Hey there, Bixi Boy, flying through the air so fancy free

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 by drawesomeness

I will always be a Bixi Boy.

Like every great idea, Bixi is simple yet ingenious. It is a public bicycle sharing system in which users can take a communal “Bixi” bike from one of hundreds of docking stations (each station containing about a dozen slots for bikes) scattered throughout Montreal’s core, ride it to their destination, and drop off the bike at another docking station. It costs $5 to use the system for a period of 24 hours, $28 for 30 days, or $78 for 1 year. Monthly and annual subscribers are given a special key to unlock bikes from docking stations. The first 30 minutes of each ride is free. If you haven’t docked your bike within those first 30 minutes you are charged a nominal amount ($1.50) for going overtime. However, if you are going a long distance you can ride for 30 minutes and then drop off your bike at a station and take a new one for the next 30 minutes and so on (a practice known as “leap frogging”). And if a docking station is full you can enter the code on your key to gain an additional 15 minutes. It’s basically public transit on bikes. And it’s very popular. Montreal was the first city to launch the project in May 2009 and since then the system has expanded from 3,000 bikes and 300 stations to more than 5,000 bikes and 400 stations.

At first I was wary. The practicality of the whole thing was lost on me.

“Why would people use such a system? Why wouldn’t they just use their own bikes?” I asked, incredulously.

“True. I think you should use your own bike, Will,” replied La Belle Fille.

“I don’t have a bike,” I snapped. “Hmmm, I don’t have a bike…Ok, how much is it?”

The beauty of the Bixi system is that it gives you the freedom of being a bike owner without the responsibility. The best part is when you would like to take your bike somewhere but would prefer to leave it at your destination and use a different form of transportation for your return trip. Want to ride your bike to the Bell Centre downtown (much faster and cheaper than driving and parking), get shitfaced at a Habs game, and then take a cab home? No problem, Bixi it bud! Your Bixi has a flat tire? Who cares – drop it off at the nearest station and take a different one! A car smashed into your Bixi while you were putting on your helmet? Hakuna matata! Shove that mangled Bixi back into the docking station, bid adieu to the driver, and slink off without a care in the world! Bixi means no worries!

Actually, it wasn’t always that way. Although it’s neat to know that I was one of the very first users of this creative initiative which has now expanded to several other cities worldwide, I felt more like a lab rat in a poorly planned experiment when Bixi first launched. I think the creators of Bixi assumed that they would set up the stations, load them up with bikes, and watch the money roll in. Unfortunately, that was not the case at all. Bixi started out as a veritable clusterfuck because they seemed to launch it without really testing it or thinking whatsoever about any potential problems. It’s like serving a new food item at a restaurant without trying it first (“Everyone who has ordered this dish says it tastes like purified monkey anus and they’re getting violently ill. Perhaps we should have thought about using less monkey anus. Or maybe chicken would have been better. Whoops.”).

Their marketing slogan was, “Bixi is rolling it out big time.” It should have been, “Bixi is fucking shit up big time.”

The first major problem was poorly designed docking stations. There was a cheap plastic piece located on each slot where the bike tire is locked in. If this piece of plastic was damaged or removed, the slot of the docking station could not lock a bike, rendering it useless. This wouldn’t be such a problem if people weren’t dicks. But it seems that a contingent of vandals took it upon themselves to destroy as many of these pieces of plastic around the city as possible. If you inspected each station you could see tiny bits of plastic lying on the ground underneath slots where the plastic piece had been shattered as if someone came along with a hammer and literally smashed each exposed slot, presumably while screaming, “Goddamn, Bixi! SMASH! Offering an affordable and convenient form of transportation! SMASH! Helping reduce fuel emissions and greenhouse gases! SMASH! Not negatively affecting my life in any way whatsoever! SMASH!”

As more and more slots were destroyed, there were fewer and fewer places to return your Bixi bike. One day I returned home from work to find that all 12 slots at the docking station next to my apartment were destroyed and I had to seek out five other docking stations before I found a viable spot. It was like a twisted game of musical chairs where there were fewer open spots than actual bicycles.

Eventually they solved that kafuffle by reinforcing each slot with material that was actually stronger than knockoff Lego pieces. However, a logistical oversight related to wonky Bixi-docking station ratios led to even more problems. As more and more Montrealers decided to use the Bixi system to commute downtown everyday, it was no longer viable to simply rely on the natural flow of Bixis from the outskirts to downtown every morning and a complementary reversal at quitting time. By 8:00 AM each morning, there were virtually no bikes left on the outskirts and by 8:30 AM there were no slots left to put them downtown. People were starting to leave for work at 7:00 AM just to get their Bixi fix. Can you imagine – Bixi was making people work longer hours! Something had to be done!

