Chasing CN 6060 Stettler to Big Valley

It’s been about nine months since I last saw 6060, when I left Jasper for Calgary. That’s about eight months too long, I figure.

Mind you, many haven’t seen 6060 since early November, since we’ve all been off living our lives while she sat in a shed for the winter. And as we had little money for maintenance work, little was done over the winter. In fact, almost nothing’s been done this spring or summer, either. It’s very handy when you pass all of your inspections.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems. Arriving just after 9:00, I found a large portion of the team staring at the air compressor. Apparently, on it’s first run of the year (the day before), the compressor had lost its lubricant. Something wasn’t working.

What exactly was broken, I’m not sure. But it took seven people to get it back together again. (There’s a joke about trainmen and a lightbulb in there somewhere.) The air compressor is a vastly complicated piece of machinery — something I fear I’ll one day have to pull apart to repair. But I got my first taste, so hopefully next time it won’t be so bad.

Just so long as my memory of what we did doesn’t get displaced by some other seemingly random piece of useless trivia.

But just after noon, we declared 6060 fully operational (without the air compressor, we would have gone nowhere), and were ready to do the run to Big Valley. 6060 will do only seven runs this year. It’s a small number, but it’s far better than just sitting around. Luckily, this was one run I got to follow.

The Stettler to Big Valley run is quite short — only about 30 kilometres. Mind you, it takes over an hour to run it, because 6060 can’t run quickly on the line with passengers. That makes it very easy to pass for taking pictures. Which is precisely what Graham and I did that Saturday afternoon.

Interestingly enough, I first met Graham chasing 2816 (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]). It didn’t take long for us to become friends, having a mutual love for trains (although I lean more to steam; Graham’s partial to anything on rails). It also didn’t take long to convince Graham to join the Rocky Mountain Rail Society.

This was Graham’s first meeting with the RMRS, although he nearly missed 6060’s 14:30 departure from Stettler. We hooked up about a half-kilometre down the line from the station. And we started taking pictures.

Graham had never been to Stettler before, and had never been down any of the side roads in the Stettler / Big Valley area. They’re a little hairy. Especially when you’re trying to outrun a train. (Even if it slow-moving.)

Our first pictures were at a station-like landing just down from the station itself. Then we raced to the crossing just as you exited Stettler heading south on Hwy. 56. After that, we headed down to the road crossing at Warden. Followed by Warden South. And then at multiple crossings and hills overlooking the rails all the way down.

The road we were on didn’t follow the tracks perfect, so we’d regularly lose sight of the rails. This was a problem because sometimes, the tracks would suddenly reappear, and you had to quickly judge whether it was worth stopping, or continuing down. And the suddenness was the problem — if you slammed on your brakes on the loose gravel road, you’d fishtail quite easily.

I did a few times. (Although I had a rally car-like turn at one corner, trying to avoid a dog I saw, and turning onto a road about 10 seconds ahead of 6060. After I realized I wasn’t going to die, I was quite pleased with myself.)

Taking pictures where we could, we weaved our way down to Big Valley, arriving in time to catch the train being held up by bandits (part of the show), and meeting the train in Big Valley itself. It was a little harried, but I introduced Graham to Don, Harry, Terry, and anyone else from the RMRS I could find.

But then it was off for us, back to Calgary. (Separate ways, that is.) As much as I wanted to follow 6060 back to Stettler, I knew I wouldn’t last long enough. I was pretty tired and wanted to go home and rest. I’ll do the full run next time.

Though not quite as fast, I think.

My Housewarming Party

96 hamburgers
48 hotdogs
4 jumbo-size bags of chips
104 cans of pop
240 bottles of beer
13 bottles of wine
14 hours of music
1 house

equals

A good time

All new homeowners have one responsibility to fulfill. It’s not taxes. It’s not a mortgage. It’s not even making sure the garbage goes out every day.

It’s a housewarming party. (And taking double-duty as my 30th birthday party.)

My family has a fairly simple tradition when it comes to parties: Do it right, or don’t do it at all. Chris and I had a corollary to that: Go big, or go home. Add ’em together, and you have a recipe for a good time.

Preparation began a couple days earlier, when Tamara and I made a run to the Costco in the northeast to stock up on foodstuffs and all the related materials for a barbecue. This included most of the ingredients listed above. This was followed up by two trips to the Kensington Wine Market for the “happy” drinks.

Needless to say, the kitchen was a little awkward to walk around for a while.

Luckily, we didn’t need to do a mass cleaning prior to Saturday — that had been done for when the family showed up last Thursday (see [[Family Comes out for my Birthday]]). But a little work was needed — a quick washing of the kitchen and bathroom, and the requisite yardwork.

The yard isn’t looking great, and I’ll be the first to say it. We’ve had voluntary (read: mandatory) water restrictions in Calgary all month due to high sediment in the water treatment system. That’s fine with me — now I just won’t cut my grass. But it’s looking a little yellow. It’s not dry, though, so you can walk across it without trouble. But I had to clean up the yard a bit, and make it look at least presentable.

After this was a run to refill the propane tank on the barbecue (the Beer Can chicken had used a fair bit of fuel) and get a lot of ice — 12 bags, to be specific. Luckily, I still had Mike and Brenda’s cooler, which make transporting (and preserving) ice very simple.

By 1:45, two large yellow tubs were filled with pop and beer, the food ready (and carmelized onions nice and warm), and all we had to do was wait. And wait we did.

First rule of all parties: They never start when they’re supposed to, and they never end when you want them to. So long as you can accept and understand this, you’ll always be relaxed. It’s taken me a few times to get this through my head, but now it’s an accepted fact.

Slowly, people started arriving around 2:30. The first to arrive were Jin and Fritz. Fritz almost immediately started calling around to a dentist — the crown on one of his teeth had come off, and the pain was a little on the excrutiating side. (I should point out that Fritz is a total trooper. While most people might have dropped in briefly and left, Fritz went to the store, got some Fixodent, and then stuck around until nearly the end of the night.)

The skies started to turn ugly. You can plan for virtually anything. During the summer in Calgary, you can also plan for the weather — it’s usually consistently sunny and warm. But if there’s one thing that’s very true here, it’s “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. We had a few drops of rain, which had a few people really worried that nothing would happen. But I held the faith … and I was rewarded. Sun crept out, and suddenly it was sunny again.

By 4:00, the party was in full swing, people appearing out of the woodwork, everyone having (from what I can tell) a lot of fun. Around 4:30, I fired up the barbecue and started cooking for the hungry masses. Although I had a few people offer to take the cooking reigns so I could mingle, I was more than happy to cook — then everyone had to come to me. (There’s always meaning within my madness, even if it doesn’t look like it.)

