Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Have A Nice Flight!

Everybody loves vacation!  Really, that’s what we work for, isn’t it?  To scratch and save some of our hard earned money for an opportunity to escape reality for just a little while?  For most of us with the “work to live, not live to work” mindset, those 2 to 3 weeks each year where we get to enjoy not working are the best 2 to 3 weeks of our year.  That’s as good as it gets, really.  The other 95% of our year sucks!  Oh there will be plenty who will say they enjoy working, or that may try and take the politically correct high road and say you need to enjoy each day to the fullest, but deep down, we all know they’re lying.  Stop lying.  Stop lying to yourself, you’re not fooling anyone.  Really, when it all boils down, life is quite simple.  Work sucks, vacations are awesome... and then you die.

Due to the unfortunate reality that we only get to truly enjoy 5% of our time, where that’s all we have in terms of availability for vacations, when you do finally save up enough money to take one, you want to enjoy it!  I mean you REALLY want to enjoy it!  The thoughts and excitement of that upcoming vacation can get you through months of monotonous and aggravating work, the carrot dangling at the end of the stick that gives you just enough motivation to get out of bed each morning, and do it all over again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, etc…

While some are fortunate enough to travel several times a year, others can only afford to travel once every few years, if that.  It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.  That’s reality, and as we all know, reality sucks, which is why we want that vacation so bad in the first place!  Vacations are the escape!!  Sure, recreational use of drugs and alcohol may come in handy in between vacations, but vacations… that’s where it’s at!!  So when the day finally comes, when your bags are packed, and you head off to the airport for your much awaited opportunity to not have to work for a week, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have high hopes and expectations.  You’ve earned this!  I mean, you’ve REALLY earned this!!

Of course in order to travel to your destination of choice, to minimize the travel time and maximize the fun, you must often fly.  We all watch the television commercials, where airlines show off their spacious interiors, filled with happy, smiling people, who look oh so comfortable.  We want to be those people.  We’ve worked hard to be those people.  We’ve paid a lot of money to be those people.  We can’t wait to be those people!   

Airline television commercials unfortunately are no different than fast-food hamburger commercials, where the companies have spent gobs and gobs of money to make their product look incredibly delicious.  In reality, airline travel is the hamburger that you really get.  Not the delicious television hamburgers, no, the real ones.  Where the pickles are falling out, the sesame seed bun is rock hard, and there’s sauce squirting out everywhere!

Airlines have it all wrong.  Our comfort is not their top priority.  Our experience has been sacrificed so that they can make a few extra dollars.  We’re not customers, we’re cattle.  And not the happy cattle out at pasture either, chomping away carelessly on grass.  No, we’re the cattle jammed into the back of a semi trailer rocketing down the highway with some other cow’s poop on our leg, on the way to God knows where.  The moment you set foot in the airport, you know this isn’t going to be good.

Despite having to provide ample advanced information online to “help speed up the process”, we still end up waiting in long lines.  That’s why they ask us to be there up to 3 hours in advance.  We line up for our boarding pass.  We line up to drop off our luggage.  Oh, I have to pay you another $50 per bag for the privilege of flying on your airline?  Gee thanks!  Because I haven’t spent enough money already, and I’m not even on the plane yet!!  We line up for security.  We walk through those fancy new X-Ray machines where they pretty much get to see us naked.  Okay, I don’t know if that’s true, but I just imagine there are people somewhere in a dark room watching us, snickering away as they eat a bag of potato chips.  We spend good money on bad food.  We wait in over-crowded areas with screaming babies, not enough seating, and weird foreigners until we can board the plane.  Are we having fun yet?  Did we really pay money for this?  We re-assure ourselves that it will all be worth it.  Yup… it will all be worth it.

When they finally announce that it’s time to board the airplane, we breathe a sigh of relief.  We feel that our vacation can finally begin.  We finally get our chance to be one of those happy, smiling people that we see in those television commercials.  Ahhhh…. this is going to be fantastic!  The life of luxury awaits.  They call our row number, scan our ticket, and we make our way down the long jetway to the airplane.  Upon entering the airplane however, we notice that something isn’t quite right.  We see a long line of people ahead of us, all jockeying for position, trying to shove their oversized carry-on bags into the overhead bins.  Oh I get it, they didn’t want to pay the $50 checked luggage fee, so they thought they’d beat the system and make their needs more important than everyone else’s by taking up the space of three normal sized carry-on bags by jamming in their one enormous hockey bag.  Thanks so much, that’s very considerate of you.  Too bad those 15 airline representatives you passed along the way didn’t happen to notice, or perhaps couldn’t be bothered to enforce the maximum carry-on size regulations.  That’s just lovely.

