By Rob South
Sometimes university life spoils you a bit. Sure, you have no money in your wallet and the grocery budget does not have much room above Kraft Dinner, but still, you know deep down you are surrounded by the security of a middle-class life-style. And this middle-class security is not often tested: you hang out with middle-class friends and go to middle-class bars and restaurants. Sometimes you just need to step out from this suburban world and take a peek into life in other circles.
In an effort to expand our realm of experience and dispel some myths, we decided to do a strange tribute to our premier: The Ralph Klein Pub Crawl. Our adventure took us to the Canadian Legion #1, the St. Louis Hotel, the King Eddy and the Cecil Hotel, all rumoured hangouts of our premier from his days as mayor. We knew from the outset this adventure was not truly anything special, just a bunch of college kids "slumming it," but that did not take away from the excitement of something new, and perhaps even dangerous.
The Friday evening started slowly as a few of us gathered and headed down the stairs to the public part of the Royal Canadian Legion #1. Fluorescent lights, dirty linoleum floors and a crowded room greeted us. As my companions seemed a bit nervous, I led the charge to the bar. The two Buds I ordered cost less than $5, not a bad value. We headed for a corner of the room in an attempt to find seats, sticking out like sore thumbs.
The crowd was friendly, and we chatted with a few of the patrons. A bad country and western cover band played, and several people grabbed each other by the waist and stumbled around in what I guess was an attempt to dance. Then our friend Andrew showed up. A military veteran, he got us into the "members only" part of the Legion upstairs. It was quieter and classier, and the beer was just as cheap.
Our next stop: the St. Louis. Someone who clearly had too much to drink lay in our way as we entered the stairwell. It was dark! Again, a bad cover band was playing, but I’ve heard far worse bands infar more reputable establishments. Our beer was remarkably cheap and the inexpensive deep-fried grub wasn’t bad to boot. Everyone there was friendly… maybe too friendly. One patron stole a potato wedge off my plate as I walked by, but he did so with such an endearing, George-W.-Bush-at-the-Republican-Convention-shit-eating grin that there was no way I could be angry. As a final pleasant surprise, the washrooms were cleaner than those in most night clubs. Alas, our time here was running short.
Onward, my friends, to the King Eddy, the home of Calgary’s blues. A $6 cover greeted us at the door, but as the blues filled our ears, we realized it was well worth it.
The Eddy is not really like the other bars on our pub crawl; the crowd is an unpretentious, middle-class bunch. People come for the music and don’t mind the expensive beer. Pictures of blues legends who visited the Eddy line the walls, highlighted by blue neon lights. To use the most popular expression of the night out: "you’re only cheating yourself" if you don’t visit the Eddy at least once.
Now for our last stop of the night: the infamous Cecil Hotel. An odour of cheap beer and sweat greeted us as we entered. It was packed, and we quickly found some seats in a corner. Most of the crowd contained faces that seemed weathered well beyond their years. The dance floor was packed as the band played bad ’80s rock. I headed to the bar in search of more alcohol.
As I waited in line to be served, I was bumped from behind. Turning around I saw a man who towered over my six-foot-four, 200-pound frame.
"That guy just called you a fucker," he said gesturing to a vague area behind him.
"It’s not a big deal," I said, realizing he was probably looking to pick a fight with the biggest guy he could find and that my college-boy looks wouldn’t help me any.
"Be a man," he snorted back.
"It’s not worth it," I replied.
"Yeah, it’s not worth it," chipped in an older man I had never met.
Suddenly, with his support, the whole situation was defused.
I ordered my drinks and offered the older man one, but he declined.
Everybody else at the bar seemed friendly, so I just brushed the moment off as an anomaly.
Sure enough, some of us had to work early the next day, so our evening soon came to a close. We had a fun time, but what had we really learned or accomplished? The truth, is not much.
I later posed the same question to a friend who was there.
"I learned the importance of supercans in policy making,"he laughed referring to our premier.
But in my friend’s own light-hearted way, he had summed up the one lesson of the evening: remember there are people living happy lives in circumstances worse than yours, and remember to venture outside your social group. It will make you a more well rounded person.
Maybe it’s because Ralph Klein learned this lesson so well that he’s such a popular premier?
Or maybe this college boy is just reading too much into a night out.