David and Luca with a Canadian Beaver
Joe Renaud and his Beaver
The next day we did some housework in the Boogie Bus, and then it was time to explore Edmonton by bike. Sue and David are both city planners and live in one of those Lefty Residential Pockets people whisper about in Edmonton. (Everyone we met in Edmonton referred often to the majority right wing red neck population but I guess because like meets like we never really encountered that side of the city). You know they are good, community minded people because at their old house they built a bench in front for people to sit around on and commissioned a local metal artist to make a beaver reading a paper on it. While we stayed at their new house Step helped build a second bench and Joe Renaud came and installed the another metal beaver he made, this one with a hockey stick. What could be more Canadian?
I had asked Sue what the bike lanes were like, and she said they weren’t that great, but she’s obviously never biked around Vancouver because to us they were phenomenal! Near to their house was a bike “superhighway”, a dedicated bike path not even on a road that took you to a strip mall with Canadian Tire in one direction, and right downtown the other direction. As you probably know, June is Bike Month, and in Edmonton that means bicycle riders get a free breakfast every Friday, (sometimes including these locally made organic cinnamon buns that cost $3 each. I’m sure, if I had investigated, there would also be some pedicures and diamond chip tiara’s thrown in. In Vancouver all we get for Bike Month is a Transit Strike). So biking around that city was quite a joy, at least in the summer.
Robin at Red Bike
We left kind of late and first off we rode to the University Hospital to see an art show that was textile interpretations of Unesco designated Canadian Heritage Sites by Donna Clement and Lesley Anne Turner. (It was a pretty good show and I especially liked the drawing of Chateau Frontenac done with embroidery. We both thought Meshell would have liked the show, too, and also it inspired us to add the Badlands as a destination spot on our trip back.) On the way my 2nd gear disappeared. Also, my seat had come unstuck in the front and kept pinching my clothes. My bike bounces around a lot on the back of the Boogie Bus so it always has little issues. We popped into a place called Red Bike and not only did a guy fix my bike right away, he didn’t even charge me! So thank you Red Bike, here’s a picture and an endorsement on our blog for you.
Next we hit Whyte Avenue, the “funky” retail section of Edmonton in Old Strathcona. It was beautiful and charming but to be honest it looked like your standard funky neighbourhood of everywhere, with some Irish pubs and American Apparel; if I lived in Edmonton I would probably hang out there but long for something more.
The Alberta Art Gallery is free on Thursday nights, and they had a show “Projections”, projection based work of slide and film work, from the ‘60’s to present, that Step was interested in, and another show by Native artists but not traditional Native art. Because we are so used to Haida Gwaii and Inuit art in BC this show was very interesting to us. The AAG is currently getting anew building, and since it’s being housed in temporary quarters, there was no room for more art.
Street Art of Edmonton
Speaking of more art, get it together, Vancouver. It turns out most Canadian cities are way more supportive of local art than my home town is, with commissions to paint utility boxes and poles given to varieties of artists, and a goodly amount of murals and other public art. Vancouver, you are supposed to be so hippie/artsy, where are your local paintings everywhere? I love and lambast you at the same time.
Original Paintings of the Dishware of Blue Plate
On Sue’s recommendation we ate at the Blue Plate Diner downtown, and it was good. As soon as we walked in and the 100% androgynous host greeted us we expected quirky greatness, and were not sent away wanting. The Blue Plate is a member of OriginalFare, and affiliation of independently owned and operated locally supplied quality restaurants. Not only was my veggie burger delicious, but I noticed the original paintings of coffee cups at the entrance depicted the collection of cups they serve their coffee in. Well done, Blue Plate Diner, well done.
Robin Sings at Rosario's
Okay, one thing that totally impressed me about Edmonton is their unabashed love of karaoke. See Magazine, one of the 2 entertainment weeklies, has a karaoke listing! And it lists a lot. Some of the places only have karaoke one night a week, but quite a few have it every night, and two of those venues were near Sue and Davids. We picked Rosario’s. They had “Rosario’s Idol” going on, which is fun if you’re entered and a bit of a drag if you’re there to sing (although one woman sang a song about how you weren’t woman enough to steal her man, which was rockin’). We didn’t get to sing until almost midnight but once we did we got several songs each; a good karaoke fix.
