2000, A Year in Review

It’s been one of those years. I really hope I don’t have to go through another one like that again. Clichéd though it be, it was a year for rediscovery — mostly of myself. I lost my self-identity in Vancouver, allowing myself to be overwhelmed by another. It takes a while to rebuild that sort of thing. It’s not done yet, but having gone through that I know now what to avoid should I ever be so stupid as to get myself into that situation again…

Continue reading “2000, A Year in Review”

Christmas in Oakville, New Years Eve in Calgary

I didn’t think it was possible for 10 days to go by so fast…

Having missed Christmas at home last year (for reasons I don’t think I need to go into), I decided a month or so ago to return home and experience Christmas the way it was meant to be experienced — with too much food, long waits at airports, problems finding the right gifts, and complaining about traffic on the QEW.

Chris and I made the trip home together, leaving Calgary on 20 December. Hearing that the airport had been pretty busy the day before, and that line-ups at Air Canada’s check-in were often length, I suggested that we head to the airport a bit early (our flight was for 5:15 that afternoon). Our taxi picked us up at about 2:20, and dropped us off at the airport around 2:50. We were at the check-in by 3:00, and all ready to go by 3:05.

For a flight that wouldn’t leave until 7:00 that night. Lousy delays.

Chris and I spent an enlightened four hours at the airport, discussing many topics (including theology, architecture, physics, literature, and whether or not we’d be seated with any attractive single women on our flight) and reading. At least it was in Calgary airport, and not in the plane on the tarmac (which I went through in ’98, and wasn’t too keen on reliving).

Turned out that the plane had hydraulic problems prior to leaving Toronto. Air Canada, in it’s infinite wisdom, opted to fix the plane … and not replace it with a working aircraft, thus screwing up schedules (and probably cancelling a flight or two). We didn’t get into Toronto until 1:30.

Chris and I went shopping the following day, not having brought any gifts with us from Calgary (it was extra bulk we didn’t want to have to deal with). Chris and I were in generous moods, having both received healthy Christmas bonuses from Critical Mass for all our hard work and diligence … yeah, it’s hard keeping a straight face writing stuff like that.

On the 23rd, I headed out to Port Credit to meet with an old friend of mine, Kim. She was a classmate of mine from university (we suffered through possibly the worst technical writing class ever devised — I’m certain we students could have instructed that course better than the professor). She and I have gone through similar relationship hells over the past year, and have discussed our horror stories at length over email. It was the first time in about four or five years that I would see her.

Despite a short wait at the train station, we finally met again, although the meeting was a tad awkward — Kim had let her hair return to it’s natural brown colour, and I had cut my rather lengthy hair and shaved. Then came the next surprise — Kim’s friend Laura. Kim was visiting Laura and her husband Ray, who were gracious enough to put up with me for the afternoon. The surprise came when I climbed into the back seat to meet her mysterious friend, only to realize that I’d had classes with Laura in university. [Insert music to “It’s A Small, Small World” here.] That pretty much set the stage for an afternoon of pseudo-reminiscing and tech talk (with Ray — I believe Kim and Laura described it as “getting along like a house on fire”).

Laura and Ray were heading off to Stratford for Christmas, so Kim and I ducked out to the GO Station for the trip into Toronto (Kim was going home, I was meeting Chris and friends for dinner and a movie). We continued our talk during the trip. I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable, though I honestly don’t know why. It might have been the gap in time between the last time that I saw her, or I wasn’t sure what to talk about next.

Email conversations are so much easier…

Kim and I parted ways at Union Station, as she had to catch the TTC home. I continued my wanderings in the PATH (Toronto’s underground mall-cum-labyrinth) and actually managed to find my way to the Eaton Centre without getting lost, taking a wrong turn, or even consulting a map. (No, I have no idea how I pulled that off.)

Still having an hour or so before meeting up with Chris, I completed the last of my Christmas shopping. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking — Christmas shopping at the Eaton Centre at Christmas, I must be insane? Well, if you’re asking that question, it’s obvious that you’ve forgotten who I am… That said, it actually wasn’t that bad — I expected worse.

Dinner was at Rol San, a Chinese restaurant along Spadina. Chris knew the place from his life in and around Toronto (I can only assume, otherwise he somehow managed to pick the place out of the phonebook). I was the first to arrive (no real surprise there), and began to wait for the stragglers. Chris had already told me (via voicemail) that he would be late (no real surprise there, although in due honesty, it wasn’t his fault), and that while I could look out for his friend Ellison (whom I’d never met before), he didn’t know what her hair colour would be at the time.

Ellison, it seems, is no dummy. A “lonely-looking single guy sitting at a table for eight” is a dead give-away, and it took Ellison about two seconds to figure out who I was. We engaged in a long discussion about movies (Ellison is a film geek, and went through the same film program Chris took at Sheridan College) and living in Toronto vs. living in Calgary. About 45 minutes after Ellison, Chris and Natalie (whom I did know) appeared, followed shortly thereafter by Koto, one of Chris’ co-workers from the Japan Foundation.

