11. My Kelowna

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

I enjoy anticipation.  As one who depends almost entirely on intuition to guide my life, I am rather good at “regarding a future as probable; expecting or predicting”. Which is not to say that I am ever right about it. On the contrary, I enjoy anticipation because the reality that follows is almost always a disappointment. Nevertheless I find anticipation far preferable to anxiety, which unhelpfully demands the acknowledgement of uncertainty.

In anticipation of stunning views over the Canadian Rockies, I giddily demanded a window seat for the hour-long flight from Calgary to Kelowna. Predictably – although not predicted by me – the Rockies were entirely shrouded in clouds, providing the reality of a rather dull and cramped flight.IMG_0986

The clouds broke as we descended into the Okanagan Valley, revealing a seemingly familiar wide brown land. I knew that much of British Columbia had been experiencing a drought, but I hadn’t anticipated its extent and impact, which I now saw from the air. Such droughts are common back in Australia where I’d lived through a seven-year drought. But here in Canada’s fruit basket? And was that smoke I saw rising from the hillside across the lake?

Kelowna, the region’s largest city with a population of about a hundred thousand, sits on the east coast of Okanagan Lake, nestled in the relative flat of southern BC between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Coast Mountains well to the west. The Okanagan is reputed to be the warmest place in Canada, which doesn’t say a whole lot even if one ignores the subjective nature of any such assertion. 20150720_133958Then on seeing the sign whereby British Columbia welcomed us by calling itself “The Best Place on Earth”, I put my expectations of Canadian modesty and understatement on hold.

In recent decades the Okanagan, and Kelowna in particular, has attracted a huge number of the retired, including many former ice hockey stars in search of more golf and less ice. Over that same period, the region’s staple fruit-producing industries have been augmented, and to some degree replaced, by vineyards and wineries. We had come primarily for the wine, choosing to stay in Kelowna for its numerous restaurants and hotels, as well as its central position relative to the area’s many clustered wineries.

I had anticipated Kelowna as a quaint town of alpine architecture, charming chalets with smart restaurants serving a genteel clientele supporting an active cultural scene – including, perhaps the summer home of some major city’s symphony or ballet. I have a vividly inaccurate imagination. The drive in from the airport revealed a working city of working people at auto dealerships, gas stations, motels and strip malls.

For the next three nights would be staying in a traditional Bed and Breakfast, as contrasted to the pseudo-B&B of the AirBnB.com ilk which we had been using. Daisy, Frank and I were to occupy two of the three rented bedrooms in our host’s actual home, with the actual host feeding us an actual breakfast every morning.

B&Bs are not my favourite arrangement for a variety of reasons. One reason is that my introduction to B&Bs back in 1985 was less than smooth.  We had tickets to hear the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, but had neglected to book a hotel room. Lenox, Massachusetts is not a big town, so we found everything had been booked. The helpful folks at the local Chamber of Commerce put us in touch with a woman who had “just started” to rent rooms in her home, right across the street from Tanglewood. Perfect.

Or not so perfect. It turned out that Frank and I were her very first guests, ever. This simple country woman was clearly shocked to find she had rented to a gay couple – remember this was 1985. On arrival, despite our vociferous objections, she re-assigned us to a small, bathroom-less, twin-bedded bedroom upstairs, switching us with the “nice Jewish couple from Long Island” who got our downstairs king-bedded room with bath. We had nowhere else to go, so we stayed.

The morning after the concert I arose a bit before seven, foggy and discombobulated, as usual. Heading for the toilet downstairs, I misjudged the edge of the shag carpet as being part of the top stair. I fell hard on my buttocks, then careened backwards down the stairs, one step at a time. The fall down each step in quick succession was accompanied with an expletive of increasing volume. “Fuck! [bump] Shit! [bump] Goddamit! [bump] Sonavabitch! [bump] Jesus Christ! [bump]” By the time I reached the bottom, everyone in the house was up and out to see what had happened, including our horrified host, with visions of lawsuits dancing in her head.

I was more embarrassed than hurt, but I cannot say the same for our host, who was shaken to the core. Thus we each got an unpleasant introduction to the world of B&Bs. It certainly coloured my view of the arrangement, and it may well have been the end of her Bed & Breakfast dreams.  Many Bed & Breakfast hosts have little idea of what they are getting themselves into, but invest heavily nevertheless, ending up financially committed to continuing a business they learn quickly to dislike.  In this case, I may have done her a favour.

In the thirty years since, I have avoided B&Bs when possible, so have had only a half-dozen B&B experiences. I can’t say I was thrilled with any of them. So I will refrain from naming our B&B in Kelowna for the good reason that I am not a fair judge. If I don’t like a B&B, it is probably a pretty good B&B.

Our Kelowna B&B’s website had left me anticipating a beachfront position with sweeping views, when in reality it was a couple houses back from a lake beach with no view whatsoever. I had anticipated a quiet neighbourhood a short walk from the parks, restaurants and events of downtown Kelowna, which it was, except for the “quiet” part, as the roar of nearby traffic on the sole bridge across Okanagan Lake was our constant companion.

Our host in Kelowna was the pleasant forty-something Bambi. Bambi provided the thread of truth to the stereotypes about blondes that common stereotypes require, for example, the irritating habit of ending every sentence with a giggle. The house was well appointed and amazingly clean, due not in small part to the roster of demands Bambi made upon her guests: take your shoes off on entering (hee hee hee), rinse your feet if barefoot (hee hee hee), shower before bed to wash off any sun block (hee hee hee); take off your make-up, too (hee hee hee); don’t sit on the beach towels under the trees (pine tar, hee hee hee) or near the water (mud, hee hee hee). The list went on, all reasonable demands, but I got the sense that as guests we were something of an imposition.

