Clarence Goes to the JUNOS
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This is the amusingly funny story about the first time I went to the Juno Awards in Hamilton at Copps Coliseum in March of 1994. For those of my non- Canadian friends, the Junos are the equivalent of the Grammy Awards in the US. For me this promised to be a great event for me to attend as a budding young videographer. This was a grand chance to hobnob with Canada’s elite musicians and songwriters. Moreover, this was the first year the Junos were to introduce ” The Best Music of Aboriginal Canada” category. So herein lay my dilemma. The Junos were taking place in the southern Ontario city of Hamilton, however, I was in the remote northern community of Moose Factory, Ontario working as a Producer for a network called Wawatay Television. For those who do not know where Moose Factory is, let’s just say it is a mere 1400 kilometre jaunt from Hamilton and the only access to it is by train via Cochrane. No small feat…believe me..as you will soon see! Now you must remember that Moose Factory is an Island in the middle of the Moose River that flows into James Bay. The nearest community is the town of Moosonee on the mainland. To traverse the expanse of the Moose River take about ten minutes. The only exception is the freeze up and break up of the river when locals resort to a short helicopter ride. In any event, during the summer Moosonee is only accessible by freighter canoes that serve as taxis in the summer..and..in the winter, the locals adopt a local invention known as the skidoo taxi to get them across the river.
To further explain. The skidoo taxi, as the name implies, is a snowmobile with a wooden box towed behind, in which the passengers sit. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a vehicle, one can utilize the seasonal “winter road”. I use the term “road” loosely, for you see, the road is actually the frozen expanse of the river that is plowed in the winter to allow passage by car, truck or this trusty skidoo taxi thingamajig of which I speak. So I’m thinking at this point, I would get to the Junos by skidoo taxi to Moosonee, catch the train to Cochrane and transfer onto the bus that would take me to Toronto..and then finally…onto Hamilton. Pretty straight forward don’t you think? Ahh, but hold up, did I mention this was late March and the “winter road” has a nasty habit of flooding on mild days as the tide makes it way on top of the ice. “That could come into play.” I thought, but soon dismissed the thought. Well, in any event, all things considered, the taxi, train and bus plan seemed a good option. Besides, not having a great budget, a plane out of Moosonee to Toronto was a bit too expensive! Also, one minor detail I should mention was that the Executive Director of Wawatay Television, my “boss”, was nominated for this first ever Juno award to be presented to in the category of ” Best Music of Aboriginal Canada” So needless to say, it was imperative that I document this important event, given my boss had a good chance of winning! Yikes! You gotta do what you gotta do to appease everyone eh?
So as planned, I needed to get to Hamilton by Sunday for the Junos, but I needed to leave via train Friday morning. Also, did I mention that there was still a program that needed to be edited and packaged Thursday evening so I could deliver it personally to Toronto on Sunday afternoon? No? Well that was precisely the case, because at that time we delivered our program to the Ontario legislature in Toronto, whom in turn broadcast my program on their satellite feed. So, needless to say, I was obligated to finish editing my program by the time I left Friday morning. With Thursday now upon me, and my deadline fast approaching, I worked like an Editor possessed. I worked into the evening, then into Friday, and soon found myself still editing only an hour before departure. But remember, I was on a mission! With just a bit of packaging of the program remaining, I timed it so I would call a car taxi to pick me at about 8:15 a.m. to make the train across the river in Mosoonee at 9 a.m. Certainly that would give me plenty of time huh? But as it goes with the best laid plans, things started to go awry. First off, there were no taxis to be found despite my persistent calling. I guess everyone had the same plans. Go figure? It was now half past the hour and I was getting edgy and desperate, but alas! There upon the cork bulletin board were the keys to the company van. I felt the weight of those desperate moments suddenly lift of my shoulders and dissipate. I grabbed the keys and headed out the door, got in the van, fired it up and I was now off the the races like a bat out of hell! In moments I was approaching the river, ready to make the trek on the “road”. At this moment, I took note of the car ahead of me. “Most likely a parent, no doubt, taking their kid to the High School in Moosonee” I thought to myself. Suddenly, I seen a car taxi coming up the embankment from the other direction. The taxi stopped momentarily and rolled down his window to speak to the driver of the car in front of me. I could see their breaths hit the air as they engaged in a brief exchange. With a bit of hesitation, the driver in front proceeded to proceed onto the “winter road”. I followed and I soon clued in what the two must have been discussing. Remember I said that the tide waters had a nasty habit of making its way on top of the ice in March. Well, it turns out this was one of those days. However, I continued to follow those brave souls in front, but that soon came to an abrupt end when the car in front stopped at a place on the winter road that traditionally seems to dip. Of course, that meant the water was a little deeper there. It was at this point, the car in front did a 180 and opted to drive back toward the Island. As the drive went by, she shrugged her shoulders. “Now what?” I thought to myself, but abandoned that thought, only to remind myself, ” I…WAS…ON…A..MISSION!”
