Calgary, Alberta. What to say about Calgary, Alberta? I am not originally from here which wouldn't really make it my hometown, Montreal would be my hometown. I haven't been back there in over a decade, though, so I can't really write about something I remember because it might not be there anymore or I might not feel the same way about it as I did growing up there. However, I've stayed in Calgary long enough to tell you about it. Unfortunately. Being from a big city like Montreal, I'm not a big fan of Calgary. I'm used to there always being something going on. Calgary doesn't have much to do. Unless you're a child or into the arts. Which I am not to both. There is one thing all of us here in the city look forward to every year - even if we don't like the admit it. The Calgary Stampede.
I always look forward to it and even crave the Stampede grounds on off season, but then I get there and I loathe it. It's nothing like it used to be. When I first moved to Calgary, my parents would dress my sister, my niece and I in cowboy gear (I loathed that, too) and took us down to the grounds on family day. We would get there nice and early and stand in, what we thought at the time, was a really long line up to get a "Stampede breakfast" and sit in the grandstand seats to watch a little country concert while we ate.
I've never been a big fan of country music, unless it was Bryan White - I don't know why but my young mind had developed such a crush on him, I'm glad that's over. I couldn't deny the breakfast, though. During Stampede week, if you know where to go (and you can if you go to flapjackfinder.com), you don't need to make breakfast for yourself for the whole time. And it's free. The only part I dislike about Stampede breakfasts is actually getting the food, it makes me feel like I'm begging for food like Oliver Twist. A poor child who couldn’t afford food, begging for breakfast. I had cereal at home and my parents could make eggs and bacon, which I would trust more because my Mom is a great cook. I do like the fact that for one week out of the year, at least, the homeless in this city can eat like Kings. Its a nice thought.
My parents would make us sit through the whole country concert because they were both really big fans of country music - even if we didn't know who the artist was. Which was how I came about having my ass grabbed by Adam Gregory, but that's a story for a different day...My sister, niece and I would become restless. We could see the rides just off to our left and hear the crowd outside the grandstand - which is basically stadium seating in front of the horse races, outdoors - having a great time without us. It was sheer torture. Yeah, the rides were just starting up but, we just wanted to be part of the crowd. I was so glad when I became old enough to hang out with my boyfriend on the grounds and opt out of the country concert during breakfast.
Once breakfast (and the concert) were done, we'd vacate the seating area and go out with the rest of the crowd. My parents weren't big fans of the rides, so we usually waited til the afternoon to go on them. We'd spend the morning going through the grounds and seeing what there was. I still love going through the grounds. There's a midway with all the rides and games you can play then there's a kids section - which always has better and easily won prizes - food stands you don't normally see (like, Mini donuts!! Yum!!), and vendors showing off their new products. In the beginning, we used to go home with a bag of goodies we had been handed for free throughout the day. My sister and I used to love collecting the Sesame Street figurines they handed out in the breakfast line every year.
After a walk through the grounds, we'd go to the Round up center which was filled with tables of people selling things. Its like a big convention center with tons of different items you can buy. There's a stand with collectibles, a big lemon shaped stand where you can get amazing lemonade, a slurpee center where you can get a big cup for $2 and they have every slurpee flavor you can imagine. There are three or four booths with every radio station here in Calgary selling bags with food, coupons and trial items for $15. The bags are basically worthless but the stuff inside is worthwhile. I always end up getting a bag. The last one I got was from Virgin 98.5. It's a black messenger bag. I absolutely love it. The first bag I've bought which has lasted more than a week. I still use it as a diaper bag when we have my step grandson for the weekend. It comes in handy.
Done with the Round up Center we would have armfuls of bags with purchases we made. We would always leave buying the radio station bags til last. That's because we always do the same thing, "I don't think I'm going to buy a bag this year." but then we go through the grounds and mull it over, resulting in us going back to the Round up Center before we leave to buy one. After we're done with the Round up Center, we're starving and we're right by our favorite place to go for lunch: Weadickville.