Another reason I am less than fond of B&Bs is that they often create something of an obligation to socialise with the other guests, which more often than not is a tedious undertaking.  Picture three couples in their sixties at the breakfast table:

“Are you going to Maldon?”

“We’re going to Maldon tomorrow.”

“Oh, we’re going to Maldon today.”

“I understand Maldon is lovely.”

“We went to Maldon yesterday.”

“Is Maldon lovely?”

“Maldon is lovely.”

“Then I’m pleased we’re going to Maldon tomorrow.”

“I’m pleased we’re going to Maldon today!”

“You’ll let me know at breakfast tomorrow how you found Maldon today, won’t you?”

“I’ll let you know tomorrow how we find Maldon today!”

“I’m sure you will find Maldon as lovely today as we did yesterday.”

“Is it supposed rain in Maldon today?”

And so on. Somebody shoot me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALord be praised, in Kelowna the three of us were the only guests in the house, so there was no need to socialise with strangers. Bambi cooked us a wonderful breakfast each morning, the enjoyment of each meal being compromised only by her insistence in joining us. At one point we were discussing and contrasting the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia when Bambi interjected “I’ve always wondered why there aren’t any indigenous people in Europe. What happened to them?”

By the time we’d unpacked it was two in the afternoon and we hadn’t lunched yet. We headed into town by way of the nearby beach. The small beach was populated by some grubby backpacking twenty-somethings getting stoned and an older menacing bikie gang doing much the same. Traversing the walkway under the bridge highway, we emerged in City Park, finding it surrounded by temporary fencing with a sign warning that the park was to be closed for the next three days for the Center of Gravity Festival, “the Okanagan’s biggest adrenaline-fueled sports and music festival.” Huh.

IMG_0992City Park was a wonderful place, though. An inflated floating water park kept most of the screaming youngsters far enough offshore that one could ignore their drowning pleas for help without risking criminal liability. IMG_0991All sorts of non-adrenaline-fueled sports were underway, fit grown-ups playing beach volleyball, basketball, soccer, and tennis. Also, non-adrenaline-fueled music was underway, as the park had three or four upright pianos lying about with buskers and amateur enthusiasts pounding out entertaining ditties.  I wondered why a city would close a much-loved and much-used park for an adrenaline festival.

We lunched at a rooftop place called Earl’s, perched atop a building with sweeping views across the lake. At Earl’s we commenced our emersion into the wonderful wines of the Okanagan region, the true purpose of our visit. It was then that we came to realise that West Kelowna, across the lake, was on fire. The wind was blowing the distant smoke away from us, nevertheless the air was somewhat acrid and sooty, contributing to an air of apprehension amongst the locals. While no homes had burned, clearly there was concern about how far the wildfire might spread.

I also discovered that the locals felt much the same about the Center of Gravity Festival as I did. Not one of them expressed support for it. Several asked why they needed to throw a festival attracting noisy drunken people who made a mess and didn’t spend any money at the peak of tourist season when the town was jam-packed anyway. My guess is the city government feels obliged to support such events lest the city be seen to be resting on its laurels. In the end, it didn’t affect us. Despite what the sign said, the City Park didn’t close until the day after we left.

My ninth campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak administration will prohibit municipalities from sanctioning the private use of public space without approval by local referendum.

It was a hot afternoon, so after a lazy dip in the lake we had dinner at the lakefront.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARose’s Pub served astonishingly large portions of mediocre food with decent but inexpensive wines by the carafe. A woman at an adjacent table wolfed down a plate of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Nachos Grande” piled a foot high which might have been mistaken for a scale model of a compost heap.  By the time we were served, the wind had grown stronger and come around 180 degrees, whipping up both the surf and the fire across the lake, blowing the smoke towards us, increasing the air’s acridity. Thus dinner was consumed on a patio while a whirlwind of restaurant debris swirled and scampered below our chairs. Rather off-putting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEntertainment was provided a clearly inexperienced skipper of a chartered power boat trying to dock in the high wind and waves. Eventually he succeeded, but not without threatening the lives of his friends on board. It is entirely possible there was structural damage to the vessel as it slammed against the docks repeatedly. It was a gripping drama to behold.

The sunset walk back to our B&B solidified my initial impressions of Kelowna. Kelowna sits in a stunningly beautiful setting, yet there is little charming about it. It offers a lot in the way of “summer fun”, attracting power boaters, jet-skiers, screaming young families with yelping dogs, and adrenaline fueled youths. As the biggest city in the region, it offers a lot in the way of public services, attracting the retired, the indigent, the drug-addicted, the mentally ill, and the homeless. That’s a good thing, as these people need such help. If I had to choose between sharing my vacation with a group of power boaters, jet-skiers, screaming young families with yelping dogs, and adrenaline fueled youths, or a group of the retired, indigent, mentally ill, drug-addicted and homeless, I’d choose the latter. But to be honest, I rather not share it with either.

IMG_2607But our Okanagan vacation had only just begun.  Tomorrow, I anticipated, I wouldn’t have to share it with either group, as we were to take a wine tour of the Naramata Bench. As I said, I enjoy anticipation. Even when I’m wrong.