Wednesday, August 20, 2003

C'mon, Everyone's Doing It...You Know You Want to...

Mike Beltzner's getting hitched, now - to his lovely girlfriend, Dawn. Congratulations to you both! Follow the link to get an eyeful of the rock, if you're interested.

So, alright, who's next?

The past week has been a blur. Yet another hard drive died on me last week, so my computer was out of commission again. Fortunately, I caught it in time this time round, so I didn't lose anything major - only time and my patience. I've started a new contract, so I'm commuting to Gatineau (formerly Hull, QC) all over again. The work is difficult and new, so the learning curve is pretty steep. I'm slowly making my way through it, however - but adapting to the much longer commute? I'm going to need a lot more time for that.

Stacey and I just got back from a weekend in Montreal, where we caught the Radiohead show at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Friday night, and it was excellent, despite the flies that were plaguing singer Thom Yorke throughout the show. At one point, he was running back and forth across the stage shouting "Flies! Flies! Flies!" in a cartoonishly fiendish voice while flailing his arms. Come to think of it, he did that dance an awful lot during the rest of the show. At the time, I thought it was part of a new "cray-zee" epileptic-dancing stage persona (in response to the well-known flailing antics of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin). Or maybe that he was really, really into the music. But perhaps it was just his improvised anti-fly strategy? Hmmmm....

Radiohead played most of the new album and some gems from their older stuff. I was a little disappointed that they didn't play for as long as I had hoped (an hour and a half or so, including two encores), but I was elated that they played my all-time favourite Radiohead song, "Street Spirit". I wasn't expecting it at all, but boy, it made me happy. I could only muster a croak when the show was over, having blown out my voice roughly half-way through "Karma Police", but it was worth it.

We capped it off with a trip to La Ronde the next day, which was a lot of fun. Imagine Canada's Wonderland, except without all the Flintstones and english-speaking carnies and concession people. We spent the day riding roller coasters, eating junk food, and generally having a good time. Stacey conquered her fear of motion sickness with a ride on "Le Monstre". It was fitting in a way, to overcome her personal monsters on "Le Monstre". Wakka wakka! That joke seemed so much better at the time, trust me.

I don't know what's happened to my site stats thingy down below, but it appears to be AWOL. I can only hope that some day they'll come back. Come back, little site-stats, we miss you! My comments system has been a little haywire, too, so if you've been having trouble with it, reload once or twice. See it yet? No? Crappy. Seems like a long time since I've had more than one or two comments on a post.

Anyone else getting a little skitchy now that summer's on its way out? Time for great volumes of barbequing, Ultimate frisbee, kool-aid, and insect repellent, before it's too late!

Monday, August 11, 2003

Vacation 2003, Part 3: Of Canaba Day, Poorly-Timed Nightmares, and Lobster-Serving Biker Bars, etc.

Well, seeing as how this vacation thing was all over a month ago and life (often sadly, often stressfully) has marched on since then, I'm going to cut things short. But I promised it, and I'm a man of my word, so here's a (slightly) condensed version of the rest of the vacation story.

As planned, we came back to Ottawa for Canada Day, and that particular day has new meaning for us now. It was the last time we saw Michelle. We had plans to party it up at a parking-lot party in The Market, and Michelle joined us along with her boyfriend, Ryan, and Mr. Mike Blue-Jeans. It wasn't entirely her scene, and I'm pretty sure she didn't have a very good time, but she toughed it out for a while, like a trooper.

In retrospect, I'm thankful that we got to see her for another few brief hours, even though they weren't the most ideal circumstances. We parted ways at a skateboard ramp. But Stacey and I had spent the Canada Day the year before with her. I was Captain Canada, with paper flags lodged in my Molson Canadian visor and a cape made from a Canada Flag. She was wearing this big floppy cat-in-the-hat hat with a big maple leaf on the front of it. Just like me, she never seemed to mind just being herself and enjoying the little things like dressing up in goofy clothes and wearing them in public. I’m sad that we won't be able to spend another Canada Day together.

We finished up the day with a contradiction in terms: a Japanese Canada Day dinner at a new place, Wasabi, and the food was awesome. We hooked up with Mike, Chel, and their friends for a pint and the fireworks after. I wish I could have spent more time with them, too.

The next morning was a blur of packing. We finally got on the road around noon, meaning we didn't reach New Brunswick until well after dinnertime. Stacey came down with a terrible stomachache as we approached the border that kept her from eating. In hindsight, she believes that the stomach pain was a premonition of Michelle's death, which occurred a week later, also in New Brunswick. I suppose we'll never know for sure. But at this point, she thought it was something else entirely. She also had a nightmare the night before we left in which, at some point on our trip, we had a fatal car accident while I was driving. I didn't worry about it too much, and obviously I didn't need to. We arrived safe and sound.

