Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I've had a rather busy week. Aside from travelling halfway across the country by rail and eventually receiving a piece of paper with a little too much fanfare to acknowledge that, along with millions of other Canadians, I now have a bachelor's degree, I also made a stop in Vancouver which just happened to fall on Riot Wednesday.

I didn't participate in the riots, nor did I stick around to watch them, much as I would have liked to. I got my fix of police-citizen conflict last June in Toronto when there was actually something to fight for, and given that I was on vacation with my parents, there was no reason to take to the streets. I am spiritually anarchist, so on some subconscious level it was thrilling to see drab Canadians take their lives into their own hands and to see police emasculated. But hanging over it all was the knowledge that there was nothing political about this action, no unity to the mob...in the end, it was just a few shitheads who came to crash a huge party, and then a bunch of drunks having a truly epic bar-fight. Did breaking the doors of The Bay do anything, in the war against corporation? No. But that wasn't really the point.

Mobs appeal to something carnal inside us. A collection of like-minded people has more strength in its convictions than any one person can, and falling into a crowd can be utterly exhilerating in moments of pure anger and joy. Historically, it's this realization that created labour reform and political revolution, but the closest we can often come in modern Western society is sport (or perhaps music). It is one of the most gratifying feelings in the world to rise as one at a sporting event where something incredible has happened.

One of the most exciting baseball moments I've experienced was Aaron Hill's walkoff walk on June 5, 2007 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Walkoffs are always exciting, of course, but this wasn't just your typical walkoff. There was expectancy in the air, in the way the inning had progressed. The Jays had scored five runs in the ninth and everyone - everyone - in the stadium was on their feet waiting to see if the sixth would cross. And when Aaron Hill took that fourth ball, that place erupted.

I didn't participate in the riots on Wednesday in Vancouver, but I was part of the mob (at least early on, while the game was still in progress). And what I was down there for, searching for, almost, was that carnal roar. We didn't get a single goal in the three hours I spent at Georgia and Richards; all we got was, early on, a camera angle that appeared to take Tim Thomas back into his own net. The mob cheered, spurred on by each other, but the arms went down as soon as the score flashed back up on the screen. No goal, no joy, no victory.

I'm not a hockey fan. Anyone who knows me knows that to accuse me of being a hockey fan undermines everything about me, that I've spent most of my life railing against the hours TSN devotes to minor league hockey instead of major league baseball, that I haven't played hockey since I was a prepubescent with a mini-stick and a tennis ball, that I absolutely hate the way that hockey must be intertwined with national identity in this country, leading many acquaintances to call me, in half-jest, an expatriot American. I grew up in Ottawa, young enough that while I didn't care about the Sens, I didn't despise them either, but when I moved to Toronto I adopted an irrational distaste for the Leafs. For being terrible and yet still being front-page news, for putting their stadium right next to the Rogers Centre...just for existing, really. And when I moved to the West Coast, I was entirely ambivalent towards the Vancouver Canucks.

I've also, as a hardcore baseball fan, always resented the casual fan. I found it incredibly frustrating to go to a game with someone who had only a casual understanding of baseball, the kind of person who gets really confused by a sacrifice fly or can't understand the concept of a strikeout. Every second I spent explaining the game was a second I wasn't watching the game, and these people had not invested nearly so much into my team as I had, so why should I care about explaining the game to them?

So suffice it to say I was hesitant about becoming a Canucks fan this year. And I'm not, really. I watched one or two playoff games last year, and then skipped the entire regular season except for the occasional check of the standings. And I noticed early on that this year's team was really, really good, at least if points were any indication. Towards the playoffs, I started to ask my hippie friend, resident hockey fan, about the season.

When the playoffs started, I kept track of the Blackhawks series, figuring it was over after two games then checking back in in the second period of Game 7, watching my friend live and die in the moments before Burrows buried the OT winner. The Preds and Sharks series each went by fast, with the odd radio snippet catching my ears when someone brought a radio to work or picked me up in their car. "The Finals," I said. "I'll be a fan if they make it to the Cup Finals."

And they did. And I followed a little more closely. Eager for updates from coworkers. Watching the games, if not instead of Jays games, at the very least simultaneously. The Canucks took a strangelehold. Then blew it, spectacularly. Then lived to fight another day. Then, on Monday night at the airport, I listened to the guttural sounds emerging from the bar as Luongo relinquished one, then two, then three, first-period goals and the specter of Game Seven came into focus.

If I was ever going to be a hockey fan, it was now. How often can you say that your local team is in Game Seven of the final in their respective sport? The Blue Jays have been around for thirty-four years and never seen a World Series Game Seven. The Texas Rangers have been around since 1961, and they've never seen one. The Maple Leafs, that team that I came of age hating so much, hasn't had a Cup Final Game Seven since 1964, when my father was in grade school.

So here I was, in Vancouver for Game Seven, a conflicted hockey fan with the opportunity of a lifetime. I joined the mob, the mob went wild, and we all went home.

And you know, if you tell me you're a casual Blue Jays fan next time I see you, maybe now I won't rip your head off.

Everyone move to Canada, smoke lots of *beep*, everybody move to Canada right now.

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