Last week at the 2016 Grey Cup, Calgary Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell missed his last opportunity this year to tell everyone how much better he and his team are than the rest of the league. Oh well, he’ll have plenty of opportunity next year. In the meantime, we’ll just have to get used to Henry Burris being all classy, humble and appreciative. What a jerk.
Anyway, my 2016 Toronto Grey Cup trip kicked off with a quintessentially Toronto CFL moment when the first thing I heard from a Toronto airport employee as I stepped off the airplane on Thursday evening was her incredulous question: “The Grey Cup’s this weekend?!” This question was posed despite the Toronto Grey Cup advertisements all over the airport. By the way, Toronto’s airport is a bit of a dump, at least the part that I was in. It felt very, uh, North Dakota.
Usually, at other Grey Cup city airports, there are a few volunteers standing around in cheap vests handing out pamphlets telling us what’s going on. Not here. I guess Toronto decided to save money on pamphlets (and volunteers) this year by not having anything going on at Grey Cup. Well played, Toronto Grey Cup Organizing Committee.
Once on the ground, after checking in, I found out from my friend Jay that he was experiencing the nightmare that I began having the moment I booked my hotel on Trivago several months. I don’t trust that site, but the price for the palatial Fairmont Royal York was too good to give up, so I pulled the trigger on a fabulous deal. I found it hard to believe that the sketchy website to which Trivago directed me, which I ultimately booked my hotel, would actually secure me a room.
At the same time I booked my hotel through Trivago, Jay had also booked a hotel for himself and Roland through Trivago, although he picked the Strathcona Hotel, right across the street from the palatial Fairmont Royal York. In both cases, we were required to pay for our rooms up front. The bookings themselves—mine with the Fairmont and theirs with the Strathcona— were made through different websites (Trivago only being a gateway website, you know).
Apparently, as I learned on Thursday night from Jay, the website through which Jay booked his hotel room went bankrupt sometime around July. I guess the overhead in Bulgaria was too much. Anyway, when Jay showed up at the Strathcona, they had never heard of him. This was exactly the scenario I had fretted about for months, leading me to finally call the palatial Fairmont Royal York a few months ago to confirm that they indeed had a room for me. They did. So when I arrived on Thursday, they had heard of me and they did have a room for me. Jay and Roland were not so lucky, although this turned out to be more of an inconvenience to me than them. More on that later.
My own arrival was not met without its own unhappy hotel-related surprise. I discovered that the palatial Fairmont Royal York had placed me into a room with two double beds, not the one king size bed I wanted. There is a reason I only want one bed. Again, more on that later. Then, adding insult to injury, after I unpacked, I found out that I had forgotten to bring any toothpaste and dental floss. My head was spinning so I had no time to listen to Jay and Roland complain about their trivial concerns.
For the record, my only real complaint with the palatial Fairmont Royal York is that my room only had two temperature settings. The first setting was arctic cold. The room remains on that setting regardless of whether you raise the temperature on the thermostat several degrees, until a point. At some point, which was never clear to me, the temperature setting switches to hellfire burn-a-thon, with an added feature of a fan that fires up and drowns out the sound of the TV. I was also puzzled by the front desk’s offer of a free newspaper delivered to the room since only one paper was delivered. Perhaps they thought that one paper would keep me busy for my entire four day stay because nothing ever happens when I’m on vacation. Luckily, I found out about something called the Internet, so I haven’t cracked open a paper paper in about 10 years, thus I didn’t need to call down to the front desk to complain about my missing morning papers.
Anyway, back to Thursday night. After purchasing some toothpaste and floss, and Jack Daniels (“Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack.” Any Kesha (or Ke$ha) fans out there? No. Me neither.), I returned to my two-bed hotel room and began drinking while trying to connect with Jay and Roland. Jay owns a cellphone but he does not know how to charge its battery, so it is always either dead or about to die. Roland entered the 21st century as a relatively knowledgeable consumer of electronic products, but when I called him, I found that Jay had appropriated his cellphone since his own cellphone was (what else?) dead. Anyway, this is where I learned of their hotel woes.
As it turned out, Jay was staying at a friend’s apartment downtown and Roland had gotten another room, for one night at least, with a friend who was fortuitously in town at the same time. However, the real issue was what we were going to do that night.
As the only member of our group that had a hotel room, we assembled at my room for the Grey Cup opening ceremonies, which involves little more than insults and drinking. My Jack Daniels was joined by a bottle of Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition Maple Finished Whiskey that Jay had been saving for three years. We spent the next hour or so recounting how we had little to recount anymore beyond recalling the interesting/drunken things we used to do in the first seven years of going to Grey Cup, followed by the next seven years discussing the times we recalled the interesting/drunken things we used to do at Grey Cup, and now, which is to discuss the times we used to discuss the things we used to do in the first seven years of attending Grey Cup. Most conversations start something like this: “Remember the 2010 Grey Cup when we talked about what we did at the 1994 Grey Cup?” Basically, our conversation is much like that old Chris Farley SNL bit where he interviews celebrities but has nothing to say beyond asking them if they remember certain scenes from their movies.
