Try This Triathlon and the 2004 Lilac Festival

When spring is in full-swing in Calgary, there are always fun things to do. The only problem, though, is having to choose which ones — once the warm weather hits, there can sometimes be a few too many things to do all at the same time.

The last Sunday in May is the Calgary Lilac Festival. This is essentially a long market-cum-showcase that runs along 4th St. SW, from 13th Ave. all the way down to the Elbow River (about 25th Ave., I think). The only road that cuts across is 17th Ave. — you can’t really stop that traffic during the day. This is a chance for a lot of vendors to showcase wares that might not normally get the exposure, for the Kettle Korn vendors to come out of the woodwork (as they so rarely do outside of the Calgary Stampede), and for a tens of thousands of people to cram into small spaces to do strange things.

But first, we went to a triathlon.

The Try This Try-athlon is not a full triathlon. It follows the same basic pattern (swim, bike, run), but with considerably shorter distances. The swimming leg is 500 metres (full triathlon swimming courses are over three and a half kilometres), the biking leg is 15 km or three laps of the university (full courses are just over 180 km), and the running is a mere three kilometres (the full courses are full marathon length — 42.4 kilometres).

Unlike other larger-scale triathlons (such as the world-famous Ironman races), the Try This is run in waves. This is mostly because Calgary has no sufficiently large “natural” body of water to accomodate so many racers and provide a sufficient distance. (The Glenmore Reservoir could, but you’re not allowed to swim in it.) So the Foothills Pool had to provide swimming space. Hence, the waves. There were about 230 racers in total, and waves that ran until about 10:30 or so.

We arrived just after 9:45, hoping to find Alex’s two friends, Randy and Yolanda. We found out almost right away that the times had been bumped up to try and get people through even quicker than scheduled. Randy was literally getting out of the pool as we entered the viewing area, so we missed him until he was well into his biking run. Yolanda was still there, but we would catch her on the way out to her bike, and out onto the bike course.

The day was starting off to be absolutely gorgeous, with bright, warm sun and only a few clouds in the sky. The temperature was a little coolish, but not so much that we were shivering without jackets. (Well, when we were in the sun, anyway.) As the race came towards a close, with Randy’s crossing of the finish line in just over an hour, to Yolanda’s finish minutes later, we were also met with a sad fact of living in Calgary…

The weather here is most unpredictable.

Clouds started rolling in, and our glorious sunshine became dreary gray. Alex and I headed down to a side street just west of 4th St. (I can’t remember the name for the life of me, or exactly how we got there), and walked over to 4th St. and 25th Ave. So began our three-odd-hour tour of the Lilac Festival.

The street, as in years past, was lined with all sorts of foods, curios, clothes, and performers of all kinds. If you wanted it, chances are that it was there, somewhere, on 4th St. A new addition this year, with the on-coming Federal election, were representatives of the Liberal, Conservative, and Green parties. There were also a couple of other political groups, advocating full democracy (majority wins) vs. the “first in the door” system we currently have. Not sure if there’s any particular advantage to one over the other, except that “first in the door” usually allows the elections to end sooner. The NDP were also out, though more as activists who roamed the street.

We were starving, barely four blocks into the tour. A large slice of pizza and a Coke kept us going for a while. We looped at the top and worked our way down, periodically getting sprayed by the occasional burst of rain. When we reached 17th Ave. on the way back down, I suggested we duck down 17th. to check out a couple of stores. Most notably, Gravity Pope. I need new sandals. My current ones are shot. They’re seven years old and barely holding together. But I was denied of the ones I wanted.

Alex suggested we also check out Reid’s while we were there, so continued west. At the Ship and Anchor, we ran into Jensenne, Doug, and Jordon. They hadn’t been particularly thrilled with the festival thus far, and were taking a break. After a quick chat, we headed to Reid’s, only to find it closed on the Sunday. So back to 4th St.

We stopped a few times at stores and kiosks — Alex found the coolest pair of … well, not capri pants, but let’s call them long beach shorts. Or something like that. Either way, they looked good, even if they did bulge a bit at the front. But we could barely get back to our starting point. The throngs of people (including one guy who decided to take his 10-foot python for a walk) were a bit much, and it was time to head out. We were a little tired, and a bit of a break sounded like a good idea.

We passed out for an hour and a half. But it was much deserved. We’d done a lot of walking. And despite the turn in the weather, it had still been a good day.