As you slowly make your way down the aisle, you can’t help but notice… hey, nobody’s smiling.  This isn’t like the commercials.  This isn’t like the commercials at all!  You place your carry-on bag in the compartment 4 rows in front of your actual seats, as you can see that the compartment above your seats is already overflowing.  You squeeze yourself into your seat, realize you’re sitting on your seat belt which you’ll shortly need to dig out, and then for those choosing to place their carry-on bag underneath the seat in front of them, due to the extremely limited space you contort yourself into strange and awkward positions in an attempt to cram your bag far enough under the seat that you won’t be harassed by the flight attendants as they walk by.  With any luck, that muscle you just pulled in your back will heal by the time you land.  If you’re over 5’-10” tall, your knees are jammed into the back of the seat in front of you.  The pain is tolerable, but it’s pain nonetheless.  It’s hot.  For some reason the air conditioning never seems to work properly when the plane is on the ground.  In the air you sometimes get a polar vortex blast of cold air, but on the ground, nothing.  You fumble to reach that little pinhole that sprays warm air in the general vicinity of where you’re sitting.  A bead of sweat slowly makes its way down the side of your face.           

Sitting uncomfortably in your cramped seat, you wait, and watch the chaos all around you.  You secretly pray that the woman holding the crying baby walking towards you in the aisle is not sitting behind you, or that the 300lb man a few people behind her doesn’t have a ticket for the seat right next to you.  Can you smell that?  Who smells like cigarette butts and curry?  I hope those stinky people aren’t sitting anywhere near me either.  You’re going to be in close quarters with these people for the next few hours, so understandably and shamelessly, you have every right to hope for the best. 

Once everyone eventually finds their seats, and you’ve determined that your seatmates are moderately tolerable, there’s a moment of calm.  That pinhole of warm air still washing across your face, you watch the flight attendants walk up and down the aisles checking to ensure your seat is in the upright position, that your seatbelts are securely fastened, and that your carry-on baggage is safely stowed.  They do the little presentation skit about the safety features on the aircraft, demonstrate how to use the seatbelt for anyone not intelligent enough to have figured that out already, and pretend to blow into a deflated life vest.  Nobody watches.  We’re all still partially squirming around trying to figure out which seating position is most comfortable. 

The airplane slowly taxis to the runway, and after waiting for a few airplanes ahead of us to take off, it’s our turn.  Our heart beats a little faster, and despite the annoyances that have occurred thus far, the excitement of knowing that we’re leaving for vacation quickly returns.  The throttle engaged, we feel the roaring thrust of the jet engines, and sink deep into our seats.  The nose of the airplane gently rises, and within moments we are airborne, watching the tiny cars of those less fortunate souls down below, on their way to or from work.  We smile, knowing we’re not one of them.  Most days we are, but not today.  Nope.  Not today.  Because vacation! 

Reaching the desired flight altitude, the airplane levels and the seatbelt sign turns off, indicating that while you should still wear your seatbelt at all times, it is now safe to turn on your electronic devices.  Ahhhh… we’re on our way… we’re on vacation… nothing to do but enjoy the ride.  In a few hours we’ll reach our destination, and all will be right in the world.  Your eyes closed, you listen to your headphones, as your mind wanders in anticipation of the sheer awesomeness that awaits upon your arrival.  Your escape from reality, your well deserved break from all the responsibilities and frustration that you experience on a daily basis, the moment you have been waiting for, that you have worked so hard to obtain.  Alas, that moment of bliss does not last long.  OUCH!!!  YOU LITTLE MOTHER F*&KER!!!  That 5ft nothing asshole in front of you suddenly reclines their seat directly into your unsuspecting knees!!!!  You selfish son of a bitch!!!

Nothing irritates me more than those who recline their seats.  With how closely airlines have crammed the seats together, space is already limited enough.  Severely limited.  A complete lack of space.  Sardines come to mind.  But come on people, we’re all in this together; let’s try to make this work!  I don’t recline my seat, ever, all for the greater good.  I don’t want to put the person behind me in a less comfortable situation, and I expect the same from the person in front of me.  It’s called courtesy.  That’s why it drives me absolutely up a wall bat-shit crazy when the shorter person in the seat in front of me puts their needs before mine, and without any regard to my comfort, reclines their seat into my space.  The seat doesn’t even recline that far, offering minimal additional comfort to those selfish few, but results in maximum discomfort for the person behind, whose already severely limited space just got that much smaller, and that much more uncomfortable.

