From West Coast to Country Western

The country western culture is foreign to me and there is no better introduction to a new culture than total immersion. At least that’s my favourite strategy. I was of the “anything but country” variety for many years before I started dating a born and raised Calgarian. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede so it seemed like the ultimate introduction to this integral part of his upbringing.

When I imagine the Stampede, the picture in my head is a toss up between a lawless, raucous street festival and an urbane city fair with partners swinging partners doe-see-doe.  Of all the stories I’ve ever heard about the Calgary Stampede, I have heard very few adjectives used to describe it.  Usually people tend to stop short at “It’s just so –“ or  “You’ve just gotta – “.  These types of descriptions, while leaving plenty of room for my imagination to run wild or “stampede” with visions of what to expect, may or may not be preparing me for what to actually expect on my summer vacation next week. From the information I have managed to gather, there are a couple aspects of the Stampede that seem to be especially community building in nature.

 

I am so looking forward to the prospect of an entire city taking part in a weeklong theme party.  I am a costume party enthusiast to say the least. It’s hard to imagine all of Vancouver getting dressed up in any one costume besides Canucks team wear but I do like to imagine everyone dressing up as fishermen for a week while for the most part going about their daily routine. Or if during the Olympics, instead of just wearing red mittens, we had all dressed up like the ancient Greeks. I have also heard tell of a special Super Hero Day in the Brazilian Mardi Gras celebrations when everyone dresses up as super heroes. From what I gather, it’s the nostalgic feeling of dressing up that really makes the Stampede more than an urbane city fair and more of community cornerstone.

FREE PANCAKE BREAKFASTS! Get everyone together and give them free pancakes. The genius of this simple idea should not be understated. I have written before about the strong power of a shared meal. People are much friendlier when they have full bellies and even more friendly when they have recently been the given something for free. Friendly people are catalysts for community building. Perhaps the way I phrased it the first time should be corrected. The real idea here is, “if you feed them, they will come”. Notably, this concept was a smash hit over the Canada Day long weekend in Vancouver with the first ever Food Cart Festival drawing in huge crowds and selling out their street eats.

Of all the adjective-less descriptions of the Stampede that I’ve heard, there has been a consistent excitement present in all of them. That excitement is undeniably contagious. I have my best outlaw gear at the ready and I’m raring to go to my first rodeo.

No Fun Couver Revisited

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

We had what I call a Tipping Point party in Kelowna the other night: a party where groups of people got together who normally wouldn’t associate simply because they work and play in different social worlds – accountants, employment counsellors, computer programmers, urban planners, landscapers, sales managers and teachers – and I told a story I read through John Horn’s post about Joel Plaskett. Apparently Joel Plaskett refuses to come back to Kelowna because the crowds here are dead.

Here are some important disclosures about me: 1) I’m not from Kelowna, I’m from Vancouver, so I bring an outsider’s perspective and ask lots of annoying questions; 2) I meet exceptional people everyday in Kelowna, but on the whole often agree with Joel. A friend once asked me whether someday I will ever tell people I’m from Kelowna (I always say, “I live in Kelowna, but I’m from Vancouver”). My answer was “Not yet”. But someday I hope I feel differently.

Several years ago, I went to a groundbreaking show at a downtown Kelowna pub where local hero Shane Koyczan opened for Danny Michel.  I’d never heard Danny Michel before and I was stunned when he walked on stage, just him and an electric guitar, and provided the most sonically cool and rip-rockin’ show that one man could make.  Absolutely unbelievable. I’ve been a Danny Michel fan ever since.

Unfortunately I was also very drunk on the occasion – I had chosen to drink stout beer all evening which results in heavy lips and heavy feet – and my most vivid memory of the concert was of me falling on my face on the way to the bathroom. Unfortunately, it was also the loudest noise from the crowd that evening. No cheers, no catcalls, no song requests. And yet, the music that Danny Michel performed that night would’ve started a riot in Montreal, it was that good.

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

So I shared Joel Plaskett’s comments at our party, and instead of angry responses, I got sheepish ones.   Apparently it’s a well-known fact around here that Kelowna has reserved crowds. If you want to go to a great concert, you make plans to leave Kelowna, you go to Vancouver or Washington. Even at hockey games, no one cheers very hard until the playoffs.

