I'm official. I have gained entry, through no fault of my own into what I termed the "original old guys club". That is, I have hit the first milestone in life where normal people start to joke about your age. I say normal so as to exclude certain abnormalities that include kids who often point to anybody older than them as nearly dead. I'm alive, and the celebrations surrounding my turning thirty have died down from their feverish peak. This morning, I am most certainly feeling old after driving myself pretty hard all week in the exercise department. You see, I was determined to do so after indulging quite a bit on my birthday weekend.
Being the naive person that I am, I had been totally taken aback by a nice little surprise party that Sheila had organized for me on the weekend before the big day. Buoyed by the fact that it was a week early, the party was meticulously planned by Sheila to not allow for any clues that would tip me off. Sheila asked my manager at work if he could allow me a day off on the Sunday of the weekend, and she also arranged with my co-worker to switch with me so I would off Saturday evening. There was copious amounts of food, and I was arriving home with Ian just as that night's UFC card was starting. The fights were great, the beer was cold and the company was quite nice. After the fights and a rushed game of poker, a number of us went downtown to spend too much on ridiculous cover charges and inflated drink prices (channelling my newly acquired old guy status). I would be lying if I told you I remembered the finer details of the night. I am essentially a non-drinker at this point in my life, but I cut loose and go overboard on this occasion. It seemed like as good a time as any.
The reason the hoedown in my honour had to be held a week early was because I was set to be quite busy on the weekend of my birthday. A couple of months before the big day, while visiting at our place, my parents asked me if I would be interested in a sports getaway weekend to celebrate my big milestone. It has been more than 4 years since my dad, our friend Kamil and I went to Los Angeles for 3 sporting events, and 3 years since I saw my first NHL game as an adult in Edmonton. I made sure that my Dad knew how interested I was, and also that I would be more than happy with whatever you wanted to plan for the trip.
After a non-start to our trip which involved waiting to board our delayed plan while sharing a holding area in the Prince George airport with more people than should be allowed in the small space, we were in a race against time to reach BC Place Stadium for Friday night's football game between the British Columbia Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos. The timeline would have been tight without the hour long delay, as my Dad was scheduled to work the day and we couldn't fly out until the afternoon. Each part of the flight seemed to take place in slow motion, from the overly thorough flight instructions, to the disembarkment from the plane upon landing. We hurriedly walked through the expanse of YVR to Skytrain station, missing a departing train by seconds. 8 minutes later and we were seated for our trip into the downtown core. By this time, the game had started, and I was able to check the score as we rode. I let my Dad know that we could toss the bags at the hotel desk to save time, so after a brisk 2 block walk from the station to the hotel we dropped our bags with a friendly bellman and raced across the street to the stadium. We had gotten lucky. The game wasn't nearly as far along as we expected. Two minutes into the second quarter, and the score was 12-1 for the villains.
The game we were attending had unfortunately become irrelevant due to the positioning in the standings of both teams. The game could have had a considerable dearth of intensity, but if it was there it was less than glaring. B.C. had their backup quarterback playing due to injury, but the interesting part of their offense was the dual headed monster at running back. Andrew Harris is the established starter, and Stefan Logan has recently returned to the team after a couple of years playing in the NFL. With mixed emotions about missing the terrible start to the game, we proceeded to sit down to enjoy a barrage of offense that extraordinary even for the CFL. In the 40 minutes of football that we witnessed, B.C. threw for 4 touchdowns and ran for 2 more. Dad and I had plenty of chances to holler and cheer, walking away after the game with a happy glow. Delays forgotten, we had thoroughly enjoyed our first CFL game in about 10 years (not sure when the Eskimos game was, but I was a much younger man at the time).
We checked in to our room, taking a minute to relax before heading down Robson to find a bite to eat. It was about 11 pm and the street was quite lively. The last Friday before Halloween added some traffic to what is already a busy spot on the weekend. We walked a number of blocks, eventually deciding on a Persian joint with music blaring and what appeared to be the rare, Father, Son and Grandpa providing all the staff neccesary. For a reasonable 10 dollar each we enjoyed Lamb kabobs, rice, salad and hummus. Exhausted, we headed back to the Hampton to call it a night.