The movie that night was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. For those of you who have been living under a rock, this is possibly the single most critically acclaimed movie of the year (I haven’t heard or read a single negative word about it). It’s likely going to be an Oscar pick (it’s already been nominated for a few Golden Globes), and rightly so — it’s got an excellent story, an excellent cast, excellent music … in short, it’s excellent. Okay, there, I’ve raved about it. Now go see it (if you haven’t already) — you can thank me later.

It was the first Christmas at Cathy and Craig’s house, and it probably won’t be the last. Cathy played Santa, handing out the various gifts to those seated around. I won’t go into detail of the list (unlike last year), but I will say that I was exceptionally happy with my gifts — especially those I gave. There’s nothing like the look of surprise and joy in someone else’s face.

Dinner that night was an affair not soon forgotten. Harking back to the days when my family hosted dinners having an average of 15 people in attendance, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson joined us for our meal. Yes, that is only seven people, but I wasn’t referring to the number of people — I was referring to the noise level.

Cathy and Craig received “The All Canadian Trivia Game” for Christmas, and the questions became our after dinner entertainment. Being the only remotely sober person, I played Quiz Master. I was surprised at the number of times my dad answered questions that were about people and places I’d never heard of before — and I (used to) pride myself on knowing a lot of Canadiana. In fact, I found through this game that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. [Insert sound of ego deflating here.]

I avoided boxing day sales at all costs — the last thing I needed was more stuff to take home with me. Instead, I spent my time eating leftovers, relaxing, watching movies, and installing my mother’s new scanner. I had hoped it would be an easy install. I really should know better by now — it took me a tech support call to UMAX to learn that I couldn’t plug the scanner into a powerbar, it needs to be plugged into the wall directly. The answer came so quickly I was surprised they didn’t have that sort of thing in the user’s guide…

I also visited with another old friend (and former roommate), Ed. I met up with him and two of his friends (one of whom I knew from university) at Sega City out in Mississauga. We spent about an hour or so plugging away at the various games before we ran out of money. It was a good thing, too — the number of kids was rising at an exponential rate, and it was becoming a little too crowded for us old folks. We retreated to Jack Astor’s for beers and nachos…

Next thing I knew, it was 30 December. Time to go home … Calgary, that is.

Chris’ parents picked me up just after 4:00 for our 7:30 flight. Yes, I know that’s early. The problem was that it had been snowing all day, and Toronto is (or at least used to be) notorious for bad traffic during that kind of weather. Figures — it was smooth driving all the way to the airport.

Oh yeah, and those long line-ups I’d planned for? Non-existent. 10-minute check-in. Two hour wait for the flight. Which, of course, was delayed. (The plane we were supposed to get went out of service, probably due to a hydraulic problem, and we had to wait for another 767 to come in from Miami — it was already in transit — before we could go anywhere.) Once we’d gone through de-icing and taxiing, we’d waited for about four hours.

Calgary was a zoo when we finally got in, just before midnight local time. Luggage took forever to appear, taxis were hard to get, and then to top it all off, the Calgary Police closed off Barlow Trail southbound (effectively the same as blocking off the 427 just south of the airport) for no apparent reason. After all that had happened, I just wanted to go home.

We began the last day of the second millennium AD with dim sum at our favourite restaurant, followed by our ritual visit to A&B Sound. We had several options on how to celebrate the turning of the year, but we settled on a video game and movie session with two friends from work. Unless the world ends tonight (little chance of that), I’ll be following up this with my annual year in review…

Happy new millennium. I hope it’s better than the last one…

Moving into Critical Mass’ New Building

It’s been a weird week. Imagine trying to do “business as usual” knowing full well that in a week you’d be working out of a new office. That’s pretty much what last week was like.

Critical Mass is big. As of next week, we’ll have 252 people … in Calgary. That doesn’t count the Chicago, New York, or Stockholm offices. (We’ll be even bigger once we open the Toronto office. That actually scares some people.) We ran out of space in our old building a long time ago — it was almost to the point where we would have to start stacking desks just to get everyone in.

So many moons ago, our Operations Manager starting hunting for a new space. That’s not easy in Calgary — there’s a lot of office space around, but it’s either occupied or WAY too dull for a “leading edge interactive marketing agency”, which I think is how we describe ourselves.

The search went on for months before (somehow) we started negotiations with Mogens Smed, one of the leading interior designers for office spaces. Funky furniture, comfy chairs, and nothing that would be considered really “corporate”. It’s kinda like a step up from IKEA furniture, which is what we had. (Not that there’s anything wrong with IKEA).

Smed bought a building just north of the Stampede grounds that had been abandoned for many years. With Critical Mass providing direction (as we were to be the sole occupants), Smed transformed the old Pilkington Glass Company factory into the World Headquarters for Critical Mass.

In six months.

Frankly, I’m amazed they pulled it off. As Ted (our Chairman) remarked during today’s “tour”, it was an 18-month job done in a third of the time. But you wouldn’t know to look around. It’s a quality job. It’s also a bit getting used to — everything’s so … new. And unused. Kinda like a Star Trek episode…

The trick, of course, was to get us from our old building and settled into our new building in as little time as possible. That was what happened during the weekend. With a significant amount of prep work by our administration staff, we packed and labelled every single last item in the office, right down to the spare paper clips, before Friday. On Friday morning, everyone came in, packed up their desks into plastic bins, wrapped up their computers, and left by about 9:30am. After that, it was all up to the movers.

