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Fireworks, Eh!?


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The weather didn’t look very promising.  Canada Day, our national holiday, had begun warm and sunny, but at 5:00 PM, clouds started rolling in.  Soon it was raining. 

The weather app on my smartphone initially said that there would be rain in the early hours of the evening, but it would clear up by 11:00 PM – which was when the giant, city-organized fireworks display was scheduled to begin.  Heather and I wanted to go to see the fireworks, up close, but would the rain hold off?  When I checked my smartphone at 9:00 PM, it said there was now a 60% chance of a thunderstorm.

We decided to take a chance.  I went down to the locker and got out a folding chair so that Heather, with her bad knees and hips, could be seated to watch the fireworks.  And I got out two rain ponchos, and two umbrellas.  At 10:00 PM, we set out with all this gear, and were soon on board the free shuttle bus that would take us to The Forks, which was where the official Canada Day fireworks display would take place.

The Forks is Winnipeg’s outdoor park and concert venue, located at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers – a meeting place for Indigenous people, long before European settlers arrived.  It has been developed into a popular meeting place and tourist attraction for the modern era. 

Rain fell in a light drizzle as we got on the bus, but a few minutes into the drive, raindrops got larger and more numerous.  From our seat we watched nervously as the bus windshield wipers began to work rapidly.

“What do you think?” I said to my beloved, “Should we just stay on the bus and go back home?  Or should we get off, and if the rain keeps up, just get on the next shuttle?”  The shuttles had been announced to run every ten minutes, and their route was a continuous loop, so we could wait at the stop where we disembarked, and the next bus along would take us home.

Our home is at the far end of the bus route, and we had been almost the first people to get on.  But soon the thing was crammed, with standing-room only, including several people with toddlers in baby strollers.  Rain or no rain, a crowd was going to see the fireworks at The Forks

As it neared its destination, the bus slowed to a crawl, caught in a traffic jam.  I suspect that many people thought they could come down to The Forks by car... but it turned out that police had blocked the entry to the entire fireworks area.  Our bus was allowed in, but all the other vehicles had to figure out what to do, hence the traffic jam.

The bus came to a stop, and the crowd disembarked.  I grabbed the folding chair and got off with Heather, only to find that the rain was really heavy.  We hurriedly put on ponchos and opened our umbrellas.  The bus pulled away.  A man, dripping wet, walked by us muttering, “Fireworks are cancelled.”

Oh.

We hadn’t gone far from the bus stop, so we just turned around, and went back to it.  A crowd soon gathered there beside us, clearly with the same plan that we had – to get on the next bus.  Many of these people were in shorts and sleeveless tops – clearly having been at The Forks during the heat of the day.  But it was not only raining, now, it was getting chilly.  Heather invited some shivering, dripping women to join us under our umbrellas.  The closeness of this little group actually shared a bit of warmth.

But ten minutes passed, and the next shuttle bus didn’t come.

Meanwhile a short, middle-aged woman had inserted herself into the group under our umbrellas.  She was not happy.  She explained to her general surroundings that a person at some desk had assured her that the bus would stop “by the statue of Mahatma Ghandi” but there was no bus stop there.  “And,” she moaned, “the bus is supposed to come every ten minutes, but where is it!?”

At least twenty minutes had passed since we had disembarked our bus, so surely the next one was due at any moment!

Correct though she might be about the inexplicable lateness of the bus, this woman’s litany of sorrow was simply continuous.  Bad knees, aches, pains, and innumerable indignities were all detailed at length for the benefit of anyone in her vicinity!  At one point, she got out her phone and called the Winnipeg information line, and complained to them, at high volume, about the missing bus.

I shall call her “Grumblypants.”

Another woman, who had joined us under our umbrella, was quite the opposite: cheerful and friendly and positive.  She had been at The Forks most of the day, and, now that it had become dark and damp and chill, was definitely underdressed.  She was from a small town, far from Winnipeg, but staying, for Canada Day, at her adult daughters’ apartment, which turned out to be in the building next door to our place.  This pleasant woman’s name, we later learned, is “Cathy.”

We were standing by the road through which the bus would exit the park.  It was also an entry road, and we could see, over on Main Street, the flashing lights of police cars blocking access.  Suddenly, with a great wail of sirens, a fire truck came roaring in, past the blockade.  Then a second one.  And a third.  And then the Fire Marshal, in a large van.  All of them blaring sirens at such high volume that I tried to cover my ears.  Which was difficult, since one hand was holding an umbrella over our little group of women.

What was happening!??  There was no information.