The men's trip continued the next day as we filled our faces with the free continental breakfast while discussing what to do for the rest of the morning and afternoon. I told Dad about this awesome used bookstore that Sheila and I had gone to a couple years ago, and it turned out we were less than a kilometer away from it. Our hotel's location on Robson proved to be most convenient, as we took but 1 skytrain ride all weekend, everything we wanted to see or do was in the near vicinity.
McLeod's on Pender didn't disappoint. My Dad is more into book buying and reading than I am, and the haphazard stacks that cluttered the narrow aisles had his head spinning. The front desk of the store where the long time proprietor sets up shop is completely buried under papers and books. I'm not exaggerating when I say that not an inch of wood is exposed, as if the desk was being heavily guarded by the mass of paper and cardboard it was covered in. How the clerk found the debit machine to take payment was beyond me. I chatted with a young female clerk about her job, this after sharing a laugh over her line: "Can I help you find something?" This was uttered as she held a book in one hand helplessly staring up a 12 foot high shelf hoping to find it's home. We ended up escaping after finding a few books each. Asher got "Fox in Socks" to add to his Dr. Seuss collection, and Jasmine was happy with her copy of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". I opted to add a couple books to my Truman Capote collection, continuing the tradition from my last visit. I also grabbed an obscure George Orwell title. I thoroughly enjoy both authors and hope to eventually consume all of their works.
We filled the rest of our afternoon exploring Gastown and Chinatown, restraining overselves at the gigantic used book sale at the Vancouver Public Library, then as headed back to our hotel to kick back for a second the scents coming from the restaurant across the street overwhelmed us. It seemed that the BBQ establishment called "Back Forty" had their smoker going fullblast out in their parking lot. Having not eaten since the complimentary morning face filling, we were enticed to enter the crosswalk and check the place out. It was swamped with people, only getting busier as our stay went on. Wanting to ensure that we got a dish that had been smoked out in the lot, Dad and I both chose the pork ribs. The mushroom caps came with the meal, odd for an appetizer, but that didn't stop them from being delicious. We consumed barbecued Brussels Sprouts for the first time in our lives as they were the seasonal vegetable provided. The ribs were solid but not amazing. All in all, a decent meal but I am a big proponent for trying things in the big city that I can't get at home. I'm not certain that I can get smoked pork ribs in Prince George, but this meal lacked that blow me away factor.
We had realized in the weeks leading up to our departure that our Saturday night of the weekend was blatantly unfilled with sports. Dad and I scoured all ticket sources in search of an elusive sports event to attend, but alas we were left holding the bag when our only choices involved multiple transit transfers and a level of hockey only slightly above the beer league that I play in. In a funny twist, as we were unpacking our bags Friday night, I mentioned that I had found a small concert at a nearby nightclub that might be fun. It was also inexpensive. My Dad countered with another small concert that I had somehow overlooked. The headliners were unknown to me, but they were billed as "indie rock" and I thought that might appeal more to both Dad and I. The venue? The Rickshaw Theatre.
An old as dirt venue smack dab in the middle of the "worst" part of Vancouver, The Rickshaw on East Hastings sounded intriguing. We walked from the hotel, 2 kilometers through the downtown core, I love the feel of being in a city. The walking we did during the weekend was always enjoyable. I like the buildings, I like the people watching, I like checking out various obscure stores and restaurants. We arrived way too early, my Dad enjoyed getting his i.d. checked, then we decided to go wander around until closer to show time. My love for politics and my interest in socioeconomic diversity lead me to enjoy getting a feel for different parts of a city. I am not a bleeding heart per se, but I do like to experience this type of thing so that I am less likely to perpetuate stereotypes that others are willing to expound. Dad doesn't usually spend a lot of time downtown on his Vancouver trips, so the walk was a bit of an eye opener. I remarked that there seemed to be a lot less people around than the last time I had walked the street. Hopefully that is due to an increase in shelter capacity, but it may be that the street population was forcibly reduced for the Olympics in 2010 and it hasn't recovered. It was a nice mild night in Vancouver so we enjoyed our walk before turning around and returning to the theatre. After a short wait, then concert began.