One morning I grabbed the last remaining Bixi at the station closest to my apartment (a stone’s throw away from my front door). I rode it to the station nearest my office and found that all the slots were full. No problem – I’ll just go to the next one, I thought to myself. Downtown there are tons of stations. Many are not much more than a block apart. Well, I rode around to no less than 20 stations and there was not one slot available. I must have looked like a crazy person that day because I was erratically cycling around downtown cursing up a storm. At one point I came across another disgruntled Bixi rider at a full station. He scanned the occupied slots and heaved an irritated sigh. The deranged look in his eyes said it all. “I’m never using this fucking bullshit ever again,” he asserted. There was a strange and disturbing calm to his tone that suggested he was on the brink of committing Bixi hara-kiri which I imagine would entail him lifting the Bixi bike over his head, hurling it into the middle of traffic, and walking away. Luckily, I hadn’t gone that far over the edge. I silently rode away, determined to find my slot. Eventually, I found it – about two blocks from my apartment and starting point, a mere two hours after my original trip began. Shit. And I still had to walk all the way to work. What a pointless exercise.

So once again, Bixi riders were thrown into a frustrating game of musical Bixi, aimlessly wandering the streets of downtown Montreal trying to find a place to park or trying to find a bike to ride. It took a while but the Bixi people finally realized that they had to be proactive by continually shifting bikes from high-demand areas to low-demand areas at key times throughout the day using flatbed trucks. They also expanded the size of many docking stations which further eliminated supply and demand issues.

With the major problems ironed out, the introduction of Bixi systems should go much smoother in other cities. However, you can bet Chuck in Boston is oblivious to the fact that he’s readily able to find a docking station in front of his local clam chowder join because a city full of short-tempered Quebecois went through some infuriating Bixi growing pains.

By now, I’ve fully embraced my Bixi identity. I love the Bixi bike. It’s so bad.

During the winter months I couldn’t wait for the spring reopening of the Bixi stations. Each Bixi commute turns my 30-minute slog to work into a 10-minute pleasure ride. Oh the wind in my face! The exhilaration of zipping by idle cars stuck in traffic as I hug the curb along Des Pins, hoping not to get doored during my descent down the hill. What a rush! And I’ll never forget the time I had the opportunity to ride the mythical 8-speed Bixi – a suped-up version of the standard 3-speed model that had achieved legendary status in Bixi circles. I didn’t believe it actually existed until seeing it with my own two eyes – much like when I saw Sasquatch for the first time.

I’m also fond of the unique brother/sisterhood among Bixi users. When we see the distinct form of another Bixi bike approaching on a narrow street, we exchange knowing nods as we pass. Cordial banter is known to break out at docking stations as one Bixi rider drops off a bike and another takes one out.

“How’s she running?” an approaching user might ask someone in the midst of slotting up their bike.

“Oh, she’s a real beaut! Grips are intact. Brakes are responsive. Bell sound is crisp without being obnoxious. 3rd gear is a bit like quicksand but 2nd will knock your socks off. Go easy on her.”

It’s also not uncommon to hear bystanders shout out, “Bixi!” when you pass them on the street, particularly during weekend evenings when drunkards congregate on Plateau stoops and balconies. There’s something about the Bixi that intrigues, that inspires. Everyone loves Bixi.

I took my first Bixi ride in May of 2009. That makes 14 months as a Bixi Boy (minus 5 restless winter months when the system is inactive). On the Bixi website you can log in and look at your account info. It keeps track of all sorts of stats related to your Bixi usage. Here’s a summary of my Bixi career:
Number of trips: 329
Usage time: 47 hours
Distance traveled: 564 km
Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions: 141 kg
Gas saved: 39 L

Last Friday, I took my final Bixi voyage when I pedaled home from work. I cherished those final few strides as I coasted towards the docking station and gently glided into the slot where my Bixi locked into place, thus officially ending my Bixi adventure. When my bike locked, I heard the familiar “bee-boop” and watched as the green light above the docking slot flashed, indicating another successful trip. Typically I’d take the bee-boop and green light to mean, “Great work, Will! You’ve done it again! Can’t wait for your next Bixi trip!” But today it meant something entirely different. Today, it was as though Bixi was saying, “Bee-boooooooop. Awwww, Willy. This can’t be over! We were so good together. Please, don’t leave!”

But unfortunately, I must leave. I’m eastward bound – moving to Halifax. I only have two weeks left in Montreal. My Bixi subscription ended on the last day of July so it was my final Bixi journey.

