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Southsiders Survive “The Trip That Never Was”

Vancouver Supporters “Keep Calm & Carry On” In The Face Of Adversity
-by Johnnie Monster, Southsiders co-founder & road trip survivor

A wise green ogre once said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that counts.”

OK, disclaimer: I have no Idea if Shrek actually said that, but somebody did (it might have been an employee of Air Canada or Canada Post dealing with an irate customer). The point is, these words have never rang as true as they do when speaking of my recent trip with the Southsiders to see the Whitecaps play an away match in Seattle… or should I say, “The Trip That Never Was.”

My day started off bright and early at 4:30 am, or as I like to call it, the crack of “holy crap, why am I doing this?” After pulling myself together with some of Timmy’s finest high-octane, I made my way down to the Skytrain station just in time for the first train out of Surrey towards downtown Vancouver.

Upon arriving at Burrard Station I was met with a wonderful sight that I have come to enjoy so many times before: scores of sleepy looking Southsiders and Whitecaps fans, all decked in scarves and kits, milling about the Hyatt Regency while waiting for the charter bus to roll up. I suppose that warm feeling can best be explained by how a pyromaniac feels when gazing upon a pack of matches – you see what’s in front of you, and you know there’s great potential for an immense amount of fun and mischief.

As I surveyed this particular set of travelers I was struck by how many first-timers we had in our midst. This is always a good thing, because it means the Southsiders are doing a good job with outreach to newcomers. So how can you tell the rookies from the veterans? Easy: The veterans have brought coolers full of ice along for the trip.

A Southsiders bus trip – whether it be to Seattle or to Portland – always includes a quick stop at the Cost Cutters grocery store in Blaine. If Doolin’s is our home pub, Cost Cutters must surely be our official supermarket.

I am always stunned by how inexpensive the snacks and bevvies are, particularly the beers and ciders. This week’s flyer advertises a six pack of Henry Weinhard’s bottles for $5.99. Or, if you lost your tastebuds in a house fire, you can buy and 18-pack of Budweiser for $13.99. That’s right folks, American alcohol is cheaper than Canadian soda pop and bottled water.

It was with great merriment (and a few yawns) that our group set off on our adventure. We always book with Charter Bus Lines, because the service is both affordable and excellent. Our driver Chris greeted us with a knowing smile, for he too is a veteran of the phenomenon that is #CapsOnTour.

Our hosts for this journey were Southsiders VP Brett Graham and Southsiders Club Secretary Peter Czimmermann. Peter got on the microphone and laid out the house rules for the journey:

“Rule #1 – Do not slam the bathroom door or it will lock. Rule #2 – Do not do number two in the bathroom. Rule #3 – Do not use the bathroom!”

It was all mostly in jest, but the fact is NOBODY wants to be stuck on a bus with a smelly washroom. Word to the wise – please do not load up on McDonald’s coffee and breakfast products (I really hesitate to call it “food”) before coming aboard. We thank you in advance.

Within a minute or two we passed by Doolin’s, and a few friendly songs rang out on the bus in praise of their pulled pork poutine and beautiful kilted servers. This is something you will come to love about our trips – there’s as much singing on board our buses as there is at an actual match. Soon we were barreling down Highway 99 towards the Campbell River Store, where we stopped to pick up a few more of our fellow travelers in the parking lot. Next up: the US truck crossing… and the longest border wait I have ever experienced.

The thing with planning these trips is that there is absolutely nothing you can do to work around the border waits. Buses are required to go through a special line, and passengers usually have to disembark for a quick passport check at the US Customs office. Sometimes you luck out, and you’ll be through the border in less than 90 minutes. Our personal best was a trip to Portland where the wait was only five minutes. This, however, was something beyond comprehension: Four and a half fucking hours.

Spirits on board were high for the first hour. That’s when news broke on Twitter about MLS’ incomprehensible decision to suspend Barry Robson on the day of the match. We had loads to bitch about amongst ourselves, and the time passed relatively quickly.

Hour two: Somewhere behind us was the Whitecaps / Uniglobe bus with special host Carl Valentine. Well, he somehow caught wind of the fact we were in the line up in front of him, and he popped on board for some high fives and well wishes. What a class act this guy is – not only is he beloved to many of us as a Whitecaps player, but he really is an authentically wonderful man who is as passionate about his club as we are. Carl remembers the good old days of the NASL, and he knows what a big deal it is for fans making this journey. We serenaded him with a round of “Oh My Darling Valentine,” and he introduced us to George Nanchoff, father of Michael “Nano” Nanchoff. Great stuff. If you ask me, signing Carl as the Whitecaps ambassador was one of the best moves the club could ever have possibly made.

