Casual Views From The Honda Indy Toronto

 

I’ll freely admit to not being much of a race car fan. Sure I appreciate the drivers’ abilities, and the engineering and speed of the vehicles. However, it’s just not something that I’ve ever gotten into. So, every year, when the Hondy Indy takes place in Toronto, since the race runs on streets near the lake shore, I’ve been one of those people who would complain about traffic sucking that weekend, and stayed away from  the city. And I don’t even live in Toronto!

This year was different, though. I discovered that the Indy puts on a Fan Friday event. Instead of paying admission, a voluntary donation to Make-A-Wish Canada gets you onto the grounds, to experience all kinds cool stuff, both on and off track. Stuff like watching the drivers’ practice on the course, autograph sessions, and tons of other festival attractions, games and activities. Figuring this was a great way to find out what all the fuss about the Indy was about, I secured a media pass, and checked out Fan Friday with B.  Here are some thoughts and views, random style!

  • To avoid the traffic, we took Go Transit. It stopped at the Exhibition GO Station, which was right where the gates for the Indy were. Even better, kids under 12 ride free, if an adult has a ticket to the Indy!
  • The cars are loud! It was just practice sessions that day, but the roars of them speeding by was pretty deafening. Ear protection was a must, especially for B.

  • The grandstands were open to everyone. B and I hung out for a little bit there, to scope out the action, but many fans were there for long periods.
  • B and I spent a lot of time in the Honda Speed Zone. This area had the most kid-friendly games and activities. It also had free popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones.
  • The various sponsors’ booths and displays had quite a bit of free swag available, actually. There was also a decent selection of food trucks there, too {not free), and numerous beer gardens (also not free).
  • We were really looking forward to doing the Junior Red Riders. Kids would put on the proper safety gear, and ride dirt bikes in a controlled evironment. However, I didn’t realize that you had to come early, to register for this, and registration filled up quick. While waiting in line to play a game at about 11:00AM, I overheard another dad saying that the earliest time to participate in the Junior Red Riders was 4:30PM. Then, when we went over afterwards, registration was full for the day. Pretty disappointing, especially since I don’t think the early registration was made clear anywhere.

  • Many people were also rocking gear of their favorite drivers. Canadian James Hinchcliffe, in particular, was a big favorite.

  • Man, I suck at remote controlled car driving. B and I raced a couple of them, and I got smoked by him. Don’t worry, he made sure to ask if I felt embarrased about the L.
  • Wandering around the paddock area was eye-opening.  Each team basically had an area set up, some more spacious than others. The cars are handled with such care and delicateness, too. It really was impressive, in terms of the amount of effort and manpower that was needed, to get those things in peak condition.

  • Again, B and I are Indy car novices. While in the paddock area, our main discussion was who had the coolest name (conclusion: Will Power).
  • You didn’t have to go through the paddock area to get up and close personal to cars. Sick rides were all over the grounds.

All in all, B and I enjoyed our time there. I do have a newfound respect for the Honda Indy.  The crowd wasn’t overwhelming at Fan Friday, too, so it was a good way for novice fans and young fans to ‘get their feet wet, in terms of attending an Indy. For the price you pay, you really can’t go wrong.

Ok, let’s wave the checkered flag on this post. Until the next time, peace!

 

Road Trippin’ – Harrisburg And Hershey Pennsylvania!

My good friends at Visit Harrisburg and Hershey generously invited us to explore the area recently, as part of their incentivised Media Days program.  If you’re thinking of doing a road trip this summer with your family, making the drive deep into the heart of Pennsylvania is definitely worth considering!

For us, it was about a seven hour ride with stops, because, well, kids. It’s a nice drive, though, as it’s pretty scenic.  Since it was kind of on the way to the hotel, and because we wanted to walk around after being in our van for so long, the first place we checked out was the Indian Echo Caverns at Echo Dell.  This is a limestone cave, located in Hummelstown, which also has a playground and petting zoo on site. Upon descending down a long flight of stairs (which feels longer when you ascend them afterwards, especially if carrying a one year kid, like I was), we were given a guided tour into the caverns.  The tour took about 45 minutes, and I was amazed at the various formations. It was really cool (no, for real, the temperature inside was 52 degrees), and our guide was entertainingly knowledgeable.  He also unintentionally took our best/worst family photo ever:

I asked him how the picture looked, and he said good. I shouldn’t have taken his word for it.

We next made our way over to the hotel, The Central Hotel And Conference Center, in Harrisburg.  For our purposes, this was a perfect place to stay, as it was in a central location to any place that we wanted to visit. Hershey, for example is about 14 miles from Harrisburg, so only about 20 minutes away from the hotel. I also understand that since Hershey is more of a known tourist destination, actually staying at one of the official Hershey lodging options is a bit expensive. If you don’t mind the short drive, I’d recommend staying in Harrisburg instead, and saving a few bucks.

B and J reacting to our welcome package at the hotel.

After dinner, it was time to satisfy our sweet teeth, as we headed over to Chocolatetown USA, to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World.  This place had all kinds of delicious, fun things to do, and also a store with the huge selection of Hershey’s goodies. Parking is free for up to three hours, which is plenty of time to enjoy a bunch of the attractions. We all did the Trolley Works tour, where we rode a trolley though Hershey and learned about the history of the city, while also sampling some chocolates. K and the kids then went on  the chocolate making tour (note: this is free, plus you get a chocolate sample at the end).  I went to unleash my inner Milton Hershey by creating my own candy bar!

 

Despite being tasty, The Daddy Realness bar will not be hitting store shelves any time soon.

The next day was spent at Hersheypark. For the uninitiated, this place is a Hershey’s themed family park, which has an amusement park, a water park and a zoo in it. Our plan was to hit up the water stuff in the morning, and then do the dry stuff in the afternoon, as we figured (correctly, as it turned out) most people would do the opposite, so the lines wouldn’t be as long. We tried to jam as many rides in as possible, but the place had over 70 of them. We barely made a dent. The selection was great, though, I gotta admit. They ranged from ones that KJ (a Hershey’s miniature, according to the height guide) could go on and enjoy, to ones the thrilliest seeker would like. Fahrenheit in particular, had me looking up at it, shaking my head in disbelief.

