Tag: Buffalo

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

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The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…

Day 965: The Inaugural Road Trip

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Roll down your windows, crank up the vintage Lindsey Buckingham and ready your innards for a deluge of fast-food grease – we are hitting the open road.

In 1903, right around the time those two bike-shop brothers in North Carolina were writing the first stand-up routines about in-flight meals, the general public was underwhelmingly embracing the automobile. Many thought it was a passing fad, that nothing could beat classic oat-eating, poop-dispensing horse travel. Those who disagreed were eager to test the physical boundaries of motorized transportation. They pushed for faster speeds, longer voyages and snazzier features. Even the kids were too enthralled with the technology to ask, “Are we there yet?”

It was a magical time of firsts for car fans. Among them were Toronto-born doctor Horatio Nelson Jackson and his mechanic friend, Sewell J. Crocker. When the opportunity arose to break the bi-coastal barrier, they couldn’t resist. This is how they grabbed hold of their own little chunk of history.

For those of you who now have "Holiday Road" stuck in your head, I apologize.

For those of you who now have “Holiday Road” stuck in your head, I apologize.

While visiting friends at San Francisco’s University Club, someone bet Horatio a whopping $50 (which is about $1300 in today’s money) that he couldn’t drive from coast to coast in one of those new-fangled auto-thingies. Despite the initial handicap of not owning a car, Horatio agreed to the bet. He had faith in the technology, the kind of faith that propels men to stupid manly endeavors. Endeavors that either result in a comical or ironic death, or a dusty little corner in the cubbyhole of history. Read more…

Day 555: Hey… That’s Not A Real Number!

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Yesterday my mother commented that she has had the same phone number for 37 years. That’s nearly four decades and the bulk of my younger years using the same seven-digit code (or seven-tone melody) to unlock a conversation with my mother. When my son asked for her number a couple months back so he could thank her for his birthday gift (which he no doubt spent wisely, on Lego and fireworks), I was surprised that he didn’t know it. Then it occurred to me.

Phone numbers are now disposable.

They are a one-time ticket, punched into someone’s iPhone then crumpled up and tossed. Now if he feels the need to call my mom, my son need only tap her name in his contact list. There is no seven-tone melody, no contemplating what word her phone number might spell out, no memorization required. My children have never spoken to an operator, never counted out the taps of a pulse dial, and never known the phalangical workout of swooping around a rotary telephone dial.

They certainly don’t know the history of how these numbers came to be.

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There was a time when picking up a phone would connect you to an operator, who would then take care of the messy business of connecting you to someone else. If your call was long-distance, the operator at your exchange (which is like a central office) would have to route you through another operator. It was complicated, messy, and involved a lot of wires. Read more…

Day 402: Sentences From The Depths Of Hell

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As a writer, I have learned to love words. Specifically, I have learned to make sweet, sweet love to them in kinky and unfathomable ways that would make the Internet itself shut down and tell to join a support group. So when language straps on some weirdness of its own, dims the lights and tells me it wants to get a little funky, I’ll gladly lock the door, pick a safe-word and dive on in. This is one of those days.

The cluster of linguistic titillation on today’s menu is the following sentence:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Whew! I’m glad I took one of those little blue pills so I can last this entire article. The above sentence makes perfect grammatical sense; all you have to do is bend it around your brain until you find the right shape to make it fit. William J. Rappaport, an associate professor at the University of (you guess it) Buffalo is credited for coming up with this sentence back in 1992.

By the way, Rappaport’s wife is the lady who bought Lucille Ball’s childhood home. That has nothing to do with anything, but I am forever the bitch of meaningless trivia. Read more…

Day 385: Zoned Out On Time Zones

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If you’re ever looking to torment your brain with impossible logistics and a seemingly unattainable global cooperation, I recommend you do a little reading on time zones. It has taken centuries to scrunch this mess into a workable system, and even now it’s a jumbled splatter.

The theory behind it is simple. Noon in Chattanooga should look the same as noon in Tel Aviv. To accomplish this, someone had to divvy up the globe into imaginary regions. The starting point was chosen to be Greenwich Mean Time, or the time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, because hell, if the British were going to be the first to take the initiative and figure this crap out, then they get dibs on the starting point of standardized time.

Whoever plants the big spinny thing in the ground first gets to rule the world's clocks.

Whoever plants the big spinny thing in the ground first gets to rule the world’s clocks.

The first method was simple. It was also stupid. For every degree of longitude away from GMT a place was located, they tweaked time by four minutes. This would mean that New York and Boston – about two degrees apart – would differ in time by eight minutes. People didn’t travel a lot back then (nobody ever complained about horse-lag), but when trains suddenly showed up on the scene, figuring out when one train might collide with another on the same track became something worth watching. Read more…