Surprise Visit to Drumheller

This weekend was a bit of a surprise. Not that it suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, but that until something happened, I had no idea what was yet to come.

The weekend started with the one thing I did have control over: a barbecue. Specifically, the first Jerks BBQ of the summer. What is a “Jerks BBQ”, you might ask? The group of people that I work with most around the office are The Jerks. Effectively, we’re mostly web developers. Why “Jerks”? Well, we have a rather odd term of endearment around here: “JERK!”. Hence, we’re Jerks.

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Critical Mass Summer Town Hall and Kananaskis Cowpunch

It’s 23:00 Sunday night, and this is the first time in four days that I’ve had a chance to be alone with my computer.

Not that I’m necessarily complaining, I might add.

The last four days have been a mad combination of work-related mayhem, drunken debauchery (see: work-related mayhem), and spending time with Alex. All of it has been great fun, which is why I need two entries to cover it all. But first, the work-related mayhem and drunken debauchery … more or less in that order.

Every six months, Critical Mass holds a Town Hall. It’s a gathering of everyone in the company, remote offices included, to listen to information the company wishes to disseminate in a semi-public forum. The Town Halls held in January are mostly business. Numbers, facts, trends… you usually need several strong coffees to get you through them. But the ones in June are a special breed — it’s more of a show than real information. It’s almost an excuse to leave the office and watch a bunch of people entertain the rest of us, gain a bit more information than we already did, and then go drinking.

At least, that’s what this one was like.

We gathered at the Vertigo Theatre, in the basement of the Calgary Tower complex downtown, not far from the office. This apparently used to be an old movie theatre, now converted into fairly nice stage theatres. When we arrived in the lobby, we were split into small groups (for what reason, I wasn’t initially certain. When our group was called, we walked over to the theatre door, but were thrown up against the wall, and subjected to what I can only describe as a severe infraction of the Geneva Convention. We had to sing The Village People’s “Macho Man”.

This was courtesy of Dan, my business unit’s Managing Director. He was strung out on something (either far too much caffeine, or something far more exotic), wearing a microphone of a style made famous by Garth Brooks, and yelling like he was on TV. Apparently, so were we. As Phillipe filmed, we were made to cheer, laugh, heckle, and boo. Then came the song. We were quite puzzled, to say the least. It came quite clear when we entered the theatre, only to find the next group after us being subjected to the same humilation — broadcast onto a large screen on the stage.

Once everyone had been put through the wringer and the auditorium was full, we began the show. Dan walked out on stage, still wearing the mike, announcing that he was the stage manager of this freak show, and it was time to get it going. So with no further adieu, he welcome onstage the announcer, the man with the best radio voice in the company, Scott. Naturally, this precipitated a loud cheer from those of us who work with him. Scott then took over, bringing on the musical host of this wacky production, which was to no-one’s surprise, our sound engineer, Dewi. And then came the host, the man who puts the “I” in “loser” (bit of an in-joke, due to his last name), my *boss*, Allard.

*That* suprised me. No, actually, that *stunned* me. I simply did not see that coming. But the fact that he was hosting the little deal was nothing compared with the fact that he was not only good at what he did, he was *amazing*. As I would find out later, almost none of Allard’s material was scripted (at least so that he had to remember it). He either only had vague directions leading to some dialogue, or completely adlibbed. His opening monologue was actually very funny. He even caught our CEO, Jerry, completely off-guard by calling him by his initials: JJ … and JK, JL, JM, J-Lo. (Jerry’s reactions to Allard’s off-the-cuff comments were almost as entertaining as the comments.)

Needless to say, I’ve challenged Allard to keep this up for our meetings. He’ll make them a lot more interesting.

Several videos peppered the skits that the group put on. The group included the five previously mentioned, Thelton, Dave, Carl (who did a great job presenting the true direction of the company), two Peters, Simone, Robb, Chrissie, Ed, Jason, Arif (a mainstay of all our Town Halls), and “guest appearances” by Cory, Colin, and the infamous rubber chicken. While the chicken incident kind of bombed (the joke was a little abused as of late), the videos had people rolling in many cases.

The bulk of the actual business information came from the rather lengthy Q&A session with Thelton and Jerry, kicked off by the question that all inquiring minds wanted to know: Boxers or briefs? While Thelton and JZ were hoping to avoid some of the more numbers-related questions, they invariably arose (hard not to, I guess). But they were all answered. And we ended the session early.

Early enough for the aforementioned debauchery.