We came in around 2:00 in the afternoon on Sunday, on a directive from Ted, to unpack our bins and set up our desks. Aside from a few small things, everything arrived intact an unharmed. Even more shocking was when I got in this morning — except for our LDAP server, we were up and running. All the phones, the mail server, the Internet connection — everything. It was all up. Mind you, it wasn’t without its glitches, but when you consider that the office was moved in a weekend to a new location, and it all works, well … that’s a pretty amazing feat.

We have a really interesting deal with Smed. They own the building, and all the furniture inside. We own the computers. We get a really cool office (for a lot less than we should), and Smed gets a really cool company to occupy the space. Smed gets to drag in companies like Coca-Cola to show them what a cool space looks like, and if we happen to pitch a website to them at the same time, well, that’s business.

Hollywood scripts aren’t planned this well. (Especially this year…)

With slightly over two weeks left before I duck out for Ontario for Christmas, the next couple of weeks are going to be really hectic.

But at least I can go insane in a cool building…

Postponed Plans to go to Japan

About nine months ago, I arrived in Calgary without really too much of a clue of what I was going to do next. For most people, I guess it would be quite stressful (one person comes immediately to mind, though I try not to think about her). It gave me a strange feeling of freedom. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I was free to do as I chose, and it wouldn’t affect anyone else but me.

A day after I arrived, Chris sent me a reply to the mass message I’d sent out. It was the start of what we thought would be a grand adventure to Japan. In fact, we’d coordinated a lot of things to bring Chris here, to get an apartment that suited us both, get us both jobs, and so on and so on, all under the guise that in just over a year, we’d be heading out to Japan to teach English. Friday 24 November 2000 was the deadline for submitting our applications to JET, the organisation we wanted to go with.

Not long after Chris had arrived here, the two of us were wandering around Calgary, discussing whatever we felt like discussing. (Admittedly, it was usually movies, computers, TV, and/or women, though not necessarily in that order.) Chris said something that surprised me a little. Although I can’t remember his exact words, he said that there was no way to predict the future, and it was entirely possible that things might change, and we not go.

Well, the deadline has come and gone. And we’re not going. At least not right now. I’m not sure what exact processes drove Chris to not submit his application, I know what happened to me.

Complacency.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m comfortable. I like my job (although there are a few egos around here I’d love to deflate), I like our apartment, I like this city, and I like my roommate (that’s a given, I guess). Humanity, in general, doesn’t like change. It likes status quo, particularly if it’s a comfy status quo. Personally, my status quo is a big, warm blanket in front of a roaring fire with a cup of Callebaut hot chocolate.

That’s not to say that I didn’t want to go. I still do — there’s adventure to be had! But at the same time, I no longer felt the need to do something “radical”. Had I been able to apply and go within a month or so after arriving, I’d have gone — no questions asked. Heck, I probably still would have gone after only a couple of months here. Now? Well, I feel like a replanted tree that’s had a few months to spread roots. It’s not impossible to up and leave (I’ve done it before), but I don’t have that driving force anymore.

So what happened to Chris? He ran into some problems like mine (it’s tricky getting the right references, and ours didn’t come in quickly enough), but he had other reasons, too. (Reasons I’m not allowed to elaborate on — so don’t ask.)

When I missed the deadline, I feeling of tremendous guilt started to wash over me. It could have been the rhinovirus I’m currently fighting off, I suppose, but there was that hollow feeling you sometimes get when you know you’ve let someone down. So imagine my surprise when Chris told me he hadn’t applied, either. Needless to say, I started feeling a lot better … of course, that could have been the Contac-C I took.

A few weeks ago, Chris and I were wandering around Calgary, discussing the usual (movies, computers, TV, and/or women … although I should point out our more recent conversations have also included existentialism) when I happened to mention my disinterest in dating. And not because I don’t want to — nine months can do a lot, not to mention patch up holes in one’s soul — it was because I didn’t want to hurt anyone when it came time to leave for Japan. Chris had a good point of view on that:

“Life is what happens between now and your plans. Don’t stop living for the sake of the future.”

I swear Chris should write one of those bathroom books. He’s just full of this stuff.

At any rate, that got me to thinking. Living. That’s something I hadn’t done in a while. He had a point — I was holding myself back for the sake of something vague. So I did the only thing I could do: I went on a date.

Yes, with a member of the opposite sex! (Sheesh…)

This was Wednesday 8 November. I won’t tell you her name, but she works here as one of our Art Directors. Wonderful woman … who was interested in someone else. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, but I found out shortly after. Although my sources on the design floor are good, they missed the potential love triangle subplot. I decided it was better to cut my losses before I did something stupid. Probably for the best, too — I tend to work with her a lot, and I’d prefer to avoid making things uncomfortable for the both of us.

