Friday, October 14, 2011

The Ottawa Ritz

Ottawa - Roger Ritsema shocked the sailing world last spring when he announced that the summer of '11 would be his last as a member of the Victoria Beach Yacht Club. A former cab driver and long-time Hobie Cat racer, Roger came to epitomise a Victoria Beach generation even as his peers sold out to the glamour of engineering in east Asia or to selling highly caffeineated beverages to skiers, snowboarders, and other west coast kids who weren't good at hockey as kids.

Such a stalwart Winnipeger was Mr. Ritsema that few thought the bright lights and power politics of Ottawa would chames him. But, as this reporter found, no sooner had the J. dried on the Ritsema yacht club locker than had Roger sold out to the high-flying Ontario lifestyle.
I met Mr. Ritsema at the downtown Ottawa Hy's, where, he told me (repeatedly), "he makes his big deals, obviously." Mr. Ritsema appeared to have gained weight, a shock to those who remembered him in his trademarked beach stance: gauntly thin, wrapped in an oversize towel, his head under the shade of a Green Team '96 hat and his eyes hidden behind Hobie sunglasses. Some maintain to this day that Radar's look is an pale impression of Ritsema. He seems to have left that look behind. To lunch he wore a power suit, a gaudy silver watch and what he referred to loudly as "Gucci-bucks-nigga-no-laces."
This reporter expressed surprise that Mr. Ritsema had abandoned a burgeoning academic career in the field of natural sciences for the world of commercial real estate development. "It was a natural switch," said Ritsema, "I went from studying the survival of the fittest to being the fittest." He took a pull on his glass of a rare '58 merlot. "This is me surviving."
Reluctant to reminisce about his down to earth prairie upbringing, Mr. Ritsema preferred to steer the conversation back to his new home. "There's just this raw energy about Ottawa," he said, "it's like a dose of Manhattan mixed with a shot of Ibiza." I mentioned that watching bureaucrats trudge from home to office and back again under gray skies hadn't given me that impression. "You gotta live here to get it I guess," said Ritsema, lighting a cigar as he leaned back in his cavernous chair.
As lunch wound down and Mr. Ritsema spent more and more time touching his hand to his in-ear Bluetooth, I pitched him one last question. Surely, I wondered, he must miss the time spent drinking casual beers and sharing laughs on cold 'Peg City nights.
Mr. Ritsema sniggered as he picked up his platinum Visa and pushed back his chair. "Please," he said, "the night life here makes August long at VB look like Deborah Hill's 16th birthday party."
And with that, he was gone.

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