Monday, February 18, 2008

A Week of Work in Maple Leaf Nation

It was the best of weeks, and it was the worst of weeks.

Yeah, I know ... a bit cliché don’t you think?

True, but it was.

A work week in Toronto for me is 4 days too long. But we got so much done. And as I alluded to earlier, I was dropped off at the train station by my loving family as they headed to the Grandma’s house for Alannah’s seventh birthday.

The purpose of this trip was two-fold; the first to get sign off by staff members that we had accurately captured their business processes in use case documents stuffed with diagrams and narrative to describe the diagrams. The second reason to portray our vision of what the final solution would achieve and even look like for them. The former would consume the early days of the week, the latter the later days.

The temperature was minus 34 degrees Celsius and the sidewalks were layered by thick uneven ice barricaded by high banks of snow on both sides.

I must say that I do enjoy our counterparts in the Toronto office. Walking through the door, I feel like I am home in our Windsor office. We were greeted warmly and set up in the large boardroom to begin our exercises.

As the various staff came into our meetings – new faces appeared that we had not interviewed in earlier visits. So as expected, new tasks and variations to the processes we discussed were uncovered. We captured these variations and recorded them into what we hope will now finally be the final documentation of how things currently work.

This process carried on from Monday through Wednesday, each day ending with piles of red-marked documents to be revised. Each evening we as a team would go and have dinner – a nice steak one night, seafood the next. Each meal with a couple of beers and great conversation about what we had learned or uncovered that day, and how these revelations fit into our vision. Our vision was still solid and accurate.

On the third day we were relocated from the big executive boardroom to a smaller version. The Board of Directors were in the office this day, and the red carpet rolled out – as it should be – to accommodate their efforts. This evening our company executives had taken over our hotel lounge. The conversation was excellent, so we hung around and enjoyed the type of camaraderie that our company is famous for.

The Maple Leafs game was on the TV in the hotel lounge. They were playing the Sabers in Buffalo. And they were losing. Again like so often, by a single goal. And our eyes drifted to the big LCD TV to watch the high definition play by play.

The Executives jeered our loyalty to the Leafs, in good humor of course. One was a Windsor boy who roots for the Red Wings, the other from Calgary, who roots for the Flames. Having gone through my high school years in Atlanta, I am always quick to point out to him that I rooted for the Flames in Atlanta long before he had ever heard of them.

But it is hard to be a Maple Leafs fan.

The next day was the presentation of our vision. The executives were still in the building, and interested in the session. And it was going well. Very well.

It was also Valentines day.

Around the table we made a common statement that one of these trips we were going to get our hands on Maple Leaf tickets. They are impossible to get, sold out nearly every game – and when tickets could be found – they were priced beyond reasonable expectation.

I doubt they would be sold out on Valentines Day”, said one supervisor.

This is the time they usually release their unsold tickets”, stated another.

Let’s give it a try”, said Peter – our team leader – and the presenter of our Vision presentation.

Jamie launched his web browser to the Ticket Master website. I went down to the lobby of the building to have a smoke. Yes, I started smoking again. Naturally, when it’s minus thirty-four degrees Celsius outside.

Both Peter and Jamie are die-hard Leaf fans. I couldn’t bear to witness the disappointment of not finding tickets once again.

When I returned, Jamie said “I hope you wanted to go to the Leaf’s game tonight”.

You got some?” I turned and asked.

Jamie beamed a proud nod.

How much?” I asked.

Eighty-seven bucks” came the reply. “And I already bought you one”.

Ahh .. uhhh … errr – great! Thanks! I’ll pay back when we get home.

I hadn’t budgeted for a hockey game. It was Valentines Day. Darlene was already mad that I was away for it. To tell her I was going to a Maple Leafs game … how would she take that? It turned out later that she was quite happy for me.

Jeff, a sales representative from our London office was going to join us, up also for our meetings. Formally of Toronto, he was quite adept to drive us in. He picked us up at the Hotel, and away we went.

The traffic in downtown Toronto is never easy to navigate. Even more difficult when trying to get to the Air Canada Center for a Maple Leafs game. But he did it. Like a pro. And he found a great parking lot with only a couple of blocks to walk to the arena.

