Ninety short miles due west of Calgary is Banff (pr. “Banph”), a small resort town in Banff National Park – in the Canadian Rockies. Surprisingly, not a lot of people have heard of Banff, it’s not in most spell checks.
The drive is excessively breathtaking, the road itself, extremely well-planned and exceedingly well-constructed. So far, this part of the world required adverbs and adjectives. Canadians have a knack for road construction, it’s actually pretty impressive. I’m guessing their politicians aren’t as corrupt just yet so enjoy Canadian highways while they last. I’d picked the one day of the year no one in their right mind would ever choose to spend in Canada’s most famous national park. July 1st, as it turns out, is Canada Day. While no one I’d met to this point had indicated such a day even existed, here I was, on the one day the park admission was free.
The drive to get to the park entrance from Verna’s house was one-hour and forty-five-minutes. The line from the park entrance to where I wanted to go – approximately 1.25 miles – was one-hour and fifty-minutes. By the time I got to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, I was slightly less excited about things than I had been. The hotel is what some would call, “fancy.” I wasn’t dressed for check-in. First of all, most of the people in the lobby looked like they owned countries. Second, it was 45-degrees in Banff on July 1st and I hadn’t packed any sensible clothing for this revelation.
His, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne’s, statue is atop a monolith in the center of a roundabout just outside the hotel. While I was there snapping phone pictures, at least 20 buses had pulled up and the riders disembarked. Each bus held approximately 3,000 Chinese people. Each Chinese person went into a small Banff Welcome Center on the opposite side of the roundabout. I watched this for a bit then inspected it further. There didn’t appear to be a door in the back of the building housing the Banff Welcome Center and there weren’t 60,000 Chinese people crammed into the Banff Welcome Center as I’d expected, like some kind of reverse clown car type of deal. So I went on with my life. They’re somewhere, damn it.
[There were a lot of Chinese people in Banff.]
I was now ready for my awkward exchange of the day.
One of the hotel gift shops in a hall full of shops I wouldn’t be visiting, (Cartier, Prada, Waspy McWasperson’s…), was full of nothing but books, posters, t-shirts, you-name-it, depicting the man himself, Sir William C. Van Horne. A guy with the same last name as me, whom I can’t prove is related. How exciting! I bought a hat and a book and handed over my card, waiting for the cashier to get all excited. “Thank you, have a great afternoon!” she squeaked. “You know, that’s my great-great-great (muffled word into a fist), William Van Horne,” I said, holding up my credit card again. “That’s nice.”
I smiled and walked out. I may have actually moon-walked out like Nick from New Girl. At any rate, after going into another store at the other end of the hall, I walked back by the Van Horne store and it was closed. The sign said she’d be back in half an hour, “…or whenever that guy leaves the property.”
Not quite satisfied with the damage I’d done, awkward exchange number two presented itself. I walked up to the front desk and asked an overly-smiling but very polite young lady if there were any rooms available for the evening. It was a Sunday and it was Canada Day and half of Chengdu was in the Banff Welcome Center, so I figured she may come back with a “no.” However, after typing into the computer for 17-minutes, like a 1990s airline clerk, she said, “it looks like we do.” “I’ve got a standard room on the second floor for $799 plus tax.” She said, smiling. I tried to put on my, “Ha, that’s all?” look. Then I hit her with this gem, “Is there a Van Horne discount?” Crickets. I think three other front desk clerks behind her even turned around to stare at me blankly.
At this point, I thought the proper thing to do would be to remind her that the hotel was built by the railroad magnate, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, with his bare hands, alone, without help and that a statue of this Saint of a man was no further than 100 meters away and that there’s even a Van Horne street in Montreal and that Hasidic Jews don’t like you milling around, taking photos of shit. And look, this is my driver’s license and my name’s Van Horne. But I only thought that. What I said was, “Oh nothing, just thinking there might be a discount for people with the same last name as the statue guy.” She asked for my ID, for some reason I kept this up and gave it to her.
She came back about four hours later and said, “My manager said I can give the room to you for $599 per night.” I laughed all of this off and thanked her for her time and said I’d have to check with my fictitious spouse and come back. If I pay $600 a night for a hotel room, I’m going to expect a lot of things that are illegal, even in Canada.
Back to Calgary on the beautiful Trans-Canada Highway I went. The drive to and to/from Banff is awe-inspiring. I’m told the stretch from Banff to Jasper or even Lake Louise is supposed to be spectacular but it was Canada Day and the roads were overpacked. Plus, sometimes you have to save something for later in life.
In the end, I got a free Canadian flag pin out of the deal. It was made in China.