Portage and Main? River and Osborne? Vaughan and Graham?
In the past few days I’ve had a couple of close encounters of the Winnipeg kind with the city of my birth.
It started Thursday evening at the Bachman Cummings concert. What a trip – down memory lane, that is. It was an amazing show. The songs, every one of them a solid hit, were brought to life by two 60-something rockers, in great shape and sounding as good as ever.
They seemed to be having a lot of fun with each other, musically and otherwise. In one case Burton Cummings introduced a song that Randy Bachman had written about Cummings when he didn’t like him all that much (Hey You). And Cummings’ keyboard acrobatics were a perfect complement to Bachman’s intensity-on-guitar.
The duo talked about starting out in Winnipeg and wore their civic pride on their sleeve, which of course made me proud by association.
Then Saturday, I went to see Guy Maddin’s hallucinogenic documentary, My Winnipeg. (Can someone please pass the Forks?) And while it was definitely his warped vision, it was only a neighbourhood away from mine.
I was particularly thrilled he showed the garbage dump that thee city turned into a toboggan hill (no kidding). That he ventured into the hallowed sixth floor halls of The Bay’s Paddlewheel eatery and featured tales of the Crinoline Court (ladies only) and Gentleman’s Gangway (Men, ladies with escorts) in all their cafeteria glory. That he crisscrossed the city’s back lanes.
After the movie, someone heard me mention the Paddlewheel and asked me to explain the Crinoline Court. I told her what it was and then she turned to her friend and said, by way of explanation, ‘Those people are from Winnipeg’.
All of a sudden I was transported back to the prairie landscape I left so long ago and felt both alienated and special, which is what being from Winnipeg was all about. And for a moment I missed the city’s wide boulevards, its endless sun and sky, its Salisbury and Pancake Houses and snow so cold it creaked like ancient floorboards when you walked home from school.
And I realized my brief reverie could be encapsulated in two musical moments I’d had in the past few days: Burton Cummings singing These Eyes live at the Molson Ampitheatre and a recording of The Bells sullen rendition of Rick Neufeld’s Moody Manitoba Morning.
I guess that’s the thing about your hometown. You pretty much know all the words.