Alive in Calgary (Part 1)
Caffeine, and cannibalism
From the moment my feet hit the floor on Friday morning I felt jittery, jaw-clenching anxiety. The 3:45 AM wake-up call and two cups of coffee on an empty stomach didn’t help. Since we started working on the TV adaptation of our memoir High School, I’d been waiting for this exact moment to arrive. Pre-production had finally begun in Calgary, and I’d started to worry that I was going to feel like a tourist, gawking from the edges of the set, hoping for a glimpse of a movie star. My nerves made no sense considering our twenty-two years of experience in the entertainment business. I don’t feel at all like a novice. Hell, we performed at the Oscars! Also, it’s a TV show about us! Doesn’t that make me kind of an expert? Perhaps it was the fact that I would be representing us both until you get home from Los Angeles at the end of the month.
And, let’s be honest, showing up as Sara of Tegan and Sara hits different.
On the way to the Vancouver airport, the driver had all the windows down in the car. It was only two degrees outside, and as the early morning air tunneled through the backseat, I felt grateful for my new parka. The airport was a ghost town. I was through security and at the gate by 5 AM. Wandering through the empty terminal (with another coffee!) I felt nostalgic for the two decades of traveling we’ve done. What has dulled for me in other areas of our touring life — hotels, tour busses, backstage — grows sharper and more focused at the airport; like walking down a well-loved street in a city you once called home.
It wasn’t a full flight and I was upgraded to a window seat in business class — still a novelty, even after all these years. Staring out the window, watching the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, I felt a swell of pride. The snow-capped peaks made me think of the movie Alive. I remember when Mom and Bruce took us to see it in the theater. It was 1993 and we were 13-years-old. Given what we were exposed to at our first year of Junior High (drugs, gangs, girls having sex listening to Red, Red Wine) a film about a plane crash and cannibalism shouldn’t have been so traumatizing. But I can still vividly recall the way the survivors let the sun cook the human flesh of the dead passengers on the reflective parts of the plane wreckage. It looked like beef jerky.
When we started banking past Calgary’s downtown skyline, I could see the apartment building where we’ll both be living during the shoot. I took photos of it for you through the pocked windowpane. The newness of this experience, and Calgary’s role as a central character in the story, made me see every detail of the city with a fresh perspective. Imagining the people who might discover us and our hometown because of High School made every detail of the city pop. It reminded me how much a song can change when I listen to it with someone who’s never heard it before.
Waiting for my Uber, I wrote out a shortlist on my phone of things I’d forgotten to pack.
Winter air on the Prairie is bone dry and cruel. But when I landed in Calgary on Friday there was a Chinook and the temperature was above zero. A story you tell often about Calgary is how your lips were so dehydrated after a concert you were forced to put lipstick on in the middle of the night. (Spoiler: I didn’t pick up lip balm, and by the end of the day, my mouth was redder than pink, and I recognized the early signs of what was to come.)
I dropped my bags off at the apartment and made myself a FOURTH CUP OF COFFEE. Why does every apartment, even the modern and uninhabited, smell like Dad’s shabby apartments did in the 80s and 90s? A combination of recycled medicinal air with top notes of dust and sweat. Standing in the living room, I could see the Calgary Tower — our hometown’s Empire State Building. In childhood, we’d stand on the sidewalk with our backs pressed to the cement base and our heads lifted to the sky. On school field trips, we’d look down from the sky deck, nearly sixty stories up, like a flock of birds watching pinheads move across the streets below. Friday was the first time I’d ever been at eye level with this most recognizable landmark. It felt apt.
At 10:30 I jumped in another Uber and headed to the High School production offices. I haven’t been on a first date in over eleven years. I haven’t had a first day of school or started a new job in over twenty. I feel like I might barf, I typed to you in a text. I erased it. I mixed up the 7’s and the 2’s of the address. I got dropped at a real estate office and then had to walk along Macleod Trail past the restaurant where I’d suffered a bout of food poisoning when we were kids and the cheap hotel I’d stayed in with M. after graduation. I arrived late but was grinning under my mask.
You’re going to freak out when I tell you the good news, but I must go help Stacy make dinner (we’re having chipotle chicken tacos). I’ll tell you more later.