This year, we ended up at the Whiskey. They weren’t ready for us when we arrived, and the poor bartender upstairs had to run around frantically to get ready. We got there about an hour ahead of time. But frankly, that’s not an excuse. The inside of the Whiskey was dead. Can you expect me to believe that they couldn’t have had the upstairs ready in time? Not swift, if you ask me. But soon enough, we were getting loaded, and that’s all that really matters.

A water gun made an appearance, weilded by Thelton. (You got to love a President who’s willing to be as immature as the rest of us.) Adrian tackled him to get it away and hose down others. I got wet on a few occassions, but didn’t care so long as the camera stayed dry.

Before I knew it, the sun was setting, and a group of us were heading over to the Bear and Kilt to continue festivities. The antics, including spilled beers (on the pool table, so I gather — that wasn’t me, incidentally), spilled french fries and beef dip sauce (that was me), and probably more than a few spilled secrets (don’t know if that was me or not — I was very drunk by then) flowed about. By after 1:00, it was time to go home.

Mark, Amy, and I wandered down 4th St. to take Amy home. Mark headed off at 17th Ave., with the two of us continuing south. Amy offered to put me up at her place overnight, but I needed to get home for my cameras for the following morning. Despite two stops for hangover prevention, I woke up with a killer headache.

Just in time for the Kananaskis Cowpunch.

“What on Earth is that?” you might be asking. This is the name for this year’s company summer event. Arriving at the office (holding my head and liberally drinking a bottle of Gatorade), we waited for the signal to board our buses and head out to the Rafter 6 Ranch, not far from Exshaw. There, we would engage in activities that would have nothing to do with our daily job. This included golf (nine holes), white water rafting, horseback riding (western-style), yoga, hiking, or canoeing. Me? I chose to do nothing, and take pictures instead.

Why? Well, I don’t have my own clubs, and I play cross-country golf. (I’m pretty bad.) I’ve done white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River three times — the Kananaskis River just ain’t gonna cut it. I’ve never been a big fan of horses, so riding was out. As for yoga, while I do love it, I’m very partial to my yoga instructor, Lori, and wasn’t really in the mood for someone different. Hiking didn’t sound interesting at first, though I found out later that I probably wouldn’t have minded it. As for canoeing, it was in a 12-person canoe. That’s a dragonboat to me, which is not really quite what I had in mind for relaxing.

Besides, *someone* needs to take the pictures.

The weather in Calgary and area as of late resembled that of Vancouver — wet and miserable. Cyndy, our office manager and the one who organized most of this, was unbelievably relieved to see that the weather had panned out. She swore that things weren’t going to work out. But the sun was out, the weather was warm, and clouds were few and far between. Almost as soon as we arrived at the Ranch (the golfers went direct to the course), the groups went off to get ready.

I wandered down to where the horse riders were gathered to hop on their mounts. The horses were not the happiest animals I’ve ever seen. They’re either extremely well-trained, or (and I hate to suggest it) abused. They didn’t move very much, and didn’t seem particularly energetic. As I don’t know horse behaviour that well, I can only assume (and hope) that Rafter 6 Ranch follows proper animal treatment guidelines.

Over at the rafting shed, the majority of the CM group was getting their waivers sorted out (which apparently contained some clause about bears, of all things) and preparing to get their equipment to head out. I really wanted to get photos of the rafters on the water, but as I had no idea where they were setting in (it wasn’t at the Ranch), I had to settle for some group shots pre-wetsuits.

I passed back and forth between the horse riders (it took a while to get them all on horseback) and the rafters (it took a while to get them all in rubber) until both groups had headed off. Luke, the largest person in the rafting group, looked about the most uncomfortable in his wetsuit. I so desperately wanted a picture of him in his neoprene skin, but he wisely declined.

The horses were mostly watching people who have either never ridden a horse, or looked very uncomfortable on a horse, waiting around for the rest of the group (there would be two waves) to get their horse. Some people were fairly even with their steeds, and aside from a bit of uneasiness, were ready to ride. Some, like Jamie, looked like they’d never been on a horse before (Jamie actually said: “How does this thing work?” — it was hard to tell if he was serious or not).

Then there was Garth. Garth is our DBA Manager. Garth seemed to really know what he was doing. I even commented on it.

Me: Garth, you sound like an old ranch hand!
Garth: I am.

Figures I’d meet a DBA Manager who grew up on a farm south of Edmonton, who rode horses for the better part of a decade.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a couple of problems. Terri’s horse suddenly decided to not want to cooperate and reared up. Terri, fearing a bucking, grabbed the reins to keep from falling off. Sadly, not the correct course of action, as pulling back on the reins only makes the horse rear more. It took a few quick commands from the handlers to keep Terri from falling off.

