Russell to Brandon

2011/08/16

Concluded my business in Russell and Angusville this morning.  I dropped by the Russell nursing home to see if I could find Wanda.  She wasn’t there but I left my card for her.  Also: I really do not want to end up in one of those places! Horrible.

Rossburn

Brief stop in Rossburn to document the usual places.  Here’s main street:

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This town is actually holding on better than I expected; only a couple fewer businesses in operation than last time I was here.

Most prairie towns have at least one faux Chinoise restaurant, as a result of the railway work and the forced resettlement of Japanese during the war.  This down has two.  We often ate at this one:

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They had good sweet & sour chicken balls (I didn’t know chickens had balls!) and best of all, a game room.  Played lots of Donkey Kong Junior here.

The other place across the road:

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I didn’t like the food or the game selection quite as much, but they had one real oddity: the Hercules pinball machine, which had oversized balls.

There was also a proper pool hall and arcade, in the foreground building here:

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I don’t remember playing any notable games there though.

On one of the side streets was one of the town’s two grocery stores, which I think was called M&M.  I liked going there because they sold lots of interesting collectable cards and stickers; I bought a lot of Wacky Packages stickers plus some video game themed ones that would be good on Ebay today if I hadn’t actually, you know, stuck them.  Inside the now-ruined camper on the farm.  The Wacky Packages were a major inspiration for my parodical sense of humor.

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Interestingly, the M&M storefront now bears a sign identifying it as an arcade.  I didn’t know about this change.  Sadly, it is in the past; I looked in the window and the store is empty.

Wasagaming

One of our favorite getaway destination when we lived in Manitoba was the town of Wasagaming, on Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park. There is a huge and excellent campground there which we used often.  It’s only about a 90-minute drive from the farm so it was pretty convenient.

I find Wasagaming a really relaxing place.  Most of the commercial buildings are log cabin style, and there are lots of nice big trees around – it feels more like a resort than a town.  There’s a nice beach with sand perfect for making castles (a favorite activity when I was young).

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Beside the tennis courts they had these giant chess/checkers sets that were great fun for kids:

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Sadly the chess pieces seem to be missing, and the boards are no longer in very good shape.  Down at the other end of the tennis courts was a playground that I really liked, and while there is still a playground there none of the original equipment remains.

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The lobby of the theater had a Gauntlet machine in it for a while – I spent many hours and quarters in there playing co-op with other kids – co-op video games were a rare and novel thing back then.

Wasagaming is also where I had two of my most unpleasant dining experiences, which affected me for a long time.  Across the road from the theater was a restaurant/deli that is no longer there.  I got a ham sandwich that turned out to be spoiled, though it tasted fine.  In the middle of that night I suddenly sat bolt upright and painted the inside of the camper with it.

The second one was at this place, just around the corner:

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I loved milk, chocolate or otherwise, when I was a kid.  But the glass of milk they served me here had a… thing… at the bottom.  I have no idea what it was.  It was a transparent, gelatinous blob of something.  Sort of like an egg white.  That didn’t belong there and I was grossed out.  I didn’t drink milk again for two years, and actually rarely ever drank it again at all.  Actually, I recently found a very similar blob in a carton of milk in Vancouver.  Didn’t disturb me quite as much since I only use milk for cooking now – there was no danger of drinking the thing – but it brought back the bad memory.

Another bad experience I had in Wasagaming concerned a comic book.  One camping trip I hadn’t brought anything to read with me, so I begged some money from my parents and went into one of the tourist shops to buy a comic.  Their selection was really weird though; everything they had either didn’t interest me or I already had.  So I took a chance on a title I had never seen before.  I don’t remember what it was, but it was awful; violent with graphic blood and gore.  I had never seen anything like that before and it really upset me.

Despite these bad experiences that really stand out in my mind, I still love this town and plan to stop here for a night on my return trip.

Just outside of town is this weird conglomerate establishment called Sportsman’s Park.

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It’s a campground, ice cream & burger stand, amusement park, car wash, weekend flea market, arcade and who knows what else.  We actually attended the flea market a few times, and once I foolishly sold some of my books and comics for money.

