Throughout the regular season this year, I have repeatedly written that the Calgary Stampeders would not win the 20I7 Grey Cup. Everything was coming too easy for them. Well, on Sunday, November 26, 2017, they officially entered 1966 to 1976 and/or 2007 to 2013 Saskatchewan Roughrider territory with this quantity and quality of kick-to-the-nuts Grey Cup futility. Or maybe Bo Levi Mitchell is the new Jerry Keeling. Anyway, people are going to start to feel sorry for this sad-sack franchise. Some people. Not me. Maybe a little.
Now that we have that unpleasantness behind us, let’s review the weekend leading up to a Grey Cup game that will live in infamy: Snow! 100 Yard Touchdown! Another 100 yard touchdown! 1971 Avenged! A new Leon McQuay! Blizzard! Dog Sled! Shania!
I had packed two different types of Imodium (tablets and gel caps) for the weekend, so I was very well prepared this year.
I arrived at the always expanding Calgary International Airport for my Thursday morning flight to Ottawa, Ontario. YYC Airport feels like the Mars colony depicted on the smash science fiction blockbuster Total Recall, the original one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, not the pointless, needless and impossible to follow remake with Colin Farrell and that woman who allegedly married Justin Timberlake. YYC has these cool electric buses that drive along bus paths with pedestrian intersections that light up green or red depending upon whether a bus is about to hum past. I’ve never seen anyone on these buses but I am waiting for one to burst into flames following a Kuato-led rebel attack.
I saw on the morning news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was questioned about the name Edmonton Eskimos. He said that he wanted the team to consider something less controversial like the Edmonton Redskins. The organization itself indicated that it was “listening to all the conversations”, which initially sounds like a bland platitude designed to politely tell people to fuck off but then seems a little creepy if you think about it for a while. Next year’s Edmonton Grey Cup should produce a cavalcade of protesters who will not only complain about the team being called the Eskimos, but that they are being called protesters. “Protesters” are just the term that The Man has imposed upon defenders of social justice to marginalize them, and the English language is the tool of a patriarchal word police trying to impose Big Brother-like control over those who seek truth and righteousness.
Although I think any people have the right to object to any sports teams using their names, whether those names are offensive or not, I strongly suspect that if the Edmonton Eskimos were to wait another 20 years, the name “Eskimo” will be back in vogue and “Inuit” will be considered a derogatory term imposed by the white establishment within the PC police, consigned to the dustbin of history until resurrected in another 20 years after that when some university professor discovers a footnote on some 1830s treatise that implies it was the correct name all along. But maybe sports teams should just stay away from any names for any people period, how about that? The Edmonton Fighting Ukrainians? Go garlic!
The Ottawa Redblacks cleverly choose to make up a name than meant nothing, so Edmonton could go with something like the Edmonton Corktowels. If they really wanted to make a statement, they could stick with the double EE and take the name the Edmonton Empathy. They could start every game with a moment of silence for all the victims of anything, anywhere, anytime. Their new fight song could be Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Their mascot could be Justin Trudeau.
Upon arrival at the Ottawa airport (YOW!), we were met by members of the Ottawa Redblacks cheer team. I’m sure they have some kind of sporty name but who cares. A quartet of typically dishevelled Booze Brothers was slithering into town around the same time. I think they were already drunk. Or head injured. Or at least I hope there is some concrete and diagnosable health issue because they don’t look well; it’s not natural to look that pasty and still be moving. Anyway, the cheer team and the Booze Brothers got together for a few pictures. I’m sure the young ladies were delighted to have these old men saddling up to them.
I was staying at the venerable, or at least passable, Lord Elgin hotel, only a five minute walk from Parliament and the Rideau Centre. Upon arrival at the Lord Elgin, I immediately connected with my friend Ron who was already in town for business. He’s a BIG somebody. After a lengthy and confused exchange of texts that should have been much quicker, given that we were staying at the same hotel and we were just trying to organize a meeting at the hotel bar, we were sitting at the bar at the Grill Forty One in the Lord Elgin.
I pretended to participate in an informed discussion of sports that even the two jolly Stampeder fans sitting a few feet away felt compelled to join in to correct my dumb opinions about the Flames, Oilers, the NHL and the basics of how hockey is played generally. Everyone was in a good mood, all anticipating a long weekend of standard-issue Grey Cup revelry (except Ron).
A quick note on Ron. He booked a non-refundable Thursday to Monday room at the Lord Elgin months ago and then, about two weeks ago, announced that he would only be staying for Thursday night. This kind of early departure is something of a Grey Cup tradition, but he needs to get his shit together.
Anyway, at Grill Forty One, I ordered a Black Russian because a) I am an old man b), I can’t always be pounding back Jack Daniels straight up, and c), yes, I know that a Black Russian is a lame drink. Anyway, the young fellow working the bar did not know the ingredients so I had to explain the complicated vodka and Kahlua over ice formula. I didn’t bother telling him a Black Russian is supposed to be served with a cherry because the cherry is typically what makes it embarrassing to order– for me and any males who happened to be sitting with or near me.
Now, I ordered a double Black Russian, and the way this kid mixed it, this was effectively a quadruple (two shots vodka, two shots Kahlua–which a professional bartender in Calgary once explained is illegal in Alberta because it contains too much alcohol in one drink; I don’t know if that’s true but I wasn’t going to argue about it). Anyway, three quadruple Black Russians later, I retired to my room briefly to shower up for an evening of stumbling around Ottawa. (This would not be the last Black Russian incident of the weekend. And again, I can’t stress this enough: I know a Black Russian is a lame drink.)
After I showered up while my head was swimming in alcohol, I went back down to the hotel bar where Ron was drinking and texting. Ron and I then cabbed over to the main group of middle-aged males who showed up for Grey up this year, led by my friend Joe. We headed to the ByWard Market area of Ottawa where the Spirit of Edmonton was located at the Lowertown Brewery Pub and Sens House. By 9 o’clock or so (my recollection at this point was already a little hazy), there was a ridiculous lineup outside of the Spirit of Edmonton, so we dropped into another pub two blocks away where our friends had already settled in.