I won’t be likely having any more personal escapades for the next few weeks, though. A project I should have started last week finally starts tomorrow. With the same deadline. Yeah, that means longer hours. Whee. And that’s not counting the company moving to a new building on Friday. (We’ve been told they’re be no downtime … I’ll believe that when I log in at 8:00 the following Monday morning.) And that’s still not counting my various research projects and task forces, and updates to the half-a-dozen sites I’m responsible for.

I love my job. (Can’t you tell, I’m here on a Sunday!)

And with that, I’m heading home. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’m still sick.

Critical Mass Town Hall

Things have been pretty quiet since the summer — not a lot of activity, not a heck of a lot to report. But this is a habit I’ve gotta keep up, if for nothing else so that I’ll be in practice if/when this Japan thing pans out. Although admittedly, I’ll probably have much more to talk about then.

Our weekend more-or-less began at 12:45pm on Thursday. That was when we heard: “Anyone who can hear this, get your butts over the Danish Community Hall now!” That was the call for our “Town Hall Meeting”, a gathering of the Calgary office in one place. Once upon a time (before I started), we could actually congregate in one place in the office. Doesn’t happen anymore — we have to go across the street to the DCH so we can hear the speeches.

We hold these about every six months. It’s mostly so everyone can have an inkling of what’s going on. (We’ve got a lot of people spread across a lot of projects — there’s no way for everyone to know everything. That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t try.) All 250-odd people crammed into the Valhalla Hall for four hours of cheesy speeches, reviews on our projects, really dull organizational ponderings, and an auction.

Yes, an auction. Ted, one of our founders and the company Chairman (Chairperson, whatever!) and the other members of the senior management auctioned off a gourmet meal for 12 people. It’s a fundraiser (believe it or not) for charity. They wine and dine you, you fork out a lot of money, which when combined with money from Critical Mass (the company), goes towards sending underprivileged to camp in Westbank. (Ted’s got a thing for Westbank…) Many people got together in groups of 12 to try and bid for the prize. I say “try” because within only a minute or so, the price surpassed anything we grunts could afford — it was a battle between our CTO and our Director of Project Management. When the dust settled, Ted said the dinner was now for 24, and took both groups. All told, about $22,000 is going to kids. Not bad for five minutes’ work, eh?

The meeting over, we were instructed to attending a post-Town Hall reception at Ceili’s (it’s Gaelic, so you pronounce it “Cayley’s”) — a pub a couple blocks away. By 8pm, the only sober person was Chris. Everyone else was quite inebriated. Luckily for us, Ted had told us we didn’t have to come in at our regular time (8am) the following morning. This was good. Most people didn’t show up until 10am. A few didn’t straggle in until 2pm — they didn’t look so good.

Friday night, we met with up with Therese and Stuart (who were somewhat fresh from their trip to Vancouver — they must’ve really enjoyed themselves, we’ve heard much of their escapades; I’ve listened intently, and been able to picture exactly where they’ve been and how it looks — I have to admit that I still miss it) to see “Pay It Forward”, one of the better movies this year. Haley Joel Osmet (the kid) is one of these once-in-a-lifetime wunderkinds who either go onto huge success or burn out trying. I sincerely hope it’s more the former than the latter…

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of keeping an eye on my little cousin, Jen. Hmm… “Little” isn’t a good word. Let’s go with “younger”. Jen’s 16 years younger than me. She’s less than an inch shorter than me. Notice a problem with this? For some reason that I’ll never understand, the Western side of my family seems to have mutant children that grow to huge heights. Must be the water.

Deciding that I wasn’t too keen on having her trounce all over me on her N64 all evening, I suggested that I take her to a movie. At first, she wasn’t too keen, but when I suggested playing video games before the movie, she ran for her coat. The movie was “The Little Vampire”. It’s a cute little movie, though I wasn’t sure how Jen would respond to it. She’s at that “pre-teenager” stage where kid things are no longer cool, but I’m not comfortable with dragging her into most of the other movies currently out (although she’s seen “Meet The Parents” and loved it).

We played “Gauntlet” (the new version — Jen’s too young to remember the original) for two hours. Straight. We hurt afterwards…

Sunday started with dim sum. It’s almost a ritual for Chris and I — one more week, and we’ll have a set pattern that’ll be hard to break. However, we’ve run into one itty bitty problem with it — the line-up seems to be getting bigger every week. Dunno why — it was fine up until two weeks ago. We need to start going earlier. Stuart and Therese were a bit surprised at the line-up, too, and they’ve been to Silver Dragon far more often than Chris and I.

The best part about weekends is having no plans. So when Therese suggested we go “window shopping”, we eagerly piled into Stuart and Therese’s new Volkswagen Jetta (complete with possibly the best-sounding stereo I’ve ever heard in a car) and drove south to Chinook Mall. There, Chris proceeded to attempt to buy something from every store. Of course, that’s an exaggeration — he’s not *that* bad… Therese and I somehow managed to make it out of the mall unscathed, financially-speaking, that is. Chris won the award for most stuff, and for most unusual — a replica of the old vinyl airline bags of the ’60s. Why? Dunno. It’s a Chris thing…

Speaking of airlines, Chris and I will be returning to the wilds of Ontario for Christmas this year, on (or around) the 20th. Tickets have been booked and paid for, so there’s no holding us back. Unless somebody chains the plane to the ground, that is…

Writing Short Stories

Old hobbies die hard. Have keyboard, will write. Love four word sentences.

