How to throw a surprise party (and not get caught)

Surprise parties are one of those great little joys in life. While I’ve never had one thrown for me, I’ve thrown a couple myself. They’re not the easiest things to do, to be certain, but they are definitely some of the most fun.
What makes a surprise party so good? If you’re the host or planner, it’s from the giddiness that forms from knowing what will happen. If you’re the guest of honour (or the victim, depending on your point of view), you get the joy of knowing that people have planned something just for you. It’s a special feeling … or rather, I would hope that it is (not actually knowing myself).
I’m going to speak to the planners, which I assume is why you’ve come to this page. (If you think someone is planning a surprise party for you and are trying to find out if it’s true, I can offer no hints here. If they’re following these suggestions, you won’t know until it’s too late.) You’ve got a hard task ahead of you, but it is a rewarding one if it’s done right.
At all times, you need to remember who is in control: you. Everything that happens is because of you. If you lose control, don’t expect things to go off without a hitch. You can delegate, but you need to know that those you’ve delegated to are trustworthy and reliable. Otherwise, your intended surprise might end up a dud.
There are some basic rules you should follow to ensure that your party goes well and without hitches. Above all, you don’t want to get caught in making the preparations, and spill the beans to the indenting surprisee.

  1. Secrecy are the first and second words
  2. Separate and isolate communications
  3. Better to over-involve than under-involve
  4. Inform clearly and explicitly
  5. Know what’s going on at all times
  6. Be mindful of what you say
  7. Cover your tracks
  8. Make sure you have a backup plan

Secrecy are the first and second words

The first rule of the Surprise Party is: you do not talk about the Surprise Party. The second rule of the Surprise Party is: you do not talk about the Surprise Party.
You never know who’s around and don’t think for a second that the six degrees of separation is a myth. So idle chatter about a surprise party is not a wise idea. Similarly, you should always make sure that any communications you send are to specific people, be it by phone, email, or IM. Never send things by post (unless you’re certain there is no way information could leak), by fax (it’s out in the open), or leave voicemails on residential lines (especially if the intended victim lives there).
Swear everyone to secrecy. This means they cannot discuss it with anyone else except you. And ideally, unless they’re involved with the planning or execution, they shouldn’t need to. The less anyone talks, the less chance of the wrong people finding out. As the WWII saying goes: Loose lips sink ships.

Separate and isolate communications

As alluded to above, you need to make sure your communications lines are clear and isolated. This cuts down on crosstalk chatter and sidebars, which are guaranteed to cause problems.
When you talk to people, talk to them individually. This is best because you get immediate feedback, and there’s no question about whether or not they understand what is being asked of them. If you have to do discussions with a group, make sure each person acknowledges what you have said and/or asked. The last thing you need is ambiguity.
Make sure your communications are direct — never make public statements. If you have to send out invitations, make sure that they’re received in a private manner (e.g. the office, through email, talking on the phone). Never leave messages where others can see or hear them, especially if it’s the person you’re surprising.
Finally, don’t communicate unless you have to. Updates are fine, but don’t randomly send out information until you’re ready to do so. This lessens the change of leaks.

Better to over-involve than under-involve

On the flip-side of secrecy is an inadvertent foul-up due to conflicting plans. The best laid plans can go to pot in mere seconds by the actions of someone who is not privy to the surprise party. So when you’re planning, make sure that everyone within the sphere of influence knows what is going on. They don’t have to be invited, just need to know that they can’t foul things up.
Naturally, you can’t cover for everything. There are always things that you simply can’t plan for. (For that, see “Make sure you have a backup plan”.) Consider it as an 80/20 rule. You can cover 80% of all possible actions with relative ease. The remaining 20% are a lot riskier and difficult, and might not interfere with your plans, anyway.
You need a list of culprits. Some will be invited, some not. The list of invitees is up to you, but they still need to be informed:

  • friends
  • significant others
  • co-workers
  • teammates
  • housemates
  • roommates
  • spouse
  • parents
  • siblings
  • aunts and uncles
  • cousins
  • nieces and nephews
  • uncle’s cousin’s roommate’s older brother’s girlfriend’s dog

Okay, that last one was a bit much, but you get the point.
Really consider who you’ve got on your list. Each of these people will have contact on a regular basis, and could introduce plans that could thoroughly foul up anything you’ve got going.
Family is particularly important, especially if the party does not directly involve family. Family is the single most powerful thing for some people, and is the reason why your intended guest might decline your casual invitation to spend time with their parents. So if you’re throwing a party, make sure the family knows what’s going on.
Plan big. Get as many people as you can. Sure, you can throw a small surprise party, but why bother when you can have a big one? Besides, you can get a much louder yell out of more people.

