**I Love Alberta Beef recently won the Grand Prize in a Story Contest organized by Matt Jackson of Summit Studios. It will be part of a forthcoming compilation of Travelers Tales. Please see Summit's website for more info:http://mattjackson.ca/
Alberta. 2003. It was the summer of two competing phenomena: the mad cow crisis and the bumper sticker. Americans may have stopped Canadian Beef from flowing over the border but Albertans fought back with the “I Love Alberta Beef” bumper sticker. It seemed as though every driver in the province had slapped a bumper sticker to the tail end of their Chevy, Ford or Dodge. Their message was simple: Eat more beef. And Love it.
I arrived in the festive mountain town of Banff with two friends, Rob and Fiddy. Bumper sticker mania was at its pinnacle. Our initial stroll through town landed us at the “Official Alberta Beef” information booth. A jovial stereotypically-attired rancher handed us each a healthy stack of “I Love Alberta Beef” bumper stickers with one condition:
“Do you boys promise me that you will spread the good word?”
I shook his hand and looked him straight in the eye and replied, “Yes Sir. Yes we will.”
I was a roughneck, Rob and Fiddy were treeplanters. The transient nature of our employment made this the single weekend of the summer that we crossed paths. Being Canada Day, we decided that we would let our hair down even further than we normally would. We decided this weekend was going to be the weekend of the year. After all, it was Canada Day, anything less would be unpatriotic.
A copious amount of beer, we decided, was the best way to accomplish this task. A ten minute drive to the liquor store was all that stood between us and a weekend for the ages. But not today. The normally calm and traffic-free streets of Banff were engulfed in a traffic snarl that would strike fear into even the hardest New York cab driver. The Canada Day parade was about to start. Banff Ave was shut down from end to end, thus rendering the entire street system of town utterly useless to vehicle traffic. Half an hour wasted looking for even the most “ticket likely” parking spot later, we conceded defeat and returned to our starting point.
Rob said it best, “You know what? I’m choked. We got beat by a parade. If there was a fire and they had to shut the streets down? Maybe. A hostage situation? Better. But a parade? It’s such a lousy reason for not being able to buy beer.”
Fiddy added, “I know, but I’m not walking all the way across town and back just to buy a case of beer. Not in this heat. Remember what that girl said yesterday Rob? The temperature today is supposed to get up to thirty above.”
“Right. Canada Day. Thirty above. Why did she bother adding she was from Saskatoon?”
I couldn’t stand it anymore. This was supposed to be the weekend of the year. The last thing that was going to stop us from cutting-loose, Canada Day style, was a parade. Let alone a parade that we weren’t involved with. Then it hit me: The parade! I looked up at the two dejected souls and asked: “You guys still have your “I love Alberta Beef” bumper stickers?”
“Yeah, why?” they said in unison.
“Go get all of them.”
My plan solved every problem we faced. We could get beer, avoid walking, settle the score with the parade and most importantly, fulfill our promise to the rancher.
“What are we doing at the start of the parade route with all these stickers?” Rob said.
“Watch this.” I replied, extending my arm and raising my thumb in a classic hitchhiker’s pose.
He smiled at me and said, “Yes Sir. Yes we will.”
A line of classic cars started the parade. The driver of the first car raised his eyebrows high to say there was no possible way we would ever set foot in his vehicle, period. The second driver somehow managed to raise his eyebrows even higher. Was my plan doomed to fail? What we saw next made our mouths drop. Rolling towards us was a “J.F.K.-assassination” style convertible. If there was the perfect car for this moment in time, this was it. A driver decades-younger than the “eyebrow-raisers” asked the obvious, “You guys need a ride?”
“Yes Sir. Yes we do.”
We sat in the back of the convertible rolling down Banff Ave. We were in the Parade. In shock from our sudden good fortunes, we played it cool for the first few minutes and got to know our driver and his two female companions. It turned out they worked for the same landscaping company. I looked glanced at the fingernails of the girl beside me. Dirty. They were telling the truth. I asked her, “So if you three work as landscapers, do you cut grass?”
“Do you cut that grassy knoll over there?” I said, pointing to our left.
She pointed her dirty fingernail and said, “That knoll? Sure, I cut it yesterday.”
“Hey, Fiddy! Isn’t that your grassy knoll?” Rob chimed in.
“Yup. That’s the one.”
“Your grassy knoll?” she asked, shooting a confused look at Fiddy.
