Having just come back from a trip to Spain (more on that later), I’d been experiencing some post-trip malaise. I’m sure the feeling is familiar – where you become convinced that life should consist exclusively of sitting around sun-dappled cafes, drinking white wine from tiny glasses and wearing linen shirts.
However, Calgary is fully not cooperating with my mood, and keeps dragging me back to feeling good. This has been doubly impressive as I managed to come home from Spain with an extra souvenir in the form of a burst appendix, which led to a week in the hospital and a further week off recuperating.
It’s easy to forget that Cowtown brings the thunder in the summer. I’m not sure if it’s because of Calgary 2012, or just the continuing maturation of the city into a place where real people may actually want to live their lives, but the overlapping festivals, cultural events, random street parties and beautiful weather is really doing a number on my badditude. As much as I occasionally rag on Calgary because it isn’t Montreal or Vancouver or Paris, it has its own unique charms and lord knows I’m keen to defend it when other people criticize.
This has been particularly acute since the arrival of the Nose Hill Gentleman. For the six people who read this blog, you probably already know about this guy, but if you don’t – Walt Wawra, a cop from Kalamazoo and apparently not a character from a Dr. Seuss book despite his name and residence, recently had an encounter with a couple of young guys in Nose Hill Park that compelled him to write a letter to the Herald. These two apparently asked Wally Wubbles if he had been to the Stampede yet. To be clear for the non-Calgarians, this is the equivalent of asking someone in London if they’ve been to the Olympics. It is the equivalent of asking a Torontonian if you have felt smug yet. It is the equivalent of asking a Syrian if they are nervous.
What I’m trying to articulate is that it’s a pretty commonplace question. However, Winnifred Westeros apparently took this question as an aggressive act, and responded (after the two asked the question again) that he and his wife had no reason to talk to them and then walked away, to the admitted bewilderment of the two young men. There’s been some disagreement about whether these two guys were actually simply asking the question or were somehow giving out free passes to the grouds, but so far this is just an example of how a cultural difference may lead to some misunderstandings.
Then things get wonky. Waterhouse Wiggles’ response was to pine for the handgun he had carelessly left in his home in Kalamazoo, as he would have felt safe with it in his possession. This led to an internet explosion, with coverage on news sites including all the major national papers in Canada, Gawker and a Twitterspaz of derision. I have to admit that I was right there along with the majority of Calgarians and Canadians in condemning Wilhelm Wonka for his ignorance and passion for shootin’ from the hip, both literally and figuratively.
However, as the dogpile has continued, I’ve been thinking about that difference in attitude between Wifflebat Wowee and myself. I was just in a foreign country, too, and there were times when I felt a bit uncomfortable or worried that the person I was talking to maybe didn’t have the best intentions. Just because I didn’t feel the compulsion to pull out my nine and start blastin’ suckas doesn’t mean that my sense of dislocation and embarrassment at not being able to understand everything that was going on around me wasn’t real.
You know what’s real for Windshield Washerfluid? MUUUURRRRRRDAAAA. Everything is made better with a little Ja Rule
As a cop in Kalamazoo, he is dealing with a homicide rate of 0.12/1000 residents. Pretty low, right? In a city of 76,000 people, that’s nine murders a year.
Calgary had 8 murders last year. In a city of 1.1 million people. That’s a rate of 0.007/1000.
A visit to the Kalamazoo public safety website reveals something startling; the pages are dominated by guns. Guns are everywhere. The website’s FAQ is revealing – of the top ten questions asked, eight are related to firearms. They had an officer shot and killed in the line of duty last year. The local Fox affiliate that keeps a running Faces of Meth section on their site, conveniently listed under their /entertainment section. This is a very, very different world than Nose Hill Park on a sunny summer afternoon. My neighbourhood had one reported incident of crime last year – one. Somebody broke into a car on the street about six blocks from my place during a house party. That’s all we’ve got. Our community policing representative was the Calgary Police Service’s version of the Maytag repairman.
As much as Calgary should have its hosannas sung for being safe, the culture in the city is (at least compared to some places we visited in Spain) as paranoid as Kalamazoo. Bilbao’s homicide rate is half of Calgary’s. It is, apparently, entirely normal for women to meet people at a bar and then hop in their car afterward for a drive through the countryside with zero expectation of something nefarious happening. Canadians pat themselves on the back for being polite and friendly, but I’d never encountered anything like Marivi and Bilbao Greeters. We are talking about a service wherein a person comes to your hotel, takes you for a customized guided tour of the city and flat-out refuses any form of payment whatsoever. It was like having Batman as a tour guide or something.
I’d say we still have a long way to go in the we-rule-at-friendly category, but I’m not saying that Walter White gets a pass. He is, after all, the living, breathing stereotype of ‘Murrica made flesh – but the guy has led a very different life than I have, and apparently in a very different culture. As much as we love to give America the ol’ facepalm, I can’t help but feel like we still have a ways to go to build the sense of community that I think really makes a place special, and not a place where we need to lock our doors and oil our guns to feel safe.
I’d say Calgary’s doing a pretty damn fine job this year so far. I hope it just keeps getting better.