Inform clearly and explicitly

Once you’ve got your key list of people, make sure you give details. Tell them everything they need to know: time, place, reason, attire (if any specifics are desired), and who the other people are.
Make sure that you get accurate contact information for each person, and ensure that it’s secure (e.g. that no-one else might inadvertently overhear something they shouldn’t). You might have to employ one or more of your intended invitees to help out if you don’t know enough people up-front.
Don’t be vague at any time. Once you have the details, make sure they’re broadcast to everyone else. Make sure everyone else knows the details, so there’s no question. People need to make sure that they arrive at the surprise location before the unsuspecting target(s) arrive. There’s nothing worse than a surprise with only a few people.

Know what’s going on at all times

Know your details, and know them cold. Make sure you can answer any question about the party or the plans if asked, without having to refer to notes (unless it’s something esoteric). It’s a bit of work, but it’s easier when you’re running around trying to organize things.

Be mindful of what you say

In short, you have to learn to lie.
This is particularly important if you’re the one doing the planning, and the person you’re surprising is close to you (spouse, significant other, friend, family). If you want to conduct a surprise, you need to make sure you don’t tell them anything accidentally.
You also have to make sure they don’t suspect anything. This is the hard part. Humans are inquisitive by nature. If you have a look of “something’s up”, the other party will immediately suspect something. You have to be able to look someone square in the face and say: “No, honey, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Be able to avoid the topic. If they want to plan something for the same time that you’re planning the party, allow them to do so. This will keep them occupied and they will not expect anything than their plans. Defuse the plans as necessary by canceling reservations (while informing of the real plans), or deferring purchases as long as possible. If necessary, go to a backup plan and use some of the invitees to construct a “just in case” scenario to distract.

Cover your tracks

Never leave your plans lying around, even if you live alone. Chances are, someone will see what you’re doing, and if it’s the wrong people, it’s game over. Hide them in drawers (under locks, if needed) or in password-protected files. Delete messages once you see/hear them. Jot down only the most crucial notes.
Create distractions. This is the same technique magicians use to make a ball disappear before your eyes. Make fake plans that will keep someone on their toes. You can even create real plans designed to take the person away from what’s going on, only to bring them back to the surprise to unfold.

Make sure you have a backup plan

No plan is ever perfect. So long as you deal with humanity, you must expect something to go wrong. Be it discovery of the plans, suspicion of a surprise, a sudden illness, disappearance of the subject (hey, it’s been known to happen), or transportation failures, make sure you’ve got something in your back pocket to save the day.
Some things you can plan for. If the gig is up, and you’ve got a few hours before the surprise is planned to go off, admit to a surprise. Just not *the* surprise. Grab a couple of friends and set them up at a different location. Do a small surprise there. Have them all need to leave for different reasons (when in reality, they’re all going the same place you will be going), and then head to the actual surprise.
Some things you can’t. If the gig is up less than an hour away, you might pretty much be screwed. At that point, you might have to resort to the worst thing you can do: ask that they act surprised when they enter the room, if nothing else than for the benefit of everyone else.

A few suggestions

The Home Surprise Party.
This is an easy one, if planned well. Ensure that a trusted person has the keys to the house or apartment. Make sure everyone arrives at least an hour ahead of schedule for decorations, etc. Make sure all cars are parked away from the home. Set a window of 10 minutes before you arrive with the subject so that no-one comes in. If you can, call ahead with a pre-defined ring (twice, and then twice again) to set a “five minute warning). Lights should be off (or in whatever expected state they should be in), and all evidence (especially shoes) should be hidden.
The Office Surprise Party.
A little more difficult, but often the most fun. Call the person away from their desk (get a manager to call them into a closed office or another floor or building) for 30 minutes. Decorate their desk, string lights and streamers, set out snacks and cake (if possible). Get the manager to walk them back to their desks such that it would be difficult for them to see what is about to happen until it’s too late. This works best in environments with actual offices or tall-walled cubicles.
The Central Location Surprise Party.
Sometimes, due to size, you’ll need to hold a surprise party at a restaurant or hotel ballroom. These are harder, since you might draw immediate attention. The trick is then to give the person a reason to have to go there. In the case of a restaurant, you can go under even the most simple reason: lunch or dinner. Make sure you have reservations for all the guests, and make sure the restaurant knows that it’s a surprise party. Ballrooms are much harder, since they have special purposes. You can play it by going to a hotel’s restaurant, and go into a different room. If it’s a community hall, say you were asked to pick something up.