Yeah. Heck no.

Another nice aspect of the amusement park was the layout. I’ve been to parks that had a ‘kiddie section’, with the ‘adult’ rides at a separate spot. At Hersheypark, though, everything was mixed. So in theory, the parents could go lineup for a ride, while the kids went on a different one nearby. My kids were too young to do this, admittedly, but it’s a good thought.

One other thing to mention is that you should keep an eye out for the various Hershey characters throughout the park. J was lucky enough to be picked to play in the travelling Character Game Show, where she won a prize!

East Coast Waterworks was easily the favorite attraction, among my fam. It’s a kid friendly water play area, with lots of slides, tunnels and toys. We spent at least an hour there. I’ve noticed that I’ve become more of a chicken as I’ve gotten older, when it comes to thrill-seeking, so my favorite ride by far was the lazy river. All in all, it was jammed-pack, exhausting day at Hersheypark, and we didn’t even make it over to the zoo!

The following day started with a visit to Hershey Gardens. In addition to the 23 acre botanical part, it also houses a butterfly atrium.  Walking through the atrium was quite an experience. I’ve never seen so many butterflies before! There were dozens and dozens of different kinds, from all over the world, freely flying about.  I will say that they kept the temperature hot in there, which had me feeling like Nelly in 2002.

Sad attempt at a selfie with a butterfly.

 

Afterwards, we made our way outside, specifically, to the Children’s Gardens.  We followed the pathways while going past various gardens, many of which were interactive in nature. It unfortunately started to rain, so we didn’t check out the rest of the grounds. I’m not exactly a flower enthusiast, but I’ll vouch for the beauty of the Gardens as being something everyone can appreciate.

Afterwards,  it was time to go on a boat ride. Since Harrisburg actually lies on the Susquehanna River,  we took the bridge to City Island, to take a cruise on The Pride Of The Susquehanna. The Pride is one of only six authentic paddle wheel riverboats in the USA (so paddles only for steering and propulsion). Besides driving like a throwback, the interior is decorated as such, too, giving it an old-timey vibe. The sightseeing tour that we went on was about 45 minutes long.  I’d like to say that we relaxed and enjoyed the views while listening to the recording explaining the history of the river and Harrisburg. But, you know, kids. B and J were more excited about being on a boat than The Lonely Island ever was (note: T-Pain was not on the Pride).  They ran around like maniacs, getting excited about the littlest things (“HEY DADDY! LOOK! THERE’S A BATHROOM!). You were also able to buy some snacks on board, if that floats your boat (this fact really floated B and J’s boat).

After docking, it was time to hit up downtown Harrisburg. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what I expected. There were definitely some nice old buildings, like the Pennsylvania State Capitol, and a bunch of cool looking restaurants. Like most major cities, though, I get the feeling that you probably don’t want to be in certain streets when it’s dark. That’s not to say stay away from downtown, obviously; I’m just saying I felt a bit uncomfortable in certain spots during the day, but totally safe for the most part.

One of those safe places is the Whitaker Center. I loves me a good science center, and the Whitaker fit the bill. Three floors of over 200 hundred hand-on, interactive exhibits? Yes please! Kidsplace, in particular, was a favorite of KJ’s.

B and J really liked building cars and paper planes in the Move It! section. K and I had fun trying our hands at making stop-motion animated movies in the Backstage Studio. While my attempts predictably sucked, K apparently is Walt Disney’s grandchild or something, as she made a couple of mini masterpieces.  The Whitaker Center also has a cinema with a huge 38’x70′ screen, if you want to catch a flick, as well as an intimate performance theater.

There’s also plenty of cheesy tourist photo opportunities, don’t worry.

Not far from the Whitaker is the State Museum of Pennsylvania, so we headed there next. This museum is very comprehensive, in terms of covering different periods in Pennsylvania history. It was hard to soak in as much as I would have liked (because, you know, kids), but it was still a worthwhile visit. KJ loved the baby/toddler Curious Connection area. It’s the type of place where I saw a tunnel, so I was like, yo, I wonder where that goes. The next thing I know, I was on my hands and knees crawling through it like I was Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, and I ended up in a playhouse. Just a fun environment to put your little one down in, to let them explore. The rest of us liked the third floor the most, with the various animal and dinosaur exhibits.

Plus, there’s a huge statue of William Penn there.

Our last stop on our trip was my personal favorite. I was hoping to catch a Harrisburg Senators minor league baseball game, but alas, they were out of town. However, we got the next best thing – a private tour of their stadium, FNB Field! The team’s general manager, Randy Whitaker, generously took some time out of his day to show us around. FNB Field is located on City Island,  which made it unique from the other stadiums, because how many stadiums are even on an island?! Besides this, the coolest part is their Life Sized Bobblehead Hall of Fame, featuring numerous Harrisburg Senator legends.

All in all, it was a great trip!  Hershey on it’s own was awesome, but besides the Sweetest Place On Earth, our experience in Harrisburg was positive overall, too.

In J’s opinion, it was the best trip ever!

Until the next one, peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not To Chaperone A School Trip

One thing I’ve learned about being a parent is that sometimes, you have to put yourself out there, and do stuff way outside your comfort zone. That’s how I found myself as a volunteer chaperone on my daughter’s kindergarten class trip to the zoo recently. See, when it comes to being in charge of a group of children, I tend to suck. As such, I tend to avoid putting myself in those situations. Trust me, people, it’s for the best.

However, when a notice came home requesting chaperones for the zoo trip, J wanted me to go. Like, really wanted me to go. I of course, said no, but J was persistent and insistent, so I finally relented. One mandatory police check, and one random drawing of names later (three volunteers were needed, but eight parents wanted to go), and I was in. Time to face my fears.