I suppose it wasn’t just the end of Bixi that I was mourning when my bike locked into place. In actuality, that “bee-boop” signaled the end of an era – the end of Will in Montreal. I wasn’t just grieving the loss of Bixi, I was grieving the loss of an entire city.

And that’s what made that final moment on the Bixi bike so difficult. The moment overwhelmed me. Let’s face it – the moment was so much bigger than me. So I took my time. I sat on that Bixi bike, nestled in its locking station and I wept. I wept like an adolescent boy whose favourite My Little Pony was being taken away. Forty-seven minutes later, when I pulled myself together (and a nice young lady kindly asked if I was actually using the last bike in the docking station), I finally dismounted the Bixi and shuffled off to my apartment.

It’s hard to let go. But in my heart, I will always be a Bixi boy.


When Dreams Come True: Les Canadiens

Posted in Hockey on May 12, 2010 by drawesomeness

It doesn’t get any better than this. Last night the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals to force a 7th and deciding game. And so, Habs fans everywhere are elated that this wild ride continues against all odds.

The Canadiens’ miraculous playoff run has been covered from seemingly every angle so why not one more vantage point – from the streets of Montreal. And brother, these streets are buzzing. Today on my walk to-and-from work I couldn’t help but notice that things are different here in Montreal. In fact, the mood in this city has changed dramatically over the past month. The sentiments that it would be yet another humdrum hockey season without any chance of the beloved home team making a return to its former glory have been replaced with a distinctive feeling that has swept across this sprawling metropolis. That feeling, of course, is hope. Hope that something completely unexpected yet completely brilliant could occur and lift the spirits of an entire fan base. It’s a feeling that has been noticeably absent in this city for many years. I turned 13 on the day the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup. That was 17 years ago. And now it’s the first season since that magical run in 1993 that the Canadiens have won more than 6 playoff games. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? I almost have to pinch myself to believe that it’s actually happening. Steeped in the frenzy of a Habs-crazed city, I’m cherishing every moment.

It’s indescribable. I lived in Calgary during the Flames’ Stanley Cup run in ‘04 and I was in Ottawa during the Stanley Cup finals of ‘07, yet the atmosphere in each of those cities doesn’t hold a candle to the enthusiasm on display right now in Montreal. The city is electric. You can almost taste the excitement that has spread like wildfire. People are pumped up. Everyone’s talking about the inspired play of the Habs. And the shocking possibility of a visit from Lord Stanley has captured our hearts and imaginations. There’s an extra hop in everyone’s step. Strangers clad in Habs paraphernalia exchange knowing glances on the sidewalks. Normally aggressive cab drivers are yielding to pedestrians donning the CH at crosswalks. Canadiens flags adorning the windows of vehicles have become a ubiquitous sight. And on game day ANY seat, whether it is at the Bell Centre, the local watering hole, or the living room, is the very best seat in the house.

There’s something great about cheering for this team. It’s funny that back in February I was lauding Sidney Crosby for being Canada’s golden boy at the Olympics and now I’d like nothing more for him to take his whine and cheese party back to Pittsburgh for the summer. This is bigger than the Olympics. Yes, it was a great moment for this nation when Sid scored that overtime goal to win gold for Canada. It’s a moment that will stand the test of time. But this is different. It’s not just that the Habs are such massive underdogs. It’s the scope of the Stanley Cup. It’s the most coveted trophy in sports. I’ll never forget a post-game interview with Mats Naslund after the Swedish team beat Canada in the gold medal game of the 1994 Olympics. When asked how the moment compared to winning the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986, he didn’t hesitate to declare that it wasn’t even close – the Stanley Cup is the ultimate title and nothing is sweeter. It’s the culmination of a loooong season and grueling playoffs. After having watched all 82 regular season games this season, I can safely say that this playoff run has made it all worthwhile. These moments define my fandom.

The Canadiens have already exceeded expectations and then some. They knocked off the venerable Capitals in the first round – a feat most considered an impossibility at the outset of the playoffs. And now they’re in a position to perform another miracle. I find myself betraying promises made not two weeks ago by once again asking the ghosts of the old Montreal Forum, “Please, if you could just let them win one more….” Maybe it will all come to an end in Game 7. Maybe the dreams of this city will finally fade away. And all that will be left are memories of an incredible month back in the spring of 2010 when it felt like anything was possible. Win or lose on Wednesday, one thing is for certain – there’s nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be right now.

Photo by Steve Troletti

Home Ice Advantage!