More time passed, and still the bus didn’t come.  But the rain had also stopped.  Several people in the crowd began so wonder, out loud, “if they start the fireworks after all, and a bus comes, should we get on?”

Shortly after 11:00 PM, the sky lit up with fireworks.

It was spectacular.  The crowds all around – and it turned out that very few had left due to the supposed cancellation – began to clap and cheer and whistle with each new and fantastic overhead burst.  Having put down my umbrella, I was able to take out my phone and record a video of some of the display.  Others did the same.  Even Grumblypants stopped her griping and began to record the show on her phone!

It was breathtaking, and fun, and Heather – who loves fireworks – was happy.

Eventually it was over, and crowds began to disperse.  The fire trucks drove away, too.

The large group of people waiting with us at the bus stop began to get restless.  Would the bus ever come?  When Grumblypants had a city operator on the phone, she was assured that we were at the right place.  And, although it was a regular city bus stop for several scheduled routes, there was also a simple sign, attached by wire to the pole, saying “Canada Day Shuttle Bus,” and it included a route map.

Heather began looking at that map more closely, and discovered that there was a light-coloured arrow on it, which, when we read the key, indicated that after 10:30 PM, the bus would not come to this stop, but stay outside The Forks area altogether, on Main Street.  The busses had probably been coming at ten minute intervals, as specified, all that time that we waited, except they were not coming to the stop where we were!

In fact, I think that the crowd of people waiting at the bus stop with us – since we were there first, having taken our place almost immediately after being dropped off – had assumed that we knew what we were doing, and were following our lead!

So, we explained to them all what we had just deciphered, on the little map, and everyone proceeded to walk away, towards Main Street.

But, we did have cause to worry, since the official time for the shuttle to quit operating was midnight, and time was flying.  The place where we now supposed we would catch the bus was also at least five minutes of quick-step march away – longer, for people like Heather, whose normal walk is slow at the best of times.

We set out.  Heather walking with friendly Cathy – to whom she had given her rain poncho for warmth – and me, walking with Grumblypants.

Grumblypants had not stopped her various laments, and now she added a new one: she needed a washroom!

Just ahead of us, as we approached Main Street, there is a trendy “Earl’s” restaurant.  Grumblypants decided to go in there and use their washrooms.  She had said, many times, how afraid she was to go about in the inner city alone, so I offered to wait for her outside the restaurant and then accompany her to the bus stop.

Heather and Cathy had fallen somewhat behind, so I went to them, told them where Grumblypants had gone, and said, “Keep going – that way, across Main and to your right towards St. Mary.  I’ll catch up with you, when she’s done.”  So, off they went.  Crowds were exiting The Forks in such numbers that I thought nothing of sending the two women unaccompanied the length of that city block.  Besides, Grumblypants and I could walk quickly, and would soon catch up.

Except that Grumblypants did not emerge from the restaurant.  Time passed.  And more time.  Eventually, I went up to the door, where I found a notice posted, that forbade the public from using the restaurant’s washrooms.  Did Grumblypants go elsewhere?  But if so, where?

I went inside, just in case.  The woman who seats patrons confirmed that non-customers would not have gone to the washroom, so I left, deciding that I should just go and catch up with Heather and Cathy.  For all I knew, the last bus of the day would get to the stop at any moment.

I was just about to start running when a voice behind me said, “There you are!”  It was Grumblypants.

I was now treated to the story of how much trouble it was to sneak into the restaurant and try to get in the washroom, “...where there are only three stalls!!! Imagine that!”  She carried on in this vein as we trotted along – I being desperate not to miss the bus, and watching ahead to the corner where I thought it would stop, to see if I could see it coming.  Once, a bus did come, but it did not have the word “SHUTTLE” on it, and it did not turn where the shuttle was supposed to turn.

We came to the intersection, and there we saw Heather and Cathy sitting on a low wall.  They motioned to me, and pointed towards a bus a short distance away, with four-way flashers on.  I said, “I’ll run, and try to hold it!” and barrelled off in the direction of the bus.  But as I got closer, I saw in its illuminated route indicator, that it was not a shuttle.  Then it pulled away.

The four of us now walked to the place where that bus had been waiting.  Sure enough, it was a proper bus stop, and it had one of the “Canada Day Shuttle” maps wired to the pole.  This was an official stop for the shuttle.

