The Return of 36 Chambers of Shaolin

A little over two months ago, Dave “36” Chambers left Calgary for Toronto, where we were opening another office. On Friday, he came back to visit, and it was up to us to remind him why it was (or wasn’t) a bad idea to leave.

This was a weekend for travelling — many CMassers were moving about the country. Some were coming to Calgary, some were going to Toronto, but most (of the travellers) were going to Vancouver for a wedding. Shawn was Toronto-bound, conveniently about 45 minutes after Dave’s plane was to land. Making my trip completely useful, I took Shawn to the airport, he tagged off with Dave, and I took Dave back to our place.

For a game night of near-epic proportions.

Continue reading “The Return of 36 Chambers of Shaolin”

Calgary Myths Dispelled

A lot of people give Calgary a hard time. They call it “Cowtown”. They think that we’re overrun with cowboys and horses. They think everyone has a shotgun rack in their beat-up pickup truck. They think that most of people who live here are intolerant hicks with nothing better to do than pick fights every night. They think it’s really cold year-round. They think there’s no culture.

The problem is that people don’t think. They accept without question.

These were stories I’d heard before moving here, so I too was guilty of not asking questions. I didn’t know much about Calgary before I first came here in September 1997. My first exposure to Calgary was an eye-opening one — I hadn’t expected such a young city. Both Gerry and I recognized that almost immediately, and how much we suddenly felt the urge to move here.

As it stands, I moved to Vancouver and Gerry moved to Bermuda. But now I’m here, and in the last year I’ve learned quite a bit about this city. It’s time to dispell a few myths.

Myth #1: Calgary is full of cowboys.

There are two times this is actually true. First, during the Calgary Stampede. This is when the only way you can tell the city folk from cow pokes is by how clean and pressed the clothes are. The only other time this is true is when some of them gets lost, and somehow finds their way downtown. It’s rare, but it’s been known to happen from time to time. (For all we know, it could just be part of an ad campaign.)

Oh, and then there’s patrons of Cowboys, Desperados, and Outlaws, three of the western-themed bars in town. But those are usually drunk jocks.

Myth #2: Most people who live here are intolerant hicks.

Most of the people who live in this city moved from other provinces (of all the people I’ve met here, only about 10 are native Calgarians). Many are from back east. We have the youngest demographic of any city in Canada — the average age is 33.7 (as of 1996, down from 34.5 in 1991), while the Canadian average was 35.8. Also, over 50% of our residents have a post-secondary education of some form.

We also have a lot of rich people. It’s that black, oily stuff they keep finding out here. There are a large number of people who’ve made small (and large) fortunes off it. Of course, you can’t spot some of these people — they look completely ordinary. That is, until they climb into their Mercedes, BMWs, Porches (although they’re not as popular out here), high-end SUVs, and expensive Japanese imports.

If there are hicks here, they’re keeping a mighty low profile.

Myth #3: It’s cold year-round.

No, it’s *dry* here year-round. Our altitude, combined with a lack of suitably large body of water (the Bow River certainly does not count) keeps us gulping liquids and using moisturizers more than most people. But there is an upside to all that — the driness cuts down on the cold. Without moisture to cut through our clothes, a heavy shirt, fleece, and windbreaker can get you though weather that freezes people to death back in southern Ontario.

The downside, of course, is that when we go to more humid climates without suitable protection, we freeze even in what others consider comfortable weather.

Sure we do have winter from as early as late October through to as late as early June (worst-case scenario), but we also get Chinooks all year (yes, we get Chinooks in the summer, too, but they’re not as pronounced as in the winter), so even in the dead of winter, when others are digging themselves out of 10 feet of snow, we could be wearing shorts on the skihills.

Myth #4: There’s no culture; there’s nothing to do.

This is the single largest myth, and it’s one that many transplanted Calgarians continue. Calgary isn’t like Vancouver, or Toronto, or Montreal. In those cities, you can’t avoid things to do — they’re in your face 24-7. But out here, people aren’t interested in that kind of constant bombardment. We have a large theatre scene — we have a complex here that I haven’t seen in either Toronto or Vancouver. We have a large concert hall, and several stadiums perfectly capable of holding concerts or sports, depending on your fancy.

