So I arrive in Edmonton, it was late May, there was a chill in the air. I was a complete stranger to the city. I was told to show up at such and such a mall the very next morning. I only had to survive one night. What could go wrong? Anything and everything, but I am getting ahead of myself. I am still at the airport. First time in my life I have been in Edmonton, Alberta, heck anywhere west of Toronto. There wasn't much planning, I had a job, it began the next morning, let the games begin. My priority right now was to find a place to stay. I had heard stories about the Commercial Hotel, I heard it was a dive, but cheap. I asked the cabby to take me there.
Whyte Ave, in the mid 90s, so yes, it was mad. The Commercial Hotel was a dive, one of the roughest places I have ever stayed. In its basement there was a mini skid row (I saw and heard some awful things down there), each room throughout the joint looked different, the whole place hadn't been redecorated since 1958. It never makes much of a first impression, but holy crap do I ever have a million stories in and around that place. I booked a room, I rid myself of all my gear, I hit Whyte Ave, I went exploring.
The next next morning, I made my way to a mall, more specifically a liquor store at the other end of the parking lot. There was supposed to be a yellow school bus waiting there, one that was gonna whisk us off into the wilderness. One problem... it wasn't there. Did I go to the right place? Was I in the right parking lot? The instructions and the directions both seemed legit, everything made sense, aside from the lack of yellow school bus, oh and other tree planters. There were none of those types wandering about. Yikes, what do I do now, I thought. I call head office. Hello, I am so and so, um isn't there supposed to be a bus here? Isn't it all supposed to start today, I asked. Oh, Mr so and so, we are sorry, we were unable to get a hold of you, the trees aren't ready yet, we hope to start in 5 days, they answered. Holy fuck, I have like 40 bucks and a Petro Canada card... 5 days, ouch.
Where does a fella down on his luck and short on money always end up? The YMCA of course. I had to find a Y.
Yellow pages, they were the Internet before the information age...flip, flip, flip, YMCA... downtown Edmonton I went. Edmonton's downtown was near empty, had a real eerie feeling. Large glass buildings, very light traffic, no pedestrians, tumbleweeds (I lie). There I was 22 years old, a back and front full of gear, asking for a bed for a few nights. Rooms cost $17, I had $40, so enough for 2 nights, $6 in change, but who's counting?
Yikes, 2 nights, I will figure it out, I always figure it out. They gave me a key to a double room. Up I went, relieving myself of all that gear, I changed my sweaty shirt, then plunked down on a lumpy old bed, reached into a backpack, rummaged around, first pulling out a Walkman (the year was 1995, long live the mixed tape!) then put Mercury Rev's 'Boces'in it and pressed play. I lied there, I zoned out for a bit, I escaped.
An hour or so later the door swung open, I had a roommate, oh joy, oh bliss. There is no escaping here. My roommate was a tall, skinny fella, with a long 'rocker' mullet. He wasn't intimidating at all, just at that point, he was yet another pain in my ass.
Turns out he had a car, which was important. Why, you ask? Well because cars need gas and the only cash I had came in the form of a gas card from Petro Canada. I put five bucks gas in his tank and we could then attain sustenance in the way of gas station chicken salad sandwiches and potato chips. You do what you can to survive.
I don't remember much of the whole ordeal, I have memories of watching the Devils sweep the Red Wings in Stanley Cup Finals in the Y lounge. I remember being nervous, I remember thinking, what the hell have I got myself into? I remember frequent calls home and frequent calls to head office. I remember wondering if I had made a huge mistake...?
Eventually, 5 days later (or was it 3?)the bus arrived in the parking lot, there were tree planters mulling about. Hacky sacks were kicked, early friendships were formed. On the bus I climbed. Rumble, hiccup, cough the bus rolled towards the Albertan foothills. The adventure had just begun. Yikes.