In love with Alex (I think)

Now this is the way to have a weekend go for you. I was with Alex much of this weekend — a very good thing, if you ask me — and we got to chatting, as we often do. I’ve been trying to hold back on some of my feelings for Alex, mostly because they can be like a tsunami at times, and I don’t want to drown her in them.

Yes, I like Alex. I like her a lot. I like her so much that at times I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. Even just holding her brings me a peace that I haven’t felt … in so long, I honestly can’t remember when I last felt it. I consider this to be extremely good for me. But at the same time, I don’t want to really express how strongly I feel. Why? As Kristen has pointed out to me, I can be very overwhelming, and say things that can put people off. I don’t want to ruin anything with Alex, and I sure as hell don’t want to scare her off.

I ended up saying something like: “You’re very special to me, and I hate not being with you”, or something like that. I was trying to phrase something carefully, so that it would sound genuine, without being too stalker-ish. What I got in return just about threw me for a loop.

“I think I’m falling in love with you.”

For months, the world has been spinning too quickly, and I’ve really wanted nothing more than to get off this crazy merry-go-round for a while. With that simple phrase, the world came to a grinding halt. This was not at all what I’d expected to hear. My heart skipped a beat, and I nearly cried. It meant more to me than anything else that has happened to me in a very long time.

Okay, reality check: *I think* and *falling in love* do not equate to “I love you”, so don’t think that I’m getting any allusions to what Alex has said. But even the consideration means more than anything else I could have imagined.

It’s been well over five years since the last time I heard anyone (other than friends or family) tell me that they loved me (or were thinking of falling in love with me). It’s been longer than that where I actually believed what was being said. It’s something amazing to hear, and it really leaves you with the most amazing feeling afterwards.

I feel alive. For the first time in a long time, I honestly feel alive. Long nearly-dead emotions are coming to life again. I look forward to the future, and don’t worry about being at home all the time. It’s great. (The lawn’s getting a little too long, but it’ll survive without me a while.) Relax, I’m not rushing out to buy a ring or something. After Allison, things are going to go decidedly more careful this time around. I think I’m going to be a little more prepared this time, though.

So yes, I guess this is a LavaLife success story. To say that almost cheapens things in a way, like we had to rely on a dating service to bring us together. But that’s the thing about something like this — Alex and I would never have met otherwise, our circles in life are too far apart. The bridging will still take a while, but in the end, it’s all good.

Next weekend, we’re going to do our first major outing as a couple. We’re going to Banff. I can’t wait, and it’s almost a week away.

I think I’m falling in love, too.

Victoria Day Long Weekend Aftermath

15 years ago tonight, the Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup. Tonight, they have only three games until they win it again.

It is, admittedly, a nice way to start the week off after a long weekend. The first long weekend of the summer season, it is Victoria Day when Calgary’s resident population dips precariously low as most take off for the mountains. In many cases, this wasn’t a particularly bright move, since the weather wasn’t exactly ideal. Namely, it snowed. Again. As usual.

Well, that was in the mountains. It wasn’t too bad here, actually. Saturday and Sunday were cool, Saturday being the more miserable of the two (light “snow” that melted on contact with the ground). Monday was a welcome break, and was much more bearable, the comfortable conditions lasting well into the evening. Definitely a sure sign of improving weather.

Friday ended early for Critical Mass, and many people took advantage by disappearing at 16:00. (Not that a single hour would have made that much difference — almost half the office had already taken the day off.) I stuck around a bit longer, mostly because I had to finish up some loose ends. But also because I was going to get a lift from the office that afternoon, so didn’t feel like going home first. (Hey, it seemed logical to me.)

Shortly before 17:00, my phone rang. It was Alex, my ride. She was on her way, and would rendez-vous with me shortly. (She arrived about 20 minutes later.) We didn’t leave immediately, as I wanted to give her a quick tour of Critical Mass’s rather swanky office space. (Okay, so it’s not really *swanky*, but it is pretty cool. We just have to be reminded of that from time to time.) Then it was off to Chinook.

We were meeting up with several of Alex’s co-workers and my friend Adrian (one of my co-workers, too) to catch a viewing of “Shrek 2”. Alex and I would make a pit stop at the food court to grab a tuna fish sub from Quizno’s first. (We hadn’t eaten yet, and the prospect of going without food was a little on the unbearable side.) Finishing, we hiked down to the other end of the mall to the theatres, where we found Alex’s co-workers. (Adrian would join us, sans cast, a few moments later.)

