Saturday, February 9, 2008

Take a Gander at My Survivalist Gear

It's been a week more punderful than wonderful. First the local purveyor of used accordions put the squeeze on me. And then the editor of a certain literary journal tried to subject me to his own peculiar submission policy.

But the world is not coming to an end. Okay, well, global warming and all - maybe the world is coming to an end, but no faster just because my week stank. The sun is out and I know every word of every line of "I Will Survive." It is time to blog on!

What do these two men have in common?

Besides the look of surprise, I mean.

On the left we have Joey Smallwood, petite but potent Provinicial Premier. Joey was such a devoted politician he pretty much hand-crafted a constituency by convincing Newfoundland and Labrador to become part of Canada in 1949. He went door to door lobbying for Confederation, and as soon as it passed, he got himself elected premier of the province (that is how they say governor of the state in Canadian. They say lieutenant governor as lufftenant governor).

On the right we have Metro President David Bragdon. President sounds pretty top dog, although the glory of the title is perhaps undercut by the fact that even fewer people know anything about Metro than know anything about Newfoundland and Labrador, including the people who live under Bragdon's iron-fisted ruled (let's just say, he makes the zoo train run on time).

But the real connection is that Bragdon is as obsessed by Newfoundland and Labrador as I am. Just ask him about the time he spent in jail in Grand Falls.

It's always nice to meet someone who knows the Rock means this

and not just this

So what better way to overcome a lousy week than to kick back over a dinner of cod, turnips, and parsnips and talk about the Rock?

I trotted out The Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Everything (and they do mean everything . . . on page 43 we learn "there were no chipmunks on the island of Newfoundland before 1962." Who knew? Moreover, who cared? Besides a few competitive squirrels, perhaps).

I also displayed my extensive collection of back issues of Downhome. Bragdon, ever the politicians, was immediately drawn to the January 2007 guest column by current Premier Danny Williams outlining the political agenda for the province, where the unemployment rate in the province is about 16%.

"Gee, do you think he'll focus on economic revitalization?" wondered Bragdon.
"Re implies there was economic vitality in the past," I pointed out.

But what the good people of Newfoundland and Labrador lack in fiscal solvency or employment opportunity they more than make up for friendliness. On September 11th, when the US closed all its airports, thirty-eight jetliners were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost seven thousand passengers and crew members, displaced in a town with a population of ten thousand. While America was saying, "These planes may not come into our airspace, they might have terrorists on board," Gander was converting its schools, government buildings, Lion's Club, and houses of worship into emergency shelters. The locals were cooking up meals and lending their linens and even their clothing so the seven thousand strangers could eat and sleep and have something clean to wear. When passengers needed showers, townspeople brought them home - or just told them to drop in whenever they wanted, since the front door was never locked and there was always a stack of clean towels in cupboard.

"Is this the book about Gander?" Brandon asked, pawing my copy of The Day the World Came to Town, which details the whole 9/11 in Gander tale, right down to the CEO of Hugo Boss, stranded between Milan and New York City, having to shop for off the rack underpants at the local Wal-Mart.

"Yes," I said. "You have to read it. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats." I read the book in one afternoon, which I never do. Bragdon read a good chunk of it on my couch. He even took notes.

The most amazing part of the story is realizing what it must have been like to be on one of those planes, landing in a strange place only to be told about the terrorist attack in the US. It was terrifying enough to watch it all from home on the TV news, but to be trapped in a place you'd never heard of at such a scary and isolating time . . . and then to find out it is populated by the kindest, most welcoming people in the world. What better way to restore one's faith in humanity.

So yeah, I had a crap week, but the sun is out and the dinner was fun, and the February issue of Downhome magazine just arrived. I will survive . . .

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