And then, of course, there’s the outdoors. I would love to know what the population of the city drops to during the summer, when almost everyone ducks out for the wilderness. You can’t get a camping spot in this province on any long weekend … not without either booking months (and I mean *months*) in advance, or staking out a spot (in the non-reservable grounds) days ahead.

Okay, still not impressed? I left this one for last, because even I have trouble believing it. Calgary has a skatepark, called the Shaw Millennium Skatepark. This is a concrete playground built specifically for the skateboarding population of our city — a place where they can go and grind to their heart’s content, without any fear that some security guard will interrupt their fun.

This park was built by the city (with funds from local companies, such as Shaw Cable), is open 24 hours a day, and completely free. Chris, Stuart, and I went over to it on Saturday night to get a close look and see what it was all about. It’s quite large, and well-built (at least from a skateboarder’s perspective). It allows kids to do whatever they want, and hang out with people like themselves. And even at midnight, there are kids of all ages practicing, showing off, and hanging out.

It’s just west of the downtown core, wedged between 6th and 9th Avenues, far enough away from condos to not bother residents, but close enough so the kids can still get there. I can’t think of another city that has something similar in its downtown. Stuart was quick to point out that Toronto would find some way to turn it into a golf course. Vancouver would build a condo, and then charge $150,000 for a 400 square foot bachelor.

I hope that in some small way, I might have changed your view of Calgary. Although different from other large cities in Canada, it’s no less a fine place to live. I offer anyone the chance to come here and see for yourself.

Visiting Vancouver, Blue Jays and Mariners Baseball Game in Seattle

It was once said that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Fear is the oppressor of souls and nations. It is the beginnings of hatred and suffering. And it’s what has kept me away from Vancouver. Fear of my past. Fear of opening old wounds.

This is why on Friday past, one year, two months, and four days since I left Vancouver, that I felt it was time to face those fears.

Well, actually, it was a month earlier that I made the decision, but you get my point…

It basically stemmed from one email I received from my friend Greg, suggesting I come out to see a baseball game in Seattle with some of my former co-workers (and current friends) from Radical. It was part spur-of-the-moment, part “I really need to get out of this office for a couple days!”, but when it really came down to it, it was time for me to go back.

I’d had the opportunity a couple times before, the most recent previous one being an invitation to Katrina’s “Glug” party, a tradition she and Guy have at Christmas. However, I’d never really felt ready. I had always said I was busy (which was true), but primarily, I knew that mentally and emotionally, I hadn’t forced off my demons — I wasn’t ready to go back.

Rising early on Friday, I made my way to the airport to catch my 7:50am flight to Vancouver. I took public transit, partly for the heck of it, and partly so I’d get a better idea of times for the next time I do this. Not having the best information available on times and schedules, I ended up with about 20 minutes to wait for the bus once I’d reached the end of the C-Train line.

I watched the sun rise above the houses, casting long shadows across the bus terminal, and shedding light on a dawn of reawakening. (It’s amazing the stuff you can dish out when you’re being philosophical, eh?) It was my first real thoughts about what I was about to do. Would I run into my past, and would she confront me? Would I see any of her friends? And more importantly, what would I do? These were questions I was unable to answer, even though I’ve been thinking about that very thing for over a year.

Soon I found myself at the airport, awaiting the boarding for the flight. Unlike my previous flights with Air Canada (see [[Christmas in Oakville, New Years Eve in Calgary]]), this flight left right on time. The flight was uneventful — up, breakfast, read, down. All told, about an hour and 10 minutes.

Descending into Vancouver was … weird. I recognized everything. Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster, the Port Mann Bridge, Metrotown, the Richmond Auto Mall, IKEA. It almost felt like I’d never left, but at the same time, there was a strange feeling. Something between excitement and knowing you’re being watched.

BC Transit being on strike, I had to take a taxi to get out of the airport. (Although Greg had offered to pick me up, I had told him not to waste his time — I knew he already had a killer schedule, and going to the airport is quite a bit out of his way.) The trip was quite, pleasant, and a brisk drive down memory lane. In less than 20 minutes, I was standing on the corner of 10th and Granville, wondering what I was going to do next.