For the record, I laughed myself silly in “Shrek 2”. It’s hard not to. Okay, yes, Shrek is a kindler, gentler ogre than the first movie. Despite his lack of cantankerousness, he still has his moments … the rest are stolen by Donkey (of course), Puss in Boots (awesomely voiced by Antonio Banderas), or the group of three blind mice, Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man, and the three little pigs reenacting scenes from a number of movies. Some say it’s not nearly as good as the first movie, but I think it’s got a lot going for it. (I’ve already seen it twice, so I have a fairly good opinion of it.)

The next evening, Alex returned the favour for office tours. Alex … hmm, it just dawned on me that you have no idea who I’m talking about. Alex (short for Alexandra, though she prefers the abbreviated version of her name) is my new girlfriend. We’ve been seeing each other for a little over a month, and things seem to get better every day. Actually, that’s not true or fair. We’d actually started seeing each other back in early January, but I really screwed up and we stopped seeing each other for a while. Thankfully, Alex has more sense in these things than I do, and called me just before I went to Japan.
She’s a lot of fun, a little quirky (which, considering me, is a very good quality), really cute, and has the brains to back it all up. She’s an X-ray technician at one of the local hospitals (sorry, but I’m not going to say which one just yet), so that leads to a lot of very interesting conversations. And she’s a huge fan of Jann Arden (given, not that I know a lot of Jann’s stuff, but that ought to please Cathy).

Back to the tour. As you’ve guessed, Alex took me to her place of employment — the hospital. It was a bit of a peculiar thing, going to a hospital for no reason other than to go to the hospital. I’ve never sight-seen a hospital before. It’s a bit of an unusual experience. Especially when the tour is guided and you get to see a few things that most non-medical people don’t get to see. Like the x-ray machines up close, and from a point of view where you can actually see the thing. I learned more about radiography in a couple of short hours than I thought was possible. I now know how modern x-rays are taken (all digital), the kinds of equipment that are used to produce quality images, and why the Philips equipment isn’t particularly desired.

Sunday and Monday were rest days for me. Lots of … well, not much of anything, really. A trip out to Costco amounted to my major activity for Sunday. Monday was a trip to the gym and a repeat viewing of “Shrek 2”. Monday evening, I accompanied Alex to her dragon boat practice down on the Glenmore Reservoir. I was a mere spectator, but it was an interesting time.

Summer hasn’t yet officially arrived here in Calgary (and probably won’t until after the Cup has come home — yes, we’re very optimistic around here), but already it’s looking to be a very good one.

Calgary Flames win Western Conference

Flames Fever is running at a pitch I could have never have imagined before. Tonight, it broke a new high.

Tonight was game six in the NHL Western Conference final, pitting the Calgary Flames against the San Jose Sharks. So far, this has produced some extremely frustrating games, most notably when I sit and yell at the Flames’ tendency to monkey around with the puck on powerplays, rather than do what they need to do, which is get in the other team’s face and snap the puck in when the goalie isn’t watching. They’ve done it before many times, and Iginla (in particular) is pretty good with stabbing in pucks on breakaways, so it’s not like they’re not aware that it works. They just need to put it into a little more practice.

We decided to avoid doing the bar thing, unlike our previous times (see [[Calgary Flames and the 2004 Stanley Cup]]). Why? Well, you can only see so many games in bars before you start feeling the urge to take up smoking and your bank account runs exceedingly low. Such as it was, we ended up at Jensenne and Jon’s place. “We” was Jordon, Mike, Mark, Adrian, Doug, Jensenne, Jon, and myself. (Tamara had to go to some Macromedia conference, and I have no idea where Dan was.)

The game was an intense rush of power. The Flames were playing at home, and the whole city was excited. The noise in the dome could only be counted as excrutiatingly loud (confirmed later on in the evening). The noise in and around the apartment was just as excited, even if in smaller numbers. Each Flames goal came with a boisterous yell (and numerous horn honks from outside), but none so much as when the third and final puck crossed the Sharks’ goal line with tenths of a second remaining. I was leaving a message for Tamara at the time (to inform her of the victory), which went something like this:

“Hey Tamara, it’s Geoff. Just to let you know that it’s 10 seconds left in the game, and Flames are up 2-1. It’s five seconds and OH MY GOD YES YEEESSSSS!! WOO HOOO!!!”