Horses off and rafters away, I wandered back up to our portion of the ranch to hang out for the next couple of hours. There, I found Cyndy and Lindsay, who had beers in hand. It appeared the bar was officially open.

And everyone else thought I was missing out on activities…

We chatted a while, admiring the surrounding area. The Rafter 6 is located in a wonderful little pocket of Kananaskis, within spitting distance of the mountains without actually being in them. And far enough away from the highway that you can’t hear it. Just the wind, the birds, the odd nickering of a horse, wind through the trees, and the river (once you get close enough to it, anyway).

The Ranch is about 200 years old, so I’m told. It’s also massive, though I suspect much of the land has either been turned into random pasture land (instead of the need for huge expanses for cattle) with some turned over to other interests (there’s a YMCA camp “next door”, which I imagine was once part of the ranch itself). But there’s still ample room to wander around. The grounds have several buildings, including the hotel, dining hall, barn, several cabins, and the chapel (which was where the yoginis practiced their moves — quite a beautiful sight from where we were).

Lindsay and I decided to go off on a short walk to find the others in our “do nothing” group. We headed down to the river (we understood that Pavel had brought a fishing rod), babbling the whole way there and back. We never found the rest of the group, but did have a nice walk, nonetheless.

Lunch was not far off when we got back, which was about the time that the hikers, horse riders, and rafter returned. Yoga had finished, the participants changed and lounging around. Slowly, but surely, the group was regathering. Cyndy and I went out to meet the horse riders as they trotted through. Cyndy was having far too much fun with everyone else, and commented that they’d all be walking bow-legged for a while. Someone commented about needing a rub-down … then Harjinder commented about needing some Vaseline. I nearly dropped the camera from laughing so hard.

Lunch was hamburgers, chicken, vegetable shishkebabs, baked beans, and salads. Following what most of us considered to be normal buffet behaviour, we grabbed two hamburger buns and got in line. One burger each. Fine, we’ll just come back later. Apparently, Rafter 6 had only enough buns so that we’d have *one* burger each. One. Just one. Uh, hello? It’s a barbecue. No-one has just *one*. Sliced bread had to come out for everyone else. The golfers finally showed up as the first round of lunch was wrapping up.

After lunch, we had completely unstructure free time. This led Luke, Torin, and myself to go way out into the fields and throw around Luke’s aerobee (basically, a flying ring, as opposed to the standard Frisbee). My aim was way off for the first little while, and I made Luke and Torin run a bit. I eventually grew tired of the activity, and resumed photography.

I was waiting for the “surprise”. At 14:30, we were told to head down to the rodeo corral for the remainder of the afternoon. This was for a rodeo, though not with any animals other than horses. This was a volunteer rodeo, where various members of the staff would hop on a horse and make a horse’s ass of themselves. Which, of course, is the point.

More food would await us. As I approached the rodeo corral, I saw a large group of people milling around something, then walking off with … ICE CREAM! Changing my direction, I went in direction of something cold and yummy. I had thought the vessel holding the cool treats was a freezer of some kind. But we were on a ranch — the ice cream was contained in soft-sided insulated bags, slung over the back of a miniature horse. It was very cute, although the little guy REALLY hated the bags, and didn’t really appreciate 200 somewhat drunk people surrounding it.

The rodeo was quite simple: a corral, six horses, and a few interesting games. First up was Musical Horses. Similar to musical chairs, the idea is to walk your horse around a ring of tires. When the music stops, you jump down and put one foot in the tire. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. Then there was the egg race, which is a lap around the corral holding an egg on a spoon. Following that was a race where two people (on different horses) had to hold a piece of plastic tape between them. First ones across the finish line still holding the tape between them won. Then came the barrel race, a rodeo mainstay, involving a little more horsemanship to get around all the barrels. A bizarre relay race came afterwards, involving two riders per horse and a few transgender clothing swaps. The final race was the favourite: the beer race. That’s when six riders run to the other end, chug a beer (you have to turn it upside down over your head to prove you’ve finished), then race back.

Musical horses was quite funny. Dan got stuck with the smallest horse, which he seemed rather proud about. Dan was quite adept with his little horse, out-maneuvering several others, only to finally be defeated because his horse wanted to grandstand instead of co-operate. The music, incidentally, was the rest of us singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, which went something like this:

“100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer, [incoherent mumbling following the tune of the song], 99 bottles of beer on the wall…” and so on.