Another great thing about Edmonton is that it supports not 1 but 2 local farmers’ markets and we checked out the one downtown where we purchased steaks, sausage and asparagus. We also waited a really long time for some Mexican food. It was good, especially the potatoes, but food must be delicious in proportion to how long you waited and I don’t think anything could have lived up to that wait.
And did you know Edmonton is full of Magpies and Wild Bunnies? It is.
Wild Rabbits of Edmonton
Sue and David hosted a barbecue for all their old neighbours who lived a few blocks away, and they were all interesting lefty types. Step was inspired by Jaques, who had lived in Newfoundland, Yellowknife, and a variety of other locals. I guess it never occurred to Step you could just live in a place instead of putting down serious roots. Jaques and his partner Leo were moving to Victoria in a few days.
Steps phone kept ringing and when he finally checked his messages we found out his good friend Paul had died in a freak accident, which was a serious and somewhat devastating shock. After some discussion and sleeping on it we decided to not fly back to Vancouver right away, but wait until we knew when the memorial would take place. In times of distress I often think of Queen Elizabeth, who’s wartime platitude was “Keep Calm and Carry On”. It’s hard when someone dies: you want to do something but what can you do besides grieve, either alone or in groups? Sudden death is always a reminder to live your life the best you can, too, and enjoy your minutes, so we kept trippin’, but I think it was hard on Step and his close friends to not be together that week.
Some BBQ peops had mentioned a place called “Motoraunt” in passing and we knew we had to go there. It’s hard to know what to say or where to start on the Motoraunt. The Motoraunt was the brainchild of Carol and Wayne (or Duane—I thought Carol said Wayne but Step heard Duane), who had a Cadillac Eldorado they converted into a Hamburger stand bus with a hydraulic second story. The idea was to travel down the west coast selling hamburgers on the way and eventually settle in Venice Beach. Only they kept running out of money so they would open for a while in Edmonton, and that was 25 years ago and they’re still there (unfortunately, Wayne or Duane passed away 3 weeks before our visit. Carol seemed sad but had kept calm and carried on). I think Carol said they had 4 other locations before we visited the current one at 66th Street and Yellowhead Highway.
Interior of the Motoraunt
Carol and Wayne
Unless you know the Motoraunt is there you would be hard put to guess it was a restaurant. There’s no signage and from the outside it looks like a hebephrenic shanty town. I guess somewhere inside it started with the bus but there’s been so many shacks, lean-tos and wings built on it looks like it belongs to some crazy building hermit living in the desert and there’s no way you can see the original bus from the outside. This theme carries on throughout, with tattered flags, plants in various stages of their life cycles including long dead, and little hills of random crap everywhere. As you approach the centre of this gigantic pile in starts having some semblance of order. The main dining area was a fairly recent addition and as well as seating it housed a Transformer collection, a Christmas tree decorated with Easter stuff, and a shrine to Wayne or Duane. The bathroom was in the upper floor of the original bus and was so small you can’t actually close the door until you’re sitting on the toilet. If not for the fact that Carol was so sweet and the Motoraunt is a quirky Edmontonian institution I doubt it would ever pass health inspection.
Step had a clubhouse and I had a grilled cheese, but what the Motoraunt is famous for is its burgers, particularly the ‘Monster Burger’, which is 2 pounds of ground beef and serves 4. Since I didn’t order one I wasn’t able to take a picture and have stolen this one off someone else’s Flickr. It is truly a sight to behold. They also make their own chips that were really good. We weren’t the only ones not put off by the way the Motoraunt presents, for there was quite a bit of business while we were there, and I get the impression there are a lot of ‘regs’. Everyone at the BBQ eats there now and then and, after all was said and done, it was probably the purest Edmontonian experience we had. It’s places like the Motoraunt that make me love to travel.
Paul’s memorial wasn’t for another week, so for now we decided to just keep heading east.