I don’t know if she actually understood what I’d said.

Victory in hand, we followed the rest of Calgary out onto the streets, heading towards Melrose on 17th Ave. It was sheer insanity. I thought the first two times that I’d been down there were crazy. 17th Ave was already a pedestrian walkway by the time we got there — mere minutes after the game had actually finished. The slight spattering of rain did nothing to deter the emotions. The Mardi Gras spirit (most notably the bared breasts that have made national news) was even more amplified. Homemade Stanley Cups were paraded around for all to see, and nearly everyone was Flames attire.

There’s a reason this area is called the “Red Mile”.

We proceeded past Melrose, continuing to Ming. I don’t know why we went down there. It’s not a great bar, really, and while we could get drinks, it didn’t really strike me as a great place to be. The one thing that was interesting was watching the near-constant tide of people continually walking west along 17th towards Melrose. We were at Ming over an hour, and the flow rarely curbed. I could not figure out where all these people were coming from!

As chance would have it, I even managed to spot a friend of mine in the crowd. Kristen has had what I would refer to as insane luck in trying to get tickets to the games. (To say I’m jealous is to put it mildly.) I managed to spot her as she wandered down 17th Ave. with everyone else. She was a bit surprised to see me, but couldn’t hear much of what I said. (Remember how I said it was loud? I wasn’t kidding.)

Tamara eventually joined up with us, and Dan soon appeared with his friends. The party would continue well into the wee hours of the morning. But without me. I needed to go home — some of us have to work tomorrow.

For the first time in 15 years, the Flames have made it to the Stanley Cup. We play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Philadelphia Flyers. No matter who it is, we can only expect the Red Sea (the crowd at the dome who wear nothing but red) to get more intense, the the Red Mile to get even longer.

So long, Jude!

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain,
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.
— “Hey Jude”, The Beatles

(I’ve been wanting to quote that bit for years.)

Another veteran of Critical Mass’s Web Development ranks is heading for greener pastures, palm trees, and dates with Hollywood models (we can only assume). It half came as a surprise, the rest as a disappointed sadness, when I found out that Jude Matsalla was leaving.

Jude has been at Critical Mass for well over five years. Jude was always one of our innovators, one of those people who always pushed the envelope for all the really interesting ideas, someone the rest of us always looked up to. (Especially because Jude was always approachable, no matter how much stress he was under. Something I still need to work on.) He got an opportunity to move down to Pasedena for a while and check out the American life. Like several before him, he will be missed.

Chrissie, one of our long-time veterans of Project Management, couldn’t let Jude go without a fight. So she organized a send-up for him, to ensure that Jude would remember his time at Critical Mass. (I would have assumed he’d get the usual Critical Mass logo cattle brand, but I guess since Jude’s a vegetarian, the only logical thing was mental trauma.) So was planned a three-event outing on Friday evening.

Stop number one was at Ming, a trendy bar cum bistro on 17th Avenue. I’ve been there a couple of time before, but it’s never really been one of my more favourite places, especially when you’re with a large group. It’s just hard to get the people in that tiny little space. But being true to the Critical Mass spirit (which, in many ways, resembles university fraternities), we crammed in everyone who wanted to come out.

Scott, Luke, and I walked down from the office, partly because we had no car, but also because Calgary was being blessed with a wonderfully warm day (for a change — May always has strange weather). As we approached Ming, we noticed two things: Thelton’s red Mini parked out front (Thelton got his Mini long after I got mine — the copycat! — but at least he got a different colour), and the City of Calgary Parking Enforcement car pulling up behind it. (You’re not allowed to park on 17th Ave. until after 18:00.) Thelton was quickly warned, and managed to avoid a ticket.

We were among the earlier ones to arrive, but soon the Mass started to appear, and all were packed into the little space under the stairs. Eventually, we overflowed into other parts of the bar. People who didn’t normally come out to such events rounded out the list of usual suspects (but we never achieved the sheer outpouring seen at Ben Wong’s departure — see [[Three Parties and a Little Hockey]]), even if they were only out for a while.

We were even joined by Rudy (one of our web developers) and his “manservant” Virgil (a former Critical Mass employee, and friend, of whom you’ve heard many times before). Rudy was in a motorcycle accident a couple of weeks ago, and has been out sick ever since. He hobbled into Ming on crutches to make an appearance. At which point we yelled:

“If you’re good enough to come to a bar, you can whack out some code! Get your butt back to the office, ya slacker!”