Partway through the rodeo, I opted to go get another ice cream. It was hot, and they’re tasty. And that’s all the excuse I need, darn it! When I got out there, the wee little horsie wasn’t in much better of a mood than when I’d first come across him. In fact, as I attempted to get my ice cream bar, the little bugger got out of his bridle, and started to pull away. His handler tried to hang onto him, but only got one of the refrigerator bags off instead. Released of the grip, he was off like a shot, tearing away at a rate you couldn’t have convinced me a little thing like that could do! He even kept up with the bigger horses. One of the ranch hands took off after him with a lasso. Had my hands not been full, I would have been able to get the whole event on video.

The egg race was a little dull, other than all the fallen eggs, of course. The tape race was only amusing insofar as watching Evelyn and Jamie try to stay on their horses and still hang onto the tape. Jamie’s prowess with a horse is … well, nigh non-existant, so he was having difficulties staying with Evelyn. The barrel race was a bit of a heart-stopper when Marcie fell off when her horse came to a dead halt as it prepared to go around the last barrel. Thankfully, she was alright. Moments later, the same thing nearly happened to the next person, but recovered in time. The clothes race was something to watch, if only to see Jerry in a frilly woman’s bathing suit.

The beer race was the contentious one. It came down to two key competitors: Bill and Chris. On the first race, Bill won but was called out for supposedly not drinking all of his beer (on video replay, there was a bit too much landing on his hat). Chris, reported to be the fasted guzzle in the west, probably felt a bit cheated. So there was a rematch, pitting the two (and Lindsay, who came in third) to resolve the issue. This time, Chris raced to success, with Bill a little more drunk for wear.

The rodeo over, we all headed back to the dining area to relax until the busses were called — not long afterwards. By this point, I was resembling a lobster (or rather, I was told I was; in reality I wasn’t nearly that bad), and felt it wise to head out on the first wave of busses. However, I should have waited for the fourth and final bus.

Those who did engaged in what I could only imagine to be the wildest bus party the company has ever seen. Cyndy was so loopy, she was tossing clothing out the window as it went down the road (I have no idea whose it was). Waterguns were soaking everything in sight. Thelton decided to try and sneak up on Shawn, our Account Director in Austin, crawling along the aisle floor on all fours. Shawn, however, saw Thelton coming, crawled over two rows of chairs to empty his beer onto Thelton’s head. A pit stop at a Petro-Canada set off a round of stickering (mostly on people) and a run on beef jerky. Somewhere along the line, Cyndy declared something about “getting nekkid” and swapped shirts with Jim.

*Sigh* I miss all the fun.

We were to head to Coyotes after arriving back at Critical Mass. There we engaged in more games of “see how many drink tickets we can get from Thelton”, among babbling with each other. Staying at Coyotes was not an option, however. Coyotes is not really my first choice for a good bar to go to … actually, it would be my *last* choice, along with Cowboys and Tantra (formerly The Drink). Such as it was, however, the beer was free, and that was reason enough.

Luke, Allison, James, Torin, Scott, Natalia, Wendy, Alain, Gary, and myself vacated (long before the Miss Corona pageant was to start, thankfully) and went to Sumo over in Eau Claire Market. There we gorged ourselves on Japanese (mostly sushi) and swapped stories about the day. As the sun slowly set, a chill came over. About 30 minutes before we left, Torin barked out “Hey Jerks!” to someone passing by the patio we were on. It was Jerry, Scott (from Chicago) and Shawn. Jerry whipped around to see who had insulted him. Seeing it was just us, he barked back: “F*ck you!” We laughed.

The evening over, I retreated back to my safe little home to recover from the day. Lest you think I was heavily intoxicated at the time — I was very sober. In fact, I’d spent the whole day pretty much peachy. Not driveable-peachy, but not even really buzzed. Hangovers tend to make you not want to drink as much the next day, I find. No, the reason I went home was that I was very, very tired.

And after the last two days, I needed the rest.

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Jazz Up Your Weekend at the Banff Centre

Alex and I have been seeing each other for a couple of months now, and we felt it secure enough to try something a little adventurous: a weekend away from the city.

Exactly how we found out about it, I’m not sure (I think Alex had a pamphlet or flyer), but we decided we would go to Banff (Bamf!), specifically to see a jazz concert at the Banff Centre. As an additional bonus, the Banff Centre offered something called “Jazz Up Your Weekend”, which is a package including the tickets to the show and a discounted rate for a room in one of the Banff Centre’s rooms. (They have a sort-of hotel. Not quite a real hotel, but it’s close enough.)