The first thing I did was call Lee, who had been Radical’s Director of QA and the coach of the Rad Sox. Being already at work, we agreed to meet that night, as planned, at Soho’s in Yaletown. I so proceeded to step #2 — wait. I wanted to hold off until about 9:30 before calling Katrina (another friend and former co-worker), but I didn’t want to disturb her too early in the morning. (More on this in a few paragraphs.)

So it was off to one of a thousand local Starbuck’s to indulge in my second hot chocolate of the morning (the first being at the Blenz in Calgary airport). I sat, sipping my venti, and really thought about where I was. I actually sat with my back to the door, a little worried about who might walk through it.

Irrational fears are the worst kind.

After pondering the state of affairs for about a half hour (ventis are pretty big), I retreated to the moist Vancouver air, and proceeded to contact Katrina. I had hoped to meet up with her that morning, as I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do that day. I had originally hoped to meet up with Lee for coffee, and then visit with Katrina later that morning. However, things don’t always go according to plan — Katrina was busy getting all the things she and her husband needed to pack everything in their home so they could move to San Francisco.

I sat next to Katrina for two years. She’s one of the people I miss most about Vancouver, along with several of my co-workers. They were what made my life there happier than it would have been. But now Katrina was also an ex-Radicalite, and moving on with her life by accepting a position at Pixar. Yes, the same people who brought you the “Toy Story” movies and “A Bug’s Life”. Not only am I impressed, but I can actually say I know someone at Pixar. This was too cool.

Resigning myself to having a morning on my own, I proceeded to run errands. First was a quick stop to the bank to deposit a rebate cheque (I had to deposit it in person, and getting to the bank during the day ain’t easy). I then stopped quickly at Bernard Callebaut to pick up some chocolates as a kind of “bon voyage” present for Katrina and Guy.

Then I wandered. I wander well, particularly when I have nothing else to do, and I know (more or less) where I’m going.

I headed towards downtown along Granville. I decided I wanted to go to Burrard Inlet and look around. It wasn’t a great day — the sky was overcast and I was being spit on periodically from above — but it was good day for looking around. But being in a wandering mood, I made a side trip through Granville Island, one of my favourite places in the city.

On my way in, I stopped to donate some spare change to Jack “The Bear”, a self-employed social worker who strives to make his “group” (whomever they are) better off. I’d seen and heard of this guy before, and not being in a rush, I allowed myself (somewhat unwittingly) to end up in a half-hour pseudo-speech. He’s an articulate man, and he certainly has some interesting ideas. I tried to offer a few suggestions (his ideas, though good, need the odd improvement), but getting a word in edgewise is … well, let’s just say it’s easier sliding papers between the blocks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

I wandered about the Island a bit, and went into the market. They say that smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers. The second I walked in the door, it felt like someone was force feeding me 1,000 TV channels at once as snippets of two years suddenly raced through my mind. Some good, some bad … but after a moment, all I could smell was the produce, and food is always good. It took a lot of will power to get out of the market without buying anything.

I exited the Island via the Aquabus, which ferried me to the other side of False Creek. This was far better than walking all the way back to the foot of the Granville Street Bridge, and then walking all the way back downtown again. I hadn’t really noticed how much I missed the smell of the sea, not until I got near the water. The smell is unmistakable, and wonderful. I think I was a fish in a previous life…

The wandering continued as I worked my way down Granville. Not much had changed — same stores, same buildings, even some of the same people. The city line had a few new condos, and there was the odd old building reduced to a parking lot, but otherwise it was the same. Tagging (a form of graffiti) was very prevalent, especially at the Paradise and Caprice theatres (both now closed). Not unsurprising, I hate to say. The Eaton’s was open again. A new pub sat kiddie-corner, which had been abandoned or under construction during the entire time I was in Vancouver. A new London Drugs is open at the corner of Granville and Georgia. It used to be book store, which went under when Chapters moved into town. The London Drugs had moved from its old store further down the road, now open to anyone silly enough to lease the space.