Even Robyn, my realtor came. She brought her husband, a friend of theirs, and their dog Chewie. (Yes, as in “Chewbacca”.) Chewie is a tiny little dog … about the size of a large rat, but significantly cuter, I have to say. Everyone loved Chewie, especially with how he chased Miao-Yin’s catnip monkey (which Miao-Yin doesn’t even bat an eye at anymore) and the pinecones. Chewie loves pinecones.

People came and went as they pleased, which is exactly what I wanted: People to enjoy themselves. As the sun set behind the house (it was still very bright, I should add), I opened the presents that people had brought (many opted not to follow the “Bring Nothing” rule I had tried to impose). My friends are very generous and know me well. Therese and Stuart gave me a very nice reproduction of a Canadian Pacific poster, complete with a train. Jon and Pearl gave me a book on trains. (Like I said, my friends know me well.) A group of my friends (collectively known as the Asian Brother Crew) gave me The Godfather movie trilogy, which I was very happy about — I haven’t seen any of ’em. (And admittedly, I’m curious to see if Godfather III is as bad as fans seem to make it out to be.)

Before too long, the party whittled down to the hard core group, and pretty much all of us retreated indoors. Dispersed all around the main floor (suddenly I was very glad about not having a dining room table yet — that’s where Tamara’s couch is) were groups of people in discussion. Even Don from the Rocky Mountain Rail Society showed up for a while. I had been concerned that he would have no-one to talk to but myself, but it turned out that Virgil had bought his motorcycle from the same shop Don frequents. They hit it off almost instantly.

I found a few people mingling around out front — mostly smokers. They were engaged in silly repartee, which of course meant I had join in for a while. This was fortunate because I managed to witness The Great Escape.

Miao-Yin is a lovely cat. But she’s a bit of trouble. She eats Spaz’s food when I’m not looking (Cathy started calling Miao-Yin “Miss Piggy”), and she’s always trying to run outside. Miao-Yin used to be a stray before Chris picked her up from the Humane Society, and there’s a part of her that wants to run free. So when she found the open front window sans screen, she made a run for it. And the second she saw me, she turned, and bolted through a hedge.

My heart sank faster than a meteor. The only thing that ran through my head was “Chris is gonna kill me”. I immediately hopped the fence and raced into the adjoining yard to hunt her down. Around the side of the house, into a darkened backyard, and she vanished. Panick began to set in. Although Miao-Yin’s microchipped, I was terrified that she might get hit by a car, attacked by another animal, or get taken in by someone else who didn’t want to give her up. Suddenly, I realized I was in bare feet running around in the dark. (The alcohol was rapidly thinning out in the adrenaline.) I quickly went home for my sandals and a flashlight.

We initiated a neighbourhood-wide kitty hunt. Unfortunately, Miao-Yin doesn’t come to her name, so having 6-7 guys wandering around calling her name is somewhat ineffective. Figuring that she hadn’t gone too far (I hadn’t seen any cats wandering around), I grabbed the flashlight and shone it into the neighbour’s yard. Sure enough, there she was, hiding in shrubs on the far side. (I’m very thankful that she had white fur.)

Racing around, she had time to move. Thinking I was gonna be chasing her all over the neighbourhood again, I got lucky and found her down the side of a house. I called for Miao-Yin’s food and laid some on the ground. She slowly came out sniff, allowed me to pet her, which was when I pinned her to the ground like a Mexican wrestler. Almost immediately, she knew she was going home again. She struggled, but I had a very firm grip, and she wasn’t going anywhere.

Suffice to say, the little hairball ain’t going outside again.

Spaz just sat in her window and snickered, in whatever way a cat can snicker.

The party dwindled, people taking their leave and heading home. Soon, it was just Carl, Adrian, and I, sitting on the deck, talking about what came to mind. But even time caught up with Adrian, and he, too, went home. Carl and I sat up a while longer, chatting, although we had to retreat inside because it (finally) got cool enough that it’s uncomfortable to be outside without a sweater.

The party finally ended at 1:15am Sunday morning. The house hadn’t been trashed, not a single thing broken. Had it not been for the furry Houdini act, the evening would have been quite tame and comfortable. (Mind you, she got revenge by trashing the kitchen during the night. Took me about three hours to clean up the mess.)

Unfortunately, despite the seeming success of the event, it couldn’t really be called a party.

The cops never showed up.

Family Comes out for my Birthday

It’s always good when people drop by.

It’s even better when it’s family. And they bring gifts.

Most of the Tisdale clan descended on Calgary this weekend. Partly because we hadn’t seen everyone in a while, partly because a few people (namely Mom, Cathy, and Craig) wanted to see my house, and the rest because my 30th birthday was looming in the coming days.

I arrived at the airport on Thursday (11 July 2002) around 8:30, a couple minutes after the flight from Toronto was to have touched down. But somehow, I managed to miss them at the gate. I managed to find them down by the baggage claim, though — Craig flagging me down.

Bags claimed, we headed back to my car, and off to my house. Cathy and Craig were staying with me, but Mom was going to stay at the Westin. She really wanted to stay in her own room, and get some time to herself. But first, she wanted to check on Spaz.

Spaz is my “new” cat. Spaz was originally my Grandma’s (Dad’s mom) cat, which she named Yum Yum. However, Grandma has never called any cat by the name which was given, always calling them “Puss”. That’s what my family calls the cat. I’ve always called the cat “Spaz”, for the way she acted since she was a kitten. When my Grandma moved into a care facility, Dad took Spaz into our home. With Dad’s passing in March, Spaz was to become homeless — Mom’s not really a pet person.

Ironically enough, though, it was Mom who really wanted to see Spaz and make sure she was okay. This almost drove me to the point of lunacy. Miao-Yin and Spaz haven’t exactly been getting along. They still stare and growl at each other. Well, actually, it’s mostly Spaz. Miao-Yin’s been pretty easy with the whole situation, but Spaz … well, I love her to death, but she just doesn’t make sense sometimes.

Mom hung around for a couple of drinks, before I took her over to her hotel. Cathy, Craig, and I waited up a while longer, but soon we all went to bed. They were tired … I had to go work in the morning. I had thought it would be a bit of a challenge in the morning getting out without waking them, too, but it seems Craig’s an early riser and really needed coffee.

The day was typical for me: Meetings, fires to put out, fires to start, and the general half-calm/half-chaos that seems to regularly engulf my life. It’s something I’ve gotten used to.

I bolted as close to 5:00pm as possible, making an immediate run for my bike, and a fairly brisk ride home. The first surprise of many that I would receive on the weekend was waiting for me as I came through the back gate: A patio set.

I love my family.