After some sensibly-priced booze in my room, we headed down to the Fairmont Royal York’s Library Bar for some snacks and insultingly high-priced booze. The dead-end conversations continued and we eventually began discussing the nature of our existence. I argued that we are all essentially waiting to die while living meaningless existences punctuated by alcohol-fueled moments of lucidity. After enough drinks, everyone agreed. Actually, now that I think about it, I believe everyone immediately agreed with my initial premise in the first place but it took two hours for everyone to realize it. We spent the entire time arguing about the details. Anyway, we ended up having a great deal of trouble trying to figure out the bar tab and Jay ended up paying $50.00 for the one hamburger he ordered. This price had something to do with me going back to my room early to take a quick shower, and apparently not leaving enough for my share of the table, but really, what difference does it make? We’re all going to be dead in 50 years.
Quick surprise here. As we headed up to the hotel room for one final drink before heading out for the night, former prime minister Stephen Harper stepped off the elevator with a young assistant trailing in his brisk wake. He looked taller and thinner than we imagined. Before I could think of anything smart to say, or even dumb, he was gone. That was probably for the best, for both our sakes.
At this point, having no idea what was going on in Toronto for Grey Cup, and being too lazy and/or incompetent to consult the various electronic devices at our immediate disposal, we settled on the Edmonton Eskimos’ Spirit of Edmonton hospitality room, which is always located at the Sheraton a few blocks away. Spirit was okay, although there were less people than normal. Nothing to report beyond Jay noticing a Spirit of Edmonton regular who normally wears Blue Bomber gear. On this night, this guy was wearing a British Columbia Lions jersey. Jay recognized him from years gone past due to his large head. I did not recognize this guy because I do not take special note of head size, generally speaking (more on that later). Accordingly, I spoke to Large Head Guy to find out if indeed he was the guy Jay thought he was. He was. He explained that he had lost a bet with his girlfriend (a Lions’ fan), but after tonight, he would return to wearing Blue Bomber blue for the rest of the weekend. I am not sure he appreciated me approaching him and he had a look on his face that said: “You remember me because of my large head, right?” Sort of. Anyway, I agree with Jay; this guy’s head is large. I will remember him for the rest of my meaningless life.
That was it for Thursday night.
A quick note about hotel rooms and my two homeless friends, Jay and Roland. Without a hotel room, Jay actually did pretty well. He stayed downtown with a friend the whole time, for free. Roland, however, was not quite as lucky, but he still did okay. Ultimately, he stayed at his brother’s place, but his brother lives out of the downtown, so there was a logistical problem related to getting to downtown locations, and there was the more concerning problem (for me, at least) of him having nowhere downtown to poop but my goddamned hotel room. Having said this, there was a brief suggestion that Roland stay with me because I had two beds in my room. Now, for chrissakes, as indicated above, I specifically requested one bed, largely because I am always afraid of this exact scenario, when someone needs a place to stay and, lo and behold, here I have a bed they could sleep in. If I have one king size bed, I don’t have to worry about that happening since most adult males over 20 do not want to sleep in the same bed as another adult male, even a king sized bed. So here was the perfect storm of Roland losing his hotel room and me having an extra bed. However, that was not going to happen and I kyboshed that idea, hard. Nevertheless, my toilet got used like a rented mule, dammit it.
The next day (Friday), since we had not done anything too stupid as far as drinking during the previous night, we were all up at the crack of noon. After the standard hour-long session of futilely trying to connect with one another and settle upon any plan that did not offend one of our delicate sensibilities, we settled on lunch at a place called Bardi’s, which is a small steak house downtown right next to the palatial Fairmont Royal York. It is difficult to describe this place. It is the size of a small McDonald’s with the décor of a café that might be called upscale if it was located in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan. There was a banner on the outside of the restaurant that said they were celebrating 50 years, although the banner itself looked 50 years old, so who knows. It appeared to be run by several older Italian or East European males who acted like bored but efficient concentration camp guards. Anyway, my only regret going to this place was not ordering a larger steak because the food was great. I ordered a 6 oz. filet because I am very classy. Huuuge class. Jay and Roland both ordered sirloins; they’re looosers. Why order sirloin if you are at a good steak joint? Sirloin is what you order in line at the buffet at Bonanza, or maybe what you get at Montana’s if you are taking your lady friend out for a night at the local strip mall. Jay comes by his steak illiteracy naturally, having been born in Saskatoon, on the west side. Roland, I’m not sure what his problem is.