Besides, what would my boss think if I were not to show up with my camera to capture this very important event. Just what kinda journalist would I be? Humph! “Time to soldier on.” I commanded myself. Now with the van stopped, I opened the door and noted the water was up to the center of my wheels. “Not a problem! I’ll just take it slow” I reasoned. Knowing now the ice was covered with about a foot of water, I was aware the tires were more apt to slip, so I put it in low gear and proceeded. When I reached the place where the ice dipped, I approached it with extreme caution. “Ahh” I convinced myself, ” but you have a plan.” I was thinking that I would simply take it easy…and just moments before hitting the dip…I would gun it and gracefully transverse this “wee” impediment. ” Task at hand Clarence. Task at hand” I repeated to myself. It was time..and so I now tromped the gas! I felt the initial thrust as my vehicle lurched forward. “All is well” I exclaimed “look at me go!” Suddenly, the vehicle went sluggish. Then.. more so…then as NOT anticipated, I stopped. “Arghh!” I yelled and slammed my fist on the steering wheel. Feeling a bit distraught, I rested my head upon the wheel and listened to the sound of my own heartbeat quicken as I realized my gallant attempt to get to Moosonee was thwarted by the elements. After what seemed to be an eternity, I lifted my head and shut the engine as I resigned myself to the fact that I was now stranded…in a van..on a river..surrounded by water. Surely enough, after opening my door and looking out, I observed that the water was right up to me wheel wells. “What’s a fella to do?” I sighed to myself. The first thought that occurred to me was to take stock of situation and soon realized…here I was dressed in a flimsy jacket not fit for this weather, given I had anticipated my outerwear was appropriate for the southern climes. Moreover, I had my bag of luggage, a tripod case, a brand new video camera, and another heavy case containing all my accessories like tapes and batteries, microphones etc. Wow! What a predicament! In a moment though…my spirits lifted…because off in the distance I could hear the sound of a skidoo taxi. I never thought the distant hum of an Elan engine could sound so pleasant to the ear. I positioned myself and slid over to the passenger side… opened the door…and began to yelling and waving my arms frantically to get the attention of the driver of the skidoo taxi. (It might be important here to mention the skidoo taxis ride high on the snow part of the river that has not been carved out by the heavy vehicle traffic.) “Maybe, just maybe” I thought to myself, ” The game may still be on.” I was relieved to see the approaching driver of the taxi wave back. Then it occurred to me, “Well that’s a good thing, but hell, I still have to make the trek across the water covered icy surface with about a hundred pounds of expensive video equipment and luggage in tow in order to reach the taxi! Yikes!” However, in a moment that became a long bygone concern as I concentrated on the task at hand. I immediately went to the back of the van to gather up my gear and much to my surprise! There, hidden right under my tripod case, materialized a pair of hip waders.
