Baby, Duck!

This weekend I was treated to a blast from the past.  We invited friends over for dinner, and one couple arrived bearing a bottle of Baby Duck.

For those unfamiliar with Baby Duck, it’s a ‘wine’ that was introduced to Canada in the early 1970s:  fizzy grape juice with lots of sugar, some alcohol, and a generous dollop of successful marketing.  Oenophiles may recoil in horror, but the truth is Baby Duck was part of the formative drinking years of an entire generation.

The friend who brought it this weekend confessed that she drank Baby Duck for the first/last time at a party long ago where she singlehandedly polished off one and a half bottles… and has never drunk it again.

So many people had their first disastrous drinking experience with Baby Duck that the name became a bit of a joke.  As the victims fled for the bathroom, stomachs heaving, a sardonic cheer would go up from the rest of the revelers as they scattered to provide a clear path:  “Baby, duck!”

My very  first drinking experience was as a young teenager, maybe fourteen or fifteen.  One day our family departed the sticks and went to the Big City for a family visit, and my city cousin took me out for Chinese food.

Imagine the importance of this event in the life of a backward young hick!  I’d never had Chinese food.  And my almost-grown-up cousin (she had a driver’s license and a car…!) was taking me out, just the two of us, like adults.  And when we got to the restaurant, she casually ordered us each a Singapore Sling!  (Even though we were both too young to drink I guess we looked close enough – we didn’t get asked for ID.  Times were simpler then.)

My parents had both come from non-drinking households, but they figured the safest way to protect their kids from dangerous rebellion was to introduce the concept of responsible drinking.  So they had already explained the concepts of alcohol and intoxication, and every now and then they drank a glass of wine with dinner while we were growing up.  They didn’t make a big deal of it, but we understood that alcohol was an adult thing.

So I was wildly excited by the grown-up meal… and I was afraid I’d get drunk and embarrass myself.  I still recall how yummy the almond chicken was, and I still recall wondering if I was drunk yet because I didn’t feel any different after one cocktail that was probably mostly fruit juice.

Needless to say when I went off to university a few years later I discovered that you’re not actually drunk until you’ve consumed seven Zombies (three kinds of rum, apricot brandy, and fruit juice) a couple of Brown Cows (Kahlua and cream) and then topped it off with a couple of warm beers that nobody else dared to drink.  (Gee, I wonder why…?)

I’ve been blessed with a cast-iron stomach and a lightning-fast metabolism, so that night I staggered home laughing all the way and fell into the dreamless slumber of the just and the intoxicated.  My drinking buddy at the time wasn’t so lucky – she spent the entire night talking to Ralph on the great white telephone and silently cursing my oblivious snores.

I think she’s forgiven me after more than three decades, but she’ll never forget.

Anybody else remember their first drinking experience?  Or prefer to forget it?

Camping’s Out

The long weekend is over, and I’m sitting at my desk, scratching the mosquito bites on my butt.  No, I wasn’t having that much fun out in the bush.  The little suckers were ferocious this weekend, and they bit right through my jeans.

We used to camp almost every long weekend.  Get a bunch of people together, grab a few adjoining sites at a campground in the mountains, and pitch a tent village.  The site in the middle was designated the “main” site, where all the cooking and socializing took place.

If we forgot to pack some critical piece of camping gear, there was always somebody in the group who’d lend us theirs.  The sites on either side provided a buffer zone between us and the other yahoos in the campground.  We sat around the campfire swigging cold beer and shooting the shit in the evenings while the mountains glowed around us.  Occasional bursts of laughter rose from other campsites, but the echoing silence of the Rockies always lay in the background, almost a presence in itself.

As we got older, though, the attraction waned.  The other yahoos in the campground got, well, yahooier.  (Honest.  Parks Canada backs us up on this one.  It has nothing to do with our age.)  The parks started to charge fees for a fire permit and a tiny bundle of soggy firewood.  The campgrounds were so teeming with humanity that the sites got packed closer and closer together, until the neighbours were only a few feet away.  We all attempted to “enjoy nature” while radios blared and children screamed and dogs barked and passing cars raised clouds of gravel dust that settled on us in a layer resembling the ash from Pompeii.

And driving the TransCanada Highway between Calgary and the Rockies was like taking part in a gong-show amateur hour at Race City Speedway.  By the time I made it home from my “relaxing” weekend in the mountains, my shoulders were up around my ears and my language was melting the steering wheel.

So one long weekend, we just… didn’t go.

It was quieter and less crowded in the city.  Everybody else was out there in the campgrounds searching for the elusive “wilderness experience”.  A few years later, we bought a tiny piece of treed property in the country, and we’ve been enjoying our own private wilderness ever since.

I hear there are fire bans and liquor bans in the national park campgrounds now.  I know it’s no fun to lie awake at night wondering if your neighbours are going to burn down the forest (and you) with their giant conflagration.  Obnoxious drunks bellowing at the tops of their lungs at three o’clock in the morning are vastly overrated.

But at the same time, I feel sad that a lot of people won’t have the opportunity to look up at the alpenglow and laugh around a campfire with some cold beer and good friends.  It’s really too bad that the sins of the few have once again resulted in a loss of freedom for the many.

Eh, sonny, let me tell you about the good old days…

Sigh.