This is a hard-working company. And Ted (our founder and corporate Chairman) knows it. To "thank" us for all the grief he puts us through, he closes (more or less) the office for two days, packs us off to some remote part of the country, and gets us all horribly drunk — and he pays for everything. It might be good to be king, but it doesn’t hurt to be a peasant every once in a while.
Critical Mass starts planning "The Trip", as it’s usually referred to, about four months early. It’s a fairly involved excursion, and when you consider the attendance (at least this year) is about 300 people, there’s a fair bit of coordination involved. We have two people who work on it nearly full-time, in addition to their regular jobs. And then there’s a team of about 10 people (representing the various departments in the company) who help in the decision making for things such as, well, the beer labels.
Yes, beer labels. This was something I participated in. We had a beer label competition. If you buy enough beer from the Big Rock Brewery here in Calgary, you can make your own special labels for the event. When I first heard about the opportunity to see if I could out-design the Design department, I leapt a the chance. I came in second. Behind Adrian. A guy who works in Design. Oh well, maybe next year.
We arrived at Critical Mass on Thursday morning with bags in hand, ready for the nine-odd hour trip to Westbank, British Columbia. (For those of you who’ve never heard of Westbank, it’s a little south of Kelowna, on the east side of Lake Okanagan.) Luckily, we were not taking school busses (I can only imaging the agony of sitting in those for more than three hours at a time) — were taking Greyhound.
The busses started arriving around 8:00am. We were told they would arrive at 7:30am. This was a tactic to make sure we all were there on time. As it stands, the fourth (and last) bus didn’t arrive until nearly 8:45, and we didn’t leave until nearly 9:00 (despite the threatened 8:30 departure time). Again, all of this was planned with an iota of experience — I assume they had problems last year, and figured it would be worse this time around.
Luckily, our Greyhound busses came equipped with all the modern conveniences: Reclining seats, air conditioning, and a VCR with two TVs. That meant movies. And what better movies to travel with than the Indiana Jones trilogy? Well, if you’re Mike (on of my co-workers, and a huge fan of independent films), it also includes "Waiting for Guffman". Mike, it seems, was the only one really interested in it. I would have preferred to see "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" instead, which was bumped when Mike beat us to the VCR.
We made three stops along the way — a quick one at some rest stop, one at Golden for lunch, and a third one in some rinky-dink place north of Vernon so all the smokers on the busses wouldn’t shake it apart from nic-fits. Every time we had a stop, Pat (whom we labelled "Bus Masta P" — he was in charge of all the busses) got stressed out trying to keep everyone on schedule by getting them back on. I don’t think he’ll willingly do that again next year.
We arrived at the Cove Resort around 5:30pm PDT. Now, before you get all "oooh, a resort!", this is at best a word that would describe the long-term plans. There’s no shuffleboard, no sailboats, no beach — not even anything remotely resembling a restaurant. It’s an old farm converted to 26 cabins and a small motel-like building. My cabin, in fact, used to be the farm house. Even all those cabins couldn’t house our bulk — we needed the large field to accommodate an additional 20 or so tents.
There were no real plans that evening, aside from getting settled (which took a while — we had a lot of stuff to unload from the busses), eat (which we did, around 7:00 that evening), drink (which we did in abundance), and relax (which came after the aforementioned drinking). Many of us congregated at Cabin #6, home of the Conners Brothers and Colin — a perfect recipe for trouble, especially when four tenters were regularly crashing on the cabin floor rather than sleeping outside. Cabin #6 became legend by the following morning.
I didn’t rise until nearly 1pm, opting to catch up on a lot of sleep. The day was warm and sunny, and people were milling about. I headed to the main tent, where I hoped lunch was being served (I didn’t really know what time it was, I didn’t know for most of the weekend). I was in luck — lunch was slowly beginning to end, and snatching up a meal was as simple as walking up to the table and taking whatever I wanted.
The day was slow and lazy — the way a day should be. Others went off in search of amenities such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. I went off in search of things I could watch. I opted not to actually participate in anything, trying not to do anything physically active at all. (This was a conscious decision ... it came right after I realized I’d forgotten my swimsuit.) There were plenty of things for me to watch — people were playing sports all over the place, including horseshoes, bocce, volleyball, soccer, and touch football.