We discussed other activities to engage in, but the key reason was the concert. So imagine the disappointment when we found out that tickets were all sold out. But the clerk told me that I could call back later in the week, on the off chance that someone would return the tickets. I “neglected” to tell Alex that. (Hey, I gotta put some mystery into this relationship.)

Friday finally rolled around and we were off to Banff (Bamf!). After taking a detour through Market Mall to get a bite to eat, hitting the local 7-11 for a Slurpee, and driving out through Cochrane (only because we could). We finally hit Banff (Bamf!) just after 21:00, and found our way to the Banff Centre. Alex figured it out almost as soon as I turned off Banff Ave., though she didn’t find out about the concert until later.

After checking in, we stopped briefly at the coffee shop on campus for a chai latte (apparently not too bad) and a hot chocolate (which was little more than steamed chocolate milk). I say “campus” because that’s about the best way to describe the place.

The Banff Centre is a large complex of a couple dozen buildings, ranging in size from small huts to multi-wing dormitory/meeting buildings. The Centre itself is devoted to education and advancement of the arts (including music, fine arts, new media, and dance). Within the Canadian jazz community, it’s apparently the pinnacle of talent and advancement (as we would find out the next night). Situated on the slopes of Tunnel Mountain, it’s far enough away from the townsite to be isolated, but close enough that you can walk there in about 10 minutes.

We debated on sleeping in the next morning, but decided to give breakfast a try. Our room came with four coupons, good for a “complimentary breakfast”. We had no idea what it was, but figured if the Saturday breakfast was no good, we’d sleep in on Sunday. Figures that it was a full buffet, including Belgian waffles and fresh omelettes.

Our primary target for the day, concert notwithstanding, was the summit of Sulphur Mountain, tackled by foot. We would walk there, which was a few kilometres from the Centre. We started by heading down Tunnel Mountain Road, following the bend of the Bow River. Or at least that was the plan.

Barely 10 steps onto Tunnel Mountain Road, we spotted a trail leading off into the forest. As we weren’t in a hurry, we opted for a slight little detour. The detour took us considerably out of our way (we didn’t realize this until later), but we found the north side of the Bow River to be quite a bit more interesting (and quite a lot less travelled) than the south side (which is where you’ll find the Banff Springs hotel). The view of the Bow Falls from the north side is also a little harrowing, the slope down into the rapids is high, and quite steep.

We arrived at the base of the trail up Sulphur Mountain about an hour and a half after leaving the Centre. We would take a trip through the Sulphur Mountain Gondola base station to get something to drink (you don’t climb the mountain without liquids) and something to eat (some delicious fudge). Then it was up the hill.

The last time I’d tackled Sulphur Mountain was almost three years ago (see [[Visiting Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls, Canada Day in Banff (Bamf!)]]) with Stuart and Therese. It was on a nice, warm, sunny day long after all the snow had melted off the mountain. This time, it was cloudy, a bit cool in the upper climbes, and despite the park rangers having said the path was clear, finding numerous banks of snow (naturally, in all the bends in the switchback path, one of which I got stuck in trying to climb over) and large mud patches.

Along the way, we ran into acquaintances. First was Christian, a fellow Critical Masser, up for the day with his girlfriend for a hike up before the Calgary Flames game that night. Then we ran into an ex-student of Alex’s (as part of her job, Alex has students work with her to train them to be x-ray technicians) about 3/4 of the way up.

The climb was long (the signs say about two hours) and tiring. I was considerably more tired than I thought I should be, but didn’t know why until we got to the top. Just over 90 minutes. Alex probably would have killed me for that pace, had she the energy to do so. (The pace, incidentally, was not intentional.) After resting a bit at the top, we headed back to the base station.

By gondola.

We hiked back down to the Banff Springs, taking a “short cut” through the forest. We bypassed the hotel, and found ourselves in the middle of a large field, to the south of the golf course. Alex tried to romp through it, but the grass was a little rough. That, and there was plenty of elk dung all over the place. You couldn’t walk anywhere without running into it (either fresh or long-since dried). We laid down a while, in a relatively dung-free area, before heading along the river and back into town.

We ate a very late lunch (or an early dinner, depending on your point of view) at Bruno’s. One of the best corned beef sandwiches I’ve had in a long time, and bar none the best sweet potato fries Alex or I have ever had. We recovered from our massive hike, listening to the Flames fans driving up and down Banff Ave., honking their horns. It seemed that even the little resort town was gearing up for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.

