Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One Family's Adventure at the CNE



Any of my readers who just sit by their computer screen and wait for my blog to get updated will know that I vanished from the internet for the weekend.  This isn't really the rarest occurrence, but my more date aware readers will notice that I published my notorious "gone for the weekend" post Friday morning.  Yet I had a whole day before the apparent weekend would be upon us all.  What could I have ever been doing on a Friday?

Well, going to the CNE, of course.  Or as the hip Ontario folks like to call it, The Ex.  As for anyone who isn't from Canada or even Ontario, CNE stands for the Canadian National Exhibition.  It is tradition for most in Southern Ontario to make the trek to this fair on steroids at the end of every August.  We need our deep fried Mars bars, our overpriced midway rides, and opportunity to shop for items after already paying $16.00 to enter.  It is just our duty as Ontarians.

Now, I realize it is a little bold for us to call it the Canadian National Exhibition, when it is always held in the same province and in the same city.  It is probably better to be called "Toronto's Big Ass Fair but We Won't Call It a Fair Because That Makes Us Sound Rural."  Though it doesn't really roll off the tongue, and takes a little longer to say than The Ex.  Plus it is held in Toronto and any Torontonian will tell you that they live in the centre of the universe, so they're essentially all of Canada anyway.  It only makes sense to call it the Canadian National Exhibition because Toronto represents a whole country.  Of course, Toronto is also unaware why the rest of Canada thinks they're assholes.  Oh well.

No matter what you want to call it, we went to it.  The $16.00 per person does seem a little steep.  Especially since you still need to pay for food and drinks, you have to pay for any of the games or rides, and half the venues are full of vendors hawking stuff.  It can get to be an expensive day out.  But the one thing that does make it a worthwhile stop is the large number of shows, and some of them are really high quality.  You watch two or three of them, and you've easily got your money's worth.  Though you may still leave the place scratching your head over how that slice of pizza was worth 8 bucks.

Speaking of food, this was the first thing we did once we arrived.  This was partly because it happened to be lunch time, but mostly because I'm fat and I get hungry a lot.  So, we went to the Food Pavilion, which is basically as advertised. It is full of both well-known restaurants, famous fair vendors, and more obscure places I only ever see here.  You could spend half a day just examining the expansive wasteland of deep fried majesticness, and if you're like me, you could also easily get lost and be forced to wander halls for eternity (or until a security guard kindly tells you it is time to go home).  Luckily, I stuck with my wife, and we decided to keep our excursion down to about a half hour.  My goal was to find something super unhealthy and super filling, but Emily apparently didn't get my memo.  She bought some Asian taco thingies that we were supposedly sharing.  I finished my portion in about four bites, and was ready for round two.

The friends we came with wanted to see some celebrity chef person, who may be on the Food Network.  Emily does watch that channel, and I'll catch the occasional snippets.  I don't really know any of the names on the show, and usually don't stick around unless it is about trying to eat a burger bigger than your face or about "fine dining" from a food truck.  Emily and I voted to part ways from our friends for a bit, and do some investigating.

I'm not sure if Emily quite understood that "investigating" actually meant "going to look for those food trucks that apparently are at The Ex today, because I'm still starving after those puny tacos."  So, we wandered and soaked up the sites, but meanwhile, I was scanning the place for the fabled trucks that serve specialty food.

We finally found the trucks, and let me declare my love to them and my desire to marry them.  I never knew that there were food trucks that offered up more than "street meat" until I stumbled upon a show called Eat St.  It was this show where I learned there are food trucks all over North America that make original food with fresh ingredients, and usually the meals are a different take on fast food or food-to-go.



I spent another 15 minutes trying to decide which truck would have the honour of filling my ever expanding belly.  I chose a place called Urban Smoke, and I bought a "Midway Dog".  Except it is nothing like your traditional hot dog or what I'd ever bought at a midway.  It was a hot dog that also had a heaping helping of pulled pork and also chili on it.  It was two of the greatest type of sandwiches uniting to make one epic meal of goodness.  It also had a bunch of fresh ingredients, and things that the more refined would notice and appreciate.  I was just happy with the huge helping of pork products and the tasty chili slopped on top.  Urban Smoke is my new best friend, and one day, I hope to track it down again.  I think, they operate in Toronto, but this was my first special encounter with them.  They sure do know how to fill a man up after he wasted time nibbling on some food claiming to be a taco.

Since I ate an epic hot dog, it was now time for a dog show.  Super Dogs.  This is a President's Choice sponsored troupe of dogs that I believe tours Canada.  I am pretty sure this was only my second time watching it, but there is a chance I blanked an experience out after being traumatized over accidentally eating a Chihuahua's food and then being covered in drool by his best friend the St. Bernard as revenge.  Otherwise, I've only been to one other show, but it was cool to see that they try to change up their program a bit.  We did see some new acts, and a few new breeds.

