When I read commentary about our community I usually do my very, very best to be objective and see it from the point of view of those making the comments. I work extra hard to see it through their lens and to see if their comments have any basis in reality, and, on occasion, they do and I find myself thinking of ways we can improve our community to address the valid issues they have raised.
And sometimes instead I just think: "hey, if you think we are so bad, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of town, eh?".
That happens to be what I thought when reading a Letter to the Editor in the Fort McMurray Today from someone who apparently was in town recently as their childr(en) competed in the Western Canada Summer Games.
Now, I happen to know that there are people out there exhausting themselves to make these games a success. They are putting in 18-hour days for two weeks straight, and some of them are spending their vacation time to volunteer. They are the ones at every venue, at every event, at every single hour of every single day working their asses off to welcome those visiting our community and to ensure they leave our community having had a great experience, and one to remember with pleasure. But it seems that at least one visitor, rather than acknowledging the hard work that has gone into these games, has instead chosen another tactic.
The complaints listed are three-fold: the increased price at a local hotel during the games, being honked at and witnessing an arrest. I'd like to address these in order:
1) Peak times at hotels: Ever gone on a cruise in the winter? Flown at Christmas? Stayed at a ski lodge during Spring Break? Guess what: hotels, airlines and other tourist related services charge more at peak times. It's the way the world works, even in Fort McMurray, Alberta. It's just one of those realities of life you need to build a bridge and get over, because it is simply the truth and a matter of economics - businesses will charge more when they can. It's kinda how they stay in business, really, charging more at peak times and less when they need to drum up some business.
2) Being honked at: I've been honked at, too. In several cities and towns, in fact. I mean, the audacity of someone not only owning a jacked-up pickup truck, but then HONKING at someone from inside it. I mean the very nerve...oh wait, the missing part would be WHY they were honking. Generally speaking if I tell a story like that and leave out that key detail it is probably because I did something idiotic and got honked at, but adding that detail would lessen my righteous indignation, so there is no good reason to include that, right? Right.
3) Witnessing an arrest: I have kinda lost track of how many arrests I have witnessed in my life. Not here, mind you, but in other cities and towns where I have seen arrests outside bars, restaurants, casinos, malls and in one memorable instance a very popular children's restaurant in Edmonton. People get arrested, every day. It's why we have this thing called "jail" and these nice people in uniforms we call "police officers".
It would seem the letter writer was sort of scraping the bottom of the barrel for their righteous indignation and complaints about their visit in our community. I notice they did not comment on the Games themselves, the staff of said Games, the volunteers, the opening ceremony extravaganza, the venues or any of the other myriad things that would be tough to criticize in any honest way because they have been, frankly, spectacular. No, the visitor to our community reached as far as they could to find things to complain about, because apparently this was the first time in their entire existence they had a) been charged more for a hotel at a peak time, b) been honked at, and c) witnessed an arrest. One must wonder if they have lived a very sheltered existence if this is true.
I am genuinely sorry that this is what they based their sentiments on our community on - because apparently they couldn't see the forest for the trees. Sure, we have some issues in our community, but the ones they identified are so far from being any of them it is actually a bit amusing to a long-term resident. One must also wonder if they actually never wanted to come here, didn't intend to come with an open mind and had no intention of deviating from the stereotypes they already had playing in their head when they drove into town. And I am actually truly sorry that they missed out on enjoying an experience that can be amazing if you open your eyes, your heart and your mind - because that is what Fort McMurray has been for me, and for so many others, too. We are not perfect - but we are truly unique and worthy of looking past hotel prices, honking and an arrest to see the strong undercurrent of community in this place.
But, enough ink wasted on this, as for the most part what I am hearing from visitors is how amazed they are by our community, how it is not at all what they expected and how grateful they are to have had the opportunity to visit to learn more about us and to experience our big spirit and our energy. We know enough in this place to know that we cannot allow the sour grapes of one individual to colour how we feel about ourselves or our accomplishments, and so I hope that every single person in this region continues to take great pride in the Western Canada Summer Games, the team that has brought the games to life and the thousands of other residents of this region who have welcomed our visitors with open arms - and I hope we continue to be kind and grateful to those who have chosen to visit us, too.
And while I am taking the high road here to some degree I must admit there is a small part of me that secretly wishes we could line up every jacked-up pickup truck in this town along Highway 63 as our letter writer departs, giving them a salute of thousands of wild honks as they leave town, just to say "Buddy, we got 99 problems in this town, but this ain't one".
Update - On occasion we all react in haste and do things we regret - and I am pleased to update this story to include a link to an apology from the author of the original letter of complaint. It takes a person of integrity and character to recognize when they have been unfair, and I would like to thank him for both his apology and his subsequent kind words about Fort McMurray.