Canada Place was seeing some new construction. I had vaguely remembered a plan to expand the pier to increase convention space. The plan, it seemed, was thoroughly under way. As such, my favourite vantage point to view Burrard Inlet was unavailable. Instead, I took up a viewpoint on the promenade between Waterfront Station and the Province’s building.

Although the view was essentially the same as the last time I’d viewed it, something seemed different. Not as much life — it seemed almost a little dead. I don’t know if it was a changed perspective due to my departure a year earlier, or if it was the weather. It almost looked like someone had dropped out some of the colour from the image I was seeing.

I was still a little afraid, I think.

Through Waterfront Station, and onto Water Street, I walked through Gastown. Not much had changed there, either. A couple stores had moved, a couple closed, and one lot (or building, I’m not sure which) had been opened up. I think there had been a restaurant there once, but I can’t really remember. The same burned out husk of a building sat across the street from the Olde Spaghetti Factory, though the structure supports had been beefed up a lot. I shook my head, wondering what on earth was going on there.

I turned up Carrall Street, and headed back towards False Creek, Science World glinting in the distance. In moments, I realized that I’d made a bit of a blunder. This is what I get for pondering and not paying attention. I found myself at the corner of Carrall and W. Hastings. It’s known as Pigeon Park, and has the highest murder rate of any location in Canada. It’s not pleasant during the day … but you don’t go near it at night. I briskly walked through and on across the road. I didn’t feel safer until a couple of blocks later.

I stalled a bit longer (I wasn’t due at Radical until almost 1pm) and made a side trip through the International Village, a large mall, still mostly empty over a year and a half since it opened. It looks really nice, but I wonder how much money they must lose from the lack of tenants.

Up Abbott, I arrived at Pacific. This took me over towards Quebec Street, and onto Terminal Avenue. I was in the home stretch. Aside from Greg, I hadn’t seen anyone from Radical in over a year. Fear was rapidly being overcome by nervous combination of excitement and panic.

My first run-in was with Fernando and one of the Foundation developers, whose name I couldn’t remember, even though he started at Radical the same day I did (my panic began to rise as I realized I couldn’t remember names). A few moments later, I entered the foyer of Radical’s new home, and headed right to the top floor.

The receptionist I didn’t recognize. Lisa was gone, so I find out, having quit back in the summer. Greg could not be found, nor could Joel. Luckily, we could find Neall. As I waited for him to arrive, I heard my name being called by Allison. She had also started the same day as me, but unlike myself, was quite comfortable at her job. She looked good as ever, and still bore the same wonderful smile she always seemed to have.

Neall hadn’t changed much, either — though I was just as happy to see him again. The reunions started to come quickly as Dave appeared through the main door, and Fred from the back office. Names were flitting around in my head so fast, I knew I was going to be in trouble. I nearly forgot Fred’s…

Neall offered to take me on a quick tour, and show me what Radical had moved in to. Having used up all their old space, Radical had taken a lease in a near-brand new building, and had the interior made up to their specifications. It’s quite nice, really … especially the log cabin in the common room.

Yes, a log cabin. It’s their home theatre. I’ve seen and heard of some pretty wacky things in companies, but this is one of the wackiest. The common room at Radical is two stories tall, and easily big enough to fit a small house. It also has a 270+ degree view of Vancouver, including what must be a magnificent view of the North Shore.

A new building, but it wasn’t much different than the old building — totally organic space, managers in the middle, work teams scattered around the outside. Greg had commented that Critical Mass’ building looks more polished, but for the environment, I know a lot of people here would prefer Radical’s setup.

Eric was still in a dungeon. This is where he likes to be — in the dark, away from everyone. I assume it lets him get on with his work. Martin was with him, discussing physics calculations. Mark was in the office he shared with Neall, looking none the worse for wear. Across from the office was Jean-Luc and Senta (whose name I sadly forgot, and I felt like such a heel for forgetting it), and a desk away was Nigel. He summed up my return rather succinctly: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Down the floor, I ran into Lisa (the office manager) and Cliff (one of the IT guys). I inadvertently interrupted their conversation, but they didn’t seem to mind too much. Neall took me down a floor to show me around a bit more. There were a lot of familiar faces, but many of them without names. I was now feeling particularly bad about forgetting so many people. It wasn’t until later that I remembered Yayoi’s and Rod’s names, something I’m not horribly proud of. Jesse seemed a bit surprised to see me, but then I don’t think he knew I was coming out.