I’m 6’-4” tall.  While I acknowledge I am slightly above average height, I’m by no means a giant.  I barely fit in the seat as it is.  By the time I get off an airplane, I have indents in my knees that won’t go away for another two days.  Flying is not comfortable for me, but I do it anyway because I love travelling.  Let me clarify, I love travelling for the foreign destinations, not the actual act of travelling to those destinations.  I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel several times a year, with most trips requiring air travel.  For some reason though, without fail, I always end up with a “recliner” in front of me.  Nobody else within eyesight reclines their seat, except for the person in front of me.  Why is it always me?  This triggers something in me that I’m not proud of, but it’s a truth I must face.  The moment the person in front of me reclines their seat, I turn into an irate 12 year old.  They’ve made me extremely uncomfortable, so you better believe I am going to do the same to them!

I dig my knees into the back of their chair and violently nudge them forward, repeatedly, to the point where I can see them physically being tossed about, head snapping forwards and backwards with each blow.  With their reclined inconsiderate heads practically resting in my lap, I blow into their hair, and breathe on them; fog up their glasses, trying to demonstrate that by reclining their seat, the back of their head is barely 12 inches from the front of mine.  Are you comfortable?  I hope not, because neither am I!  I’ll order a carbonated beverage from the flight attendant for no other reason than to generate burps, which I can then aim in the direction of their nasal cavity.  I pull out a single strand of errant hair.  All very immature, I know.  Like I said, I’m not proud of my actions, but despite the un-approving glances from my wife sitting next to me, using her slightly muffled angry voice directing me to stop, I can’t help myself.  This is war.  The onslaught continues, because hey, I’m not going anywhere, and I’ve got nothing but time.  The tantrum ceases only upon the seats return to its upright position, which usually does eventually happen when they realize this isn’t going to stop, and we exchange the customary dirty looks.  I shouldn’t do that.  I don’t like that I do that.  It’s the environment created by the airlines that has brought this out in me.

I get it, we all have the ability to recline our seats, and I could just as easily do the same, but just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.  The only, and I mean only, exception to this rule is when you’re on an overnight flight.  That is the only time reclining your seat should be permitted.  There’s an etiquette to airline travel, or at least there should be, where we all work together to minimize the discomfort and aggravation to the collective group.  It’s easy to be selfish, but we must all think of the greater good.  For those few hours, we should be able to make reasonable efforts to ensure our actions do not negatively impact those around us.  The airlines do not do this for us, in fact they seem to intentionally stack the cards against us as though there are hidden television cameras placed throughout the cabin and we’re all on some sort of twisted reality program where viewers at home watch dysfunctional human interaction as it’s finest.  All the more reason for us, airline passengers, to take it upon ourselves to optimize the flying experience for all. 

Don’t bring smelly food onto the airplane.  Keep your children under control.  Don’t kick the seat in front of you.  Don’t recline your seat into the person’s lap behind you.  Don’t encroach upon your neighbour’s limited personal space in any way.  Don’t speak loudly.  Don’t nudge each seat while walking through the aisle to the lavatory.  Don’t take your shoes off.  Don’t wear overpowering cologne or perfume on the day of the flight.  Be patient.  Don’t drink too much.  If you have a small bladder, don’t drink at all.  Don’t get in the way of the flight attendants during drink service.  Don’t stand in the aisle to stretch in a position that places your ass within inches of anyone’s face.  Don’t clip your fingernails or toenails.  Don’t repeatedly remove/return articles from your carry-on in the overhead compartment.  Basically, the more still you can be, the more silent you can be, and the more invisible you can be, to the point where people hardly realize you’re even there, the better.

Eventually you do reach your destination, the airplane lands, you taxi to your arrival gate, and chaos once again ensues.  Despite clear instructions to remain in your seats with your seatbelts on until the seatbelt sign is turned off, people once again show how stupid they really are by standing up to retrieve their overhead carry-on baggage ahead of everyone else, or trying to get to the lavatory one last time.  There is absolutely no reason why getting off the plane should be difficult.  Just be patient, follow the etiquette of letting those in front of you out of their seats first, and generally remain calm.  Eventually the herd thins, and you make your way off the plane, thank the flight attendants only because they said thank you first and you don’t want to be rude, walk the jetway one more time, and try to find faces you recognize from the flight that you can follow down to the luggage pick-up area.

The luggage pick-up area however is another area where human nature is not exactly at its finest.  We’ve all heard about or experienced the joys of the airlines losing our luggage, but for the most part the luggage does tend to arrive without incident.  For some reason though, many people feel the need to gather several rows deep right at the location where the conveyor belt shoots out the luggage onto the carousel.  They then push their way violently through the crowd upon seeing their suitcase, punting women and small children aside as though someone’s going to steal it.  Why not spread out?  There’s plenty of room, just take a deep breath, relax, and let your luggage come to you.  The luggage carousel was designed for that single purpose.  It will bring your bags right to where you are standing.  No need to push.  No need to jockey for position.  Nobody’s going to steal your precious t-shirts and socks.  We all want to ensure we retrieve our own suitcase, and make it a habit to check the luggage tags before leaving the airport, so the chances of someone walking off with your suitcase are very slim.  If this is something that you really lose sleep over, just buy a funky design/colour suitcase.  There are plenty designs to choose from.  Rest assured, nobody wants your weird giraffe print suitcase.