We were studying it, and looking at our watches, when three people who had been there before us, directed our attention towards the route numbers on the pole overhead.  They had heard Grumblypants whining and complaining and wanted to help us figure out which route we needed, which was nice of them.  A very large, broad-shouldered woman was the spokesperson, and insisted, pointing to the official permanent sign, that the 17 and the 19 and some other numbers are the only busses that we could catch here.  And when Grumblypants said we were after “The Free Shuttle,” this person said, “It’s Canada Day.  ALL busses are free on Canada Day.”  Oh.

An impasse was developing.  Our little group was studying the temporary “Canada Day Shuttle” sign, and worrying about having missed the last bus, while Big Lady, apparently unaware of, or not interested in, the temporary sign, kept insisting we study the regular route numbers.  “Because it’s f***ing Canada Day!”  As she raised her voice, becoming more belligerent, it did not help that one of her companions, a large man, seemed to be drunk or otherwise incapacitated – and, that there were now no other people around.  And Grumblypants, irritated by this very vocal person, argued with her, which just annoyed Big Lady even more, who increased the number of her expletives.  “Please, everybody,” I said, “Let's not turn this into a federal case!”

Then a bus came around the corner, clearly marked with the word “SHUTTLE.”

But it did not appear to be stopping.  I waved it down.

At that moment, the illuminated signs on the bus switched from “SHUTTLE” to “NOT IN SERVICE.”  But the bus driver opened his door to explain that he was off duty now.  Uh oh.

But then Grumblypants said, “Would you just drive me to...” and she named an intersection that was probably on his way to the bus garage.  He agreed.  On she hopped, and a few seconds later, she was gone.

Then another bus, marked “SHUTTLE,” rounded the corner.  But, although its signs never changed, it did not stop and it did not open its door.  And the driver did not look at my frantically waving arms.

It was now well after midnight.  There would be no shuttle bus back to our apartment.

Should we – Heather, Cathy and I – walk?  It would be a distance of over two kilometres, in the dark, through some sketchy neighbourhoods, and Heather does not walk quickly.

In February of this year, Winnipeg acquired a couple of “Uber”-type ride-sharing companies, and I had recently used one – called “Cowboy Taxi” – and was quite satisfied with the experience.  I have the apps for both of these new companies in my phone.  So I offered to take my two ladies home by Cowboy Taxi.  Click, click, click on my phone, and for a while my screen said, “none of our cars are currently available, still searching,” but then the notice came that a car had been booked, and was on its way.  It was definitely not nearby, but I watched its progress on my screen.

The three, possibly inebriated people, walked off.

Eight police officers trotted towards us, chatting happily.  “You guys going off duty?” I asked one of them, and she answered, “We sure are!”  And they all jogged down the street, until out of sight – probably at the police headquarters, which was not far away.  Meanwhile, my screen showed my personal Cowboy Taxi to be six minutes away.

We were now alone, in the dark, on an inner city street corner.

Suddenly, my screen said, “Customer On Board.”

What!???  We haven’t seen hide nor hair of our Cowboy Taxi – and he says that we’re “on board”???

Then my screen said, “Your account has been charged $11.  Thank you for using Cowboy Taxi!”

At that moment, a regular taxi pulled up, lowered its window, and the driver called, “Would you like a ride somewhere?”

We hopped in – me with the folding chair, the umbrellas, and the backpack that had carried the ponchos.  I gave the driver our destination, and with a great friendly smile, he set the car in motion.

Then my screen lit up again.  “Please rate your experience with Cowboy Taxi

I clicked the “thumbs down” button, and typed, “Car never came.  We are not ‘on board.’  Please refund my money!”  I hit “send,” and attached my seat belt.

Soon our smiling and cheerful driver brought his taxi to a stop at our door.

The cost of the trip?  $7 – in effect, sixty percent of what Cowboy Taxi charged me.  We gave him $10.

Cathy, with her destination being a few feet away, was as happy as can be, and offered to help pay the fare.  We refused, so she hugged us, said goodbye, and trotted off.

We headed into our block, me carrying the never-used folding chair.

Then the taxi-driver called out, “Sir! You forgot these!” and came running up to the door.  He handed me my umbrella and backpack.  Being by this point totally distracted and exhausted, I had forgotten them.

I thanked him profusely, and went with my wife up to the apartment.  Just as we got off the elevator, my phone rang.  It was the Cowboy Taxi office in Calgary.  The voice on the phone apologized, said that the driver had accidentally hit the “customer on board” button, triggering the payment.  “Are you still at the pick-up site?” asked the voice.  “No, we caught a conventional cab, and are now entering our home.”

“So very sorry, sir.  We will immediately initiate a refund to you.”

And that was our Canada Day celebration.  Oh Canada!

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