Friday, July 31, 2009

The Ride of My Life

Last week, I decided to enter a contest that was being sponsored by the City of Edmonton's website. The contest was to write a "tweet" about a favourite Edmonton memory on Twitter The two best tweets would win tickets to the Edmonton Indy and a ride around the track in a pace car.

Not being a huge race fan (I mean, I sometimes watch NASCAR on tv, but that is about it) the prize really did not entice me. The thought of how to creatively convey my feelings about Edmonton in 140 characters or less, however, did. Still, I really did not bother to think about it much until the afternoon of Wednesday, July 22 - the final day of the contest, which closed at 11:59 that night. I happened to be strolling around the High Street area, a Fat Frank in hand (vegetarian at that), doing some shopping. Suddenly, the line "hot dogs on High Street" started to roll through my mind. I thought it would make an excellent line in a poem. Since it was something specific to Edmonton, perhaps I could fashion it into an entry to the contest.

However, writing a poem in 140 characters is not easy. I decided upon the Haiku form since it is short yet can often convey a lot in terms of emotion or scenery. I have a lot of experience writing Haiku, as I was a contributor for one of the seasonal cycles of and was published in the first print volume published by this site.

I tend to use the traditional 5-7-5 syllable structure for Haiku, even though some modern poets deviate from this. "Hot dogs on High Street" already was five syllables, so I could have used it as the first or last line, but I decided to add to it to make it the middle line, since I wanted to write about my experience and was shopping at the time. Hence, the middle line became, "Shops and hot dogs on High Street." Seven syllables!

Now, I needed a first and last line. For me, the festivals are an integral part of life in Edmonton. "Summer festivals" is five syllables all on its own. My first line was born. I only needed another five for the final line. I tend to spend a lot of time in specific parts of the city, like Whyte Avenue - which is four syllables. I could only add one more word if I wanted to stick with tradition. "Fun" seemed too cliché. Nights? No, that implies bar-hopping more than anything. What do I do on Whyte? I hang out with friends, have meals, shop, walk . . . "romps" came into my mind. "Whyte Avenue romps." A Haiku was born!

Early evening on June 22 I submitted this tweet:

An Edmonton haiku: Summer festivals/Shops and hot dogs on High Street /Whyte Avenue romps

I even had enough characters left over to be able to add the identifying hashtags of #yeg (for Edmonton), #yegmoment (the identifying tag for the contest), and #yegstories (for Edmonton Stories).

The following afternoon I received a call from informing me that my tweet was one of the winners! Surprised does not begin to cover it. I decided to take my ride on Saturday, the 25th which gave me two days to mentally prepare. Truth be told, this bicycle commuter who does not own a car had never been to the Indy before and did not even know what a pace car was. I was relieved to find out that it does not go as fast as a race car, but as someone who finds the rides a little too thrilling at Capital EX, I was still somewhat nervous. Reality started to hit when the City issues this press release about the contest and winners.

My time at the Indy was quite interesting and enlightening. The place was huge with lots to see and do besides just sitting in the grandstands, watching the cars zipping by. I saw all kinds of cars from different time periods, people working on cars, people talking about cars - it was almost like being in a great big outdoor museum. I took a lot of pictures, which you can see here. And it was loud - you can hear the racing all the way at my home in the west end, but up close it was an exercise for the eardrums. I found that I did not need the earplugs I bought for the occasion, however.

Shortly before 4 p.m., the film crew from the City and I met up and we did an interview, and I got signed in for my pace car ride. While waiting I also did an interview with a reporter from the Edmonton Journal. You can find that story online here. The photo, which clearly shows how hot I was (it was around 33 celcius that afternoon) ended up on the front page of Sunday's Journal, with the story on page A2.

I was also handed a small video camera to take in the car with me to record my ride. I asked the driver a few questions, particularly just how fast we were going to move. 150 km/hour is about a third of what a race car goes at, but it was very fast nonetheless. I could see the city skyline zipping by in the distance and could not refrain from screaming a couple of times as we went around the twists and turns of the track. Yet it was over within a couple of minutes and stumbling like a new-born fawn I emerged from the vehicle triumphantly. I had experienced something new, fast, and exciting. It truly was the ride of my life.

To get a good look at what happened, this page at has photos and videos from my big day!

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