The "major" event of the day was the wakeboarding demonstration. Ted (who lives barely five minutes from the Resort) is basically a big kid, and is always looking for new toys and things to do. (This is why we also had a houseboat that would take us on short rides on the lake, and Ted took extreme pleasure in whipping people around in his new super-fast powerboat.) Ted hired professional wakeboarders (some of whom had placed as high as fifth in Wakestock, the wakeboarding championships) to not only show us what they could do, but teach others to do it as well.
The demonstration sucked.
Okay, to be fair, they were good. The only problem was that their best demonstration was nearly half a kilometre away, and nearly impossible to see. Our cheering could be best described as "reserved".
Hamburgers were on the menu that night. We were lucky — our meals were provided by a catering company (who did an excellent job). Last year, those who went on the trip were preparing their own meals. Relaxation is much easier when you only need to show up and eat.
Entertainment for the first night in Westbank was courtesy of several "amateur" (though they certainly sound professional) DJs who work in various parts of the company. The second night’s entertainment was also musical, but certainly more ... interesting.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: "You did karaoke??" Well, I didn’t do karaoke, but just about everyone else did. Why didn’t I? Aside from a terminal case of stage fright, I also happen to be extremely self-conscious about my inability to sing. Hey, when you take a jab at yourself in front of your friends (such as "I sing horribly"), and they don’t respond the way friends normally do (such as "Oh, you’re not *that* bad"), you know you suck.
Mike (the guy with the independent film fetish) was anxious to get on stage and show his stuff. (Mike’s a little weird.) He wasn’t the first on stage. That was Geoff Mackenzie.
Geoff’s a character. (Must be in the name.) He was dressed in jeans (pants and jacket), a somewhat-loud cowboy-like shirt, and a corduroy cowboy hat. The first song of the evening was "Stand By Your Man". And no, he didn’t change the lyrics one bit. Geoff’s performance (with heavy doses of ham) set the tone for the evening, and it went downhill from there.
Chris (my roommate, friend, and fellow troublemaker) was up shortly after Geoff. Chris erupted onto the stage with an opening that went somewhat like this: "Aight, they didn’t have any NWA, so instead, this one goes out to all my Critical Mass niggaz and all my Critical Mass shortys. Let’s roll up on this motherfucker..." He did Lionel Ritchie’s "Easy (Like Sunday Morning)". With audience participation. Shannon, another of my co-workers who knows Chris, was sitting on the balcony outside his motel room (there was a motel-like building that housed another six rooms of people) was duly impressed with Chris’ performance. It led to a return to the stage for a duet with Rob (who’s in Design, I think) to do "Ebony and Ivory". Rob and Chris lapped up the audience’s appreciation.
During a needed sprint back to my cabin (bathroom break), I missed the opening of one of the headlining acts for the night: Ted and Dewi. They brought their own music (they figured the karaoke company wouldn’t have the song they wanted to do) — Backstreet Boys’ "Larger Than Life". Only they had help — four others who did the now-famous chair dance while Ted and Dewi crooned. (I should point out that this was not only set up well in advance, but the chair dancers practiced their moves before strutting their stuff in public.) The audience might as well have been from an actual Backstreet Boys concert from the amount of screaming and cheering...
Geoff came back for another round of fun, performing that Johnny Cash classic, "Ring of Fire". You’d never think so many people would be so into karaoke. I guess it all depends on who’s up performing. I think I have a whole new appreciation for that brand of entertainment. For example, we staged the first ever Tiffany mosh pit when two singing souls (Steve and Andrew) did their rendition of "I Think We’re Alone Now". It was a sign of things to come.
Anyway, Geoff stole the show again, and then managed to get everyone in the tent to break a few hundred noise by-laws by screaming at the top of their lungs. I think my Aunt Alaine and Uncle David (who live on the other side of the lake) could probably have heard us that evening. Luckily, the cops never showed up.
The fight for the limelight also included Shawn Conners (one of the Conners Brothers). Shawn is about as perfect a specimen of a (pardon the language) "shit disturber" as I have ever met. He is also an artiste (note the extra ‘e’) and the biggest honey-glazed ham I have ever had the pleasure to have known. He and Colin did a great version of Milli Vanilli’s "Blame It On The Rain". But Shawn wasn’t content with a simple singing version — he had to go that one step further and dump a bottle of water on himself (very much like in "Flashdance" — I still think they should have been doing "What A Feeling") while striking an overly-dramatic pose.