This was a gift from my Aunt Brenda, Uncle Mike, and Nana (Mom’s mom). It looked strangely normal sitting on my deck, though not quite as comfortable as Mom, Cathy, and Craig looked sitting at it. I joined them for a while, until Tamara came home. (Tamara, as you might recall, is my roommate — see [[Moving into my New (Old) House]].) Tamara then got the chance to finally meet my family, having on a short introduction that morning.

We were off to a family dinner up at my Aunt and Uncle’s. It was a typical family dinner, with lots of talk, lots of laughter, and lots of good food. In attendance were Mom, Cathy, Craig, Nana, Aunt Brenda, Uncle Mike, Jen (Brenda and Mike’s daughter), Pam and Darren (cousins from another branch of the tree), and Muck, Pam’s boyfriend. (“Muck” is a nickname, his real name is Sean. For some reason, everyone calls him “Muck”.)

We got what I consider to be a first glimpse of what Craig and Cathy’s wedding will be like. Muck, Darren, Mike, and Craig were constantly laughing at something (particularly in their group concensus of how much beer to put on the steaks), which gave the rest of us a little pause. If they were like that at just a dinner, we could only imagine what the wedding will be like.

The next day I was not allowed to sleep in. Apparently, it was shopping day, and I had no idea what we were shopping for, or even where we were going. I wasn’t allowed to know. But before we could start, we had one little detail to take care of: Breakfast. Taking a page from Ed and Jen’s visit (see [[Star Wars and the Last Episode of The X-Files]]), we went to The Galaxie. While the food was as good as it had always been, I probably should have taken them to the Arden Diner — both are huge fans of Jann Arden.

After breakfast, we picked up Mom, and prepared to go shopping. At first I wasn’t sure where we were going — only that it was towards the northeast — but it was only a few minutes (and a phone call) that gave me the hin that were in search of a dishwasher.

I had a dishwasher. It came with the house. But dishes came out dirtier than they went in. I knew that the dishwasher wasn’t that great — the home inspector had told me it would need to be replaced (see [[Meeting with the Home Inspector]]). I just hadn’t expected this.

We ended up at Field Appliances in the northeast, where awaited my new dishwasher. It was a lot fancier than the ones I had looked at before, but I did rather like it. And it all mine, ready to install. All we needed to do was get it come, and take about an hour or so to hook it all up.

This is where Mike and Brenda came into the picture again. First, they showed up in their truck to haul the dishwasher back to my house. Then Mike graciously donated not only his tools but also himself — so he, Craig, and I could take a crack at getting the new dishwasher installed.

It was fairly easy to remove the old one, though it was very rusted and virtually falling apart. Getting the new one in was a bit more of a challenge, but it wasn’t long before it, too, slid into place and started whirring. I must say that it’s very nice, and it does a much better job.

Did I mention that my family is amazing?

About that time, Mom and Cathy returned from their shopping side-trip (we’d split ways at Field Appliances), which had been to Revy. They returned with some supplies for installing a doorbell (another gift), an extension cord (even though I already had one), and a screen door replacement kit. (My sliding door has a screen door, but no screen.) While they ordered pizza for lunch, I replaced the screen.

For family dinner #2, I invited all those still in town (Pam, Darren, and Muck disappeared off to Waterton earlier that day) to come over and experience Beer Can Chicken. It’s a ridiculously simple recipe that I had been dying to try. Luckily for me, no-one seemed to mind that they were guinea pigs.

I managed to sleep in a little bit the following morning, which I really needed. But there’s no rest for the wicked — we had things to do that day, too. First off, was relax with the family. This was easy. The hard part was trying to install the doorbell.

If you look in my basement, it looks a little small, compared with the rest of the house. This is because it’s not full-sized — it’s actually about 2/3 the dimensions of the house. The rest is infill of some kind, for reasons I neither understand, nor will likely be able to find. But this is what we had to get into to find where we were going to install the power line to the doorbell. Or specifically, Craig.

Craig is the original handiman. He’s a commercial electrician, and appears to have installed everything known to the modern household. And he’s not shy about rolling around in the dirt. But it took him, Uncle Mike, myself, a two-foot long drill bit, and a 3/8 spade bit to figure out where the wall was under the floor, carve two holes big enough so we could run wire, and then pull the wire up from the basement.

It was a little more drawn out that that — about two hours drawn out — but I don’t think anyone really wants to read those details.

But before long, about an hour before Mom, Cathy, and Craig had to be at the airport, the largish white box next to my front door burst out with the 1812 Overture.

Craig ran through the shower, changed, grabbed a beer, and we were off quickly to see Nana before the flight. We stayed only a few minutes before I had to take them the rest of the way to the airport for the flight out.

About an hour after leaving, I was back home, and starting to clean. We’d managed to create quite a mess. But it’s all part of the fun of having family around.

White Water Rafting on the Kicking Horse River, Upper and Lower Legs

One of these days, I’m gonna learn to stop cheating death (or at least severe injury) and cease doing really foolish things.

Like whitewater rafting.

As you no doubt have already guessed, we were downriver again this year, third in a row for me (see [[Janine and Dory’s Wedding, White Water Rafting on the Kicking Horse River]] and [[A Whitewater Rafting Adventure on the Kicking Horse River]]), on Saturday (6 July). I had hoped that our troupe would be larger than previous years, but in the end we still ended up with a good crew. Despite Carl having to back out at literally the last minute, we still had 14 people brave enough to dare the trip.

Shortly after 8:00, I headed up to Beddington to pick up Torin and his girlfriend, Nicole. They would be my companions for the trip out to the Whitewater Ranch. Picking them up around 8:30, we made a hasty trip for the Esso station on Stoney Trail, where we would obtain fuel for the car, and fuel (in the form of TimBits) for ourselves.

I had hoped and prayed that this year, I wouldn’t have to break speed limits to get to our destination on time. But for some reason, half of Calgary had turned out at the station, and it took Torin nearly 25 minutes to get our TimBits. I ended up driving a little quicker than I would have liked.

I just hope the speed planes weren’t flying that day. (So far, so good.)

We pulled in just after 11:30, to find Tom and Corey already there (they had camped the night before), two men who would later turn out to be Doug B.’s brother and friend, and I found Angie’s car, but Angie, Tyler, and Karen were not to be seen. We would later find them down by the river. Doug and his friend would show up not too long after (they had picked up a pair of rather attractive French hitchhikers, and taken them to Golden — an extra hour round trip), finally followed by Liza and her friend Peter (the explained their tardiness as: “We have an excuse: We’re Swedish.”).

As we mingled around waiting for things to get underway, we stood around and chatted, talking about the things we could expect, when I heard my name being called. At first I thought it was someone from my group, but I was quite surprised to see Janet, a former Critical Mass employee who had worked in our Bistro. We talked briefly — she was up with her friends as part of her birthday present.