Immediately after lunch, I went shopping for dental floss because that’s what people who care about their teeth do after eating. I hate shopping for dental floss because, every time I go shopping for floss, it always seems that all the brands change and offer all sorts of weird extras that I don’t want or need since the last time I shopped for floss, so I can’t go with a reliable brand, like, say, Colgate. I have to spend time reading all the fine print. No, I don’t want waxed or fluffy or fine or whatever. I just want FLOSS! Jesus Murphy! So after that fiasco was over, we were able to move on to more important things.
Specifically, we did what any normal, well-adjusted middle-aged football fans do during Grey Cup when the Grey Cup Planning Committee neglects to make it easy to figure out what Grey Cup events exist: we took a tour of the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park. I learned three things:
- Ontario was named “Canada West” for a period of time between “Upper Canada” and “Ontario”, and John A. MacDonald (no one ever forgets the “A”) was the prime minister of Canada West for about a year. I thought Canada West was just the name of a U Sports conference.
- Although Canada supposedly won the War of 1812, this victory involved the Americans burning down the original Ontario legislature and stealing the Parliamentary mace. Canada responded, of course, by sacking Washington and burning the White House down, which is the military equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?”, but this war sure sounded a lot more like a tie than the win that Canadian propaganda makes it out to be. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Anyway, the stolen Parliamentary mace was returned by the Americans in 1934 in exchange for some perogies, maple syrup and beaver pelts.
- Do not ever say the words “fascist dictatorship” inside the legislative chamber. The tour guide will not be pleased. I was also going to ask her when the War of 1812 took place (I know, hilarious, right?) but after her sour reaction to the whole fascist dictatorship fiasco, I remained silent. I should have known something (or nothing) was up when she started the tour by asking anyone who wanted to join the “public tour” to assemble, but when I approached and announced “I am member of the public”, she tersely informed me that she was also a member of the public which, I believe, is not technically correct at that moment when she is an employee of the legislature who is giving a tour. Near the end of the tour, when we were all standing in front of one of the washroom doors, both Jay and Roland had to go to the washroom, but she would not let them until the tour was officially over (I actually could really get behind her strict bathroom rules, but I’ll move on). After the tour was over, we spent the next half hour speculating on how she managed to get that job. It just didn’t seem like a natural fit for her. Incidentally, the legislature’s front desk security guard was the opposite of a sourpuss. The moment we walked in, he told us we had to leave, but as it turned out, he was merely reacting to the Roughriders’ gear Jay and I were wearing. A long and spirited discussion followed. Our tour guide discouraged long and spirited discussions, particularly in the legislative chamber itself, since debate should always to be curtailed in the geographic and symbolic epicentre of a participatory democracy.
Following our tour of the Ontario legislative building, which I think looks a lot like a residential school from far away, but acquires a certain grandeur as you get closer, we headed to—where else?—the courthouse located on the second floor of a nondescript five-storey building that houses a Winners and a Tim Horton’s. I thought this was a weird place to put a courthouse. Jay and Roland were less surprised; I don’t know what that says about them.
We sat in on the tail end of a bail hearing in courtroom 501, where the Crown Prosecutor (who eyed the three of us suspiciously for much off the proceedings, perhaps wondering why there was a guy in the front row of the gallery flossing his teeth) and the Duty Counsel split hair after hair over the release conditions of a restaurant owner who had gotten himself in a spot of trouble that had something to do with the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages. The head clerk looked a lot like Al Sharpton and his facial expressions throughout the proceedings suggested that he thought he was an audience member at The Jerry Springer Show.
There was a strange moment when the Crown used the word “appreciate” in a manner that the Judicial Justice of the Peace did not “appreciate”, in the sense that it appeared the JJP did not appreciate that there is more than one meaning of the word appreciate, so he did not appreciate what the Crown had said, in either meaning of the word (one of which being unknown to him). Then the JJP and Duty Counsel got tangled up in a semantics issue over the Duty Counsel’s use of the word “argue” rather than “submit”, in the same way that some judges do not want to know what a lawyer “thinks”. All of this is terribly interesting to a lawyer, but otherwise, it makes for absolutely the longest 15 minutes of my life. The last issue was how the restauranteur, who had allegedly committed some crime while intoxicated, could be released on bail conditions that involved him not going anywhere near alcohol when his job was owning and running a licensed restaurant. Lawyers. Ugh. Anyway, we learned exactly where this guy’s restaurant was and we seriously considered visiting the place and trying to get him in trouble with his complicated bail conditions. Based upon what we heard at the bail hearing, he sounded like the kind of guy who might be a lot of fun, and if we could get him thrown in jail for kicks, why not?
Having visited the provincial legislature and the weird downtown courthouse, we completed the third branch of government tour trifecta by visiting Toronto City Hall. I have seen the exterior many times, including in every low-budget science fiction movie that wants an establishing shot of a space-aged building (“Rocket Command Centre; Terminal Zaytox”). However, I had never been inside the place before. The interior reminded me of that scene in Logan’s Run when the people who turn thirty are required to attend a ceremony that involves assembling in a circular auditorium and being blown up. I am not sure if that last sentence makes more sense or less sense if you actually see the movie.