To this day, I have no idea where they came from, because I did in fact investigate and inquire long after this dismal story elapsed as to who owned those waders? No one knows eh? Anyways, I digress. So, on went the hip waders and I was now in business once more. I slowly stepped out of the van, slung my tripod case over one shoulder and my camera and luggage over the other. All the while, I was holding tight to the van, making sure not to fall. Tentatively, I let go my grip and took baby steps while trying not to entertain thought of the consequence should I fall. Every step..inch by inch..carefully marked…I soldiered on. All the while, in my head, I thought I heard the the Henry Mancini composed theme song “Baby Elephant Walk”
As I made my way, occasionally I would glance up to see a very nervous snowmobile driver gritting his teeth in silence. Moreover, I thought I could telepathically detect through the howling wind his clairvoyant whispers of encouragement. Not a word was said, but I knew he was routing for my pathetic ass. As I took those final last steps onto the higher part of the road and out of the water, I threw my gear forward to safety and lurched myself onto the small embankment. Just I was about to slip back into the icy water, I seen the the drivers moose mittened hand grab my paw to save me. “Whew, that was close!” I thought. After getting up and uprighting myself, I brushed the snow off of myself and I explained to the driver that I absolutely needed to get to the train. Reluctantly, after hemming and hawing about it, he said he would try, but not after saying it was in my best interest to just go home to the Island. However, with a little bit of coaxing, I found myself stepping in the box behind the skidoo taxi. I place my gear and made myself comfortable for the remainder of the ride to Moosonee. “This was gonna be a breeze now!” I boasted to myself. However, at this time, I could now see the dark clouds blowing in off of James Bay. In a matter of minutes I knew we were in for one of legendary hail storm that descend upon travelers on James Bay this time of year. The drive was now obviously concerned as he more frequently glanced back and then pointed to the imminent storm. I gave him the thumbs up, and he proceeded onwards.. We were now only about 50 yards from the bank of the river where the road led up to Moosonee. In moments, I thought to myself, we would be home free! In that same moment, everything changed! The storm, it seemed, had pushed the spring tide water higher than usual on top of the ice. This was especially devastating now, because the driver stopped. He turned to me, shook his head, and turned the skidoo around. Again, my trip was now off! To make matters worse, the storm was now directly upon us ready to heap its unruly wrath upon us. Suddenly, hailstones, the size of ping pong balls, began to pelt us. (Now remember I said I was only wearing a flimsy windbreaker?) Well, needless to say, a thin nylon windbreaker is inappropriate dress for an early James Bay storm. Coupled together with the fact that we were now speeding back to the island, wind chill also became a factor. It’s suffice to say, it didn’t take long for me to duck into a fetal position to furhter protect myself from the sting of the hail. With each passing moment, I could feel ice building up upon my face despite my efforts to hide. Without a lie, there were icicles now forming on my eyebrows, eyelids, and to add to my misery, I was touqueless! Lets, just say, my hair was a mess! What seemed like an eternity, we finally ascended up the embankment off the river into the community of Moose Factory. At this point, I don’t believe I could feel any of my extremities as we pulled up to the drivers cabin. The skidoo came to a stop. I slowly made my way out of what I thought might have been my final resting place in that “damn frozen coffin of a box”. I don’t know if y’all know what its like to walk in frozen pants, but let’s just say… it ain’t easy, nor is it pleasant. I eventually made it to his cabin and climbed the stairs all robot-like to the door. I was relieved as the driver opened the door and I felt that first warm waft of air out of the cabin caress my ice lacquered face. I don’t know if a face can literally crack, but I swear I heard something. Perhaps it was the crackling of the nice warm fire that burned in his iron wrought fireplace. In moments, I began to thaw and leaving a nice little puddle at my feet I might add. His wife, seeing my condition, was now patting me down with her dish towel like a dog they had just pulled out of the river. Once dried, tea and a healthy slice of bannock smothered with jam was presented to me.
If you can be in hell one moment and heaven the next, this was it! All the frantic chewing must have cause some friction in my jaw, because I felt the feeling in my face slowly returning. It was at this point my thoughts suddenly turned to the abandoned company van on the river. “Yikes!” I exclaimed. I guess my brain was now thawing too. I then asked the driver to direct me to the phone. It was now a little past nine Friday morning and my supervisor would be in the office. I thought, I should probably let him in on my little secret eh? The phone rang a couple of times before the “man” answered. Before I could say anything beyond “hello”, my bossed chimed in quite pleasantly…and I say this sarcastically..” Clarence, what the hell is our van doing in the middle of the river?” In my ever evasive tone, I attempted to temper his harsh inquiry with a nonchalant reply ” Ohh that? Hey listen I have perfectly good explanation… ” And I went on, all the while profusely apologizing for my momentary lapse of judgment. After all was said and done, luckily, I still had a job. We agreed we would send a tow truck out to retrieve the van and that I should probably go home to get some rest after working all night. (Good supervisor eh?) Furthermore, he had heard helicopters would be deployed around one o’clock to transport people to the Moosonee airport and he further expounded that maybe I should get on the next flight out at two to Timmins.
