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Long way to Winnipeg

04/04/2012 @ 8:45am

It’s a long road to Winnipeg.  

I should know – I’ve driven it a few times.

The first time was in 1975.  We didn’t see much scenery.  For one thing, it was the middle of the night in a snowstorm; for another, we were driving the Red River Valley, which has the topography of the bottom of a giant mud puddle and oddly enough, that’s exactly what it is.

We were on our way to the airport to catch a flight to Europe, with plans to spend every dime we had in the world on a honeymoon, backpacking through the cheapest parts of Europe. But the only way we could afford even a backpacking trip was to fly before April 1, because after that date, the summer airfares kicked in and prices went up about fifty percent.  A slight complication was that we were to be married March 30.  So, wedding on the evening of March 30, three hundred and fifty mile drive to the airport, flight out on the morning of March 31.

Did I mention that we were both twenty years old?

We didn’t know what to do with our car.  We couldn’t afford to leave it parked at the airport for six weeks and we couldn’t leave it anywhere else without having it towed away as derelict.  I worried about that possibility even if we went to a movie – there’s no way any responsible authority would have left it alone for six weeks.

I found an easy fix to that problem.  I asked my best man, Glen, if he would drive us.

I felt a vague guilt about it until a few years later when we drove 325 miles through an ice storm so my wife could sing and I could be the best man at his wedding. That put us pretty close to even again.

This latest trip was exactly 37 years later.  Instead of catching two hours of sleep on an airport bench, we booked a room at the Fort Garry, a beautiful historic hotel in the center of town.  Instead of sliding on slippery roads in a car with a suspect heater and worse tires, we drove through beautiful spring sunshine.  A few miles north of Fargo, I set the cruise control at 78, then leaned back and listened as my wife read out loud a book about graft and corruption in early Boston politics.

Hey, it’s the way we do road trips.  Deal with it.

We checked into the hotel and took a long walk through the warm weather, ending up at a market where we bought some fresh olives and a pastry that had a name I couldn’t pronounce.  I didn’t know a lot about food in 1975 – in college I lived mainly on tomato soup (five cans to the dollar) and peanut butter sandwiches.  When I had a hot dog in a Paris train station, stuffed into its own little loaf of French bread, I thought it was the best food I’d ever eaten.  I still don’t know much about food, but I do know what tastes good, which was one of the reasons we stayed at the Fort Garry.  It has the best Sunday brunch in the world.

Okay, I haven’t tasted every Sunday brunch in the world, although I’d be willing to give it a try if someone would sponsor me, but the Fort Garry is pretty darn good.  My wife counted 28 items just on the dessert table, and there were about ten other stations of…lots of stuff.

The night before we came home, we were headed back to our room and met a guy with a clipboard, checking light fixtures and looking for torn wallpaper in the hall.  We chatted for a little bit, told him why we were there, and what we enjoyed about the hotel.  A half hour later there was a knock on our door.  The man we’d met turned out to be part of hotel management and he’d sent a bottle of champagne to our room in honor of our anniversary.  We didn’t finish it all, but I for one gave it my best shot.

The next morning we started south, down the long road home.  Thirty-seven years ago we spent an hour at customs while they searched for drugs and other contraband.  The customs folks didn’t know that we didn’t use drugs and wouldn’t have been able to afford any even if we’d wanted them.  This time we sailed through – our only purchases had been Easter dresses for our granddaughters.  

In 1975, we came home to no money, no jobs, and no real plans.  Last week we came home to a clean, quiet house and both of us went right to work updating our calendars for a challenging week ahead.  But we came home together.

A lot can change in 37 years.  Some things don’t.

Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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