The Spirit of Edmonton is the best Grey Cup hospitality room. You don’t have to be an alcoholic CFL fan to know that, but it helps. Don’t get me wrong, I hate the Evil Empire as much as the next CFL fan, especially if the next CFL fan is an alcoholic (CFL fan). Actual, “alcoholic CFL fan” is redundant, right? Right. Anyway, we have to give the devil his due, and the Edmonton organization always does a great job. Always.
There is nothing fancy about this place. No cover. Open all three nights. Occasionally long line up but tolerable. Good mix of cross-Canada CFL fans. Reasonably priced booze and easy to acquire. Solid band every year. Easy to find; same location in each city each year. I think they have food but I’m not sure. Who goes to these places to eat? Losers, that’s who.
I think my first memory of the Spirit of Edmonton is the 1997 Edmonton Grey Cup. I say I think because I’m not sure I really remember it correctly. My memory has been dulled by the passage of time and all this damn glue I sniff. It’s top quality glue, but my doctor says it’s still bad for me.
Okay, back to Edmonton 1997. It was late Saturday night after Spirit of Edmonton was closed and I was loitering around on the street (because that’s what I do when I’m not otherwise occupied drinking). My friend and I decided to move some traffic barricades, which were pushed up against a building, into the middle of the street and block the road (‘natch). We looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then we moved everything out into the street. Keep in mind there was little traffic to speak of at that hour, but we thought this was hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious like– we-should-write-a-movie-about-this hilarious.
As we were standing there admiring ourselves and hoping someone might walk by and agree that this was hilarious and beg us to write a movie about it, a minivan with a family of six swerved to miss the barricade and smashed into a parked car and burst into flames. No-no, that’s not what happened.
Instead, as we’re standing there admiring ourselves, I noticed that there was a cop car parked right across the street. The two bulls were just sitting there watching us the whole time. They didn’t even bother trying to stop us. I’m sure they were all like “Hey, Sarge, look at these two clowns; should we do something? Nah, let’s just see where this goes.” That’s Grey Cup for you. Or really lazy cops.
Then a minivan with a family of six swerved into a parked car and burst into—no, no. We just ran away like the two drunken losers. That’s more or less how all my stories end—me running away like a drunken loser. Or the minivan thing. Always the minivan.
Anyway, this was outside of Spirit of Edmonton at the 1997 Edmonton Grey Cup. That year, the Spirit of Edmonton seemed to be housed in an old empty downtown Eaton’s department store or something. It was a really weird setup, although again, I might be remembering this wrong. There was a larger room cleared away where the band was playing, and then a bunch of other rooms or halls or something. The lighting was terrible; lots of exposed lightbulbs and bare cement. As I am typing this, even I am starting to wonder if I have any of this right. Very sketchy. Seems a lot like the recurring post-apocalyptic nightmare I have involving Jock Climie and the cast of Gilligan’s Island. (Spoiler alert: things don’t go very well for Jock or the Professor.)
At one point, and I know this happened, Glen Suitor was standing with a bunch of former and current CFL players. He was definitely a former CFL player at that point but I don’t know if he was a TSN guy yet. I’m pretty sure he still had the moustache. Anyway, one of the guys in my group yelled “Hey, Ridgway!” and when Suitor looked at us, we all laughed at him. That’s what passes for heckling in my circle of failures. Then, as noted above, we all ran away like a bunch of drunken losers.
In more recent years, at least for as long as I can remember, the Spirit of Edmonton has had the same band. I don’t know if this band has a name or whether it really is the same band, but I’m pretty sure the lead singer is always the same. It’s some guy who looks a lot like Rob Riggle. If you don’t know who Rob Riggle is, just google him and you will instantly recognize him. This band guy is Canada’s Rob Riggle. Rob Riggle and the Rigglettes. It seems like he’s a good singer, he’s always hired back, everyone clearly enjoys him, and he looks like he’s having a great time, although he gets a little sweaty. Not Marco Rubio sweaty; more middle-aged-dad-playing-backyard-football sweaty. His best work by far is his AC/DC covers. Very enthusiastic. I’m a big fan.
At the end of each evening, some other guy gets up on stage and takes over for Rob Riggle. People seem to know who he is. He makes a few closing remarks and everyone cheers; something about see you tomorrow or see you next year, blah, blah blah, now get out. And then he starts singing Sweet Caroline with the band. This guy looks like Roger Lodge from those old syndicated Blind Date shows.
Blind Date would always be on after you got home from the bar and it would involve two or three blind dates (hence the name, Blind Date). Roger would provide some smarmy comments before and after commercial breaks and you would watch socially inept but often attractive humans interact with each other until someone got mad. As a socially inept human myself, it took me years to realize this was not the way dates were supposed to play out.