Hour three: We hadn’t moved a freakin’ inch since Carl was aboard. We were starting to get thirsty, and the thought of all that cheap, cold beer waiting for us just a few kilometers away had some of our travelers contemplating the logistics of making some jailhouse wine in the bus bathroom. Stomachs squirmed from hunger. Throats were parched. Two of our travelers actually jumped off our bus to cross the border in another vehicle in the Nexus lane. We were running out of time, with kickoff in Seattle looming ever so closer. This was an emergency, and there had to be a response.

That response was the first ever (and hopefully last ever) Cost Cutters Crisis Expedition Team. Brett and four other brave souls crossed the border on foot and marched to the grocery store in Blaine. Their mission – to shop on behalf of the ENTIRE bus (56 people!) so that when we eventually did make it through the border, we would not incur further delays by stopping for alcoholic “road sodas.”

When the Crisis Team left the bus, we weren’t sure if they were going to be successful in getting over the border on foot or not. About an hour or so passed without word. Would they? Wouldn’t they? Would they end up like a Canadian version of the Donner Party and turn to cannibalism to survive?

To be honest, it was a bit like waiting to see if the Mars Curiosity Rover had landed safely. Finally, a tweet from Brett confirmed our hopes and aspirations:

I shared the news with our bus, and cheers rang out… and as if by some cosmic coincidence, the bus started rolling into the US Customs processing area.

The processing centre was mercifully quick. Most of us were waved through by border guards with a nod. A few needed some extra visa papers sorted out, but nothing too time consuming. Southside drummer Gordie was questioned about some of the band patches on his jean vest. Apparently he rocks too hard for Uncle Sam’s liking.

We were soon back on the bus and rolling… but by this time, it was about 12:00. Kickoff in Seattle was scheduled for 1 pm.

“Lightspeed, Chewie!” yelled one hopelessly optimistic Southsider. Unfortunately, and with all due respect to the good folks at Charter Bus Lines, their buses are rarely equipped with the same kind of horsepower as the Millennium Falcon.

We rolled onward to Blaine, and five minutes later we were reunited with the five heroes from the expedition team:

I’m not kidding, they were waiting at the side of the road with shopping carts brimming with delicious goodness. Our plentiful bounty: 240 beers, 48 ciders and 60 pieces of fried chicken. Total cost: $472.29.

The bus was soon alive with a symphony of carbonated drinks, clinking bottles and ravenous lips smacking down on greasy, crispy chicken. If ever there was a such a thing as a rolling public awareness campaign for diabetes, alcoholism and heart disease, this was surely it.

One of the best exchanges of the day:

Southsider: “Hey I only ordered 12 beers and you gave me 18!”

Brett: “That’s because it was only 50 cents more for the 18!”

God Bless America!

Just when things were starting to look up, the bus we returned to the highway and we found ourselves at the back end of a massive traffic jam with no end in sight. Fawwwk.

This, it would seem, was the final nail in the coffin. Our chances of reaching Seattle on time for kickoff officially died on the I-5 at 12:15 pm Pacific Time, about five hours after our departure from downtown Vancouver.

Our bus hosts led a quick discussion of our options. A vote was held whether to continue onward to Seattle in the hopes of catching the second half of the match in person, or whether to quickly find a pub that would be willing to show the match on TV.

The vote was unanimous: “Fuck Seattle. We’re going to Ferndale.”

Ferndale is just 25 km from the border. Five hours on board, and this was all the distance we could manage. We contacted Bob’s Burgers to inquire if they could host us, and as it turned out, they had a private banquet room with a bar just waiting for us. We filed up the stairs and were soon seated with pitchers a-plenty just in time for kickoff.

And then – disaster struck. Again.

We’d seen the first 15 minutes of the match when one of our travelers was caught drinking store-bought beers at his table inside the restaurant. This is a very serious violation of state liquor laws, and it’s the kind of offence that can cause a restaurant to lose its licenses and permits.

The person in question was asked to leave. The only problem was that the other 55 of us were forced to leave too.

