Saturday, May 19, 2012

Past Deadline: And Then this Knight Rode By...

I was sitting in my in-laws’ living room on Mother’s Day. The kids had wandered into the back yard and Groom-boy was telling us a story I had already heard, so my mind and gaze were wandering.

They have a big front window facing a busy street. In my defence, it’s easy to be distracted by people walking by. Or shiny things. Or flashing lights. (Okay…so I am easily distracted.)

On this day, however, I spied a horse. With a knight on top.

I burst out of my chair. “It’s Sir Lovesalot!” I shouted, flying from the room, possibly causing minor heart attacks of surprise. What is that strange woman babbling about now?

I ran to the back door and yelled for the kids. “Sir Lovesalot just went down the street!” I called. They immediately sprinted for the driveway while I scrambled for my shoes.

We had seen “Sir Lovesalot” on the news when he visited Ottawa last week, and Girlchild’s class had talked about him at school. His name is Vincent Gabriel Kirouac and his horse is Coeur-de-Lion (Lionheart), and he embarked upon a quest to cross Canada about six weeks ago, setting out from Riviere-du-Loup on the south shore of the St. Lawrence and heading west.

His goal? To be a medieval role model in love and honour – a modern-day knight.

By the time I got to the end of the driveway, the kids were gazing southward. Sir Lovesalot and his trusty steed had gained about a block on us, so we set out at a trot. Certain appendages did not appreciate this, but I digress.

Fortunately, Sir Lovesalot and Coeur-de-Lion stopped to talk to some people in a mini-van, so we managed to catch up.

While I petted Coeur-de-Lion’s soft nose and the kids gazed up at the knight in his shiny armour and bejewelled helmet, we chatted about his journey.

Then he noticed my sweatshirt.

“Do you work at Lee Valley Tools?” he asked.

I explained that my husband does. He pointed to the lion-head hardware on his horse’s bridle – from Lee Valley Tools, of course.

We had a lovely visit. He remarked on our beautiful town and its heritage buildings – he said he liked it so much he might return. I mentioned our Algonquin College campus and that the heritage trades students I teach study these buildings.

I took a picture of him and Coeur-de-Lion with the kids. Then he continued on his way along Drummond Street, headed for a farm on the Scotch Line where he was being put up for the night.

When we got home I did some online searching to learn a little more about Sir Lovesalot. He is described as a “knight-errant,” or a fellow who roves the land seeking adventures to show love and devotion.

Think Knights of the Round Table – Sir Lancelot, et. al. Naturally, music from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is Required Viewing for Life in my world, started to course through my head. Happily, although Sir Lovesalot has a lovely French-Canadian accent, he did not declare that my mother is a hamster and my father smells of elderberries. Nor did he proceed on his journey by banging two coconut husks together. He has a real horse.

I learned later he spent lots of time exploring Perth and stopped to pay homage to our own Big Ben at the commemorative statue at Stewart Park.

Vincent is travelling across Canada on horseback dressed as a knight “to remind people of the values of long ago, such as devotion,” he says.

He is taking rural backroads as much as possible and is counting on the kindness of strangers to help him with rest and food along the way. When his mare shows signs of fatigue, he walks beside her. He was inspired by his faith to take this quest.

And he certainly attracts attention! In our brief encounter, several cars, cyclists and pedestrians stopped to chat.

Godspeed, Sir Lovesalot and Coeur-de-Lion. I think it’s safe to say you’re already spreading smiles across the land. Good luck on your quest!

Published in The Perth Courier, May 17/12

Past Deadline: The Golden Appendage

I have never known my parents’ house to be dog-less. If it ever was, it was only for a very short interim between pets.

Even before I can remember, there are pictures of me with dogs. Gosh, I was cute. I mean gosh, we had some nice dogs.

When I was really young there was Tinker the Toy poodle and Chan the Pekingese, followed by Chan II, another Peke. (Pekes are awesome with their bulging eyes and jeep-grill faces and big pom-pom tails.) The last Chan eventually became known as Darth Vader due to his raspy breathing when he got very old.

In the ’90s my parents upsized and brought home a big, beautiful mixed breed named Boots. She was one cool girl. She looked like a wolf and was part Chesapeake retriever.

Then, after Boots and not long before my eldest was born, came Abby.