Really, you don’t get a chance to relax until you physically leave the airport.  That’s when the vacation can really begin, when all the worries and stresses just melt away.  Ahhh… vacation… the best days of the year, the memories that last a lifetime, the good times that make up for the bad.  These are the days you’ll look back on when you’re older and cherish.  Enjoy it as much as you can, because before you know it, you’re back to the airport, back on the airplane, and back to reality.  Dammit.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Concert Etiquette 101

With the summer concert season quickly approaching, it’s time for a little reminder on a few topics that can make or break the concert-going experience.

1)  Standing vs. Sitting:  As an audience, this one is our responsibility to determine as early on in the concert as possible.  Based on the band and the type of music they play, this decision is usually easy, but there are rare occasions where it can be a little dicey.  As we listen to the first song, it is perfectly acceptable to test the waters, and we’ll often see a mix of sitters and standers.  That first song sets the tone for the entire show, and in the case of concerts, the majority rules.  In most cases standing is preferred, as standing lends itself better to dancing, and hey, you’re at a concert not a biology lecture, so it only makes sense.  Some bands however are more low key, or maybe draw a different audience demographic, where sitting down is the preferred method of maximizing one’s enjoyment level.  If you find yourself attending a “sit down concert”, and if by the second song you are the only one standing, you can be sure that everyone behind you has assigned you a new nickname:  “Asshole!” 

2)  Dancing:  As a concert goer, you are well within your rights to dance till your heart’s content.  With all the excitement, music, atmosphere, friends, booze, etc… that summer concerts provide, dancing is naturally an expectation, and adds to the overall enjoyment of the experience.  Granted, there are often those who are not quite comfortable enough to dance, or perhaps were dragged to the show with friends, and just aren’t into the band in the same way you are.  That’s okay too, all types are always welcome.  But here’s the thing, regardless of which category you fall under, we’ve all paid the same money to attend the concert, thus temporarily granting us rights over the 2 square feet of real estate within which our assigned seat sits.  If your dancing style frequently involves arm flailing, leg kicking, hip shaking or full body fluctuations that extend beyond your 2 square feet, thus encroaching into your neighbour’s 2 square feet, you can be assured that your neighbour is cursing the night your parents had sex, spawning such an inconsiderate bastard such as yourself.  Don’t do that.  Be respectful.  We’re all there to have a good time, just make sure your good time doesn’t take away from someone else’s good time. 

3)  Beach Balls, Glow Sticks, and other Projectiles:  What brain malfunction exists in some people that makes bringing projectiles to a concert that can be thrown at the band and other concert-goers seem like a good idea?  Taking an unexpected beach ball off the back of the head in the middle of a song throws you off and takes your attention away from the stage momentarily, thereby creating a minor dip in your enjoyment-meter.  Taking an unexpected glow stick to the back of your head can actually hurt, and requires a great deal of mental and physical restraint as you try to lower your blood pressure and combat your rage before inevitably turning into the Incredible Hulk and going on a rampage to find the idiot who threw it!  As concert-goers, we should be permitted to “Code Red” these offenders without consequence.  How else are they going to learn, right?    

4)  Shouting Song Requests:  Everybody has their favourite song.  Maybe you danced to this song at your wedding, maybe the lyrics have some special meaning to you, or maybe you just love the beat.  For whatever your personal reasons, it’s totally acceptable to go to a concert hoping to hear a specific song.  In most cases however, the setlist decided upon by the band has been pre-determined well in advance of your arrival.  You shouting a song title at the top of your lungs from anywhere beyond the third row is not going to be heard by the band.  Sorry, but they simply can’t hear you.  But you know who CAN hear you?  EVERYONE AROUND YOU!!  We have just as much control over the setlist as you do, so screaming a song title to us over and over and over again is not going to change anything, other than our opinion of you!  So please, do us all a favour and SHUT THE F&#K UP!!! 

