Republic of One

The personal blog of Colin Brandt, Ukrainian Organic Mic Mechanic

Category Archives: Calgary

Sympathy for the derpvil.

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.


Nose Hill is a deathtrap. Have you met a deer? Chuck Norris could have a baby with a Tomahawk Cruise Missile and it would be less deadly.

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.

The gang with Marivi, Dustin liked her so much I think he started calling her “Mom”.

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.

My three things for Calgary.

New Years’ resolutions are horrible. Not only does it make the gym unbelievably busy for a month until everyone falls off the wagon and starts taking baths in bacon fat again, you end up unconsciously assessing yourself every time someone asks you what your resolutions are. This leads to the sort of introspection that is dangerous; I’m never very sure I want to actually know what I think of myself and what needs to change. It’s a bit like that moment in The Ring when the lady opens up the closet door and oh my God I’m freaking out just thinking about it.

After feeling like a walking disasterpiece for most of the last two years, watching my self-regard slide downward in rough parallel with my weight and anxiety spiralling upward, I’ve decided to make a number of changes to how I’ve been living my life. It really began with a change in job – as of November 1 I’ve been the Web Communications Officer for Mount Royal University, escaping the vortex of PwC and moving into an environment and role much better suited to my skills and temperament. Finally leaving PwC gave me some perspective and helped me see where my day-to-day and long-term priorities had really stopped reflecting the things that mattered to me. I’ve been extremely lucky to have an incredibly supportive wife who is as eager to see me move forward as I am.

Among my 1600 goals for 2012 (consistent trips to the gym, completing my outstanding course work, cutting down on drinkingHAHAHAHAWHOAMIKIDDING), I’m focused on rekindling my passion for public life. To keep me happy, stimulated and fulfilled, my world can’t just be work, family, friends and Meak. Part of that energy that I have needs to be devoted to the world at large – to politics and policy.

For someone who spends a significant portion of his day scouring Google Reader for news on Canadian politics and trying to cram as much policy wonkitude and information into my face-hole as I can manage, I’ve become increasingly disaffected with actually doing anything when it comes to public life. Since the volunteering for the Liberal Party during the pray-for-death results of the 2006 Federal Election (in which I stood out in -25°c weather getting spat on by engineers for a piece of legislation that was passed before I was born), I have been essentially hiding underneath the bed when it has come to politics in Canada. Living in a Tory-blue province like Alberta, watching the Liberal Party go through a revolving door of leaders and generally feeling like Canada has become a slowly-deflating hot air balloon of recycled American legislation and head-in-the-sand back-patting hasn’t helped.

However, just like in a clichéd Hollywood film, just when all hope is lost – a new hope emerges. In this case, Calgary’s Luke Skywalker has been a purple-clad Mount Royal professor-turned-Twitter-machine-turned-Mayor, Naheed Nenshi. Early on, Nenshi’s brand of pragmatism coupled with refreshing honesty was attractive, and his ideas for a better Calgary were compelling. I love my home town, and despite its countless horrors and near-sighted obeisance to new home development, there are real, manageable things to do that can make the city (and world) a better place.

For this year, I’ve decided to start small. In many ways, the ways that Canadians interact with their government isn’t at the Federal level – it’s at the provincial and municipal. As a PoliSci nerd, it has been easy for me to think that what matters is the big, global stage, the clash of world powers, the grand narratives of nations, but for most citizens government is about roads and schools, parks and hospitals. In many ways it is the Polis, the city-state, that dictates and potentially enriches the lives of citizens.

The Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee apparently thinks so, too. They’ve launched an initiative called 3 Things for Calgary, where every citizen is encouraged to:

  1. Think about 3 Things you can do to make Calgary better. These things could be for your street, your neighbourhood or for the entire city.
  2. Do those 3 Things.
  3. Encourage 3 more people to do the same.

So this year, I’m doing my 3 things. More than anything, I want to use these things to get me out of the house, to build a better community and know that I’m contributing in a meaningful way to the lives of my fellow Calgarians.

  1. Join my local community association. Already done. The Parkdale Community Association’s executive had a hole, and they’ve been kind enough to give me a shot at filling it. Say hello to the Director – Communications for the PCA, whose responsibilities include, but are not limited to, editorial oversight on the community newsletter, establishing and maintaining a web presence for the PCA to help articulate and deliver our services to the community and acting as the mouthpiece during our ongoing dispute with a tenant who seems to believe that they have the right in perpetuity to a portion of the community association without having to pay for it.
  2. Engage in Calgary’s local cultural scene. I love going to live shows, readings, plays and other events in this city. Committing to do this more is an easy sell for me, since it puts me in contact with things and people I enjoy and this year Calgary is the Cultural Capital of Canada. If there was ever a time for me to get involved and check new things out, it’s going to be this year. Also, Sled Island is being co-curated by Andrew Fucking W.K. I’m taking the whole four days off to PARTY HARD. 
  3. Write more. Here. About Calgary. I love my blog. I think about it all the time, about what I should write about, and then I get frozen in terror that I’m going to write something dumb or too long or embarrassing and I end up doing nothing. This is unacceptable. So now I’ll write about whatever, but especially about Calgary. About the things I care about in the city, about the cool stuff I see or want people to know about. Resatarunt reviews, plays, stupid photos, whatever. It’s going on here.

Anyhoo, that’s the dream – the vision. I sure hope it works out. We’ll see.

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