Coast to Coast in Canada: A Familiar Face in an Unlikely Place

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If you want an amazing NHL rivalry in an area with incredible natural landscapes, the Albertan pipeline/Bible Belt stretch between Edmonton and Calgary is hard to beat. But I wasn’t into sightseeing and hockey season hadn’t started yet.

My road trip was about action at the poker tables and, despite the high expectations I had of tapping into some Calgary oil money, the landscape for grinding was barren. I spent less than three days between these two fortresses of Western Canada. Apart from a near-disaster when I caught someone trying to break into my car (they bolted when I showed up), not much of interest took place. Boring games and cold people.

Disappointed, I headed east.

I wasn’t exactly sure where I would stop next; driving from Alberta to Ontario involves crossing the seemingly unending stretch of Canadian prairies. Farmlands, dust and the odd small town are the only (minor) distractions on the open road.

I WASN’T EXACTLY SURE WHERE I WOULD STOP NEXT.
Eager to make it to the action of Central Canada, I thought I might be able to pull an all-nighter and complete the 14-hour drive from Calgary to Winnipeg.

But I didn’t make it to Winnipeg.

A couple hours west of the home of Neil Young, the weather got bad. Because I am slightly deranged when I set myself a goal, I stayed on the road as the wind picked up and the rain became a monsoon. There were two, maybe three times when I considered pulling over.

In the end, I made it to the small city of Brandon, Manitoba where I checked into the first motel I could find. I poured myself a gin and tonic stiffer than wartime Winston Churchill’s upper lip and crashed in a single bed that would have made sense as a form of sleep-punishment for a prisoner spending his first night in solitary.

***

I woke up the next morning exhausted from the drive. While (barely) making it to Brandon, I hadn’t seen anybody on the road for a long while. I soon found out why: it was dark as I pulled into town and I guess I just hadn’t spotted the tornado. Sometimes it’s best not to know.

The final stretch of this leg of the journey took me to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thunder Bay is a small northern city with a killer name. It’s big enough to have its own symphony orchestra and is also notorious for having one of the highest concentrations of bars/pubs in North America. And there’s poker: The definitely-not-OG OLG Poker Room which was spreading a single-table tourney and a juicy 1/2 no-limit game.
After the long stretch of prairies, forests and rivers that cover the land between Calgary and Central Canada, Thunder Bay was the first step to re-entering civilization (no offense, Winnipeg). It was the last place I expected to find a familiar face.

***

In an earlier post I mentioned that, before heading out on my road trip, I was flush with winnings from a live tourney. It had taken place at Planet Hollywood earlier in the summer; I chopped HU for a significant amount.
At the Thunder Bay poker room, I grinded up a decent stack over the first couple hours. To my immediate right was a decent player, tagging it up but running badly and getting increasingly whiny. Maybe it was that I had had one (or three) gin and tonics too many but nothing had clicked yet.

Then after a particularly gross beat, this guy – let’s call him C – started telling the table about his near-miss at Planet Hollywood earlier this summer.

C had played so well.

C had run so hot – for a while.

Nearing the the final table, some crazy, ripped, spiky-haired dude had crushed C’s unlucky soul by rivering his pair of fours with ace-king in a standard all-in spot. He had been soooo close to a big score!

I JUST CAN’T MAKE THIS SHIT UP.
I nearly spit out my drink and asked, “What-the-fuck?!?” Yes, I am a (slightly) crazy, (slightly) ripped, (very) spiky-haired dude. Yes I had busted him just a few weeks earlier at Planet Hollywood. And yes, here he was sitting to my immediate right on the other side of the continent.

Exactly 3,217 kilometers from Vegas, here was a guy who had shared the highlight of my summer. It had taken me over an hour to realize he was sitting next to me. I just can’t make this shit up.

Whether it’s a tornado behind you or a familiar face beside you, I guess it’s hard to find what you’re not looking for. Especially on the open road.