Joe’s group consists of lawyers, doctors, dentists and their ilk, but all from Saskatchewan, so once they start drinking, they have no class, no common sense and no self-control. The dentist managed to get thrown out of Spirit of Edmonton in Regina 2013 before even getting into the building. So yes, an excellent group with whom to go to Grey Cup.
After a few drinks at the pub, we headed to another pub. As the boys settled into this second pub, I decided to see whether the lineup at Spirit of Edmonton was getting reasonable. It was not. Nevertheless, I decided to join the line. Forty minutes later, my friend Ron had joined me in line and once we got to the front a few minutes later, Ron smooth-talked an arrangement with the bouncer running the line (who told us we didn’t need to know his name; he just told us to refer to him as the “guy with the beard”) to get the six others still over at the pub into Spirit without having to wait in line. Problem solved.
The Spirit of Edmonton was, for me, a shadow of its regular self this year. First, there was a $10 cover charge. I don’t really mind, but they had always prided themselves on not having a cover charge. I read that Spirit is bleeding money so they had to reform their financial practices, so whatever. However, the 2017 Spirit did not feel right in a local bar and pub. I only saw a few of the regulars, like Big Head Blue Bombers Guy. I did not approach him since, last year, he seemed a little hostile. His head ain’t getting any smaller; I’ll just get that out of the way right now. I texted my friend Jay, who was stuck in Vancouver this year, about spotting Big Head Blue Bombers Guy at Spirit, and Jay accused me of wanting to have sexual relations with BHBBG (that’s the most polite way I can described what Jay actually texted).
The band at Spirit was different. I think the Rob Riggle-looking lead singer was there, minus the rest of his band, or something. Their playlist also seemed different; not nearly as much AC/DC as usual.
I think I got into Spirit around 10:00 or 10:30, and as noted above, we arranged for the boys to join us. By around midnight, it was pretty clear that had decided to do something else. What does a group of lawyers, doctors and dentists (and their ilk) from Saskatchewan do during Grey Cup in Ottawa? They go to a strip club. The Barefax Gentlemen’s Club in particular. The girls are just so friendly!
Anyway, Spirit was my first exposure that weekend to the ubiquitous Fun Police, a quartet of portly males dressed like cops who apparently police (as a verb) fun. It has never been clear to me if that means they are there to enforce limits on fun, like traffic cops pulling people over for speeding, or they are there to enforce certain minimum amounts of fun, like no police anywhere. I declined to get to the bottom of this question because I really didn’t care and I doubted they would provide me with a straight answer. They’re cops, after all. Anyway, they were everywhere that weekend, apparently handing out tickets for something. Usually to women.
Ron headed home around the same time some of the boys made it over to Spirit from the Gentlemen’s Club. Ron had an early flight the next day because he’s an idiot. Joe and few of the other guys were a little dazed but otherwise somewhat coherent. I do not recall any sensible conversations but that was fine with me. I hate sensible conversations.
I stayed nearly to the end of the night at Spirit. The guy who seems to run Spirit sang his last song of the night routine, a rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline that seems to impress people. It’s a tradition. My evening at Spirit, as well as the walk back to the Lord Elgin, was uneventful.
I got up relatively early on Friday morning to attend Question Period at Parliament. I had arranged for a ticket from my MP. First, I went to the prime minister’s Office across the street from Parliament to drop off an old booklet of dumb pictures I had of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father with a letter asking the prime minister to sign the booklet and send it back to me. The prime minister wasn’t actually in town at the time. You have to catch him between apologies.
Parliament had its Christmas decorations up already. I didn’t like that. It’s not even December yet. I’ll have to call my MP about that. Those are my tax dollars at work! I arrived in time to watch the Speaker of the House do the “Speaker’s Parade” into the House of Commons. Given the overall Christmas theme, I assumed there might be a Santa float or maybe a few members of the Supreme Court waltzing around in their formal Santa suits, but it was a fairly understated affair that was over before it began. The person carrying the “Mace” seemed pretty happy with himself; it looked like it weighed about 300 pounds. Again, my tax dollars at work. An elderly couple wanted me to help them get their cell phone camera working but my cell phone was older than theirs and theirs was an Android for chrissakes. What were they thinking! Anyway, I’m an Apple guy so I was no help whatsoever.
When I arrived in the House of Commons itself, there was virtually no one in the visitor’s gallery and only a few in the actual House itself. It looked like the Saskatoon bus station on a Friday at around 11:00 PM, although bus passengers typically dress better than these politicians, and some bus passengers try to stay awake to avoid missing their rides.
The MPs in attendance were engaged in a debate about C-45, the legislation that will legalize marijuana. The Conservative Members, who all looked pretty much exactly what you would assume a Conservative Member of Parliament would look like, were bitching about the whole thing. There are lots of good arguments to oppose marijuana legalization, but the Conservative MPs mostly stuck to the 1950s-era reefer madness hyperbole. They seemed to be really worked up about it but since there was only about five government Members present, I’m not sure of the point. The Liberals seemed to leave it to the health minister to defend the bill. I think that’s an odd choice given that there are not a lot of good health-based arguments to make marijuana legal for general use. I would have gone with the Justice Minister but I guess he wasn’t available, or awake.
Around 10:45 AM, Joe and the boys rolled into the visitor’s gallery of the House of Commons. They caught the tail end of the marijuana “debate”. The gallery also started to fill up with visitors, mostly members of Rider Nation resplendent in their jerseys and Rider paraphernalia. It actually looked a little like Taylor Field near the mid-point of the fourth quarter of any game during the 1979 season. A few additional MPs also filtered in and some of them eyed the visitor’s gallery with a mixture of bewilderment, disappointment and distain. Most just seemed to sleepwalk into the chamber and collapse at their desks to stare listlessly into space; perhaps pondering how much longer they had to serve before they earned their full pensions. A few would acknowledge other MPs with some jocularity, like they were wordlessly asking each other “How did you get roped into coming down here this morning?” or “Nothing on TV?”
