Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Annual Trip to Newfoundland - A Blue Mustang Convertible, a Night On George Street and A Nostalgic Trip Down Memory Lane

One of my favorite things about summer has come and gone; my yearly trip back to The Rock to visit friends and spend time in my favorite Canadian city.
For those of you who don’t know, I lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland for 11 years and they were some of the best years of my life. I moved there when I was only 19 and spent my whole adult life going to school, working, building lifelong friendships and basically, building a life there – until unforeseen circumstances force me to pack up my life and head back to the mainland.
Since I moved back to the mainland, I make a point to return to St. John’s at least once a year. This year I was supposed to go in July but there were problems with the ferry and my trip was cancelled. I didn’t think I would be able to reschedule at a later date but did manage to make some time in early September when the ferries were back on track. In mid-September, I hopped on the ferry and headed back to my old stomping grounds. Fortunately there were no delays this time so the trip went without a hitch unlike the unfortunate events of last year – the trip where I ended up being stuck in St. John’s for an extra week due to a ferry break down. Not that being stuck in St. John’s is a bad thing, it’s the fact that I had to find last-minute accommodations (I was broke at that point so fortunately, a friend handed over his house and vehicle for a week) and lug an angry, drugged cat around until the ferry was back on track. The cat stayed home this time.

I arrived in the city late afternoon after a 14-hout ferry crossing and two-hour drive. I had booked a hotel earlier on in my trip planning but a friend suggested I stay with her instead so that is what I did. And so the first day of my trip was spent unpacking and relaxing so I would be up early the next morning to pick up my rental car that would allow me to revisit all my old haunts.
The next morning started out great but maybe not so great for someone else in the city. I arrived at the rental car agency to discover that the small, economy car I had booked the week before was no longer available because it had been in a minor accident that morning. Thankfully, they had a few cars available and it meant me getting an upgrade from that economy car to a bigger car. I was given two choices: take the Ford Explorer or take the Mustang convertible. My choices were followed by the attendant practically begging me to take the convertible. Not that any begging was needed. On my way out the door, I met the people who I assumed would be taking the Ford Explorer and that is when I finally understood why they wanted me to take the convertible so badly; A Mustang convertible isn’t exactly a family-friendly car.
So, with my new ride (of course I let everyone who stopped to admire that beautiful car think it was mine!) I set out for the day. My friends were at work so I had the entire morning and afternoon to drive to all my favorite places. Middle Cove Beach, Pouch Cove, Outer Cove, Topsail Beach, Cape Spear, Petty Harbour, Signal Hill, Fort Amherst, Bay Bulls…Yeah, I did a lot of driving that day and I couldn’t think of any better way to spend the day. The weather was unusually warm for that time of year in Newfoundland and the sun was shining. No fog banks threatened the coast and no rain clouds were in sight which meant I had the top down and my Ipod hooked up to the stereo and the wide open road ahead of me until I landed myself in the middle of rush hour on the Crosstown Arterial AKA Columbus Drive. That was not so much fun…
Driving around that day brought back a lot of memories, mostly good ones. I left Newfoundland almost 3 years ago and still miss it just as much as I did when I left. When I return, it feels like I never left until I realize it is not my home anymore, I’m just a visitor when I go there now. Memories of fires on Middle Cove Beach and watching the sun set at Topsail Beach came flooding back. I laughed out loud to myself at the memory of walking around Cape Spear and the Barracks at night with no flashlights. I could almost feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck just like it did that long ago night when my friends, who talked me into going (“oh yeah, its perfectly safe and well-lit”) told me a story about how a bunch of American tourists were murdered in the old Barracks and the killer was never found. They were very convincing and swore the story was true even though I have never been able to find any news archives or other proof to back it up. I couldn’t help but smile at the memories of driving around from town to town looking for icebergs offshore in the spring. My eyes welled up with tears of joy at the thought of all those wonderful memories that made my time in Newfoundland
So memorable.
That evening, I went to dinner with an old friend. At first, I had wanted to go somewhere familiar, a place I knew well and had fond memories of. Somewhere like Fog City or The Gov’nor Pub. In the end, we mutually decided to go somewhere where neither one of us had been before. We settled on the fairly newer restaurant on Duckworth Street called“Get Stuffed” and stuffed I did get! The unique menu had two price lists – one for regular sized portions and the other for “get stuffed” portions. I ordered the jazzed up version of classic Macaroni and Cheese from the regular-sized list and could barely finish dessert. Both were delicious but I can’t imagine how large the “get stuffed” portions must be because the portion I ordered was more than I could handle. My friend was, of course, impressed with “my” car and it was a beautiful, warm evening – warm enough to cruise around town for a few house with the top down – and that is what we did for the remainder of the evening.

