Saturday, December 10, 2011

Follow the Music, Part I: From Bublé to Buffalo

A camera flash pierces the predawn darkness as the AMHL Photographer and I approach the customs booth at the CAN/AM border. A uniformed U.S. official tells us to park the car. No re-entry into the States, not yet. Random search.

Five minutes later and inside the interrogation center, we answer questions about our erstwhile whereabouts and the purpose of our most recent trip to Canada. Short answers. Keep it boring for the border patrol.

Tuesday, November 22
Three days earlier and amidst the hills of CAN/AM country, the cows and blanketed horses oblivious to our adventure and my mission, my wife announced the next music selection: “Break out the Bublé,” she said and then inserted the Canadian crooner’s new Christmas album into the CD player.

We were surprised that Michael B. had decided to record “Santa Baby.” But the hockey-loving singer had deployed a sublime stratagem: replace “baby” with “buddy” and convert the feminine wish list of presents to more male-friendly gifts such as a convertible coupe, Canucks tickets, and a chance for more ice time on the first line.

Songs from Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers’ latest album, Gift Horse, accompanied us to the border. Undetected, my wife and I entered Ontario, and drove west on the 417.

Switching from CD to FM, we listened to the news: Capital Hoedown Country Music Festival announced the 2012 lineup that will include stars representing the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf: Taylor Swift and Reba; Paul Brandt and Terri Clark. And then Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together,” guided us as we proceeded—without a hitch—to the safe house in Ottawa.

Au cœur du quartier universitaire, the bilingual chargé d'affaires and his studious special agent (a Goldie Poo named Sunny) greeted us at the covert entrance. The pooch padded about the operations centre as his superior sat with us at the kitchen table, highlighting points of interest/mission critical minutia on a map of Canada’s capital city.

Wednesday, November 23
Walking north along the winsome and winding (and not yet frozen) Rideau Canal, I admired the patina on Parliament Hill, the government buildings’ greenish luster most majestic at dusk.

As my wife documented the visual splendor of the illuminated Christmas tree at the corner of Rideau and Colonel By Drive, I followed the music emanating from what locals call “the Underpass.” “Let Your Love Flow” streamed from speakers, or so it seemed. I danced, a subtle solo act (didn’t want to arouse suspicion) as the Bellamy Brothers (band member Randy Hiebert is a Winnipegger) song skipped in and out.

What’s with the intermittent music, I wondered. Was I two-stepping on and off a secret wire that triggered the tune to stop and start? The ineffable pattern (and my complementary moves) continued as “Red Neck Girl” streamed—and stopped—and started from the secret speakers.

I watched the Photographer descend the ramp, toward me, and then as we ascended the other side, the music stopped again. For good, as we walked toward the canal and returned to the safe house, where we listened to the sweet music of…

NHL hockey on Internet radio, as sung by the Toast of Terrace Bay (ON) and Buffalo Sabres’s announcer Rick Jeanneret. “He scooores,” said the Voice of the Sabres after Thomas Vanek gave the Sabres a 2–0 lead over the Boston Bruins. (Even sweeter for B’s fans like me: Benoit Pouliot’s under-the crossbar goal in the shootout lifted Boston over Buffalo.)

Stay tuned for Part II

Monday, October 31, 2011

Puckbite Interviews Captain CanAmerica

Image courtesy of Puckbite
Captain CanAmerica visited Quebec last week as a guest of the Montreal Poutine Hockey Club. He sat down for a chat with Puckbite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Introducing Captain CanAmerica

Dear reader,

I present my new business partner, Captain CanAmerica. All yours, mon ami.

Captain CanAmerica, here to serve. Okay, I’m a fledgling superhero (props to Puckbite for his portrait of me) working on my tagline. Given the early stage of my development, I can reveal little of who I am. In comic book-parlance (I’m still waiting for an invitation to Comicon de Montréal 2011), I am the Canadian spy’s sidekick.

While my partner’s modus operandi is stealth—he has eluded many would-be interrogators—my method is more overt. You’ll see me on guest posts here, and perhaps on other sites, as we—my partner, you, and I—combat the common villain: our inherent intolerance of those whom we do not yet know or understand.

Captain Canuck-meets-Captain America, I am not. A maple-leafed belt and star-spangled shield do not suit me. I endured no alien rays or scientific experiments to strengthen my skeletal and muscular systems.

