Monkey's First Stampede

Perhaps the title’s a bit misleading, Monkey, but I suspect this will be the first Stampede you actually remember. And you have reason to remember it, too. You’ve listened to marching bands, eaten pancakes, ridden rollercoasters, and even seen a future King.

Not bad for only a little over 48 hours, eh?

It started Friday morning, which was Stampede Parade Day. The Calgary Stampede Parade is one of the largest in the world (I’ve heard it’s second, but have yet to hear what’s first, or the conditions under which that define its size), and has been a tradition in Calgary for close to a century. Now that you’re nearly four, it seemed like a good idea to take you to the parade so you could see it yourself, and not drive me insane by having a total loss of focus.

There’s only one catch with seeing the parade: you have to either have bench seating (acquired in advance, usually with paid tickets), or you get there early to get anywhere near a decent place to sit. Rather foolishly, I thought we had plenty of time leaving at 6:35am.

The lines had formed much earlier that morning (the people we sat next to — you remember them, right? They had the little white dog named “Cookie”? — arrived at 6:30 that morning and said all the front-line seats were long gone), and we were met with a sea of people as we crossed under the bridge into downtown.

My other grandiose plan was to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, since we hadn’t the time to eat before we left the house. That line was equally as bad, and it meant that we either ate, or suffered through poor seating. Given the time we’d have to wait, I felt the the latter was more important. We had at least brought you some snacks, Monkey, so you wouldn’t be starving. I would have to go without…

We found a place, next to a wooden fence at the edge of the massive Impark lots on the south side of 9th Ave., that offered a fairly decent view of the route, and was not totally blocked by the scads of folding chairs that everyone else had (next time, I’ll remember to bring real chairs). And there we sat down and waited for something — well, anything — to happen.

It dawned on me rather suddenly that I had been sitting in almost the same place some 10 years earlier with Auntie Cathy and Uncle Craig (before they got married) to watch my first Stampede parade. I wouldn’t have imagined that 10 years later I’d be watching the Parade with my own daughter on my knee.

William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — the future king of the United Kingdom and his wife (I’m not sure if she’ll be a “Queen” or a “Princess Consort” at that point) had been in Canada for the last couple of weeks on a whirlwind tour of the country (supposedly a “honeymoon” — Mommy and I have had some pretty whirlwind-type trips, but nothing that hectic), and were going to see the Stampede Parade, too. And before the Parade started, they would do a pass through the Parade route, themselves … in reverse. [Insert joke about driving on the wrong side of the road here.]

By 8:40, we were already fairly tired of waiting (and my ass already bruised from the hard ground and stones I had to sit on — you sat on me, I should add), but we were rewarded by the Royal Drive By (albeit far faster than anyone would have desired, and it was difficult to actually see the Royals — Kate was on our side of the car). Pretty much everyone clapped and cheered.

We didn’t really see much for another hour. Given our place on the route, that wasn’t entirely surprising, but it did seem a bit much, all things considered. Marching bands, clowns, and lots and lots and lots of horses. And a guy riding a bull (memories of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, indeed!). Our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, rode a horse, too and seemed quite happy to do so. We saw Rick Hanson, who was the Parade Marshall for 2011 — he drove himself (hey, he drove himself around the world — a paltry couple of kilometres is nothing for him, right?). The biggest cheers were for the Canadian Armed Forces, notably the Army — almost everyone stood and cheered loudly for them. (One day, I’ll explain why, Monkey. That’s a very long topic, and pretty much entirely another blog post.) The quietest moments were when our faithful Ministers of Parliament drove past — the “Honourable” Rob Anders was met with embarrassed silence (guess what, Calgary, you aren’t allowed to be embarrassed — you voted for him, remember?).

Outriders in the Stampede Parade, Calgary, Alberta, 8 July 2011

Mayor Naheed Nenshi in the Stampede Parade, Calgary, Alberta, 8 July 2011

Mommy met us at the Safeway downtown where we ran into two friends of mine: Evelyn, who I worked with for many years; and a childhood friend of mine, Neil, who also lives in Calgary. You then went home, and I went to work.

Yesterday, we went for our first (and possibly only) free pancake breakfast. The pancake breakfast is a tradition that has existed in Calgary for almost as long as the Stampede itself. It’s so rooted in tradition that when someone actually charges for a breakfast (and the money doesn’t go directly to charity), they get the stinkeye from just about everyone. People take their free breakfasts around here pretty seriously.

The Stampede Caravan runs a very efficient and very tight ship when it comes to pancakes. You, Choo Choo, and I walked up to the Sunterra, where the Caravan had set up their event. (We had gone last year, too, but I’m not sure if you remember that at all.) By the time we arrived, the parking lot was packed with people waiting for pancakes — they hadn’t yet started flipping them.) You declared you wanted to see the animals first, which seemed like a good idea, since we had to wait anyway.

Butterfield Acres was also there, just like last year, with pony rides and their portable petting zoo. Chicks, bunnies, goats, and lambs. You shrieked in eagerness, then raced in to give out hay to the goats, pet the bunnies, and be reminded several times not to pick up the chicks. (Choo Choo, you petted the lambs, which you loved, and the goats. You couldn’t really reach the bunnies, and we weren’t allowed to pick them up.)