Ontario is a pretty big province. Toronto sits on the coast of Lake Ontario. All areas west of Toronto are populated with predominantly die-hard Maple Leafs fans; the kind of fans like those in New England who root for the Red Sox , Celtics and Patriots. Fans like those in New York who live and die for their Yankees.

Leaf Nation.

But the funny part about it is that this organization – steeped in such heavy tradition and legend as the Toronto Maple Leafs – this version of the Maple Leafs - stink.

Like they have for years. Forty one years to be exact. They likely will for years to come.

They stink.

And tonight they were fighting for position.

The way the rest of the Leafs Nation saw this game was different than my perspective. You see, I have grown very tired of being let down by these bums. And right across the Detroit River from Windsor we have the Red Wings – easily the best team in the National Hockey League.

Leaf Nation saw this game to be the one that got them to within eight points of the wild card position.

I saw this to be the game that keeps them out of the basement. To keep them from being the worst team in the NHL.

But still, any Leafs fan will tell you that to just attend a game is an experience. Toronto and Montreal easily share the distinction of being the capital of Hockey. The home of hockey. We live in a land where you do not have to refer to it as ice-hockey. Hockey is indeed Hockey in Canada.

I got a program, just like I would a Tigers program for a ball game. Jeff bought a round of giant sized beers – just like I would do at a ball game. And we headed for our seats.

And what great seats they were.

We were in the 1st row of the upper level. We hung out the crowd – with the ice nearly beneath is. We could clearly see the whole ice. We could see plays form on our end and play out down the ice. We could hear the hits. We could see the finesse. And we could clearly see all the goals. We could clearly see all the penalties that were called on our Leafs. We could clearly hear all the boos that the fans were piling on the players. And we could see all the goals resulting from the New York Rangers power plays.

The Leafs did come close to tying it up. And into the last two minutes it was a close game. But when they pulled the goalie in the closing seconds, New York’s one goal lead became two with a long slider across open ice as the puck slowly trickled into the empty net.

Deep sigh.

I may be the first person to wait twenty five years to see the Maple Leafs play in person, only to finally decide to root instead now for the Red Wings.

But it just seems so damned unpatriotic to be a Canadian – the home of hockey – only to root for the team from Detroit.

If I were to switch my allegiance, I would be able to root for a likely Stanley Cup final team. I could get tickets – because while Detroit is called Hockey-Town – the city is complacent with having the best team in the NHL. Yawn. I could go and see the play offs.

But that red wheel with a red wing attached seems so insignificant an icon. The Canadian flag was changed from a version of the British Iron Cross in the mid 1960’s. The blue maple leaf icon known for the Toronto Team was colored red.

Red to satisfy the fans of the Montreal Canadians.

To symbolize in the hockey Canadian way that English and French indeed live and play hockey together.

That truly is where the red and white maple leaf Canadian flag came from.

Canadiana, baby.

On the train home, we barely discussed the game. It was disappointing. We were much quieter coming home.

Saturday night I watched the Maple Leafs play in Boston. It was on the CBC – Hockey Night in Canada. And they played much better. And they beat the Bruins four to three – in overtime.

And I thought to myself “Great!! We are only eight points out of the wild card!!”.

It’s hard to be a Maple Leafs fan.

Yeah, I know ... a bit cliché don’t you think?

True, but it is.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Mornings

I have always been a fan of Sunday morning.

I can easily understand why Christian faiths commonly hold services on Sunday morning.

It just seems so spiritual. Clean. There is something very wholesome about Sunday morning.

I think that should I ever find myself shipwrecked on a desert island, with no watch or calendar, I would easily recognize Sunday mornings from the rest of the mornings.

It just feels so inspirational.

On this particular Sunday morning, it is my daughter Alannah’s seventh birthday. The sun is out bright with that beautiful yellow hue that can only be experienced on Sunday morning.

It is minus twelve degrees Celsius. That’s eleven degrees Fahrenheit. It is cold. And windy. But the yellow hue of the sun replaces the draft of the cold winds inside our house.

Later in the day, Darlene’s family will come over for the family birthday party. By then it will be afternoon. And the magic of Sunday morning will have dispersed, to arrive again next weekend.