A friend of mine who moved to Revelstoke told me an interesting story about the Junior B hockey team there which regularly scored low attendances.  A funny cultural shift happened when Revelstoke became a destination of choice for sports-obsessed Australians looking to work abroad at a ski hill. Australians quickly learn that junior hockey is hard, fast and violent – all the things that Aussies love in their sports – and they’re permitted to drink lots of beer at games. The Aussies started buying up all the tickets along the boards and would stack their beer cups against the glass. They would cheer hysterically when a body check would send cups flying into the crowd in all directions. People around the entire rink would cheer (it’s possible that some betting was involved) and even the players and local fans were getting caught up in the excitement. Attendance at games has never been better.

I now realize that culture has a tipping point. Cities change, sometimes very quickly. When I lived in Vancouver, I remember locals complaining that the city was too boring (this was pre-Olympics) and the media had dubbed it “No-Fun-Couver”. (Even as recently as last spring, I read that UBC was making changes to admissions procedures to accommodate cultural as well as academic variables to make for a more diverse student body.) But I don’t hear as many complaints these days about Vancouver – every time I visit I have a blast – so things must be turning around. For Kelowna’s sake, both economically and culturally, I hope that shift is headed this way or tough times lie ahead.

For discussion, I’m throwing out a licentious thought: that the key driver of well-being in any city lies within your population of 25-35 years old, single, college or university graduates. If you lose more of these people than you attract, bad things are ahead. Because these are your future entrepreneurs, movers & rump shakers. It’s also what keeps your town from becoming a boring place. Kelowna has been failing on this metric and it’s something that desperately needs to turn around. In fact, it’s a key variable that every city should watch.

Masthead image courtesy of Adam Jones, PhD

Octopi Underperforms in 2-1 Victory Over Turfinators

Nobody left the pitch happy on Wednesday night. Not the Turfinators (they lost 2-1). Not Octopi Vancouver (they/we should’ve won 8-0). Not the UrbanRec official (Octopi may have lost its sportsmanship award).

Many of the Octopi team members – except Jen, Jess and Nicole, whose positive energy and team spirit were awesome and semi-contagious – left the field in angry states that truly ran the gamut of sensation; from Erin Loxam’s “we could’ve done a lot better” to my yelling in the car on the way home things like “I had the whole right side of the net wide open and shot it right at the goalie because I’m an idiot” and “those guys couldn’t control their bodies and almost hurt a lot of people with their goonish awkwardness.”

But enough about that. What about the soccer football?

Roger Hosking started the scoring on a one-timer – which was also a cracker – off a gorgeous heel-pass from centre-midfielder and Architect at Large, Stewart Burgess. The onion bag bulged and Octopi got off to a fast start.

The Turfinators answered back quickly, as White Socks – their one All-Star-caliber player – weaved his way through our entire side and then sniped a perfect snipe into the top corner of League MVP David Willinsky’s goal. Colanders contain water better than our team’s collective defensive effort contained White Socks on that play..

The next 20-30 minutes unfolded as an exercise in goal-mouth futility for the Octopi side, who had no fewer than 87 exceptional scoring chances that unfolded not as goals, but as near misses, huge misses, incredible misses, goal-post-bounce-offs, shots right at the goalie, shots right at the sideline, shots right into the sprawling legs of defenders, and, yes, shots backwards, too.

Luckily, the team’s savior, Roger Hosking, came to the rescue with a well-timed strike that beat the Turfinator keeper with ease – Roger did a neat thing by not shooting the ball 10 meters wide or right at the goalie. Well done, good sir.

By the end of the evening, the Turfinators’ unintentionally chippy play (they put me on my butt at least five times and absolutely flattened our star striker Erin Loxam) and Octopi’s collective inability to put more balls in the back of the net resulted in the vocal presentation of some heated and biting feedback at the opposition players and an UrbanRec official that may or may not have come from the author of this blog post.

Allow me to stand on my soap box for just a moment: players and officials, when an emotional competitor who frustratingly underachieved during the game and is upset with himself apologizes to you for his inappropriate behaviour, don’t tell him to keep his mouth shut and then say something else that can’t be repeated on this blog. A happy and healthy community this does not build. At the end of the day, it’s just sports!

Oh, one last thing. League MVP and Vancouver Whitecaps back-up goalie, David Willinsky, also made a win-saving stop with about 10 seconds to go in the match. Amazing.

