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According to Ralph: Good Old, Reliable Winnipeg

by Ralph Strangis / Dallas Stars

Trading out California’s sunshine, coastlines and swanky hotels and Arizona’s scenic vistas and desert air for the ice and snow of the Central Division’s home cities, while good for television start times and holding the promise of potentially better scheduling, is the devil’s bargain for those of us who actually have to do it. And the irony of course is the Stars have dominated their old division this season and are chasing the pack because of their ragged play against their new one.

Which has us on Monday, February 23, staring out our windows of the Fairmount Hotel in Winnipeg at grey skies, scant and barren trees, sand-stained roads and blowing snow. Our collective dispositions then, already cranky from recent trips through the bleakness of similar locales and aggravated by a weekend of on-ice calamities are challenged further.

It is on days like this, a scheduled “off day” in Winnipeg, where it’s easy to make the hotel room your only stop, and room service your only caller. But for most of us here, we’re wired to press on, keep moving, and face the day’s challenges regardless of the body’s energy or the mind’s struggles.

So after getting up and performing the day’s cursory answering and sending of emails, I get dressed and force myself to dress and trudge to the hotel’s lower level to the Richardson Centre Concourse to get a bite of lunch.

Winnipeg is Manitoba’s capital city with a population of around 650,000 hearty, blue-collar and hard-working souls. And the Winnipeg Jets upon ‘returning’ home were given a welcome befitting the killing of the proverbial fatted calf. It is the City’s greatest joy to have their NHL franchise back and operational. And in these smaller Canadian towns, and at the risk of sounding – well – how this sounds – the people are – nicer. Hotel employees and passerby meet you with their eyes and their smiles and a greeting.

I walk to “Nathan Detroit’s” just below the hotel in the Centre. It’s a family-owned deli started in 1979 by local entrepreneur Ian Yamron. Ian worked most of his life for a company that sold pots and pans but wanted to be his own boss and with his wife Fraydel opened the spot and became somewhat of a local legend. His 21 first-cousins were among the first customers and family gatherings were always held here. Ian passed 12 years ago and the business is carried on in the family tradition by Fraydel and daughters Brenlea and Karen.

The door is locked and the place is closed at 3:00 in the afternoon when I happen upon it. But Brenlea and Karen are still there, cleaning up and when they see me standing at the door they do – what nobody does anymore – they open it…

Brenlea says, “Can I help you?”

“You’re closed aren’t you?”

“Yes – for an hour – but we’re still here – what can we get you?”

“Would a bowl of soup and a sandwich be too much?”

“Have a seat – Karen will make your sandwich – and I’ll get the soup.”

So I sat and visited with the two of them and they made me lunch and told me stories about the place that I’d been to once or twice before. Brenlea came to work for a year after high school and never left. That was 30 years ago.

Everything is homemade and most customers are regulars. They face the challenges of the big chains and the move toward healthier food options and a faster pace to the world, but they still serve up a mean corned beef on rye and matzo ball soup.

It’s the kind of experience a guy doesn’t get enough in a big city all the way around, and it’s the perfect tonic for the road-weary.

This team we have is young and banged up and our new division is the toughest in hockey and you don’t get to have the French press on the deck at the Ritz Marina Del Rey as much as you used to.

And we all want things to be right – right now. Life moves pretty fast… and so on. But we trudge on. And so today, from an unlikely source, I’m reminded that even in the dark and cold there times to remember that everything doesn’t have to happen right now.

“How much do I owe you?”

“Oh – I closed the register – why don’t you just stop by tomorrow and have breakfast and give it to me then?”

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