Friday, March 11, 2016

Western Canada Winter Memories

“The old lady just call and 1 of her workers just pulled out of the driveway with the block heater still plugged in and ripped the end off.. so i have to go to crappy tire get an end and fix it.” 

This is a slightly modified quote from a friend on Facebook that triggered some memories of doing such things while living in western Canada in the winter, specifically Calgary, Alberta (he isn’t the best of spellers as he openly admits, so I corrected some of the mistakes and some grammar, too). Since I was a transferred sales representative, I had to get used to some of the differences that I found from my native Ontario which is generally a lot warmer in winter.

The first thing I noticed is it was a dry cold (just like all the locals said), but that doesn’t make it any better. Your nostrils want to try to slam shut when you try to breathe the really cold air that I first experienced my first December out there. Not many folks in Calgary were actually born there since most transferred in because of something related to the oil patch businesses and all the support businesses needed to help with this cyclical growth since it was on again and then off again when prices dropped.

I also noticed that every car had the block heater plug hanging out of an opening in the grill or just in a gap between the hood and the body. My first experience of not plugging in on a cold night was interesting since the engine wouldn’t turn over since the oil was pretty much solid goo. I since learned that a thinner winter weight multigrade oil made engine turnover a little easier but you still plugged in the car overnight wherever you were be it at home or at a hotel or motel on the road. I vividly remember driving into Winnipeg from the airport and passing a larger shopping mall that had a sort of cloud over it but this was just all the cars left running while folks went indoors to shop. I guess stealing cars in the middle of the winter was beyond most crooks since they probably went south with the birds.

Back in those days, the hotel issued keys since the card entry system was not available yet. They mostly had cheaper nylon carpets so when you made it inside, after hitching up your car for the night and walking through the extra crunchy dry snow, I learned quickly that the very large key was a very important defense weapon you needed before you got to your room. You see the soles of my shoes (not rubber) would start to build up a large amount of static electricity in my mostly wool pants and when you went to reach for a metal door handle you got to see very large sparks gapping from the door handle to the first metal thing on your body or in your hand. Since the first time I did this the key was in my pocket and it seems that the 3 foot spark decided that the zipper on my pants fly was the place it would complete its connection for discharging (zippers were metal back in those days). WOW did that ever hurt!! So from that point on, I always entered a building with a key firmly lodged between the first two fingers of my right hand and watched as the giant spark made its arc between the door handle I was about to grab and the key. Better safe than neutered.

For those of you that don’t know what crappy tire is, it is nothing more than the name most Canadian folks gave to Canadian Tire which is a chain of automotive retail stores (that sells way more than auto parts) that can be found in most every city or larger town in Canada. They do sell some good products but they also import a lot of junk that gives it that tag. Back in those days, a lot of the crappy stuff came from Japan and Korea but now most everything they sell comes from China so I think it is time to update the tag to “Chinese Tire” because that is where the bulk of its products sold are made, which isn’t much different than other larger retailers nowadays. They don’t get the idea that with a name like Canadian Tire that they should be selling mostly Canadian made products but that is another problem that will one day be resolved by the cost of transportation from foreign lands and perhaps more of the products bought by Canadians will be made by Canadians who would be employed and could afford to buy them now. 

Take a visit to Mark’s Work Warehouse and Sport Chek (where one buys winter gear in Canada) which are both owned by Canadian Tire and look at all the Made in other places, not Canada tags there as well. Interestingly enough, both had their head offices in Calgary and were founded by western Canadians to the best of my knowledge, or at least started out as western retailers before making it back into the east. It is too bad that there are not more Canadian producers of goods out there that would be gainfully employed by Canadians who would then spend their earnings on Canadian-made goods but that is not a new problem in the world economy. Sooner or later the big retailers will give in to the fact that Made in other places is not a sustainable way to do business. But first they have to take their focus off of the bottom line to see what is happening to their overall business. I bet if they had a Made In Canada section in all 3 stores, it wouldn't take up very much floor space. 

Anyone remember when Canadian Tire didn't have any stock on the floor? Way back in the day, you found a sample product covered in clear plastic on the display floor, recorded the product number and took your order to a counter where it got picked and sent upstairs on a conveyor belt. Who came up with that crazy idea? Probably a relative of the folks that get their products made in a country they probably have never visited. Retailers come up with some very strange ideas on how to do business. Maybe they never learned to use the key trick and got zapped too many times. I would think getting zapped there a lot would eventually hurt your thinking patterns.

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