Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cheers to the Home Team

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 341

The 2010 Winter Olympics ended with sea of red and white, and we rode high on the swell of the tide like a flotilla of eclectic, excited chatterbox flotsam and jetsam, suddenly strolling among a populace that found itself united by something festive, happy, and proud. A different sort of frenzied flag waving, a multistoried multiplex of municipal merriment as citizens and guests alike wore goofy accessories and slapped fake tattoos of maple leaves onto their cheeks and grabbed color coordinated scarves, mittens, toques, jerseys, pantaloons, togas made of flags, cold impervious body paints, sashes laden with commemorative pins like Girl Guide merit badges, balloon wigs, strollers, walkers, stilts, clap tubes, vibrant variations of vuvuzela, clappers and clackers, ribbons and tassels, cloaks and capes, furry boots and foam ones. Like a riot in Whoville, Team Canada garnered a few thousand citizen recruits that afternoon, and many of them were on impromptu parades like ants following scent trails.

While we’d watched the game at home, we could hear and peek out to see that just down the street the neighbors on the next block had set up couches and chairs in the street, a long coffee table, a rug, and a widescreen TV on a stand for parents to watch the game while nearby a live play by play reenactment of the game ensured in the street, performed expertly by the neighborhood kids. Almost as real as being in the actual stadium rubbing elbows with everyone connected, famous, lucky, or wealthy enough to get inside. We had snacks; homemade nachos baked on a cookie sheet, tasty beers – I believe must’ve been a sampler from Tree, since little speaks to the hockey spirit like Thirsty Beaver Amber or Cutthroat Pale Ale.

During the game, even the city’s blind and deaf would know when Canada scored, the ground shook and the skies warbled and gigantic glass facades flexed as thousands of people throughout the downtown and beyond yelled and hooted and hollered from their living rooms and kitchenettes and patios and rooftops if readily accessible. And as soon as the game finished we knew we had to grab the dog and head into town to see the city celebrate.

Passing the kids in the street shaking hands and saying the universal post game exit line, “Good game, good game.” We head up to and through Chinatown, slingshot around the Science World, or rather, slid along the barricades protecting the line up for the Russian House, and began to encounter more and more people of like mind and able body enough to converge on the city like zombies headed for survivors they can smell, like munchkins headed for Oz, like pilgrims to Mecca, like southern NBA or NFL fans to a riot, just with far less looting, though folks were snatching up Olympic mementos with unprecedented zeal, proof they were there, they were in Vancouver when Canada swept Gold for Hockey, men’s and women’s. At least, that’s how I remember it. Too much Fringe can cause a person to speculate at length upon how things turned out on the other side, but I digress.

We followed the seawall into town, snapping pix and crowd watching, joining in or laughing along when we encountered enthusiastic cheers or exclamations. We passed by the view of the developmental train wreck that is the Olympic Village, and didn’t even think about how many tax payer dollars went into bailing out that ill managed, overvalued money pit of a real estate embarkation. We were so enthralled with the climate of the crowd, who could be bothered to care until election time rolled around about the many cost overruns and fat cat antics that transpired under the banner of the Olympics. At least the train to Richmond finally got made, only a decade overdue. And loads of unemployed homeless folks got a much needed vacation, a chance to visit some of lower mainland’s more delightful suburbs, a wonderful social and cultural exchange, if you ask me. On the day though, none of that seemed to matter. We were all Canadians, damn it, and we were going to celebrate that loud and proud. 

Now that I think about it, there seemed an underlying imperative to do this right, an underlying need for the locals to kick the revelry up a couple notches. BC is sort of that other Provence way out west for a lot of Canadians, the place with all the Asians. From what I’ve learned from some of my more recently immigrated friends here of Asian descent, there may have indeed been a need to save some face, to show Ottowa and Quebec and anyone with Oil money that in Vancouver, BC you might hear “Aye-uh!” or ‘Hai!” or “Hey?” rather than “Eh?” or “Oui!” or “Jesus, Joseph, & Mary…” but regardless of superficial differences everyone here is every bit as much a viable, wonderful part of Canadian culture and circumstance as back east. And we’re gonna fill the streets with red to prove it, and not red as blood, but red as warm and sensible Canadian clothing protecting Canadian bodies kept going by hearts beating Canadian blood. Or something like that, I’m no Stuart McLean or Rick Mercer.  Actually, I’m not even technically Canadian, just PR, Permanent Resident. Home is where you pay your taxes, I say.

