Friday, July 13, 2007

Today is all I've got.

Hot and tired. Summer heat holds itself in place. Air hangs thick and heavy. It's Stampede week in Calgary. Sleep is fleeting. My mind is slow and sluggish.

At a party last night in the backyard of a girlfriend's house, I listened to the debut of five young men and their band. Two brothers, a cousin and two friends. Young. Talented. Excited and very good. The brother's father worked the sound equipment -- his enthusiasm palpable. The sound equipment impressive! Lots of hot lights flashing, a smoke machine, noise. Pity the neighbours. It was loud! But it's Stampede. A time when the wild west comes alive in the streets of Calgary. Parties every night. Dancing in the street. Raunchy. Wild. Rowdy.

This is a city of contradictions. Work hard. Play hard. Drive fast. Walk reeeal slow. Kick up your heels. Lay back and relax.

Let loose. Let go. Let it all hang out. Get down and dirty. There's gonna be a party all night long.

It's a city where wanna be cowboys get to play like the big boys for ten whole days every July and nobody dare laugh. Cowboy boots. Jeans. Hat. Beer in hip pocket.

It's a city where even the weather doesn't dare rain on the parade. It must be just like the bumper sticker said that I saw yesterday, "God really is a cowboy."

Somewhere in all the wild activity of this week, I look for moderation, but this is a city of excess. A city swollen on the fat profits of the liquid gold flowing beneath the surface. You're in oil country pardner. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

At the homeless shelter where I work, moderation evaporates with the heat. A woman is knifed. She dies. Four more sustain injuries and survive. Tempers steam, anxiety rises. It's easy to see the differences in lives during Stampede. Calgarians don their best western, kick up their cowboy boots and party through the night, every night.

For those who are homeless, life continues on in its dull, monotonous roar. Police are out in droves moving along those who are visibly 'down and out'. There's no rest for the homeless during Stampede. A million visitors come to this city. Visible homelessness is not in keeping with the 'howdy pardner' messages pouring out of the behemoth of the Stampede marketing department. Gotta git along little doggie.

For bottle pickers, the pickings are ripe. Nothing like a hoedown in the middle of a downtown street and its litter of empty cans and bottles to pick up! Spirits are high. City workers sweep in as the bottle pickers eagerly pick through the refuse in the bins lined up along every street corner.

There's lots of work around. At the shelter we sleep 1100 men and women a night. 42% have a full time job -- those who want a job can get a job. They line up for temp work every morning, noon and night. Ten bucks an hour gets you a brief respite from the numbing uncertainty of worrying about where you'll get the cash to buy cigarettes, beer, the next fix. It gives you a chance to step into a restaurant and order a meal of your choice. A soft drink from the corner vendor. At ten bucks an hour you can't afford to live in this city, but can afford to subsist.

Stampede. You gotta love it. Dancing in the street. Party's all night long. A city on overdrive, pumped up on steroid driven advertising slogans where real men wear pink and cowgirls do it in the dirt.

And when it's over, the street cleaners will move through and clear away the last vestiges of horse droppings on the streets. The wooden corrals will be taken away from storefronts. The tents will be dismantled. The cowboy duds put away. The city will get back to business. Live's will move on and the yahoo! and "Ride 'em Cowboy's" will take a rest until, same time, next year.

That's life.

Moments of exhilaration. Moments of rest. Kick 'em up. Get laid back. A continuous ebb and flow.

Living on the high. Sliding into lows. We are in continuous motion.

Today I'm tired. Time to slow down. Take it easy. Slip into the moment. Ease up. Step back and relax.

Tomorrow is another day. Today is all I've got.

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