At some point around 11:15 AM, Question Period began moments after Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Finance Critic, walked smartly into the chamber and took his seat in the front row of the opposition bench. He stood and promptly began a lengthy preamble that ended with an anti-climactic but silly and loaded question to someone (I really don’t know who) on the government side of the House. Some guy a few rows into the government side of the House stood up to respond (or at least, react). I could not see who because we were told in no uncertain terms by security that we are not allowed to stand or lean over the visitors’ gallery to see who was talking immediately below us. Whoever this guy was, he did not answer the question and I am not even sure if he even heard the question, given how his answer had nothing to do with the question. It was like two ships passing in the night even though one of the ships appeared to be trying to ram the first ship.
Undaunted, Mr. Poilievre stood once more and repeated most of the preamble and question, almost verbatim, and sat down. Again the guy on the government side started talking about something. After he abruptly stopped talking, a different Conservative MP started his question. Mr. Poilievre was apparently satisfied with his discourse with the mystery Liberal MP. He quickly opened his briefcase, placed some notes into it, closed it up, stood, and promptly walked out of the chamber. Maybe he had diarrhea or something. I could have tossed him some of my Imodium.
Mr. Poilievre’s question heralded the end of the serious questions, if Mr. Poilievre’s question could be called serious in the first place. It certainly sounded like a serious question, and if you did not speak either of Canada’s official languages, you would have thought that something was actually accomplished. If you had a rudimentary understanding of English, you would wonder if you had not stumbled into a mental hospital with patients all pretending to be Members of Parliament.
At some point during Question Period, an MP near the back of the House wandered in with her baby. Given her location in the House, I believe this baby was part of the NDP caucus. He (the baby) spent his time being passed between several MPs (my tax dollars at work!) until he got upset about something; maybe how poorly Pierre Poilievre had been treated. Or maybe the baby was one of the surprise MPs elected in Quebec a few years ago, along with Ruth Brosseau (the one who got elected despite (or because) she went on a vacation to Las Vegas in the middle of the election campaign).
On the government side of the House, I recognized several PMs who had quietly entered the House at some point: Ralph Goodale, Kent Hehr, Climate Barbie Catherine McKenna. Everyone else; I had no idea. There was some cabinet minister in the front row who got stuck “answering” some questions and she looked like everyone’s kooky aunt. She certainly seemed to get steamed up about some damn thing but she spoke in French and I was too lazy to put the translation device to my ear.
Immediately prior to the official start of Question Period, Michelle Remple from Calgary sauntered in like she owned the place, looking like a recent High School senior and former head cheerleader dressed for her first post-graduation job interview for the position of hostess of a crappy restaurant pretending to be upscale. She paid no attention to anyone except to briefly gossip and giggle with another decidedly older female MP on the opposition side of the House. She spent the rest of the time slouched at her desk with her head buried in her cell phone. The only thing missing was chewing gum. At the appointed moment, she stood up and sounded like an adult for her question about some damn thing. She apparently got some kind of answer and she asked a follow up question, or something, and then immediately got back to her phone even before the government member had an opportunity to finish his nonresponsive answer. Then she left before Question Period was over, along with the attention of all the males in the building
The last 10 minutes of Question Period involved a lot of heckling. The Speaker spoke to the MPs like they were children, telling them that while she knew it was Friday, we all have to behave ourselves to hear the answers, and she knew we all wanted to get out of here so if we would just let the government Members answer the questions, we could get this over with. Inspiring, really. God bless the Queen.
Generally speaking, I would sum up Question Period as the most efficient and important way that a parliamentary democracy can insult the intelligence of anyone who watches, participates, or thinks that anything useful gets done in Parliament, and if you don’t like it, why don’t you move to Russia? It’s almost as if there is an unspoken competition to see who can show the least interest, act the least serious and appear to be the most bored and jaded. Pierre Poilievre totally lost that competition, but by the speed in which he removed himself from the chamber, I assume he was a little embarrassed to be forced to pretend that anything he said or did that morning made any difference to anything or anyone whatsoever.
Paul Begala allegedly said that “politics is show business for ugly people.” I’ll end my Parliament section on a sexist note. Most of the men and woman in Parliament look a little dilapidated. I don’t know if they got into politics because they were already dilapidated, or politics had that effect on them. Whatever. Michelle Remple and Catherine McKenna were both exceptions to the rule. However, there was a qualitative difference between the two women. Ms. McKenna looks like the kind of woman you might find on the cover of a fashion magazine. Ms. Remple looks like the kind of woman who ends up on the cover of a different kind of magazine. She seemed like a serious and intelligent person when she asked her question; well-spoken and articulate. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but damn, the way you dress and conduct yourself, even when the spotlight is not on you, can make a big difference in how you are perceived. You don’t dress like you are going on a first date with a guy you’d really like to get to know better when you go to Parliament. You dress like you are headed to Riderville to get drunk, I guess, like most of the people in the visitors’ gallery. Anyway, enough with the politics.
Things seemed to start wrapping up in the House so our gang decided to leave. We were met outside by the Saskatchewan MP who had arranged for the Question Period tickets for Joe’s gang. He gave us a friendly and lengthy explanation of the best restaurants to eat at for lunch and took a few pictures with the boys. Immediately after he left us, Joe and his gang tried to remember what his name was. Someone eventually googled it but I don’t know why. I guess he literally was a nobody fifty yards from Parliament, if I have my Pierre Trudeau quote correct.
We walked about 20 minutes through downtown Ottawa. I’ll just say this now. Half of Ottawa is under construction, and not just minor adjustments. Why is this necessary? Who is paying for this? And all the construction workers are French; I don’t know the significance of this. And another thing. Everything is either named Rideau or Laurier. I assume that successive years of Liberal Governments have ensured that Laurier is honoured as much as possible, especially since he was French. That would explain why there are no Diefenbaker hotels or Borden buildings, at least not the prominent ones.
For lunch, we settled on the steak house called Baton Rouge, and the consensus was that the name must be French for “red penis”. It was there that I learned Joe and the boys had spent their Thursday night at BareFax. Craig’s scarf was now called the “vagina scarf” but I didn’t like where this story was going so I put a stop to the whole explanation. No one put up any serious objections.
Joe opined that, last night, Spirit was the drunkest he had ever seen it in all his years of attending. I could not really measure the relative quantity or quality of the drunkenness of the people at Spirit. I did think Joe himself had been plenty drunk, so that might have impacted his perception of the venue.