Lunch started shortly after noon, and we ate excitedly, just ready for a great trip down river. It was a gorgeous day, nice and sunny, warm, and the water level was ideal for us to get some really good rapids. After lunch, Rhino (a long-time guide) did his standard safety schtick. It hasn’t changed much in the last three years, although he introduced some new material this time. The speech still drew laughs, so it wasn’t all bad.

Then it was over to pick up equipment. Unlike previous years, we were told that unless we got cold on a hot day, the fleeces weren’t really necessary. (Which, as we found out, was true.) Also, unlike last year, there were no gloves. After a while up front, I really needed them — my hands were like icecubes after a while.

We suited up, put our change of clothes away, and marched down to the river for the next safety briefing. This was the typical “what to do if you fall out of the boat” speech. Hardly anything different than the previous years, so I kinda tuned out for part of it. (You can only listen to the Flight Attendant Safety Speech so many times before you can do it yourself.)

Finally, it was time to call rafts. I had tried to book Mike, the guide we’d had the year before. He’s certifiably insane, and an absolute blast to have as a guide. Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to get a specific guide unless you follow them like a lost puppy. Besides, if there’s one thing Kootenay River Runners can boast, it’s some of the most maverick river guides in the area.

We didn’t get Mike, nor did our other half of the team. (One of the two groups of a rather large stag party had the pleasure of learning about the “Shocker”.) Instead, my group pulled down a new guy by the name of Earl. (Actually, that was his last name. However, there were so many guys with his first name that it made a little more sense.)

Earl was about as stereotypical a “mountain man” as it comes. Toned, well-tanned, and a beard that was half-way between well-kempt and complete disarray. That’s to say nothing of his hair. But amongst all of it, his smile beamed like a lighthouse.

So I tested him.

“Are you certifiably insane?”

“What?”

Well, at least he didn’t cackle like a madman.

My raft bore Torin, Nicole, Tom, Corey, Liza, Peter, myself, and an eight person, Nora. I’d talked with Nora (not knowing who she was) prior to lunch, so having her join along wasn’t a big deal. As it turned out, Nora was also a friend of Earl’s, out visiting from Vancouver.

We boarded our raft and began our trip downriver. Torin and I sat at front, wearing only our wetsuits and the life jackets. It was hot, even in just that. (Although after a small rapid, and just prior to the main set, Earl suggested we put our splash jackets on.)

We began the usual drills: Paddling, moving around in the raft, and holding on for dear life. This was old hat for me (having done it two times before), but you always have to learn to work in a team, and this was a group I was unfamiliar with. It wasn’t long before we were ready.

Which was good, because the river level was higher than the year before, and we needed all the skill we had to brave the rapids and emerge on the other side unscathed, and unflipped.

Earl is what I would refer to as a technical guide. He knows how the boat will roll (and describes exactly what will happen), knows the rapids and how to get through them (with assistance from his crew), and is very careful to instruct the team on exactly what to do to survive not only in the raft, but out of the raft in the event of falling over the edge.

Before long, we were barrelling down the rapids, charging through, around, and across rocks and waves, getting ourselves thoroughly soaked from head to foot. At one point, Torin and I caught a rather large wave … it was almost like someone emptying a bathtub of barely above freezing water on our heads. Nicole wished she had a picture of us — the look on our faces was apparently priceless.

The upper portion of the Kicking Horse was better than the previous year, and not as wild as the first. And I finally think I got a grasp of the rapid names. There are two particularly wild sections: Portage and Shotgun. Portage named due to what people used to do around it. Shotgun … well, that’s anyone’s guess. As for the mythical Tablesaw, Earl made no mention of it, making me wonder if it’s really there at all.

We breezed through Portage and Shotgun without difficulty, only once colliding with another raft when I lost my ability to paddle after losing my grip on the edge. (In the future, I’m going to stay off the bow — I keep sliding off.)

Finally, we reached the end of the Upper Kicking Horse. Unlike previous years, though, this was not the end of our journey. Even though out of the group, only Angie and I had done the river at all, we were psyched and ready to take the challenge.

Boarding the bus, we headed a few kilometres down river (necessary, as the section of the river between the Upper and the Lower is commercially impassible). We had to hike a bit down a rather steep railway access road where we picked up our rafts (they were driven down for us), and entered for our second burst at the river.

I took a backseat, and Nora took my place. We were ready.

Admittedly, Earl made the lower section out to be a little wilder, a little rougher, and a lot harder than it really was.

That’s not to say that it was easy. We had to follow instructions carefully. We had to make sure that we did exactly as we were told. The Lower river isn’t an easy stretch. It’s fun, but if you make a wrong move, you can end up swimming a bit downriver.

Which is almost what happened to us.

As we were rolling through one stretch of rapid, Earl came to realize halfway through that were probably going to be in a bit of trouble. We very quickly went from an all-forward paddle to an all-back paddle, which managed to keep us from going over a large rapid that would have flipped us.

However, we rolled into a smaller rapid, which we went over sideways. Normally, we would slide right through and continue on our way down. However, the rolling action of the water kept us pinned in the rapid, and we were unable to get out.

At first, I wasn’t at all worried. We’d done this very thing the year before with Mike (except we did it nose-first), and had a whale of a time. However, after a few moments, it was clear that we weren’t having fun. We were actually in a bit of trouble.

The raft rocked side-to-side, sometimes filling with a little water. Earl was straining behind me, trying to pry us loose. He called out a couple of commands, none of which had any effect. Finally, he started to swamp the boat. The extra weight would keep us from flipping, and would hopefully help us out of the rapid. He let us know we were alright, which kept us from panicking.

After what seemed more than five minutes (but was probably like one), we broke free, and continued our journey.

Seemingly almost as soon as we had started, we found ourselves in the eastern end of Golden, and at the end of our river trip. We pulled the rafts from the river, boarded the bus, and spent the next half-hour on our trip back to Whitewater Ranch. I sat with Nora, and talked about the trip, and tried to get a better idea of who our rafting buddy had been.

Back at the ranch, we changed, and prepared for the long trip home.

With a side-trip to St. James Gate in Banff (Bamf!), of course.

The trip is over. But there’s always next year.

Critical Mass 5th Anniversary Surprise Party

There are parties.

Then there’s a Critical Mass party.

Five years ago yesterday (4 July 1997), Critical Mass launched its first ever website, MBUSA.com. That first launch wasn’t perfect, but it started a business relationship that has lasted ever since. MB is still our largest client, and the project I’ve been on for most of my time here.

What’s that have to do with a party? Well, quite some time ago (a few months, to be exact), it was decided that we needed to celebrate the launch of our first website. And, this is the cool part, it was going to be a complete and utter surprise to everyone in the company.

Except those who knew about it, anyway.