I quickly Googled tips for chaperoning, and it seemed like an easy enough gig. Kids would be so excited to see a new face, and I’d be treated like a rock star? Sweet! I pictured them looking up to me in awe at the zoo, and following me around like the Pied Piper, as I regaled them with my knowledge about the various creatures.

On the day of the trip, the first thing that I had to do was sign in at the office. While there, one of the teachers came up to me and said that he never saw many dads volunteering, so it was nice to see me there. While initially flattered, panic then set in. Where were the dads at, all this time? Did they know something that I didn’t?

Uh oh!

When I entered J’s class, J was really pumped to see me, but the other children? Yeah, not so much. A lot were indifferent. Some looked confused.  A few seemed excited, but it was more like how a pack of lions gets excited when some fat, tasty prey shows up at their den.

Me aka dead meat.

One little girl came up to me, and asked what my name is. When I told her, she immediately called me something else. She proceeded to spend the rest of the day calling me by everything but my name, and laughing about it.  Mr. Hat, Mr. Brown Eyes, Mr. Poop and so on.  I’ll give her credit for coming creative with it, despite me feeling like Darryl Strawberry on The Simpsons, when Bart and Lisa heckled him.

Unrelated, but his classic moment was immortalized in pin form! Click the pic, to check it out.

J’s teacher (who did a great job communicating and keeping things organized) split the class up into groups, so each volunteer had six kids that they were in charge of.  I took a head count, and rattled off their names. This would be the first of about 1250 times that day, where I would do this.  One little boy immediately wandered off, leaving me wondering where he went. This would be the first of about 1250 times that day, where I would wonder this about him.

The zoo was an hour away, which meant that we had to take a school bus there. My group sat in my general vicinity, including J, who plopped down beside me. I went to the Juno Awards (Canadian Grammys) a few years ago, and these girls near me kept losing their minds whenever Shawn Mendes appeared. All loud squeals and screams. Some tears, too.  Multiply that by a busload, and that pretty much describes how the ride went. No one was bad…..it was just noisy.

The stupid, confused expression on my face was pretty much how I looked the whole day.

Once we dispersed from the bus (and my group scurried off in different directions), my friend who also was volunteering, but happens to be a teacher, took pity on my over-matched butt.  She suggested that our groups stick together, which I happily agreed to.  Once we entered the zoo,  it was time to use the washrooms, have a quick bite, and put on some sunscreen.  As I helped the kids with their snacks and lotion, I guess the little wandering dude was new to the concept of sunscreen. I turned around and he was happily sitting there, eating his sandwich, covered in globs of the  white stuff. His hands and arms were gloopy.  It was smeared all over his face. He looked like a five year old Pennywise the Clown. Anyway, after a quick wipe down, it was time to catch the trolley to finally see some animals!

At our first stop, the kids all ran off. So much for listening to me regale them with my knowledge. There was no time to regale anyway, as I could only worry about keeping track of my six. While five of my six were into the animals, one little homey was only concerned with the trees. He spent the whole trip picking up sticks, progressively grabbing bigger and bigger ones. It started out as twigs, and eventually he was swinging branches around.  I didn’t want him swinging these things in the crowd, because getting licked with a stick hurts. At one point, I asked him to put it down, and he said no. I asked again, and he refused. I then realized that I had no clue how to properly handle this situation. He then happily walked off, stick in hand.

Later on, after he grabbed one dangerous-looking branch, I tried to take it from him. He accidentally got dinged in the process, and said that he was bleeding. Now, for real, it was the tiniest nick, with only a slight trickle of blood. He was 100% fine, trust me.  At the time, though, my last name might as well have been Myers and it may as well have been Halloween.  I felt like I hacked the poor boy’s hand off, causing blood to spew profusely like a fountain.

Moving on. The zoo had these dispensers around the park, where you put your money in, twisted the handle, and food pellets came out, for feeding the animals. My group had zero combined dollars. However, at one point, I found almost all of them (not the little wandering dude, obviously) around a dispenser, trying to get food out. Stick boy had a twig jammed up it, and was maneuvering it similar to how a thief breaks into a car.  “Hey mommy, guess what we learned at the zoo today? How to commit petty crime!”

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of lunch, counting to six, rattling off names, rounding up my group when they split up, and riding the trolley around the zoo, doing a quickie tour. One girl complained about being bored, but I think everyone else had fun. I definitely wasn’t a rock star, in anyone’s eyes in the end, including my daughter’s  Before the bus ride home, J nonchalantly asked me who I was sitting beside, because she was sitting with her friends now. #savage

And that’s how my first time chaperoning a school trip went.

Let’s finish with some takeaways. First, shout out to anyone (teachers, coaches, daycare providers, whoever) that successfully deals with large groups of children on the regular. It’s never easy, and I don’t know how you do it! Next, if I ever chaperone again, I’ll probably do better.  For example, one of the other volunteers there called their group the Wolf Pack, which made rounding them up easier. Thus, I know now to have a fancy group name. If I just had to yell “Yo! Mr. Poop’s Group! Where you at?”, that would have saved me a lot of counting to six.  Finally, all jokes aside, I am glad that I had a chance to chaperone. Sure, it was stressful, but it was enjoyable, and almost everyone made it home injury-free.  It was a nice to get outside of my comfort zone for a few hours. Plus, it gave me the chance to do things like explain to a kid why he couldn’t pee by a tree near the lunch area.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Until the next one, peace!

 

No Father’s Day

Gratuitous picture of the kids. Getting them to smile is hard!

 

It’s Father’s Day season! So, in honour of the day where we show the father figures in our lives some love, lemme tell you about that time when myself and some other dads got no love.

I’ll error on the side of vagueness, to protect the innocent.

