Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bumps On The Way To A Day Fit For Heroes

OLD WOMAN BEACH, ON LAKE SUPERIOR — You have to have one of these days when you are on the road — a day where every turn has a new mishap where you know someone — or something — is out there waiting for you.

We departed Winnipeg following our host Terry MacLeod's directions. As we left, I was thinking how much fun it was this week to co-host with Terry on local “unlocked” radio Radio Free Winnipeg on CKUM-FM and to do an interview with my old pal Robert Enright and to be interviewed, in my turn, by host Terry MacLeod. Terry is a real pro and thanks to him, we did a great hour of radio. The plum of my morning was interviewing Robert Enright, erudite über-man of the arts and newly invested into the Order of Canada.

On the way out of town: more radio. I was to do a phone interview with CFRC radio, the campus station at my alma mater, Queen’s University. For an hour last week, locked out Guild on-air people, including Bernie MacNamee, Mary Lou Finlay and Keith Boag, were given the run of the place.

We pulled over to fill up with gas just before the interview. My plan was to stay in the van while I spoke on the phone. But Sue told us about people on their cell phones being blown up while topping up their tanks. So, I walked away from the pumps and stood behind a Pizza Pizza restaurant before connecting with CFRC.

So much for the glamour of show business.

After batting down a playful suggestion during my interview with Alan Neal that we re-name The Caravan Unlocked to The Love Shack (not going to happen) we got down to business. I shared my impressions of the trip so far. I told him almost everyone I spoke to wants the CBC back – and wants to see the service protected into the future.

Afterwards, it was back on the road and then a crossing into Ontario. It’s amazing how the trees and rock begin right at the border.

Another thing that commences with the border is a 90kmh speed limit.

So, there we were, marvelling at the trees as if we'd never seen one before and, suddenly, there was a police car right behind me. With all the lights going!

I pulled over, got out of the Caravan and went up to the constable in his police cruiser (not correct protocol, I now understand). I leaned into his open window and said right up front I must have done something terribly wrong.

“Indeed,” he said kindly.

The only other person I know who says “indeed” is my other favourite Enright, Michael.

It turns out I had been going 75 in a 60 kmh zone. I really hadn't seen the 60 sign. Honest!

Following my brush with the law, we had a long drive ahead of us because we were planning to reach Thunder Bay that evening. So, we set the cruise control and spent most of the drive with big trucks inhaling our exhaust.

Just outside of Thunder Bay the van hit its first mammal!

It was a raccoon. It was an awful feeling. But we know we are lucky that after more than 2,000 kms that there haven't been others.

We pulled into a Chinese restaurant, about the eighth on the trip so far. It was freezing and it felt like we were extras on the set of The Big Sleep. So, we moved down the road to another that is more brightly lit. Great vegetables and wonton soup. We now felt ready to suss out accommodation.

A number of hotel and motel chains came highly recommended by our CBC Thunder Bay colleagues…but they were way too expensive for our locked out wallets.

I espied a motel that looked perfect: the lobby had moose antlers and stuffed walleye mounted on the walls. We agreed to two separate rooms and the bill was around $100, whereas the chains were offering us three rooms at $100 each.

Natasha and Sue said they would share one and I went to the second. It was right next door to another room with a smashed-in window. My room also had a window onto the parking lot that wouldn't close. The bedspread looked as though Brylcreem has been used to smooth out the wrinkles…kind of shiny and greasy.

I felt vulnerable, even though I am Big Shelagh from the Ottawa Valley. I knocked on Natasha and Sue's door and slunk in with my sleeping bag. I spread it out on the cigarette-burned sheets of a spare bed.

Next morning, after hearing the people upstairs breathing in the air of what turned out to be a smoking-room, we called our Thunder Bay contact Gerald Graham, afternoon show host.

We told him where to meet us and he said, "Oh, that flea-bag motel!"

Great. And all of a sudden I felt very itchy. All over.

Later that same morning…

Gerald, who sounds like Alan Alda and looks like Clint Eastwood crossed with the playwright Norm Foster, took us to the Finnish section of town for breakfast with seven of the Thunder Bay CBC crew…about half of the workforce here.

We got to the restaurant and things were definitely looking up. We had Finnish pancakes — thin and crepe-y, with blueberry sauce.

Our colleagues there were wonderful and helped me make a wonderful podcast. I know I have said this time and time again across the country. But once more I felt proud to work with such intelligent, compassionate and committed people. And they're fun, too.

They went off to the rest of their Saturday and Gerald guided us to the Terry Fox Monument.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Terry Fox runs and, of course, it was in Thunder Bay that Terry had to stop his Marathon of Hope. It is moving to be at Terry's monument this particular weekend.

What a legacy…and what proof of one individual believing in something and having the perseverance to carry it out.

According to CBC TV last fall, Terry was the Greatest Canadian after Tommy Douglas. Yes, he really does belong in our Pantheon.

Our goal tonight is Sault Ste. Marie and we stop here at the azure waters of Old Woman Beach on Lake Superior, for a swim. It is a long strip of sandy beach that backs on to stands of pine trees.

Glenn Gould used to drive his big old Ford LTD up to this beach just to stare out at the water. Terry Fox ran right by here on his marathon.

The trees are just starting to turn, the late afternoon sun is strong and the air is warm.

It is a day made for heroes.

- Shelagh

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Blogger Allan Haley said...

Hi Shelagh,

I just found your blog today and am glad to see your still out there finding and sharing Canadian stories.

I spent this summer on a First Nation reserve north of Thunder Bay and returned to Sudbury on August 11th, I have been without the CBC radio since mid June and I miss you guys. The CBC radio has been a big part my everyday life since I moved to Northern Ontario three years ago.

This past weekend during the Terry Fox hullabaloo I kept thinking of your show this spring to commemorate the start of his run. that day, I was driving from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie; while you spoke of his journey west, I couldn't help myself scanning the shoulder of the road for Terry's footprints. The touching stories that were shared that day seemed more so because I was witnessing a portion of his journey and got a true sense of the incredible distance that he covered.

I'm proud of the CBC employees who have found ways to keep doing their jobs. You are all great story tellers and do a great job of informing and representing Canadians. Keep up the good work.

3:06 PM  

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