I was one of those lucky few. I was asked to join the “Secret Committee” (or something equally quasi-mysterious). This group would help make the decisions that would affect everyone on that fateful day. This included things like activities, awards presentations, gifts, and so forth. It would also later expand to duties such as bus captain, and in my case, emcee.

Having only returned from Ontario the day before, I would basically walk into an unsuspecting office for a whirlwind day of what I could only assume would be just short of a drunken mess. But I started off a little more sensibly: Charged camera batteries, a hat, sunscreen, and clothes that I knew I could wear all day without getting uncomfortable. I suggested to Tamara (my roommate — see [[Moving into my New (Old) House]] — who also works at Critical Mass) that she dress accordingly. I didn’t tell her why.

I arrived at the office and proceeded to catch up on email that had been backing up for a couple of days. And when no-one was looking, I reviewed the script I was to read from. Before long, it was breakfast time. As per usual, I eat breakfast at the office (I pay $20 a month for the privilege). Normally, I’m there for about 15 minutes, and then I’m back at my desk. But this morning, we had to wait for an impromptu Town Hall meeting in the Bistro at 8:30.

Di (our president) started a little after 8:30, and made a few quick announcements. The first was that we would not be coming in until noon the following day. This was expected — it was Stampede Parade Day. No company is open until noon on parade day. But there was another announcement.

“Clear your calendars. You’re all going out at 10:30, and you’re not coming back until after 5pm.”

“And it’s mandatory.”

There were mostly whoops from those in attendance. The rest were on the Mercedes Dealers team, who were behind in their work, and saw a day of productivity just vanish before their eyes. But the needs of the many must outweight the needs of the few … so happy we were.

Productivity, suffice to say, disappeared while we awaited our 10:30 departure. This allowed me to get some more details out of the way. But before long, the PA sounded our call downstairs to board the busses. It was time to party.

On the bus, no-one really knew what was going on — that, of course, was the point. We received our gifts (a pair of sunglasses, a buff, and a wristband that did something, though I’m not sure what), and the busses headed out to our first venue…

The Southern Alberta Pioneer Memorial Lodge. Sounds impressive, but it’s little more than a restored hunting lodge and about an acre or so of ground. But it’s on a cliff overlooking the Elbow River, so it’s not too bad. Already set up were tables and chairs, the Bistro staff was already cooking lunch, and most importantly, the beer was already cold.

Jay and I were to share emcee duties that day, but Jay (despite a flair for the dramatic) had a nasty case of stage fright. He gracefully ducked out and let me handle the various announcements. But this didn’t stop Jay and I from very quickly downing a couple of beers to try and take the nervousness off. (Jay moved a little faster than me, though.)

After about 30 minutes, it was time to show my cards and let everyone know that I knew what was going on, and show to the company that people like me should never be let near a microphone.

Suddenly, I developed a radio voice and became no better than the morning radio rock jockeys who get worked up at the slightest sound of anything. I had no idea where that all came from. It was a little creepy to say the least. But hey, strange things happen right out of the blue. (‘Course, I wasn’t drinking that crap, I was into something much nicer.)

The irony of all this was that in school, I *hated* giving presentations. I hated getting up in front of people. Public speaking was very, very bad. Yet here I was, completely comfortable in making an ass of myself, and actually surprised that people listened. It was … surreal.

Lunch started and for a while people followed the rules of order. But soon, no-one cared, and everyone wanted to eat. Not a big deal — there was lots of opportunity, and lots of food. (I think we had leftovers.) I didn’t eat much, though — only enough to try offset all the beer I was putting back.

After lunch came the Dinosaur Awards. These were presented by Di (the President) and Dan (the Senior Vice President of Client Services) to the original employees of Critical Mass, still with the company. The trophies were little clay statues of cartoon dinosaurs, each customized to the recipient (for example, our CTO — a former programmer — received one where the dinosaur was smashing computers).

Following the awards ceremony, we started into the games. We had planned on holding a games to give people some time to enjoy watching each other act goofy. There are few people in our company who won’t give into the urge to act like an idiot from time to time.

The first game was the Naughty Noodle Toss. Sounds worse than it is, but it’s still entertaining to watch. Basically, everyone stands in a circle. To some of these people are given two metre long “noodles”, which most people will recognize as swimming pool toys. These are slung between the legs. Noodles must then be passed to the person next to them without the use of their hands. A dropped noodle must be picked up without the use of the hands.

And when everyone’s drunk (or at least slightly inebriated), it gets everyone laughing.

We went through four games of this — three with two teams each (we had six teams in total), and one last game of the winning team of each of the previous three. It was quite a sight.

The second game we played was the Single Shoe Scuttle. This one was even more nasty, though far less embarrassing. Everyone took off a shoe (or sandal, if that’s all they had), and placed it in a line. The team would then line up, and prepare to scramble around a small field with scattered dominoes. Two teams played at once, the winner was the team with the most dominoes. Although we did manage to play three games, we never got the grand championship, as we had to pack up and leave for the second venue.

Normally, no-one would have known where we were going, but unfortunately, Ted (our founder and chairmain) accidentally let it slip that we would spend the rest of the day at The Whiskey (a bar a few blocks from the office). At this point, my last official announcing duties took place, and then we were off.

We pretty much dominated the place. Everywhere you looked were CM employees with their buffs (worn a number of ways) and sunglasses. Getting even more drunk than at the Pioneer Lodge. But this was all part of the fun.

Slowly, the sun started to set, and people drifted off. A few diehards stuck around until quite late, but I left earlier — around 9:30. Deciding I’d had too much fun (and beer) for one day, I opted for the trip home.

To drink my body weight in water.

Canada Day on Parliment Hill in Ottawa

It was a hot night in Ottawa, following Stuart and Therese’s wedding. It was only going to get hotter. A lot hotter.

The next day was 1 July, otherwise known as Canada Day. Otherwise known as the single biggest excuse to get horribly drunk and act like an idiot.

Especially if you’re in Ottawa.

My plans didn’t involve alcohol, though. They were much more simple: An outing with Rebecca and Stefan’s family to see what could be found in our nation’s capital.

My day started off, however, with a trip back out to Carp. This was for two reasons:

  1. Therese’s parents were holding a brunch / present opening for guests to the wedding.
  2. I’d left my camera battery charger at the house.

Brunch was perfect for the day I was about to face: Bagels, smoked salmon, and cream cheese (although I didn’t have any of that — cream cheese and I don’t get along for some reason). I took almost as many pictures of Therese and Stuart opening gifts as I had taken the day before. (The joys of copious amounts of storage in my camera.)

Brunch ended fairly early, many people looking to driving back to whereever it was they came from, and others looking towards doing something for the rest of the day. For me, it was a return to Stefan and Rebecca’s and prepare for the rest of the day’s events roaming around downtown Ottawa.