J is in a club with some other little girls, which gets together weekly, to hang out. Because of my work schedule, K almost always take her to their get togethers. The few times that I’ve picked up J or dropped her off, I’ve noticed the occasional dad, but it’s almost always mothers.

A couple of months ago, a message was sent out to the parents, about an event. Basically, the group was going to have a big sleepover at a local tourist attraction, for the girls and one parent. They would stay up late, do a bunch of fun activities, and sleep on the floor in the main area, in sleeping bags. Some other groups would also be there.  It was definitely going to be a unique, memorable outing.

Because K was more involved with the club, she was the one who was going to go to the sleepover. However, a few weeks before the big night, something came up, and K wasn’t able to take J any more. No problem, though. I’d go instead.

And then the message about the details pertaining to the event came out.

In it, it specifically said that it was for the girls and their female parent or guardian only. 

 

Now, in my mind, that was pretty discriminatory. Not every child has a female in their life who could participate in an event like this. Why should they be punished? What difference did it make, too, whether a dad or male guardian came?

Suppose that you had an opportunity to do something really cool with your kids. Not just cool, but something that was an unforgettable experience, the likes of which would create memories which would last forever.

Now suppose that you weren’t allowed to partake in this opportunity because of your gender. This seemed like a backwards-thinking, judgemental, sexist wrong.  Was the club really some bizarro version of Al Bundy’s “NO MA’AM” organization?  I was pretty upset, people.

I went on the attraction’s website, to see if maybe there was a gender policy of some sort, for the sleepovers they hosted. No dice.  In fact, pictures of previous sleepovers on the site clearly showed men in them, alongside women. Making it a man-free zone must have came straight from J’s club.

On the Facebook group for the club, I politely posed the question, to clarify that dads weren’t allowed.  Someone posted that it was true.

The weird thing, though, was what occurred next. Do you know what happened?

 

Nothing

No one replied, no one commented. Again, my interaction with the club was limited, so not wanting to rock the boat and ostracize J, I dropped the issue. And that was that.

In the days following, I can’t say that I was angry. Sure, I was disappointed for J, since she would miss out on the fun night with her friends. And yeah, it was a bit outrageous, that in an era where it’s easy to outrage us, this little moment was met with a giant shrug of indifference.

However, I accepted the fact that the club probably, in their mind, had a valid reason for excluding dudes.  Maybe there was a bad incident of some sort, in the past. Maybe they took a poll of the fathers of the girls, and the majority of them voted that they weren’t interested in going. Maybe it just came down to a comfort level thing, for the club. Who knows.

I guess all that I’m trying to say here is, sometimes dads…… just want to be dads. Nothing more, nothing less.  Point blank and the period. Just being there for their kids and bonding with them, creating memorable experiences. Really, is that so wrong?

Anyway, Happy Father’s Day, peeps. Here’s to creating some long-lasting memories!

 

One more gratuitous picture. At least they are all smiling. See? There’s always a bright side!

 

 

 

“Your Kids Shouldn’t Be Walking Around Here!” A.K.A. A CFL Game Experience With The Family

Disclaimer: My friends at The Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League provided my family with complimentary tickets for their first game of the season.  Here are my random musings and thoughts about the experience that night, at Tim Hortons Field:

  • There’s a palpable buzz towards the team lately. Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winning, former NFL quarterback, has taken his talents north of the border, and is making his “comeback szn” with the Ticats this year!
  • There were a lot of Manziel fans in attendance. Based on the conversations I overheard, there were also people who weren’t even football fans, but came to see what all the fuss was about.
  • Admittedly, I’m a very casual fan myself. J and little K accompanied me that evening , but neither are fans. J’s six years old, so she was happy checking out the stadium and stuffing her face with food. KJ is one and a half. He was happy being anywhere.
  • We spent some time in Stripes’ Jungle, which is a really cool kids area in the stadium. I believe it was introduced last season, but this was new to us. It had a playground, and a face painting spot, while various mascots/team ambassadors were there, too. For little ones who get squirmy or restless during the game, this is a great place to go blow off some steam.

  • The Ticats’ gameday experience has really evolved over the years. It’s not about just buying a ticket to watch the game anymore. It’s also about hanging out, socializing and partying. Check out the stadium map, for example:

As you can see, almost everywhere you turn in the stadium, you’ll encounter a patio or lounge area of some sort.  I’m sure this has helped them attract more of the demographic who are into this type of vibe.

  • Back in the day, when I was a young boy,  I used to go to the odd game. The messed up thing is,  while I don’t remember anything specific about the games, or anything kid-friendly that occurred, I vividly remember incidents in the crowd. Drunk people yelling crude and vulgar things. Drunk people fist-fighting. Drunk people making asses of themselves and being dragged out by police. I honestly don’t know if this was a Hamilton thing, or a CFL football thing, or what the deal was. It wasn’t this extreme at say,  a Toronto Blue Jays game, for example. Regardless, when I had kids, the memories of boorishness and non-family friendliness made the idea of taking them to see the ‘Cats unappealing. Eventually, I did bring B out years ago, and it wasn’t that bad. There was the odd belligerent person, and profanity spewed, but it was better than I expected.
  • My most recent game was fine, too, in that regard, in the seats.  Some people were cussing out the starting QB, because they wanted Manziel to come in. OK, whatever, not a huge deal. However, venturing out of our seats, to say, get food, or go the bathroom, was eye-opening. The concourses had a sports bar-atmosphere to them. Very rowdy, very alcohol-fueled. While fun, if you’re holding hands with two small kids, trying to navigate through it, it’s a bit treacherous. One large,stumbling dude almost trampled KJ, apologized, then yelled at me about it. “Your kids shouldn’t be walking around here!” He said, “There’s a lot of drunk people here!”
  • So, by that logic, if the concourses are boozefests, and almost every corner of the stadium has some lounge or patio, which potentially could also be full of inebriated individuals, the only “safe” place for small kids, then, is the Family Zone?
  • Yo, I’m not saying keep your kids away from Tim Hortons Field. J and KJ both had a great time, and there were lots of other little happy faces in attendance, too. Shoot, one of B’s all-time best memories was when he entered the Ticats’ Halloween costume contest two years ago, as Drake. People that night at the game were going nuts about him, treating him like he was the real Drake. He got to go down to field, be on the big screen, and win a gift card!
  • I’m saying that, in my experiences attending live sports, I’ve encountered some of the most drunken, disorderly fans at Ticats games. I’m sure lots of people go and don’t have any issues.  You get thousands of people together in one setting, looking to have their own version of a good time, well, it’s basically buyer beware, for sure. I’m not complaining; I made the choice to go, right? This is just my observation as a parent, to other parents. Take it for what it’s worth.
  • Moving along,  the Ticats’ all female cheerleaders have been replaced this year with a co-ed “performance” team.  When they weren’t entertaining the crowd with routines on the field, they entertained the crowd throughout the stadium. Their engagement level with the fans was more than the cheerleaders used to be, I think. I saw some of them in Stripes’ Jungle for example,  interacting with everyone there.
  • We didn’t stay for the whole game, as KJ and J both started to get sleepy after halftime. From what I saw, Manziel looked OK playing, for what it’s worth.