I won’t dwell on this particular incident except to say that this is a perfect example of how one person’s selfishness and stupidity can ruin things for all their travel mates. It takes just one bad apple to royally fuck things up, and the worst place to do that sort of thing is on foreign soil.

Southsiders road trips are awesome good fun, and yes they can be major piss-ups. This however does not give anyone the right to break the law, disrespect their hosts or put the enjoyment and safety of other travelers at risk. The guy did apologize on the bus later, but this was a truly senseless and stupid act that heaped on added misery to a day which was already very difficult. We were all warned several times over by the staff that breaking this particular rule would get us tossed. This person ignored those warnings and screwed us all over in the process. Thanks dude, don’t bother coming back.

As we spilled out into the street, I noticed something new about our travel group. I could see that the looks of disappointment were being replaced by a somewhat dogged and feisty spirit of determination. The whole day had been a complete shit-show to this point, but it was clear to me that this particular group of Whitecaps fans were still ready to fight for their right to party.

We marched a few blocks towards “beautiful, historic downtown Ferndale” and found ourselves at the Main Street Bar and Grill. Imagine it as a cross between Moe’s Tavern from the Simpsons, and… nope, that just about sums it up perfectly.

Lo and behold, not only did they put the match on for us, but they also bestowed upon us many wonderful gifts – namely $2.50 pints and $6.75 pitchers. It was an overtaxed Canadian’s paradise. If the ATM machine had been working, I am quite sure we would have put the bartender’s kids through college at Harvard.

We watched the tail end of the first half, shot some pool, and then sang our hearts out as the Caps got stuffed by the Green Scum in the second half. We sssss-boomed for Joe Cannon, serenaded Seattle’s keeper with “You Fat Bastard” and may have delved into a song about packets of sweets and cheeky smiles a couple of times. The handful of locals sitting at the bar teased us with calls of “Soooounders,” to which we merrily responded with a few rounds of “We love you Ferndale, we do!”

The match result was rotten, but I’m proud to report that the Southside spirit does not know when to lay down and say die. Our bus had gone on without us to Seattle to drop off a few travelers who had made overnight arrangements. By the time the match was over, we had a three hour wait before the bus would be back to retrieve us in Ferndale. The pitchers continued flowing, and great philosophical discussions were had about the EPL’s opening match day and the sorry state of Scottish football. We cheered as Gordie air-guitared to some jukebox Metallica. Our pal “Safety Sarah” donned some Top Gun aviator Ray Bans and led us in a sing-along of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” We drank the place dry and it was awesome.

Our small town invasion did unfortunately result in at least one unforeseen casualty. One fellow slipped on the pavement just up the street from the pub, and he unfortunately suffered a broken nose, chipped teeth and some gnarly road rash on his face. Several of us leapt into action. I rounded up some paper towels and bottled water from local businesses while others tended to his immediate care. We were very fortunate to have a nurse travelling with us, and she did an outstanding job of getting the bleeding under control and assessing the severity of the goose-egg forming on his noggin.

To our fallen comrade, whom we dropped off at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on the way back home, we wish you a speedy recovery.

To Erica, our very own Florence Nightingale, we sincerely thank you for your assistance. We wish you well on your upcoming interview at Surrey Memorial.

To everyone else who helped out, the Southsiders thank you too.

To Canada, we thank you for our health care system.

There’s not much more that can be said about the fateful events of August 18, 2012. Time and time again we were sideswiped by soul-crushing adversity, but we refused to lay down and give up. We pulled together. We took care of each other. We laughed off the horrible result and had the EXCELLENT time we had all hoped to have in Seattle.

It’s not just me who feels that way… here’s a couple of great tweets from my fellow travelers that I came across searching the #CapsOnTour hashtag on Twitter:

@7semiao: As far as I’m concerned I paid $75 cover for a party with the cheapest drinks ever and a Whitecaps game in the middle. Not bad. #CapsOnTour

@scotth26: Downtown #Ferndale experience = success thanks to $6.75 pitchers of beer #godblessamerica. Who needs Seattle when you got that! #CapsOnTour

I think we can all agree that if there was a prevailing theme for the day, it was this:

This is the first time in Southsiders history that one of our buses has ever missed a match. Everyone on board were great sports about it, and together we had an awesome time. By the power of Grayskull, we WILL make it to Portland on Saturday!!!

And if we don’t… J

Follow Johnnie on Twitter at @johnniemonster

[Special thank to all whose photos are featured in this piece.]