The food at the Red Penis was okay; not the best filet I have ever had but entirely passable. Most of the guys at my table ordered larger stakes, and when I say larger I mean massive. Huge. They ate like a group of guys from Saskatchewan who have never seen food before. Impressive but disgusting; the food was gone like it had never existed in the first place. Following our meal, we adjourned for the afternoon and I went back to my hotel room to rest. This will be the last time I go to Grey Cup and attend Question Period the next morning.
I dozed throughout the afternoon, watching (among other things) the end of 2016 Grey Cup. Did you know that we had a different commissioner last year? He kept on pronouncing Ottawa “Au-Tawa” and repeatedly said that Canadians should just stick to “ice hockey”.
At some point (6 o’clock?) it was time to psych myself up to go out drinking at the alternative rock show at “The Arena at TD Place”, where Sloan and a number of other bands I either detest or have never hear of before were playing. After showering, I went down to the Grill Forty One for a few drinks. I ordered a double Black Russian but I was watching something on the television instead of the bartender (a different one from last night) who presented me with a White Russian. After I corrected her and got that unpleasantness behind me, I had a few drinks and cabbed my way down to The Arena at TD Place.
Joe and a few of the boys were already on the floor of the arena watching some damned band whose members were all wearing skinny jeans. Are skinny jeans still a thing? I guess so. Jesus H. Christ. Gross.
I didn’t like any of the music and was bored out of my mind, but Joe, Craig and Jason all seemed have good time. I just got very drunk. They also got drunk, but they enjoyed the music while they did. I left early and went to the RNation (Redblacks) pavilion.
As I was headed towards the thumping and pulsating building that housed RNation, only a few steps away from The Arena at TD Place, some random guy (I believe they are call “Randos”) handed me an RNation VIP ticket. The ticket apparently gets me into the buildings and I was eligible to enter a fenced-off part of the pavilion placed on a slightly raised platform. As far as I could tell, this VIP section was different from the rest of the building (where the scum were relegated) by the different quality of garbage strewn on the floor. The people in here were also dressed a little nicer, but too nice for the venue. In sober hindsight, I wonder if the VIP ticket would have gotten me access to an open bar. That’s the last thing I would have needed by that point, but sometimes that last thing you need is the best thing.
I had a lot to drink on Friday night so I don’t really recall exactly what happened at this point. I’m pretty sure I visited Riderville and I’m pretty sure I ordered drinks there because I was shocked at the $8.50 price. Joe and the boys were at Riderville but I do not recall how extensively I interacted with them. I ran into former Stampeders running back Jon Cornish, which is something of a new tradition. Last year I ran into him at the Saddledome one week before Grey Cup. He called me over to talk to him but I don’t know why. Then I ran into him at Jack Astor’s in Toronto on Saturday night at Grey Cup and he had no recollection of me from the week before. Then this Grey Cup I introduced myself to him at Riderville and again he had no recollection of who I was. At all times he remained very pleasant and I’m hoping after few years he will start to remember me.
I took a cab home at some juncture. I don’t know what the hell happened to Joe and the boys.
Saturday “morning” I texted Joe and they had just left for Cora’s, a breakfast restaurant on Rideau Street by his hotel Les Suites. I joined Joe, Craig and Jason who, by the way, only made up a little less than half of the total “boys”, but they were the only ones who seemed to be able to rouse themselves out of bed and get out of the hotel room on a consistent basis all weekend. Anyway, they had already ordered their breakfast at Cora’s, but I wasn’t interested in a real breakfast so I left them there and went out searching for a more lunch-y menu. I eventually found what I was looking for and read the Globe and Mail.
I then spent a little time shopping for books at the Rideau Centre, which (I was told) is Ottawa’s biggest mall. I bought a few books and then I settled down at Joey’s, a nice restaurant on (what else?) Rideau Street, where I watched the Rouge et Or de l’Université Laval get upset by the Western Mustangs (who I never liked because they beat the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the 1989 Vanier Cup).
I had tried to connect with Joe that afternoon. At one point I had texted him “Where you be?” and he texted me “I be jammin.” More on that later.
I headed back to the Lord Elgin, passing the Saskatchewan Roughriders Pep Band performing at the Shaw Centre adjacent the Rideau Canal. At some point Joe began responding to me via text and I got ready to head out to The Arena at TD Place for that evening’s classic rock concert: Trooper and April Wine.
I arrived much later than the other guys and I lingered on the area’s concourse buying booze. Joe and the boys were on the floor level of the arena but I arrived too late to join them. The floor level was packed and security put a stop to people entering the floor level. I guess my tardiness and alcoholism ended up preventing me from joining the boys.
I returned to what I had been doing before, which was standing in line on the concourse for booze, trying now to drown my sorrow that I was not able to get close to the stage to watch two bands I had little-to-no interest in seeing. A somewhat drunk fellow behind me engaged me in a conversation.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, he asked me if I was from Estevan, which got us talking about Weyburn and how my mom was from Weyburn and I had worked in Weyburn and I was at Grey Cup with about six to eight guys (I cannot actually remember how many) who were all originally from Weyburn. During this bizarre conversation, another guy would occasionally walk up behind us and ask some dumb incoherent question and get shooed away by Estevan Guy. This other guy looked like the adult version of a kid with whom I had gone to elementary school named Chester. He was totally and completely baked and barely standing, but very friendly. He was with Estevan Guy, but Estevan Guy had obviously had enough of Baked Guy and was quite irritated with him. Eventually I figured out that Baked Guy was merely trying to explain, over and over, how completely stoned he was, but there is really only so much you can say about that. I could understand why Estevan Guy had had enough of his friend, Baked Guy.