Choo Choo meets her first sheep, West Market Square, Calgary, Alberta, 9 July 2011

Despite the several-hundred person-long line, it took a mere 15 minutes to get our pancakes. (Like I said, the Stampede Caravan runs a very efficient operation. They set the standard for how it should be done.) Your pancake, thanks to one very nice cook, was shaped like Mickey Mouse. We got our pancakes, found a curb to sit down, and dug in. Even Choo Choo inhaled her pancakes.

Afterwards, we went over to the pony ride, which I had promised. Just as you got into line to get on a pony, Erin and her friend arrived (which I had known about, but forgotten about). You love riding ponies, I’ve noticed — a far cry from the day we tried to get you on a pony in La Sabana Park in San José, when you cried in terror at the idea. It’s just a shame that you couldn’t go around more than once, though, and had to come out.

We went shopping for dinner afterwards, and “helped” by picking out chocolate milk, and deciding that we needed to take a pie as well (which you summarily dropped on the floor, forcing my hand to purchase it). Although you wrecked the pie (actually, a 9″ creme brulée), the Sunterra manager very kindly swapped it with a new one, reinforcing the reason why I prefer to shop there.

This morning, we were all going to go to the Stampede itself. It was Family Day at the Stampede, meaning there was free entrance to the park before 9:00, and a pancake breakfast for the first 20,000 people. You would think we could do that…

Choo Choo was against us, however, and woke up several times last night without going back to sleep. Eventually Mommy decided to stay up with her, letting you and I get a little more sleep. But I woke later than I’d wanted to, and Mommy was too tired to go (she has to work until midnight tonight), so it ended up being just you and me, and we didn’t get to the park until just after 8:00 … and about 1 minute after they ran out of tickets for the pancakes. Once again, Daddy was going hungry.

It also appeared that the Stampede hadn’t really opened yet, either. Most of the exhibits didn’t open until 9:00, with a number not opening until 10:00. That left us with … well, not to much to do. Thankfully, Mommy had the foresight to have me bring you something good to eat (although the Stampede has lots of food, most of it is … well, not exactly healthy). Down went an apple sauce, banana, and a heck of a lot of grapes. And you were still hungry.

We wandered through the BMO Centre and the Corral looking for the kids midway — something I thought would be a little easier for you to handle. Immediately, I felt nostalgic for the days when I was about your age, and my parents took me to the Canadian National Exhibition (“The EX” or the “CNE”) in Toronto. It was always the last hurrah of the summer, and the clown-faced logo of Conklin Shows is something I’ll not likely ever forget — something you’ll likely never know, either, since Conklin sold out to North American Midway Entertainment. It’s really not quite the same thing.

We picked up 12 tickets, which I figured would be good for three rides. I didn’t know what you’d like yet, and felt buying too much was a bad idea. First stop? The carousel. I know you love carousels — you’ve been on several, now — and you asked quickly for the “horsie ride”. Although not nearly as nice as the one in Heritage Park (a vintage machine that is infinitely more attractive, at least during the day) or the one at the zoo (zoo animals being a major plus), you loved being on it just the same.

Then, to my surprise, you asked to go on the “boat ride”. The “Rockin’ Tug” is a kid-friendly version of the classic Swinging (Pirate) Ship ride, except it sits on rails rather than being suspended from a massive hinge. And, unlike its larger sibling, the tug actually spins around.

I thought you’d chicken out. Really. Maybe I had a lower expectation, Monkey, given some of the things you’d said you wanted to do and changed your mind at the last second; or maybe I was even extending some of my fears from when I was your age. But you not only eager climbed up, you virtually stunned me by cheering and screaming “wheeeee!” the entire time. You’re hooked.

After that, we tried to get into SuperDogs. I emphasize “tried”, because the line to buy tickets (I wasn’t even aware that SuperDogs even needed tickets — my memory had always been that of a walk-in event) was almost as long as the line for pancakes.

So we had some of Those Little Donuts instead. Infinitely yummier, if you ask me.

Those Little Donuts, Calgary Stampede, Alberta, 10 July 2011

We tried to find a petting zoo in the agricultural area. You’d think for an agricultural-based event, there’d be more kid-friendly things. But there was no petting area that we could see, no pig races, nothing even remotely fun for the kids. Just an endless stream of horses (even you got tired of them all), a few cows (surprisingly few for an agricultural-based event), and a bunch of miniature donkeys. We went back for rides, and got sidetracked by kettle corn (and for good reason).

We went back for another round on the carousel, and again went to the Rockin’ Tug. By this point, my lack of coffee/lack of real food/subjection to the extremely loud and annoying squeaky horns that every little kid seemed to have/lack of coffee (hey, trust me, it’s that serious) had finally caused a near epic-level headache to form. I couldn’t wear my hat, and having you on my shoulders was causing intense throbbing. I wasn’t sure we’d even survive a trip on the Wacky Worm without me losing what little not-really-lunch I had. But you loved it — I remember being totally terrified of my first rollercoaster — and I got off with my dignity intact.

Calgary Stampede, Alberta, 10 July 2011

And then we had to go home. My head was threatening to explode. As it stands, I had to take two strong pills and crawl into bed for about 45 minutes before I could function again. “Next time”, I say now, knowing that I’m probably deluding myself.

I hope you had fun, kiddo. And Choo Choo, next year you’ll get a chance to go and have fun, too. But maybe during the week — this going on “Family Day” just equates to a little too much torture, methinks.