I made a hasty departure when Dave and his posse started singing "American Pie". Keith’s a great singer, but it was a riot just waiting to happen. I hung out at the fire pit for a while, talking with some of the people who had fled the chaos, before retreating to Cabin #6 sometime around 1am, after the karaoke had broken down into a rave.
I woke earlier the next morning and found my way to the big tent, where others were waiting for lunch. Breakfast had just ended, but I didn’t miss anything (muffins and fruit salad every morning were not enough of a reason for me to get up early). Lunch that day were smokies, and the tent was packed with hungry people waiting to eat.
The afternoon was relaxed again. Some people slept, many others disappeared into town again, in search of amenities. Several went to see "X-Men" playing at the local cheapie theatre. I wandered around, talked with people, watched others try to wakeboard, sat around the campfire (which I think never went out from the moment it was lit), and watched others play cards.
Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t bored. Boredom comes when you want to do something, but are unable to determine what it is you want to do. I was trying to avoid activity. I was letting my mind turn to mush for a while. By purposely not thinking or doing anything, I was letting myself relax. I haven’t done it in a very long time, and it was hugely relaxing.
One thing that required the use of my brain somewhat was reading the paper. Someone had left a copy of the Vancouver Sun on the table in my cabin, and I figured I’d see what was going down in the Lower Mainland. Aside from a massive sewer rupture spilling millions of litres of untreated sewage into Burrard Inlet, it seemed that not much had changed since I left — same political name-calling, same sports successes, and school was back in session (you know it’s a slow news day when...) It was very comforting to read a newspaper — I hadn’t read one since I was staying at my Aunt and Uncle’s here in Calgary.
The weather wasn’t cooperating one bit. While the previous day had been nice (although the night had been quite cold), we had bursts of rain for most of the day. Although right before dinner, we found ourselves gazing at the largest and most vivid double-rainbow I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a complete rainbow before, either — usually the top or either end is missing, but this one was a complete 180-degree arc. It was awe-inspiring. The joke that immediately followed was a query about how much Ted paid to have a rainbow appear before dinner.
Our last supper in Westbank was steak and salmon, with baked potatoes and Caesar salad. Those of us who could, pigged out. Aside from the bones, it was great. (Although we apparently ran out of salmon, and I feel a little guilty for getting as much as I did. Only a little — it was Pacific salmon, after all.)
Dessert was a special one that night. It was Ted’s birthday, and we had three cakes to spread around. Two of the cakes bore our Critical Mass propaganda logo, the third bore a relief sculpture of a caricature of Ted’s face. In icing. It was beautiful ... and the artist (Mark Gervais) didn’t get fired for it.
It was Caribbean night. This meant loud polyester shirts, shorts, and lots and lots and lots and lots of booze. (We went through between 9,000 and 13,000 pounds of booze in the weekend.) The Caribbean music (although good), lasted only long enough to get Ted (who was a little past plastered) to take a few swings at a piñata. Then the DJs got back into their swing, and the rave got going again. This was probably the most intense it had been since we got there, but most people realized that this was their last night to really let loose. And most of them did.
Not being a dancer, nor finding anything else to do at that point, I found myself back at the fire pit again. Our group of six (comprising nearly every level and department in the company) engaged in hearty conversation. Our numbers soon swelled, when Ted arrived. (Wherever Ted goes, people go. It’s either an Einsteinian thing where people flow to the gravity well formed by Ted’s immense power, or they’re drawn like moths to candle flames. Either way, we soon had a lot of people.
Ted was a little dismayed to find it was only 10:50. He had hoped it was 12:50. He wanted to go home, but thought it would be ... well, wimpy of him to leave before 1am. Ted was wiped — the day had really taken a dent out of him, and he had two more hours to survive. Soon, there were about 50 people around the fire, and I’d lost my seat.
Around midnight, the Rave Revolt began. First it started with Ted commenting that they’d played the same song for over three hours. Dan went over to "correct" the problem. He reported back (sans a change in music) saying Dewi protested, offering a change after "the first set". Some of the more "senior" people (those over the age of 35) didn’t much like this answer. Ted decided it was time for action, and walked back towards the tent, muttering something about "Christmas bonuses". A few minutes later, lyrics returned to the music, and the beat was noticeably different.