If you ever ask any of my family members where you should go for your first trip to the Stampede, they will all tell you the same thing: Go to Weadickville. See, if there was one downside back then to the Stampede (Its still a downside but there's more than just that now), its money draining. You can't go to the Stampede and not expect to spend at least $100 and that's even if you got in for free. So, my family tried to make the best out of an expensive situation. We found Weadickville at the end of our first ever visit and have taken advantage of it ever since.
There's a little deli that sells sandwiches, hot dogs, drinks, chips and veggie plates for real cheap. We always go there for lunch, it's from Schneider's so its pretty tasty. Next to the deli is a bakery with cheaper breakfast items. A tiny makeshift Mac's sits between the bakery and a Calgary Herald stand. The only thing the Mac's sells is Slurpees, chips, cold drinks and coffee. Not fancy coffee, just plain old black coffee you can add cream and sugar to. I used to go to Van Houtte - which was located next to the Calgary Herald - for coffee because it was the stuff they had in Montreal which I missed. It has recently been turned into a crappy candy store with overpriced items. There is also an ice cream stand there, as well, which has "different" ice cream flavors like "Beer for my horses" and "Mini donuts". No, I still have not tried either of those flavors and I don't think I ever will. I'm too devoted to the real mini donuts and I don't like the taste of beer.
In front of Weadickville is my sister and I's favorite thing about the Stampede. Even more than mini donuts. And that's saying a lot. The Coca-Cola Stage. They put on free concerts for people at the Stampede. In the years that I've gone, I have seen Simple Plan (twice, this year I'm going for the third time), Fefe Dobson, Hot hot heat, Hedley, Lillix, Treble Charger, The New Cities, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, These Kids Wear Crowns and Wide Mouth Mason. I bet there's been more but that's all I can remember. Most of the time, its just Canadian bands and you can usually meet them afterwards behind the stage. The only downside to the stage is when people throw water bottles at the band members. Poor, David Desroisiers from Simple Plan. :( Oh, and being crushed in the mosh pit...which I'll never go in again. Way too many bruises to count from that mosh pit...and heaven forbid it rains, the mosh pit turns into a mud pit...which people don't care so they get all dirty and gross. If you've ever been to the Stampede, you know it rains for pretty much the whole week. I swear, they should push it to the week after because it's always sunny afterwards. Maybe its just a Rain on my parade kinda thing.
I used to have such a blast at the Stampede but, after a few years of going...its really not the same but exactly the same. Let me explain: All around the city there are still Stampede breakfasts that everyone goes to and receives a free pancake breakfast which usually consists of 2 pancakes and whichever pork product they want to dish the money out for. Some have quality ham, some have sausage links and some, my all time favorite sausage patties - they just taste so much better than some of the sausage links they serve. Which can range from super greasy and gross to super dried up and gross. And the patties are only good if they are made right. Which isn’t that hard to do unless they are overcooked and come out all dry.
The people cooking these meals are just people who work at whichever establishment is holding the breakfast. During the 19 years I've gone to Stampede, the breakfasts have become worse and worse. The people making the breakfasts don't really care anymore and I can't blame them. Not only do they deal with customers after the meal is done but they also have to come to work early and cook breakfast for all of them. People who go to these are the same people who usually have the common sense to tell me not to eat breakfast at Lido Cafe in Kensington…I see it as the same thing, personally…except even worse because you REALLY don’t know these people serving these pancakes and sausages, and they don't normally do it for a living.
Heading to the Stampede grounds by train is the worst experience of my life, yet I do it every year anyway because its the only way I can get there. We climb aboard a crowded and overheated train and head into downtown. We can't wait to get to Victoria Stampede station. The trains are always overcrowded for the whole 10 days of Stampede. No matter which way you’re going. If the train is heading to the grounds, you’re kind of screwed into feeling like a bunch of sardines. I hate it. Especially since women brings their mammoth baby carriages on to the train and take up a spot where 10 people can fit normally. Fold it up, goddamn it! And don't give me this crap that you can't. My sister and I actually brought my step grandson last year, by train, and we held him as the buggy stood next to us, folded up. We were considerate to everyone else.
