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.

Waiting for the buses, Victoria Park, Calgary, Alberta, 18 June 2004

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.

Jamie and Garth, Rafter 6 Ranch, Alberta, 18 June 2004

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).

Yoga at Rafter 6 Ranch, Alberta, 18 June 2004

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.

Watching the rodeo, Rafter 6 Ranch, Alberta, 18 June 2004

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: “Fuck 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.