked in at around six.  We hooted and laughed and slapped each others' backs before Gary drove me to his house where I dropped off my pack and we collected a couple of his friends and hit one of the pubs for some Stampede action.  I walked into a barn like pub with a large hall broken up by several smaller rooms.  What surprised and please me was the abundance of jugs of beer.  What seemed to be happening was that anyone going to the bar would buy a few jugs and then put them on the table so that anyone else could refresh their glasses.  I went up to the bar, ordered three jugs and was questioned about my nationality.  I explained my Aussieness and was ordered by the bargirl not to pay for the jugs.  I immediately fell in love with her and asked her for her hand in marriage at once.  She laughed!  Fancy that, a genuine proposal of wedded bliss and the tart laughs at me.  Poor old Therbs.  I explained my heart rending experience when I slapped the three jugs on the table and instead of extending sympathy and support the others laughed as well.  So what does a heart broken bloke do under such circumstances?  Find solace in drink and the company of fine women.  Well, that was the idea anyway.  What ended up happening was a big party broke out.  They had country style dancing, what we call bush dancing and everyone joined in, dancing around like, well, like danicng fools I s'pose.  I joined in and started up a chat with a couple of the local lasses, inviting them back to our table for refreshments.  They declined as they flashed wedding rings at me.  Bugger, I'd missed the obvious 'tells'.  I spent a lot of the night catching up with Gary, retelling old tales of the Oktoberfest and London hijinks, and basking in renewed friendship.  Another point to make was that those jugs of beer weren't drinking themsleves and they seemed to be breeding.  Oh well, more dancing, more beer and more attempt at chat with the local ladies.  I hooked up with a couple of singles very briefly for a traditional "pash, flash and dash" but nothing much really eventuated.  Nevertheless it was a very content Therbs who crashed out at about two in the morning.

In the morning I found Gary's flatmate, Kelly. cooking up a feed.  He was cooking beer pancakes.  What a genius concept.  He saw me stumble in, freshly showered and a little hungover.He raised his eyebrow as he raised a Labbatts,
"The batter needs fresh beer so get one out of the fridge and help me out here."
I did as asked, opened the beer and handed it to him.  Kelly allowed a few drops of the liquid to go into the batter before handing it back, saying,
"Thanks.  These pancakes are gonna be soooo much better now.  You may as well finish off that beer, we can;'t have it spoiling."
I laughed a brief "Thanks" and toasted the chef.

I definitely was going to enjoy Calgary.


  1. I remember that Greenpeace incident-was it that long ago? Cripes. You must be getting old. Certainly I'm not.

    I don't care what shape you're in-if you aren't impressed by the scenery around Banff and Lake Louise, you're blind. I've only seen pics but I'd like to get there sometime m'self-preferably by train.

    Good writeup as we follow our hero across the Great White North.

    Tune in next installment, when Therbs buys a toque and gets coffee at Tim Horton's, eh!

  2. Yup most Kiwis still haven't forgiven or forgotten the Rainbow Warrior bombing. My boss is still pretty anti-French. Though he does drive a Citroen so it's not insurmountable.

    Expos are pretty weird events, I'd never heard of one before Expo 88 in Brisbame and I couldn't tell you if they ever had another one since (I think they had one in Barcelona in 92 for the Olympics.) Ironically one of my clearest memories of Expo 88 - other than it being the NZ pavilion rather than Australia which had the queues snaking around the block - was the Canadian pavilion where the hostess/presenter chick was a girl from Calgary (had just hosted the winter games I think) and made everyone bellow YEE HAAA at the end of the presentation film. Figured from that it was definitely a cowboy town...

    Great series as ever Therbs.

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  4. YD - cheers. Maybe not Tim Hortons but there's some hijinks afoot
    Dr Y - Calgary at Stampede time was definitely a Yee Haa town. That Spanish Expo I think was in Seville. I knew a bloke who scored a gig with the Gummint, fares, accommodation, expenses in a big piss-up affair. Bastard.
    Mr Investblog - sounds like you were really down in the dumps. Ya shoulda read Kafka then had a warm, crimson bath.