Thereafter I would be able to take the Greyhound bus at 2:45 as originally planned to Toronto. “Huh?” I hesitated a moment, thinking that airport/ bus connection was kind of iffy, but then piped in enthusiastically “Ah yeah, Andrew…that sounds like an excellent idea to me!” Game on! So I headed off home after thanking my gracious hosts for thawing me out. I kinda felt like Timothy Hutton in the Fred Shepisi directed movie “Iceman”. Upon arriving home, I plopped myself into bed. It was nice to start feeling the chill leave my bones. I do believe I seen a misty fog forming above me near the ceiling as the moisture hit the warmth of my room. Before nodding off to sleep, I strategically mapped out my connection from the Timmins airport to the Greyhound in town. For those not familiar with the Timmins airport locale, it is a good half hour out of town! But, ” Alas, luckily there are always taxis at the airport!” I reminded myself ” So…no worries!” And off to sleep I went. After that bit of shut eye, I picked up where I left off on my adventure. First, off to the helicopter pad to get across the the river to the Moosonee airport. “That went pretty well” I said to myself.
TIMMINS HERE I COME!
The plane was on time and then it was off to Timmins via the fabulous Air Creebec! “That went well” I said to myself. “After that hellish morning, things were certainly looking up.” I announced to myself ” After touching down, I remember screaming inside, “Yes! I am on my way! I’m on my way?” So there I am at the Timmins airport. I had just deplaned and there I was dashing off to the conveyor to retrieve my gear. Everything was going as planned. “Finally!” I sighed. Upon reaching the conveyor, I scooped up my gear and sprinted to grab a cab downtown to the Greyhound. “This is going to be a breeze now!” I quipped, and out the door I went to grab a cab. The automatic doors of the airport opened with a pleasant “whoosh” I was pretty well assured that the gateway to the Junos were opened! “Hooray!” I exclaimed as stepped outside and punched the sky. Then suddenly, after that glorious moment, anxiety overwhelmed me in my wonderment. “Was this really the Timmins airport? Or am I still in bed having some sort of bad nightmare?” I asked myself, because at that moment I did not see a single taxi in sight. I glanced around and nada, not a one. “There are ALWAYS taxis at the Timmins airport!” I reminded myself, but yet none were to be seen. It was then I heard a voice in my head that sounded much like the monolith in 2001-A Space Odyssey “Where are the cabs Clarence?” the voice asked, “Clarence?” the voice continued the taunt me, ” You said there would be cabs Clarence!” Now disappointed the patronizing voice added. “Clarence, I am very disappointed in you!” Hell so was I! Upon snapping out of my reverie, I pinched myself. I inspected myself and noted I wasn’t naked, nor flying, nor doing any of those odd things you experience in dreams. “Hell!. Now in my real voice I screamed, ” Where the hell are the damn cabs!” It was then that I felt a gust of cold Timmins airport air slap me in the face. Now fully aware of my predicament, I realized my plans were once again going to hell. I looked…I waited…I waited…I looked, but not a cab to be seen anywhere near. If you have ever been to the Timmins airport, you know then that you can see a long way out past the airport. Now I was started thinking silly thoughts like renting a car, then thought about cost. As mentioned before, there was only about a 45 minute window to make my connection to the bus and maybe ten had already elapsed, and furthermore, I needed 20 minutes to get downtown. I thought certainly this was the end of the line for Clarence’s great Juno adventure! But,…there lurking by the rental lot was an individual who looked a little overdressed for this blue collar town. In a moment I realized just who this gentleman was as he made his way to a stretch limo parked there amongst the rentals. It was one of them there typical long white ones. You know the type? Like the ones “rock stars” ride in. ” Hey buddy!” I yelled, getting his attention. “Hey buddy, come here, I need a favor of you!” I don’t know what his thoughts at that moment were, but generally when a Native starts a sentence with “hey buddy”, it is most often followed by, “can you spare me some change Chum?” 😉
Anyways, probably against his better judgment he meandered his way through the lot tentatively, all the while asking me what I wanted. I seen his concern. What did I do at this moment to alleviate his tentativeness? Well, I reached into my pocket and dug out all the cash I had on hand and waved it at him and gestured with my other hand that I was headed to town. In a moment he was in the limo and pulling up loading up my equipment. So, picture this! Here I was now, some guy with a load of strange cargo telling this stranger I’m off to the Juno awards and I needed his limo to get me to the Greyhound. Hmm… I bet you he still ponders that story? Hmm.. I still ponder that story! Anyways, I tinkered in the back of the limo. I was flipping dials on the entertainment centre, checking out the bar, caressing the leather, and pushing buttons to try to get the sun roof to open. Needless to say that thirty minutes in the limo went by quick and sooner than expected we were pulling up to the Greyhound bus depot. I snapped back into action, realizing I had to yet get my ticket for the “DOG”. I jumped out of the limo and waved the driver of the bus down just as he was about to depart the depot parking lot. I quickly explained my situation and he complied to let me on after causing much commotion among the anxious travelers. In moments, I was in and out of the depot with ticket in hand. The driver had loaded my gear and directed me onto the bus.