Anyway, about a half hour later I was strolling along the concourse listening to Trooper inside the arena, and Baked Guy came up behind me. He was very pleased to see me and we engaged in another pleasant but repetitive dead end conversation about how stoned he was. However, he was moving a little faster than I thought he was capable of, and then I realized that he was being held by the arms by two security guards on either side of him who were escorting him out of the building. Baked Guy didn’t seem to think it was important to tell me he was basically under arrest, or maybe he didn’t realize it. The guards were amused by the fact that Baked Guy was having what he probably thought was a normal conversation with me as he was being forcibly led out, so they just let it continue. I apologised to the security guards for getting in their way and they very nicely told me it was no problem whatsoever. I bade Baked Guy adieu and off he went to be tossed out on his baked ass outside.
When Trooper was done playing, the concourse filled up with people looking for bathrooms and more booze. I walked down to the final rows of seats before the floor level and spoke with Joe and the gang. We tried some half-hearted attempts to get the nearby security guard to let me onto the floor level, but I found out later he was mad at Joe for placing his drink on something he should not have placed his drink on. He was not cooperating whatsoever with us.
Before I returned to the concourse, I ran into a 10,000 year old man who I had run into that afternoon looking for a Grey Cup venue. He had been looking for directions from me and I had been unable to help. I now found out he never got to where he wanted to go, but he was now at the April Wine concert. That will be me in about 9,070 years.
At that point in the evening, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get onto the floor level one way or another. On the concourse, there was a metal stairwell that led down into the bowels of the stadium. It was manned by a young security guard who looked about 12 years old. When he left his post, I took the stairs down. I figured I would head onto the floor level from underneath the stadium. I made my way through the concrete and metal undercarriage of the arena trying to find a side-entrance into the floor level where the band was playing. I just walked around like I was supposed to be down there and I could tell I was confusing the staff. I even overheard one staff member ask another staff member who I was, and the answer I heard was literally “Well, he seems to know where he’s going.” I did not.
After about 3 or 4 minutes of wandering purposefully around like that classic Steadicam continuous scene from Goodfellas that follows Ray Liotta as he takes his date (and soon-to-be-wife) in the side entrance and through the kitchen of the Copacabana, I finally decided to try to bullshit my way past the phalanx of security guards standing around where the bands enter the floor level by the stage.
I looked them all straight in the eyes and I explained to one of them that I had spoken to a Dave or Doug (I said it was hard to hear him because of the music) who had told me that he can’t let me on to the floor level from upstairs but he told me to come down here and talk to you guys to get you guys to let me in. I picked Dave or Doug because those are pretty generic names and I might luck out. The first guy started to ask me if it was Mike or something and I said yeah, Mike, that was the name, but then the security guard who was even larger than me (I am not a small man) put a stop to all this nonsense and said that, absolutely not, I could not come onto the floor. He firmly but pleasantly escorted me back upstarts after almost deciding to kick me right out of the building. And that was that.
With my adventure ending in failure, I decided it was time to leave. I’ve never been a big fan of April Wine and I’ve seen them at every second Grey Cup since 1988. I am particularly offended that they never play the two or so songs I actually like, and I hate the self-indulgent 20-minute drum solos that seem to be a necessary part of every performance. I headed out to the RNation and Riderville pavilions, which were both right next door.
Anyway, I just rolled into the RNation pavilion like I owned the place (but was a drunk and absentee owner) and started drinking. Then I went to Riderville and back and forth. I would have to say that RNation had an exciting rave-like atmosphere but Riderville had a “funner” vibe. There were more people at RNation than Riderville (understandably since this was Ottawa and RNation was a slightly larger building) but RNation seemed like a less CFL-centric crowd, whereas Riderville was hard core CFL and Rider fans. I also liked the music better.
Joe and the boys were at Riderville, as were the aforementioned Fun Police (and the Rider guys who dress up like the Legion of Doom or the Road Warriors, and a plethora of other CFL types who go overboard but add a lot of colour to the proceedings). Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback Brandon “Air Canada” Bridge was in attendance, talking up the ladies. He’s almost as tall as me.
I ran into the guy who I met last year at Riderville who was from Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. He claimed to be a former oilfield worker who was retired (even though he looked younger than me) as a result of the fortune he had earned working in the Middle East. Last year at Riderville, he had been wandering around with a whistle calling penalties on people. We bonded over this and he remember me by name. I have no clue what his name is. We engaged in an inconsequential general conversation involving, probably, how drunk we were or something like that. This year, he didn’t have his whistle. Oh well, we’ll always have Toronto 2016.
I stayed down at the Grey Cup festival area (where Riderville and RNation were located) until everything started to close down. I wandered back and forth between the venues. It didn’t really dawn on me that, at some point, Joe and the boys had left. When I first arrived at Riderville, they expressed surprise to see me and marvelled at how I just seemed to show up or disappear at irregular intervals, which was a correct description of my behavior when I am drunk and able to amuse myself without any assistance. One of the guys called me the “Lone Wolf” of our group. Again, however, I did not realize they had all departed. I spent most of my time talking up strangers, including a very tall couple from BC and their very tall daughter (who I later discovered were staying at the Lord Elgin, and who I did not think dressed warm enough for Grey Cup game itself).
I probably got back to my hotel room at around 3 o’clock in the morning.
Sunday morning the weather had turned. For Thursday through Saturday night, the weather had been warmish and overcast. Sunday morning it was sunny and cold. The forecast called for snow later in the day. Game day.
I walked over to meet up with Joe, Craig and Jason at the palatial Fairmont Chateau Laurier for the buffet brunch. There I learned all sorts on interesting things from them. By the way, I almost cried when I saw the big slab of perfectly cooked prime rib along with rows of eggs benedict and desserts as far as the eye could see. And I don’t even want to talk about how good the sausages tasted.
Anyway, what I learned….
On Saturday afternoon when Joe had texted me to tell me he was “jammin”, it turns out he was literally jamming. He had apparently arranged with an Ottawa friend of his to attend a jam session in some small town outside of Ottawa on Saturday afternoon. Joe was irritated and a little disappointed because, while he likes to jam with musicians, it turned out the median age of these musicians was 90 and the food was potluck, made by the 90-year old musician’s wives or girlfriends or groupies. That was his Saturday afternoon.
Jason and Craig had gone to the War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History on Saturday afternoon. They were not impressed with what they perceived as the Museum of History’s obsession with exhibits about how awful white/western society had been to every other society it came into contact with or could get its hands on. Now, me and the boys are all enlightened enough to know how terrible we’ve been, but cripes it costs ten bucks to get in, and who wants to pay money to get crapped on? If we wanted to hear about how terrible Canada is, we could attend a Trudeau apology.