5)  Signs:  When you go to a concert, you know that the likelihood of a partially obstructed view is strong, given the various shapes and sizes that we human beings possess.  I’m 6’- 4” tall, and am very self-conscious about that fact while at a concert, especially one where everyone is standing.  I know this requires those behind me to lean slightly to one side or the other, therefore I restrict my concert dancing to more of a forward and backward style, as opposed to side to side, which would only lead to further aggravation of those unfortunate enough to be behind me.  I stay within my 2 square feet, and try my best to ensure I don’t make the situation any worse for them than it already is.  I try to give them the best chance to see the stage as I can, as happy neighbours only enhance the concert-going experience.  It’s often challenging enough to see the stage at the best of times, but if you’re one of those people who bring what looks like a grade 3 art project on a 2ft by 3ft sheet of cardboard into the concert, and consistently wave it above your head, you may as well have just parked a transport trailer in front of all those behind you!  That in my mind is the ultimate sign of disrespect for everyone around you.  DON’T DO THAT!!          

At the end of the day, it all comes down to respect.  Respect for the band, and respect for those who have shelled out just as much money as you have to attend that concert.  We’re all in this together, and we all want to have an amazing time.  Be cognizant that concerts are a group experience, and that your actions do have a direct impact on others.  Please don’t do things that you know will take away from other people’s enjoyment.  It’s simple really; just treat others like you’d like to be treated.  

Enjoy the show!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little Drummer Boy

Whilst sitting at a stoplight, I had the immense privilege of witnessing the most epic display of air drumming ever performed from someone driving a Honda Accord.  His suit and tie said one thing, but his intense arm motions and thrashing dreads told a whole other story.  There was more to this man than met the eye.  Inhibitions long gone, held back only by his seat belt, the car bouncing to the beat.  In the summer months, this display of raw aggression would have undoubtedly caused a full body sweat, but taking advantage of the February cold, the performance raged on.  Alas, the light eventually turned green, eliminating any hopes of an encore.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Splatter Argument

Okay, let's settle this.  Ladies, here’s a little test for you.  All you need is a mop bucket and a garden hose.  Ready?  Let's go outside!

Once outside, try to find a nice dry area on your driveway or patio.  Take the empty bucket, place it on the ground, and using the garden hose, fill it roughly half way with water.  Is the ground around the bucket still dry?  Good.  Now, with the water turned off, stand approximately 1ft behind the bucket, and hold the end of the hose a little over 3ft from the ground.  Aim the hose at the bucket.  While you’re standing there, have someone turn the hose on for 15 seconds.

So, how’d you do?  Is the ground around the bucket still dry?  Not so easy afterall, huh.

Case closed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Religion & Ray Lewis

I haven’t attended church in a really long time, but I am a member, and do remain loyal and respectful to the message and beliefs.  I spent my childhood years in Sunday School, and if all that stuff they say turns out to be true, you better believe I want a key to the front door of Heaven!  If it isn’t, well, no harm done.  Religion can be a touchy subject, I get that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to share my thoughts on it.  It seems like everyone else is, so why can’t I? 

Everywhere you go nowadays you’re faced with over-bearing Bible-thumpers singing the praises of God.  Professional sporting events are becoming insanely religious.  Did anyone watch the Ray Lewis spectacle during the Ravens vs. Patriots game Sunday night?  How ridiculous was that?  Even God must have been rolling His eyes at times, muttering under His breath “Oh Me!” in disgust.  Laying it on a little thick there Mr. Lewis, don’t you think?  There’s a big difference in my mind between being a Christian, and the nonsense we’re forced to endure from those who have taken things a little too far.

I don’t attend weekly church services because I don’t feel it’s necessary to constantly remind myself of something I already believe in.  However, by no means do I hold anything against those that do.  I believe religion is an extremely personal thing, and that each person has the right to practice their faith in a manner in which they feel is appropriate.  If everybody did that, and just kept it to themselves, we’d all be fine.  It’s once people take their personal beliefs and try to force them onto others where I take issue.  This isn’t helping promote a positive image of religion, and in fact to the contrary, is exactly what is turning a lot of people off!  Do you really think there were millions of people watching Ray Lewis last night on his hands and knees weeping and screaming God’s name, thinking to themselves, “Now there’s a guy that’s got it all together, how do I join?”

I do not need people littering my front porch, or knocking at my door while I’m trying to eat dinner, wanting to hand me pamphlets and teach me about all the benefits I’ll get by joining their group.  If you have a passion for recruiting members and getting them to believe what you believe, join the armed forces or a cult.  I do not need musicians mindlessly thanking God every opportunity they get, just because it’s the “in” thing to do.  You won a Grammy Award?  Well isn't that special... I'm sure God's up there somewhere saying "You're welcome!".  I do not need to watch awkward football players huddled up and saying their prayers, surrounded by television cameras and microphones, with half the guys only there because they feel they have to be.  You could have just as easily done that in the privacy of the locker room, but no, you wanted to do it where everybody could see you, because I guess God hears your prayers better when you’re in front of a crowd.  Give me a break!  You can’t say the God’s Prayer in school anymore, but if you turn on the television nowadays, you’re faced with more expressions of religion than ever before!  Somewhere along the way, this whole religion thing seems to have developed a life of its own, and all the while poor Jesus is over there in the corner looking down at his sandals thinking “Hey everybody!  Remember Me?” 