By the time I got back to the house, the temperature was already well into the 30s, and showed little sign of slowing down. From all the reports I heard on the radio, this was going to be a VERY hot day. (The next day, the radio joked that the temperature had gone to 216 degrees, or 36 without the humidex. In either case, it was just an inhumane (and generally unfriendly to animals, too) temperature for people to be out doing anything strenuous, which was exactly what about 300,000+ people were doing in the downtown/Hull area.)

We parked in a lot to the southwest of Parliment Hill, from which we hoped to be able to make a quick escape after the fireworks were over. (Hey, you can at least hope.) And with that, we jumped from the air-conditioned truck into the sweltering heat of Canada Day.

Wandering, albeit a little more slowly, we eventually found our way down to Wellington/Rideau, which had been cordoned off for pedestrian use. It was almost 2pm, and the larger shows wouldn’t start for a few hours, but already the streets were lined with revellers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much red and white in my life.

And that was just the pastey white folk with the sunburns.

We made it down about as far as the Chateau Laurier when we ran into the first major busker, who was going to attempt a rope walk on a portable rope-walking apparatus. The guy’s show was nearly completely based on the lead-up. The actual rope walk was completely anti-climactic, but a good showman will always leave people entertained. Barely into his show, he was tapped on the shoulder by a woman who asked him (he had a loudspeaker) to ask if there was a doctor in the audience — a young girl had passed out in the heat.

Yes, it was that hot. I guess I needn’t mention the thick layer of sunscreen protecting us (most of us, anyway, Stefan doesn’t like the stuff).

Now quite damp from the steady stream of sweat (and the show over), we started hunting around for the next great thing to see. As it happens, we passed the Photography Gallery (adjacent to the Chateau Laurier). At first, we weren’t going to go in, but the guard had quite the draw:

“Ladies and gentlemen! Please take advantage of your nation’s free and *air-conditioned* museums this Canada Day!”

The museum was small, pretty empty on the upper level, but much cooler. We took our time before running back outside.

We headed into Majors Hill Park to see what interesting things could be found. The first was a welcome relief to everyone suffering in the great outdoor furnace: a Spray Zone. This is nothing fancy, no more than a hose hooked into the city water supply and bent into a two metre arch. Anyone walking under the spray got quite wet — which was perfect for us. We nearly took permanent refuge under there.

Barely into the park, Rebecca pretty much insisted that I get some water before I started keeling over from dehydration and sunstroke. Unable to drink from the two camelback water pouches they brought (although offered, I declined due to nursing a mild cold), I purchased a pair of bottles from a vendor. There weren’t too expensive, and would keep me relatively well hydrated for the day.

Eric took the opportunity to refill his now nearly empty water gun with the ice-cold water. Eric had probably brought it along as a joke, trying to annoy everyone else. However, it kind of backfired on him when we continually asked him to hose us down so we could try and keep cool. Although it was a fair bit of fun when Stefan managed to periodically steal the pistol and turn the tables on the lad.

But Eric wasn’t the only one with a water gun. Shortly after one of the various busker shows, we walked into the cross-fire of a man slinging what can only be described as a water bazooka. I think the stream was about an inch in diametre. Rebecca got shot square in the face, but didn’t seem to mind one bit.

The park area was filled with various little booths and shows (including an extreme sports aerial demonstration), and lots of people. Onward we trudged, watching the various buskers (none of whom were particularly interesting), before finding ourselves getting on a shuttle bus for Hull.

The “National Captial Region” is not just the Ontario side. It includes Hull as well, so naturally, there were events on the other side. Of particular importance was the children’s area, complete with play areas, air-filled bounce rooms, and L’Ecole du Cirque, who set up a pair of trampolines, a pair of trapezes, and some other circus-related equipment so children of all ages could enjoy themselves.

In the oppressive heat.

Eric and Thea (Rebecca and Stefan’s kids) made full use of the facilities, as did Stefan when he tried to ride a unicycle. He wasn’t horribly successful, but did learn that it made for a great upper thigh exercise trying to stay balanced.

After the kids had run the course of the circus, we started heading back. Or rather, we would have were it not for curiousity, which drew us over to the Museum of Civilization. As nothing was immediately visible, we headed back over the bridge (sans autobus) to the Ottawa side. We took our time over the middle, as the breeze there was cooling enough to make the trip bearable.

As we started to cross the bridge, Eric announced, to our partial dismay, that the water gun was broken. The pump used to pressurize the vessel had apparently blown a seal. Had Stefan a screwdriver, it would have been fixed in a jiffy. But with only his wits and a pocket of keys, cracking the gun open for repairs was outside of his ability. We would be waterless for the rest of the day.

Once reaching the other side, we found that the pathway down to the Rideau Canal and locks was blocked off for “security reasons”. Probably meant they didn’t want to worry about some yutz getting too close to the fireworks. Within a few steps, however, the heat had become unbearable. We needed to cool off.

Despite objections from the kids, we ducked into the National Art Gallery. Almost instantly, we felt our sanity returning as the cool air slowly stripped away the veneer of heat-spawned exhaustion. It took nearly 45 minutes before we were ready to brave the great outdoors again. Our brave, energized burst outdoors came to a slow crawl within five metres of the door, as the oven-like air burned off our veneer of cool-enduced enthusiasm

We wandered back through Majors Hill Park and climbed the stairs back to Wellington St. The stairwell was completely covered in chalk drawings from someone who had left large pieces of street chalk all over the place. Thea grabbed a piece, and from the Chateau Laurier, across Wellington, down the stairs at the NAC, down the sidewalk next to the Canal, and all the way into Confederation Park, Thea would walk about five feet, stoop down and draw a happy face.

Had I not managed to sort out my differences with the RCMP and CSIS earlier in the day, I would have been an easy person to follow.

Confederation Park was the location of interesting food … well, more interesting than the plethora of hotdogs and sausages available about every 10 metres along most of the roads. Here was Egyptian, Japanese (sorry, but as much as I love sushi, there are things I will not touch in that heat), Indian, and something else I can’t remember now. I ended up having (rather spicy) butter chicken and a samosa (love those things). I almost got lucky and had myself dunked in ice-cold water when the clerk at the counter emptied out their pop bucket. Had I been actually thinking, I would have shoved my head under the stream … all I got was my foot.

We sat in the shade of a large tree and tried to relax. Even with a setting sun, the heat was still intense. We opted to wait for Reggae Cowboys to start, hoping that they’d be at least somewhat entertaining. (They were at best tolerable.) The real stars of the stage were Samba Ottawa, a band what would be quite at home at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Despite being almost entirely white folk, they played a mean beat that had everyone tapping something. Admittedly, though, I ended up watching a young woman (early 20s, I imagine), who had curves like an hourglass and rhythm that could kill. The fact that she was uber-cute certainly added to the appeal. For a short time, I forgot how hot it was.

