I moved here about twenty years ago and, like many newcomers, I was fascinated by the tradition of "the Stampede Breakfast," in which various sponsors -- businesses, mostly -- would serve up free pancakes and sausages and juice packs to all who were willing to show up early in the morning and stand in line. I was intrigued by the concept. It was nice to know that the people making money in this town, back when oil was an outlandish $20 a barrel or so, were willing to share a little something with everyone else, even if it was only a tax-deductible token gesture.
The whole notion of Calgarians being better or more generous people than others because they come from "a Western tradition" or because "they're cowboys at heart" is a lie of course, but some lies can be ennobling. And I admit I am a sucker for free food.
Twenty years later, the Stampede Breakfast concept is still going strong. I've seen five of them in the last three days. Hardly anything has changed.
Except that since I got here some twenty years ago, the average person's real income adjusted for inflation (in this town where everyone works so frantically) has gone down about 50 bucks a year. The banks and oil companies who usually host Stampede Breakfasts? Their profits are setting records. And now oil is $145.00 a barrel.
Put another way: a barrel of West Texas Intermediate is now worth about six months income for one of the Chinese slaves made to stitch the Wal-Mart purchased boots and shirt of every faux cowpuncher lined up for those free scrambled eggs.
One more thing that's changed? The five Stampede Breakfasts I've seen in the last three days have all had big "PRIVATE FUNCTION" signs posted in front of them. That, and security guards to keep away the homeless, the wage slaves, and the riff-raff.
I wonder: if Tsar Nicholas II were to appear at one of these early-morning pancake flip-offs, would anyone recognize him? Probably not. There's no money to be made off of dire warnings from the past.
See that homeless guy over there? Ride 'em cowboy. Ride him until he bucks you off.