All in good jest, of course.

The plan had been to adjourn to the second destination at 19:00, but we didn’t start moving until almost 20:00. James, Scott, Colin, Jude, and myself all piled into James’ car, and we fired off in the direction of Lloyd’s, in the southern part of Calgary (north of Heritage Drive). Lloyd’s is an institution in Calgary — it’s where teenagers go to rollerskate.

Yes, rollerskating. Wasn’t exactly on my list of things I have to do before I die. Colin and I took a bit of a detour, though, and opted for a pizza at Tom’s Pizza, instead. That, two beers, and a really long conversation. Colin and I have these every now and then. It really feels good to have them, because I really feel isolated from all the other developers being on the Mercedes account.

Getting into Lloyd’s, we found James, Scott, and Jude hanging out with Chrissie, Jason, Jude’s cousin Vince, Rob, and Rob’s girlfriend (whose name I’ve forgotten). Colin and I didn’t bother with skates — neither of us were particularly interested. Instead, we watched as Jude attempted to jump from one chair to another, only to have his feet slide out from under him, and narrowly miss face-planting the floor. (Scott’s video capture will become an instant classic.)

Not long after Colin and I arrived did the really bad music, lousy deejay, and the plethora of 15-year olds finally get to us, and we headed for older pastures. This took us to what we call the No Name Lounge. We call it that because, like the name suggests, it has no name. Literally. If you pass by on the street, you’d never know. There’s no name. Even the liquor license is numbered — no name. What do you tell your friends when you’re going to a place that has no name? It’s a little odd the first time.

But it’s a nice place, and very cool. The interior is narrow, but long. It’s lit mostly by red lights, the deejay is an ex-Critical Mass employee who spins some amazing tunes (although we regularly complain that the deejay sucks, just for digs), and the decor is pretty chic … when you can actually see it. (The eyes take a few minutes to adjust.) This was our third and final stop for the night, where we hung out until the wee hours of the morning.

Those of us from Lloyd’s were also joined by Mark, Carmen, Rudy, Virgil, Jason (two of them, actually), Laura, Michelle, Lindsay, Mabel, Shannon, and finally Pat (after Colin and I gave him grief for not showing up earlier). We never did see Angie, though. I finally left well into the next day, deciding that I’d had too much to drink, and desperately needed sleep.

In all, it was a great departure. I could only hope that all parties are like this. I just hope we don’t have too many of them — my poor body can’t take all this.

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On Critical Mass losing Mercedes-Benz USA

There are some rumours I understand. And there are others that I do not. There are some that I begin. But this is one I want to end.

For years — literally, years — there is a rumour that’s been floating around Calgary that Critical Mass is going to lose the Mercedes-Benz USA account. We hear it every so often, usually from people in the industry or trying to get into the industry. But only people who work in Calgary — never from anywhere else. We used to hear this a lot more a couple of years ago. Back then, it was more a irritation. So imagine my surprise when it came up in an interview today.

I think the last time I heard this rumour was when I’d been out with Virgil a couple of years ago (long before Chris left for Japan). I can’t quite remember the details, but Virgil’s friend was convinced we were going to lose the account, and his company was just going to sweep in there and take the business from us.

What kills me is that this seems to be the prevailing attitude: that when Critical Mass loses the Mercedes-Benz USA account, someone in Calgary is going to get it. Okay, let’s have a little reality check here, okay? Critical Mass is about 200 people (don’t ask me for a specific number, simply because I don’t have one to give). If that 200 people, about 60 work on it full-time. That’s over 25% of our entire workforce, dedicated to a single account. Most interactive companies in Calgary aren’t 60 people in total, let alone that many to spare.

Okay, let’s assume for the moment that maybe — JUST MAYBE — you could handle something the side of Mercedes-Benz USA. What on Earth makes you think they’re coming back to Calgary? Just because Critical Mass is here? Maybe you think that Calgary’s cheapness offers an advantage? Maybe if you set up shop in, say, Moncton, you might have a chance. Believe me when I say that not only is Calgary not as cheap as it once was, there is a time difference which plays to be more of an inconvenience than you might imagine.