Editor’s note: a special thanks to Jen for her enduring positivity – as I reflected on my life choices and poor performance at 2AM on Thursday morning, your kind words and enlightened spirit made my frustration melt away.

Octopi Brings up Farm Team Blue Chippers to Earn 1-1 Draw

Thanks, Katie@! and Flickr Creative Commons

With General-Manager-Coach-Director-of-Public-Relations-Starting-Centre-Defenseman Kurt Heinrich away at an undisclosed honeymoon location, an under-staffed Octopi Vancouver squad called in some favours and called up some enthusiastic talent from the team’s junior league squad, The Soccer Balls. Thanks to Blaine, Chris, Beau, Jess, and Andrea for your stellar contributions – and sorry for any name-related spelling mistakes…

It was a mild and dewy Wednesday night under the lights of UBC’s Thunderbird stadium. And we played some soccer. Against another team. They were called “Totti Hots Purr” and there is a good chance that they cheated en route to a 1-1 draw against an Octopi squad that, in addition to enduring probable cheating, struggled to control play in the middle of the field and failed to capitalize on some really good scoring opportunities.

Expertly backstopped by All Star goaltender David Willinsky, Octopi dominated the first half. Soccer Generalist and Everyman, Brenton Walters, worked the middle of the field and the sidelines with new recruits Jess and Andrea to near perfection – only a few misstrikes (it’s a word), an off-the-post-header, and, as I mentioned before, probable cheating the their opponents, saw Octopi race through the first 10 minutes without notching at least two goals.

And then John Horn – following a great header from New Guy Chris (who, incidentally, refused to sport a bright pink Octopi kit … no judgment …) and a great attacking run in the third person – ping-ponged the ball past two defenders and half-a-goalie before cracking it into the back of a half-empty-net. Things looked good for Octopi.

Now back to the cheating. Look, all I’m saying is that, from the sidelines, it looked as though the Totti Hots Purr player – after being pushed to the turf by our team during an intense goal-mouth scramble – hand-passed the ball to a teammate who kicked it into an empty net. Like I said. Cheating.

In the second half, Octopi sat back and played a little too much of a dump-and-chase game, which resulted in the other team #winning a lot of the midfield play. There was really only one chance in the second half and it was for Totti Hots Purr, but League MVP David Willinsky splayed his body across the goal and robbed the THP sniper of what he – and his misplaced track-pants – thought was a sure goal.

Looking forward, Octopi hopes to continue gelling with a skilled team nucleus that has yet to play together this season. And when it does, look out Urban Rec. This is a team that has as much talent as it does chemistry as it does a dumb name with hilariously awesome pink uniforms.

Handel’s Messiah at the Orpheum

Composed in 1742, Handel’s Messiah has become a cultural fixture of the Christmas season. When I heard that some of my family planned to see the Vancouver Chamber Choir & Symphony Orchestra’s performance of it I recognized the name but didn’t know exactly what it was. I knew it was a classic that I wanted to experience for myself so I jumped at the chance to do so.

 

Image: Tourism Vancouver, Orpheum Theatre

The performance was at the Orpheum Theatre on Granville Street. This was my first time inside the Orpheum so I just need to briefly gush about the iconic building. The red and gold fixtures and the mural on the vaulted ceiling make it difficult to imagine this was ever a movie theatre, but the old photos on the walls are both proof and nostalgic reminders for visitors like my Mom, who remembers seeing movies there when she was young.

 

The baroque epic is composed of bouncing vocal rounds interspersed with soloists reciting what are almost comically repetitive choruses. You get the sense that they really want to make sure you now what they are talking about. Except for the soprano who sang in a pitch so high that what she sang couldn’t compete with how she sang it. Handel’s own habit of customizing the lyrics for each performance has become a part of the living tradition. While a live musical performance is always unique, it is not always intentionally so. I love the idea of a composition that was written over 250 years ago with the intention of performing it differently for each occasion. It makes the occasion more exciting for the audience, and the performers.

 

Handel was super rich. He still ranks in the top 5 richest classical composers. Messiah is just part of what made him so plentiful of resources. Handel is credited as being the first to write English language oratorios. An oratorio is a sort of no frills no gimmicks opera that cut out all the typical expenses that made Operas so unprofitable, such as costumes, sets, and star performers.  Mostly unknown performers on a simple stage created a vocal symphony so compelling that record-breaking audiences have attended since the first performance.