After a bit of shopping in town, we walked back to the Banff Centre and got ready for the concert. (We both needed showers quite badly.) We then headed over to the Margaret Greenham Theatre, and prepared for a night of jazz.

Yes, we went to a concert instead of watching Game 6. That’s not to say that we were the only ones missing it. Thankfully, the performers were aware of this and tried their best to provide scores as they became aware of them.

The style of jazz was mostly improvisational. Aside from two pieces (“Pannonica” and “Bye-Ya”, both by Thelonius Monk), the rest were composed either by the Director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music (Dave Douglas) or by visiting composer and trombonist, George Lewis.

The first set was “Mountain Passages #1-5”, written by Douglas, and performed by seven people who came out on stage tied together in mountain climber fashion. This was because the piece (introduced by Douglas) was written to be performed at 10,000 feet elevations. The piece was quite interesting and very intricate. Not at all the kind of jazz I’d been expecting. It was a prelude of what to expect. Even stranger was the choice of instruments, which included a cello and a banjo.

Upon completion, the group left the stage and a new group came out, approximately 14 people playing two pianos, two cellos (until that point, had never heard of cello in a jazz band), several saxophones, horns, electric guitar, and a double bass. Then Lewis walked out on stage, presumably to take his position as conductor.

I was about to argue against his presence. Why would there need to be a jazz conductor? I’ve always wondered about the need for a conductor (having never been in a band myself, I should add), since the musicians should know how to play the music. Interestingly, enough, Lewis felt quite the same way, and said as such to the audience, adding: “I’ll be back when I feel I’m needed”. He promptly left the stage, and the band began.

Lewis’s pieces (“Smashing Clusters” and “Hello/Goodbye”) are significantly stranger than the jazz music I’m more familiar with. But from an artistic perspective, it was interesting to watch the performers play such an odd piece of music. I have a great deal of respect for jazz musicians, since they are able to play such eclectic works, and yet still embellish their own style on it (which is more or less expected of them).

A few minutes into the first piece, Lewis came back out on stage, and started directing the band, cutting some people off, encouraging others to play solos, or completely changing the music around. Suddenly, I saw how a conductor (especially the composer) can radically affect the sound. At times, watching Lewis was more entertaining than listening.

The intermission came, and we headed out into the lobby. (The game was tied 2-2, going into overtime.) We shared a ginger ale, to make up for the higher, drier altitude, and for the lack of liquids as a result of all our walking around earlier in the day. About 20 minutes later, the lights blinked, and we headed back in.

As we’d been informed near the beginning of the show, the performers would be joined by “Shorty”, one of George Lewis’s inventions. Shorty is the combination of a player piano and a software program that runs off a laptop. Three musicians, Dave Douglas (on trumpet), Jason Moran (apparently, a well-known jazz pianist), and Lewis (on trombone) would play with Shorty (for the first time). Shorty is an improvisational piano player, and would adapt to the music played by the other three.

For the record, I’m not a huge fan of improvisational jazz. I need a melody. Improvisational jazz, to me, is little more than a random series of notes that don’t really blend together. I don’t mind improvisation on top of melody, but the melody must exist. Otherwise, it’s random notes.

That said, watching the three people and one machine play (the piece was titled “Trip Music for Humans and Non-Humans”, but I suspect there is no defined score for it) was quite fascinating, especially for someone in the computer field.

Eventually, Shorty was turned off and a dummer and bassist entered the stage, and the five players went into the Monk pieces, and a third by Muhal Richard Abrams, called “J.G.”. They blended the pieces so seemlessly that you couldn’t tell where one piece ended and the next began, if you didn’t already know the tunes (which I didn’t). Those last three pieces were the kind of jazz I needed to hear, and it sounded amazing.

Concert over (sadly, with the Flames having lost), Alex and I headed up to the Upper Hot Springs, which are open until 23:00 during the summer season. It was good to climb into the 39-degree water to bake out the stiffness and soreness we could probably expect the following day. We weren’t the only ones there — several of the patrons were Japanese tourists, the rest appearing to be locals (including several teenagers).

We stopped at the Mac’s on the way back, picking up some snack food, so we’d have something to eat while we shared a bottle of wine back at the hotel.

Breakfast got us out of bed early again, though we had French toast instead of waffles this time. Having no particular plans for the rest of the morning, we took things slowly, eventually heading downtown to do some shopping. I didn’t end up buying anything (though I was looking around).