A lot of you … some of you … at least ONE of you asked why I didn’t send a log about Thanksgiving. No particular reason, I just didn’t write one. It wasn’t blasé by any means — Chris and I enjoyed two excellent turkey dinners courtesy of Therese and Stuart, and my Aunt and Uncle. Chris supplied the dessert at Stuart and Therese’s, a pumpkin mousse. (He felt the traditional pumpkin pie was too traditional.) We had pumpkin pie the following night.

Life in Calgary has been quietening down a bit. (Not that it’s been furiously active since my killer workload dissipated.) Lately, I’ve been keeping my pastimes to a Thoreauvian level: Working, eating, sleeping, watching TV, watching movies, reading, and writing. Sounds pretty spartan, I know, but like Thoreau said: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It’s not like I’m dating or anything…

When I left university and started working full-time as a technical writer (cum Geoff-of-all-trades), I slowly stopped one of my favourite hobbies: writing. Not this kind of writing, which is very stream-of-consciousness matter-of-fact writing, but fiction (science, or otherwise). When I was in high school, I wrote a large number of short stories (partially because I was in a creative writing class), but also because of my friends — Chris, in particular.

Chris is a creative person, has been for as long as I’ve known him. He’s a very visual person, which is one of the reasons he’s drawn to the visual arts far more than I (I can barely draw a stick person). But in high school, he translated many of those visual ideas to paper. While the stories I wrote were maybe somewhat fantastical, Chris has a unique ability to write horrific stories that were reminiscent of Stephen King and Clive Barker. (Given the genre he typically read, that’s not all that surprising.) I used Chris as my benchmark to shoot for when trying to improve my writing.

When I hit university, I continued to write, though not nearly as frequently. When I was on my co-op terms at Digital Equipment, I had the ability to go home at night and write — my job didn’t dampen my creativeness. It wasn’t until I started working as a technical writer that things started to go sour, story-speaking.

I can’t believe to this day how much energy got sucked up when writing a technical document of some sort. So much that when I actually tried to sit down and write something vaguely interesting, I ended up writing more about the software package I was documenting. Not really a good creative streak, in my opinion. It wasn’t long before that entire creative streak was gone. It was a sad day when I stared at a blank screen in Word, unable to write a single word, unable to think a single creative thought.

That’s one of the reasons I started writing these. I don’t have to think much. (You can all stop laughing now.) But it allows me to get the need to write out of my system, otherwise I’d probably go crazy. (For the record, I also wrote these because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s losing friends due to lack of communication. I do think about all my friends (and family, obviously) and how you’ve affected my life. I may not ask you how you’re doing on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder.

About a month ago, I lay in bed trying to sleep while a wind tore through downtown Calgary. Normally, this is just a mildly annoying thing — the rattling of the windows just keeps you from falling asleep as quickly as you might normally. But that night, it rattled loose an old memory … part of a short story I’d written in university. I thought about it for a while, falling asleep wondering what it would be like to write it out again.

I don’t have any of the short stories I wrote in high school and university. They fell a horrible virtual death during a computer maintenance session in 1998. The only things that survived were the Observer’s Logs I’d written from a few years earlier. (Although I mourned the loss of the work, I was happy that my logs survived.) I had nothing to start on, except the memory of what I’d done.

For the next few days, the ideas I’d had for the story, including the comments my English 409 professor had given me, came trickling back like creek refilling during a spring thaw. Finally, dragged out my old Gateway Pentium 133 laptop (really only good now for using Microsoft Office) and started writing.

The more I wrote, the higher the temperature got. The melt continued, and the trickle became a strong stream. I actually had to go out and buy a small notepad and pen so I can jot down ideas. I carry it with me everywhere now, just in case. Every night for the past couple of weeks, I’ve sat down in front of my computer, and wrote. Not copious amounts (I need to drag myself away from the TV — it’s wrecking my concentration), but I’m up to about 30 pages of a novel.

Yes, I’m past the short story phase (at least for this particular tale). The (nearly) three years of writing Observer’s Log entries (in often disgusting detail, as several people have complained) have given me the ability to dwell on a particular scene or character and develop an aspect of the story. I don’t know how long this book will be — it’s writing itself at the moment — but hopefully I can find someone to publish it.

Anyone know of a good literary agent?

Early Frost in Calgary

I love Calgary.

Last night, still technically summer according to our seasonal rotation, it snowed.

Yes, frozen precipitation. It was still there this morning. It wasn’t much, barely a centimetre in places, but enough to notice that it was there.

Enough to annoy Chris, though.

I’ve never seen snow this early in my life (though apparently it’s not unusual to see snow in June here), which is a stark contrast to my life in Vancouver, where it was rare to see snow at all. (The common phrase I heard was “leave the snow on the mountains, where it belongs”.) The snow will melt before I go out for lunch today, but that’s not the point. Snow in summer. That’s something to write home about.