Abort! Abort! Abort!

Okay, let’s face facts. This could go wrong. You might not actually succeed. There are a million things that can go wrong, and you might get to the point where you have to pull the plug and abandon the attempt.
First off, don’t panic. Secondly, don’t feel bad. And thirdly — and most importantly — don’t tell the Surprisee. EVER.
There’s a couple of reasons for this. You (or someone else) might try to surprise them again. There’s no sense in tipping off your potential victim by telling them “oh, well, we tried, but it didn’t work” — they might thing you might try again. And if you do, the surprise might not be as effective.
But most notably — I think, anyway — telling someone runs risk of actually hurting their feelings. Not for the failed effort, but because it might be something they really, really wanted. Finding out that you came close to having a wonderful surprise, but it won’t happen is … well, it’s really hard to learn, and it can be very depressing. This is not something you want your surprisee to go through.
So, yes, you may have to just suck it up. You tried, it didn’t work, and aside from those who you’d already talked to (and you should make sure they know why it’s aborted), no-one else needs ┬áto know. In the end, it’s better for all.

Chasing CPR Empress 2816 from Golden to Calgary

Sometimes, I think I’m part dog. They chase cars. Me? I chase trains. I don’t know why.
Canadian Pacific is sending 2816 across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal in May this year, bringing along a load of very high-paying customers. The tour, arranged by a company in England, charged USD$25,000 per person for the experience. Supposedly, the trip sold out almost immediately. I can certainly understand why.
To prepare for this rather large excursion, 2816 has spent the large portion of the last six months undergoing a rather significant overhaul in Vancouver at the soon-to-be-demolished BC Rail Steam Shops. (Demolished because BC Rail is now under the control of the corporation formerly known as Canadian National Railways, and they have no need for steam shops in valuable rail yard property.) After a few tests, someone (not sure who, nor am I going to complain) felt a good shakedown run was needed.
A run out to Calgary.
As soon as the rail community catches wind of something like this, plans start swinging into shape. Although not publicized like the Inaugural Run (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]), there was still a fair bit of information being distributed. It is safe to say that there will likely be more publicity behind the Trans-Canada Steam Express when it runs 10 May to 30 May. (With ticket prices like that, and the train itself as the showpiece, you can expect to hear about it.)
On Saturday, I decided I would chase from Golden to Calgary — a distance of about 260 km. I wouldn’t go all the way to Golden, since the canyon from just east of Golden for about 25 km is more-or-less useless for shooting. Instead, I started at the roadway that we used to go down for the Kootenay River Runners for whitewater rafting. We were just east of the area Canadian Pacific calls Palliser.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Geez, Geoff, you’ve already chased that thing twice before! (See [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]] and [[Chasing CPR Empress 2816 to Brooks]].) Why do you want to do it again?” Simple: No two chases are the same. There’s always something different, and you always meet new people. Besides, it’s as good a reason as any to get out of the city for a few hours.
I was originally not going to travel alone — I had hoped Graham might come along. Unfortunately, Graham and his wife are preparing to move out of their condo, so he didn’t have time. He did offer me one bit of advice: get a shot at Ottertail. I knew of the place called Ottertail, but admittedly had no idea where it was. By description, I had thought I’d have seen at least a sign for Ottertail Creek. As it stands, I ended up in Palliser, giving up on finding Ottertail to the west.
A good 40 minutes early before 2816 would even depart from Golden, I took the opportunity to take in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains in spring. It was about two degrees, but the chill was stayed by a bright sun. When the nearby Trans-Canada Highway wasn’t carrying vehicles past, you could hear the wind whistling through the conifer needs, a small babbling brook, birds of several varieties, and the distant rumble of east-bound freight trains.
Unlike the last time, CP wasn’t about to shut down the Mountain and Laggan subdivisions just so The Empress would have an easy go of its route. The freight still had to go through. A lumbering eastbound popped into view about 20 minutes after I first heard it, blatting its horn as it approached the crossing. This gave me a chance to take a test photo of the angle I had wanted. Assuming 2816 arrived before it was too late, the sunlight would be good.
Not long afterwards, a CP Police truck rolled down the logging road from the highway. This was my first sign that I had for certain not missed 2816. The officer told me that there was a video crew shooting HDTV for the History Channel, or some such thing, and that they’d probably want to set up around where I was standing at the time. I thanked the officer for the information and let him know that I’d keep it in mind. With that, he bade me a good day, and rolled off to wherever he needed to be next.