 

The ease and low cost of staging the show combined with the incredible popularity with audiences made Messiah the most profitable performance of it’s time and it remains one of the most performed pieces in the world to this day. This was a great opportunity to get out and enjoy one of the city’s best venues and one of the world’s most popular pieces of music and, to top it off, the tickets were only about $30. Halleluia!

Disc Golf

Photo courtesy of Jarrod Job and the Flickr Creative Commons

Disc golf makes me happy. So much so that a game at Little Mountain, our local course, is always a first stop for guests visiting Vancouver. When we’ve got friends coming into town, my partner and I meet them at the airport, head to Queen Elizabeth Park, crack beers at the first hole and then we all play a round or two. Seriously. It’s the perfect introduction to our awesome city. Here’s why:

1. It’s free! Disc golf was invented in the US in the 1960’s and now there are thousands of courses worldwide. Almost all of them are free and open to the public. That means no green fees or memberships to pay and no fancy equipment to rent or buy. Plus, with three courses in Vancouver, your bike is all you need to get you there.
2. It’s outside! Courses are usually in public parks or green spaces so a round of disc means fresh air, exercise and quality time with nature.
3. It’s social! Disc golf is non-contact, beginner-friendly, talking on the course is A-OK, and disc-golfers are a friendly bunch. Sure, there are rules and etiquette to be mindful of, but I’ve never seen a player freak out at another person on the course for any reason.
4. It’s hard! Getting into disc-golf is easy but becoming good at is really, really hard. Like stick-golf, it takes years of practice to fine tune your long and short games. Without knowing anything about the game, it looks no different than playing Frisbee. Once you start playing though, you’ll quickly learn how difficult it is to get the disc into the basket. Then you’ll notice how amazing some of the other players are. Then you’ll wonder why you never noticed those baskets in amongst the trees before.

Disc golf is tons of fun and the community of disc golfers is tight, robust and interesting. Check it out!

PARK(ing) day

PARKing-day, San Fransisco 2005

Six weeks from now, greenspace will resurface the city streets across the world.  September 17th is PARK(ing) day, the moment when both socially concerned and more simple fun-seeking citizens will unroll sod and set up benches in metered parking spots.

Originating in San Fransisco in 2005, PARK(ing) day was initiated to draw municipal and media attention to the lack of green space in a particularly gritty part of the urban core.  It lasted just two hours, the maximum amount of time cars are legally allowed to occupy a parking meter.  A single photo was taken, circulated online, and five years later the movement has spread across the continent.

PARK(ing) day in five sentences:

  • choose a nice bit of street that has a parking meter
  • feed the meter up to the allowable maximum time (generally 2hrs in Vancouver)
  • unroll your sod, put up your tent, fill-up your wading pool, fire up the bbq, hang your hammock, do your greenspace thing
  • be prepared to explain your presence to passers-by and by-law enforcement officers
  • when your meter expires, calmly and carefully remove your chattels, sweep the curb and move on with your day

The idea of feeding a meter, legally occupying a space typically reserved for the automobile, and having a little greenspace goodtimes is captivating.  If on average, concrete and pavement occupy fully half the area of most urban cores, why not playfully suggest a little change to this ratio?

Originally PARK(ing) day was a political statement.  Personally, I think the City of Vancouver is doing a pretty good job of promoting mixed-use streets in the pursuit of the woonerf ideal, so I’m not sure that a Gumboot PARK(ing) need be politically active.  However, it can be fun.

A lunch bench with a lush little patch of grass at the corner of Granville and Robson (comes with free copies of the Daily Gumboot)?

A wading pool filled with gumboot-clad bathers at Main and Hastings?

How about a micro-soccer tournament for the Portland FC?  Two minutes in a fenced-off parking spot, the ball cannot leave the ground and the highest score wins?  Passer-bys can enter, ‘feed the meter’ by donating a little change.

So, my dear Gumbooteers, where would you park yourself?  And what would your intervention be? Does your city have space that needs a little PARK(ing)? And most importantly — what are we doing on September 17th?

PS — Perhaps it is time to hook-up with the Vancouver Public Space Network?

PARK(ing) day can be fun

PARK(ing) day can be wet and fun

PARK(ing) day can be wierd and cow-filled