The trees here have only recently started to turn their autumn shades. Mostly yellows here — I’m told there isn’t a lot of red (very few maple trees). With the snowfall, I suspect the colours shall turn at a slight more accelerated rate.

Now if the building management would just turn the frickin’ hot water on in our radiators…

Wedding in Toronto

Whirlwind weekends. Gotta love ’em…

This weekend, as some of you already know, I was in Toronto. One of my friends, Jay, was getting married to his girlfriend of six years, and I was fortunate enough to witness this happy day. (More on that in a moment.)

I left Friday afternoon, cutting out an hour early from work to catch the flight. It was the first time in I don’t know how long that I’d flown Air Canada, and I was a bit apprehensive. Air Canada has had a bad rap, from me at least, with their ability to process customers with any speed. They’ve changed recently, oddly enough since their merger with Canadian Airlines, and it’s been for the better. They now feature faster lines, even electronic check-in (more on that later), and people who actually smile at you. It’s a nice change.

The flight out left at 6:00pm. I was in 13F — second row back from first class, inside aisle seat, starboard side. Right next to an early 20s Korean woman with her six month old child. Yeah, those chills of listening to a baby crying for four hours were firing up my spine within seconds of sitting down. It seems that my good friend Murphy missed the flight, however, the baby merely whined a little on the way up and on the way down. Cute kid.

Too cute.

In fact, I started thinking about having kids again. It’s been a long time since I last thought about it, even so much as devoting a passing wonder. During the flight, I started to think about all the people I knew with babies, and how I’m not one of them. I’m not exactly getting any younger, nor are my parents or my grandmother. I would like my child to know its grandparents — both of them, and its great-grandmother. I never knew either of my grandfathers — both died long before I was born. I had a step-grandfather, but I saw him only a handful of times over 24 years before he died. My lasting memory of Papa was him teaching me to skip stones on the beach in Waskesiu.

So I got to thinking. What would it be like to have a child? Well, not give birth to one, but care for a child (or two), and raise it (or them) to adulthood. It’s one of those things we non-parents can only guess at, having never gone through the process. We can get hints from those who are parents, but we’ll never really know — until we’re parents.

My previous few flights on Canadian Airlines led me to believe that the Canadian airline industry was going slightly downhill. I was quite happy to find, however, that Air Canada was not affected the same way. Great service, good movies (“Keeping the Faith” on the way out, “U-571” on the way back) great food (yes, I said “great” — airline food can be good, y’know), and comfortable seats. Yeah, comfortable seats sounds dumb, but if you fly enough you come to appreciate nice seats.

We touched down at 11:30 EDT, arriving at the terminal some 20 minutes later. (I keep forgetting just how big Pearson International is). It was the first time in more years than I can remember that I used Terminal 2. For years, I’ve been flying out of either Terminal 1 or 3, depending on the flight. But because I avoided Air Canada, I never went into Terminal 2. It was so long that I didn’t recognize the interior at all. Well, except the baggage claim area, though I only sprinted through that — I had only carry-ons.

Cathy was there to pick me up, circling the outside looking for me. (She wasn’t able to park.) Soon we were back in Oakville. We didn’t stay up long — I had to be up early for the wedding (starting at 11:00am) and Cathy was tired. So we chatted a short while before both retreating to bed.

The next morning, I showered, shaved, dressed, and gathered myself for a long wedding day. (Not nearly as long as the bride and groom, but hey — I had jet lag to contend with.) This included a quick trip to my parents’ house (I was staying at Cathy and Craig’s; my parents are somewhere in either Colorado or Utah — we don’t know which) to iron my shirt and borrow a pair of my dad’s dress shoes.

The dress shoes were the worst part. I accidentally left my pair in Vancouver. I liked them — they were reasonably comfy. But I’m not about to go after them. That would be like reaching into a hive of African bees to get a dime. In lieu of buying a pair, my dad (who, along with my mother, were out here for a couple of weeks during their most recent excursion of the continent) suggested I borrow his.

Now, my dad and I do not share bodily proportions. I’m shorter than him, by about six inches or so, and I’ve got smaller feet. A lot smaller. About a size and a half. It took five tissues per shoe and an insole to keep my feet from swimming around. They were uncomfortable and too big, but at least I didn’t attend the wedding wearing my ubiquitous sandals.

Borrowing my mother’s van, I took the long route getting to the church. I wanted to be early, but I was a little too early. So I drove around to see what had changed since the last time I’d really paid attention to where I was going.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the service was to begin, and already there were a large number of cars. Jay was at the front door greeting people as they arrived. Jay always has a permanent smile — he’s always happy about something. Especially when he’s trashing talking someone. But his smile was even broader than normal. He looked nearly ecstatic. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning, staring at a gigantic pile of presents under a tree.

Just beyond Jay were his ushers, two of whom I knew: Stuart and Nabil. Stuart you all know, or at least have heard of. Nabil is … well, unless you’ve met him, you’re never going to understand. I might write a lot, but I can’t script a character like Nabil. Needless to say, seeing him in a tux was worth the $560 airplane ticket.