Dad and I had not heard of the headlining band before that morning. We listened to one song on you tube, and that was enough to determine it was worth spending our evening enjoying "Okkervil River" in concert. Despite our ignorance, Okkervil River has produced 7 full length albums, and has enjoyed 15 years as a band. The lead singer Will Sheff has been the lone constant in a revolving door of band members. As the show began the first couple of songs were alright, then we got blown away by a song I later discovered was called "Big Love". Great melody, killer vocals, you name it. The next song involved a lengthy breakdown into instrumental extremes as the band's dual percussionists and it's keyboard player went off on a lengthy tangent. Simply put, it was awesome. It was after this song that my Dad remarked: "This is the opening act." I can only surmise that he could tell this based on a poster he had seen, or perhaps the one music video that we had looked at. Well, the opening act was great. We were still in the dark about the name of the band until we checked a poster on the way out after the concert. Matthew E. White, thank you. You have at least one new fan. This gushing about the first band is not to take anything away from the main act, Okkervil River. They were a little more fast paced, a little more rock styled than their predecessors. Ironically, as I was celebrating my first old man milestone, in classic old man style I started getting sleepy by the end of the concert. I had enjoyed a few pops, and the theatre was getting hot. Despite my drained energy, the experience was very positive. The theatre was genuine, and I prefered this intimate setting to the passionless feel of an arena concert. Did I mention that the tickets were but 20 dollars? I plan to attend more concerts in the future, and have already made tentative plans to take Sheila to a local one later this month. Folk rock band that I have never heard of for the more than reasonable price of 15 bucks? Sign me up.
Sunday started with a nice soak in the jacuzzi at the beautiful hotel spa. Lots of places you stay claim to have a gym or a spa, but this one really had one. Complete with multiple cardio machines, free weights and machine weights, ping pong table, jacuzzi and a sauna. Even the change rooms were expansive, with seemingly no expense spared. Coupled with the free breakfasts and the great service from the staff, the hotel added considerably to the enjoyment of the weekend. I suppose a glowing review on trip advisor is in order. Tangent be damned, I was all cleaned up and ready to tackle the Casino across the street for a little poker. Well, as any seasoned poker player should know, Sunday morning is not a good time for the game. What a silly man I am. Feeling like I should play due to the proximity, I was conflicted because my Dad doesn't play and I was quite enjoying our time together. He had some work to take care of, so this seemed like a good time to go for a bit. Boring is the word. I lasted an hour and lost, but I think I would have been bored whether I won or lost. Not a highlight of the trip that's for sure.
I came back to the hotel and agreed to the suggestion of taking a ride on the skytrain. Dad and I ended up at Metro Town mall. After strolling through aimlessly, we took to the streets of Burnaby. It was nice to find the condo building that my Grandma and Grandpa used to live in, and we enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days. It has been more than 15 years since my mom lost both her parents within a short time span. As we strolled around the neighbourhood I imagined how much both of them would have just loved Jasmine and Asher, and it most certainly brought a tear to my eye.