My sole superpower (as far as we know) at which you might marvel: summoning my best self. With a super solar-powered lamp embedded in the butt end of my recycled wood hockey stick, I aim to illuminate the people who populate the provinces and territories that comprise Canada, and thus enlighten all kind-hearted citizens on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Time for me to make like a zipper, and fly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Commemorating Cooperation and Compassion: 9/11, Beyond Borders

As the U.S. honours loved ones lost on this date ten years ago, I keep close to my heart heroes on both sides of the 49th parallel. An except from AMHL Glory:

Presidents and prime ministers will come and go, so I’m talking about the residual, ordinary citizens in the U.S. and Canada who’ve done extraordinary things to extend goodwill beyond geographical borders.

During the horrors of September 11, 2001, the bravery of New York’s Fire Department, Police Department (and the less publicized Port Authority) is well-known, and should be; we know of the pluck of the passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania; and we recall the image of a smoldering Pentagon. The carnage: 2973 dead (including twenty-four Canadians) and twenty-four missing.

But you may not realize the importance of the international cooperation between the Stars and Stripes and the Maple Leaf on that terrible Tuesday and the days beyond.

When the U.S. ordered all its flights that morning to land, Canada rose to the challenge.

NAV Canada, a private corporation that owns Canada’s civil air navigation, reports on its Web site that it was responsible for diverting 239 flights, most of which were en route to U.S. destinations, to Canadian airports. From St. John’s (Newfoundland) to Vancouver (BC) to Whitehorse (Yukon), Canada came to the rescue of some 33,000 passengers. In Gander, Newfoundland, about 40 landed without incident.

Where do you house, feed, and comfort more than 6,000 distressed, confused, and hungry passengers? Gander, population 9,651 and nearby communities like Lewisporte, that’s where.

Nazim-Amin, a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15, said that after landing in Gander without incident, passengers and crew spent nearly the next eleven hours on the plane, unsuccessfully trying to reach loved ones on their mobile phones because their communications providers didn’t have towers in Canada (or if they did, the phone lines to the U.S. were too jammed to reach anyone). Sleeping as comfortably as one can on a jumbo jet, everyone, including a thirty-three-week pregnant woman, waited for their turn to disembark.

And when they did, the kind-hearted souls of central Newfoundland, blanketed these passengers with more compassion in days beyond the initial tragedy. Returning to the States would take several days.

And the grateful passengers and crew, many from Atlanta, GA, responded in kind by creating the Flight 15 Scholarship Fund for their new-found friends in Lewisporte.

Love transcends borders, eh?

Thank you, Delta Flight 15 passengers and crew. Thank you, Newfoundland and Labrador. Thank you, Canada.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Niger Reef Tea House: A Royal Success

Sunday July 3, 2011
St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick

As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge conclude Day Four of their nine-day Canadian tour (so far a smashing success) and, back in England the Wimbledon crowds disperse (Djokovik defeated Nadal this morning), my queen and I are treated as VIPs at the Niger Reef Tea House.

Then again, all the guests at the understated edifice off Water Street are treated as friends, if not royalty.

Seated at the same picnic-style bench that we sat at this afternoon for lunch (I recommend the potato tart), our tennis shoes touch the slatted-wood deck. We are among half a dozen or so patrons dining on the patio of what is becoming famous for this sea-side town’s frugal-yet-fine dining experience.

As my tea steeps in a regal black teapot, I look over my right shoulder. Low tide on the Bay of Fundy reveals the reef, off Joes Point Road, into which the British warship HMS Niger collided (closer to high tide) in 1866. Above us, a man-made canopy flaunts a Canadian beer, and above that an umbrella of maple leaves affords us ample shade.

Proprietor Dave Peterson, a Canadian Red Seal chef, and his pal Josh, who says he’s “just the cook,” are the two mainstays of the enterprise that launched in 2010. The two native New Brunswickians, who worked together at two other local establishments, are taking orders and preparing the Sunday Night Special: prime rib.

The guests inside the log-cabin-like structure lob sports trivia questions at each other as Dave and Josh attend to business.

A few minutes later, after a superb mini Caesar salad, her majesty and I adore the presentation of the main course: The beef is just juicy enough to soften the homemade mashed potatoes (peeled this afternoon). The sautéed pea pods and carrot sticks complement the main attraction, and the ensemble of red, white, green and orange are in perfect proportion.

The prime rib’s subtle, sublime seasoning and tender splendor, the chunky potatoes, the sturdy vegetables: They render me satisfied but not stuffed.

Dessert, dear tennis and royalty fans, is a modest portion of strawberries and cream to rival a royal breakfast at Wimbledon, and more tea, of course.