Around 14:00, we headed up to the Banff Springs to partake of Afternoon Tea. I’d always heard it was a great place to go, and really wanted to see what it would be like. Unfortunately, it would be something we’d have to experience another day. The activity of the day before had caused Alex to experience a bit of a headache, which since waking that morning blew up into a full-blown migraine. The only thing we could do at that point was go home.

Summer has arrived in southern Alberta (finally), which means that this won’t be the only time Alex and I go to Banff (Bamf!). Hopefully, you’ll see more entries from that area, replete with additional tales of … well, stuff.

The Red Mile

There’s just something inherently wrong with watching Stanley Cup hockey while sweating because it’s so warm. The season needs to be shorter.

Or there need to be fewer teams, especially in places where you can’t naturally have ice outside. (But that’s just a personal gripe.)

Last night was Game 5 in the Tampa Bay-Calgary Stanley Cup Final series. As is becoming a habit, Craig organized a gathering at the Rose and Crown, one of Calgary’s more popular watering holes. A former employee of the Rose, Craig was able to secure spaces on the third floor for us, so we’d have a place to sit and watch. Assuming we got there early enough to actually get a seat and not end up having to stand.

Which of course meant that not only would the office be let out at 16:30 (it was for the last game), but I’d get stuck in an interview for a new Web Developer position until 16:50. I ended up jogging from the office (corner of 11th Ave. and 3rd St. SE) to the Rose (corner of 15th Ave. and 4th ST. SW) — a distance of about 11 blocks. All my gym excursions and healthy habits apparently have paid off — even with poor running shoes, I got there without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack.

Many people sang along with Hockey Night in Canada’s opening theme, and with “O Canada”. But the cheering really didn’t kick in until the game got going. The series was tied at two games apiece, and both teams needed the advantage. Walking into Game 6 will either be staying alive or trying for the win, and it would better to be the latter.

The volume in the bar was quite high … and we could barely hear the TVs. Everyone was yelling, shouting, cavorting, and several of us (Paul, Scott, Thelton, Keith, among others) were taking pictures of all the mayhem. Thelton was having particular fun emailing all the photos he’d taken with his cellphone immediately to the Calgary office email alias, to ensure that everyone arriving in the morning would see all the “glory”.

I’m sure the patrons downstairs from us really came to despise the noisy folks on the top floor. We would stomp the floor rhythmically, chanting “Go Flames Go” as loud as we could. We would scream and yell whenever Calgary got close to Tampa Bay’s goal. The table of Cory, Chrissie, Michelle, Colin, Neil, Jason, Carl, and Julianne would chant about others in the room, for example: “Let’s go , let’s go!” until they either acknowledged the chant, or the chanters got bored and picked on someone else.

The game itself was nerve-wracking. It was close. Calgary would score, then Tampa would score. It was tied when the clock ran out, and overtime began. I hate overtime. It’s such a toss-up. First goal wins, and you really get nervous when pucks get to close to your own goal. Luckily, Kiprusoff is a strong goalie, and Calgary’s defense was all over Tampa. And so it came down to the last five minutes of the first overtime period when Calgary finally popped the puck in.

Total pandemonium.

Within mere seconds, 17th Ave. was full of people, and traffic evacuated to the side streets. We weren’t far behind, though we had to do a couple of shots at the bar before we could get out the door. Then it was out to the Red Mile, and wandering in the direction of Melrose. The Red Sea had poured into the Red Mile.

Unlike our previous ventures out onto 17th Ave. (see [[Calgary Flames win Western Conference]] and [[Calgary Flames and the 2004 Stanley Cup]]), this was a warm, dry evening, and was perfect fuel for the flashing fire. As you’ve no doubt heard (as most of North America has), Calgary’s Red Mile has turned into a “Girls Gone Wild” breast-fest of flashing. There’s websites devoted to this stuff. I’ll bet you’ll even be able to find videos in adult stores before too long (assuming, of course, that they’re not already there). It’s pretty weird, considering how this city is most of the year (save for Stampede, of course). You’d almost think we were in New Orleans or Mexico… Am I going to argue about it? No point, and no, it’s not because I want to encourage it. If people feel that liberated, all the power to them. I just hope that they consider some of the consequences.

Angie got hoisted into the air on Thelton’s shoulders. Almost immediately, she was surrounded by a multitude of hormone- (and alcohol-) fuelled idiots, calling for Angie to remove her shirt. Angie, who has been known to do daring things in the past (and probably wouldn’t be objected from doing them under other circumstances) basically told them to grow up and take a hike, and returned to ground level.