Fiddy filled her in: “Last night I was walking back from the bar and I decided that your grassy knoll over there was the perfect place to spend the night. So I slept there, face down, and this morning an old guy in a Buick pulled up beside me and honked his horn. Repeatedly. I guess he was offended to see me passed out on his neighbour’s lawn. Two facts for you: One: Alarm clocks? Over-rated. Two: Most comfortable grassy knoll I’ve ever slept on.”
She blushed and shot a look even more confused than the last at Fiddy and responded in the only way possible, “Thank you.”
If only they fell in love at first “knoll.” They would share a lifetime of blowing people’s minds when they found themselves at cocktail parties being asked: “Well, Nick and I met at work. Where did you two meet?
If I had the nerve to hitchhike in a parade, in the back of a “J.F.K-assassination” style convertible, with a guy who had a personal grassy knoll groomer, also present, I needed to take things to the next level.
“Snipers! Quick! Front corners! Haven’t you seen the movie ‘In the Line of Fire? You guys need to protect me and Jackie O!” I shouted, butchering real history and film history in one fell swoop. But what did I care? I was in a parade. With stickers. With Jackie O. Fiddy and Rob jumped from the slowly moving vehicle and ran to the headlights. They placed one hand on the car and the other on their ‘earpiece’, checking for intelligence reports of gunmen. From my gunfire-enticing perch in the car, I cheerily handed out bumper stickers to everyone who approached our heavily-guarded ‘float’.
We saw the hat first, then the eyes. There was no mistaking who it was. On top of the grassy knoll was the man we knew would arrive. He emerged from the shadows and raised an object to his shoulder. His fist. Another object raised to his other shoulder. His other fist. He coolly watched us distribute hundreds of innocent bumper stickers to hundreds of innocent people then suddenly thrust both fists into the air and shouted: “Go get ‘em boys!”
It was the rancher.
We rounded the corner onto the home stretch. Spectators piled high along Banff Ave. The sides of the street were packed ten-deep and people on the tops of buildings shouted with delight. It felt like a ticker tape victory parade. A sudden onslaught of out-thrust hands dwindled our sticker supply down to the very last sticker. Fiddy was on his feet both literally and figuratively. He ran to the centre of the street and hatched a plan on the spot that would decide the lucky recipient of our final sticker. He shouted clearly, hushing the crowd: “Ladies and Gentleman, in my hands I have the final “I Love Alberta Beef” bumper sticker that we will hand out today. I will give this sticker to the first person to come out here and show me a “beef” dance.” With gusto, a middle-aged mom burst from the crowd and landed in the middle of the street. She nailed a perfect rendition of that Russian dance where you cross your arms and kick out your feet. If there was ever the perfect “beef” dance, this was it.
Stickerless but still in the spotlight, I stood up on the back seat and addressed the captivated crowd on the left side of the street. I shouted out what any sensible person would do in my situation: “Give me a “B”! Give me an “E”! Give me an “E”! Give me an “F”! What’s that spell?”, cupping my ear to the crowd.
“BEEF!” The crowd answered back. I turned to the other side of the street:
“C’mon right side of the street, you can do better than them! Give me a…!”
What followed was the first time in the history of the world, ever, that two sides of a parade route tried their best to out ‘beef’ chant each other. The crowd had beef fever. We were spreading the disease.
Up to this point, we had made it past the grassy knoll unscathed, handed out each and every last bumper sticker, and even incited a round of competitive ‘beef’ chanting. The crowd was in the palm of our hand. Rob somehow got his hands on a corrugated plastic sign with the word ‘Monday’ printed on one side, ‘Tuesday’ on the other. Seizing the opportunity, he held it over his head and shouted to the left bank of spectators: ”Who likes Mondays?”
“Mondays!”- the left bank shouted back. He turned to the right side, asking loudly: “Who likes Tuesdays?”
“Tuesdays!” replied the right bank.
What followed was the first time in the history of the world, ever, that two sides of a parade route tried their damndest to out ‘Monday’/’Tuesday’ chant each other.
For the record, Tuesdays won. They always do.
With the important matter of Monday vs. Tuesday settled, we bowed to the crowd and exited stage right. We were at the end of the parade. Our classic car-owning landscaper-cum-chauffer pulled up to the liquor store and thanked us for an unforgettable parade experience. We thanked him for an unforgettable parade experience. We bought our beer then walked back outside. Blocking out the sun was the unmistakable figure of the rancher. His weathered face broke into a wide smile as he offered us his meaty right paw. We shook firmly while he looked us square in the eyes and said:
“Yes boys. Yes you did.”
copyright © 2005 by Kyle MacDonald