Returning to the seventh floor, I finally found Greg. He immediately started to apologize for not being around. Greg was up to his neck in E3 preparations. The game he’s working on has to be down there for exhibition, and there were still a lot of issues to clear up. Although it had been planned a month in advance, I hadn’t picked the best weekend to come out.

Just before lunch, I finally ran into Tim, my old boss. He’s now one of the VPs (Neall is now the head of Pure3D), although I don’t know of what specifically. He had always been a fairly serious person while I was there, but he seemed somehow happier. I’m not sure if it was the haircut, but he looked better off.

Members of Pure3D (Neall, Mark, Nigel) and Pure3D alumni (Kevin, Greg, Gabe, and myself) all went out for lunch, to a place called The Whip. (Gabe picked us up; like me, Gabe is also an ex-Radicalite.) It seemed somehow wrong that we weren’t eating anything Asian. Pure3D ritual had been typically Chinese. This was definitely not Chinese … although it was very tasty. The conversation, though, was definitely Pure3D.

The more things change…

After lunch, I finally met up with Joel. He’d been a bit of a harder character to find, being the lead programmer for one of Radical’s projects (meetings being the bane of his existence). He looked tired, like everyone else on the team. Being sick probably didn’t help much, either. We talked for a while, but I chose to keep the conversation fairly short, as he was busy dealing with the crises of getting a game ready for E3.

I took the opportunity to leave Radical and go visit with Katrina and Guy. By now, it was raining outside, so I was quite happy to find the Aquabus still running between Science World and Stamp’s Landing, where Katrina and Guy live. They were home, and it only took a few moments (with a bit of direction) to get down to their slip.

Oh, did I mention they live on a sailboat?

This was why it was so difficult for them to get ready to move. Not only do they have to pack their belongings, they have to move their house as well. Logically, not an easy move. But they seemed fairly calm about it — most people get downright cranky when they move.

I spent most of the afternoon with them, talking for a while, but them helping them pack. It was partly because I wanted to get the skinny on their move. It had come out of nowhere (at least from my perspective), and I was very curious to get their thoughts on it. They were excited. New place, new challenges, and it sounded like a lot of fun. Not wanting to get in their way of packing, I’d also offered to help them pack. Katrina and I spent the afternoon wrapping things in bubble wrap.

I probably stayed longer than I really should have, but I felt compelled to not just drop in for a few minutes and then bolt. After all, I’d spent two years sitting next to Katrina, working with her, talking with her, and learning from her. Besides, until I go to San Francisco, I don’t know when (or even if) I’ll ever see her again.

At 7:00, all three of us had to leave. Katrina and Guy were going to a friend’s place, and I was due to go to SoHo’s and meet up with Lee (and hopefully, people whose names I could remember). Despite being nearly 40 minutes late by the time I got there, I was the first to show. (Hopefully, we didn’t scare off any other potential revellers.) The second person to arrive was Ryan, a Radicalite whom I wasn’t sure was there to come out with us, or was meeting other friends. Luckily, he remembered me, and reintroduced himself. I was glad, because even when I was at Radical, I really didn’t know who he was…

We talked at length until Lee arrived. You’d swear no time had passed since the last time I’d seen her. She didn’t look a day older, and was just as upfront as ever, just the way we love her. It didn’t take long for any awkwardness to pass. Soon, we were embroiled in animated conversation, along with one of Lee’s co-workers, who had also come out. Not too many Radicalites (ex or otherwise) came out that night, although I was very happy to see Lisa (the ex-receptionist) again. I’d always thought I’d gotten along with her very well, and had missed saying “hi” to her every morning.

Somewhere in the evening, I stopped looking over my shoulder. I stopped looking in the shadows. I stopped being apprehensive. It was like I suddenly knew the story, like I’d already seen the movie and knew exactly when the creepy, half-dead monster leaps out. It was like the fear had dissipated like morning fog. Sure, the past will always be there, but spending the day in Vancouver, and with my friends, had shown me there was nothing to fear. It was only then that I truly felt relaxed.