I planned to just stay at the house and read and catch up on emails the day I had to bring the car back to the rental agency because, well, I didn’t have a car to drive around in! A last minute invitation to join some friends on a trip around the Irish Loop saved me from the boredom and torture I would have suffered if I had to stay inside all day. The Irish Loop is a scenic drive encompassing the southern portion of the Avalon Peninsula. It winds along coastal areas and through barren lands and a dozen or so towns like Bay Bulls, Witless Bay, Cape Broyle, Cape Race, Trepassey and Ferryland.
My last day in St. John’s was spent visiting friends who would not be joining me that evening on George Street. For those of you who do not know, George St. is Canada’s version of Bourbon St. or the Las Vegas Strip but not quite as long as those streets. In fact, it is only two city blocks long. The several dozen bars, pubs and clubs that are packed into those two city blocks cater to every possible taste. There are live music venues, dance clubs, a blues bar and Irish pubs. I chose O’Reilly’s, a famous Irish-Newfoundland pub where I spent many a night in my younger years, as home-base for my final night in the city.

Being on George Street brought on some bitter-sweet emotions. Sweet in the sense that I had so many good times there when I lived in St. John's. Bitter in the sense that the street was not like I remembered it. I heard some of my older friends express this sentiment to me in the past; they claimed these feelings come with age. When I frequented the street in my younger days, the days of Benders, Club Etomic, Peddler’s and The Attic, it was almost magical for lack of a better word to describe the many memorable (and sometimes foggy) nights I had on the street. While some of the old bars were still there (Turkey Joes, Trapper John’s, Christians, Lotties Place and Greensleeves), the newer ones didn’t peak my interest in the least. I was more interested in going to places that I was familiar with, places that reminded me of the good ol’ days. We paid our cover at O’Reilly’s, stuck around for a beer, got our wrists stamped and left to check out some of those old haunts. I made a beeline for one of my favorite watering holes, The Attic above Trapper John’s…only to discover that it had been transformed into a dance bar. I have so many fond memories of that place and by now on, that is all they will ever be. As I made my way up and down the street entering new and old venues, I couldn’t keep those old memories from flooding back. I entered new bars that took the place of old haunts and tried to remember the places as they were before. Club Etomik is now Dusk but it is was once a place that I spent many a night dancing until the wee hours of the morning until staff practically had to chase us out with brooms. A newer bar called The Rockhouse is now located where the old O’Reilly’s used to be. It is much different now but I remember what it once was. It's hard to believe so many people used to cram into that place. My favorite spot was always right in front of the stage where I danced to the music performed by popular local bands, such as The Navigators, as they performed lively sets full of Irish-Newfoundland favorites. How that upper balcony felt like it was going to collapse as every soul in that little place were on their feet dancing up a storm. The new O’Reilly’s is nice, I must say, but it doesn’t have the same feel as it did for me back in those days. Again, could be a part of the aging process. Christian’s really didn’t change much except the familiar faces that once worked the doors, served drinks and were practically fixtures at the place were no longer there. I spent many a late, late night (or late morning perhaps is a better way of putting it) at that place. Back then, if you knew the right people, you had certain privileges and one of those privileges was the ability to get into bars after hours. I don’t know how I used to do it because I certainly can’t handle the stuff very well now but I drank my first of many tequila shooters (among other strange concoctions that were mixed up and tested on me and my friends by a bartender we became very good friends with) at Christian’s. Many a morning, we’d all stumble onto the street to greet the morning sun and the street cleaners.
The atmosphere seems different on the street then it did back than too. There seems to be more fights, more drugs, more drama. Maybe it was always like that and I’m only noticing it now because I am older. I remember the street being a place of camaraderie; everyone was your friend. All it took was a “where you from” and you had a new drinking buddy for the night…or friend for life as was the case a number of times for me. Everyone got along, everyone laughed and carried on and the nights seemed like they would never end and, sometimes, I didn’t want them too! You never knew what you were going to see while walking the streets of downtown St. John’s on a Friday or Saturday night but it was all in good fun. Like the time I spotted a couple of guys (who were obviously completely blitzed) sitting in a row boat, that just happened to be parked on Water St. for whatever reason I don’t know, with oars in hand, merrily singing and “rowing” away. Or the time a guy was standing in front of Trapper John’s chasing down everyone who walked by so he could give them a free hug. That is how I remember it; everyone hugging, laughing and having a good time. Seeing familiar faces at every turn was another thing I missed while walking the street that night; I didn't see anyone I knew. A new generation of younger people now roams George Street.
After a stop at the Sundance and Club One to hear the last set of a band I used to like watching, we returned to O’Reilly’s to finish off the night. The music was the same as it always was. Lively Irish and Newfoundland songs that I knew every word too like Peter’s Street, Heave Away and Excursion Around the Bay. And, as if someone in that band knew what my favorite Newfoundland song of all time is, Sonny’s Dream brought the night to a close.

After I moved to Newfoundland many years ago, it became a tradition to go out on a bender before I left to spend summers with family in Nova Scotia so sticking with that tradition, I made my way across Newfoundland to catch the ferry in Port Aux Basques...with a raging hangover. And a few weeks after returning home, I received a letter in the mail from Marine Atlantic. Apparently, they softened up in their relations with customers who are fed up with the delays and poor service and decided to send out presents to make up for the delays of this past summer; a $200.00 travel voucher to be used towards crossings anytime in the next year. For me, that means my travel to Newfoundland next summer won’t cost a cent!

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