It’s something that I think the older folk don’t quite understand. Rave music is meant to have a single beat that lasts for hours. It’s a challenge to keep the beat while changing the songs. The beat, although important, isn’t everything — melodies change, different layers of sound are woven in and out, even some lyrics thrown in for good measure. But it’s a sign of a skilled DJ who can make several hours of music sound like one song.
By about 2:30 in the morning, there were only nine: Chris, myself, Ben, Adrian, Virgil, Mike (different Mike), Teak, Simone, and Marcie. We talked. All night. Our first major topic of conversations was 80s TV themes. Ben is the King of 80s TV. He knows the themes from virtually every TV show that aired from 1979 to 1991, except the really obscure ones like Automan, Manimal, Outlaws, and The Highwayman (bonus points to you if you a) even remember what they were, and double points if b) you can describe them.)
Marcie and Simone left shortly before we finished that topic, saying "it’s time for bed". Adrian suggested we do movie quotes — you give the quote, and the rest had to guess it. Chris and I had a decided advantage, having a) watched about a billion movies, and b) spent a great deal of time memorizing lines. For everyone who thought we were wasting our time, I offer you the fruits of our labour. Of course, Chris and I were always telling each other not to speak up, because we knew that the other would know the quote.
Yeah, yeah, we act like we’re married. Like we haven’t heard that a thousand times before. It doesn’t help that we’ve been good friends for 13 years.
Somewhere around 3:30am, Simone and Marcie returned to our circle, not having made it to bed. They’d been distracted by another social gathering elsewhere (assumedly not one as geeky as ours), but instead of going to bed when it broke up, they came back to us. (So I guess we’re not that geeky. No comments from the peanut gallery!)
Somewhere around 4:00am or so, it began to rain. A lot. It was the sort of rain you knew would get you utterly soaked. And with the wind picking up, it was going to get us cold very quickly. We retreated to the big tent. We flipped on the lights, cranked up the heater, and returned to our little games. Ben bailed on us about 30 minutes later, leaving just the Group of Eight.
When morning finally arrived, we started the process of getting ready to leave. Chris and I showered, packed, and hauled our stuff out to the Resort office porch, awaiting arrival of the busses. We then ate breakfast (muffins and fruit salad) and watched the sun come up. Figures that the day we leave good weather returns to Westbank.
When the busses showed up, people started jumping on them. That started trouble. People (in general) are stupid. People don’t think about big pictures, what needs to be done, bla bla bla. That’s why we have visionaries. And anal retentive busy-bodies. (They’re often one-in-the-same, but that’s another long essay.) This is when I called upon the bus leaders to get their acts in gear, or we weren’t getting all the sound equipment, leftovers, and tents onto the busses.
Chrissie (now the designated Bus Master), quickly knighted me and gave me the power to order others around. Holding everyone else back, we loaded our leftovers and whatnot onto the busses before letting everyone else suck up the rest of the space with their belongings. Packing took about 30 minutes.
Chris was nowhere in sight. Having made mention to it earlier in the day (or later in the night before, take your choice), he had probably grabbed a seat with Marcie. (I would find out I was right after our first stop in Revelstoke.) I was seated behind Yasmin, one of our new people — she’s an Information Architect, and in front of Rich, one of our Project Managers. Along with most of the bus, we slept most of the way back to Calgary.
We watched three movies: "Dumb and Dumber", "Big Trouble In Little China", and part of "True Lies". When I was awake, I wasn’t watching the movies most of the time — I was watching the scenery. The day was so bright, and I wasn’t driving, that I got my first really good look at the sights to be seen in the mountains. There were a few times that I wished I could have stopped the bus just so I could look around.
Arriving in Calgary, chaos ensued when we unloaded. But soon Chris and I were safe and sound at home. Overall, it was a great weekend, except for the 18 hours spent on the road. Those were a little more tedious. But I can think of worse things — 18 hours across the Prairies, for example.
This morning, people were tired, foggy, semi-unconcious — basically everything you’d expect from such a weekend. Productivity will take a day or two to get back to normal. Whatever normal is...
One last note: It was minus one this morning as I walked to work. The shorts are gone, the fleece is out, and the sandals are bare moments from being packed away. Summer is definitely over.