Monday, April 9, 2012

re-entry into my hometown...and the Junos

now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
seems like there aint nobody wants to come down here no more
they're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back to
your hometown
your hometown
your hometown
your hometown

-Bruce Springsteen, "My Hometown"

The training program provided by the Canadian International Development Agency always warns of the reverse culture shock that international development workers might experience when returning to their hometown after working overseas, and realizing that they are going to have to reconcile all of the amazing/shocking things they've seen in a developing country with life as usual back home.

But what has struck me about returning to my hometown Ottawa is that life goes on and things change at home too. In the seven months I've been gone, Farmer Hope has sold the last farm to the developers and the cornfield behind my house is marked to be developed for townhomes, the trees nearby torn down. The old Ikea has been torn down and replaced by an even larger Ikea, the largest one in the country, resembling a gigantic blue Lego block. Blockbusters and the ol' local Flicks & Flavoues have gone out of business and now there is no longer any place to rent videos in my neighbourhood. And the KFC in Hintonburg has been bought out by the Hintonburger, which has hung a makeshift sign under the giant red-and-white KFC bucket.

My hometown is not a happy place right now. The new national budget calls for the cutting of almost 20 000 jobs in the public sector. Since the federal government is the largest employer in town, Ottawa is particularly affected and it seems like everyone is worried.

On the other hand, I came back home in time for the JUNO Awards.

For non-Canadian readers, the JUNO Awards are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, one of the most important distinctions in Canadian music. This year, the JUNOs were being held in Ottawa, and more specifically, in Kanata, the neighbourhood where my parents live.

I did not attend the JUNO Awards. I was busy fighting jetlag, and with the very good intention of catching up on Canadian affairs by reading the budget, I found myself falling asleep, fully clothed, on my bed at 9PM. At 10PM, my friend Meg called me to pick her up from the JUNO Awards. She's the host of a CBC radio show, so she gets to go to these things are part of her job. I look forward to the day that my law firm pays me to go to shows.

The streets of Kanata had become a parking lot, with everyone making an exodus from the Scotiabank Place (formerly known as the Corel Centre, formerly known as the Palladium) at the same time. Folks were dressed in all sorts of varieties, from t-shirts and jeans to ball gowns, and walked between the cars idling on the road. Pedestrians were definitely making better time than the cars.

Eventually Meg found my car at the side of the road. I was also giving a ride to radio celeb Vish Khanna, who was sick with a cold. He had just finished interviewing Feist (and also presumably passing on his sickness to the Juno winner) and now looking forward to getting back to his hotel to crash. We dropped him off at his Queen Street hotel, and then hit up the JUNO after parties. Despite having fallen asleep the previous hour, I was wide awake now, partly thanks to the Tim Hortons coffee I'd picked up on the way.

The Canadian music company Entertainment One was throwing a by-invite-only party at the Mercury Lounge in the Market. I got in as Meg's plus one. Deejays were spinning music loudly and everyone was very well dressed, in suits and designer dresses. More importantly, it was open bar. I wished I'd known this before volunteering to drive for the night. Instead, I took advantage of the free pretzels.

Eventually we left the party to wander around downtown in search of other parties. It was kind of interesting. On one hand, it was one of the biggest party events in Canada. On the other hand, it was Ottawa on a Sunday night - all the civil servants had to work the next day (for now, anyway). This more or less translated into mostly quiet empty streets in the Market, with scattered pockets of loud bustling parties at various high-end bars that weren't letting anyone unimportant in. And the occasional celebrity sighting. It all felt sort of like a dream, partly because half of my jetlagged mind was in sleep mode and the other half still stuck in Namibia, where I had also been partying with the country's stars. But now I was here, back at what I call home, feeling like an astronaut coming in from outer space and re-entering the atmosphere feeling very, very sleepy.

last night me and kate we laid in bed talking about getting out
packing up our bags, maybe heading south
i'm thirty-five, we got a boy of our own now
last night i sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good
look around
this is your hometown

-Bruce Springsteen