Having finished our civic responsibilities at around 6 o’clock or so, we returned to my hotel room where I learned exactly how bad it would be for me as a result of Jay and Roland not getting their hotel room. Specifically, with no downtown hotel room, they both needed to use my bathroom for their solid waste disposal. The sole reason that I get a hotel room for myself is so I do not have to share a bathroom, and these bastards turned it into the central bus station restroom. After this unpleasantness was over, we headed out to Spirit of Edmonton again. Another uneventful evening followed, but I ended up with three unused Spirit of Edmonton drink tokens.
I did spend a significant portion of the evening with a guy from Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. He was originally from Saskatchewan and was wandering around with a whistle calling penalties all night. This amused me, and it amused him that it amused me. That’s how things go at Grey Cup. Frankly, he could have called “too many men” all night. As always, it’s a bit of a sausage party at Grey Cup. I’m bringing a ref’s whistle next year. Anyway, this guy had to be in his mid-thirties or so, and he claimed to be retired after making his fortune working overseas as an oilfield worker. These are the kinds of people you will meet at Grey Cup, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
On Saturday, the collection of Einsteins that is Jay, Roland and I could not organize ourselves sufficiently to get out to lunch until 2 o’clock, when we met at the Wheat Sheaf, which some Torontonians know as the oldest pub in Canada, older than Canada itself. Certain Torontonians do not know this place. Unfortunately, one of those Torontonians was the first cab driver I hailed to take me to this place. Not only did he not know this place, he did not know how to operate the GPS device in his cab, so I gave up on him after a half block. Another person who had never heard of the Wheat Sheaf was the Fairmont doorman who told me he had not heard of the place but that Toronto was a “pretty big city” (to which I would suggest London is also a pretty big city but the cab drivers know exactly where every downtown pub is). Another was the nice lady working at the hotel concierge desk who at least found me the address: 667 King Street. It was only after I got into my second cab that I found out I needed to know whether it was King Street East or King Street West. At that point, I told my driver to take a guess. As it turned out, he guessed right.
Jay had told me that he would be at this place in about 20 minutes, and that Roland was driving over with his brother and would be there around the same time. I interpreted that as meaning that no one would be showing up for at least an hour so I read a book for about a half hour in the Fairmont lobby before calling a cab. After a ten minute cab ride, I arrived a moment after Jay arrived, and Roland had just informed us via text that he would be joining us in about 45 minutes. His brother had unexpectedly decided to go to the gym rather than lunch.
Once at the Wheat Sheaf, I can report that it was another excellent and authentic Toronto experience. The food was great and we watched the Laval Rouge et Or squeak past the Calgary Dinos in the 2016 Vanier Cup. This pub’s washroom was located downstairs and I would be willing to bet money that, if this place has been around for as long as it claims to have been around, at least one person has been murdered in that washroom.
This washroom provoked two urinal-related discussions.
The first related to the three urinals in the men’s bathroom. In a three urinal situation, my thinking is that you take either the most left or most right urinal, since if another guy comes in, he can take the far urinal and you will not need to pee while standing directly beside someone. This is largely the accepted wisdom when it comes to urinal usage (Roland and his brother both agreed with me), but Jay is something of a principled contrarian. He takes the view on this particular issue that you should use the middle urinal because most people think the way I do so the middle urinal will be the cleanest, having not been used as much. Fair enough, and in this particular instance, I was hoisted on my own petard, so to speak. I took the far right urinal, but the moment I started, one of the bartenders walked in and started trying to fix the paper dispenser that was right beside my urinal, so I had this guy right beside me struggling to remove the cover of the paper dispenser the whole time I’m trying to take a leak in private. His grunting and swearing made the entire experience unnecessarily unpleasant. And weird.
The second urinal issue related to the posters up on the walls in the bathroom. Jay was the only one of our group who used the middle urinal. As I indicated, Roland and his brother both subscribe to the same conventional wisdom that I do with regard to urinal usage. Directly in front of the middle urinal, where only Jay had stopped, is a poster that reads “Drinking and driving is never worth the risk.” However, if you turn around, there is another completely unrelated poster directly behind the urinals on the opposite wall, which we all saw, that reads “If you are not willing to take a risk, you should get out of the business—Ray Krok, founder of McDonald’s”. So, mixed messages, to say the least.
I’ll take this opportunity to explain that I wanted to visit the CN Tower this trip. Jay did not. Roland was non-committal but is generally up for anything, so he just waited for the matter to be resolved through mental combat between Jay and me. Long story short, we ultimately did not visit the CN Tower, largely on the strength of Jay’s argument buttressed by my general apathy and laziness. In particular, Jay said that he had been up the CN Tower about 30-odd years ago (as I had), and he felt that in those 30 years, it had likely sunk into the earth a bit due to its weight, so he no longer thought it would be as impressive. After I suggested that this may have changed the height by only a few centimetres so it was unlikely he would notice, he nevertheless managed to convince me that we would both indeed notice, and thus feel ripped off. So we scrapped the CN Tower. This was fine with Roland.