That’s all I got. With the Tiger Cats feeling optimistic, and Johnny Football in tow, this definitely has the makings for an interesting season in the Hammer.  Oskee-Wee-Wee!

 

 

 

 

PART 3: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On a TV Game Show

And now, the exciting conclusion to the best trilogy since Lord Of The Rings! Well,  not the best, but it’s probably not the worst. Maybe. I don’t know.

Anyway, at the end of part two, B and I were heading out the door from our backup contestants gig on Just Like Mom And Dad. The casting director then gave us a silver lining, for my master plan of getting a free trip to Disney World.  She mentioned that one of the contestants for the final taping had been in an accident. Thus, they were touch and go on availability. She then asked if B and I were available to be backup contestants again.  We agreed.

Two days later, she called me. The other contestant was out.

B and I were in for sure!

For the love of Epcot, Could my plan actually work?!

Leading up to the taping, B and I were very confident. Remember, we had the added advantage of seeing two episodes, so we knew what was to be expected.  B’s biggest worry was the plane ride that went with winning the trip (from his newfound flying fear). I was only concerned with coming as across as interesting, but not “go-viral” interesting. You know what I mean. No one wants to be that person on the game show who says or does something so ridiculous that the world thinks you’re an idiot.

Finally, the big day was here. On arrival, we were led to a dressing room, with the other two teams.  The casting directors hung out with us the whole time. I’ll admit to being nervous, but they really lightened the mood. We all practised our intros and anecdotes, which put me at ease. The banter with the show’s hosts, Kylee and Sandy,  was where I felt that I would fail the most, but since I had some talking points ready, I was solid. We met wardrobe and makeup people, and got mic’d up as well.  Our competition for the day, a mother/daughter and dad/son duo, with the kids being close to B’s age, were all nice and personable.

Word to Drake, nice for what, though? While they would make for good TV, my eye was on the prize. Disney World would soon be mine for the taking.

SHOWTIME!

We were led out of the room, and down a hall. I felt like a UFC fighter, making that walk out from the back, to the cage. Just full of nervous excitement, especially as I got to the stage, under the bright lights, and stared out into all of the cameras and people in the crowd.
After we did our introductions, the game was on.  It was time for the kid’s round. The parents were escorted to a soundproof room, and given radios with headphones, to avoid hearing what was going on in the studio.

Eventually, we were brought back.  First up for me, was a question about what B would do if he wasn’t playing basketball. Going along with our sports shtick, I said baseball. B, however, answered video games. Not an ideal start.

Next was a question about what subject in school B was least excited about.

Now, I knew that B loved math and was good at it. However, less than two days prior, B told us that he hated math. So using the “what have you done for me lately?” logic, I said math. Boom!

Wait, no boom. I was wrong. B said social studies. He loves math. Oops!

The kids were then led to the soundproof room, as it was parent question time.

As the hosts bantered with the other contestants, I ran through what I was going to say, in my head, like we rehearsed. Easy, peasy. So of course, when Sandy came over, he asked me an out of the blue question about my soap box derby career as a child. WTF?!

I guess, in the audition process, I had mentioned this. Completely caught off guard, I rambled and babbled to Sandy until he mercifully pulled the plug and asked what  kind of fish B would be.

B isn’t exactly aquatically inclined, so I said a shark. Is a shark a fish even? Like Laurel vs. Yanny, it’s all about interpretation. The judges said it was, so my answer was locked in.

For the next round of questions, I tried to remember what the heck else I said in the interview process, but I was drawing blanks. Kylee then came over, and proceeded to say “We understand that you love Kanye West.”

I know, I know, y’all. Trust me, I know.  You gotta remember, this show was taped in October. Kanye’s a polarizing figure, but I do like his music, which I had  mentioned during the audition. Recently, however, Yeezy said some highly controversial, incendiary stuff. Stuff that infuriated a lot of people, especially in the black community.   So, yes, as things are at peak “everyone hates Kanye” levels, there was at least one brother on TV happily saying that he loves Kanye – me. While not quite game show fail montage-worthy, it was still pretty cringeworthy. From now on, if people ask who my favorite musical artist is, I’m just going to keep it safe and say Pentatonix.

Guess I better see them in concert, if I’m a true fan.

Anyway, Kylee asked a mulitple choice question about Mr. West, with one of the answers being underwear. B’s finds undies funny, so I went with that.

When the kids came back, B got the first question wrong. He even questioned whether a shark was actually a fish. He also, unrelated, is on Team Yanny.   Regardless, for those keeping track, that’s still zero points for your boys. The only saving grace was that the other teams weren’t doing so hot, either. On the last question, we avoided the embarassing shutout, as B nailed the underwear question. Going into the bake-off, we were in first place!