Anyway, Joe and Craig were much more impressed by the War Museum, which was the exact opposite. I think they got whiplash. It was an endless parade of smashing victories, glorifying the skill and bravery of our white/western society that could kick the pathetic loser ass of every pathetic loser society, culture, civilization or nation that had the temerity not to get out of our way while we victimized, exploited or destroyed everything in our path with our merciless and unrelenting war machine. Even the damned Germans took it on the chin. Twice! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Ca-Na-Da!! Ca-Na-Da! Fuck yeah! It just makes you want to go out and punch a hobo. Lazy fucker.
Okay, what else? Jesus… now I’m all outta breath….
Okay, I also learned that the night before, the boys had gotten their hands on some marijuana gummies. Somehow, as I understand the story, one of the guys who is a doctor went to a medical marijuana dispensary and had gotten these gummies. His glaucoma flared up, I guess. Really flared up; tons of it. Anyway, the boys took the gummies and the drugs completely shut them down. Unlike Baked Guy from Saturday night, the boys had just enough sense to escort themselves out of Riderville to their hotel room by midnight. By the somewhat confused explanations they were providing me at brunch, it seemed they all had some vague recollections of Craig building a fort with the couch cushions he was supposed to be sleeping on and Joe knocking over every chair in the entire suite, and Jason tripping over Craig’s cushion fort and causing some kind of commotion. Joe may or may not have had any recollection of any of this. He seemed to vacillate between declarations of complete amnesia and the clearest recalls of even the tiniest detail, real or imagined. So… hmmm.
I also learned that on Friday night, the boys had headed to Quebec to visit a different stripper bar than the one they had visited on Thursday night, and the general consensus was that this other place was not as good as the local Barefax Gentleman’s Club. Nevertheless, they had enough fun to spend over two hours there, doing god knows what with the French girls.
On a less tawdry note, someone had a picture of Randy “Macho Man” Savage dropping a top-rope elbow on the Lord Jesus. This turned into a conversation about where exactly WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar lived in Saskatchewan, which turned onto a discussion about Saskatchewan history, which lead to a discussion of University of Saskatchewan professor and historian Bill Waiser which, of course, inevitably lead to a discussion about how Mr. Lesnar had indicated during a Stone Cold Steven Austin podcast that he was a big fan of Saskatchewan country singer Colter Wall. Joe wondered aloud if he was any relation to Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, and I surprised him by revealing that Colter was Brad’s son. Joe only believed it after googling the whole thing.
After I finished the last of my five eggs benedict and we ended our brief discussion of what kind of accommodations we would get for next year’s Grey Cup in Edmonton, we wandered around the palatial Fairmont Chateau Laurier. After a short debate, we headed to the National Gallery, because that’s what old men do at Grey Cup—brunch at the Fairmont and a tour of an art gallery. Incidentally, my friend Jay says that only cretins refer to iconic hotels like the Chateau Laurier or Royal York or Hotel MacDonald as the “Fairmont”. I agree; I’m a cretin.
I loved the National Gallery. It was insane. The more insane the exhibit, the better I liked it.
One exhibit was a hospital room with a manikin of an apparently well-known transvestite dressed in a sexy PVC nurse’s uniform standing at the bedside while the 1970s-era television hanging from the ceiling played some crazy soap opera-like program that featured the said well-known transvestite in some weird melodrama involving the transvestite having some kind of meltdown. On the hospital bed, there was a bunch of old cardboard or wood or something.
Another exhibit was a black and white film (not video) of a woman standing on a street alternating between yelling the female names written with marker on her arm and then running a tree branch through her mouth to strip the leaves off. And then repeating the whole process over again, endlessly.
Another exhibit was a recreation of a small town gas station confectionary store, complete with candy bars, lottery ticket sales and pink insulation falling out a hole in the ceiling.
Yes, there was the standard paintings and so on, but it was the weird stuff that I found interesting. I found Jason in one of the portrait rooms listening to some employee blabber on about something, and he actually seemed interested and not trying to get away from her. Later he bought a book in the gallery store about the Group of Seven. Always the Group of Seven. Joe speculated that it might have been the group of eight but seven of them had had a vote like when the Beatles kicked their original drummer out. Then they gave Bill or whoever the bad news, and Bill was all like “Why can’t it be the Group of Eight?” and they would just make something up like “seven” sounded better or it was a budget thing and out of their hands.
Anyway, we left the National Gallery at 3 o’clock sharp to head back to our hotels to prepare for the game. Up until Saturday night, I thought I would not need all the winter clothes I had brought for the game, but by mid-Sunday afternoon, we all knew we would need everything we had.
At 4:30, I met the boys at Joey’s Rideau, a restaurant on Rideau Street. The plan was to leave for the game at 5 o’clock. Most of us were ready to go at 5 o’clock but two dummies left their ski pants at their hotel room so we left without those idiots. Speaking of idiots, I did not have a game ticket yet.
By the time we arrived outside TD Stadium, it had already been snowing hard for a while. We had not seen any snow all weekend, on the ground or otherwise, but it had arrived in spades. As Joe, Craig and Jason were about to leave me behind and disappear into the line that lead into the stadium, I heard someone say the magic word: Ticket!
As it turned out, two fellows from Calgary had one ticket to sell. It was a 45-yard line, under the cover, $415 face value ticket that came with field access after the game. I immediately begged off because I had no need for such a fancy ticket, but he demanded that I make him an offer. No, I said, I don’t need such an expensive ticket. Make me an offer! Okay, $200. Done. And I was in.
TD Stadium was magnificent, glowing with the falling snow lit brightly by the stadium lights while dozens of boys with shovels dodged several caterpillars all trying to push snow off the field while the blizzard raged around them. It had a dreamlike and otherworldly quality, like we were witnessing the first football game on another planet. It reminded me of the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey when the astronauts were looking over the excavated site on the moon under the klieg lights, illuminating the mysterious monolith. This excavation site here in Ottawa was a lot bigger, but everyone was dressed like astronauts. It all had an electric atmosphere; everyone was happy and excited. And covered in snow.
