May 1990

I don’t remember what the small-scale conference was about or why it was being held in the first place, but 13 years ago almost to the day, my boss at the time had pulled me out of my regular office job to become a chauffeur. I think I’m remembering this right now because it’s cold and windy today, as it was during that conference, except that it also rained like hell during that time in 1990.

The conference was a gathering of university women from the Americas. Knowing that I’m a smoker, my boss designated me to the South American contingent since she knew they would likely all be smokers and would want to smoke in the van. She was right.

I remember as magical the time I spent with these women. Except for the weather, they loved everything about Canada and Halifax. They kept grilling me with questions about day-to-day life here — culturally, economically, and so on. And I would do the same, asking about their lives in their respective country.

For the most part they were privileged. In fact, I quickly came to realize that, back in their country, they probably wouldn’t have given the likes of me the time of day. But here they saw me as the managing editor of a scholarly journal, who happened to volunteer to be their chauffeur around town for a few days. They noticed my little touches, like giving them my work and home numbers “in case of emergency.” Indeed, I had visions of some of them getting lost in the depths of Dartmouth during their free time. I think this might be when I began earning the reputation of “rescuing” people.

One of the woman was a senator in Venezuela. “I think what Canadians need to do is bring back [Pierre Elliott] Trudeau,” she declared. “He was a true statesman.” Knowing that Trudeau was bashing 70 at the time and that he had definitively retired from politics 6 years earlier, I replied that his return was very unlikely to happen.

One afternoon we went on a sight-seeing tour of Shock and Awe Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Part of the way there, they sang beautiful, wistful songs from South America. I understood nothing, but I was stirred nonetheless. When they tired of singing, I introduced them to Michael Franks (see also a previous aMMusing entry), which they all loved. So I made sure they all brought back from Halifax a cassette mix of some of his best songs up to that point in his career.