The kids had made their 60 second recipes earlier, while we were away in the soundproof area. Oatmeal cookies ala child-trying-to-make-their-parents-barf was on the menu. We had 30 seconds to try each cookie, and then at the end, we had to hold up a number indicating which cookie was our kids. Not gonna lie, them biscuits were nasty. Very uncookie-like, with weird textures and flavour combinations. As part of my non-viral thing, I wanted to play it cool. This turned out to be impossible.  Those cookies were gross, son. I was gagging and having trouble swallowing. Longest 30 seconds ever!

B had said on multiple occasions, and even during the audition, that he wanted to make something really spicy. One of the cookies had some kick to it, so I guessed that one. At least the food at Disney World was tasty, from what I’ve heard, so this disaster would soon be worth it.

On the big reveal, the first contestants guessed right, putting them in first place. The second pair was wrong.  It all came down to me! Disney dreams hanging on the outcome, I held up 2.

The answer was 3.

We lost.

While I was happy for the winning team, since they were really nice people, I was super bummed.  Then insult got added to injury. The winning duo spun the wheel…..and landed on the Sunwing trip, just as I had knew it would since the day that I came up with my plan. As the crowd went nuts, confetti rained down on the celebrating victors. A great moment for them, no doubt. For me, not so much.  I felt like a UFC fighter who went five rounds, toe to toe, winning the fight on the score cards, but then got knocked with five seconds left in the last round. So close, and yet so far. The dream was officially deader than Mufasa in the Lion King.

OR WAS IT?!

Nah, for real this time, it was over.

And that’s the story of  when I tried to go Disney World for free by going on a game show.

My seemingly ridiculous scheme didn’t work out, but I was one number away from pulling it off. Feel free to keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that one of your ideas sucks! Also,  B and I had an unforgettable, memorable adventure together. I’m proud of the lil dude, and that’s worth more than any vacation (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself).  I really can’t say enough good things about all of the  JLMAD crew, too. Making a TV show is a tough job, especially when dealing with unpredictable little kids, but everyone was always positive and cordial. Finally, B didn’t walk away empty-handed. He got a cool hockey prize pack, along with some other swag:

For those wondering, Just Like Mom And Dad is currently casting for season two! You can apply here.

Now, if you can excuse me, I’m off to go listen to some Pentatonix. Maybe they got some Disney-themed songs.  Later, y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 2: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On A TV Game Show

Welcome back!

At the end of part one, my Disney dreams had been crushed like Anna’s spirit when Elsa told her to go away while she sang “Do You Want To Build a Snowman”.  My plan of getting onto Just Like Mom And Dad, winning it, then spinning the prize wheel and landing on a trip to Disney was kiboshed, as we didn’t get picked to be on the show. At the end of the crushing call from the casting director, though, a Tinkerbell-sized glimmer of hope emerged.  B and  I were given the opportunity to be back-up contestants at a taping!

This was apparently standard procedure in the biz. They would film two episodes, so six teams of contestants. If, for whatever reason, one person got sick, or chickened out, or whatever, B and I would be on the show. All we had to do was come “camera ready” and watch both tapings from the audience.   They’d also give us a small stipend, and feed us lunch, since we were part of the “crew.” B was disappointed, but relieved (because of his newfound flying over water fear) with not being picked. Being a back-up was fine with him, though, so we agreed to do it.

Not wanting to be caught off-guard if we got selected, B and I spent quite a bit of time grilling each other beforehand.  If the new show’s format was like the old one, then we had to know each other well. We were definitely sixth man worthy, in the chance that we had to be called in off of the bench.

 

On the big day, we were told to arrive early, and hang out “backstage”, seperate from the contestants. Eventually, the audience members also arrived. Soon after, one of the crew let me know that the contestants were good to go for the first episode being taped. Oh well. Studio audience it was, for us.

When we entered into the studio, I was impressed. I pictured the set being 80s vintage-style, but it was actually very fancy, modern and bright.

We weren’t allowed to take pix, but this gives you an idea of my vantage point. Photo credit: Just Like Mom And Dad

My eyes drifted towards the prize wheel, where I immediately noticed a problem.  While full of amazing prizes……one of them wasn’t a trip to Disney! There was only a Sunwing vacation listed. Since it didn’t specify where to, I just assumed Disney most likely was a destination option. #keepthedreamalive

The taping itself was surprisingly long. There were lots of gaps and re-takes, to get things looking and sounding right. The contestants were great, though. They were mostly charismatic, with outgoing personalities. I understood why my sarcastic, mumble-rapping without the rapping self didn’t get picked. B was digging it, and told me later that he really wanted to be on the show now. I did, too, after seeing it. It looked fun. We had one more chance, for us to have a moment in the spotlight.

When the first taping was over, B and I grabbed lunch with the crew, then played the waiting game again. After the audience arrived for the next taping, I crossed my fingers that one of the contestants might bail.

No dice. Everyone was good to go.

Back to the audience for us.

Half-way through, the proceedings came to a grinding stop. One of the little girl contestants was quickly taken away! Was she sick? Did she bail? We didn’t know. All I knew was that it might happen. We might have to go on the show!

 

 

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The girl just had to go to the washroom. B and I watched from the audience when she returned, somewhat dejectedly.

When the taping was over, we had to hang backstage before we could bounce, to receive our stipend. The casting director eventually brought it to us, and walked us out. She thanked us for our time. Word to Boyz II Men, because that was the end of the road for us. A free trip to Disney was not in our future.

OR WAS IT?!

 

Be sure to check out the grand finale, part three!

 

 

PART 1: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On A TV Game Show

The awkwardly worded title is pretty self-explanatory. So settle in, as have I got a story for you!

See, it all started last summer. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw a post about a casting call for a new game show, Just Like Mom And Dad (JLMAD), being filmed in Toronto.

