Thursday, August 26, 2010

Road Trip

I had planned the roadtrip with my roommate in Fort McMurray, herein S, earlier in the summer. We had planned to go through the United States: see Chicago and Mount Rushmore on the way and possibly, if he had his way, check out Glacier or Waterton National Park. The night before though after loading up the car I decided it would be a bad idea. Two brown guys travelling to the United States with a fully loaded car, going through the border, was not a great ideal; they would think we were setting up a 7-11. So at the last minute I changed the plan to drive through Canada.

The drive would take us 5 days: Day 1- Sault Ste. Marie, ON; Day 2- Thunder Bay, ON; Day 3- Brandon, MB, Day 4- Edmonton, AB and finally Fort McMurray on Day 5.

Sault Ste. Marie was a quick drive and despite a stop (and slight detour) to see the Big Nickel in Sudbury we were in there in about 8.5 hours. The hotel had an indoor pool, which we took advantage of but also had a bunch of kids on a baseball trip, so we left it pretty early.

The next day we were off to Thunder Bay. It was a gorgeous drive along Lake Superior. S and I argued about music and politics for much of the way. We stopped at a rest stop and met a man from Rhode Island who was travelling around Superior with his partner, with the eventual goal of Toronto. We had a great discussion with him and gave him some contacts in Toronto and told him where he could find the gay village.

We saw the Terry Fox statue just outside Thunder Bay. It's not really marked out very well and we actually drove past it before turning around.

We stayed at a Comfort Inn here but unfortunately were in a smoking room with a strong smoke odour and internet that was slow and constantly cutting off. We ended up doing a workout in the hotel room with a P90x video. I don't remember the last time I worked out.

The next day we woke up early to head to Brandon. The drive itself was everything we imagined it to be: rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks...and water. Not very exciting. In Manitoba, of course, we hit the praries which again become tedious very quickly.

We decided to do a slight detour off the Trans-Canada to see Winnipeg. It is by far the sketchiest major city I have been to in Canada. The roads are horribly designed: full of one ways and the signs are not very helpful. In the short 45 minutes we were there we saw a flipped car and some guy getting arrested.

The hotel we stayed at in Brandon was very nice. It had a pool, a waterslide and a hot tub. We were also finally far enough away from Toronto that we got questions as to why the hell we were there.

I received an e-mail from a principal regarding an interview. I checked the school website listed the staff directory and the only vacancy I saw was pre-kindergarten and was terrified. I e-mailed him back telling him I would call from the road.

We had another early morning the next day to go to Edmonton. It was supposed to be a 13 hour drive but we did it in 10. On the way I received a call from the HR supervisor who had originally interviewed me offering me a position in the Islamic school teaching grade 7/8. Although, he tried to push it I was very reluctant and told him that I would let him know. In that time I called the principal who had e-mailed me and arranged an interview for the Friday, two days after I was set to arrive.

While in Edmonton we went for dinner in West Edmonton Mall. The Mall was huge and we probably only saw 1% of it. We left the mall to head for R's (another teacher here in Fort McMurray) girlfriend's house where S's car was parked. R had driven S's car across the country with his girlfriend and had purchased a car while in Edmonton. On taking one of the exits I missed the curb and had the right tire go over it. We immediately knew it was popped. We pulled over to the side of the road and after failing to hail down help from passing motorists decided to change the tire ourselves. We had both left our cell phones at the house of our friend's sister, where we had planned to stay the night.

This meant unpacking the trunk to get the spare out. When we took out all the stuff we were shocked at how much Dad had got in there. While we were changing it some guy drove by and asked if we needed help, an offer we graciously accepted. Ironically, being in Alberta and despite all the claims of Western hospitality the only person who stopped for us was a guy from Richmond Hill. He was very excited to see fellow Ontario boys. I don't know how we would have managed without his help. We only knew the basics of tire changing but he was an expert and basically did it for us. We ended up giving him a bottle of wine as a thank you. We threw the stuff that we couldn't repack into the trunk into the back seat. We arrived at R's girlfriend's place around 10:45 and loaded some of the stuff into S's car.

The next day I woke up at 6 am in order to be at the garage by 7 am to change the tire. They ended up putting on my winter tires because I thought it would be a better idea than purchasing a new tire now. It cost a reasonable $56 so while an inconvenience it wasn't a very expensive one (less than the cost of a gas tank).

I got back to the hotel and woke up S and he made the phone calls to the housing agent in Fort McMurray. She made an appointment for us at 2 pm but it was already 9:45. We quickly gunned it to Fort McMurray.

The highway to Fort McMurray is one of the scariest drives I've ever seen. It alternates between a 2 lane and a 1 lane highway and you are sharing it with all sorts of trucks and trailers. At some times we were driving up to 140km/hr but other times as slow as 90km/hr. S almost got hit by a car while overtaking a trailer.

We arrived in Fort McMurray at 2:30 but luckily the woman had had her 3 pm appointment cancelled so was able to see us. After going through all the requirements of the lease and finding out we only had one parking spot (therefore one plug in point) between the two of us we got to see the apartment. The apartment is a 3 bedroom and even though there are only two of us they are still dividing the rent by 3 so it works out better for us. I traded S the master bedroom for the spare bedroom and the plug in point for the car outside the apartment. The apartment was unfurnished but came with a stove, a fridge, and a washer & dryer.

I went to the interview on Friday, in between a trip to buy more furnishings for the apartment and after a tour of the school finlly got down to the interview. I ended up being offered the grade 6 position, which I quickly accepted.

We furnished our apartment with trips to Wal-Mart and of kjiji including getting several items for free, like a Queen-sized mattress. It took a few days but it finally feels like a home.

The Land of Hoth

Someone once told me that Hoth of Star Wars was filmed in Fort McMurray. While I do not remember who it was who told me and do not even know whether or not its true I nevertheless think it makes a fitting title for this year (or so) in Fort McMurray.

Through this blog I will share by observations of this corner of Northern Alberta and some about my teaching here.