Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The Making of a McMurray Nightmare
I had a pretty horrifying dream on the weekend, and for once it had nothing to do with Highway 63, one-hour traffic back-ups on Confederation, or fights over the Snye or Draper Road. No, this wasn't my usual nightmare. This one began with me quite innocently walking into the Thickwood Safeway in search of my morning latte - and discovering the Starbucks closed. Not just closed, though. Being dismantled, torn down in front of my eyes.
In my nightmare (where I tend to be a bit more profane than in real life) I believe I looked at the apron-clad baristas and shouted "What the eff do you think you are doing?!?", while frantically trying to grab bits of signage out of their hands and place them back in their proper place. The baristas quietly explained that the Starbucks was being closed down since a new stand-alone Starbucks was to open downtown and therefore the decision to close this one had been made. Now, in my nightmare this is where I began to cry, big fat latte-less tears rolling down my face as I realized that I would have to face the nightmarish traffic to get a latte in the future. I remember feeling lost and abandoned, bereft and left to the whimsy of fate as another one of the things that make life in Fort Mac good was gone.
And that's when I woke up, in a cold sweat, and realized it was just a dream. A horrid dream, but just a dream and nothing more. As I lay there I still felt a bit terrified and decided I'd visit the Starbucks that day to make sure my dream had been a nightmare and not premonition (and I am happy to report I have no precognitive abilities as Starbucks in Thickwood Safeway is very much open for business). The dream made me realize something else, though. It made me realize how closely attached I am to some of the little luxuries of life here, and that is perhaps because there are so few of them right now.
We are a community of over 100,000, and yet have only two Tim Horton's, two tiny Starbucks, one small coffee shop, and an even tinier coffee corner (Havana's in the Peter Pond Mall, best coffee in town, but you'll need to take it to go as seating is very limited - as in two). If you happen to be a writer and coffee fiend this is a very small number of spots to grab coffee, which is a bit like blood to many of us who scribble. And it isn't just coffee shops.
I went into mourning many years ago when we lost our only craft store, which had been located on Reidel Street. It was the only place in town to find many craft supplies, and when it closed online craft sites became my new best friend. I've seen shoes stores disappear (remember the one that used to be on Franklin?), and children's clothing stores. It seems like I have seen some of our options shrink as the city has grown, losing retail instead of gaining it as commercial space costs rose and squeezed out some business owners. I've seen restaurants come and go. At times it has been hard to live here, because signs saying "everything must go, store closing" made me cringe as I was made aware once again of the limitations of living in this northern city.
Now let's be clear - I love this community. I also love coffee, shoes, clothing, dining, and the finer things in life. I've been called a "bon vivant" (if you don't know what that means then go look it up like I had to do in order to make sure it was a compliment and not an insult hidden in another language). I grew up in Saskatoon, "the Paris of the Prairies", and spent most of my twenties in Toronto, one of the largest and, to me, most vibrant cities in the entire country. I have also lived in very small places, like Red Lake, Ontario, where I lived in the even smaller town of Cochenour, which had no school, gas station, grocery store, or anything else (and was quite literally where the highway ended in that region, disappearing right into the lake). Given a choice I will choose the larger community every time, because I like options. I like being able to choose from more than two shoe stores, and I like something different from the same restaurants I've eaten in for the last decade. I suppose that is why I get giddy when new stores and restaurants open up here, because they are new and novel. And I suppose that is why a goofy little dream about the Safeway Starbucks closing was enough to send me into a cold sweat and feelings of deep anxiety.
So, that was my Fort McMurray Nightmare. I think, actually, that we are at the start of a Fort McMurray dream instead, when we will see new options of every kind becoming available to us. Personally I can't wait. Until then, though, I am keeping a very close eye on the baristas at Starbucks, because if they show any sign of dismantling the counter I want to be there to defend my beloved lattes, stir stick sword at the ready.