 

Curious, I discovered that it was actually a remake of an 80s game show, Just Like Mom.  Basically, the premise was three teams of moms and their kids would answer questions about each other for two rounds, and get points for every correct answer.  The final round then involved a bake-off, where the kids would make some nasty concoction in 60 seconds (ie. brownies made with pickles), which the moms would eat. The moms then had to guess which one their kids made, and received points if they were right. Whichever team got the most total points won. The winning kid would then get to spin a big wheel of prizes, with the grandest prize being………………a trip to Disney Land!

Ahh, Disney. The most magical place on Earth. Or, so I’ve been told, anyway, as I had never been before.  And for real, it wasn’t even on my radar of must-see destinations, until recently. B and J are both now at the point where their peers will go on a Disney vacation, and come back to revel them about its awesomeness. Since monkey see, monkey do, B and J had started making more noise about wanting to go to Disney World. That’s all fine and dandy, except that Disney World ain’t exactly cheap. It would require saving up for a long time, to afford a trip.

So that was my situation on that fateful day of googling JLMAD.  As such, I came up with a brilliant plan:

I would get my family a free trip to Disney World by winning Just Like Mom And Dad!

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Mike, you dummy. That’s the dumbest plan ever.  You have a better chance of winning the lottery than of making it onto the show, winning it, then having your kid spinning the wheel and landing on the Disney trip!

However, in my scheming little head, I figured the fastest way to see Mickey Mouse in the flesh would be to win the lottery. The odds of appearing on and winning JLMAD had to be way better than that, right?

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to applying I go!

B met the age requirement, so he would be my partner in crime. Now, I have never been on TV before.  However, based on years of sitting on my butt watching it, I know that the best contestants on game shows/reality shows have a trait that comes across easily to viewers.  They’re the villian, or the girl next door, or the meathead, or the promiscuous one (What? You don’t watch Jeopardy and wonder who the biggest freak is?) etc. They have something.  As such,  I gambled that JLMAD wanted people with a gimmick, so I came up with one: B’s a funny, wild, little basketball loving jock, and I’m his bemused father.

This was the truth anyway, but I hammered the point home in the application.  The make or break part was the video that JLMAD wanted submitted, of the applicants. Instead of filming us saying something cheesy and unnatural (since B and I are horrible at being unnaturally cheesy), I sent this montage:

 

 

 

After I clicked submit, I started to pack our bags, since we would soon be Florida-bound.

Just kidding.

But the next day, I did get a call from the casting director. She really loved the trick shot video, and asked us to come in for an audition!

We booked an audition for a few weeks later. However, in the meantime, a slight problem came up. For some reason, B developed a fear of flying over water. A plane ride to Orlando from Toronto would probably go over the ocean at some point. Winning a trip to Disney World was a hard no for him now, unless the option was to drive there.  He still wanted to try out, though.

Yes, I realize B and I were clearly counting our eggs before they hatched.

On the day of the audition, driving down, we had no idea what to expect. I prepped B by reminding him to talk eloquently and constantly about sports.   On arrival, the initial process involved B and I discussing the application, with one of the casting people. B, to his credit/discredit, bragged about his athletic prowess, as I kind of looked at him funny.

Next, we went to a small TV studio. It was set up as a play area, full of toys. While there, B and I were filmed answering various questions, which I guess were to be submitted to the TV executives in charge of the show.   Believe it or not, trying to sound cool in front of a group of strangers while being videoed ain’t easy. We were then split up.  B was taken to be interviewed off-camera, as I was filmed trying to complete a fun challenge.  We then switched.

Yo, I fully admit to bombing the interrogation, dude. I didn’t have anything interesting to say about myself, off the top of my dome.  Nonetheless, B sounded confident in his performance afterwards, so I was still optimistic that we would be on top of Splash Mountain soon enough.

About a month later, the call came, from the casting director. The TV execs loved our audition……but they loved a lot more, too. We didn’t get selected to be on the show.

The Disney dream was over.

 

OR WAS IT?!

Head on over to part two, peeps.

Gone Girl

My good friends at The Dad posted this on Instagram the other day:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiKhphohsla/

Pretty cool, eh? Yep, it’s me catching J in one of her random creative moments a while ago.  The feedback to that post was very positive, towards both her and myself. She’s such a vibrant child, and I’m an A-OK pops,  right?

This is why it sucked so much later that same day when the post came out.  I flushed all that positivity down the toilet, because J went missing, and we couldn’t find her.

It started off innocently enough. Mine and three other families (so picture lots of kids, and lots of adults) were at Great Wolf Lodge for the weekend.  While back at our room, B and J went off on their own, to find some ice for our ice bucket. K and I ended up in another room with the parents, discussing dinner plans. I have no idea how long we were chatting. Eventually, I saw B stroll by, alone. I asked him where J was, and he told me that she was still getting ice.

Weird, but alright.

A few minutes later, J still hadn’t returned. I asked B again where J was. He said that he didn’t know. They had ended up on the third floor, and they couldn’t find ice, so he left her, because she still wanted to look.

Judge me now if you want, but only at this point did warning bells go off in my head.

Our rooms were on the fourth floor! It’s one thing if they were wandering off down the hall, together, but now J was on a whole different floor, alone, in a giant, busy resort. She also doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction.  A million bad scenarios immediately ran through my mind, so I left everyone without a word, to go find her.

This particular Great Wolf Lodge was very spacious. I know that they take great precautions to make sure everyone is safe and sound, while keeping the atmosphere cheerful. At that time, however, all I could think of was how perfect a place like this was, crawling with young children, for a sick creep to try to do something vile. I ran down the stairs, and down one of the hallways, but didn’t see J. I texted K, to see if,  hopefully, she had made her way back. She hadn’t. I think everyone else in our party started to panic then, so they went out to search for her, too.

I then took off  towards another hallway.  I rounded a corner, and, thankfully, I saw her, finally. J was standing in the middle of the hall, holding the ice bucket, crying hysterically.  I ran up to her, and gave her a big hug. She then, through her sobs, said the exact same thing that I had been thinking, as irrational as it seems now:

“I thought that I would never see you again.”