Instead, we decided to go to another historic Toronto landmark, Honest Ed’s. Getting to and from this place was crazy since it was raining the whole time and Roland’s brother, who lives in Toronto and did all the driving, does not appear to have a solid understanding of anything related to Toronto geography or traffic or roads or anything related to vehicular travel. I’ll just leave it at that. As for Honest Ed’s, you can look it up on the Internet, but this is a place that looks, on the outside, like a really crappy Las Vegas casino, but on the inside, it looks like a really crappy department store. Apparently, it is about to close down. It was owned by a guy named Ed Mirvish who was also involved in the Toronto live theatre scene and owned several venues that, actually, look pretty nice. It is an odd combination but this Mirvish guy was quite a character. There was a spirited (and lengthy) discussion between Jay, Roland and Roland’s brother as to whether Mr. Mirvish was alive or not. I could not contribute to this discussion but when I looked up the spelling of his name on the Internet a moment ago, I see he died almost seven years ago. Jesus these guys are idiots.
Anyway, we spent at least an hour in the place. It is what a department store would look like if pack rats had the mental wherewithal to operate an Army and Navy store. This place was three or four levels of crazy and I got lost twice. The signs in the building actually said you will get lost. I had to text and call the other guys to find me both times. This place had a dentist working in the basement, as well as a pharmacy. Unless you were looking for drugs as part of a physician-assisted suicide, this would not be the place you would want to buy any kinds of medical-related drugs, not even aspirin. Jay bought several really dumb cheap shirts with Honest Ed’s logos. I spent some time in the completely insane toy section. Even the most corrupt and depraved knock-off North Korean toy manufacturer would wonder what the hell some of this stuff was supposed to be.
Anyway, after leaving Honest Ed’s, we headed over to my hotel room, where the boys relieved themselves (again) and Jay, when he was not on the toilet, spent his evening on the telephone and the Internet.
Now, on the matter of the Internet, here’s the thing. My friend Jay was the first to try to access it since he was involved in trying to get his money back on Thursday after the whole website bankruptcy issue, and then on Friday he was involved in what sounded like some kind of money-laundering scheme involving the CIBC and a bank account in the Philippines. Initially, he called down to the front desk for help getting connected to the Internet and was told we needed to pay for an Internet connection in my room. My reaction would have been to pay since I never question authority. However, Jay always questions authority and he bombarded the front desk with the names of cheap-ass hotels and motels that give away Internet access for free. Having reduced the front desk to tears, I’m sure, they relented and gave him a free password. He felt so good about this development, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my membership in Fairmont’s President’s Club gets me free Internet access if I ask, so I let the baby have his bottle.
Anyway, Jay proceeded to spend the evening drinking while using Roland’s cell phone and my free Internet access to transfer some money to the Philippines, where he allegedly owns a house. He was required to take what seemed like dozens of pictures and screens shots of various documents like his identification and bank statements. (“Screen shot” became a word that we would repeat to each other for the rest of the weekend to our mutual and overwhelming but inexplicable amusement.) It all seemed pretty fishy to me but after a couple of hours of drinking and listening to one side of all the conversations he was having with various people around the world, it all started to make sense and I think I want to start laundering money, too.
In the meantime, while Jay was jabbering away on the telephone, Roland, his brother and I were watching TV. For some reason, the palatial Fairmont Royal York television network has access to TSN2 and TSN4, but not TSN1. This meant we had some odd sports to choose from. At some point, Roland and his brother decided that they needed to eat, so they left to get something to eat at Jack Astor’s, which is a restaurant and bar one block away from the palatial Fairmont Royal York. I stayed behind to take a shower while Jay, who said he was not hungry, continued to plow away with the Pilipino bankers he was allegedly dealing with.
Once Jay was finished violating every international money laundering law on the books, he and I headed over to Jack Astor’s to join Roland and his brother.
As we were arguing about undoubtedly consequential things at Jack Astor’s, who should walk past our table but former Calgary Stampeder running back Jon Cornish? Mr. Cornish had already been the subject of one of our group’s meandering conversations earlier that weekend. In particular, it was a matter of general agreement that he appeared to have a very large head that made him look like the Darryl Strawberry cartoon caricature from The Simpson’s when Mr. Burns hired a bunch of professional baseball players for the nuclear plant’s softball team. More controversially, I have always suspected that Mr. Cornish was a little too polite and nice in public, and it might mask a dark and explosive personality that he controls at great effort. This is entirely unfair speculation, but it makes me feel better about myself, and everyone at the table agreed that my impression of the way he talks when interviewed on TV was very good, and he sounded like he might indeed be holding in a lot of rage.