I dunno what it is about people of Spanish or Portugese decent, but they really know how to mambo…

Extracating ourselves from the park around 8:15, we found our way to Parliment Hill, and forced our way into the crowd. Stefan and I held back a bit while Rebecca and the kids moved ahead into a small clear spot. But we could all see just fine.

The show was basically four bands: The Arrogant Worms (who did double duty as emcees), two French bands, and David Usher (formerly of Moist). The Worms played their songs in between the sets of the other bands, including their biggest pro-national hits, “Rocks and Trees” (really quite humourous in a large crowd setting), and “Canada’s Really Big”.

I don’t know what it is with French bands, but they always seem to have guys who look as old as the Rolling Stones, or play the same song five times over. Okay, maybe I can’t hear French language as well as I should (damn the public school system!), but even musically it’s not too hard to VARY A NOTE OR TWO. And the singer in one band made Leonard Cohen look like a vocal genius.

And I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of David Usher. I’ve heard his songs, they’re okay, but they really don’t rock my boat. But hey, it’s a free live show, and I wasn’t about to complain. And admittedly, he put on a good show. And I do have to say, he knows how to end it.

The last song of the night was announced this way:

“Wow! You’re a great audience! [Crowd cheers loudly.] But every good party needs a little Ozzy!”

Yes, Ozzy as in Ozzy Osbourne. Sure enough, his band started playing the beginning to “Crazy Train”. Now I’m not a huge fan of Ozzy, either. I like a couple of his songs, but I’ll be unable to name ’em. Usher managed to mix the music scores from two Ozzy songs, and then overlaid different lyrics, specifically “Get This Party Started” by Pink.

Sounds weird, I know, but wouldn’t ya know it — they go together really well. (Expect it on Dave’s next album.)

Following that were the ubiquitous fireworks, a requirement of every Canada Day celebration. Had we been on the Quebec side of the river, I suspect the fireworks would have been amazing. On the south side of the Parliment Buildings, however, they ain’t so hot — we could only really see the high ones.

Fireworks over, the five of us stalled a bit while the rest of the crowd of probably 500,000+ filtered out into the night. We took our time, found a stall with sausages (we were pretty hungry), and eventually found the car. Getting out of the downtown, however, was another story.

Traffic, as one might expect, as a disaster. The police had blocked off certain roads that Stefan wanted to take so we could make a quick escape. This, suffice to say, frustrated him immensely. But it ended up directing us over to Marnie’s apartment (a friend of Stefan and Rebecca) who accompanied us on our trip back to Rebecca and Stefan’s house. There we took refuge in the cool basement to relax a little.

The next morning, following a quick visit to the National Museum of Science and Technology (I wanted to get pictures of the locomotives they have there), I braved the trip back to Toronto, at fairly high speed. I wasn’t keen on getting caught in traffic.

It was hot.

Really hot.

And to top it all off, I got a sunburn.

Stuart and Therese’s Wedding in Ottawa

There comes a time in your life when things start getting a lot more adult than you’re normally used to. For me, it was when my friends started getting married. But I didn’t really start getting self-conscious about it until this past weekend.

On 30 June 2002, I had the honour of attending the wedding of two of my closest and dearest friends, Stuart and Therese. (They were marrying each other. Added bonus: I only had to buy one gift.)

Although Therese and Stuart currently live in Calgary, the majority of their family lives in Ontario. The entire affair was held at Therese’s parent’s house in Carp, about a 25 km drive from downtown Ottawa. It would mean, for me, a trip back east, back to Ottawa for (another) summer wedding, and a chance to meet with old friends.

I flew out on the 28th, flying to Hamilton via WestJet. (I’ve formally sworn off Tango — they might have cheaper fares than WestJet, but their total lack of service is enough to keep me going to WestJet. And I ain’t the only one.) Arriving late, I had to catch a cab to my mom’s house in Oakville. It’s not exactly a cheap cab ride.

But stay in Oakville I didn’t — the next morning, after rising, showering, and running a couple of errands, I headed out to Ottawa. It had been five and a half years since I drove to Ottawa, and I was actually looking forward to the trip. (Or I would have, if the stupid tape deck in the car had accepted the cassette adapter so I could play my MiniDisc through the radio.) But all in all, it could have been worse … the radio could have been broken.

I left Oakville almost an hour and a half late. And I paid for that delay, too. Although I shot down the QEW, the Gardner Expressway, and up the DVP without trouble, I had forgotten the cardinal rule of long weekends in Southern Ontario:

Leave early, or sit in traffic.

I got partway into Scarborough when my blunder came to fruition. Hard traffic. Really hard. And it lasted all the way out to Whitby. A drive that would normally take about 30 minutes took well over two hours.

It doesn’t take much to remind me of the reasons I no longer like Southern Ontario, especially in the summer. Topmost on my list:

  1. Traffic (especially rush hour or long weekend)
  2. Heat (especially when combined with humidity)
  3. Smell (especially when stuck in traffic when it’s really hot)

Traffic didn’t really clear up until almost Kingston. Needless to say, I found out that Dad’s Chevy Cavalier can do 130 km/h without difficulty at all.

Not having driven in Ottawa since about 1996, I had never taken the 416 before. This was a vast improvement on the old Highway 16, which was a deathtrap in winter, and just took too long the rest of the time. My speed barely slowing, I found myself in Ottawa in about the same amount of time it would have taken me on Highway 7, and without hitting traffic.

Unlike the majority of others, I would not check into a hotel during my stay. Instead, I was invited to stay with my friends Stefan and Rebecca. As I would not be hanging out with Stuart and Therese the entire time, this was a chance for me to catch up with them, and hopefully have some fun.

I soon found that my memory of their house’s location was a little off, and I ended up having to call for directions. Fortunately, I wasn’t too far off, so it only took a couple of minutes to show up. (Now I know exactly where the house is.)

Rebecca was there (Stefan was off getting supplies to begin home renovations), so we chatted a while before everyone else came home. Deciding that the sticky heat of an early Ottawa summer was not exactly comfortable, we decided that maybe air-conditioned entertainment was more appropriate. It was movie time…

Ottawa, like many other cities in Canada, is suffering from movie theatre overload. Theatres that were considered luxurious only a few years ago are now waning, becoming second-run “cheapie” theatres. (Oakville doesn’t even have a Famous Players or Cineplex anymore — only AMC exists in town, and only on the very east end.) The theatre we were in will be a cheapie in the next six months, we guessed.

Although Minority Report is an excellent film, the lack of air conditioning in the theatre didn’t make the movie any better. In fact, we couldn’t wait to get out of the movie so we could cool down after a while. I just made a point of not moving during the 2.5+ hour show.