We didn’t stay on 17th Ave. for too long, and started off in search of something else. For some reason, that was Cowboys, a bar just north of the railway tracks. After finding Angie’s car (she couldn’t quite remember where she’d parked), we wandered up 5th St., listening to the incoherent shouts above the cacaphony of car horns.

When we arrived at Cowboys, I bade the others a good evening, as I headed home. Why? Simple reason: I have a moral objection to Cowboys. I do not wish to EVER enter an establishment whose waitstaff are known to have breast implants (rumoured to be paid by the bar’s owner), and over whose door there is a sign that reads: “Through these doors walk the most beautiful women in Alberta”. Thanks, but no thanks.

I was quite tired when I finally got home. It was late, I was still a little inebriated, and I had to go to work the next day. One major advantage of having gone drinking with the group, though:

You fall asleep fast.

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My first dragon boat practice

Last night, Alex and I headed down to the Glenmore Reservoir. Reasons were two-fold: One was to have a picnic, a little meal on the edge of the largest body of water in the immediate area. The other was for Alex’s dragon boat practice. (You might remember that from [[Victoria Day Long Weekend Aftermath]].)

The weather wasn’t particularly good (nor was the fact that the entire city was going gonzo for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, tying up traffic something awful), but we still managed to make the most of the ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad, and fruit that we’d brought with us. The breeze was cool, tempered with a few spots of precipitation. But we still managed to eat most of our food without extreme difficulty. (On a sunnier day, I can see this area being significantly more attractive.)

Leaving some of the fruit behind for post-practice, we ducked over to the McDonald’s at Glenmore Landing (a small strip mall on the eastern shore of the reservoir) for apple pies. It was my first McDonald’s apple pie. They’re not bad. I don’t want to know what’s in them, though, since I’d probably feel the urge to go into a full cleanse to get that gunk back out of me.

Soon, we were at the boat dock, waiting for the rest of Alex’s team to show up. The game would keep many of them away, leaving only about eight people out of the usual 20-person team. Which is how I got sucked into all of this.

I was a decided spectator. I had thought about doing dragon boat racing when I lived in Vancouver, but the team never really took off in the last year I was able to apply. Until I’d met Alex, I didn’t even know there was racing in Calgary! But sure enough, every August, there’s a festival on the reservoir. Apparently, it’s quite large. And unless things change between Alex and I (highly unlikely), I’ll get to find out what it’s like.

The current question, though, is whether I’ll get to see it as a spectator or as a participant.

With so few people out, I was asked to join them on the water. (I had planned to listen to the game in the car.) I was in the process of politely refusing when I saw the expectant smile on Alex’s face.

Hook, line, and sinker.

Bundled up, lifejacket on, and paddle in hand, I followed the others down to the long, white canoe at the dock. Dragon boats are long — 20 people rowing, one helmsman, and one “drummer”. This means the boats are also fairly tall on the water (until you get people into them, anyway). I was positioned slightly ahead of middle, seated next to Moustafa, a veteran from last year. Once we were all in, we headed off onto the lake. And a lot of back pain.

Don’t worry, I didn’t injure myself. It’s from the rowing. Dragon boats aren’t paddled like a canoe. When you paddle a canoe, you look forward, and paddle with your arms and upper body. The motion is simple, and unless you’re paddling hard, there’s not too much to it. Dragon boats, on the other hand, are quite something else. To maximize power, you need to hold the paddle with straight arms (ideally, when you’re holding the paddle correctly, your body and paddle form an ‘A’, with torso and arm creating one side, lower arm creating the cross, and paddle forming the other side). You stroke by rotating your arms opposite to rotating your torso. It’s a bit weird to explain, but once you see it, it makes sense.

And it hurts. Especially when you’re under power. Which were were. Several times.

But the technique isn’t too hard to pick up. The trick then is timing. You need everyone in the boat to have the same timing for strokes. When people are out of stroke, you lose power. The most power is gained when everyone strokes at the same time. It wasn’t hard to tell just in our practices. Our coach, Albert, had the most power, and was something to behold. He’s been doing it a few years, though, so his strength is not to be unexpected.

I was tired by the time we got into shore. Like with many things, I pushed myself quite hard. I hope my back doesn’t avenge itself on me tomorrow, though. (Yoga might help, though, if it does.) But I think I’m getting addicted. I can see myself doing this. I don’t really know why, other than it’s fun.

Certainly beats just watching.