The next day, we reached Stacey's father's cottage in sight of the Confederation Bridge to PEI. We spent a couple of days in the area, including a side trip to Moncton and the Hopewell Rocks (where the ocean has carved the cliffs into flower-pot shapes with trees on top and a gradually-eroding base) that boasts 10-foot tides. We timed it so that we could be there at low tide, thankfully. We also had dinner in probably the most deceptive restaurant in New Brunswick. On the outside, it looked like a friendly mini-mall-type family restaurant with a happy neon sign. On the inside, it was like the Ninth Ring of Biker Hell. The food was cold, tasteless and delivered slowly, but the beer was cold. No Keith’s, though. We ate and dashed, throwing fistfulls of pennies behind us to confuse the vengeful waitress who we (sort-of) stiffed on the tip. There are probably a hundred restaurants in Shediac, and we had to pick that one.

Near the cottage, I had my first dip in the ocean (cold, but excellent). We set off for PEI, drove the bridge (which is always kind of neat – a cement link across miles of open channel) and ended up in Cavendish for a day of shopping, Cows ice cream, beaches, and sub-par wax museums. Our motel that night was saddled up to Santa Claus' Woods (or whatever it's named), a creepy, low-rent theme park east of Cavendish. The motel was named, fittingly, the St. Nicholas Motel – I don't think it was a coincidence. At least it was cheap and the people were friendly. We ate at PEI's first and most famous lobster dinner joint and I gorged on a pound-and-a-halfer with a bucketful of mussels and a beer as an appetizer. Tasty.

The next day, we cruised some more of the PEI National Park, had another dip in the ocean (colder there, but just as excellent) and scurried to PEI's BEST campground, Red Point Provincial Park, for our first night of camping and an evening of beer and sandcastle-building. We had to backtrack a bit the next morning to a newly-opened section of the National Park, but it was worth it. It's called Greenwich, and it's one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Greenwich is unspoiled and new, and although it has many traces of human activity, it feels like it’s miles away from civilization, in a bubble all of its own. The trail we decided to take was about two hours long, and over that time, we went through a variety of different ecosystems. The trail starts across a re-claimed farmer's field, which is still dotted with foundations and some other old evidence of human occupation. As we crossed the fields, dragonflies buzzed us while we admired the wildflowers. Soon, the trail turned into a boreal-like forest, with plaques explaining the different kinds of plants and animals that live there. The boreal forest soon began to thin, becoming a coastal forest (with more plaques) and finally a zone of old sand dunes and lichen that was slowly being absorbed by the encroaching forest. Suddenly, the trees opened up to a vast expanse of freshwater marshland with a deep blue beaver pond and a floating boardwalk that spanned it. We watched the blackbirds for a while before proceeding across a pristine, untouched sand dune, twenty feet high or more. As we crested the ridge by way of a rope-stair that protected the dune, we got our first glimpse of one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, with barely a footprint on it. We ate an apple on the shore, watching the waves roll in and the seagulls play in the surf before heading back across the marsh towards the car. It was an incredible place; I'll never forget it. Not even poetry could come close to expressing Greenwich in words. Good poetry, even.

The rest of our stay on the Island included more camping, a horseback ride through a forest and across a beach, and a ton of craft shops and lighthouses. As we sailed away from PEI on the Wood Islands Ferry towards Nova Scotia, we realized how much we'd miss PEI and promised to return. We met up with my mom in Caribou and visited Pictou, where they have built an attraction out of the Hector, a re-creation of the first ship to carry Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia. In Pictou, I had Keith’s Honey Brown for the very first time. I decided it was delicious.

Skirting across the interior of the province, we made our way past a town called the Garden of Eden (which was a pretty pathetic excuse for paradise, if you ask me) to Sherbrooke, where we visited a preserved pioneer village. Been there, done that, you say? Well, at Sherbrooke, each of the original buildings of the early town have been maintained on their original foundations. I finished the day with a cold beer or two around the campfire after another lobster dinner.

In Halifax Harbour, we took a trip to McNabs Island, which really was a historian's paradise. The island is no longer inhabited but was once the lynchpin of Halifax's harbour defense system and a thriving vacation spot for Halifax's elite. Now all that remains is ruins, rusted out piers, cart tracks, cemeteries, and the remains of fortifications, but the sheer volume of historical sites that are accessible within a short walk is staggering. In one day, we visited four forts that I have never visited before, and each of them is unique and interesting in its own way, spanning a century of military development on the island. Mom and Stacey delighted in watching me run across ramparts, taking a look at rusty cannons and cement bunkers, and disappearing into gun emplacements and subterranean casemates. And (under extreme duress) I had fun, too. It was tiring work, though, including over 10 km of hiking in the better part of a morning and afternoon. We camped that night near Peggy's Cove and took some pictures of the famous lighthouse at sunset. I had beer.

In Halifax the next day, we walked around the harbour front, caught a ride on the Harbour Hopper (one of those amphibious bus things), and checked out the Maritime Museum. At lunch I had my second and final serving of Keith’s Honey Brown, which I subsequently decided was just about the tastiest beer ever. And it’s available only in Nova Scotia. Bastards! We got caught out in a flash rainstorm before heading out of town towards Lunenburg, really the only major rain we had the whole trip. It was on this day that our friend Michelle passed away.

