Winnipeg, Manitoba. A city so down-home and so old school, they still spell chlamydia with a K. Yet, a city so modern and forward-thinking all its local cheeses miraculously contain “not one gram of actual dairy”! It gets under your skin, it gets into your eyes, it gets in your fridge and drains anything with even a trace of alcohol. It is the jewel of the prairies, the backbone of Manitoba and, most importantly, the place where Bobby Hull’s hair transplant did its most spectacular work.
Like most people who find themselves in Winnipeg — settling up the account of an unwise bet made in a bar in Toronto or Montreal — I didn’t know where to begin. It was Spring, there was a foot of snow and the mayor had just endorsed the phrase “I can feel all my toes!” as the city’s slogan. I was in town faced with the challenge of trying to raise the self-esteem of a city of lakefish eaters and Jets fans. What good could I possibly do? Had I finally met my match? Would I finally meet people who were resistant to the life-guidelines lovingly spelled out in my runaway bestseller Don’t Kid Yourself, Gomer, It Is About the Car You Drive!?
Luckily, the home office put me into contact with a spirited local named Burton McFarland who would be my guide through the town known by locals as “Slurpopolis.” I know the name Burton McFarland sounds unlikely but due to the fame of hometown-born Burton Cummings (singer-songwriter of “Sugartime Flashback Joys”), Winnipeg is a city where every year at least one hundred newborns are given the name “Burton” and at least five hundred are given the name “Cummings.” Anyways, my Burton is a 24-year-old “flag designer” who has designed the flags of at least 214 nations that do not exist now but, if he has anything to do with it, may exist in the future (like “Transberta,” “Silver-Wales” and “Super-Quebec”). He wore a wool cap with the Olive Garden logo, strangely carried a car battery in his backpack, and excitedly said “I was thinking we should start and get a bite to eat! Want to go get some cheese nips? Uh, nips are just burgers — at Salisbury House — Sals — a restaurant which was started . . .” I stopped the strange young man right there and I said “Wait. Just hold on there, chumly. You had me at nips.”
After polishing off a Mr. Big Nip Platter, I had Burton McFarland take me to the site of where I would try to raise the self-esteem of a city some say rests in “perma-gloom” ever since experiencing the dizzying euphoria of hosting the 1999 Pan Am Games. Standing in front of an abandoned galoshes storage building (the last galoshes storage building to close in North America), I told my young guide I was about to start a new kind of Self-Esteem Clinic under the brandname Gotta Ball. “GB clinics will be different,” I proclaimed; “You see, we are going to offer video counselling only. It’ll be like a Skype session with a trainied self-esteemiologist who lives in another city. Imagine being in Winnipeg and getting advice from a therapist who is sitting by the Riviera, drinking Cinzano over ice, while you have to struggle to be aware of the difference between “winter tires” and “mid-winter tires” — wouldn’t that make you feel better, knowing that it can get that good? Gotta Ball!”
Burton McFarland adjusted his backpack and said “I don’t know, Doc. That sounds pretty insensitive. It’s actually really nice here and the people here are better off than most people you will ever meet. And one day, if the country of Pegtopia comes into being, the flag I have ready for it will feature one pretty happy face!” I know he said this because I recorded him going on and on while I was taking a call from somebody who was trying to sell me on the idea of crossing my proposed clinic with a Lenscrafters franchise. But I’m glad I listened to that recording because that kid was kinda right. Winnipeg may have had its trouble in reputation, what with novelist Hugh McLennan famously saying “Boy and girl fall in love in Winnipeg — who cares?”
But, when you think about it, the bigger question is, who cares about Hugh McLennan? I may have not said it to Burton McFarland, as I looked at him from the window of my hotel room as he gamely tried to hitch-hike home through yet another heavy snowfall, but Winnipeg did not need my help. And, to put a finer spin on things, sometimes you lose a bar bet.
Winnipeg. Birthplace of Louis Riel and a chain of Louis Riel shoe shops. Home of the Goldeye, land of jumper-cables, dreamer of Foreigner songs, creator of the “Winnipeg Biscuit,” and, most importantly, the place where Bobby Hull’s hair transplant did its most spectacular work.