As I stepped up into the bus and made my way down the aisle looking for an empty seat, I felt every eye on that piercing me, though I tried to avert their glances . I can only imagine what they were thinking. I could hear murmurs at the back, but they soon faded as I made my way down the aisle to settle into a seat near the washroom. Once settled, I donned my headphones and played my Sony cassette walkman and took a well deserved rest. ( Yes walkman..no mp3 player yet.) My only thought as I dozed off was ” Game on!”. When I awoke, we were approaching the Greyhound bus depot at Bay and Dundas in Toronto. You can imagine my relief. However, despite all that, I had yet to deliver my tape to the Ontario Legislature, find a suit for the gala, and attend to videotaping some pre-Juno celebrations in Toronto that day. Everything went swimmingly. I went to the Legislature, delivered the tape and got a hotel. The next day I videotaped the celebrations hosted by the persons responsible for getting the “Best Music of Aboriginal Canada” included at the Junos along with the nominees, record company exec types and fans. It was a great celebration to say the least and I manage to get it all on tape. ( Just an honorable mention is in order here and forgive me if I forget some names, but a few of the people responsible for this category were; Eliane Bomberry, Buffy Sainte Marie and Curtis Johnnie/ Shingoose and the nominees were J. Hubert Francis and Eagle Feather, Stoney Park Singers, Sazacha Red Sky a.k.a Nancy Nash and Wapistan a.k.a Lawrence Martin a.k.a “my boss”.) In any event, I had a great day and that evening I was off to get a suit. After resting up a bit in my hotel, my next task was to get a suit. So, I called a cab and told him to take me to the nearest suit store.
Here’s a bit of a kicker! The cab dropped me off at a Moore’s on Younge south of Queen. I got out of the cab, walked into Moore’s with all my gear and proceed to look for a salesman. Now get this! Who should happen to show up and serve me is a former supervisor that I had while working at Syd Silver’s tuxedo rentals while attending Ryerson for broadcasting. Well, you can imagine both our surprise! In any event, I got five star treatment as I entertained him with my stories of my brilliant career in broadcasting. Up to that point anyways. Needless to say, he was amused, probably more so that I had a career, than my undertakings at that moment. In any event, we engaged in some delightful conversation, reminisced a bit and shared a few laughs. When all was said and done, I was a sharp dressed man baby! GAME ON! The next day it was of to the JUNOS. So, with all me gear in tow, it was off to Union Station via taxi. Upon arrival I made my way to hop on a Go Train to Hamilton.
Upon arrival in Hamilton, it was yet another cab to get me to my final destination, the Copps Coliseum. Upon arrival I got my Media pass and hung out with the local journalist and entertained them about my misadventure. I am sure this story has reached mythical proportions among the ilk of my kind by now, because I am often asked to tell this tale of woe. So having told you my story now, lets review. A van, a skidoo taxi, a helicopter, a plane, a limo, a Greyhound bus, numerous cabs, a Go Train and yet another cab! A story sure to make Steve Martin and John…rest his soul… Candy proud! P.S. After an exhausting evening of taping the gala, I was finally able to breath a great sigh of relief. My boss won by the way. No raise however! Well in any event I finished the evening by chilling in a quiet corner of the buffet room talking to some “up and comer”, who I didn’t know at the time was Sarah MacLachlan. She made it clear she was trying to avoid all the pesky media types. “Damn journalists!” I touted. “Oh and what do you do?” asked Sarah. “Oh me, I’m just helping out with the caterers.” I responded, whilst inconspicuously trying to stuff the microphone trying to peek out of my suit jacket back in. She gave me a sly grin as her piercing beautiful brown eyes gave me the once over. It was shortly after, I was summoned by some First Nations gals who saw it fit to “abduct” me and whisk me off to the Rez for a a party. Hey! I was young and impressionable back then. So, for now I’ll save that misadventure No need to expose the innocent. And, as you probably already surmised, I did have a bit of a time explaining that MIA to my supervisor. In the end I blamed it on aliens. I think he bought it! Only after explaining all the things leading up to my Juno visit first, of course!