Anyway, Mr. Cornish and I had been at the bar in the Saddledome a week earlier when he called me over to talk to him. I think he had been drinking and he was his typical gregarious self, but I never established why he called me over. We had a brief but entirely friendly conversation and I told him I might see him in Toronto in a week. A week later in Toronto, as he walked past my table, I stuck my hand out and asked him if he remembered me from exactly one week ago. He had no recollection of me whatsoever, and he had to ask me why he had called me over to him a week earlier. I didn’t know and I told him I never figured that out. He didn’t care and it seemed like he knew he did that a lot. Regardless, he immediately locked into his extremely smooth public persona that we often see on television during interviews. He shook all of our hands and began to talk about how good it was that we support the league by coming to the Grey Cup and so on. When asked, he provided us with earnest advice as to what Grey Cup venues would be good to attend that night (all bad advice, by the way; I told him I had been going to Grey Cups since he was in diapers and he didn’t know anything about Grey Cup venues). He laughed and remained very friendly and accommodating with his time, and did nothing to suggest he might be the hiding a psychotic personality. All around, a very nice encounter with a polished and popular public figure who went out of his way to talk with us. We all later agreed that his head was smaller in person (although there was some quibbling about the shape, which I disagreed with and found to be petty and inaccurate). Nevertheless, we also all agreed he had done nothing to suggest he wasn’t hiding something.
(One quick digression. My cousin’s name is also Jon Cornish, so the football Jon Cornish and I might be related, and I know I am a sociopath, so perhaps my speculation about Mr. Cornish is all just projection.)
Anyway, back to Jack Astor’s. After Jay and I arrived, and after we were done with Mr. Cornish, Jay decided he wanted to order something to eat. He had said earlier at the hotel room that he had not wanted to eat, and I felt that it was too late to be ordering food if we wanted to go to a Grey Cup venue. Jay began to quibble about how he had not said he did not want to eat, but that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to eat, or some damned thing. So fine, I ordered a drink since we were going to be there for a while. After I ordered a drink, then Jay said that if we wanted to leave, he was not going to eat, and that now I was the problem since I had ordered a drink, and if we wanted to go to a Grey Cup venue, my drink was slowing us down. I told him that I only ordered a drink because I thought he was going to order food, and this went on for 10 minutes.
Eventually, it was resolved that I would pound back my drink and we would take off immediately thereafter. However, we got tied up arguing about how friendly or unfriendly our waitress was, and whether she was better or worse than the tour guide at the Ontario legislature. Jesus H. Christ as I type this I cannot say how I can stand going to Grey Cup with these people or even myself. Anyway, we all agreed that the waitress put on one of those tight professional smiles while she was running our bill through the credit card machine, so she was better than the tour guide at the Ontario legislature but not by much. The two women might have been sisters, but we all agreed the waitress (or server, whatever) was slightly better looking.
Okay, gees, next we headed over to the Toronto Convention Centre, which we thought had something to do with the Grey Cup festival. The Toronto Convention Centre was, as far as I can tell, originally designed as a showroom for an escalator manufacturer who specialized in escalators long enough to have their own Starbuck’s along the way. I assume the manufacturer went out of business so they decided to build a bunch of rooms around the escalators, and this turned into the Toronto Convention Centre.
Anyway, after a lengthy journey through escalator hell (or heaven, depending upon how you feel about escalators), we found ourselves at what felt like the bottom of a very fancy mineshaft where at least three CFL hospitality rooms were located: the Toronto thing, the Atlantic Schooner Down East Kitchen Party (for a CFL team that does not exist but claims to be undefeated, which is technically correct), and Riderville.
First we went to the Toronto thing, only because there was no cover charge. The room was the size of a large bathroom, and may have been the convention centre bathroom. There was a live band that looked like it was composed of high school kids. The place was packed. Several team players were in attendance along with several cheerleaders. I actually enjoyed myself and bought myself an $11.00 drink. I’ll say that again: an $11.00 drink. $11.00. Cripes. The three others in my posse (Jay, Roland and his brother, who does not get a name) stood around like a trio of stunned bananas. After five minutes, we left. We would have left earlier but we couldn’t find the exit, which is weird since the room was so small. We ended up walking into the small play area where the cheerleaders were helping people play some game involving beanbags. I asked one of the cheerleaders how to get out of this place and she just turned her head 45 degrees to the left, where the obvious exit was. She was very pleasant but I am sure she was thinking that a gross old man like me needs to come up with a better excuse to start a conversation with a cheerleader.