A lot of people give railway police a lot of grief. They think of them as “near cops” rather than the full thing. Most people don’t realize that railway police have the same authority as regular police within 500 metres of railway property. That means for (at minimum) a kilometre-wide swath of land running across several parts of the country, a railway police officer can arrest and charge you with a criminal offense, the same as the RCMP.
Most of them, for the record, are nice people. A few throw the odd ‘tude, and a couple are a tad on the racist side (particularly east of Calgary, near the Native reservations). But treat the police with respect and don’t try to be an idiot, and generally they’ll treat you the same. I haven’t had any negative experiences with railway cops — just tell them what you’re doing, and they’ll let you keep doing it. (Unless it’s illegal, of course.)
Before long, I was no longer the only person at the crossing. An elderly gentleman, who knew some of the Rocky Mountain Rail Society members (he had received news of the schedule from them), and his wife took up station by the crossing. The man set up his camera a bit down the track, and the woman stayed in the truck to relay information from the radio chatter. (I need to get myself a scanner one of these days.)
By the time 2816 could be heard chugging up the hill, I had joined the older man on the south side of the tracks — the sun had risen far enough that my north vantage was decidedly poorer than it had been earlier. Over the loaded chuffing was the distinctive whine of an SD40-2, #6067 (in desperate need of a new paint job, I might add) following right behind the two tenders. CPR 2816 is a powerful locomotive, but doesn’t have the oomph needed to pull the train it carried over the Mountain and Laggan subdivisions, facilitating the need for the diesel. (The Empress now has MU controls, so it can operate the diesels directly, rather than having to have additional crew.)
On the train were CP 2816, its two tender cars, diesel locomotive SD40-2 6067, three tuscan red boxcars (including the much-needed tool car), the “Dominion” (buffet car), the “Smokie Smith” (recently renamed after a war hero), the “H.B. Bowen” (functioning as the CP crew car), and two California Zephyr Budd-built cars, the “Silver Lariat” and the bullet-nosed “Silver Solarium”. (The Zephyr cars are apparently for a hoity-toity excursion from Calgary to Vancouver, and were deadheaded with 2816 — though there were passengers on the cars from Golden to Calgary.)
As we were at a crossing, we got to hear the new whistle on 2816 as it approached. For some reason I have yet to learn, CP went out and acquired the whistle from 2-10-4 #5935, currently resting at the Canadian Railway Museum in St. Constant, Quebec (see 28 September 2002). How they got it, I can’t even begin to imagine (aside from a large cash infusion into the non-profit’s coffers, anyway). Why they got it, I’m not sure. But I do have to say, it sounds nice. Different, though. I’m not yet decided if I like it or 2816’s previous whistle.
Leaving Palliser, I headed down the road to try and find my next spot. Finding 2816 having stopped not far away (the switches were full with two trains, and one had to move before 2816 could proceed), I blasted ahead to an overpass near the east end of Leanchoil. It would have been an ideal photo, the sunlight on a perfect angle, were it not for a westbound intermodal on the east track, blocking the view of the west track. Dejected, I continued east.
I spotted a crossing not far from the stop, spied easily by all the cars parked at the side of the road, and people milling around. I quickly pulled in and tried to find a good spot to take the photo. Although the track itself bended nicely, there wasn’t any suitable high ground from which to get a good shot. I had to settle for something mildly interesting. As 2816 rolled past, I waved at the passengers in the cars, as I had done at Palliser. And then I spotted her — my friend Terri was on board, about halfway down Dominion, waving back. She knew I was big on the chase.
At an unnamed bend a few miles away, I found several people camped out at the side of the highway. It looked like a decent area, and thought this might be the infamous Ottertail. It wasn’t. Still, I stuck around for a photo, and chatted with the other chasers while waiting for the train. It soon whistled its way around a bend, and shutters flew open and shut. Then it was back in the car and off to the next point.
On the way west, I’d seen a small bridge that I thought might be Ottertail. The only person there was having difficulty setting up his shot. He didn’t know what the area was called, but it wasn’t Ottertail. It was also a lousy shot due to so many trees between the ridge and the bridge. Five minutes and a few sticks of dynamite would have done wonders for photography…
