Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One last party

A myth circulates in firefighter gossip-land that, many years ago, I got drunk on White Russians. While this tale of alleged intemperance may contain a microscopic kernel of truth (I did, in fact, consume a drink or two that contained Kahlua and milk), the facts have been distorted over the years. For instance, I did not dance on any tables that night in Hornepayne. Honest.

In spite of the wildly inaccurate stories that emerged from that era, it was the golden age of training in Northwestern Ontario. The Fire College had recently launched the Northern Campus, the demand for training had grown by leaps and bounds, and we had a cadre of incredible instructors that included Andrew from Toronto, and Graham from Atikokan.

Fast forward to the present. The Ontario government has ditched programs like a foundering ship ditches cargo during a hurricane. The College is increasingly reluctant to pay airfares for instructors from the South. Courses have been cancelled to the point that we wonder if the ship will still be afloat at this time next year.

One bright spot in the gloom is that the College agreed to fly Andrew to Thunder Bay for Fire Con, Northwestern Ontario's one and only fire conference. Graham was also there, after a one-year hiatus. With live fires, search and rescue training, and classes filled to capacity, it was almost like the old days again.

In keeping with ancient tradition, we went out for dinner and drinks the last night of the conference. I sipped my Pepsi and looked around the table. We certainly were an enigmatic group. Andrew is a Toronto fire captain who uses vacation time to train volunteer firefighters in the North, in spite of the long hours and lousy pay. DJ is an employee of a bureaucracy (which technically makes him a bureaucrat) who actually cares about his job. Graham is a British national who spent most of his youth in Spain, and somehow ended up in Atikokan, which is about as near the peripheral edge of the universe as you can get. Two young ladies, a former fire training student and her sister, completed the group. I would say that they were the most normal ones at the table, but the fact that they spent the whole evening with us of their own volition suggests otherwise.

Then there was me. A full time chief of a volunteer department who drinks Pepsi while everyone else drinks wine and beer and vodka. Perhaps it's the strangeness of my own personality that makes me feel like I fit in just a little with this wonderfully eccentric group.

As the evening progressed, the veneer of normalcy crumbled off our our inner quirkiness. If I could remember half of the bizarre topics we passed around the table, I'd have a year's worth of blog material prepackaged and ready to publish. When Graham started sticking beer bottles to the window frame, I knew that this party was right on track.

Don't bother asking how it's done. I believe it has something to do with friction, voodoo, and high blood alcohol levels. If you really want to know, you'll just have to come out to dinner with us sometime.
When Graham started sticking wine bottles to the wall - a historic first - everyone knew it was time to wind down. My friends ordered one last round, and suddenly realized that I hadn't had even a taste of anything stronger than a Pepsi. Andrew had the bright idea that we should relive the Hornepayne days.

"Come on Tim, have a White Russian."

"Nah, better not."

"Come on. This might be the last party."

The last party . . . it sounded so sad. But judging by the state of affairs in the Province, I couldn't argue the point. The waitress, pen and pad in hand, looked at me expectantly. Aw what the heck.

"Sure, I'll have a White Russian."

The drink appeared three minutes later. When I picked it up, cameras flashed like a paparazzi ambush. The stuff in the glass looked nothing like I remembered. I took a sip. It tasted nothing like I remembered. After some discussion, I realized that the Hornepayne myth was even less true than I had thought. I had ordered milk and Kahlua on that legendary night. A White Russian contains milk, Kahlua, and rum.

That explains why I didn't get drunk and dance on the tables. My Hornepayne drink was a Brown Cow, which sounds benign and innocent, not a White Russian, which sounds intoxicating and dangerous.

I took another sip of the real White Russian and remembered why I drink Pepsi and Coke. That strange, oogie feeling in my stomach is the same every time. I'm proud of myself though, because I made history that night. It took me so long to drink that White Russian that I ended up staying until closing time.

[Side note: If the photo looks a little blurry, it's because Andrew's camera phone had absorbed more than its legal limit from his incessant texting in between drinks.]

So the myth is put to rest at last. There was no table-top dance, no drunken party, not even a White Russian. Just a small herd of innocent Brown Cows.

At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


  1. Looks sort of like very milky iced coffee, to me. How do I know that was really alcoholic?

  2. You don't. The only proof I can offer is the assurance that the others wouldn't have let me off the hook that easy . . .


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