I hung around the foyer a while until Matt and Alicia (I hope I got the spelling right) showed up after a few minutes. I knew them through Stuart and Jay (I met Jay through Stuart). The three of us took seats on the groom’s side four rows back from the front. It was a good thing we were there — the Corinne’s side of the church heavily outweighed Jay’s side, and most of them were family. Jay’s side seemed mostly friends, with a scattering of family for flavour.

The music changed, and Jay walked down the aisle with his brother, his Best Man. Then the groomsmen came up the groom’s side, followed by the bridesmaids on the bride’s side. If Jay looked happy before, he looked like he was going to die from joy now. If his smile had gotten any wider, it would have split his head open. I looked down the aisle to see where Corrine was — her expression wasn’t much different — she was happier than I’d ever seen her.

And that’s when it hit me.

As you all know, I was to be married. For me, it wasn’t a joy — it was a death sentence. It was utter torture to organize, especially considering that I really didn’t want to go through with it. That, added to my pre-existing view of weddings as being an overly-extravagant ceremony wrapped around a lot of paperwork, really didn’t seed the flower of joy in weddings.

Jay and Corinne changed that. Over the course of the day, I would come realize that while some people, like me, aren’t really huge fans of weddings, there are those for whom weddings are the happiest and most important day in their lives. It’s when they can say to everyone they’ve known and loved that they have found the person with whom they will spend their lives, feed, protect, covet, love, and share every moment. There is no fear, there is only happiness.

I’ve only seen this kind of thing in movies. So it was a strange feeling to be watching it myself. I even found myself succumbing to the beauty in it — I actually found my eyes becoming a tad blurry. Partially from happiness, knowing that such a wonderful thing can exist, and partially from sadness, an empty feeling I periodically get when I wonder if I’ll ever be that lucky. I’m envious of such joy.

I’ve known a lot of relationships in my time, and I’ve seen a lot fall apart. There are some, however, that will live (and love) a long time. Jay and Corinne are one such couple. Seeing them without smiles on their faces was (and will likely be) a rarity.

Corinne’s family is Italian. Jay’s family is Irish and Italian. Hence, the wedding was Italian. Hence, Catholic. Hence, a lot of standing, sitting, kneeling, and trying not to get lost in all the activity. Matt, Alicia, and I did our best to try and keep up with everything. Stuart had a much better system: Stand when told, otherwise sit.

After the wedding, we went through the receiving line, wishing the newlyweds all the best. Jay and Corinne still sported their massive smiles, which they would hold all day. I warned them that if they kept smiling like that, they’d never be able to stop.

I waited outside with Stuart, Nabil, Matt, Alicia, and some of the other groomsmen, waiting for the receiving line to die out a bit. Mostly, I was waiting for Brenda and Marek to appear. They were co-workers when I was at Arkipelago in Toronto. They were my friends, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. I can safely say that I miss the both of them.

Soon, six of us (Brenda, Marek, Brant (another ex-Arkipelago employee, who started after me, whom I only knew by name), Matt, Alicia, and myself) broke for lunch. None of us had eaten breakfast, and the concept of going all day without food was not appealing.

On a suggestion from Marek, we all went to the Dundas Street Grill, on Dundas around Kipling. We ate too much. We were still hungry, but we ate too much. We knew that there was going to be a bombardment of food at the reception, and it dawned on me (and certainly the others) that we were going to look like we’d been to taxidermists after the reception that evening.

After lunch, we broke into two squads: Marek, Brenda, and Brant went off in search of fortune and glory, while Matt, Alicia, and I tried to navigate all the detours and closed exits to get to a lone two-bedroom apartment in High Park. There we hung out for the remainder of time until we had to go to the reception. Alicia and I watched “Leon” (aka “The Professional”) while Matt napped — he and Nabil had been out drinking until 4:00am the previous night.

Two of Matt’s (and presumably, Jay’s) friends were going to catch a ride with us. So we waited around until they arrived. At 5:15. The reception was at 5:30. At Finch and the 427, about 30-40 kilometres away. We were there by 5:50.

The reception was at a place called Pantone’s (or something like that), what some people referred to as a “wedding factory”. It’s basically a light industrial building converted into two massive reception halls, separated by (presumably) a massive kitchen. Each of the halls has a lobby where all 200+ guests were crammed in. We did another reception line, met all the wedding party as we worked our way around, got our seats, and signed our names.

Marek, Brenda, Brant, and I were assigned to Table #22 — the current and ex-co-workers table. The last table. But also one of the best tables — we were right next to the bar. Given, there was a pillar in my view that blocked a bit of the head table, but I spent most of my time talking to Brant, Brenda, and Marek, and listening to Marek’s stories. (Did I mention that miss working with Brenda and Marek?)

This was my first experience with an Italian wedding. Also my first with an Italian reception. Not quite a full-bore Italian reception (I’ve heard of much bigger, though Chris tells me Chinese receptions even outdo Italian receptions), but it was still bigger than all the others I’d been to.