Driving further east, I came across a large number of cars parked at the sides of the highway. Simple rule when you’re chasing trains: if there are a lot of cars parked at the side of the road, chances are there are a lot of people who know what the angle there is like. I scampered out of my car, scooted across the highway and hopped the concrete barrier. I hiked over to a creek valley where the people were standing, to find that I had arrived at the mythical Ottertail. It’s a beautiful area to shoot, despite a couple of poorly-placed trees.
As I took up my position, I glanced around to see who else I recognized from the previous stops. One of them I did a double-take on, because suddenly, I realized that I knew the person.
It was Mel, the photographer from McKinley Masters. He and I have been working on the McKinley Masters website, improving the content with more pictures. I hadn’t realized that Mel chased trains, too. It was something else we had in common. We didn’t get a chance to talk, though — it wasn’t long before 2816 came barrelling through.
Focus. Click. Snap. Run. Drive.
A few of us staged ourselves at the bridge over the CPR at the west end of the Field yard. One even got up the gumption to go down to the ground level and shoot from there (the elderly man I had met at Palliser, who was still with the rest of us, had suggested the same).
The train needed to stop at Field to get batteries for the passenger cars. (Apparently one of them had died.) This gave the photographers a chance to get some up-close shots of the train, and the video crew to readjust their camera on the front of the locomotive.
I left long before the train did and headed up to Cathedral, where a short tunnel covers the eastward rise up the Kicking Horse Pass. It’s a great place to get a few shots. I wasn’t the first to arrive, and I wasn’t the last. We probably had about 25 people up there at the high point, including a few CP employees (notably The Empress’ runahead crew, and the manager for the Royal Canadian Pacific passenger train), and the video crew. We had a while to wait.
It was cold. Barely above zero, and really windy. There’s not a lot of cover up there, either. The videographer stood out in a button-up shirt for the better part of 30 minutes before sending his partner back for his jacket. It even snowed a bit while we waited. It wasn’t as cold as when I chased 6060 back in 2001, but it was still uncomfortable.
Originally, 2816 was to meet the Royal Canadian Pacific (heading out to Vancouver for some big-name excursion) at Cathedral, where a siding allows two trains to pass on the mountain. Owing to a bit of a delay in Field, we were treated to a runby of the RCP on it’s way west. Led by 1401 (1400 apparently is in the shop), we found the errant 3084, which normally rides behind the Empress. We photographers would have far preferred 3084 to 6067, but then we weren’t the ones forking out for paying customers.
The Empress soon chugged up the mountain, belching huge clouds of smoke as it struggled with the weight behind it. You could hear the whine of 6067 kicking in when it was needed, and dying down when the grade eased up a bit. The hoggers on 2816 like to make her work whenever possible — most hoggers do in general — so killed the diesel as much as they could get away with.
I stopped at the Spiral Tunnel lookout, despite the parking area being closed, and snapped off a couple of photos before continuing to the summit. There, I found a pair of CP employees (both chasing the train) who had climbed up the side of a fair steep hill to get a good vantage. The light was lousy, but I tried it anyway.
On the east side of the pass, west of Lake Louise, I found my little bridge again to take some more pictures. It was only myself and a pair of men with their children. We almost didn’t hear 2816 coming — it’s all downhill to Lake Louise, and neither locomotives were under any load at all. They sailed right through, the linkages clanking on 2816, followed by the hum of the diesel.
I bypassed Lake Louise completely, opting for Morant’s Curve instead. The last time I was at Morant’s Curve was for 2816’s inaugural run (see [[The Inaugural Run of the Steam Locomotive CPR Empress, CP 2816]]), it was about one degree and early in the morning. This time, it was a bit warmer (about six degrees) and well into afternoon. The light wasn’t going to be great, but unless 2816 ran from the first thing in the morning, the light would never be ideal.
The video crew arrived just as 2816 made its approach to the curve. I have no idea if they even got anything useable on film. After that, it was a harrowing race east along Highway 1A (average speed: 90 km/h, including all the hairpins; average speed limit: 60 km/h) just to keep up. I caught shots at mile 100, shot through Banff to just east of Canmore (I was the only one there), the Highway 1X bridge east of Exshaw, and finally back to Calgary.
I laid in wait at Edworthy Park, where the CP line runs through into town. I had hoped for a better setting, but the leaves aren’t out fully, so I had a bit of a more dismal backdrop. My camera battery also decided to give me trouble, and I missed the nose shot, and had to settle for a departing view.
Didn’t matter, though. I had what I wanted: a full day of running through the mountains, following a hot hunk of iron on wheels. I still think I’m quite insane for this bizarre little hobby of mine, and I certainly can’t explain why I do it, but I love it all the same.