Next, we headed to Riderville. Now, we were very reluctant to enter Riderville since none of us flew thousands of miles to hang around people from Saskatchewan. We can do that at home for no money. Furthermore, Riderville has a cover charge, and we are very cheap. Mostly Jay is very cheap, but we did not anticipate staying long, so I was not going to argue with him. First, we headed into the “VIP” room, which was a room that alleged VIPs could hang out in. This room was just that: a room. “VIP” seemed like a very inaccurate adjective. Of the dozen or so people in the room standing around like extras from The Walking Dead, it was not at all clear what made these people VIPs, unless the “I” stood for innocuous or incognito. It reminded me of a doctor’s waiting room without chairs, old magazines or even music. There was nothing to do but stare at other “VIPs”. As I entered, the doorman said that we could not enter because we were not VIPs. I pointed out that I was wearing a Riders jersey so I felt like a VIP, but he told me that was not good enough. In any event, I was actually relieved that I was not, by the standards of that room, considered a VIP. We left, but here is where matters took a fortuitous turn. There was a roped-off path from the “VIP” room (quotations are required here) right into the main Riderville room. So instead of leaving outright, we carried on down the roped-off path from the “VIP” room into the main Riderville room. That’s right, we made it into Riderville without paying a cover charge. Take that, Ron Lancaster!
Riderville was housed in a large room about the same size as every Riderville hospitality room in every Grey Cup. There was a difference this year: no people. It was the deadest I have ever seen a Riderville, and I’ve been going to Grey Cups since 1988. Maybe 200 people, not counting the live band, the staff and the cheerleaders. Wow. However, we arrived just as several cheer teams were about to put on their shows. I always liked the cheerleaders, not because I am an old man who typically never gets this kind of opportunity to stare at young girls without being arrested, but because they all really do put on a great show. Roland and his brother had never seen any of this, so we hung around.
We saw the Toronto, BC, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Ottawa cheer teams, back to back. They each had a set of about five minutes, and Saskatchewan and Winnipeg had a team of people throwing girls in the air. It was all great. This might have been the highlight of the evening because these women are, seriously, really good at what they do. In fact, the CFL would do itself a real favour by paying these people and eliminating the demeaning need for them to hawk those calendars all the time, but that’s the CFL for you.
One thing I have always noticed is that whenever I am with a woman watching CFL cheerleaders, any woman whatsoever, the said woman is hyper-critical of the cheerleaders, pointing out flaws that most normal men would not even notice when a female human is willing to wear such few clothes and flail around in public. Nevertheless, I am obliged to agree with whatever the particular woman says about the cheerleaders since any other answer will provoke an argument that will be remembered for all eternity.
After the cheerleaders were done (or cheer teams, whatever), we left Riderville. I had been drinking while the three other guys were mesmerized by the cheerleaders, not because I was not mesmerizable, but because I had seen this stuff before. And I wanted to get drunk. We were ready to move on after the performances were over, and I was feeling pretty good. The problem was that we had no idea where else to go. We did not enter the Atlantic Schooner Down East Kitchen Party because it had a cover charge. The only time I ever went into that hospitality room was a late Saturday night last year when all order had already collapsed and the doormen had fled the scene before the police arrived.
As a result of the complete vacuum of knowledge over where to go next, we headed to the Spirit of Edmonton because, basically, as I stated above, I still had three drink tokens, dammit.
We arrived at the Spirit of Edmonton at around 11:45, and it had a line. Even if the rest of Grey Cup is lousy, you can always rely upon the Spirit of Edmonton. It took about 15 minutes to get through the line, but we were kept entertained by the hard-core drunken CFL fans harassing each other while standing in line. These were the types who dress up in elaborate costumes and wear piles of pins and other generally weird stuff. Inside, the place was rockin’.
Ultimately, the place closed about a half-hour after it was supposed to close and the booze continued flowing. It was a nice way to end the evening. Perhaps the most notable person I met that night was a Saskatchewan guy who was wandering around telling people that Fidel Castro had died. I’m not sure he ever got the reaction he was looking for from the people with whom he spoke.
Hmm. I learned that Princess Diana had died at a similar social event in Regina. Coincidence? I think not. (Yes, I know that sentence was not contructed well. Just deal with it.)
The evening ended without drama. I have to say that my friends are getting too old for this shit and the drinking was limited this year, relatively speaking, due to their advanced age. Granted, last year we drank way too much. This year, however, not enough. I was able to get up Sunday morning this year without a hangover. That’s just not right. Game day I should be in an advanced state of decay. I was fine on Sunday, and that’s just wrong.
On Sunday, we headed over to the Goof for lunch, which is a restaurant in the Beaches area of Toronto. Its real name is the Golden Gate, but its nickname is the Goof because of the sign outside, which says “Good Food”, but the way the words are placed on the sign, it can be mistaken for “Goof”. The place serves everything at all hours, with an emphasis on Asian food. It’s basically a Denny’s with a full Chinese food menu attached to the regular menu. It is a nice café in a nice part of town. The clientele included families and millennials and high school kids and hipsters and old men like our group. We all had different items off the menu and it was all good, but I have never eaten a big juicy cheeseburger with a side of Peking dumplings. I give this place two enthusiastic-but-unintentionally-sober-and-not-hungover thumbs up. Jay pooped in the washroom and said it was fine. I would never have done that; I’m just saying.
