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Raptors, Rubicons and Rams

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They say money can be the root of all evil. Maybe. But after being in Fort McMurray for a week, it’s evident it can also be the root of considerable happiness.

There’s no doubt about it; money can make a difference. You see, I’m from a place where many have stopped smiling: Vancouver Island. Not because we’re miserable people, but because times haven’t been kind in the last while. Jobs are scarce and those that come by for the most part don’t pay enough to break even. That’s why, last week, I loaded up my red pickup truck, ‘The Red Roof Inn,’ and headed to the destination that jumps to the head of the line when people start talking of a quick fix: Fort McMurray.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just knew it was time for a ‘Hail Mary.’

And here I am, but before I continue I must come clean. In the past, I haven’t been a proponent of the Oil Sands. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t put them down either. I’ve just been ambivalent as I haven’t understood the scope and complexity of all that is involved. After a week in town, that picture is becoming much clearer, and to my surprise, it’s a multi-sided picture that has affected everyone here, and considerable others from across Canada.

The first thing to hit me rolling into town was the energy. Every town has energy, but it can fluctuate wildly. Some are on life support, some bimble along like they’ve entered a marathon to nowhere, and then there are those exploding with frenetic energy as they evolve at warp speed. That’s how Fort McMurray grabbed me.

In my car-geared mind I usually analyze traffic and what’s on the road, as the wheels that roll are a sure indicator of a towns’ pulse. Coming into town the amount of trucks I saw threw me off, and these weren’t cheap trucks either. Raptors, Rams, and Rubicons going for 30, 40, 50 and 60 grand a pop ripping their way to Timmies for a coffee. That told me a lot. Then, when I saw a Dodge Viper and Mustang Cobra drop their tops when the weather climbed to - 2, I knew a healthy pulse was pounding. Just to confirm it all, I stumbled upon a $160,000 Maserati sporting a mud coat. I had to pull over to slow my breathing.

We have a pulse!

The next thing that hit me was the people. They made eye contact, they nodded silent greetings...and they smiled. And the smiles appeared genuine. You have no idea how refreshing that is after the last couple of years. With the smiles came conversations at Timmies and the Legion Hall with total strangers that offered encouragement in my quest to find work.

“Take the first job, then start looking for a better one. That’s how it works here,” said a welder, Terry, at Timmies.

Cecile at the campsite said, “Check the Unions. It’s a good time of year. It’ll be picking up now. As long as you have a good attitude, you’ll be alright.”

There was one encouraging encounter after another and a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ started to manifest itself. I hate to say it, but that feeling struck me as a bit of a novelty. Then again it turns out I’m not the first person to arrive in Fort Mac in a pickup truck with a mattress in the back. Won’t be the last either.

So what about the town itself? ‘Total Evolution’ would be the best description. It’s obvious everywhere one looks that Fort McMurray is on a spending spree of enormous proportion. Writing this story from the comfort of the incredible Public Library on MacIsland is a good place to start. What a building, and they entertain too! The Beach Boys played last month and Bill Cosby shared some laughs! Then there are the excavators outside busy making way for the new ‘Shell Place.’ Across from that they’re building another bridge over the Athabasca and over yonder a new airport terminal. Keyano College is expanding, new neighbourhoods are in the works and the bakers’ ovens at Timmies are under threat of imploding from the overwhelming deluge of daily takers. Common consensus is we need four more.

What bliss. To come from a place that is stumbling and to drive through others no better off, it is indeed a beautiful feeling to see and experience the optimism and hope that flows through the streets of Fort McMurray, all because of the Oil Sands.

They just may not be the Boogie Man they’re cracked up to be.

No, I haven’t found a job yet, but the adventure continues and in the meantime I’d like to thank all those that have come across my path and those that will for their words of encouragement.

As Cecile said, “If you have a good attitude, you’ll be alright.”

Well, in my books Fort McMurray has a good attitude and it’s alright. In fact it’s more than alright. Fort McMurray is an adventure lined with good will and a spirit that harks back to simpler times when a handshake was a handshake, people made eye contact, and smiles weren’t frowned upon. In Fort McMurray the Boom Town mentality is alive and kicking, and so are the Raptors, Rams, and Rubicons.

How sweet it is!

PS. Found a job...I’ve moved out of ‘The Red Roof Inn!’


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