I later found out that Prime Minister Trudeau took time off from apologising, or preparing to apologise, to show up at the game. I assume that he understood that the stadium was not filled with non-Canadians so he did not want to announce his presence and get booed out of the city. I don’t understand why prime ministers don’t do the ceremonial kick-off anymore. Trudeau Senior did; he didn’t give shit who booed him. I think he liked it. Now that I think about it, when did they stop doing ceremonial kick-offs?
My ticket was in the midst of a knot of Calgary Stampeder family members. I was sitting beside the girlfriend of Mike Klassen, who was sitting beside the sister of Mike Klassen, who was sitting beside the parents of Mike Klassen. Mike Klassen is a defensive lineman (no. 90) with the Calgary Stampeders, although he was not playing in the Grey Cup, much to the (mostly) good-natured chagrin of the family of the said Mike Klassen. Around me were more of whom I assumed were members of Stampeder players’ families, including not one but two babies. And one very loud, happy, knowledgeable and cynical Argo fan (actually two, but the other one never seemed to say a word). Loud Argo Fan was a dead ringer for actor and comedian Adam Carolla.
The Girlfriend Girl was very personable young lady and was delighted to talk about anything. Loud Argo Fan was also willing to talk about anything, especially the futility of the Argonauts.
At some point Girlfriend Girl was talking with Stampeder Sister about the players and Girlfriend Girl was muttered about what nice guy S.J. Green is but what a jerk Duron Carter is. I asked why Girlfriend Girl disliked Carter so much and she asked me if I knew him. To be clear, I don’t know anyone. I said I didn’t know Duron Carter but he seemed very nice to the fans. She assured me that he might be nice to fans but he is a terrible human being. However, she thought that ending up in Saskatchewan might have humbled him. I wasn’t sure how to take that remark but she seemed like a very nice person so I don’t believe it was intended to be a slam against Saskatchewan. But who knows; she was from Calgary.
This delightful discourse and banter amongst all of the people around me (Girlfriend Girl, Loud Argo Fan, etc.) continued until about the 4:52 mark of the fourth quarter. At that point Loud Argo Fan kept talking a lot louder but I’m not sure that I heard another complete sentence from any Stampeder fan anywhere in the entire stadium.
Okay, we’ll come back to that. Anyway, the national anthem. I don’t know how it came off on television, but at TD Stadium, the whole crowd-participation hymn-sing thing started to get a little annoying. Several old guys in my section started yelling “Just sing the damn song already!”
Anyway, there was something very neat about Shania arriving in a dog sled. Word on the street was that this was arranged that afternoon when the forecast called for that big dump of snow. I doubt it would have worked, or even made any sense, if there was no snow. They should have gone all-in and brought in the flying snowmobiles from the 2013 halftime show.
Immediately prior to the opening of Shania’s performance, the stadium lights went out, and there is nothing—simply nothing—that makes people scream with delight more than turning out the lights. It’s as true in kindergarten as it is in a stadium of 36,000 adults. Humans are idiots.
I am sure that the blow-torch fire things that went off throughout Shania’s performance have been used in every half-time show since Bachmann Turner Overdrive at the 2010 Edmonton Grey Cup. Speaking of BTO, doesn’t Argonaut General Manager Jim Popp look like a guy who could be Mr. Bachmann, Mr. Turner or Mr. Overdrive? (I’m pretty sure there is no Mr. Overdrive, but you know what I mean.) Or maybe a member of some other 70s-type band that also goes by its initials, like Electric Light Orchestra?
The half-time pyrotechnics produced enough smoke to make the stadium look like the scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones where the Clone Troopers are battling those stupid robots, I mean Battle Droids, in the desert on Geonosis. It was another awesome sight. The stadium, I mean. Clones kinda sucked, of course, except for the battle scenes. They were awesome. Say what you will about the prequels, George Lucas knows his battle scenes.
It more or less blizzard-ed throughout Shania’s performance but it started to trail off as she wrapped things up. As soon as Shania disappeared into the hole in the stage, the snow stopped altogether and it got very cold.
Girlfriend Girl and Stampeder Sister continued to enjoy the game through most of the second half, and if anything mildly bad occurred, they would often yell “You should have played number 90!”, but otherwise seemed to enjoy themselves, as did the other Stampeder fans around me. Loud Argo Guy continued to enjoy the game, seemingly resigned to the reality that the better team would and should win the game.
At one point, Loud Argo Guy was loudly pontificating that the Argo punt that was nearly recovered after a Stampeder fumble in the fourth quarter was the turning point in the game. Girlfriend Girl and Stampeder Sister, and other Stampeder fans around us, were all good-naturedly agreeing with him. Had the Argonauts recovered the fumbled punt, he reasoned, the game would have turned around and the Argos would have had a chance to keep things close enough to go for the win at the end. But alas, the Stampeders were closing in on the fourth quarter coup de grâce touchdown that would lead to the la Coupe Grey, and it was clear the Argonauts had missed their golden opportunity to win the game. And then IT happened.
The Kamar Jordan fumble might be on par with, or exceed, Leon McQuay’s 1971 Grey Cup fumble. It was almost literally unbelievable to watch the play unfold in front of my eyes, right below me. The Stampeder fans sitting around me were stunned into silence. Loud Argo Guy was euphoric. The last thing I recall hearing Girlfriend Girl or Stampeder Sister yell was one more half-hearted “You should have played number 90!” After that, I recall some muttering but, even though the game was still in balance, the writing appeared to be on the wall. The Stampeders were going to go gently into that good (snowy) night.
Kamar Jordan deserved a better fate that to be forever known in the annals of CFL lore as the second coming of Leon McQuay. But then again, deserves got nothin’ to do with it (Clint Eastwood; Unforgiven). People forget that, even after the McQuay fumble, the Toronto Argonauts still had a chance to win the 1971 Grey Cup. However, very late in the game, with Calgary pinned deep in their own end, Toronto’s Harry Abofs fumbled a Calgary punt and then accidentally kicked it out of bounds. Apparently, if you kick a ball out of bounds, possession goes to the other team. Based upon this weird rule and the freak kick, Calgary took possess and ran the clock out. I expect that Bo Levi Mitchell’s last minute interception, which did not need to have been thrown, will be forgotten in the fog (or blizzard) of CFL history, as has Abofs’ fumble/kick.