Abby was a Golden retriever with a lovely disposition. Not that I’ve ever encountered a nasty Golden, but I suppose it could happen. Abby always seemed to be smiling and she was ever eager to play.

My parents were devoted to Abby, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she was a bit spoiled. I used to joke she was treated better than we kids were. She was their baby.

Abby and Boychild grew up together and were buds. When Girlchild came along, they became pals, too. Abby was great with kids.

Really, though, Abby was best known as my dad’s extra appendage. Let’s call her the Golden appendage. They were joined at the hip.

This was blatantly evident to many in town. My dad began a regular walking program in the mid-’90s, and once Abby got old enough, she joined him faithfully as they trekked a daily route several kilometres across town and back.

Everyone recognized my dad and Abby. Sometimes his walk would take a couple of hours thanks to the multitude of stops required for socializing. School kids would want to visit Abby, and there were many people along the route who looked out for them every day. A few people even packed treats in their pockets in case they happened to see the duo on their travels. (The treats were for Abby, not my dad.)

And then, last summer, Abby wasn’t quite herself. After a visit to the vet, she was diagnosed with cancer, and nothing could be done. She wasn’t able to go on the long walks anymore and all her friends along the route missed her.

When she passed away in September, my parents were devastated, and so were all the people who had become accustomed to seeing my dad and his faithful companion with the big brown eyes.

My parents maintained Abby was their last dog. There would be no more. “It is too hard when a pet dies,” they said.

It’s true. The loss of a pet is heartbreaking. They are so trusting and faithful and they never talk back or disagree (which might be why they get treated better than the kids).

Still, as my parents proclaimed Abby was their last, we merely nodded and said, “Uh huh.” We’d heard it before, and it was hard to imagine no dog in my parents’ house.

Besides, I never got used to seeing my dad walking without his Golden appendage. I can’t count how many people have asked me, and still ask, about Abby.

Sure enough, at Christmas, Mom and Dad announced there would be a new baby in the house. The puppies would be born in March, and they would receive their new Golden in May.

“Ah hah!” we all said.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, there have been updates and photos and many preparations for the new baby. I stopped short of planning a shower.

And so, on the weekend, Bailey came home. He is a lovely blond boy who has taken to the kids in a heartbeat.

All seems right with the world again, and before too long I’m certain Dad and his Golden appendage will be spreading smiles across town, just like before.

Welcome, Bailey!

Published in The Perth Courier, May 10/12

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Past Deadline: Dearth 'Vator

Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it.

As I mentioned last week, I was at a conference recently. Nice hotel – confusing literature.

Anyway, the hotel has close to 500 rooms on 24 floors. It caters to executive meetings, conferences and weddings, all of which are served by four elevators. One was out of service.

I don’t know how things are when all four elevators are operational, but during my stay it was busy. There was at least one other conference at the same time as ours.

I guessed early on I would be spending a goodly amount of time waiting. When I arrived the lobby was hopping, and there was a nice uniformed fellow chatting with the guests while we waited for the dearth of ’vators.

I’m not sure if they always have someone on button duty; he may have been there to appease guests. We chatted, and as I stepped onto the elevator he gave me his manager’s card “in case I had any trouble.”

Hm. That can’t be good, can it?

There was still time to get my registration package before the welcoming event, so I spent only a few minutes in my room on the 12th floor before returning to the elevators. A crowd was gathering.

Two minutes passed. Five. Seven. And when a ’vator finally did arrive, we packed in like sardines.

“Oooh, my husband would not like this at all,” I commented to my very close companions as we stopped at every floor on the way down. Groom-boy is a tad claustrophobic.

Despite leaving in good time, I managed to arrive just as the registration desk was closing.

This elevator initiation taught me right off the bat to plan ahead. If I had to be at a certain place by a certain time, I knew that leaving 15 or 20 minutes early would get me there. And we’re talking about meetings within the hotel.

I also learned that once I was down in the meeting area, I should probably avoid returning to my room until the end of the day so as to not miss anything.

The elevators became a bit of a discussion point amongst the conference attendees. Several of us learned, after waiting and waiting only to be greeted by full elevators again and again, that one strategy was to get on any elevator that had room, even if it was going the wrong way. Sometimes riding all the way to the top floor before descending to our meetings was faster than waiting just to go down – at least from the 12th-floor starting point.