Posted in Hockey with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2010 by drawesomeness

The Charge of the Habs Brigade

Posted in Hockey with tags , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by drawesomeness

(by Alfred Tennyson reimagined as a Habs fan)

Half a rink, half a rink,
            Half a rink onward,
All in the valley of Bell
           Rode the twenty-one thousand.
“Forward, the Habs Brigade!
Charge for the Caps!” he said:
Into the valley of Bell
            Rode the twenty-one thousand.

“Forward, the Habs Brigade!”
Was there a fan dismay’d?
Not tho’ the Boudreau knew
            Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Bell
            Rode the twenty-one thousand.

Ovie to the right of them,
Backstrom to the left of them,
Green in front of them
            Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with slapshot and shell,
Boldly they played and well,
Backed by the jaws of Halak,
Back towar’d the Caps to attack
            Rode the twenty-one thousand.

Drank all their Molson M’s bare,
Towels, they turn’d in air
Beating the Varlamov there,
Charging an army, while
            All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the penalty kill
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cammy and Markov
Reel’d from the ref’s joke
Then the Caps faded, but not
            Not the twenty-one thousand.

Ovie to the right of them,
Backstrom to the left of them,
Green in front of them
            Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with slapshot and shell,
While Gill and P.K. fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of elimination,
Back from the mouth of hell
All that was left of them,
            Left of twenty-one thousand.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
            All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Habs brigade,
            Noble twenty-one thousand!

Why The Montreal Canadiens Will Win the Stanley Cup (or How I Learned to Hate Jack Todd in A Single Sports Column)

Posted in Hockey with tags , , , , , , on April 13, 2010 by drawesomeness

Most people know that I’m a die-hard Habs fan. At the beginning of each NHL season I predict the same thing – The Montreal Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup. Since my fandom began at the age of 5, I have been correct twice: 1986 and 1993. And I was very close in 1989. I have been wrong 22 times. Nevertheless, each year I believe, with all my heart, that my prediction will come true and my beloved hockey club will win the championship. That hope keeps me mesmerized and it cements my emotional investment in the team. Without even a glimpse of hope, I wouldn’t care. Because what’s the point in cheering for something that has, with 100% certainty, no chance of succeeding?

Some Habs fans are less optimistic. Their assessments are not so clouded by emotion that they can come up with a clearer judgment of the Canadiens’ chances. They are realists. Right now, these realists are probably not putting too much stock in the Habs’ chances after they limped into the post-season in 8th place, poised to face the venerable Capitals in the first round. But I can guarantee that, deep down, those realists have at least a modicum of hope. We all believe that there’s a team that could surprise everyone and hoist the Cup by playoff’s end. It may take a few sigmas of variance to the lucky side, but it’s possible. That’s all we need – any number greater than zero that they can do it. Possibility. Every Habs fan believes in possibility – even the realists.

Jack Todd is not a realist. Perhaps Jack Todd isn’t even a fan of the Canadiens. Maybe he’s just a sports reporter for the Montreal Gazette who writes about hockey and doesn’t have any interest whatsoever in the home team. But one thing is certain – Jack Todd is not a realist. He’s a buzzkill. He’s the guy who tells you that red meat causes cancer just as you’re sinking your teeth into a juicy burger. He’s the guy who tells you on the way into the cinema that the movie sucked. He’s the guy who tells you that you paid too much for the television you just bought. He’s the guy who relishes the chance to tell everyone that the picnic in the park will almost certainly be cancelled because it’s going to rain.

In his Monday, April 12 column in the Montreal Gazette, Jack Todd gave Montrealers this sun-shiny forecast:

What happens now? The Canadiens get steamrolled by the Washington Capitals. There are only two possible scenarios here: Jaroslav Halak is very hot, in which case the Habs might take this first-round series as far as six games. Or Halak is merely ordinary, as he was Saturday night, in which case it’s a repeat of last spring’s four-and-out.

Chances the Canadiens will beat Alex Ovechkin’s Caps to advance to the second round? Roughly equal to the possibility that you’ll see me flinging Penelope Cruz around on Dancing With the Stars.

Translation? Won’t happen.

Next season? Given Scott Gomez’s contract and all the other problems with which Pierre Gauthier was saddled by the departed Bob Gainey, it will be more of the same, as a 17-year stretch without an appearance in the third round of the playoffs stretches toward infinity.

You read it here first.