Anyway, as the game wound down and the air was slowly let out of the Stampeder fans, things were just getting started for me. I had my field access pass, so I shuffled past the zombie-like Stampeder fans slowly and silently filing our (Seriously, they were just like zombies. Zom-bies!) and headed down to meet the victorious players after the game ended. The first impediment was a little security guy whose mouth seemed to be frozen. I was explaining to him that I had a field pass and I showed him my access bracelet, but he was non-responsive, almost comatose. After about a minute of trying to reason with him, I asked him if he even spoke English. He started jabbered at me in French. Jee-zus.
I moved onto another guy who let me through as soon as I showed him my field access bracelet. I had to show it two more times to two other security guys, but once through, I was standing not three feet from la coupe Grey while enormous Americans (and a few Canadians) were hoisting it above their heads. Jim Popp and Ricky Ray were nearby, surrounded by every kind of camera and microphone imaginable, being interviewed by every sports reporter in the country. Several times I was asked to show my field access bracelet by some random security guard because I probably didn’t look like I was supposed to be there. I had carefully hidden all of my Roughrider gear (winter hat, gloves, jersey, etc.), but in the midst of Argonaut friends, family and staff all talking and hugging each other and so on, and not having a microphone or a real camera in my hand (I had my crappy little camera), it did not make any sense that I was there.
The celebration of the field was a euphoric party. Babies were being kissed; mothers were hugging their boys; wives and girlfriends were getting their pictures taken. These Argonauts were real live people with actual lives and actual families, not just football players.
All this happiness and joy began to get tiresome so I left the stadium. I hate that stuff.
Outside, it was mob rule as people tried to leave the area. Police were directing traffic and yelling at pedestrians. Joe and the other guys had all lost each other and it was every man for himself; like we were fleeing the Titanic. Joe was waiting on an Uber. I found myself in the midst of a bunch of Roughrider fans and, after getting collectively yelled at by a few cops, we accidentally found ourselves standing in front of a bus that was going downtown, so we all scrambled aboard, with some children almost getting trampled.
The bus ride back was a typically friendly gathering of CFL fans of all stripes, heavy on the green. I was fairly close to an older woman, covered in Roughrider gear, who had absolutely the worst breath I have ever had the misfortune of coming into contact with in my entire life. Even dog breath, and they eat their own poop. The woman sitting beside her, who I believe was her even older mother, was subtly covering her nose every time her daughter talked, and her daughter talked a lot.
(Quick note. Speaking of dogs eating their own poop, a study was recently released that allegedly scientifically proved that dogs are smarter than cats. Google it. Apparently, dog brains have twice the number of neurons than cat brains. I’m sure cats everywhere are still like “Whatever. Call me when you figure out why dogs eat their own poop.”)
This bus dropped me off right in front of the restaurant that our gang had used earlier that day as a rally point prior to the game. I texted Joe and he told me to go to his hotel, which was only two blocks away.
I arrived at his hotel and asked the guy working the front desk to telephone up to Joe’s room. Front Desk Guy knew exactly who Joe was and told me that he didn’t think Joe liked him very much. He was clearly still rattled by his encounter with Joe. He explained that Joe had come in and demanded that he (Front Desk Guy) get Joe a six pack of beer. The Front Desk Guy had tried to explain to Joe that it was midnight in Ottawa on a Sunday and it was impossible buy beer at that hour, and besides, he could not leave the front desk. I assured Front Desk Guy that Joe was joking, but he did not appear to believe me.
Front Desk Guy called up to Joe’s room and handed me the telephone like it was a bomb. I asked Joe what room he was in and Joe immediately told me to ask Front Desk Guy to go buy a six-pack of beer for me. I explained to Joe that Front Desk Guy had already been traumatized once and I wasn’t going to do it again. Anyway, Joe gave me his room number and up I went.
When I arrived at Joe’s suite, all of the guys were there. Joe explained the whole “get me some beer” story. It appeared as if Front Desk Guy is a little simple and did not understand Joe to be joking around, so he was now terrified of Joe. Whatever. Joe is not a terrifying guy, but everyone thought this was hilarious. Poor bastard.
Anyway, the plan the boys had come up with for Sunday night at midnight was to go–where else?– to a strip club. Back to the Barefax Gentlemen’s Club, which they had carefully and diligently confirmed would be open until 2 o’clock in the morning. I had no interest in going so, after about ten minutes of pointless discussion, in which I indicated that I was up for anything else but a strip club, I left. Presumably they left shortly after, off to another adventure in nudity.
On my way back to the Lord Elgin hotel, I stopped in at the sketchiest McDonald’s I have ever been to, rivalled only by the scuzzy McDonald’s on Stephen Avenue in Calgary. I ordered a few burgers to go, but I wasn’t paying attention and after paying, I discovered that this McDonald’s orders (all clearly displayed on their video screen) were backed up by about 20 minutes. Now, I’m not entirely clear what the hell was going on, but it appeared as if this was Grand Central Station for take-out “Skip the Dishes” McDonald’s orders. There was a half-dozen Skip the Dishes delivery men, all appearing to be otherwise homeless, standing around waiting to pick up enormous McDonald’s orders. I had no choice but to wait for all these massive Skip the Dishes orders to be done.
After I received my meal, I walked the further five minutes to my hotel and ate supper in my room while I flipped back and forth on the television between a replay of the game on TSN and post-game commentary on the other TSN channels. I was asleep by around 2 o’clock in the morning.
Nothing on consequence took place after that (if anything of consequence could be said to have taken place at any point during the weekend). I caught a 4 o’clock flight to Calgary and arrived at around 7 o’clock local time. My car was completely dead in the airport parking lot. The airport has a truck that comes by that gave me a boost, but that was just plain weird.
A quick final word on the Lord Elgin hotel. It has the fastest elevators I have ever been in.