Now to really sound like a jerk — who the hell do you think you are? As far as I know, there is ONE major interactive agency in town: Critical Mass. I know this because I keep an eye on the competition. And if you’re in Calgary, you’re not competition to Critical Mass. When we compete against companies like Agency.com, Organic, Modem Media, Sapient, Tribal, OgilvieInteractive, R/GA, and beat them out for contracts like NASA, Hyatt Hotels, Morgan Stanley, and Albertsons, that says something. When AdWeek lists you at #20 on their list of Top 50 Agencies, that says something.

We have Mercedes-Benz USA because we’re good. And they know us.

Think that’s not an issue? Think you can still win them over? Try this on for size. Not too long ago, Critical Mass went head-to-head with the heavyweights in the industry for a USD$12+ million contract. We *almost* won. Want to know why we didn’t? Because it would have cost the client too much money to move away from the agency they had. It boiled down to the pain point. And if for that reason alone, you’re not going to get Mercedes-Benz USA unless your company appears in AdWeek’s top 50 list.

So please, if you work for an agency in Calgary, cash a reality check and realize that there is just no feasible away you can steal away an account that large. The industry has matured in the last four years. Big companies need established agencies. That’s why we’re still here. And that’s why we aren’t going anywhere, except up, that is. If you’re so hell-bent on working on the Mercedes-Benz account, I can offer you one piece of advice:

Apply for a job. We’re hiring.

Calgary Flames and the 2004 Stanley Cup

There’s a new disease running through Calgary. It’s highly contagious, spreads like wildfire, and while it has yet to prove fatal, it certainly causes some debilitating effects. Symptoms include sore throats, aches, extreme exhaustion, the urge to paint your face (and even car) red and yellow, and to wear Flames jerseys.

It’s called Stanley Cup Playoff Fever.

The last time the Flames were in the playoffs was 1989. Around here, that’s an eternity, it seems. (We’ll ignore the Leafs’ 37-year absence from the Stanley Cup finals, despite a few valiant attempts at getting there.) Excitement was building towards the end of the season — hey, we at least made it to the playoffs, unlike arch-rival Edmonton. (This was an oft-played promo on the local JackFM radio station.)

The excitement is infectious. Especially to people who, like me, don’t actively watch hockey, but will if the calibre of the game is good. (Call it a “fair weather fan” thing if you must — I don’t much like boxing on ice. I prefer playoff hockey because the pressure tends to bring out the best.) It’s not hard to get sucked into the whole thing.

Such as it was that on Saturday afternoon, a group of us wandered our way down to Classic Jack’s on 17th Ave. for an afternoon of hockey. I was still partly hung over from a binge with friends the night before, so being in a loud room with more beer seemed like a great idea.

When the final seconds of the game ticked away, there was a loud cheer, and people emptied out onto 17th Ave. This is when I was confronted with some of the most fanatical behaviour I’ve seen in hockey fans. This wasn’t a critical game. It was a quarter-final. It wasn’t even game seven in the series. But the street was lined with cheering fans, and for at least two hours, cars drove up and down, people hanging out of doors, windows, and sunroofs, all cheering, yelling, screaming, waving flags, and carrying on like we’d just won the Stanley Cup.

Last night was a pivotal game — Calgary could move on to the next series by taking Detroit (reported to be the NHL’s toughest team) out of the picture. So naturally, we wanted in on the party. The plan was to go back to Classic Jack’s and do a (more or less) repeat of Saturday afternoon.

Too bad that the management of Classic Jack’s seem to be complete morons. When Tamara got there to try and arrange for a table, the formerly “first-come, first-serve” policy (ash verified by phone earlier in the day) was thrown aside for “VIP-only” access. Yet there was no information (or warning) about that, nor was there any way to even find out how to be a VIP. It appears that Classic Jack’s is far more interested in pissing off customers in favour of … who knows what? Tamara’s inquiries to the effect of that information were met with attitude more akin to a snotty New York club than a lower-class Calgary watering hole. Needless to say, we won’t be returning there again. Ever.

We ended up at Boston Pizza. Not my first choice in places to go (I wanted to hit Melrose, which is where the party always seems to end up), but we got a good-sized table. We had time to kill before the game started, which was plenty of time to finish reading a book on the Trans-Siberian Railway. (I can hear your curiousity piquing. More information will be coming on that, later.)