We returned to the palatial Fairmont Royal York and changed into our game clothes. I barred anyone from using my toilet for solid waste, although I would have relented if anyone had any pressing need. Thank god Jay took care of business at the Goof. He’s the worst, but the way. The worst.
We walked over the BMO Field, which on google maps is a quick 45 minute walk from the hotel, but in the real world, is a slow and brutal 45 minute Bataan-like death march. As always, Jay was in charge of getting tickets, and this year, due to the drop in ticket prices, we decided to “splurge” and get sideline, as opposed to temporary endzone, seats. As I arrived at our last-row seats, I looked at my ticket and saw that they were “obstructed view” seats. This was the second year in a row that that cheapskate Jay had gotten obstructed view seats. I confronted Jay about this and he said that indeed, he did recall something about these seats being obstructed view, but he had put it out of his mind. I would have complained more about this but Jay is fairly casual about getting paid back for the seats he buys, so I decided not to go into rant-mode. The part of the field that was obstructed was the far endzone, which also contained the jumbotron. Here’s the deal with that.
If we had seats that were not in nose-bleed territory, you don’t really need to see the jumbotron, but when the game is being played miles away, you need the jumbotron to see what the hell is going on. You can’t have nose-bleed seats and no jumbotron, but that’s what we got. And in this year’s particular case, it caused a major problem. When Prime Minister Trudeau’s melon appeared on the jumbotron to give us all his CFL wisdom, and to award Fidel Castro his Humanitarian of the Year Award, everyone started booing. However, since we could not see the jumbotron, we didn’t know why everyone was booing. I finally had to walk down a few rows to see what was going on. Jay thinks Trudeau is a moron, so he missed his opportunity to make a political statement due to his own cheapness.
The jet fly-over was pretty good, but when it is that dark out, all you can see is the afterburners, and because the stadium has a partial roof, I’m not sure many people even saw that. However, the noise alone was enough, so it’s all good. The tenors singing the national anthem were booed, likely because of the dumb-ass thing they did the last time they sang O Canada, although the three remaining guys, having thrown their fourth under the bus, probably hoped for a little better reaction.
The game itself was obviously a good one, and might even approach number two as the greatest Grey Cup game ever played (coming in second place to 1989, of course). The fans in attendance were certainly pro-Ottawa, but there were plenty of vocal Stampeder fans. When they got their chance, they were loud and proud, so to speak. It was a fun game to watch live, and it never got particularly cold.
The half-time show was great, particularly with the wrist-lights. We were told not to leave with these lights and we were told they would not work outside the stadium. However, there were plenty of people escaping with these lights and they were all working outside the stadium. I was not one of the thieves, so I’m just sayin’. By the way, our obstructed view seats obstructed our full enjoyment of the halftime show since, from our seats, you couldn’t see the damned stage. I walked down the aisle a few rows to watch the show, but damn, man.
Walking home from the game, I ran into David Herle, with whom I attended university. He is a political guy who shows up on CBC every so often to talk politics. He was one of those smart guys who did not have to study to do well in school. I was one of the guys who definitely did need to study to do well, and accordingly, having a choice between studying and not studying, I chose not to do well. Part of Dave’s legend was him showing up immediately prior to the Secured Transactions final to pull the cellophane off the course textbook. Anyway, he has worked on various campaigns–John Turner, Paul Martin, Justin Trudeau, Kathleen Wynne–so naturally I ran into him on the street while he was just standing outside a pub, wearing Argo, Rider and RedBlack gear.
Dave is originally from Regina and I was compelled to question him harshly about his sartorial affiliation with Ottawa (because 1976, naturally), but he took the position that the current Ottawa team was a different franchise. However, we commiserated over the whole 1976 thing (yes, Ted Provost was mentioned by name, so this was a serious conversation). If Dave had been wearing Edmonton or Calgary stuff, there might have been an altercation, since there are things that true Roughrider fans cannot do, but he did not cross that line. Now, Brent Rathgeber, another Saskatchewan politico; that’s another story.
The weekend ended with a quiet denouement. We trudged back to my hotel room, then all three of those bastards took a leak in my toilet, and then they departed. Another year in the books. Ottawa is next year. My last experience in Ottawa was 1988, and I spent most of my time in Hull. Anyway, it will be a good time; Ottawa will put on a good show. Toronto, I hope we don’t see you for another five years, at least. You are all Grey-Cup-played-out. Next time, though, I am going up the damned CN Tower.
My flight home was a quiet one. I had a seat by the mid-plane emergency doors, which gave me plenty of leg room. However, I was seated by a demoralized Calgary Stampeders fan who was on the rotund side, and who had apparently decided that bathing right before the flight was unnecessary. He kept falling asleep on me, so this was not the funnest three hours of my life. That would be the 2013 Grey Cup.