There was lots of information sharing amongst the conference attendees about the situation. We heard all kinds of stories about wait times. We alerted others to the service elevators, which we were allowed to use during certain “peak” times.

I thought about taking the stairs several times, at least going down, even though I have a wonky foot. Others had tried this, though, and discovered they couldn’t always gain access to some floors once in the stairwells. There were signs indicating alarms would ring if exit doors were pushed, so I opted to avoid this scenario.

Ironically, once one did gain access to an elevator, there were advertisements on the doors that you could borrow running shoes and go for a run. I wonder if they meant to run the stairs?

I’m not nervous about elevators, but I did find these ones to be a hair-curling experience. That’s because we were often packed in nice and tight, which made things humid. I have naturally curly hair, so I’d emerge curlier than I was when I left my room. This wasn’t my goal.

The whole thing gave us a good chance to meet people and make friends, though. On one excursion I met a couple who knew a family who lived on my street here in Perth when I was growing up. We exchanged cards and had lots of time to chat while we waited. And waited. And waited.

See? The dearth of ’vators was actually quite a nice social experience. That’s rolling with it.

Published in The Perth Courier, May 3/12

Past Deadline: First-World Problems

I had the opportunity to attend a conference recently.

I love conferences. You get to learn lots and meet people. Someone else feeds you and does the dishes, and no cats wake you up in the night.

I love that staying in a hotel means I actually have a hope of keeping things tidy. There is no clutter. And even though you keep things neat, someone still comes in and makes the bed and cleans up. Bliss!

Like many hotels, this one had information about how you could do your part for the environment and not have your sheets and towels laundered every day.

The instruction was that if you hung their green choice card on your door before 2 a.m., you would be declining housekeeping for the next day and would get a discount voucher for food at the hotel restaurant. I wouldn’t need the voucher because meals were part of the conference, but with Earth Day just around the corner I wanted to do my part anyway.

If you wanted clean linens, you were to place the card on your bed, and towels that needed to be laundered should go on the floor.

So I merrily hung the card on my door that night and found the voucher under my door in the morning. I set off to make friends and learn things all day.

When I returned late afternoon, nothing had been touched in the room. The bed was unmade.

“Hm,” I muttered. I guess when they say “decline housekeeping” they mean everything.

That night I did not put the card on my door. For one thing, it is a thrill to have someone else make my bed, but also I was vying for refills of the in-room coffee. And emptying the garbage pails would be nice, too. I’m not asking for the world, here. It’s a hotel. One pays for these things.

The next morning, I was alarmed to see another voucher under the door, even though the card was on the table. As I left for my day of meetings, one of the housekeepers was in the hall.

I asked her if someone would be coming into my room and explained I had not actually hung out the card. “You’re not on the list,” she said. She must have assumed I was a giant scam artist, collecting $5 vouchers for the hotel restaurant that I would never use. I managed to snag some coffee filters from her at least.

Sure enough, when I returned late in the afternoon the bed wasn’t made and the garbage remained. Then, to my horror, I realized I had run out of sugar and whiteners to go with the coffee I had snagged.

The inhumanity of it all!

I decided I would stop by the front desk after dinner to get some condiments and to ask for clarification. I’m in communications, after all. I like to understand what the words mean.

At dinner I regaled some lovely new acquaintances with my tale of woe. Most hadn’t bothered with the card. No one had been abandoned like me.

“Maybe if you do it the first night they assume you mean every night,” someone suggested. Good thing I wasn’t staying for two weeks!

We had a good laugh about my horrific first-world problem.

At one point during the dinner program, one of my new friends disappeared and she returned with coffee filters and a package of sugars and whiteners from her room. I was saved!

It’s good to make friends at conferences!

That night I didn’t hang my card on the door because I was leaving the next day around noon and the green choice deal wasn’t applicable on the day of departure anyway. When I returned for my luggage, the bed was made, the bathroom cleaned, the garbages emptied....sigh. They had replenished the coffee supplies and left whatever I hadn’t used. They obviously figured I would be returning.

I just don’t get it.

One of my colleagues didn’t bother to read the green choice card and her housekeeping experience was flawless. Note to self: ignorance really can be bliss!

Published in The Perth Courier, April 26/12