I think I’m living a good life.  I’m doing it right.  I’m polite to others, respectful, and treat them the way I want to be treated.  I try to help those in need whenever there’s an opportunity.  I try to promote happiness, and generally try to have a positive influence on those around me.  I don’t need to bother anyone with public displays of my beliefs.  As strongly as you may believe in what you want to believe in, there’s someone else that believes just as strongly in something else.  We can’t all be right.  Or maybe we’re all wrong, and the aliens are just looking down at us shaking their heads, wondering how they'll ever fix this mess they’ve created.  I have my own beliefs, but I don’t know who’s right, and neither do you.  If you go to church 7 days a week, or carry a Bible with you at all times, does that make you a better person than me?  I don’t think so.

As with most things, it’s all about moderation.  So if you’re one of those Bible-thumping exhibitionists that are more about self-promotion than the promotion of God, just knock it off already!  If you’re going to do it, do it for the right reasons, or don’t do it at all.  If you really are that passionate about your beliefs, well then good for you, but keep it to yourself.  Yes Ray Lewis, I’m talking to you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

NHL Returns: To Boycott, or not to Boycott... THAT is the question!

So the NHL is back.  Well isn’t that just wonderful.  And like many abusive relationships, the fans will come crawling back thinking this time it will be different.  The winner:  the NHL.  The losers:  the fans.  Is that how it’s going to be? 

Nothing would make me happier than seeing fans finally stand up for themselves and boycott the balance of this season.  Empty arenas are the only way to get the message across to the NHL, team owners and players that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated.  If nothing else, tickets should be reduced to half-price to show appreciation to the fans that have remained loyal.  But that won’t happen.  We all know how this will end.  The fans will go back to them regardless.  Well, all but this fan.

Like most Canadian boys, I grew up playing hockey both on the ice and on our neighbourhood streets, instilling in me a love for the game that has stayed with me to this day.  It’s that same love for the game that will compel most fans to give the NHL their immediate forgiveness.  While I wish that were not the case, I cannot hold it against them.  If you’re happy that the NHL is back so that you can once again watch the game you love, well then I’m happy that you’re happy, but my feelings on the matter remain unchanged.

Maybe it’s the game that has changed, or maybe it’s me that has changed, but for whatever the reason, I can no longer hold the NHL on the pedestal I once did.  It has become all too clear that for the NHL, “the love of the game” has been replaced with “the love of money”.  This can also be said for most professional sports leagues, where salaries have gotten so extraordinarily out of hand that most professional athletes will make more in one season than we will in multiple lifetimes.

While professional hockey players may not even be at the top of the list of highest paid athletes, they do quite well for themselves.  There’s no hardship there, there’s no need to feel sorry for them.  Think about how hard you work at your job to make ends meet.  Think about how much time you must put in at work to save enough money to buy your son or daughter a jersey with their favourite player's name and number on it, or buy tickets to take your family to a game.  Think of that feeling of excitement that permeates through your body when you enter the arena and see the ice for the first time.  For the average fan taking home an average salary, they’re lucky if they can attend maybe one game per season, if that.  That’s the reality of the average fan.  That is precisely why I have a hard time accepting the fact that a third line winger who gets maybe seven shifts a game is making more money sitting there on the bench during one 60 minute game than we fans will make in an entire year.  And still, they are not satisfied?  Is what they do for a living really that much more important than what we do for a living, to justify that degree of disparity? 

And who pays these ridiculous salaries?  We do, the fans.  Our love of the game blinds us from reality, and we gladly shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars year after year for tickets and team apparel without even a second thought.  Our love of the game keeps us coming back, and the NHL knows that.  They feed on that, but at the same time, they also know we are a limited resource.  They know there is only so much money they can bleed from us, which is why they have turned their focus to corporate season tickets and private boxes.

Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Air Canada Centre for example.  The majority of the lower bowl is sold out before the season even begins, but not because of the fans.  Only the upper bowl is really open to average fans, the lower bowl is for the corporations, those that have the deeper pockets capable of spending over $250 per ticket and supporting the NHL for years to come.  Why have the iconic Maple Leafs not made a greater effort over these past few decades to secure a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup?  Simple… because they don’t have to.  The seats are filled for each and every game, and team apparel is flying off the shelves, regardless of the quality of the team.  To spend more for higher quality talent would be unnecessary and foolish.  The goal isn't to win the Stanley Cup, it's to maximize profits, and they’re sure doing an excellent job of that. 