Speaking of socially inept, when an attractive woman is socially inept, males do not care, assuming they even notice. When an attractive man is socially inept, females seem to find him particularly repulsive. They almost take it personally, like, what a waste! Unless he’s rich. Then it’s all good. How do I get tangled up in these dead end tangents? I need an editor. Or I’ve got to stop writing this stuff while I’m drunk.
So anyway. This Spirit of Edmonton guy who gets up and sings Sweet Caroline each night also kinda looks like Eric Bischoff from the old WCW. The weird part is that Roger Lodge is married to Pamela Paulshock, who was a performer with the old WCW. Pamela was a pneumatic blonde fitness model type who was so plastic I am not sure how she managed to avoid melting under the heat lamps of the tanning bed she obviously wore out. I just think that’s all a weird WCW connection, although this entire coincidence may be nonexistent since this Spirit of Edmonton Sweet Caroline guy might not look anything like what I remember. This guy only appears at the very end of the evening, and at that point, I am really polluted.
In Vancouver one year, at the Sheraton Spirit of Edmonton, my friend says that he got hit on by Pemmican Pearl at the end of the night. This may or may not have happened, or Pemmican Pearl may have actually been a security guard dragging my friend out of the building for one infraction or another, but it is definitely the kind of thing that happens at the end of the night at Spirit of Edmonton. And by that, I mean that it will either actually happen, or one of us will be so drunk that we will remember it that way the next day. (“Yeah, and Pemmican had huge arms! Very strong woman.”) By the way, Pemmican Pearl is Saskatchewan-speak for what I suspect was Klondike Kate, the woman who allegedly accosted my friend.
I believe it was the Montreal 2008 Grey Cup where the ballroom they held Spirit of Edmonton had these large Chrystal chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling (as opposed to sticking up out of the toilets, like Regina). When the cheer teams were doing their routines, everyone was just waiting from some young woman to be tossed up into one of those chandeliers. My recollection is that the Winnipeg and Saskatchewan cheer teams came closest, although Edmonton also likes to throw their girls around a lot. Anyway, that would have been awesome. They should specifically design a routine like that, with the grand finale involving a huge pyrotechnical calamity like the ending of The Natural. I suppose they wouldn’t be able to toss a real human up there, but maybe a dummy loaded with dynamite or candy like a pinata. It wouldn’t be as good, but still pretty cool.
The Saturday night at Spirit of Edmonton always ends like I image Hitler’s bunker must have been like in the dying hours of World War II. Everyone is drunk, there are bottles and garbage strewn about, some people are wearing uniforms with beer spilled all down the front, and nobody really wants it to end since we all know reality awaits outside. Then the Russians finally storm the building, in the form of local security goons, and usher us out into the cold and unwelcoming street. Fortunately, Spirit always closes earlier than the local bars, and we all commence the mad scramble to find a place without a lineup to continue our debauchery.
And now a quick note about the Spirit of Edmonton in Winnipeg. Unlike almost every other CFL city, Spirit will not be located at a downtown hotel. It is located at a hotel far from downtown. Spirit provides complimentary buses. I was put out by this inconvenience at the last Winnipeg Grey Cup and I asked someone about this who looked like she worked at Spirit. She told me that the downtown Winnipeg hotels tried to gouge them so bad, they just headed out. I did not like the bus ride out and I think the jostling almost gave me diarrhea. Or it might have been the bottle of C.C. I pounded before getting aboard. Anyway, crisis averted; it was just a lot of gas.
One thing I will say. For the entire bus ride out there, there were two drunk guys who were amusing themselves by saying, ad nauseum, “Comin’ through” and “New in town”. For as innocuous and inoffensive as these phrases were, this was remarkably annoying until it became funny. Repeating these phrases to each other is how my friend and I have amused ourselves to this day. We should write a movie about that.
In Regina 2013, Spirit of Edmonton was not located where most of the other hospitality rooms were located (the indoor cow pasture called Evraz Place or Brandt Centre or Co-operators Centre or something). Instead, it was located a relatively short bus ride away (more diarrhea) at an old Bible college. I spent my Saturday night at Riderville, but Friday was spent with a bunch of guys from Weyburn at Spirit of Edmonton, one of whom was a completely sober dentist who was inexplicably, roughly and immediately escorted from the premises for having the temerity to ask the guy working the door what time it was. Actually, he was not sober and I believe he was mouthing off to a ‘roided-up security guard about how long we had been waiting in line. But he was a dentist. Dentists cannot handle their liquor.
My clearest memory of that Spirit of Edmonton was standing near the exit at the end of the evening and wondering aloud to my friend how we were going to get home and a girl beside me immediately volunteered to drive us back to our place. We all hopped into her tiny 1990 Toyota Tercel with her parents and she drove us all home with the bottom of the car scrapping every bump in Regina’s “roads”.
That, my friends, is Spirit of Edmonton.