My entire life as it currently exists (in this known universe) can be traced back to one decision set in motion that year. Okay, the decision was actually made in 1994, but it all happened starting in 1995 and it led directly, though circuitously, to where I am now and all that surrounds me.
1995 was the year that I embarked on an eight month co-op term with Gulf Canada Resources in Calgary, Alberta. At the time it was a choice made solely for the opportunity it afforded me to spend some time in Western Canada, which I’d very rarely done previously, and be close to some extended family, whom I’d rarely seen. Making some decent money to pay for schooling and learn a bit about this mysterious (to me) oil patch was a bonus, sure, but purely secondary to my true motivations.
Little did I know the impact that eight month work term would have on my life. Without it I would never have fallen in love with the challenge of oil exploration geology. Never would have found myself yearning to return to this industry. Never would have met this wife, had these kids, made these friends, lived this life. None of it would have happened. That’s a rather daunting realization.
I also wouldn’t have gone through one of the more regrettable musical phases in my life. I guess all grand stories of impactful life decisions come with a skeleton to be crammed into the deepest recesses of a basement storage closet.
My first exposure to all that is Calgary and Alberta had a huge impact on me, none more so than The Calgary Stampede. This ten day event is an historic exhibition where Calgary pays homage to its ranching and farming roots. It is also one monumental party!
I grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo region where Oktoberfest, the largest such celebration outside Munich, enraptures the local population with festivity and inebriation each autumn, so I was well-acquainted with large community based celebrations that by and large are simply an excuse to drink lots and lots of alcohol. Still, I was not prepared for the Stampede. The size of this party, the duration of it, and the all-encompassing support of it within the downtown business community, not to mention the suburban neighbourhoods, is mind-blowing.
That week in July of 1995, with the blessing of my locally born and raised boss who gave me the green light to experience all that the Calgary Stampede had to offer, is one I will never forget though many specifics of it are a little foggy. I estimate I worked about ten hours that entire week but I spent very few hours at home. From Frac-juice first thing in the morning to closing down the Silver Slipper at night and untold debauchery in between, that week was one long festival of drunkenness. It’s what is referred to as Shangri-La for a single, twenty-three year old university student.
Unfortunately, that momentous experience also spawned a rather mortifying phase as I unwittingly fell under the spell of the “new country” music that was all the rage back then. I suppose it still is now, but it was very strong back then and, more importantly, I’ve since grown out of it. WAAAAAAAAY out of it. But for the latter half of 1995 I was really into this goofy, pop country nonsense. I would listen to it at work on my Walkman and in my car on road trips. I was embracing the Alberta mythos like a newborn to a nipple. I even bought a black cowboy hat which I wore around like a damned fool even upon returning to Ontario. It was … unfortunate.
If there is one song that sums up that period of my musical life, it is this one. Even listening to it now makes me cringe, but in the summer of 1995 I was bopping around like a jackass in ostrich skin chaps whenever this song came on the radio or at the bar. Pony up cowboys and cowgirls, I’m kicking off yer weekend with the blinking neon sign of my musical shame. This is “Sold (The Grundy County Auction)” by John Michael Montgomery from the 1995 album he named after himself. Ugh.