There will be excited little girls running around the up and down stairs. Left over packaging and tags from presents received both yesterday and today will be lying around visibly to signify the celebration. There will be drinks poured by the adults with glasses that clink.

There will be love.

But my bags still need to be packed; my clothes for the week to be folded into piles and put into my travel case; the work to be done this next week to be available as I ride the train to Toronto tonight.

Right after birthday cake.

I will be away for a week. Tomorrow Alannah is hosting the morning announcements at her school, reading a fairly lengthy piece over the public address system. And I will ask her tomorrow night by phone how it went. And I will tell her how proud of her I am. My little first grader.

Over the phone.

Thursday is Valentines Day. A day I would try to avoid at all cost – until I had two little girls. Valentines Day is very special to little girls. It rivals Halloween.

I missed last Halloween too. I stood in a parking lot at the corner of Yonge and College with my cell phone, talking to the girls while they tricked and treated last October. At the same time trying avoid a bum begging for a smoke.

And I missed Ashley’s Christmas play as well as the Breakfast with Santa event.

And I think the girls notice. Because they were quick to repeat back to me what I have already missed since starting this new role with the company last fall.

But they are not going without. My absence does not cancel these affairs. And Mom still attends. And I still tell them how proud of them I am every night on the phone.

The fact is that this is a great opportunity for our little family. And with each opportunity worth reaching for, a little sacrifice is often required.

The fellows that I am travelling with are fine fellows. They are good company, and good team mates. And we are starting to resemble a team as we move in our unified front.

But still, I am not looking forward to ending Alannah’s party early so the family can drive me to the train.

I am so proud of my little clan. I am so proud of my wife to the way she has accommodated these new twists. And my little girls understand. And while they don’t like it, I know they understand.

Sunday mornings are just wonderful. The gentle music on the radio. The yellow sun shining bright on what looks like frozen tundra. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and toast wafting through the air.


It’s the Sunday nights I am not to crazy about.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Skill of Good Luck

I will admit that I am superstitious.

I am a firm believer in luck.

I know for a fact that if luck and skill are competing against each other, luck will win every time.

The best quarterback could be having just the best game of his career and still lose. He could throw the most perfect pass in the world, only to have the wind catch it and send it slightly awry, into the arms of a waiting defensive player.

Bad luck, Tom” his team mates would say.

Skill, beaten by luck.

So it definitely pays to be lucky. Ask any lottery winner. It was not the skill of picking the right six numbers. It was the luck of picking those numbers.

One could spend a lifetime working hard to be successful, live a good clean life, and buy an estate to retire to; only to find out the new drunken slobs who bought the mansion next door did so by winning the lottery.

So where do you get luck from?

I truly believe that we find our luck in our own brains. I think that luck is actually the result of positive thinking. You will yourself to be lucky.

But positive thinking is not easy. It requires skill and discipline.

But wait, you just said that luck beats skill?

Yes, yes I did.

It takes skill to be lucky. It did not require skill to pick the six numbers. It does require skill to believe that it is possible that your six numbers will be the ones picked to win the lottery. The skill of the discipline of positive thinking.

Luck is confusing too. Have you noticed?

Every time that we change months, I like to make sure that my calendars reflect the new month as quickly as possible – but never before the old month has expired.

I want to know that it’s possible for the next month to be lucky. So I take what I consider to be appropriate action. I manipulate the calendar.

This may mean that I take a calendar down from the wall, and close it so no month is shown – should I not be there to change it on the first day of the new month.

Flaky? I can’t argue that.

But what I have done is prepare my brain to say “Okay, I have set up all the conditions I know of to make good luck.” And then I try to create opportunities for good luck to come my way. I believe it can happen. So it might. Or it might not.

But I always truly believe my chances are pretty good.

You see, I am an optimist – to a skeptical degree.

I am hopeful that next month will be a good one. But I believe that I have to earn it.

I have a closet full of clothes. If I have a bad day, most likely it’s the shirt’s fault. It gets designated a hanger in the bad luck shirt section. And it will reside there until Darlene asks if I have anything for the Good Will basket.

I don’t wear that shirt again. And I try to find my lucky boxers.

© 2006 - 2017 Fred Brill - all rights reserved