Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

Today - July 1 - is Canada Day. I realized that exactly five years ago, I was on a trip up into the Yukon Territory, and happened to be in a little town called Faro on the big day.

Faro was built in the wilderness around 1970s to serve a massive lead-zinc mine. Its population peaked at more than 2,000 in the early 1980s - but then the mine closed. It has reopened and reclosed a few times since (I think it was open on a limited basis when I was there in 2004), but the town never recovered. A few hundred people live there now; there is an effort to bring in wilderness tourism.

So, the town is a shell of its former self. When I was there, you could drive past dozens upon dozens of vacant, slowly deteriorating townhouses, apartment buildings and single-family homes, and boarded-up public buildings and stores. It was a little bit like Hoyt Lakes on the Minnesota Iron Range - but a whole lot more extreme.

Still, there were signs of civic pride. The town still maintained a golf course that wove among the homes all through town, and on an overlook near town was a park with a nicely tended sign that read "Faro Arboretum," and some displays on local plants.

I found out that there was going to a Canada Day celebration and stuck around town. I'm glad I did - it was a nice little slice of small-town Canada. First the local kids assembled to sing O Canada outside the school, and a crowd of 40 or 50 people assembled to sing along. Then they assembled for the parade on the road that looped all through town. The parade was short and sweet - the local RCMP truck, two fire trucks, an ambulance, another emergency truck, a decorated Gator, two decorated cars and eight to 10 kids on decorated bikes (see photo above).

The parade went on past scattered groups of spectators, then headed back the the school / shopping center area for a post-parade gathering. I'm pretty sure they handed out some prizes. A tent was set up, and I think there were more events planned, but I had to hit the road.

All in all, a nice first Canada Day for me - and one more reason for me to be a big fan of our neighbor (neighbour?) to the north.

More photos of Faro here.

Wishing I'd have been a better bystander

I've mentioned before the troubles I have with cell phone reception at my home. So, while on my way home last night I pulled into the parking lot of the Kenwood Super One shopping center - one of the last, best places to get a clear signal - to place a few calls.

I pulled into a parking space all by myself at the far end of the parking lot, near Arrowhead Road. On my third call, I was leaving a voice mail message when I looked up and saw a motorcycle - a super sports bike, a substantial, pretty nice one - driving in the lot toward Arrowhead, going very slow but weaving all over. And I saw a blue car in a designated driving lane coming generally in my direction - perpendicular to the motorcycle. Again, going very slow.

They got closer and closer - again, going like 5 mph - the cycle weaved sharply a couple times, and the rider - a college-aged guy with no helmet - laid it down and crashed into the front driver's side wheel of the passing car, maybe 30 feet from me. "Laid it down" is too strong a word - "fell over" might be a more apt description. Then the motorcycle rider got up and glared at the car. I thought to myself right away how that was just totally the motorcycle rider's fault.

So at this point I was still leaving my message. It was for a family friend I haven't talked to in a long time, whose mom is sick, and I was trying hard to maintain my composure and stay on-message as the surreal scene unfolded.

I was kind of bewildered and wrapped up the call as over maybe the next 10-15 seconds, the motorcycle rider went around to the passenger side of the car, opened the door and started saying / yelling something at the male passenger and female driver. My initial thought was that the two parties knew each other. In a momentary burst of extreme naivete, I actually thought, "well, that's not something a total stranger would do."

So I sat there, staring, jaw dropped. Then the motorcycle rider went back around, picked up his bike, wobbled on and started heading toward Kenwood Avenue. I snapped back into reality, got out and jogged to the still-stationary car. The driver got out. "Did you get his license plate?," she asked. Shoot! I could have, but I didn't. Now, in retrospect I don't totally regret not running out right away after the collision and getting it. The guy had just flung open that car door... had I run out and got his plate, he very well may have decked me. And I didn't know he was going to run until he was back up on his bike. But still, the whole thing happened so slow that I could have gotten it, and that bugged me.

Kind of charged with adrenaline and always ready for an exciting adventure, I said, "I'm going to go after him. I'll come back. Wait here." And I took off in my car toward Kenwood. The guy had a big head start, but I thought he might have pulled into a lot somewhere nearby to check his bike. No luck. I circled down Kenwood to Central Entrance, down Ninth/Eighth streets, around to College Avenue, through the UMD campus and back to the shopping center via Arrowhead - nothing. A few times I saw sports bikes parked in driveways, and circled back to get a better look, but they were not the one.

Back in the parking lot I left my name and number with the driver, and said I'd be willing to give a statement. We walked around to where the crash occurred, and I spotted a really nice, expensive Citizen watch on the ground - watch separated from wrist band, but still working - it had to be the bike rider's. I looked it over, thinking how awesome it would be if it were engraved, but it wasn't.

I left the watch with the car driver, then went off again for one more search. "Where would a college-age kid on a sports bike go after a hit-and-run accident?," I thought. For some reason, my mind returned an answer of: "Taco John's." So that's where I headed, to the strip of fast-food joints on London Road. I circled through there, back through the UMD campus and a few college neighborhoods - again, nothing. I went back home.

Later in the evening, I got a call from the police and gave a witness statement. I described what I saw, apologized for not being a better witness and closed by emphasizing again that this was totally the motorcycle's fault, and that the driver of the car was totally in the right. So I guess I was of some use. But I'm still wondering what might have been had I been a better bystander.