For the first five minutes of each period, the lower level seats sit empty, as the corporate elite indulge themselves on over-priced food and drinks, expanding their range of spending far beyond merely the cost of the seats.  Fans may not be able to afford the price of the food and drinks, but those corporations sure can, especially when they are trying to impress.  That’s where the profit is to be made.  The teams and NHL know it.  Those corporations are the future, not us fans.  Fans are secondary.  Fans are only needed to buy licensed merchandise; we’re not needed at the games anymore.  We’re encouraged to watch Hockey Night in Canada at home, while we wear our favourite team’s third jerseys, and drink from our team logo mug.

Why else would the league expand to unlikely markets in the southern United States that leave us scratching our heads?  It’s not because there is a huge demand for ice-based sports down there.  Not too many kids in Phoenix grow up with a love for the game of hockey, or spend their winters playing shinny on the local pond.  In fact, they don’t even call it hockey.  They call it “Ice Hockey”, as though the concept of ice is somewhat foreign to them, and requires clarification.  Cities such as this to the NHL are nothing more than an untapped market where they can create a team, promote the sport in order to sell tickets and merchandise, make as much money as they can, and as soon as the novelty wears off, they can move the team elsewhere and start the cycle all over again.  No thought is given to the watering down of talent as the league expands to more and more teams.  The NHL is now filled with mediocre players that never would have made the cut 20 years ago, but with more teams comes more money.  Financially, the NHL is far better off placing new teams in the population rich United States rather than Canada, so even though there is undeniable demand in Canada for more teams (Hamilton immediately comes to mind), and even though the majority of the die-hard hockey fans live north of the border, it doesn’t matter.  The fans don’t matter.  Money matters.  The NHL is a business first and foremost.

We’ve had to endure several months of listening to millionaires and billionaires negotiate over who gets what share of the profits.  We fans don’t care how you guys divide the profits, as long as you put a decent product on the ice for our enjoyment, and feed our love of the game, we’re happy.  But they didn’t do that.  They could have kept playing through their ongoing negotiations, but they didn’t.  Rather than watching nightly highlight reels on TSN or ESPN, we’ve been forced to watch Gary Bettman and various players dressed in suits walk in, out, and around building entrances, on their way to and from business meetings and contract negotiations.  I can’t help but think something has been lost in all of this, the image of professional hockey tarnished.  What happened to the game I love? 

As I stand back now and try my best to look at it objectively, I guess I can’t blame the NHL.  I can’t blame the owners.  I can’t blame the players.  Hockey is a business before all else.  Hockey, like most businesses, is all about money.  In business, money is everything.  I get that.  At least at that level, the idealistic concept of “the love of the game” died a long time ago.  The charade is over, and I suppose for the first time, I’ve allowed myself to see the business of hockey as it really is.  Now they’re back, their secret exposed, and they expect us to act like nothing ever happened.  Well I can’t do that.   

I’m not suggesting you all boycott the NHL.  I’m not suggesting you immediately forgive the NHL.  Really, I’m not suggesting anything at all.  Do whatever feels right for you, and whatever that is, I’ll respect that.  As odd as it may sound, I was actually rooting for the cancellation of the entire season out of spite, and was strangely disappointed to hear a deal had been struck.  Or maybe I was more disappointed because now that a deal is in place, everyone is giving each other high-fives, thinking everything can finally get back to normal.  It all seems a little too easy.  What is normal?  Is normal really such a great thing? 

For me, I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve come to the realization that I no longer care.  The NHL sure doesn’t care about me, and I’m fine with that, most big businesses don’t.  I still love hockey, but I’m not the least bit excited that the NHL is back, and that says something to me.  It turns out that my life without the NHL has been just fine, and I’ve even got a few extra dollars in my pocket to show for it.  No apologies needed from the NHL, feel free to go about your business, and best of luck with your next lock-out ten years from now.  While I have no doubt that I’ll still see you around from time to time, it won't ever be the same.  I don't want it to be. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Power of "No"

Lots of people say “no” all the time.  You hear it everyday.  It’s one of the first words you learn as a child.  It’s a simple two letter word that we all take for granted, and don’t give much thought to.  However if you take a step back for a moment and think about it, you’ll realize the strength and power of that word, if and when used properly.

It’s one thing to say “no”, but it’s an entirely different thing to mean it.  To stand behind it.  To be willing to fight for it.  If used properly, it is actually a positive, not a negative, and becomes an invaluable tool for success in both your career and personal life. 