Neall appeared around 10:30, and joined our little group. Greg made a brief appearance, only to apologize for not coming out. The debate of where I would stay that night (begun earlier in the day) apparently had been solved — Neall would drop me off at Mark’s on our way home in preparation for the next day. This left Greg to quickly go to a friend’s birthday party, catch a few hours sleep, and get back to work early the next day. Sadly, because of the deadline, Greg wasn’t coming with us.

Neall and I finally managed to leave SoHo’s around 12:30. I gave Lee a big hug (we’d had a good, deep conversation for most of the night, and I remembered all over again why I missed being around people like her), and stepped out into the cool night. Neall and I walked back to Radical, enjoying the walk, and talking about the state of Radical. It was refreshing to see how things had evolved since I’d left. It was very reassuring to see that management (including Neall, now that’s he’s part of the “establishment”) still has a firm grip and good steer of the Good Ship Radical.

Fires were raging when we got into the office. A Pure3D patch hadn’t taken well, and Neall had to help out Vlad (the technical director) to get the software working again. Also, we were giving Eric a lift, and he was still working out a few issues with a demo he was programming. (He’d been at it since late Wednesday, I believe … non-stop. He hadn’t gone home.) Due to these reasons, we didn’t leave until nearly 2:30. This also meant I was now staying at Neall’s, because it was now too late to go to Mark’s.

I crashed on Neall’s couch that night. I was exhausted. I’d been up for just about 23 hours straight since that morning, walked about 10 kilometres since that morning, ate almost nothing outside of a sandwich at lunch, and was ready to fall dead. I was asleep in seconds.

The alarm came far too early for my liking. But we had to get rolling fast — we had a baseball game to go to. Although the game didn’t start until 1:05pm, we had to pick up Neall’s sister, drive to Mark’s, pick up Gabe, and then drive to Seattle. It’s not a long drive, but it still takes time. Although we moved as fast as possible, we were delayed by a mysterious case of nose bleed, which I have yet to explain. (It plagued me the entire weekend.)

After a slight detour to pick up Angie (Neall’s sister), we arrived at Mark and Carol’s to switch to a different vehicle. Our trip to Seattle would be in style — a Warner Brothers edition Chevy Venture. Nothing like being able to play video games and watch movies during the trip. Then it was off through to the west end of Richmond to pick up Gabe. It was almost 10am by the time we were all on our way to the border.

We arrived in Seattle around noon. Mark deftly whizzed us through the various onramps and city streets towards the Port of Seattle, where Safeco Field lies. (It’s adjacent to the site of the former Kingdome, now the site of the new football stadium.) You can’t miss Safeco Field — it’s big. And it’s colour is unique for the area it sits in. There I found that Carol wasn’t joining the game with us — she was going shopping while we enjoyed America’s pastime. Unfortunately, that also meant she took the van with her, which contained my jacket. (Upon hopping out, Gabe and I declared that it was warm enough to go without jackets — Angie and Mark were far wiser, and Neall had a heavy shirt.)

Safeco Field, although new and (assumedly) state-of-the-art, was built in the tradition of the great baseball fields: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field, and Comiskey Park. It’s also a dedicated baseball stadium — no other sports (or events, as near as I can tell) occupy the space. The field is grass, and the stands are open to the wind — only the roof rolls shut to block out the rain (important on the West Coast).

Our seats were at first base, about 20 rows up. Aside from the overhang of the upper deck which blocked the view of some of the flies, they were great seats. We were also one row away from the promenade, where we could find virtually any snack food imaginable, including the ubiquitous hot dogs, but also garlic fries, fish and chips, clam chowder, hamburgers, pizza … and all by local companies, no McDonald’s or Versa Foods here.

This was Game 2 in a series between the Mariners and the Blue Jays. The last time I’d seen a Blue Jays game was about 10 years ago in Skydome, though it might have been 11 — I’ve seen so many, I’m not entirely sure. Almost all of my Jays games had been courtesy of a family friend, Mr. Gairdner, who offered us his season tickets from time to time. I had forgotten in those years just how much fun professional baseball really is.

Well, when you’re not freezing to death.

