Whenever I read articles that discuss charitable giving or volunteering, I often notice that Manitoba and Winnipeg are brought up as heavy hitters, comparatively speaking. There is something about the people in our province that makes us dig deep in our wallets and try to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. What is it about us that allows us to do that? My guess is that it may have something to do with a relatively stable economy and fairly affordable living expenses. There may be more money in Toronto or Vancouver, but the average person has to put a lot more into expenses, especially housing. Regardless of the reason, it’s nice to see those articles where Manitoba is shown as a leader in a positive way.
On a personal note, many people in my life are actively involved in the community. Whether it’s coaching sports, managing a community centre, working with United Way, or volunteering on a charitable board, I regularly see the positive impact made by these people. Meanwhile, I am ashamed to say that I have never regularly volunteered anywhere. It’s not for lack of empathy or time. I honestly get overwhelmed. I’ve visited the Volunteer MB website so many times, and every time I can’t seem to figure out where I would be the most helpful. I want to get involved and I have a pretty lengthy list of causes that I feel very passionate about. It’s a matter of getting to the point of taking action.
My new employer is very active in the community. They make substantial donations, run volunteer campaigns and reward employees who are active members in the community. I’m excited to say that through work and Habitat for Humanity, I will be volunteering to help build a home for a family in need. I’m a little nervous about it because I’ve never helped to build anything before, but I’m excited to learn and help out as much as I can. I want this opportunity to push me into making a commitment to community involvement. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring the area of literacy perhaps with BookMates. If anyone has had any positive experiences with any local charitable organizations, I would love to hear about it.
Sometimes the best way to understand your own city is by going somewhere else. After visiting other (larger) cities in the past few years, it’s an adjustment returning home. Over pineapple mojitos at The List last week, I was chatting with a close friend about why we love to travel. One of the biggest reasons is to have a break from the small town vibes of Winnipeg. In a large city you could call yourself Tatiana, develop an accent and pretend to be a Russian mafia princess. There is so much money, people and business in other cities that you can virtually be anyone and provided you can drop some dollar, dollar bills, you could get away with it. In Winnipeg the wealthy subset is so small that locals can match the Ferrari to the owner.
Last summer a co-worker was at the Rum Hut watching a Bomber game when a young guy came in, and started buying rounds of drinks for people. My co-worker was puzzling over who this guy was. We assumed drug dealer (typical Winnipeg assumption. Someone has money? They must have made it without the government knowing). A few weeks later, the very same guy showed up in an industry newsletter. Turns out, he inherited a local business. Suddenly we knew who he was, where he was from and how he had all this cash. This fishbowl mentality is brought up regularly in articles about Jets players. The players’ performances are analyzed and picked apart every single day. On top of the professional pressure, the players’ off-ice behaviour is gossiped and shared by everyone. If you’re a Teemu, it’s a wonderful atmosphere that celebrates your very existence. For the Evanders of the world, Winnipeg is less than ideal.
On a lesser scale, the average person deals with the same issues. Every personal change invites comment from someone. Over time as you develop more connections in the city, the less freedom there is to get outside of your persona. If you do alter your style, hangouts, habits, be prepared to answer to multiple people that want to know why. It can be both exhausting and frustrating to maintain or change expectations. This is why it’s so mentally and emotionally refreshing to try new things in a new place. Not all destinations are equal. My friend is going to be spending the summer in Europe while I am heading down south for a shopping trip. But hey, a break is a break is a break.
Downtown Winnipeg is about as polarizing as our weather. We aren’t ambivalent about the area. Everyone has an opinion which they are more than happy to share; at work, with friends, or in very strongly worded letters to the editor. Ultimately I think everyone agrees there are issues with our downtown. In my opinion the biggest hurdle is how relatively massive the space is compared to the overall size and population density of the entire city. If you plan to map the whole thing on foot, better make sure you wear good shoes. Once I power-walked from the U of W to the Forks and ended up icing my foot for a week.
Downtown has always had a special place in my heart. Before I lived in Winnipeg, both my dentist and orthodontist were on Kennedy so I regularly spent a lot of time at Portage Place and the Bay. When I was 17, I began attending the U of W. Exploring the West End and the Exchange District meant indie concerts, pho, comic book stores, designer clothes, and alternative lifestyle paraphernalia. My first job out of university was on the other side of downtown. I had an active lifestyle; walking home through the Forks every day and swimming at the Fairmont during lunch. I spent my hard earned dollars at stores in the Exchange like Hoopers and Candie and Dolls.
It’s been about 3 years since I was downtown on a daily basis. Since then I’ve missed it although not in a really active way. Mostly there’s been a sense that something is absent. Every time I do go downtown or drive through it, it feels like driving past a childhood home, but the paint colour is different and someone built an addition on the back. It’s nice to see, but disorienting at the same time. Luckily for me, the downtown exile is over. I’ve started a new job downtown and I’m trying to craft a summer schedule that includes every food truck, hipster coffee shop, and outdoor event possible. Downtown was the first neighbourhood that I got to know Winnipeg and it feels like coming home.
There are a few ways to deeply upset a Winnipegger. One of them is a simple phrase. These words, when spoken, will result in a reaction that begins at incredulity, is followed by bewilderment and finally settles into total horror. The word bomb you just dropped on this poor, unsuspecting person?
“Oh, I ended up paying the full price on <insert item here>.”
As the dust settles and the individual composes themselves from the shock, you find yourself trying to explain. Why exactly was this non-urgent item so important that you couldn’t wait for a better price. Why didn’t you look at other retailers? Why didn’t you wait until it’s out of season? As as you try to explain, you realize it is futile. There is no excuse for buying anything non-essential that isn’t discounted or part of some greater deal. Even if it is essential, it should have been foreseen and purchased in advance at a better price. This person is now going to give you a breakdown of when and where that very same item is 40% cheaper. They come back to you two weeks later to tell you that their brother-in-law saw one on for 50% off at some store in Steinbach. You politely promise that the next time you need this particular item, you will drive the 65 km to Steinbach or if that isn’t possible, you’ll certainly keep an eye on the flyers.You have just been sale-shamed.
On the other side, this same mentality shows up again. Reappearing in conversations about newly purchased items. 9 times out of 10, when someone comments on a new purchase, the automatic response is “Thanks! It was on sale!” If it was a really good deal, then it’s outright bragging or maybe a guessing game. The other person is forced into guessing how much your new clock was while you keep saying “Lower!” “Nope! Even lower!” The poor soul finally guesses $1.00 and then you giggle excitedly and say “Someone left it on the curb! It was free!” It’s got to be kind of obnoxious really.
In other cities where image and prestige are priority, it’s a badge of honour to afford expensive items. Admitting it was purchased on sale would be embarrassing. Here, people are genuinely concerned that you don’t know you’ve been swindled. After all, mark ups on products are out of control. A friend in the restaurant business told me that a French cookware company allows businesses to sell their products for any price as long as they mark it up substantially. Consumers assume it costs that much because it’s a quality brand. The $20 actual cost of the pot ends up being $200 simply because it will sell. In most normal places anyway.
Have you scored any deals lately?