The book is significant because of what happened next. So here I am, in a pizza-restaurant’s lounge along 17th Ave. in Calgary, waiting to watch game six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, when who should come along but Jodie (Rose’s cousin), a resident of Australia who’s leaving Canada tomorrow for home, who will be riding the Trans-Siberian Railway two months from now. What are the odds of something like that happening? Either way, made for good conversation.

Anyway, onto the game.

I’ve seen a fair few hockey games in recent years (since [[My First Hockey Game in 20 Years|28 March 2001]]), and even with the Hitmen’s division victory of 2001 (see [[Three Parties and a Little Hockey]]) and plenty of great Olympic hockey, I haven’t seen a game as intense as the one last night. Both teams entered the rink like class five hurricanes, thoroughly determined to crush the other. For the Flames, it was the goal of making to the next round of playoffs; for the Red Wings, it was just staying alive.

To that point, the hockey was solid right from the beginning. My single biggest complaints of Calgary as of late have been their inability to pass well and their unwillingness to confront Detroit directly. Neither complaint was uttered last night, as Calgary returned the favour done to them several times by Detroit, and became a monkey on the back of the Red Wings.

The TV regularly panned around to the audience at the Saddledome when play was temporarily halted. Over the last couple of weeks, home games have been turning more and more … red. Last night’s game was a sea of crimson, a result of an NHL record — the most number of team jerseys sold. Almost everyone in the audience was wearing a jersey. Those who arrived without them felt compelled to buy one just to fit in. The effect, I can only imagine, must be intimidating for visiting teams.

Kiprusoff fended off 38 shots on goal. He was undoubtedly aided by a guardian angel, as there were at least two or three shots that, really, should have gone in but somehow didn’t. Those were enough to drop the air pressure around Calgary by a few kilopascals as people inhaled deeply at the mere thought of a near goal.

Scoreless at the end of regulation play, we entered into the dreaded overtime. I hate overtime. I hate it because the game is about who gets the first goal, and nothing else. No chance to make up for it. Overtime is your best friend and worst enemy. The pressure is considerably worse, and everyone expends their last bits of energy — as if the frenetic plays of the previous three periods weren’t enough!

In the end, it came down to a deflected shot, popped in by Gelinas to win the game. Calgary’s air pressure probably spiked a few kilopascals as everyone exploded into a unified din of cheering. Within moments, 17th Ave. turned into a cacophony of car horns, whistles, cheers, screams, yells, air horns blats, even firecrackers.

We walked down towards 8th St., heading to the Melrose (where the parties usually spill out onto the sidewalks, if not the streets). By the time we were almost at 7th, the cops had closed down 17th Ave. to cars, and the street was packed with revellers. Tamara and I just watched in amazement. This was a quarter-final victory, and it looked like we’d just won the Superbowl.

Actually, this is one of the strange things about sports — how people get so wrapped up in it. Think about it — you don’t play for the team. You’re not directly involved. Most people have absolutely no direct tie to the teams whatsoever. Yet they get so worked up that people wear the clothes, paint themselves or their cars, will run through the streets doing things they wouldn’t be caught dead doing on any other normal day, all in the name of a group of people who get paid to play a sport they love doing.

It’s a modern version of ancient Roman gladiator sports. Sure, there’s no actual tigers (there are Panthers, Ducks, Bruins, Kings, Devils, among other things) or swords (though the warriors do carry long sticks), and the armour has changed a little, but the overall effect is the same: distraction.

Okay, yes, in Ancient Rome, the distraction was politically geared to placate the populous so they wouldn’t riot or otherwise attempt to overthrow the more tyrannical emperors. While that’s not the goal with organized sports such as NHL Hockey (at least, I hope not), it has a similar effect: people tend to be happy because they find a way to identify with a group of people who do battle against another group of people. You can’t tell me that people don’t react to the fighting…

Now in a sense of strange irony, the result of a particularly important win is more likely to bring on a riot, rather than squelch it. While Calgary has not yet befallen this particular outcome, many other cities (including Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) have had their joyous occasions turned sour due to a few bad eggs who decide that something needs to be broken.

Is ice hockey little more than a collection of gladiators on ice with better padding? Maybe. The analogy isn’t quite exact, even if the effect might be similar. Last night was a perfect example of how a usually quiet little city (not counting the Stampede, that is) can get very excited about events that would not be quite so meaningful in other metropolitan centres.

This might not have been the Stanley Cup, but it’s looking a lot closer.