Dinner came in five courses. First was buns. Okay, they’re not a course, but we all dug into the buns before anything else. Then came the appetizer: grilled vegetables with goat cheese, olives (no, I didn’t eat the olives), and a prociutto-wrapped raw fig. The fig was a little odd (never had one), but it was still good. Round Two was the pasta: tortellini and something that looked like the pasta equivalent of a Swiss roll. Dunno what it was called, but boy, was it good. Round Three was the chicken, breaded veal, and roasted vegetables. (Marek called the veal about five minutes before it was served.) By this point, the four of us were undoing buttons and breathing lightly, so’s not to have our chests burst. Then came Round Four: seafood and salad. I refrained from the seafood, not for a lack of wanting it (except maybe the lobster), but did accept the salad. We were all dreading what culinary wonder we would have to suffer through next when a small brown sphere appeared on our plates: Tartuffe. (I think Marek called that one too, though it might have been Brant.)

You don’t refuse Tartuffe — that’s just sacrilegious.

The First Dance had actually been before dinner, something that was new to me. The dancing resumed after dinner with the other traditional dances: Father with daughter, mother with son, groomsmen with bridesmaids. I sat and watched it all. (Aside from the fact that I’m not a big dancer, my dad’s shoes were shredding the tops of my feet, making even sitting a chore.) Then things started getting silly.

The MC (I don’t know if he was an employee of the establishment, or if Jay and Corinne hired him and the DJ) got people to do silly things. That seems to be a trend at weddings. On such silly thing was having Jay and Corinne each start “trains”. Jay went around picking up all the women, while Corinne went around picking up all the men. (I think that if I ever get married, the only thing anyone will be picking up is something more to drink.) I did not join in, as my feet were now beginning to consider a rebellion and secede from the rest of my body.

The party went on until around 11:00, at which point a lot of people started to leave. Stuart and I (I was driving Stuart home) ducked out around 11:30 or so, after both of us came to the conclusion that we were too tired to go on. Jay and Corinne, however, were still going strong, and still had the massive smiles on their faces. Like I said, I’m envious of such happiness. (Although, it could have been that their faces had in fact been stuck in that position.)

I awoke late the next day to the smell of bacon. (I still say that it is genetically impossible for me to sleep through the smell of cooking bacon.) Cathy and Craig were already up and about, doing whatever it is that they do on weekends. We ate a leisurely brunch … ah, heck, it was even past lunch by the time we actually ate, even if it was eggs, bacon, and hash browns. By the time I got myself up and running, it was nearly 2:00pm. Taking some time, I tried to call two friends of mine in Toronto: Kathryn and Ed. (They don’t live with each other, they don’t even know each other — but I had said I would try to get a hold of them while I was in. No, I wasn’t shunning anyone else, just that the topic that I would be in town came up in emails with them.)

Couldn’t find Ed. (Ed — check your 411 entry, eh?) Kathryn took a bit, but I managed to corner her at her place in Toronto. Being occupied, I had to restrict myself to a phone call instead of a proper visit. Afterwards I called Stuart to let him know that we wouldn’t be seeing Kathryn that day. Stuart invited me to join him on his mission to return the rented tux.

Square One was as busy as I remembered. It had been a very long time since the last time I’d been in Square One, but it didn’t look all that different. No further than 100 metres into the mall, we ran into Jay and Corinne. They looked a little more rested than the day before, but the smiles were still there. (I know envy’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but sometimes it’s just hard to ignore…)

The rest of the afternoon vanished quickly. Stuart and I went in search of a Slurpee or Froster, only to find the nearest one to where our parents live in Oakville is at a Mac’s (aka Mac’s Milk) next to the old Loblaws store downtown. During our search, we found ourselves noting what stores in downtown Oakville used to be something else. (A sure sign that you’re getting old.) We were almost shocked to realize that downtown Oakville, at least along Lakeshore, isn’t much different than Banff (Bamf!).

Terminal 2 has taken a few cues from Terminal 3, and Air Canada has gone long ways to try and streamline passenger check-in. One such is the introduction of Express terminals. You feed in your credit card or Aerocard, punch in your flight number, select your seat (I missed that), and bam — out comes your boarding pass. Very convenient, and really nice if all you have is carry-on. (Even if you have actual baggage, there’s an Express baggage check-in after you’ve got your boarding pass.)

No aisle. I was wedged between two people. Not entirely comfortable, but at least it would get me home. It was a quiet flight — most of the people around me slept. Especially the guy on the window seat. I had a sneaky suspicion he was returning from a trip to Europe (he had brochures, maps, and bits of literature from European attractions), and was dead tired. He slept nearly the entire trip.

This was not a cheap excursion for me, and I had for a while debated on not going. However, one night as I lay in bed, counting the number of streetlights reflecting on my ceiling, I made a decision. Last year, I missed the weddings of some dear friends: Ed (one of my roommates from university) and his wife Jen, and Marek and Brenda. I missed them because I was told I didn’t have enough money to afford it. (I need not mention who told that to me.) I sincerely wished I had gone. Those were days I wished I hadn’t missed. Hopefully, I won’t miss any more.

Download Overload, the Critical Mass Kelowna Getaway in Westbank

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.

Karaoke.

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 motherf***er…” 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.

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