I made one major mistake. I left my jacket in the car. I should have been smart and brought it with me. But no, I thought I was fine. Stupid me. I forgot that I was on the West Coast, where the humidity is much higher. I’m beginning to realize that until the temperature rises into the low 20s (Celsius, of course), it will always be cold for me in the more humid regions of the world. Living in Calgary has dried me out, and my immunity to the cold seems to have waned. I can hack -20 degree weather here quite easily. But minus six in Toronto was brutal at Christmas (I wasn’t even phased by -20 when I used to live in Ontario), and I was finding that even 13 degrees in Seattle was cold, especially with the wind. I chose to put up with the chilliness, rather than fork out the money for a Mariner’s jacket…

The opening ceremonies were a different spin on what I remember from Toronto. Like the Hitmen games I’d seen last month, Major League Baseball now has games to entertain viewers — kids’ home run derbies, and pitching contests. Personally, I think it cheapens the game, reducing the game to almost something of a sideshow.

What impressed me was the singing of the national anthems. They brought in the Walla Walla High School Chamber Group. Although American, they sung perhaps the most amazing rendition of “O Canada” I’ve ever heard. It actually brought a tear to my eye. Mark was the only one of us who sang along … I usually don’t because my singing usually sends people running for dear life. The choir’s rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” was, sadly, typically American — seldom sung the way it was written. There are times I’m glad I’m Canadian, where our national anthem is sung only two ways, English and French, and is always the same length.

I’m not entire sure how many Canadians were there that day (we saw a few Canadian flags floating around), but there was a fair bit of cheering when Toronto took the field. Understandably, though, the cheering was much louder when Seattle came out … especially for their right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. He’s one of two Japanese players with Seattle, and both are immensely popular, the other being closing pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki. They’re good players — Ichiro hits a mean ball, and Kazuhiro throws a pretty vicious pitch.

The game was tight — a couple home runs, some really great fielding, good solid hits, and the odd error made for some really good drama. I remembered watching the World Series back in 1992 in the townhouse I shared with roommates Roger, Ed, and Brian, screaming at the mistakes and groaning every hit the Braves made during the sixth game of the World Series, only to later wake the dead (along with everyone else in the complex) as the Jays went onto victory.

Different team, different city, different opponents, and not even a championship on the line … the emotions were all the same. We all huffed at missed chances, cheered for the really good plays, and whined when the Mariners scored. Luckily, it wasn’t a blow-out for either team — a good solid race clear through. The only way I would’ve enjoyed it more was if I’d been warmer.

By the seventh inning, I was chilled to the bone. Neall noticed my sad plight, and literally gave me the shirt off his back. I knew the four of them were laughing me — admittedly, I was laughing at myself. Once upon a time, the cold didn’t bother me. I hate to admit it, but I’m a damp weather wimp now.

The game ended on a down note — the Jays lost 7-5. After watching the roof close (which is a bit of spectacle in itself), we worked our way out and tried to meet up with Carol. The only problem was navigating through the 42,000 other fans who were doing roughly the same thing. Fortunately for us, Carol and I were both equipped with cell phones, so after a few conversations, we managed to all meet up.

Departing the port, we headed into the downtown area, to Pioneer Square, and the Elliott Bay Book Store. This is perhaps the coolest book store I’ve ever been in. It’s huge — about the size of a chapters, only with more books. And it’s in (what I would assume to be) a heritage building. Being from Alberta, buying books in the States doesn’t really save me any money, so I just took the time to look around.

Hunger soon had it’s call, though, and we were off in search of food. Unfortunately, no-one was particularly helpful in deciding where to go. We drove somewhat aimlessly around Seattle trying to find a place to eat, all the while asking “where are we going?”. We ultimately ended up at 13 Coins, a restaurant Mark had learned about in a travel guide.

One day, I will finally obtain proof that the restaurants that appear in travel guides are only there because the restaurateurs bribed the author. Of all the so-called great places to eat that I’ve read about, only a couple were actually good. Unfortunately, 13 Coins wasn’t one of them.

