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part three

Crash Air In Time

A few years later I had once again changed jobs, twice. I should say, each time I changed jobs it was because I had been recruited. I never went looking for another position. I was now working as Interior Designer for the Provincial Government in the Public Works Department.

We had a relatively good-sized unit, with about five interior designers and four design aides. Our main purpose was to design renovations to existing government facilities from offices, to warehouses to prisons and we worked on the odd new building too though mostly these were farmed out to private firms. Architecture firms are better contributors to political parties than government employees. We provided services to all government departments throughout the province. Manitoba is a large place, larger than the British Isles. If you relocated Manitoba in the US it would stretch from Chicago to Florida. Only Texas would have a larger land mass.

One day I was called in by the boss and told I needed to go to The Pas in Northern Manitoba to look at renovation needs of one of the government operations there. I would need to take my aide (design assistant) with me as we would need to make new drawings of the building. We would have to sketch the layout of the building and take all the measurements so that we could begin the process of designing the new spaces.

My aide was a young woman who had dropped out of interior design school after the first year. She was very young and rather impressionable. In those days The Pas had a reputation for being a rough, tough frontier town. Probably because it was a rough, tough frontier town. Mining and forestry were the main industries. There was an Indian Band who had a reservation across the river from the town. The band had built a shopping centre on the reserve just across the bridge and it had had quite an impact on many of the town’s retail outlets. There were some hard feelings hanging around. Yet, most of the town people liked to shop at the grocery and department stores in the shopping centre.

Many men who go north for work, go to dangerous but very well-paying jobs. Their idea is usually to go there to work for several years, save up their earnings, then return home wealthy. Unfortunately many get bored without families and end up spending their earnings on drinking and gambling – or so the story goes. So, yes, in those days The Pas could be a little rowdy on Friday night. A smaller version of Glasgow perhaps.

My aide was terrified of going to the Pas. It didn’t help that one of our architects had recently got into a fight there and been beaten up (not too severely). Our colleague had the reputation of speaking his mind! Probably it hadn’t been too wise on this occasion. The department had sent out a warning to staff to be careful when dispatched to The Pas. All this added to my aide’s anxiety.

It looked like a one day job, we could take the early morning flight up, do the job and catch the evening flight back. Two flights a day by Crash Air, one in one out!

We packed up our kit, including a spiffy 35 mm office camera that I had learned to load and use correctly.

Off we went. When we landed my aide became tense. She already had a habit of talking fairly non-stop. Now her fears were spilling out at great speed and without apparent need for intake of air. “It will be ok” I said soothingly. We will just get a rental car, drive to the site, take the measurements, get the program requirements and fly back, absolutely nothing to worry about”.

So we rented the car and drove into town. For some reason the airport is about half an hour away, perhaps they expected The Pas to grow a lot.

We arrived in town, it looked much like other western towns. The Main street had wooden buildings with big fronts and smaller buildings attached behind the facades. Cars parked on the angle, no parallel parking skills needed here. Most of the vehicles were half-ton trucks and most of the town people wore jeans and heavy boots. People, seemed quite friendly, but burly.

We went to the client’s offices, had a meeting about their needs and wants, then began the process of drawing the plan of the building and taking photographs of the details.

We stopped for lunch and were advised to go to the shopping centre. It was well run and an obvious financial success for the band. Over lunch my aide became agitated. “Quick we have to go” she whispered urgently.
“Why, what’s going on?” I asked
“I just heard the people at the next table say the man handlers were coming to town!”.
“The who?” I asked staring at her.
“They said the man handlers are coming to town, I bet they are a local biker gang. We should get out of here”.
“Are you sure you heard correctly? Look why don’t we go back and finish the job then we can decide what to do. Man handlers indeed!”

We drove back over the bridge, watching the river rush by beneath us. My aide was swivelling her head around like that baby in the horror movie – keeping watch out for the man handlers. Then we saw it!

