Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Token Stampede Spirit

I sometimes enjoy the Calgary Stampede, more often I tolerate it, other times in my corporate past, I chafed against it because so many co-workers used it as a part time vacation/pub crawl. Productivity plummets. Weight scales skyrocket because no one seems to be able to resist the word "free" when it appears immediately in front of "pancake breakfast."

Today I was a willing participant in a rather unique breakfast. The staff of my church personally invited over 225 neighborhood business owners/managers and their employees to join us for a "Networking Breakfast." It was my day off. I don't own any western wear. I ran to the mall at 7:30 last night and found some new jeans and a red (sort of western style) shirt. I managed to dig deep into the back of the jewelry chest and excavate a bolo tie and we searched through the unopened moving boxes to uncover a treasure trove of free cowboy hats we've amassed over the years. I found one I felt I could endure, slapped it on my head and pasted on a smile. Here I am "modeling" the Stampede spirit with my long-time friend, Cathie.

We all showed up at 6 a.m. Cars and trucks droned past on the nearby freeway, novel hot air balloons (including Mr. Peanut) floated past, hay bales were stacked and sat upon, the band played and we all had a grand time. A dozen guys from one of our partner organizations (an addictions recovery centre) came to help move tables and flip flapjacks. There were so many of us, it was light work. Our catering assistant had everything organized like clockwork and added a special menu item to the table:  fruit compote - delicious!  A group of Children's workers went door to door reminding business people that today was the day and my office-mate and I waved directional signs on the closest thoroughfare pointing the way to our feast.

We were all wearing cowboy duds and sporting smiles, but passersby really seemed in the spirit of the "season" and even if they didn't turn in for the breakfast, almost everyone smiled and waved back. We estimate about 400 people were served. Even our MLA joined us. Yeehaw!

Three memorable snapshot:

1. "Rolly" said he was gonna go home now and ride his horses. I thought that was a very Stampede thing to do and I asked him if he'd put his name in for the door prize - two tickets to the Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show. As he filled out his ticket I told him about the upcoming car show we were sponsoring - did he want to come?

"Naw," he rolled his head back, "I don't like cars. They break down. Horses I trust. You can count on them to get you where your goin'." Then he whinnied and revealed a set of teeth that were not much unlike those of his carrot-nibbling equine friends. I don't think he'll come for the car show, but he was fun to talk to.  If people were horses, what kind of horse would you be?

2. As I placed our new quarterly magazine in the literature rack inside the church, a young stranger wandered out of the dark gymnasium. For all I could tell, he looked like he might have been sleeping in there. He tried to hide behind a large support beam but when he saw that was futile he cheerily said "What have you got for me?"

I offered him a copy of the magazine and he took it, asked where he could get a drink of water. I pointed the way to the water fountain and also suggested he might still find some water or juice outside at the breakfast. A few minutes later, even though everything had been put away, I saw him sitting down with a full plate of pancakes and sausage. One of our older female custodians had taken him under her wing and she sat visiting with him for some time. I learned that he worked at the convenience store just blocks from my home. Now I know his name, and know where he works. I think perhaps this young man may need a friend... And the custodian? Her father just died yesterday. But here she was, being a friend.

3. A Community Newsletter publisher was thrilled to near tears with my invitation for her to attend our breakfast. She came with a colleague and walked to every table asking for me. When I surfaced from inside where I was helping prep, several people pointed me her way. I had a lovely visit, gave them a tour and helped distribute some of their publishing info - she was deeply touched by the personal attention. I think I've made a genuine new friend.

Our church is about reaching, connecting and serving. Our staff did all three today. With flying colours.

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