Posts Tagged ‘kindness of strangers’

Lodging in Ottawa

October 22nd, 2011 2 comments

People often ask me, “Where do you sleep at night? Do you sleep in your car?”  Really — those questions are almost always paired.  Is the rest of the world obsessed with the notion of sleeping in cars?

Anyhow, the answer is that I spread my nights among motels, tent camping, couch surfing, and yes, that one time I tried sleeping in a car.  But that doesn’t really tell you much.  The real challenge is finding places to stay.  So it was with Ottawa.

“Do you have a place to stay in Ottawa?” Steve asked as he opened the car door.

“Not yet,” I said.

I was giving Steve a ride back to his house in Toronto.  It was the night before my Canada AM interview, and we had just got done celebrating a win with Steve’s hockey team at one of his teammate’s restaurants.  Steve was the normal goalie for the Pylons, but he skated out to give me the net.

We pulled up to his house.  Steve hopped out and grabbed his bag from Sam’s back seat.  He paused and said, “I might have a spot for you in Ottawa.  Give me 30 minutes.  Watch for an email.”

I thanked him and said goodbye.  Even though Steve had come through with the Hockey Hall of Fame Resource Centre tour and the hockey game, I was somewhat skeptical that he could find me a place to stay in Ottawa on such short notice.  I would be there the next day.

Any doubts were quickly put to rest.

The next evening, 250 miles to the northeast of Toronto, I showed up in Ottawa at Steve’s aunt Carol’s house.  I had never met Carol before. Mind you, I had met Steve in person only a day earlier.  I knew nothing about Carol and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Likewise, Carol knew almost nothing about me.

A maple-butter beavertail, minus a bite. Beavertails are often associated with Ottawa, ON. They are delicious and have nothing to do with finding lodging.

There was a great deal of uncertainty on both sides, so Carol heated up the kettle and we chatted over tea.

Carol was in her 60s, but had she not revealed that, I would have thought her not a day over 50.  She was fit, upbeat, and not in any way pretentious.  After talking with her for an hour, I felt as at ease with her as with one of my own aunts.

Her day job was as a profiler for a bank, which I understood to mean that she was involved with vetting deals that the bank might make.  Somehow, that also involved her in diplomatic circles, but that might have simply been a function of her location in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

As we drank tea — full leaf, prepared in a proper teapot — I asked her how it was that she agreed to host me for the night.  She laughed and smiled, going into the story.

“Steve has always been one of my favorite nephews.  He sent me a text last night asking if one of our family members was in town, since that person often stays at my house when he’s visiting.  I replied back that no, he wasn’t going to behere for a few days.  Steve quickly responded, ‘Great,’ and then immediately called me.”  She took another sip of tea before continuing.

“On the phone, Steve told me that you needed a place to stay for the night in Ottawa, and he asked if I might be able to host you.  I could hear Steve’s girlfriend in the background protesting that he didn’t know you well enough to be making that kind of request.  Something about how the two of you had met for the first time only earlier that day, and how you could be a serial killer or crazy or something.  Nevertheless, Steve ignored her protestations and insisted that you were a good guy and that I would like you.”

I laughed.  “I had similar reservations, since I had no idea who you were or what you were like,” I said. “I just decided to trust Steve.  After all, we’d played hockey together that night, and besides, he’s also a goalie.”

We talked for a while longer, but eventually I had to retire to bed.  I had to be at the CTV Ottawa studios early the next morning.  Carol showed me to the guest bedroom in her house and bade me goodnight.

My head hit the pillow, and seemingly immediately my alarm clock announced the arrival of morning.  I departed before Carol woke.

The Notebook

July 8th, 2011 1 comment

I woke up in the morning of my first full day in Fairbanks with a fever, a sore back, and a tight chest.  The symptoms made my foggy mind briefly consider “pulmonary embolism,” but since it was more of a dull pain than a sharp pain, I pushed the fears out of my mind.  I figured I was just sore from a rough night due to the endless sunlight and the somewhat uncomfortable bed.  I made a token attempt to get going for the day but soon decided that more sleep was in order.

When I finally got up a couple hours later, I noticed there was a voice message from an unfamiliar number on my cell phone.  It was from a woman named Marcy who said that she had found something I had lost and was wondering if I wanted it back.  Out of it as I was, I thought she said she had found my “black Sterno,” as in alcohol-gel cooking fuel.  I couldn’t figure out what that meant, so I started digging through my belongings.  I was trying to find something that was both missing and would have enough identifiable information to facilitate a return attempt.

My computer and cameras were all accounted for, so I went to Sam and started looking through my other luggage.  I was sitting in Sam’s passenger seat, digging through the glove box, when it struck me: I was missing my beloved black Moleskine notebook.

It all made sense: the notebook had my name, phone number, and email address on the title page.  I vaguely recalled putting the notebook on Sam’s roof the previous evening, but I didn’t remember taking it down again.  And the voice message?  Marcy wasn’t saying “black Sterno,” she was saying “black steno,” as in notebook.

Was I ever lucky that my notebook had been found and that somebody was trying to return it to me!  Just one problem: Marcy hadn’t left a call-back number, and the number saved on my phone went to some sort of PBX system, so I had no way of getting in touch with her.  I had to hope that she’d call back or email.

She did both, and soon I was on my way to meet her on Fort Wainwright, the US Army base near Fairbanks.

Marcy was a smiling manager working for one of the civilian contractors on base.  She told me that she had noticed my notebook sitting on the road, stopped, and picked it up.  She had flipped through it and decided by its contents that somebody would want it back.  I think she described the doodles within as looking “like something one of my sons would have done.”

She returned the notebook to me and graciously refused to accept a reward.  I thanked her profusely and went back to assess the condition of my notebook.

It was clear that it had been run over by at least one car; the tire tracks professed as much.  Despite that, everything was intact.  The cover was in good shape, no pages were missing or torn, and the mechanical pencil was still inside (albeit broken).   Yes, some of the pages were wrinkled, but that didn’t affect usability.

A nice tread mark on my Moleskine notebook.

I was impressed by the durability of my Moleskine notebook.  For those keeping track, I had complained about the poor quality of my previous soft-cover Moleskine, so the one that eventually got run over was the replacement that the company sent to me.  That newer one certainly seemed to hold up well.

Marcy’s kindness touched me.  To think that she actually stopped, retrieved my notebook, and went through the effort of getting it back to me was very moving.  And the notebook itself? Well, it pulled through well enough that I intend to continue using it until it’s full.

Now if only the stiffness in my muscles would go away…