There right in front of us was a huge billboard advertising the next film to be shown at the local flick. “The Manhandlers” coming to town soon!

The movie The Manhandlers was indeed coming to town – but I didn’t think we needed to be in fear of this event.

We finished surveying the premises very quickly and realized we had hours before the plane that evening.

The map showed a large lake just north of town. We drove out to see it. It was beautiful. The lake bottom was made of some hard greenish clay and the water was absolutely clear. We rented a row-boat and took a short ride across the lake and back.

It was still hours before the flight so we decided to go back into town and have dinner at the hotel. Given the reputation of the town we took the camera and our briefcases into the restaurant with us. We didn’t want our work stolen.

It was a decent place and they served the usual great northern food. After a leisurely dinner we drove back to the airport. I like to arrive early at airports. I can’t stand worrying about missing a flight, so although we still had lots of time I decided we would take back the car and wait at the airport.

It’s a long straight road to the airport with an 80km speed limit – probably 60 mph then, I can’t remember when we decimalised.

I never speed, I don’t see the point in risking a ticket. I’d rather plan to leave in time for wherever I am going.

We were just turning into the airport complex when I asked my aide where she had put the camera.
“You were looking after the camera” she said, a bit snippety if you ask me.
“I gave it to you in the restaurant” I replied calmly – but my throat tightening. We stopped the car. Searched it twice – no camera!.
“Well drat!” I said. I’m sure it was drat. Then the light bulb went on.

“I put it on the seat next to me in the restaurant! I have to go back for it. You stay here and try to delay the plane – I’ll be back as quickly as I can”.

Her eyes opening very wide in shock, my aide said “You are not leaving me here on my own!”

“It’s an airport I said, what harm can you come to you here?”.

“I am not getting out of this car!” she said. There wasn’t time to argue, I burnt rubber as I turned the car back towards The Pas.

I hope there is a statute of limitations here, but I confess did exceed the speed limit on the way back to the hotel, just a little. “We can’t miss that plane” I said.

“Well if we get stuck here, don’t expect me to sleep in a room on my own!” was her reply.

“We definitely can’t miss that plane” I thought and drove even faster.

I ran into the hotel, went up to the desk and asked about a camera – had anyone turned one in by any chance?

“Yes, as a matter of fact, someone found this one, is it yours?”

“Thank, you thank, thank you” I yelled over my shoulder as I ran for the car. Half an hour to the airport, 10 minutes to return the car – 45 minutes! And the flight was scheduled for 35 minutes from now.

As soon as we were on the highway I went back to my life of crime and floored it. All the time thinking about how we would explain being delayed over night. The office would be alive with it. We would never live this down. I drove as fast as I thought was reasonable in the circumstances, but terrified the Mounties would pop out from behind a rock. They always get their man you know! Luckily it must have been their supper hour.

We saw the airport – but no sign of a plane! That can’t be good! Drat again. I took the car back, then we hurried into the terminal to see if there was any hope of another flight, knowing there was only the one scheduled each day.

The cheerful woman behind the counter looked at us apologetically and said “I am so sorry, there has been a delay, your flight won’t arrive for another half an hour. I am terribly sorry”.

“Well, these darned airlines, can’t they ever be on time” I said with feeling and a big smile.

Ah yes, someone asked how all the English Pubs turned out. The federal government cancelled the program and no funds were ever redistributed to the bases. My personal opinion is that the long-range planners in the military knew they would be shutting bases in a decade or two. It wouldn’t make sense to spend the money (even if it belonged to the messes) if the base might be one to be closed. They wouldn’t want to let anyone know the plan as the closing of a base is a very political issue. Every chamber of commerce wants the government to save money and cut government, but none want there to be any economic consequences in their back yard!

So I designed 9 English pubs, won all the competitions, but never have yet to see one built! Thank goodness, I hate fake English pubs, and can you imagine the hangover if I had had to supervise the renovations!

Next time “The Amazing Flying French Fry: science – and no fiction”

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