My Grandparents had an awesome view from their place, and one of my Grandma's favourite things to do was watch people out and about. As little kids we were fascinated by the skytrain, and it raced by on its track just a few hundred meters from their building. Our visits at their place involved a handful of traditions that I will never forget. One night, there was always the chicken dinner from KFC. My Grandpa was a great cook, so ordering take out was reserved for 1 night while we were there. Their building had a pool on the groundfloor, and Paulette, Erin, Ian and I went daily while we stayed. I can remember like it was yesterday the agonizing half hour wait we had to endure after eating because as Grandma put it "you will just end up with a tummy ache". A few blocks from their place is the beginning of Burnaby's Central Park. Going for a stroll in Central Park with our Grandpa calmly leading the way was something we all looked forward to. Usually, we stayed overnight with Grandma and Grandpa in staggered intervals, the boys for a night or two, then it was the girls turn. My memories of Central Park don't involve my parents, just me and my siblings along with my Grandpa. The park is impressive with some gigantic old growth trees, the type that even adults can't reach around. Grandpa would always get us to try though. Along the walking trail were a series of exercise stations, we always tried them even though we couldn't do them properly. We didn't always make it to the duck pond as it was on the far side of the park, but I can recall standing at the edge of the water, bread in hand. The destination on these excursions was always the same. We enjoyed the expansive park area for as long as we could until Grandpa said it was time to head back. I always insisted on peeking through the fence to get a glimpse of Swanguard Stadium where the Vancouver 86ers played their home games. When I was a bit older, I got the chance to take in a couple games there with my Dad. My Grandma didn't come to Central Park, that was Grandpa's gig. My Grandma, for the entire time she was apart of my life, was confined to an electric scooter due to a car accident. That didn't stop her from delivering big and frequent hugs that enveloped us kids. She would always want to kiss us, and little kids aren't always fond of that, but we humoured her nonetheless. Maybe part of the reasons why the kisses were "scary" was due to Grandma's taunting us with her teeth. She would pull them out on occasion to get us to laugh, then show off how silly she looked without them in her mouth. Grandma always took us to the Metro Town Mall for a little shopping. Grandpa would drop us off, and we would follow along beside Grandma's scooter as she lavished us with coloring books and jogging suits. Always with the jogging suits, and at Christmas time, we would get the annual sock allotment as well. Sadly, I can admit that I don't think of my Grandparents as often as I might like. Life keeps me busy, and at times my priorities are askew. They were two of the best human beings I will ever encounter in my life and it is important to remind myself how lucky I was to know them.
My Dad and I ended our jaunt to Burnaby with a nice lunch at a quaint little Thai restaurant. I can happily take credit for exposing my Dad to the cuisine for the first time, and we both came away satisfied. It was then time to jump the train and head back to the hotel, before going to the soccer game. We stood in line an hour before the game, the plan was to enjoy the warm up and the atmosphere, not to mention the open roof was likely going to make chatting in the stadium quite pleasant. They let us in, and right to the left of the entrance they had a merchandise booth with sale signs on it. Any sports fan would know, that rarely happens in a stadium, at a game. We jumped in the rapidly forming line, not even knowing what was on sale or whether or not we "needed" anything. If we don't jump into line right away, we would have missed out. Dad grabbed a jersey, and I did too, picking up a great hoodie for Jasmine and a hat for Asher as well. I paid 55 bucks for all 3! The game itself was great. It was my 9th or 10th live soccer game, and likely it was the best of the bunch. Firstly, my team won. Vancouver's star striker Camillo needed 2 goals to win the season scoring title on the last day of the season. No problem, he proceeded to get all 3 goals in a 3-0 win. We stayed after as the crowd feted Y.P. Lee, their best defender who had decided to retire. The team all stayed on the pitch for a lengthy salute to the fans, then they gave away their game jerseys to lucky fans who had been preselected. The only Korean fan selected randomly got the Y.P. Lee jersey (he is Korean), and the highly coveted Camillo jersey went to a boy of 11 or so who had gone on field all by himself. It was all pretty cool. Exhausted after the game, Dad and I unwound in the hotel room only heading out so that I could get dinner. I ate the biggest burrito I have ever seen, and despite my fears, experienced no backlash whatsoever.
Our trip wound up Monday with an excursion to the Kerrisdale area where we visited with an old family friend. Elizabeth used to live in Quesnel, where she worked with my mom as an elementary school teacher. It had been more than 10 years since I had seen her, and nearly as long for my Dad. We had an nice visit, discussions surrounding teaching and adoption. Elizabeth is and always has been a very positive person, and she gave very few clues that she was smack dab in the middle of radiation treatment. Tragically, her breast cancer was discovered right at a time when she was set to complete an adoption of a child after years of jumping through hoops to be able to do so. After struggling against beauracracy for so long, I couldn't imagine the emotions she felt when she had to turn down the adoption. Complications with her cancer have caused a need for secondary surgery that will keep her on the mend for much longer than originally thought. Through all of these occurances, she has kept up her optimism, and as we parted with hearty hugs at the airport, I was thoroughly impressed by her outlook. She will have a child eventually, and it seems that thought keeps her going.
I had a great weekend with my Dad, and the memories of our excursion will stay with me a long time. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and planning that both of parents put into the trip, and their generousity can not be overstated. Thanks again for everything Mom, I can never say that enough.