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But the real highlight of this place was the arcade.  It was a really good arcade.  Lots of games.  The one I remember as most characteristic of this place was the underrated classic, Pengo.  But I also played a lot of Double Dragon and Street Fighter 1 & 2 here.

Surprisingly, the arcade is still here.  Sadly it’s about one quarter the size it used to be, and the game selection is pretty poor, but I dropped a quarter into Wonder Boy and actually did better than I ever have before.

After having a stroll around Wasagaming and enjoying an ice cream from the same store I did as a kid, I headed on down to

Brandon

Brandon is Manitoba’s second-largest city, and being just under two hours from the farm it was where we went for our semi-monthly big shopping and supply runs.  We always stayed overnight at the Colonial Inn, and I did the same this time.  They used to have games in the swimming pool area, and I played a lot of Klax there, but this time around there was nothing.

We also lived in Brandon for a while, in the winter of 1992-1993.  Having left Toronto due to the recession having cost both my parents their jobs, we ended up back at the farm but didn’t want to spend the winter there, and hoped my father could find work in Brandon.  So we rented this trailer in a trailer park at the south end of the city:

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It was miserable.  It was cold, my room was completely unfurnished and really ugly, and there was no money to spare – seldom even a quarter for a video game.

This being on our way back west after Toronto, I did have my ‘386 PC at this time, and I spent this winter and the follow couple of years writing programs in an attempt to make some money in the shareware marketplace.  One other good thing that happened here is that I discovered a local radio station that played some pretty decent techno at night – that helped get me through the horrible depression of that winter.

On today’s return visit, I can no longer find our tailer; the part of the court it was in has been overwritten by shopping and industrial businesses.  The trailer court itself, though, has grown and is actually pretty nice now, as trailer courts go – decent yards with fences and hedges and lots of large trees.

Just north of the trailer court is one of Brandon’s largest malls.  It’s even bigger now, but it is remarkable only in that it’s where we used to walk for groceries when we could afford them, and I occasionally got to play Trog and Aeroboto in front of the Safeway there. Trog was a good game even though it was basically just Pac-Man with humorous claymation.

And north of that mall – actually sandwiched between the mall and the Colonial Inn – was an arcade in the basement of this building (left of the McDonald’s):

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It was a dark, smoky place and I never ventured to the back, but I did enjoy the unconventional soundtrack and gameplay of Mad Planets and also played lots of Mappy – still one of my favorite games from the era, both for its gameplay and its catchy music.

A few blocks further north, on the other side of the Colonial Inn, was yet another arcade.  I can no longer finds its location, but the best game they had there was Super Dodge Ball, which turned out to be surprisingly fun for a sports game.  I was attracted to it by its use of the Double Dragon character art style.

Continuing the arcade tour, at this still-extant but mostly empty mall downtown:

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I played some Flicky and Pooyan in the mall, and there was also a chain arcade here called Long John Silver’s.  They had a couple other locations including Portage La Prairie.  I played a bunch of Street Fighter II there, plus a unique game I haven’t seen anywhere else: Blob. It must be pretty rare since the KLOV doesn’t know about it and I can’t find any screenshots in GIS. I quite enjoyed it though.

Oh yeah, and at a campground at the north end of the city they had Granny & the Gators and The Pit, which I played because it was weird but didn’t really approve of because the graphics were merely C64-quality – I suspected it wasn’t really an arcade game because of that.  Brandon was a great city for arcades back in the day.

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Here’s the old passenger train station – my father and I bid a sad but hopeful farewell to my mother here one winter, as she went to Toronto on her own to try and find work and establish a beachhead there for us.  It seems to be undergoing renovations now.

Brandon was also home to the restaurant that provided my all-time favorite dessert, but as I blogged previously, that site is now a smoking crater.

One last thing about Brandon – this downtown corner:

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The camera store where my parents bought me my first SLR (a Pentax ESII) is a few blocks from here, but that’s not the interesting thing.  For some reason I associate this corner – actually a particular view of it that I could never have seen in person – with date and time manipulation while programming.  Whenever I work with dates and times while programming – especially with the C# DateTime and TimeSpan types – this corner of Brandon pops into my head.  Weird, huh?  I have no idea how that association could have been formed.  It might have even been formed by a dream.

 

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