Oh I see what you did there Mr. Todd – you compared the Canadiens’ chances of winning their first-round series to a preposterous scenario infused with a pop-culture reference. How fiendishly clever of you, sir! Because I’ll bet you’re never going to appear on Dancing With the Stars with Penelope Cruz. Oh wait, you even clarified that the chances are exactly equal to zero by saying “Translation? Won’t happen.” Phew. Without that clarification I’m sure many readers would have been clamoring to deduce the exact probability of your scenario so that they’d have an informed estimate of the Canadiens’ chances. They’d turn to their friend and say, “Hey, do you know if Montreal Gazette sports columnist Jack Todd is being considered as a contestant on the next installment of the hit reality show ‘Dancing With the Stars’? What about Penelope Cruz? What are the chances they’d be paired up as dance partners? Roughly speaking? Give me a number. What percent chance would that happen? Because apparently the Canadiens have the exact same chance of winning their first round series.” Again, thanks for spelling that out for us.

Jack Todd hates hope.

His job is to watch sports and tell us what happened. Sure, he can colour in some analysis and even reflect on what may come. But Jack Todd goes a step further by sucking any semblance of hope out of the equation and recklessly cheapening the experience of an entire fan base. His column can be summed up as such, “The Habs are hopeless and they will continue to be hopeless for at least another year.” He’s telling everyone there’s no point in watching. The party is over for the foreseeable future. Don’t bother. Forget it.

He’s the sports writer equivalent of Martin Seligman – the psychologist who took perfectly content dogs and blasted them with electrical shocks until they became utterly helpless creatures.

Fortunately, Habs fans are never going stop hoping. You can shock us over and over again (17 years and counting) and we’ll still be there cheering on the red, white, and blue. We may be dogs – but only underdogs.

Jack Todd doesn’t have to watch. He should write their obituary right now and proceed to the nearest exit. He’s already decided that not only do they have no chance this year, they don’t have a chance next year. So go ahead and take a year off, Jack. Don’t talk about the Canadiens for a year. I’m sure you can fill up your schedule making visits to oncology units to tell cancer patients that they’re goners, or sitting at the base of Mt. Everest telling climbers that they’ll probably never make it to the summit, or going to hockey rinks across Canada to tell youngsters that they will most certainly never make the NHL.

And if he’s so sure, why doesn’t he stake his job on it? If it’s 100% certain that they’ll lose in the first round, then Jack Todd would have no problem declaring that he will resign from his job if the Canadiens beat the Capitals. But I’d say the chances of him actually standing behind his flippant comments are the same as me getting into a fist fight with The Situation in the next season of Jersey Shore. See what I did there? Just to be clear, what I mean is that it is impossible.

What annoys me most is that he has set himself up to look smarter than everyone else. He knows the fans will cheer for the Canadiens anyways. So, if the Caps win he’ll say “I told you so” (way to go Nostradamus) and if the Habs win he’ll simply colour himself surprised and applaud their plucky determination.

We’re not stupid. We know the Habs are longshots to get past the first round. But when someone declares them dead-in-the-water by saying they have ZERO chance, that’s a slap in the face to everyone who loves the team and has cheered for them for the past 82 games. Piss off with your dimestore musings, Jack Todd. You can take your 0% and shove it up your ass.

How’s this Jack – The Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup this year. Then they’re going to win it next year and the year after that. You read it here first (you self-serving prick).

(you can tell Jack Todd he’s terrible at Jacktodd46@yahoo.com)

The Maple Leaf Forever

Posted in Olympics with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2010 by drawesomeness

Well my maple-blooded friends, that was one hell of a wild ride. As a die-hard hockey fan, Olympic junky, connoisseur of the human spirit, and all-round proud Canadian, I feel confident in declaring Sunday the greatest day in sporting history this country has ever experienced. February 28, 2010 – I don’t think anyone will forget it. What an amazing day for Canada!

It could not have been scripted any better. Actually, it’s almost too absurdly perfect how everything played out. Imagine pitching it as a movie idea to a Hollywood exec:

Movie Producer: Okay, here’s the premise – a country perpetually living in the shadow of its superpower neighbour to the south is given the rare opportunity to host the Olympic Games. Its people pour millions of dollars into developing athletic programs so they will “Own the Podium.” As the Games approach they are confident everything is in place for the perfect Olympic experience. But then, several things go wrong – accidents result in the death of one athlete and injuries to several others, protests break out in the streets, it refuses to snow, the opening ceremonies are marred with bad lip syncing, malfunctioning props, and an uncomfortably long truck ride through downtown featuring a hockey legend holding a torch, and worst of all – the country’s athletes cannot win a goddamn thing!

Hollywood Exec: So it’s a movie about a really shitty Winter Olympics?

MP: No, no! It’s about the resiliency of a country and its athletes and how they showed an entire world they could rise above adversity!

HE: Sounds awful. What happens next?

