A large portion of the work we do in Fort McMurray involves filming documentaries. This is
made extremely difficult if you forget to bring the video camera with you.Such was the case on a
trip that my co-worker Peter and I recently made. There was a scheduling error, someone didn’t
meet someone somewhere, and before we knew it we were on an airplane trying to sort out how
we could get a high-end video camera once we landed. Options limited, we headed to Walmart
after we checked into our hotel.
The moment we arrived, what looked to be a small child — but turned out to be a Greeter —
asked us how our day was and if he could help us find anything. I took too long to respond,
thus losing the moment for meaningful customer service, and in a world of instant, emotionless
communication, the Greeter passed me by and was on to his next adventure.
We navigated our way down the main aisle stepping over discarded cardboard boxes and
stray hangers, and headed towards the electronics department where we spent a few minutes
checking out various models of video cameras, all cheap and colourful, all the size of grenades.
After some deliberation, we settled on a blue Panasonic and looked around for someone to help
us. All we saw were fresh-faced teenagers running up and down the aisles in uniform playing
tag and tossing boxes of USB drives back and forth.
Growing up, many of my friends would go to an after-school daycare down the road. I could
hear them screaming and having a great time as they bounced on trampolines and hung off
jungle gyms. It occurred to me that we were witnessing the same type of thing here, except the
child workers of Walmart were all managers and had a checklist of responsibilities that had to
be accomplished between social activities instead of sitting down to cups of orange juice and
plates of cookies like normal children.
Finally, we were able to drag one of the staff away from what appeared to be X-box Bowling to
assist us in getting the camera, which he managed to retrieve incorrectly three times, despite
taking the floor model with him. At the till, his associate Madison remarked that our camera
was, “Like, really expensive and stuff,” a comment that struck me as quite strange coming from
someone working amongst thousands of dollars worth of electronics. It made me wonder if she
ever saw her paycheque and I briefly considered that her parents might be paying Walmart for
her to be there.
As we left the store, I set off the alarm. A middle-aged teenager, a boy of about sixteen, scuffled
over and analyzed my receipt with a scanner. He seemed perplexed by the whole process,
simply handing the receipt back to me and pulling up his pants as he limped away. We walked
out through the sliding front doors that had become permanently stuck open since we first
arrived. I looked back and could hear the wailing of the alarm cascading into the parking lot. The
middle-aged teenager was standing in the lobby, hands in his pockets, while an obese family
of seven made a sudden dash from the cosmetics or dairy section, past the hoards at the tills,
straight out the door to financial freedom.
People flock to Fort McMurray for the jobs. And there are plenty to go around; thick cash for
moderate skills. But what the city seems to have forgotten in its rush to plummet the earth of its
resources is infrastructure. Too much, too fast has led to a serious lack of capacity to sustain
the basics, such as road maintenance, grocery stores, gas stations, core social skills associated
with all of the above. In the race for oil supremacy, I suppose sacrifices have to be made,
corners cut. Doubling up daycare with on-the-job training, then, is an innovative solution.
Just plan ahead and take the day off if you need to return a defective video camera to the Fort
words by William Farrant, photo by Ilijc Albanese