Christmas in Oakville, New Years Eve in Calgary

I didn’t think it was possible for 10 days to go by so fast…

Having missed Christmas at home last year (for reasons I don’t think I need to go into), I decided a month or so ago to return home and experience Christmas the way it was meant to be experienced — with too much food, long waits at airports, problems finding the right gifts, and complaining about traffic on the QEW.

Chris and I made the trip home together, leaving Calgary on 20 December. Hearing that the airport had been pretty busy the day before, and that line-ups at Air Canada’s check-in were often length, I suggested that we head to the airport a bit early (our flight was for 5:15 that afternoon). Our taxi picked us up at about 2:20, and dropped us off at the airport around 2:50. We were at the check-in by 3:00, and all ready to go by 3:05.

For a flight that wouldn’t leave until 7:00 that night. Lousy delays.

Chris and I spent an enlightened four hours at the airport, discussing many topics (including theology, architecture, physics, literature, and whether or not we’d be seated with any attractive single women on our flight) and reading. At least it was in Calgary airport, and not in the plane on the tarmac (which I went through in ’98, and wasn’t too keen on reliving).

Turned out that the plane had hydraulic problems prior to leaving Toronto. Air Canada, in it’s infinite wisdom, opted to fix the plane … and not replace it with a working aircraft, thus screwing up schedules (and probably cancelling a flight or two). We didn’t get into Toronto until 1:30.

Chris and I went shopping the following day, not having brought any gifts with us from Calgary (it was extra bulk we didn’t want to have to deal with). Chris and I were in generous moods, having both received healthy Christmas bonuses from Critical Mass for all our hard work and diligence … yeah, it’s hard keeping a straight face writing stuff like that.

On the 23rd, I headed out to Port Credit to meet with an old friend of mine, Kim. She was a classmate of mine from university (we suffered through possibly the worst technical writing class ever devised — I’m certain we students could have instructed that course better than the professor). She and I have gone through similar relationship hells over the past year, and have discussed our horror stories at length over email. It was the first time in about four or five years that I would see her.

Despite a short wait at the train station, we finally met again, although the meeting was a tad awkward — Kim had let her hair return to it’s natural brown colour, and I had cut my rather lengthy hair and shaved. Then came the next surprise — Kim’s friend Laura. Kim was visiting Laura and her husband Ray, who were gracious enough to put up with me for the afternoon. The surprise came when I climbed into the back seat to meet her mysterious friend, only to realize that I’d had classes with Laura in university. [Insert music to “It’s A Small, Small World” here.] That pretty much set the stage for an afternoon of pseudo-reminiscing and tech talk (with Ray — I believe Kim and Laura described it as “getting along like a house on fire”).

Laura and Ray were heading off to Stratford for Christmas, so Kim and I ducked out to the GO Station for the trip into Toronto (Kim was going home, I was meeting Chris and friends for dinner and a movie). We continued our talk during the trip. I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable, though I honestly don’t know why. It might have been the gap in time between the last time that I saw her, or I wasn’t sure what to talk about next.

Email conversations are so much easier…

Kim and I parted ways at Union Station, as she had to catch the TTC home. I continued my wanderings in the PATH (Toronto’s underground mall-cum-labyrinth) and actually managed to find my way to the Eaton Centre without getting lost, taking a wrong turn, or even consulting a map. (No, I have no idea how I pulled that off.)

Still having an hour or so before meeting up with Chris, I completed the last of my Christmas shopping. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking — Christmas shopping at the Eaton Centre at Christmas, I must be insane? Well, if you’re asking that question, it’s obvious that you’ve forgotten who I am… That said, it actually wasn’t that bad — I expected worse.

Dinner was at Rol San, a Chinese restaurant along Spadina. Chris knew the place from his life in and around Toronto (I can only assume, otherwise he somehow managed to pick the place out of the phonebook). I was the first to arrive (no real surprise there), and began to wait for the stragglers. Chris had already told me (via voicemail) that he would be late (no real surprise there, although in due honesty, it wasn’t his fault), and that while I could look out for his friend Ellison (whom I’d never met before), he didn’t know what her hair colour would be at the time.

Ellison, it seems, is no dummy. A “lonely-looking single guy sitting at a table for eight” is a dead give-away, and it took Ellison about two seconds to figure out who I was. We engaged in a long discussion about movies (Ellison is a film geek, and went through the same film program Chris took at Sheridan College) and living in Toronto vs. living in Calgary. About 45 minutes after Ellison, Chris and Natalie (whom I did know) appeared, followed shortly thereafter by Koto, one of Chris’ co-workers from the Japan Foundation.

The movie that night was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. For those of you who have been living under a rock, this is possibly the single most critically acclaimed movie of the year (I haven’t heard or read a single negative word about it). It’s likely going to be an Oscar pick (it’s already been nominated for a few Golden Globes), and rightly so — it’s got an excellent story, an excellent cast, excellent music … in short, it’s excellent. Okay, there, I’ve raved about it. Now go see it (if you haven’t already) — you can thank me later.

It was the first Christmas at Cathy and Craig’s house, and it probably won’t be the last. Cathy played Santa, handing out the various gifts to those seated around. I won’t go into detail of the list (unlike last year), but I will say that I was exceptionally happy with my gifts — especially those I gave. There’s nothing like the look of surprise and joy in someone else’s face.

Dinner that night was an affair not soon forgotten. Harking back to the days when my family hosted dinners having an average of 15 people in attendance, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson joined us for our meal. Yes, that is only seven people, but I wasn’t referring to the number of people — I was referring to the noise level.