MP: Okay, well the country’s athletes win a couple of medals. A big moment comes courtesy of a moguls skier who draws inspiration from his disabled brother. He wins the country’s first gold medal on home soil as his brother cheers him on from the stands.

HE: That’s what I’m talking about! Really tugs at the heart strings. What else?

MP: Well, to be frank, the host country’s athletes continue to do poorly. Many of the athletes who were favoured to win medals fall short, often finishing in fourth or fifth place which is incredibly frustrating for the citizens who had such high hopes. On multiple occasions they have one or two athletes in final races involving only three or four other athletes and they end up finishing out of the medals every time. It’s very frustrating. Many of the country’s people find themselves screaming at their televisions while sitting at home in their underwear. Even worse, athletes from the superpower country to the south seem to be winning everything and they start trash-talking, suggesting that the host country is “Loaning the Podium” rather than “Owning” it.

HE: They don’t!

MP: They do. And to make matters worse, the host country has a highly touted hockey squad that is expected to win gold. In fact, if the people of this country could choose any single medal to win it would be a gold in men’s hockey. But in the preliminary round, the superpower country actually beats them! Suddenly, the host country is in jeopardy of not even winning a medal in hockey – and that’s their game! They are now the underdog! Meanwhile, the superpower country becomes the tournament favourite!

HE: Oh my!!! It sounds like that superpower country is pretty cool.

MP: Actually no. It’s a lousy country filled with boorish, self-centred simpletons. They tend to win at a lot of things which can be largely attributed to the fact that they have 10 times as many people in addition to having much more athletic funding – money that corporate fatcats distribute indiscriminately to spoiled athletes despite an ever-increasing gap between that country’s rich and poor.

HE: Jeepers. That country truly does sound horrible. So how does the host nation respond?

MP: There is a nation-wide moment of introspection. And it takes a very special young athlete named Joannie. You see, a week into the Games the people resent the athletes for underperforming and the athletes resent the people for putting so much pressure on them. But Joannie, a figure skater, makes the difficult decision to compete despite the sudden death of her beloved mother just days earlier. Fighting back tears she puts in an inspired performance that lifts the hearts and spirits of an entire nation.

HE: Bravo! Roll credits! A true Oscar contender!

MP: But wait, there’s so much more. You see, her performance coincides with the realization that the host country no longer has a chance to win the most medals. Rejoicing in Joannie’s brave performance, they come to understand that “Own the Podium” was a misguided goal. They realize that the Olympics are not just about pieces of medal strung around the necks of their athletes. The Olympics are about international communities coming together to compete and to share in the human experience. They are about nations getting behind something, uniting in support of their athletes, and to watch them rise to the ultimate challenge. With such a daunting goal no longer looming over their heads, the athletes can finally compete for the pure joy of competing and their country can cheer simply to watch their athletes excel. The competitions are no longer a means to an end. The means become the end. You see, the host country needed to lose to be able to understand the true meaning of the Olympic spirit.

HE: Interesting…

MP: And suddenly, they start winning.

HE: Yes!!!!

MP: And oh boy do they win. They win bronze medals in four-man bobsleigh, ladies’ figure skating, ladies’ 3000m long-track speed skating, men’s 500m short-track speed skating. And one athlete in particular, in her final race of a storied Olympic career that saw her win multiple Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter games, wins one more bronze in ladies 5000m long-track speed skating.

HE: Now that’s just preposterous. No one is that good of an athlete. Who is she, Bo Jackson?

MP: I know, right. The host nation also wins silver medals in women’s bobsleigh, women’s curling, ladies’ moguls, men’s snowboard cross, ladies 1500m long-track speed skating, men and ladies’ 500m short-track speed skating, and ladies’ 3000m relay short-track speed skating.

HE: Wowsers!

MP: No doubt. And that’s nothing. They start winning gold-after-gold. They win gold in women’s hockey, women’s bobsleigh, ladies’ ski cross, ladies’ snowboard cross, men’s skeleton, men’s team pursuit long-track speed skating, men’s 500m short-track speed skating, men’s 5000m relay short-track speed skating, ladies’ 1000m long-track speed skating, and ice dancing.

HE: Ice dancing?! What the hell is ice dancing?

MP: It’s dancing on ice.

HE: I don’t follow. How is that a sport?

MP: Well it’s basically pairs figure skating without any jumps.

HE: So they take a sport that’s rife with scandal due to corrupt judging procedures and they make it even more subjective?

MP: Exactly. But trust me, they ice dance their asses off. No one ice dances better than the host nation’s ice dancers. The other countries are simply out-ice-danced.