In order to be able to use the word “no” to your benefit, there is one thing that you absolutely MUST have, and that is knowledge.  To say “yes” is to go with the flow, to follow the herd.  Of course there are many reasonable opportunities to say “yes” on a daily basis, I’m not suggesting you delete that word from your vocabulary, but think about what the words mean.  “Yes” is a much easier thing to say than “no”.  If you’re going to use the word “no”, you had better be prepared to defend and explain why you feel that way.  You can’t simply make a hit-and-run statement of objection, take off, and expect to be taken seriously.  You’re either committed, or your not.  Stand behind your words, or don’t say them in the first place.

Elementary and high school is great for providing a basic education, university is great for allowing time for socialization and maturing, and by the time I finished my post-graduate studies after university, I was graduating with high honours.  That’s all fine and dandy, however, what all those years in school don’t teach you is what the “real world” is like once you’re out there on your own.  Diplomas of course have a purpose, and certainly look great on the wall, but they don’t prepare you for the “real world”.  Diplomas get your foot in the door, where you go from there is up to you.  There’s only one way to learn the “real world”, and that’s through experience.  I had a great looking resume by the time I finished with school, and I thought I was fully prepared, but the fact was, I didn’t know anything.  People who don’t know better have no option but to trust that the person standing across from them knows something they don’t, so they say “yes”, and quietly continue on with their business, trying not to draw attention upon themselves.

I didn’t realize this at the time, but early on in my career in the building and development industry, I said “yes” an awful lot.  If someone at City Hall said I needed to provide something in order to obtain a Building Permit, I said “yes”, and got them what they asked for.  If an engineering consultant said we needed to design a residential subdivision in a certain way, I said “yes”, and that’s the way we designed it.  The problem with that however is that by me saying “yes”, it usually meant more time and money on my side of the table was being spent.  Looking back at it, the reason is obvious.  I was young, green, and didn’t know what I was doing! 

I’ve been in this industry for over 16 years now, and by no means am I suggesting I know everything, because I don’t.  Not even close.  But I know that, and knowing that is important.  Through the course of these past 16 years, I’ve gained experience.  I’ve gained knowledge of the Planning Act, Official Plans, Zoning By-Laws, Provincial Legislation, legal agreements, and Building Codes to name a few.  More importantly, I’ve gained knowledge of not only the words within those documents, but what those words actually mean, and how they translate to the “real world”.  Words are something you learn in school.  Words are simple.  The true meaning of words however is something you don’t learn until you’ve experienced them.

Only once you have this knowledge behind you can you legitimately step up and tell somebody “no, you’re wrong, and here’s why”. I now know whether the information City Hall is asking for is something that is actually required, or whether they’re trying to take advantage of a situation, or whether the person asking for it doesn’t even know themselves what the actual requirements are.  Maybe it shouldn’t, but it amazes me that the people put in charge of administering Provincial and Municipal policies, don’t always know what they’re talking about.  They assume they know more about these types of things than the general public, and so does the general public, so City Hall is used to hearing “yes”.  City Hall usually gets what they ask for.  As the saying goes, “You can’t fight City Hall”.  I didn’t know this 16 years ago, but actually, you can.  They are not used to hearing the word “no”.  It catches them completely off guard, and they are not comfortable having to take off their blinders and take a second look at what the policies actually say.  It’s not easy to argue with people who are set in their ways, but it can be done.  Now that my eyes are open to this, it’s a whole new world.

I’ve been in ongoing negotiation meetings over the past two years battling with senior legal and planning staff at two of our local municipalities, and through these negotiations have been successful in convincing them to essentially re-write portions of their Official Plans and Zoning By-Laws to put in place wording that reflects the “real world” interpretation and implementation of those words.  When I submit an application for a new residential subdivision, I don’t cater to what City Hall wants, I give equal or greater consideration to what I want.  I’m afterall the one paying for everything (well, I should say the company I work for is paying for everything), shouldn’t I therefore get a say in this?  When I show up at meetings, and stand up in front of a team of municipal lawyers, engineers, and planners who have been doing things a certain way for years, and tell them that “no, you are wrong”, I damn well better have a good explanation why I feel that way if I want to retain any shred of credibility.  Nowadays, I win more than I lose, and it’s a great feeling.  The fear of confrontation long gone, it’s empowering to know that I have a voice, and whether people agree or disagree, at least they’re listening, and that’s a good start.     

Whether in your professional life or personal life, the moment you say “no”, whether you like it or not, you’ve stuck your neck out.  It is the only way to achieve greater success, and is absolutely necessary, but there is no denying that you are exposing yourself.  You are no longer part of the faceless herd, and sometimes must take positions that are not necessarily popular with others.  But if you have the knowledge and self-confidence to stand behind your position with conviction, and the willingness to fight for what you believe, you’ll do just fine.  I couldn’t do that 16 years ago.  I can do that now.  I can now say “no”.