As we drew into Yaletown, we saw confetti and felt poppies and the occasional toque and can of beer and yell of “Oops! Look out!” and rubber bracelets and little flags and colorful plastic bead necklaces and intermittent undergarments raining down from the loft condos in the floors above the boutique shops and eateries. 

We saw the former mayor wheeling through with his security detail keeping a generous distance so he could talk to fellow Canadians and share the jovial atmosphere. Back when Lindz had her condo behind city hall and I smoked out on her brick square of personal patio, I’d see the guy shoot up the hill or down the hill, depending on the time of day, and sometimes we’d catch one another’s eye and give each other the Boba Fett nod. Maybe he liked my tattoos. I certainly liked the power his wheels got on a slope that severe, Yukon makes experienced cyclists get off and leg it with alum puckers on their frustrated mugs. I didn’t find out his station until several nods later, just before Lindz sold the condo, a circumstance of complete coincidence that had nothing to do with my learning that the fella with the wheels was Vancouver’s mayor at the time. A friend recently sent me one of the Mayor's music videos on youtube from his younger  days in an 80's Canadian rock band. Look it up, very snappy stuff!

 On a hunch, we head to the far end of Yaletown to where the Soho pool hall is, and sure enough, the establishments inherently lowbrow status had left the patio clear and ripe for the occupying, while all other posh patios in the vicinity were packed to the gills with gleeful gents and gent-ettes. We tied Boomer off on the outside of the fence and sequestered ourselves on a table that happened to have an excellent view of the spontaneous outbreak of revelers in the street and leaning out from the windows and narrow balconies as well as a fairly clear view of the massive teletron screen over at the nearby Olympic encampment, same one we’d seen Blue Rodeo in a couple nights earlier. I dutifully fetched us beverages and snacks and soon, seeing the example we’d set, the Soho patio teemed with like minded folks wanting to watch the wallflower show.
And as the closing ceremonies ensured, and as we sang many a time the Canadian National Anthem, of which I really should learn more words, I realized for the first time in a long time I felt like a part of a community, and specifically, a big, overarching, albeit admittedly at that flag waving moment nationalistic sense of community. Still, everywhere I looked people were all smiling at one another, and not all of them were drunk even. 

Boomer, with his Canadian flag bandanna, solicited more affectionate pets and comments than his precocious existence had ever previously encountered. No doubt he thought this whole party had come together for his benefit, and certainly the amount of food just sitting around on the ground to fill a dog’s belly certainly did his sense of self a world of good, his bowels not so much, regardless his grin was a big and goofy as I’ve ever seen, before or since.

And as we later walked home, leaning on one another for warmth after the sun behind the perpetual  gray Vancouver haze went away, we also smiled, because we’d had some great experiences trolling the Houses and Pavilions set up for the Olympics around Science World, downtown, and on Granville Island.

We chat about how nice it would have been to have had the houses open for longer, perhaps at least through the Paralympics that followed directly after the Olympics, since for those athletes and their families the events were no less meaningful and required no less dedication and effort, especially since the crowds were often prohibitive to getting into a lot of the exhibits or houses, like the Russian one we never got to stroll through, or the Swedish House. The extended food and licensed sales alone could have helped pay off more of the Olympic Village, if nothing else.

And for all the effort countries put into putting up their installations, seemed a waste to have such a limited window for people to enjoy the exposure. Could be more like a World’s Fair, right? Particularly the provincially sponsored houses like the Quebec house with the great bands and Montreal beers, those at least could have stayed open longer, since they all fall under the same flag ultimately, right?

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