HE: Okay.

MP: So add those gold to the one won by the men’s mogul skier and you have 11 total gold.

HE: That’s a lot of gold. Well done. This movie should make a lot of money at the box office.

MP: Hold on! We’re not done! Turns out the record for number of gold medals won in a single Winter Olympics is 13. If the host nation can win three more gold medals they will break that record!

HE: You mean they can still own the podium?!

MP: Yes! They can still own the podium! But they don’t have many events left. On the second last day of competition, another veteran snowboarder in his final Olympics unexpectedly wins gold in men’s parallel giant slalom. Then the men’s curling team beats the ugly pants off another team to win gold!

HE: Hurry hard!

MP: Indeed. And now, there is only one event left in the entire Winter Games. The gold medal game of the hockey tournament.

HE: And I’m assuming the host nation somehow made the final?

MP: Absolutely. And you’ll never guess who they’re playing against for the gold.

HE: You have to be shitting me…

MP: That’s right, the superpower country. And this time no one thinks the host nation will win except its own people. They believe. They believe together they’ll fly. They believe in the power of you and I.

HE: Ummm, that’s not grammatically correct. Should be “the power of you and me.”

MP: Don’t worry about that.

HE: Alright, I don’t think I need to ask who wins, but how does it end?

MP: Well, first of all, let me explain how important this game is. It’s not just about breaking the Olympic record for most golds. It’s not about beating the superpower country. It’s about an entire nation standing together as one in support of a common goal. They may disagree about many things, but this game is something that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, gets behind. They love the game of hockey more than any other country in the world. It is their game and this is their stage. This is their time to show the world that they matter – to be the best at what they are most passionate about. The game symbolizes their hopes and their dreams. A loss to the superpower country would be nothing short of devastating. The psyche of an entire nation hangs in the balance.

HE: That’s heavy.

MP: You can’t imagine. From coast to coast, people crowd into the streets, bars, arenas, and living rooms to watch the game. It is later reported that 80% of the country’s population watched the game. It’s the most watched event in the country’s history.

HE: So get on with it. What happens?

MP: Well the host nation jumps out to an early lead. They’re up 2-0 half-way through the game when the superpower scores to come within one. With mere minutes left in the game, arguably the best player from the host nation, Sidney, comes in on a breakaway with a chance to finish it off in style. He misses his shot! Oh the humanity! There are a lot of expectations for this young man of 22 years to lead this team to victory and prove that this nation can still produce the very best hockey players. But it’s not to be. Then in dramatic fashion, the superpower ties it up with less than 30 seconds to play and sends the game into sudden death overtime!

HE: Oh, I see where you’re going with this – The superpower wins in overtime and in that moment of disappointment, the host nation realizes they did everything they could and it’s not winning that matters, it’s trying your very best. And then a slow-clap starts in the stands and the players are given a standing ovation as they leave the ice. They lose the game but it’s a triumph of the Olympic spirit.

MP: Hell no! 26 million people strong are glued to their televisions. They cannot lose! Not like this! Not to these idiots! A collective pukey feeling swirls in their stomachs as they brace themselves for the most important overtime period ever played. It all comes down to one single goal. Will the host nation win? Will good persevere over evil?

HE: What happens, what happens?!

MP: Mere minutes into the overtime period, a play develops. Sidney picks up the puck in the neutral zone and storms into the offensive zone. He’s stripped of the puck which careens into the corner. A steady veteran player muscles the puck back towards Sidney who, in one fell swoop, slides the puck underneath the cocky goaltender. The game is over! The host nation wins! The golden goal! Millions upon millions of people rejoice across the nation! Cities tens of thousands of kilometers away literally shut down as people flood the streets to celebrate! Against all odds they have won the game, the gold, and the Olympics! They are the greatest country that ever was!

HE: Uhhhhhh.

MP: They have waited hundreds of years for a moment like this – and now that it’s here, it couldn’t be any more perfect. It is a moment of joyful pride that resonates across the entire nation and will always remind each and every one of them that they are capable of anything. This golden moment forever changes this country. This moment is nothing short of magical.

HE: Okay…

MP: As the people celebrate and sing the national anthem, the Olympics come to a close. Roll credits over the closing ceremony featuring giant inflatable balloons depicting stereotypical icons of the host nation and awesome music by the Tragically Hip, K’naan, and Hey Rosetta (because music by Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, and Simple Plan would certainly taint such an amazing conclusion). Fade to black. The end.

HE: How old are you? Eight? I can’t make this movie. It’s ridiculous. Nothing you’ve said is realistic. We’re not making cheesy Disney movies here. All that stuff could never happen and certainly not at a single Olympic Games. No country is that awesome. You’ve wasted my time.