Going Curling for the First Time

As the weather turns more spring-like in Calgary, you start hearing unmistakable calls in the air: the robins, the magpies, the geese, the curlers…
“Sweep! SWEEP! Harder! HARDER!”
One of my friends/co-workers, Jim, had declared some time ago that he wanted to try curling before 2014. Why 2014? Got me. But Mia decided that Jim was going to give it a whirl a full decade early, so organized a surprise curling event. She rounded up 14 other people keen to throw heavy objects across an ice rink, and on Saturday, we all headed down to the Calgary Curling Club just off Memorial Drive.
The club was established in 1888. (Curling is very popular in the Canadian prairies. Probably because in the dead of winter, there ain’t much else to do if you don’t ski.) The current building is much newer than that — I’d put it around 1960s, but that’s a bit of a guess. It’s not very large, but has enough room for a curling equipment shop (gotta buy your brooms, rocks, shoes, and snazzy uniforms somewhere, y’know), bar lounge, small cafeteria, and eight rinks.
You’ll never see the Scotts Tournament of Hearts broadcast here. I don’t even think there’s enough room for a single camera to be set up.
The club had a set of rental equipment for those of us unable to bring some of our own. (Don’t laugh — 2/3 of all Canadians have curled. You can bet that a large portion of them have their own equipment.) This amounted to curling brooms and what I can only describe as slippers.
See, when you curl, you spend most of your time on the ice. A curling ice rink, however, is not like an ice hockey rink. That kind of ice is very hard and very slippery. The ice on a curling rink is a little softer (you can just barely see your breath in a curling rink) and is covered with thousands of little bumps, created to help the curling rock move more easily.
This means you can actually walk on a curling rink in sneakers and (unless you have really poor balance) not fall flat on your ass. (Well, I suppose if you’ve had too much to drink, that could certainly lead to problems, but that’s another issue.) However, that also causes a minor problem: being able to sweep the rock. This is where the slipper comes in. Worn on the foot opposite to the one you throw with, this hard-plastic slipper (worn over the shoe) lets you slide across the ice more easily.
Hard-core curlers have special shoes: one slippery, one not.
We entered the rink, took our two sheets of ice, and proceeded to try throwing a rock for the first time. Aside from Reid — whose parents both curl (which means that Reid’s curled a few times) — and James (who hadn’t curled in 10 years), we were all newbies. All I knew from curling I’d learned from TV and the movie “Men With Brooms”. (Which, surprisingly enough, was more than I’d thought.)
After throwing rocks back and forth for about a half hour, we all gathered to divide into teams. We chose our skips (the team captains) from the four women who attended (Mia, Lindsay, Gabrielle, and Jing). They, in turn, chose their teams from the pool of 12 men. Only Jing didn’t choose her significant other, allowing Jiang to be picked by another team.
My team (Jing, Luke, Reid, and myself) went up against Linday’s (including Nathan, Tom, and Steve). A coin toss had us throw the first stone (which, incidentally, is a disadvantage — the last throw, or hammer, is often the decision-maker). Jing would be the first to throw, with Reid and I sweeping. Luke kept house (the target at the opposite end of the rink). We’d then rotate, with Luke shooting, then Reid. I somehow ended up as the anchor, because someone thought I knew what I was doing.
I seem to have knack of convincing people I know things that I don’t know. Wish I knew how I do that.
For those of you who have never curled before, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Even just gliding up and down the rink is a challenge in balance and coordination: your slippered foot glides fairly easily, but you then rest a lot on the one foot, risking balance. Experienced curlers make it look effortless. Your legs get a heck of workout just doing this.
Sweeping is another challenge. You need to move fast enough to stay ahead of the rock, not interfere with the rock or the other sweeper, and not run into anyone else on the other team (although ours at times looked more like a hockey game than a bonspiel). I’ll not mention that your broom is in hard contact with the ice, and you have to sweep back and forth like you’re trying to gouge something out. This while gliding down the ice.
And finally, there’s the “easy” part: shooting. Each stone weighs about 40 lbs and is made out of granite, with a handle embedded in the top. They slide rather nicely across the ice, and make delightful “clonk” sounds when they hit other stones. (They make rather nice “OUCH!” sounds when they hit other players.) The trick is to throw them in such a way that they’ll land on the button (the one-foot diametre centre of the house) — the ideal place to put it — land inside the house, or will set up guards, which block the other team’s ability to knock your stones out.
It takes a bit of practice, and can be murder on your knees (I’ve got bruise just below my right knee from resting it on the ice as I slid across). You need balance. Being right-handed, I had to use my left leg to prop me up, dragging my right leg behind me. Then you have to steer your stone to where you want it to go, and put a spin (if any) on the stone, so you can cause it to curve across the rink.
Despite three newbies, our team fared best out of the four, winning our game 6-2 (playing only six ends of the regular eight). The other two teams were more evenly matched, but took longer to set up and shoot. Our team had surprisingly good accuracy: Jing felt she was underpowered, but proved good; Luke threw the only button in the four teams; Reid had played before, so knew what he was doing; and I attribute my abilities to sheer, dumb luck.
We finished up just after 20:00, which was just as the sixth game in the Vancouver vs. Calgary series was starting. James, Gabrielle, Mia, and Jim headed home, while Lindsay, Tom, Nathan, Scott, and myself headed in the direction of Eau Claire. We figured a couple of beers, a hockey game, and some food were in order. (Reid was supposedly following, but we lost track of him.)
Ending up at the Brewster’s (there were no tables to be found at the Garage), we took up shop, and began our chats amongst the events of the game. I wasn’t too particularly interested in the game (not a Canucks or Flames fan), but I did find the crowd’s reactions interesting.
Like most bars in Calgary, Brewster’s was full of Flames fans. And one Canucks fan, who sat a of couple tables away from us, with his Flames-loving friends. This particular twit was quite happy when the Canucks scored, rising to his feet and yelling “YEAH!” at the top of his lungs — no doubt the whole bar heard him. I was waiting until someone came by to ask him, politely, to shut the hell up. (Never happened.)
For those of you who didn’t watch the game, the Canucks were up 4-0 before the Flames finally scored. The bar erupted. People went nuts. Above it all, I could hear Mr. Canuck: “FOUR to ONE. FOUR to ONE.”
Second goal. Flames fans are louder. Assuming he’d realized he couldn’t broadcast himself over the others, he just shook his head and held up his hands. Four fingers opened in one hand, two in the other.
Third goal. Screams are now heard from various patrons. Mr. Canuck’s friends are standing; he is sitting, arms crossed, shaking his head defiantly.
Fourth goal. Ears start ringing. Mr. Canuck is silent.
I’ll spare you with the rest of the details of the game (‘cuz as you’ve already learned, I didn’t care that much), other than as the overtime periods dragged on, people left. Soon, Scott and I were left at our table, and Mr. Canuck with a couple of his friends remained. He yelled triumphantly when Vancouver finally ended the game, but no-one really cared by that point. It was late.
If only you heard those kinds of reactions for curling. It would make it a lot more interesting.

