PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — “I hate where I live,” Erwin, our next-door neighbor here, is telling me. “Hate it. Hate it.”
He, and wife Donna, are in the U.S., in the desert, only part of the time. “Home” is Canada. Edmonton, Alberta. Oil, as in petroleum. Oil, as in Edmonton Oilers. (The Oilers, in case you aren’t a hockey fan, are a hockey team). Erwin, he’s a football fan. The Cowboys are his team. A couple times each season he leaves behind Donna, an administrator in the Edmonton public schools, and journeys to Dallas with some other Edmonton buddies who are Cowboy fans and takes in a game. In summer he’ll make maybe two Toronto excursions, and others to Seattle and Milwaukee.
But, again, shaking his head: “I hate where I live.”
“He hates where we live,” Donna nods.
“You hate where you live,” I agree.
We all agree that Erwin hates where he lives.
After a suitable interval, in which nothing is said, I finally ask Erwin: “Why do you have where you live?”
Erwin doesn’t hesitate. It’s the weather. When Arkansas leaves are beginning to fall, in fall, the first snows in Edmonton already have fallen. And they keep falling, usually, until spring. Ah, spring, when Arkansas temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, and the desert warms to the mid-80s, even the 90s, the Alberta mercury (I’m converting Fahrenheit to Celsius) remains in the 40s and 50s, and snow remains on the ground, preserved by nighttime lows that easily can dip back below freezing. Edmonton’s warmest month is July, when the average high is 73 and the nighttime low drops back to the south end of the 50s.
“You don’t know what it’s like, you don’t know what it’s like,” says Erwin, one of those guys who says things twice, like that gangster in [begin italics] Goodfellas [end ital]. Sometimes he says it a third time, I suppose for added emphasis, as now, when he assures me, “You don’t know what it’s like.”
“What’s it like?” I ask.
It’s like this, Erwin says — and here I need tell you that, among his other endeavors, Erwin owns a bunch of rental properties in Edmonton, some houses, two or three apartment buildings — okay, so Erwin says it’s like this: Before sunup on snowy days, and that’s a lot of snowy mornings, he’s scalding his innards with black coffee as he drives his mammoth pickup to the parking lots of his apartment buildings, where he uses the attached snowblade to clear away as much of the accumulation as he can without damaging the pavement. It’s expected of landlords in Canada, he says.
That snow in central Arkansas last Christmas, the one that put a foot on the ground in a few hours? Ha! The Canadian skies and their polar fronts can put that much on the ground in — in, well, no time at all. So much that when it continues to snow during the day Erwin may return to the parking lots a second time. And to keep happy the tenants in the single-family houses he owns, he may drive there, too, and shove away a few feet from driveways.
This can go on for much of the long, long Canadian winter.
“You got no idea,” Erwin says. “No idea.”
They can’t come south for the entire winter, like real snowbirds, he and Donna, because of Donna’s job; and because the shorter days that are the darker months are the weeks when problems tend to arise in rental property: frozen pipes, downed power lines. And snow. So he needs to be nearby. Tenants won’t hesitate to call is something goes wrong, he says. And says it again: “They won’t hesitate.”
Now Erwin says: “Well, get a load of this.” He points to Sharon and John, the neighbors on the other side of us, just arrived. They’re Canadian, too, but live in British Columbia, in the Vancouver metro area, on the Pacific coast. Their province is next door to Erwin’s Alberta, but what a difference! Their summers are as cool as Edmonton’s but their winters more or less track with Arkansas’s.
“Is he complaining about the weather again?” John asks.
“I hate where I live,” Erwin says.
“I keep telling him, MOVE!” John laughs.
“Yeah, uh, why don’t you — move?” I ask.
Well, there’s the rental property, and his other enterprises; and Donna’s a bit away from pension vesting. And their son — he lives nearby, and is thinking of getting married. And, as a native Albertan, they would be leaving a lifetime’s accumulation of friendships.
John cuts in. “What’s he really trying to say is that Canadian liquor taxes drive him crazy.”
Erwin nods. “I hate where I live.”