Vancouver, British Columbia. Saturday morning in September 2016. Low clouds. No rain yet, but it’s coming. Cloud cover so low and dark this morning that the city feels boxed in and claustrophobic. As soon as I step out the front door of my building, rain begins to fall, raindrops as big as Canadian nickels. I fish the umbrella out of my backpack and press the button on the handle. FWAP! The unfolding nylon sounds like an oversized bat taking flight.
The rain is merciless and cruel. It threatens to shred my umbrella, to reduce it to a nylon pulp. It’s pounding everything, myself included, down, down, down.
This is how it rains on the West Coast of Canada.
I lope towards the Rogers Arena across town. Vancouver is small enough to walk. Rogers is where the Canucks play their home games. Rogers is where I gave a Tedx talk in 2015, so the Arena and I have some personal history.
I’m attending a media event this morning. A media event is a high-strung phoney party that’s designed to introduce members of the media to a product. Media events usually contain the following ingredients: artisanal sandwiches, soft drinks, giveaways/freebies, awkward moments, sometimes sublime moments, too, and interview opportunities with celebrity and pseudo-celebrity guests.
I’ve been going to these dreaded gatherings—dreaded because they are designed to be fun and rarely are—for more than a decade.
This morning’s high strung, phoney party at the Rogers Arena is to celebrate the release of a video game called NBA 2K17.
I check in at one of the gates on the backside of the arena. I do this by introducing myself to the security guard at the gate. Once he finds my name on a clipboard, he opens the door for me. I make small talk with the handful of other media people who I recognize—Breakfast Television hosts, a writer from the Globe and the Mail, a couple of local tech bloggers. There never were many media members in Vancouver to begin with. Vancouver isn’t a media hub. Now, with the downward slide of media, there are fewer members still. There are six, maybe seven media people here this morning.
I ask the young woman who is wearing makeup to obscure her obvious weariness if there’s any complimentary Tim Horton’s for us. “I wish,” she replies. “In fact, I’ll make a note of it.” She pretends to write something on her clipboard. “Next time,” she says, pretending to read her non-existent note, “bring a large barrel of Double-Doubles.”
An odd, blissed-out fog hangs over everyone. Everyone is happy, because it’s still too early to be unhappy. Genuine unhappiness doesn’t arrive for me until noon at the earliest.
Everyone is low energy, too. Rain usually does this to people, drains their energy, shifts their spirits into a lower gear. But not me, not by a long shot. Gloomy weather energizes me for some reason. Gloomy weather brings out the best in me. Gloomy mornings are my favorite. I find the sound of raindrops against my umbrella soothing, meditative, and somehow life-affirming.
When it’s time, the tired woman with the makeup leads us deeper into the concrete bowels of the arena. She clutches the clipboard to her chest. The woman seems preoccupied with something, as if she has something that’s far more important on her mind. This woman is like our Willy Wonka: she knows where the important things are located, knows how all of this works. If one of us should inadvertently fall into a chocolate pond and get pulled into a tube, this woman will know where to find him.
Ms. Clipboard opens one of the countless doors along a hallway of doors. Behind the door is a locker room that’s about the size of a small garage. It must be the smallest locker room in all Rogers Arena. We’re given uniforms to wear: nylon shorts, flashy basketball jerseys, terrycloth wristbands. As I’m pulling the terrycloth wristbands along my forearms, I notice they still have the price tags on them: $17.99 from Sport Chek. From this I deduce that the most junior member of the NBA 2K17 public relations team had to run out yesterday and purchase these wristbands. I experience an unexpected pang of sadness for this person for some unknown reason. I think of him (I imagine it’s a him) talking to his parents on the phone. “You wouldn’t believe what I did today,” he’d say.
What did you do, son? the parents ask.
“They sent me out to buy wristbands. Can you believe that? Why do I have a degree from Bucknell if all I’m doing is buying wristbands?”
You have a very strange job, son. But your mother and I are still proud of you.
“Thanks. I love you, mom and dad.”
We love you too, son. But we both honestly hope you find a better job soon.
We’re given basketball shoes to wear—new basketball shoes, still in the carton, with the tags still on them as well ($139.99). I’d told 2K that I wear a size 12, but what do you know? These shoes are size 11. I get a little huffy when I see this. (Note: Everyone has a huffy, adolescent moment or two during media events; as soon as the world starts catering to us, adults throw fits, become entitled, and get particular.) I think, I can’t play if I don’t have shoes. How hard is it to get me the shoe size that I asked for? Not hard at all, I imagine. Goddammit. Looks like this is going to be a short day.
I try the tiny shoes on in a theatrical fashion, showing the tired woman with the clipboard, who is in the locker room with us, that I’m a good sport because I’m struggling to get these goddamned not-the-size-I-asked-for shoes on. Everyone can see that I’m struggling valiantly here. What a hero I am, right?
Then—what do you know—they fit. I can’t believe it. I give Ms. Clipboard a thumbs up. For a second I wonder if maybe I’m shrinking in my old age, wonder if my feet are somehow growing smaller. “Everything gets smaller as you age,” a man in a bar once said to me during what had started off as a philosophical conversation. “Everything except your ears. The ears keep growing.” I don’t go to bars anymore, so I don’t have these sorts of pointless conversations anymore. Though I miss them sometimes.
Last but not least we’re given the thing that represents the reason I’m here this morning at all: we’re given two tickets to the sold-out preseason NBA game that is taking place that afternoon between the Toronto Raptors (Canada’s sole NBA team) and the Golden State Warriors. Only instead of two tickets, inside the envelope I find four.
I somehow have four tickets to today’s sold-out game.
I immediately feel like the mayor of Vancouver. No one in the city can even get one lousy ticket to this game and I somehow have four, I think. I can’t walk out of here with any of this loot—not the $14.99 wristbands, the uniform, the $139.99 shoes, or these four presumably priceless tickets—until I hold up my end of the bargain, and do what I said I would do.
I can’t leave until I play a legitimate game of basketball on the center court in Rogers Arena against a team who was, at that very moment, suiting up in a locker room directly across the hall from us.