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Friday, March 07, 2008

Guest Shot

A couple of weeks ago my friend Melissa [pictured right in her usual state] got back from a six-month stint in Alberta. She'd gone out there to make some quick cash and advance her career, and we'd had numerous conversations on the state of Windsor: specifically, that the people who lived there didn't seem to see how bad things had become; could we only see it because we were now on the outside looking in? When she got back to the Rose City, I asked her what she thought now that was back on the inside. This is what she told me.

Of all the cliche’s in all the world, do I live in one of the worst?

June 2007, I found myself walking across a stage, sweating beneath a black polyester smock and praying to not fall on my ass. I finally got that $20,000 piece of paper. Now what?

What led to my decision is my ambition to move forward through the Golden Arches. That’s right folks, I work for McDonald’s and I’m lovin’ it. So much so, that after eight years of dedicated work, a college diploma, a university degree and countless hours of volunteer experience, I decided to move west.

The idea of moving to Alberta was one that I mocked and felt I was too good for. In my opinion, the kind of people that moved west were those lost in their lives. I had countless conversations with friends and family, discussing the transient culture that moved west. Whether it was to work in the Oil Sands or one of the Rocky Mountain’s over hyped hotels. It seemed that anyone that went west had always wanted to leave Windsor. It didn’t matter where they went, they simply wanted to disappear from this place and all it stood for. Or so I thought.

Then, Ed Stelmach and Ronald McDonald came knocking at my door. What they had to say was that if I wanted to pay off debt, advance my career and have a little fun while I’m at it, I need to leave Windsor. So I packed my bags and got on the most unlikely flight of my life.

Cue Edmonton – Calgary – Banff – Canmore – Lake Louise – Jasper and everywhere in between.

Time spent in Edmonton was filled with great bar nights, fantastic shopping trips, weekend getaways to the mountains and the most challenging work experience of my life. What no one tells anyone, is that working anywhere in Western Canada, blows. The work shortage is unexplainable. When they say they need people, they mean it. Needless to say, it took some time to adjust.

Despite the staffing issues, I understand where the draw is. In the six months that I lived in Alberta, I managed to pay off half of my tuition loans, my credit cards and still party like a rock star. I was prosperous and felt like I stood on top of the world (quite literally in some cases). It was the experience of a lifetime. However, it was merely an experience and not a life. When I finally realized this, I moved back.

What I knew of Windsor while I was in Edmonton, was that it had experience lay offs and job losses for the entire six months I left. Truly, I didn’t comprehend the impact until I arrived home. Everywhere I went, there were boarded up buildings, For Lease signs plastered across windows and far too many of my friends fighting for their jobs. The first week back was one of the happiest, yet bleakest of my life. There seemed to be an overwhelming sense of despair throughout the population. The once vibrant streets of downtown, where shadowed in anxiety and frustration. It seemed that every which way I turned, development had rendered and regression reigned supreme.

When I migrated west, there was promising talks about the Casino expansion bringing new life to downtown. There were brilliant debates over potential film studios, arenas, medical schools and arts development. Windsor had hope when I moved west. Where did it go? Perhaps I’m naive in believing Windsor is more than just the Motor City of Canada. This claim to fame is amazing, don’t misunderstand me, but when did it become all we know? Have we really gotten to a point in our city where ONE industry masters our puppet strings?

Perhaps it’s the bleeding heart liberal in me, but is hope now a cliché? For my entire academia, I believed in the idea that hard work, dedication, pride and a bucket full of hope could get me what I needed and wanted in life. These beliefs came from being raised in a city that epitomized all of those ideals. I can’t help but feel discouraged when I see so many people giving up on this town.

Last week, while at work, I had a young man place a massive order for the ‘shop’ he worked in. While waiting, we started talking about the state of Windsor as compared to Alberta. As per usual, I put up a defence expecting another hopeless wanderer, looking for their reason to saddle up and head out. Instead of insulting Windsor and claiming the west is the only way, he told me he had just moved home from Calgary. Merrily he claimed that he was proud to live and work in WIndsor and that (gasp!) things are looking up.

Now I see Windsor in a sunnier light. I can clearly remember why I came back. From the drive down Riverside to jogging on the trail, Dancing at the Loop to playing pool at Johnny Shots, Singing along with Jamie at Twigs or filming Eddie et al at City Council. Windsor isn’t an industry. We are not cars. We are people and places and moments past, present and future. We are not a cliché.

Want to tell your story about living in Windsor? Email me.

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