MP: I want to call it, “Sid the Kid and the Real Miracle on Ice.”

HE: Get out of my office and never come back.

MP: It was nice meeting you, eh.

To Bob the Impossible Bob

Posted in Olympics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by drawesomeness

While the rest of Canada was watching that snoozefest of a hockey game between Canada and Russia, I was immersed in the real marquee event of the winter Olympics – “Women’s Two-Person Bobsleigh.” Sure, you might have caught the very last couple of runs in which Whatshername and WhosIt from Canada took down the gold medal, followed close behind by ThatotherCanadianwoman and Thatotherotherone, who won silver. But let’s be honest, you weren’t watching during the third heat to see how it all led up to this thrilling conclusion. You didn’t see the spectacular crashes (and there were several), you didn’t see the emotion, and you didn’t see the bravery of those women in Canada1 and Canada2 who left it all on the course despite the dangers. You certainly didn’t see Team Ireland zip to a respectable 17th place. Or the Romanians glide to a heroic 15th place. And you probably didn’t see this:

I'm getting too old for this.

This waterslide sucks!

Which, once everyone was determined to be okay, was totally awesome.

I know, I know. A zillion jokes have been made about sliding sports. I’ll let Mr. Seinfeld sum up the main ones.

But honestly, they’re easy targets. The bobsled, luge, and skeleton are definitely the Leap Year of the sporting world – they’re only relevant once every four years, and even then people talk about them for only a couple of days. Awww, am I being unfair? Okay, right now in your head, name five bobsledders. Any five. Okay, Pierre Leuders. That’s one. Four more. Any four? And no, Leon from Cool Runnings doesn’t count.

For those of you who still think I’m being harsh, I guess I’ll see you all in the stands at the 2011 World Cup of bobsleigh in Cesana, Italy. At the very least you’ll buy a subscription to ESPN 9 so you can watch all the sliding action, won’t you? Should be sick.

My point is that many of us only care about some of these fringe sports for a very brief window because of their association with the Olympics. But they’re truly exciting to watch. When Jon Montgomery won the gold medal in men’s skeleton last week in dramatic fashion, I was jumping out of my chair, shouting at the screen. “We’re #1, we’re #1.” That dude’s going to be on Oprah, by the way.

I have the power!!!!!!!!

Clearly these athletes have trained hard and they are really amazing at what they do. But I’ll be honest – when I’m watching one run after another, they all look like they’re doing the exact same thing. I cannot, for the life of me, discern a good run from a bad run. I can’t tell what the good sliders are doing right and what the slower sliders are doing wrong – unless they completely flip over the sled (that, I suspect, would be wrong). I just look at the times and if the fastest times match up with the Canadian flag, I’m happy.

But the real mystery to me is how these sliders figure out that they’re good at this. Growing up we are exposed to most of the mainstream winter sports and we can quickly determine who is gifted and who isn’t. Hockey, skiing, skating, etc. We give them all a shot and 99.99% of us eventually realize we’ll never come close to being one of the best in the world, let alone in the top three. But then there are some who have a knack for one of these activities and they train hard for most of their lives with the dream of one day winning an Olympic medal. Now, call me crazy but this isn’t how it works in sliding sports. Show me the gold medal luger who tells the reporter after her gold-winning run:

“This is a lifelong dream fulfilled. Ever since I first sat in my dad’s lap on that Krazy Karpet when I was 6 months old, I knew I had a gift for this sport. So I practiced and I practiced. While my friends were going to hockey practice, I was going to the local park where I would slide for hours. The kids with GT Snowracers would laugh at me, sliding on my back on a flimsy cookie sheet. But I knew better. I knew there’s no gold in GT Snowracers. But there’s gold in luging. And I luged my ass off today. And now I’m the one wearing gold. Where are they now? Probably working as teachers, or lawyers, or store clerks….Me? I’m a store clerk.”

Show me that gold medal luger and I’ll show you the heart and determination of the men’s Russian hockey team (hint: it doesn’t exist!)

I’m also curious how they figure out that they’re better lugers than skeletoners and vice versa: “I tried luge and I was slower than molasses. But once I flipped over I was setting course records. Physics be damned! I’m a terror on my belly!”

Want to know when Jon Montgomery first tried skeleton? Eight years ago. He’s currently 30 years old. In 2002 he happened to work beside Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, gave it a shot, and 8 years later he is the best skeleton dude in the world. Would Malcolm Gladwell call him an outlier? Who cares. Go Canada!