This place had decor that even Elvis would be terrified of. I was convinced that someone had loved the 70s so much, that they refused to redecorate with anything less awful. But when you take into account the “cheese factor” of such a place, it’s kind of interesting … for a novelty, that is.

The quality of the food, so I’ve found, usually matches the decor. And believe me, it was pretty darn hard to find something on the menu that I wanted to eat. (Mind you, it was mostly because I was still full from the hot dog, chicken strips and fries, and the tepidly bland hot chocolate I’d had at Safeco Field.) I settled on a Philadelphia Steak Sandwich, which turned out to be a small piece of beef on garlic toast. Not great, but I’ve had worse.

The trip back to Vancouver was marked with the showing of “The Matrix”. (Note to self: Make sure there is a video system in my next car.) Despite it being one of my favourite movies, I still fell asleep for about an hour or so. The movie ended just as we were pulling into Richmond, and dropped off Gabe. The next stop was at Radical, where I was going to meet up with Greg. I grabbed all my things (I’d brought my bag with me), and said goodbye. I called up to Greg, who came down to let me in. A quick thumbs-up sent Mark, Carol, Neall, and Angie off into the night.

Greg, along with several of his team members, were hard at work on their game. It was going to be a late night, which Greg immediately started apologizing for. But frankly, I didn’t mind hanging out at Radical. I always liked hanging out there, even when I was the only one. It was a fun company, and near as I can tell, still is. Greg and I struck a happy medium — while he coded, I would test.

So for the next four hours, I played a game that no-one will see for about four months. And no, I can’t tell you anything about it. I will say this — it’s a LOT of fun. Greg, like most of the programmers I worked with at Radical, are wizards — they can churn out some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen or played. This game was no different. Although it won’t set any new standards for graphics, the game play is outstanding … definitely better than another game that will ultimately be compared so when it finally ships.

The game doesn’t wrap up until early August. So why the crunch in early May? The Electronic Entertainment Exposition, known as E3, which is in mid-May. This is when all the Christmas games first appear. This is when game companies try to outdo each other. This is *the* event if you work in the video game industry. And this game is debuting there. Like any good video game project, they were under the gun to tweak enough stuff to make it play really well, and make a lot of people very jealous.

Personally, I think they nailed it perfectly.

Somewhere around 2am, Greg and I headed out for his place in very east Burnaby. We stayed up for a short while and talked, but we were both so tired, we opted for sleep instead.

Sunday morning came around 9:30. I was still exhausted from the day before, but rose and showered and prepared for the day. Not there was much to prepare for — there wasn’t much on the agenda. A quick breakfast at IHOP, and we went back into the office. We weren’t there too long, as I had to go to the airport. This time, Greg drove me out, which I was thankful for (the transit strike makes getting a taxi outside of the airport rather difficult). I bid him farewell, he drove back to work, and I checked in for the flight.

I slept on the way back, though not intentionally. I was utterly wiped. I hadn’t been so active in so long that my body simply wasn’t ready for it. I vaguely remember something about 35,000 feet, and something about returning my seat to its original upright position. Next thing I knew, I was hopping the bus home. And as we all know, home is where the heart, bed, and 50″ TV are. This was where I was determined to spend the next several hours … sleeping.

Unfortunately, it seemed that my vacation would be cut short. Crisis at Critical Mass — the site I was working on had basically fallen apart in my absence. Somehow, I’d become the centre of communications, and without me around, everything came to a halt. I didn’t get home until 1:30am.

I look back at my weekend, and I actually have to force myself to believe I was actually there. With all the apprehension I had towards going back, I now find it hard to believe I did it. But I know I did, and I’m glad I did. I’m glad I saw my friends again (despite the fact that I feel like a twit for forgetting names). I’m glad I saw a Blue Jays game (even though they lost). But most of all, I’m glad that my past is now just that — behind me. All that’s left is the possibility of the future.

Vancouver is a destination for me. Not to live, but certainly to visit. I will see sights I never saw, I will do things I never got the chance to do. I’m content that no matter what I see and do, it was because of me (with a lot of support from my family and friends) that I’m capable of doing it. And so long as I know people in Vancouver, or at least have an inkling of a reason, I will go there, and I will enjoy myself each and every minute.

At least when it isn’t raining.