We all get off the train and take the ramp into the grounds. The place is already swarming with too many people. It always puts me on the verge of an anxiety attack. I always get the feeling that I just want to go back down the ramp, get on a train and go back home. I hate the fact that we only get one cool thing to do a year in Calgary and it’s overrun by tourists, who have cooler things to do in their own hometowns. I think it was about five years ago that it started to get completely overcrowded, not to mention overrated.
The weather is always just as crappy as our situation. It always goes from hot to cold. So, you're constantly taking your jacket off and then having to put it back on. The sun keeps hiding or it rains. I end up getting frustrated half way through the midway.
Getting the free breakfast is out of the question unless you get up at 4am to go because there's SO many people nowadays. The line up is a mile away from the gates when my family and I show up at 8am. We can barely move without some jerk walking right into us if we don’t move out of the way fast enough or they'll stop right in front of you with no warning and then get mad at you for bumping into them. Its very hard to enjoy yourself on a free day at the Stampede.
We don’t go on rides anymore because the tickets are too expensive and a complete rip off. If you go during the week, you can get a wristband for all day rides but if you go on the weekends, which my family does, you have to buy tickets. The tickets always cost about $35 for a gift card type thing that the carnies swipe and your tickets go by like nothing. After 5 rides, you're scrounging up about $60 to get 5 more rides in. Its always more expensive at the grounds and totally not worth it. Also, I get sick on rides now…you know you’ve grown up when…
The games are even worse. You can be spending up to $20 to get a stuffed monkey you could have bought at the Dollarama and saved yourself $19. However, its like a status symbol to be carrying around a humongous stuffed dog or something to show you outsmarted the game carnies and won something worthwhile...after spending just $100 trying to get it. What's worse, you always see these humongous, overpriced stuffed animals at second hand stores for years afterwards because no one really wants them.
The Round up Center has the same tables with the same people who have been going every year since I began my Stampede experiences in 1993. In a way, its good because if you didn't have money the year before but you know you wanted that one thing, you can go back and get it next year. Which is what my sister and I do now.
There are the things we still look forward to, like the Stampede breakfasts. I still go to the Chinook Center breakfast even though I live on the opposite side of the city. The Coca Cola stage is always worth going to. Even if you have to pay $14 to get in the gate...The last time I saw Simple Plan off the grounds, it was about $60 for tickets, so I'm not going to complain about $14.
Now that we've gone to the Stampede practically every year, my sister and I know how to run our day. We plan our visits around the Coca Cola Stage and who is playing. This year we'll be seeing The New Cities on Sneak a peek (Thursday night before the Stampede officially opens, you can go in and get a taste of what's to come) and Simple Plan on July 13th. We'll get to the grounds, look around - which usually takes us two hours tops - and then we'll wait for the concert with two small bags filled to the top with mini donuts.
Its definitely not the same as it used to be due to the overcrowding but at the same time, its still the same old Stampede. Every year, we'll complain that we're never going back and yet every year when the Coca Cola stage line up is announced, we begin our plans to go. This year, we were even lucky enough to get tickets to go to Flames Central and see the line up announced live at the Coke Covert concert. The bands who were playing were supposed to be a secret but my sister and I outsmarted the Stampede and figured out that one of the bands was The New Cities. The second band was the Sheepdogs. I left after the New Cities.
This year is the centennial. 100 years of Stampeding in Calgary. I'm excited to see any changes it may go through but at the same time, I already feel suffocated by the even bigger crowd we'll be faced with. Are you ready? Cause I sure as hell am not. See you there.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my view askew on the Calgary Stampede.