Driving home from Kelowna

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been on a roadtrip. And although it was only one-way, I didn’t mind it at all.
I flew into Kelowna, but I drove back with Andrea, Tamara, and Dan. Andrea had driven the three of them out on Saturday, and I got the distinct feeling she wasn’t looking forward to the drive back. Understandably so — it’s an eight-hour drive. Unless you’re in a really comfortable vehicle (such as a RoadTrek), long-distance driving can be excrutiating. And nowhere more frustrating than the Trans Canada Highway between Kamloops and Banff.
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David Bowie plays Kelowna Prospera Place

We all woke at about the same time. I was awake, though eyes closed, when I heard Tamara and Andrea whispering. I joined into the conversation, joined shortly thereafter by Dan. At that point, there wasn’t much reason to stay in bed, so I called first shower (I hadn’t had one since getting up “yesterday” in Japan).
The plan had been to go for dim sum for breakfast, at the Chinese restaurant across the road. Not being open until 11:30 proved to be a bit of an issue, however, so we opted for breakfast #2: IHOP. Unlike Calgary, there is an International House of Pancakes in Kelowna. And we weren’t the only ones who knew that. The lineup was clearly out the door, and not just by a few people. It would be a long wait before we got breakfast if we’d stayed. We opted for the much shorter lineup at a nearby Perkins.
It felt good to not eat Japanese for a change.
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Turning Japanese Again, Returning to Canada

I can’t even call this a “last day”. Yesterday, really, was our last day. Today is the packing/travelling day.
And the day to say goodbye to dear friends. I hate leaving friends behind.
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Turning Japanese Again, Tsukiji Market