The movie over, Rebecca, Stefan, and I opted to retreat to the relative wildness of the Bytown Market, the favoured hangout of the young and reckless. During the school year, this is where you can find the majority of post-secondary students in the National Capital Region. During the summer … well, I don’t really know where they all come from, but there’s a lot of ’em.

We wandered around, trying to find a place that had nice margaritas and not too long a lineup. It took us a while, but eventually we found the right place. But by then, it was nearly closing time. So we downed what we had, and made way for home.

The next day was the Big Day. But it wouldn’t start for me until 3:30 that afternoon. We started the morning with breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Then it was a leisurely return home, a long shower, and a very careful dressing. (Although I had to borrow one of Stefan’s undershirts to prevent nasty perspiration stains from finding their way to my shirt.)

Did I mention that it was borderline insanely hot?

Ottawa, like Southern Ontario, gets very warm in the summer. The temperature was in the low 30s, which in itself is quite warm. However, on top of that is the humidity, which cranks the perceived temperature to something like 45. (This is all Celsius, by the way.)

The trip out to Carp was a relatively easy one, even though I hadn’t been there for at least six years — probably longer. Luckily, I remembered something about the Crazy Horse Saloon, which marked where I had to turn. After that, it was just a matter of finding the right house. It wasn’t too hard — there was only one wedding on the street that day.

The Holton household was a flurry of activity, and I was one of the first to show. (Actually, I was asked by Therese and Stuart to arrive a little early. I had certain duties they wanted me to fulfill.) Therese was not quite at the panic stage yet, and seemed to be handling everything very well. Mrs. Holton seemed quite well off, as did Mr. Holton. Danica (Therese’s sister) was completely at ease. Stuart, who was roaming about, seemed a little nervous, but had planned everything out so well that he seemed barely fazed by the whole event to come.

Before long, the guests started appearing in droves. Some people, such as Stuart’s parents, I hadn’t seen in a while. Others, such as Jay, Matt, and Nabil, I had seen more recently, coincidentally at another wedding (Jay’s, to be specific). Then there were people from Guelph (where Therese when to university) that I hadn’t seen in almost six years. And then… well, the list is fairly lengthy. Suffice to say, it was good to see all.

I took my place in the front row of the guest seats, where I could get a good view of the ceremony. Stuart and Therese trusted me to take some of the key photos (I really hope they turn out), so I had to be in a place where I could see them. I also had to cue the music at the right times, and still try to look like I was just a guest. Juggling two cameras ain’t easy, especially when you don’t have the luxury of telling people not to move.

The sound of bagpipes soon wafted through the trees and under the tents — Stuart walked through the garden path, up the aisle, and to his place on the deck. After a few moments, the tune changed (and no, not to “The Marriage of Figaro” — although that would have been rather interesting on the bagpipes), and Therese walked her way up to take her place next to Stuart.

Then came the moment that 10 years ago I dreaded, that for the last four years have been expecting, and for the last six months, had truly hoped would be their happiest day. The ceremony began.

Stuart was dressed in his fine kilt (his family is Scottish), but donned a lavender-blue button-down shirt with a matching silk tie. Therese’s dress was a matte silver silk with spaghetti string straps. Her hair was up (a rarity for her), with a small tiara to tie it all together. Although the tiara had been a bit of a joke when she first acquired it, when Therese walked up onto the deck, I couldn’t help but think of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”. It had been a very long time since the last time, but I was envious of Stuart.

The feeling passed quickly, though, and I was swept into the affair. It was simple, quiet, and exactly what I’d expect from Therese and Stuart — complete with a bit of humour when Therese stumbled across one of her lines, and teary when Therese had trouble getting another out through her half-sobs of joy. This was truly a happy day.

The ceremony was short, but sweeter than the most luxurious sugar. Okay, yeah, that sounds cheesy, but you gotta understand — this is the first wedding I actually cried at. Until then, I didn’t really get the joke: “I always cry at weddings.”

The vows were exchanged, as were rings, and before we knew it, came the kiss. I was so overwhelmed with everything that I almost forgot the music cue.

Therese and Stuart adjourned to a small table to sign away their lives, so to speak. Pictures were taken in spades. The Music Gods smiled on Stuart and Therese that day — the first song in the queue (Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” finished just as they returned to centre stage, to be pronounced (offically) husband and wife. As they left, I skipped to the fifth song, the one they wanted to play as they finished and left the stage, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”.

The crowd moved to the front yard, where the majority of the “formal” photographs were taken. There was no professional photographer, Therese and Stuart were relying on the rest of us shutterbugs to get the photographs. I was entrusted a little further with Stuart’s manual camera (which, thankfully, he’d already preset for use) — I only pray that the pictures I took meet with his approval.

Pictures wrapped up, the party slowly began as people started to filter over to the tent again (a group of us had moved the chairs around and put up tables during the picture session — I was supposed to coordinate it, but I got caught up in the photos). Drinks came out (well, they’d been out for a while, but they came out a bit faster now), and people started mingling.

While people mingled, we had one problem to solve. In all our haste, we had forgotten the head table. There wasn’t one. But luckily, there were enough people to solve the problem — two small tables could seat eight, and suddenly everyone was happy again.

By the time table started in to get their meals, we had to start lighting the citronella lamps to try and cut down on the armada of mosquitos that were started to thin out the available blood supply.

Dinner was wonderfully simple: Salads, poached salmon, and a hot buffet that included roast beef. It successfully covered everyone’s tastes and desires … especially those of us who love a variety.

Dinner completed, people began to mingle again. Slowly at first, some moving into the house to escape the invasion of airborne bloodsuckers, others taking their leave and heading home (or to their respective hotels). Dancing was informal, and not really long-lived. Although the constant movement kept the mosquitos at bay a little better, not everyone was completely comfortable in the unbearable heat. (Even afer the sun went down, it was still quite warm.)

People began to dissipate like steam from a kettle over the next couple of hours. I was one of the last to leave. I returned to my car, and headed back towards Rebecca and Stefan’s.

As I drove in the cool(er) silence of the night, I thought about the day’s proceedings. Yes, things had changed. Stuart and Therese were no longer just friends, or partners, or significant others. They, like many of my friends, were now married. Life was again moving forward, in its inexorable march forward. And while I was so happy that their wedding had been a joyous one, there was that slightly ominous undertone of the finality of life, that this is an event that I will witness but once.

But that’s why I take pictures, so I can relive the moment any time I want. And it’s why I write these journals, so I can also remember my thoughts and feelings.

Congratulations, my dear friends. May your marriage bring you joy, prosperity, and the sound of little feet.

And I ain’t referring to your cats.