It took everything in me not to burst into tears right there, dude. Shoot, my eyes just got welled up typing that sentence.  Like, what’s more heartbreaking: losing your kid, or finding your kid, and hearing them say that to you?

As we walked hand in hand, back to our room, I again felt a lot of stuff. Relief. Winded, since I was running around like Usain Bolt with a dad bod. Anger, towards B, for ditching J in such a savage way. Anger, towards me, for not just getting the stupid ice myself, and not cluing in sooner to J’s whereabouts. Mostly, though, I felt like a shitty parent (and yes, for good reason, I can hear you saying #guilttrip).

I can only imagine how scared and alone J must have felt in those few minutes, and it’s something no six year old child should experience. That’s all on me, though, for putting her in the situation.  Among all the people and commotion, it was so easy for J to go missing. How messed up is that? I guess this is how Kevin’s mom and dad must have felt in Home Alone.  It’s a parenting fail, pure and simple. You should always go above and beyond to protect your kids.  I did not.

Luckily, the story had a happy ending.  J was pretty upset, but not traumatised or anything like that. She was back to her normal, vibrant self soon after. And yes, dear reader, I promise to do everything in my power to not let something like this happen again. Word to Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. However temporarily.

Don’t lose your children, people, even for a little bit of time. And always get your own ice!

More J randomness. At Great Wolf Lodge, she wanted me to take a picture of her looking like she was going to jump off of the giant chair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Night Out – That Time When I Attended A Big Brother Canada Taping

 

 

Confession time!

My family are big Big Brother fans, both the USA and Canadian versions.  While not at the live feed-creeping superfan level, I will admit to having seen every episode of every season of Big Brother Canada, anyway. I had the opportunity to attend a Big Brother Canada Season 6 eviction episode taping recently. If you’re like me, and always wondered what one of these was like, then this is the post for you!

OK, so the first thing to note is that the Big Brother house isn’t actually a house. It’s inside of a large film studio in an industrial part of Toronto. The audience area that you see is in the same studio, but not directly connected to the house. Tickets are free, #butfirst you have to request them ahead of time. There was a group of people outside that I noticed without tickets, who I think managed to get in because of some no-shows.

Upon arrival, seating for the audience is on a first come first served basis. A few seats were reserved, though, for special guests, like Derek’s (one of this season’s houseguests) family.  If you are looking to be on TV, the seats on the left hand side were the place to be.  I figured that it would look kind of weird if I sat in that section alone, so I settled into the middle.

 

Before the actual taping, the audience coordinator, Philip Tetro, warmed up the crowd. He ran through the rules, with the most important being no phones out and no picture-taking allowed at all, or you’d be evicted from the taping. He also cracked jokes, asked people questions, and let us ask questions.

Trying to sneak into the house will also get you tossed out of the building, Uncle Phil throwing out Jazz on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style.

 

Sidenote: Now, years ago, I went to a David Letterman Show taping, in New York City. I didn’t go because I was a fan; I went because we were on vacation, walking through Times Square, and one of Letterman’s staff asked us if we wanted tickets. When we got there, I got the feeling that most of the audience were also tourists who were happy to be there, but not true fans. The vibe was pretty subdued, and not very raucous.

The reason I bring up this is because at the BBCAN6 show, all/most people were fans who were legitimately excited to be there.  A good chunk had even been to multiple tapings before.  There weren’t any cues to cheer or clap; the crowd just automatically knew what to do and when, which was surprising to me. The conversations I overheard were mainly about the show, and some of the questions asked of Philip were pretty nerdy (which I say with affection, fellow BBCAN nerds).

After maybe 45 minutes (I couldn’t look at my phone, so I didn’t know the time), Philip suddenly introduced the host, Arisa Cox, and she came onto the stage.  My observation would be that she is a consumate professional. Very smooth througout the proceedings, with a fun, easy-going demeanour, who interacted easily and happily with everyone.

The hostess with the mostest. Photo courtesy of Global TV

Sidenote x2: Man, Erica (an evicted houseguest this season) is popular. She got done dirty by a Canada voting twist, but she had a lot of fans among this particular audience. Conversely, when Arisa asked who we thought would win, the only contestants to be booed were Kaela and Derek (poor Derek’s family. Sad face).

Once Arisa arrived, the taping actually went smoother and faster than I thought. If you’ve seen an eviction episode, picture that, but then picture it playing out live in front of you. We saw the same intros and videos packages in order as what was shown later, with Arisa making the transitions, or throwing to breaks along the way. The pauses in between the action were only a few minutes long, up to the actual eviction part.

Ryan breakin’ it down with Arisa. Photo courtesy of Global TV.

Once Ryan (spoiler alert?) was voted out, there was a lull, as he needed to be transported from the house, to us. On TV,  you think that as soon as they walk out the house doors, they walk into the studio, but this isn’t the case. Ryan did a quick sit down interview with Arisa at that time, but came back later to do a longer interview, which was to be shown on Facebook the next day.  After the first interview, there was a long gap in the taping, as they had to get ready for the the Head Of Household competition. During this time, Philip hosted a “slop-eating contest”, where three unlucky lucky audience members got to try that classic Big Brother staple food. Surprisingly, no one gagged, and they calmly chowed down their slob.

 

We saw the first few minutes of the HOH comp, before Arisa put a wrap on things. I thought that we might be able to watch the whole competition play out, but because it was an endurance one (re: long time), this wasn’t possible. Doors opened at 3pm, and we were out of there around 6pm.

All in all, while not quite jaw-dropping (even though my daughter’s jaw dropped when I told her about the day), it was a pretty memorable experience that I’d recommend for any Big Brother fan, if the opportunity comes up. I definitely wouldn’t mind going again, in the future.

Until next time, peace. And remember…someone is always watching!!!

No, that someone watching is not me with a stupid grin, don’t worry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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