Why had I gone to Shinagawa to kill time? Simply put, it was far enough away from Tsukiji that walking alone would eat up some time, but not so far that I would be exhausted by the time I got to my destination. I had originally thought Shibuya, but a quick glance at a map ruled it out immediately.
To add to my time getting to Tsukiji, I also planned to walk to Tokyo Tower for some night photographs. Beyond that, I was making up everything as I went. That wasn’t too hard, considering I didn’t really know where I was going. I wasn’t looking at a map, I was just using my sense of direction (usually very reliable) and certain landmarks to know where I was.
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Turning Japanese Again, Touring Tokyo (more still)

We got up a bit later than I’d hoped for, mostly because I’d accidentally turned off the alarm instead of snoozing it.
We took the first train we could get to into Tokyo. I stood, wedged in a space between the door and the side of the bench, watching the scenery pass. At the time, I had thought this to be my last trip into Tokyo. Having been to Japan twice in two years, I can’t honestly imagine returning any time soon.
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Turning Japanese Again, Kamakura

We were up a little earlier than the previous few days, so we could catch a good train out to Kamakura, our excursion for the day.
Kamakura is a small town south of Tokyo, about an hour and three-quarters away from Yotsukaido. From 1192 to 1333, Kamakura was the feudal capital of Japan. There are no signs of its previous governmental past today, but the marks of its present status as a religious centre are very clear. The area is peppered with no less than 84 shrines and temples. Less than Kyoto, but Kamakura is a much smaller area.
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Turning Japanese Again, Touring Tokyo (still)

The alarm went off early. Earlier than usual, anyway. Jen was still sleeping, so I thought I’d let her sleep a bit longer. But at 9:00, I got her going.
Unforunately, Jen started off with a killer headache, so she didn’t move very quickly. Compound to that a very irregular bus schedule and not being able to catch a limited express to Tokyo wound up pretty much killing the point of today’s journey — going to Nikko.
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Turning Japanese Again, Touring Tokyo

The household woke up slowly. The events of last night (see [[Turning Japanese Again, Reception Party in Chiba]]) had done us all in. Kaz and Chris were tired from all the attention they’d been getting. Jen and I were tired from all the things we’d done and drinks we’d had.
As such, we were in no hurry to do anything. I was the first up, my bladder calling attention to itself, and sat down to catch up on my journals. Chris and Kaz were up shortly afterwards. Chris needed to go back to his apartment before going to work, and suggested that I come along to collect last night’s laundry.
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Turning Japanese Again, Reception Party in Chiba

We woke up several times this morning. Once when the phone rang (Mike and Brenda checking in on us), when Kaz and Chris’ new refrigerator showed up, when the phone rang a second time, and when the earthquake hit.
And this time, I’m not joking.
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Turning Japanese Again, Shinkansen to Tokyo

More tofu for breakfast. Blech. Well, not so much blech as bland and really not what I’d like to eat first thing in the morning. Jen didn’t eat much.
Today we’re back to Tokyo (and Yotsukaido). But first, we wanted to do a little touring around. And I do mean “little”. Specifically, two stops up the Karasuma line to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I really wanted to see what it’s like in there.
But first, we had to pack up and check out. Which wasn’t easy — we’d spread ourselves all over the room. Although it didn’t take me long to pack, Jen had to take a bit longer out of necessity. It’s safe to say that, either way, both of us officially have too much stuff.
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Turning Japanese Again, Touring Osaka

We attempted to move a bit quicker this morning. The key word being “attempted”.
The idea was to go to Osaka and do the touring thing. That meant we had to leave at a reasonable time so we could catch the various trains (subway, shinkansen, local, loop, and subway, in that order) to get from our hotel to the Osaka Aquarium, our first destination of the day.
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Turning Japanese Again, Kyoto Nishi Honganji Temple

Today, we experienced what can only be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. The earthquake hit around 7:30, and shook the entire room. Jen and I leapt from bed, and I dragged her into one of the doorways — supposedly the safest place to be during an earthquake. The rumbling continued for a good 30 seconds (not that I was timing, but it was certainly a long shake) before things settled down a bit. I don’t know how often Kyoto gets an earthquake, but apparently even our modest little ryokan can handle the stress.
April fool! Had you going, didn’t I? No, there wasn’t an earthquake. Quite the opposite, actually. It would have taken an earthquake to get Jen out of bed.
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