Cathy and Craig received “The All Canadian Trivia Game” for Christmas, and the questions became our after dinner entertainment. Being the only remotely sober person, I played Quiz Master. I was surprised at the number of times my dad answered questions that were about people and places I’d never heard of before — and I (used to) pride myself on knowing a lot of Canadiana. In fact, I found through this game that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. [Insert sound of ego deflating here.]

I avoided boxing day sales at all costs — the last thing I needed was more stuff to take home with me. Instead, I spent my time eating leftovers, relaxing, watching movies, and installing my mother’s new scanner. I had hoped it would be an easy install. I really should know better by now — it took me a tech support call to UMAX to learn that I couldn’t plug the scanner into a powerbar, it needs to be plugged into the wall directly. The answer came so quickly I was surprised they didn’t have that sort of thing in the user’s guide…

I also visited with another old friend (and former roommate), Ed. I met up with him and two of his friends (one of whom I knew from university) at Sega City out in Mississauga. We spent about an hour or so plugging away at the various games before we ran out of money. It was a good thing, too — the number of kids was rising at an exponential rate, and it was becoming a little too crowded for us old folks. We retreated to Jack Astor’s for beers and nachos…

Next thing I knew, it was 30 December. Time to go home … Calgary, that is.

Chris’ parents picked me up just after 4:00 for our 7:30 flight. Yes, I know that’s early. The problem was that it had been snowing all day, and Toronto is (or at least used to be) notorious for bad traffic during that kind of weather. Figures — it was smooth driving all the way to the airport.

Oh yeah, and those long line-ups I’d planned for? Non-existent. 10-minute check-in. Two hour wait for the flight. Which, of course, was delayed. (The plane we were supposed to get went out of service, probably due to a hydraulic problem, and we had to wait for another 767 to come in from Miami — it was already in transit — before we could go anywhere.) Once we’d gone through de-icing and taxiing, we’d waited for about four hours.

Calgary was a zoo when we finally got in, just before midnight local time. Luggage took forever to appear, taxis were hard to get, and then to top it all off, the Calgary Police closed off Barlow Trail southbound (effectively the same as blocking off the 427 just south of the airport) for no apparent reason. After all that had happened, I just wanted to go home.

We began the last day of the second millennium AD with dim sum at our favourite restaurant, followed by our ritual visit to A&B Sound. We had several options on how to celebrate the turning of the year, but we settled on a video game and movie session with two friends from work. Unless the world ends tonight (little chance of that), I’ll be following up this with my annual year in review…

Happy new millennium. I hope it’s better than the last one…

Moving into Critical Mass’ New Building

It’s been a weird week. Imagine trying to do “business as usual” knowing full well that in a week you’d be working out of a new office. That’s pretty much what last week was like.

Critical Mass is big. As of next week, we’ll have 252 people … in Calgary. That doesn’t count the Chicago, New York, or Stockholm offices. (We’ll be even bigger once we open the Toronto office. That actually scares some people.) We ran out of space in our old building a long time ago — it was almost to the point where we would have to start stacking desks just to get everyone in.

So many moons ago, our Operations Manager starting hunting for a new space. That’s not easy in Calgary — there’s a lot of office space around, but it’s either occupied or WAY too dull for a “leading edge interactive marketing agency”, which I think is how we describe ourselves.

The search went on for months before (somehow) we started negotiations with Mogens Smed, one of the leading interior designers for office spaces. Funky furniture, comfy chairs, and nothing that would be considered really “corporate”. It’s kinda like a step up from IKEA furniture, which is what we had. (Not that there’s anything wrong with IKEA).

Smed bought a building just north of the Stampede grounds that had been abandoned for many years. With Critical Mass providing direction (as we were to be the sole occupants), Smed transformed the old Pilkington Glass Company factory into the World Headquarters for Critical Mass.

In six months.

Frankly, I’m amazed they pulled it off. As Ted (our Chairman) remarked during today’s “tour”, it was an 18-month job done in a third of the time. But you wouldn’t know to look around. It’s a quality job. It’s also a bit getting used to — everything’s so … new. And unused. Kinda like a Star Trek episode…

The trick, of course, was to get us from our old building and settled into our new building in as little time as possible. That was what happened during the weekend. With a significant amount of prep work by our administration staff, we packed and labelled every single last item in the office, right down to the spare paper clips, before Friday. On Friday morning, everyone came in, packed up their desks into plastic bins, wrapped up their computers, and left by about 9:30am. After that, it was all up to the movers.

We came in around 2:00 in the afternoon on Sunday, on a directive from Ted, to unpack our bins and set up our desks. Aside from a few small things, everything arrived intact an unharmed. Even more shocking was when I got in this morning — except for our LDAP server, we were up and running. All the phones, the mail server, the Internet connection — everything. It was all up. Mind you, it wasn’t without its glitches, but when you consider that the office was moved in a weekend to a new location, and it all works, well … that’s a pretty amazing feat.

We have a really interesting deal with Smed. They own the building, and all the furniture inside. We own the computers. We get a really cool office (for a lot less than we should), and Smed gets a really cool company to occupy the space. Smed gets to drag in companies like Coca-Cola to show them what a cool space looks like, and if we happen to pitch a website to them at the same time, well, that’s business.

Hollywood scripts aren’t planned this well. (Especially this year…)

With slightly over two weeks left before I duck out for Ontario for Christmas, the next couple of weeks are going to be really hectic.

But at least I can go insane in a cool building…