Sunday, December 17, 2006

And Bingo was his Name-O

Bingo is King in Tulita. It is always played at least once a week, and most weeks they play it twice. Almost every woman in town plays. The men aren’t shy about playing either. The Hamlet (our “town hall“) has a small radio station used for emergencies, and for Bingo. Don’t ask me who puts on most of the weekly bingos or where the proceeds go. It’s a mystery to me.

At least three times a year, a big-ticket prize bingo is held. One around Father’s day, one during the Tulita hand games, and one at Christmas. The Hamlet comes to our store and buys about ten prizes. For the last father’s day Bingo they bought a Skidoo, a TV, and a digital camera among other things.

Last Friday they bought another slew of prizes, along with turkeys and hams. When we went to deliver the prizes at 6pm, half the town was in the Hamlet parking lot. They were lining up to buy their cards. Nicole had already bought her cards at five. $30 for an entrance fee, $40 for a book of ten cards, and $6 for the jackpot card. She knew I would be working late (as usual), so she went down to her boss’s house to play.

I got home around 9:30. At 10:30 I turned on the radio to hear if he bingo was nearing the end. It wasn’t.

In a community of 500 people, I already know most of the adults through work at the store. I could put a face to the name of almost every winner they announced as they drew numbers for turkeys. Nicole’s name was not amongst the winners. At 11:00 I went to bed.

Around 11:45, the phone rang. It was Nicole.

“I won a chainsaw. Can you meet me at the hamlet and carry it home?”

I sort of knew as soon as she told me she was going to play bingo that she would win something useless. I suspected it would be the karaoke machine. Don’t get me wrong. A chainsaw is a pretty useful thing if you have a woodstove or a property with trees. I have neither. So now we have a $500 chainsaw, still in the box, sitting in our porch. It’s a Poulan Pro, in case you’re wondering which brand it is. Technically, I can’t sell it. I’m not supposed to sell anything that the store sells, because that would put me in competition with the store. I’d be stealing sales from the store. But it ain’t my chainsaw. It’s Nicole‘s, and she can do whatever she wants with it. I have washed my hands of the matter.

She has already had a few offers, but none have met the asking price of $400. “I might give you $250 for it,” is a common offer. But it’s a $500 chainsaw. She isn’t about to just give it away. And to get one at a cheaper price in Yellowknife would cost you hundreds in transportation expenses.

Nicole says she’s not going to play any more bingos until the next big prize bingo, probably next June.

In other news, we're dogsitting for a couple who are going home for Christmas. They adopted one of Mackey's brothers, but only after he had been abandoned by his first owners. The kids in town gave him the unfortunate name of "Pizza," and that is what his new owners still call him.

This is a picture of the two, playing nicely. That's mackey on the right.

One of the perks of living in the north is that Santa is always close by. In fact, he lives just up the road. Here is a pic of me and the big guy at his house.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Winter Road

Last night as my boss and I went to the warehouse to deliver some furniture, we saw the eerie sight of lights out on the Mackenzie ice. It was a clear night and the moon was out, so you could make out McKay Range mountains on the opposite shore. Three sets of headlights were crawling along the ice about a kilometer away. Earlier in the day, plumes of steam or fog were rising from open holes in the ice.

My boss said they go out at night to drill holes in the ice to allow water to come to the surface and freeze. The ice alone is not thick enough to safely support vehicles, so they repeatedly flood the surface to make it thicker. There is always the danger that too much water will come up and melt all the way through. This past week, a man in a town further south was killed when his bobcat broke through the surface of the Mackenzie. He was helping clear ice for construction of the road.

Tulita is a key junction on the winter road. Because of the pocket of dangerously thin ice created by the shallow and swift-moving Great Bear River, the road must reach out over the Mackenzie to detour the thin ice. The road from Tulita south is relatively easy to build. We’ve heard it will be open on December 15th. But to travel further north, the small detour over the Mackenzie must be deemed safe. It won’t be ready until January.

When we arrived in the spring, construction was supposed to begin on a bridge over the Great Bear River. But the twenty-five million dollars earmarked by the territorial government was not enough for any construction companies to make a profit. Now that money is being spent on upgrading the path that is the winter road. I suspect that in twenty years time, one will be able to drive in the summer through the territories all the way the Beaufort sea . One can already go overland through the Yukon.

The sun has just set behind the mountains across the river. It is only 3pm. This morning I slept in, and watched the sun rise as I ate my breakfast at eleven.

One note on the temperature. This past week, it dropped down to thirty five below. It was painfully cold. Today it is only twenty below, with no wind. Believe it or not, it is noticeably warmer. Think of the difference between five and twenty degrees. Now transpose that to the other end of the thermometer. I just took Mackey for a walk, and I worked up a sweat. Sure, I was wearing a parka and long underwear, but I passed locals with jackets and baseball caps. When I was in Yellowknife, it was only seven below on the first night. I didn’t even bother wearing gloves.A pic of mackey with the old Hudson's Bay Warehouse and the Mackenzie River in the background. Until this summer, the warehouse was used for dry goods such as sugar and flour. Now we use it for furniture.