We attended a massive family reunion in Lunenburg (organized by Stacey’s dad) where descendants, including Stacey and her father, of the original founding families of Lunenburg were gathering to celebrate the town's 250th Anniversary. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was originally built by Stacey's ancestor, Andreas Jung, in the 1700s. It is a truly interesting place, the oldest preserved wooden inn that is still operating in Canada (with a historical plaque to prove it). Staying in the room was like staying overnight at a pioneer village. Unfortunately, the tavern-portion of the inn had closed long ago. But they had cereal!

We attended reunion events, took a bus tour of the area, saw where Stacey’s grandparents and great-grandparents once lived and where her father spent many of the happy times in his childhood. There was more Keith’s IPA, but sadly, no Honey Brown. We also attended the unveiling of a new memorial plaque on Bunker Hill that had, among many, many others, the name “JUNG” carved into the stone. I’m sure it was a special moment for Stacey. Someone stopped me at “LIMM–“ in my failed attempt to scratch my own name in at the bottom of the list.

On the way back home, we stopped overnight at the cottage again and walked for a while along the shore. It was sad to say goodbye to the ocean again, but I promised I’d be back again soon. The ocean didn’t acknowledge my words, but I know it cares. The wasps that had built a nest under the eaves of the cottage sure didn’t care though. Just after packing up the car, one of the little buggers stung me on the top of my ear and it puffed up the size of a golf ball.

The long drive home was…long. Very, very long. From the cottage back to Ottawa it was about 14 hours solid. And yet, once again, arrived back safe and sound, happy to be back to a comfortable bed and unhappy that the ocean was thousands of miles away, once again.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Goodbye Michelle
Written by Stacey Young

On July 11, 2003, my best friend Michelle Gringler died of a massive heart attack. She was 26. There was no warning, no pre-condition, no hint that anything was wrong. Thankfully, she didn’t suffer as the blood clot that caused the heart attack reached the heart almost as quickly as it was formed.

Andrew and I learned of this horrific news this past week. As all of you can imagine, this news has destroyed the both of us. For a number of reasons, we learned of the news long after her funeral took place. But to help me gain some “closure”, Andrew has allowed me pay homage to my best friend through his blog. For this, I am eternally grateful. His support and friendship throughout this recent time has been immeasurably helpful.

I met Michelle my first week of university almost 9 years ago where we hit it off immediately. Michelle was born and raised in Toronto but decided to study Criminology and Psychology at the University of Ottawa. And to this day, I’m glad she did…

Michelle and I spent many a sleepless nights studying for exams, partying, talking, playing cards, and even working on a government contract together. She was strong-willed, fiesty, compassionate, and absolutely brilliant (she won more academic achievements than every friend I have combined…and that’s saying ALOT).

She was always the one I called when I needed a shoulder to cry on, or when I had great news to share. She was the one friend that helped me the most through my depression and frequent panic attacks. She was the one friend I could always trust, no matter what.

She was also the friend who put me up for a summer in Toronto, where we lived with her loving parents Rosie and Tom and her wonderful boyfriend Ryan. That summer was filled with many “firsts” (including my first time living away from home) and even more happy memories.

I can’t even imagine the pain and suffering Michelle’s family have gone through. To them, I wish to extend my utmost sympathies.

For my birthday earlier this year, Michelle gave me a box of “calming” candles. Andrew and I burned one of these candles the night we heard the news. This symbolic action really had an impact on us both. To continue to commemorate her life, we will burn a candle in her honour on every special occasion. That way, she will always be with us.

Thank you Michelle for being the woman you were. You have made me a stronger person, and touched my soul in ways that you can’t imagine. I will never forget all of the advice that you have given me over the years. More importantly, I will never forget your beautiful smile, love for life, and perfect friendship.

Until we meet again, know that I will always love you…

Friday, August 01, 2003

A Pause

Part 3 of the vacation story (which now seems like it was a long time ago) is still on the way, stay tuned. This week has been an eventful one, to say the least, with some good news and some bad.

I'd like to take a moment to congratulate my friends Andrea Poole and David Cheung on their recent engagement! As far as I know, theirs will be the FIRST all-Golden Words wedding, where both the bride and groom are former staffers. Dave joined the paper one week later than me back in 1996, and since we were on the same floor of the residence as well, we grew to be close friends. Andrea joined a fair bit later, but it didn't take long for the two of us, a pair of cartoonists with a penchant for violent humour, to become fast friends as well. And the next thing I knew, two of my closest friends at the school were dating. And now look! I couldn't be happier for the two of you. Congratulations! I can't wait for the Matrix-themed wedding, you guys. I've got my trenchcoat all picked out and ready to go.

My girlfriend Stacey has an entry she'd like to make of a personal nature (her first ever on this blog). I've been encouraging her to write it for a few days now and she promises that she'll work on it this weekend. I will post it as soon as it is ready.

In the meantime, it's a party weekend. Go out and enjoy three-straight uninterrupted days of summer!