My favourite part of the show was watching Everett get entranced by the flashing lights, and then start bopping up and down as he danced to the blaring music.  Then he suddenly realized there were dogs running around on stage and his face lit up with an amazing smile.  You could tell he wasn't really sure what the dogs were doing, but it was a confirmation my son is a big fan of animals.  He even got to see a dog like Summit -- a Bernese mountain dog.  The dog did a rather good impression of Summit, as he wouldn't stop barking at his owner because he knew she had treats but wasn't offering them up.  Emily and I got a great kick watching the dog since all his mannerism resembled our beloved furry son.

At the end of the show, the audience is allowed to come down on the floor and the kids gets to shove their hands into the faces of the dogs.  Since I have a child now, I felt it was my duty to include him in the hand shoving.  One particular dog actually pushed his head past all the children's cotton candy coated hands so that he could poke his head at Everett, and the dog seemed quite interested in a baby.  Everett of course did his duty and grabbed at the dog's ear.

I think, at this point I was ready to eat again, but we ended up going to see an ice show instead.  Actually, we spent twenty minute debating if we should go to the ice show or the petting zoo, and then another five minutes panicking that there wasn't much more time left before our friends had to leave.  It appears this wouldn't be the most efficient use of time, but it isn't The Ex unless you're incredibly rushed and getting into arguments over what to do next.  It is a provincial law.

The ice show ended up being quite a spectacle and a show that is well worth the price to get to the CNE.  I should note that we didn't actually pay to get into the CNE, despite the fact I've spent 10% of this post complaining about the cost.  The added benefit of having a baby is that you can distract female security guards while your spouse hops the fence and then threatens some elderly couple for their ticket stubs.  Or you know, you have friends who got a really good deal for a party of four.

About that ice show, I was excited to see this, because the last time we came, it was the best show we saw.  This time around it had Canadian Olympic darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.  I actually was surprised that they only ended up doing about three routines, and most of the show was performed by other skaters.  Despite the headliners only doing a cameo, it was a top notch show that actually offered up more acts than just skating routines.  I'm not really sure if Everett caught most of this show, because he had more important things to do like drain mommy of milk and then after that, felt he needed to just hop and bounce to the music.

The skating was high quality, but there was also an incredible trampoline routine.  I'm pretty sure I can't get you to appreciate how amazing it is by describing it.  Instead, I'll just say "three jumpers, three small windows, and no collisions."  If you're thinking of still catching The Ex, this is the show to see.  There was also a guy who was raised up in the air on two ropes and did a whole spinny and flippy routine (the official name for this routine) that actually got my heart pumping a few times.  The show offered up a good variety of acts, and it was a lot of fun.  It may be even easier to watch if you don't have a baby flattening your legs for half of it.

After the ice show, it was time to act like a parent.  We voted to go over to the children's section of the CNE.  Everett is only 8 months old, and so there isn't even much for him to do there.  Not that it matters much, because you can dangle keys in front of his face and keep him entertained for ten minutes.  It isn't like we're ever begging for things to entertain our son.  He seemed to just have a blast staring at all the bright lights and watching the rides blow past him.  He definitely was intrigued by this magical place he found himself in, and was trying to soak up as much scenery as possible.  But I still felt we needed to take him to the children's section, and what I really wanted to do, is see if he enjoyed the petting zoo.  He seems to really enjoy looking at animals, so I thought there might be a chance he'd like looking at a goat or horse.  Plus it gave me a chance to find out if my son was braver than me.  There is a picture of me as a baby where I'm a ball of tears while my dad lifts me up against a horse that seems intent on nibbling on my toes.

I've talked many times about how a certain event with Everett quickly becomes one of the most amazing moments of my life.  I just love watching the wonder in my son's eyes.  I love seeing the joy he gets when he encounters something new for the first time.  The petting zoo has now quickly shot up as one of the coolest moments ever in my life, and it was one of those great moments as a new parent.



I put Everett down to the fence where a goat then poked his head through.  Everett let out one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen.  The goat then started to sniff Everett, and he started to squeal and laugh and giggle.  He then started to grab at the goat and try to hug its face.  The goat then started to sniff his feet and then realized baby's feet are great for nibbling.  Everett then responded with a roaring laughter that I'd never heard before.  My son was absolutely delighted and was in love with these animals.  We then ended up spending 30 minutes at the petting zoo, and Everett wanted to touch and hug as many animals as possible.  I'm pretty sure this was the happiest moment in Everett's short little life.  Emily says that I laughed more than Everett, but I couldn't help feeling like a kid and being filled with joy over seeing how authentically happy my son was.  It was one of those truly magical moments.



Everett even went face to face with the horse.  He kept his laughter and smiles.  There was no crying in this petting zoo.  He handled things better than his daddy when he first encountered farm animals.  My son seems to be a Beastmaster in training.




Now, I know we ate after the petting zoo.  It was from another food truck called The Blue Donkey.  Oh wait, actually it may have been from some other place that served seafood.  But don't worry, we did eat at The Blue Donkey too.  You must eat at a place with that name.  Over the next few hours, we enjoyed great fare like feta fries, fish tacos, a calamari pita, and a dessert that was fried pita with honey (way better than my description makes it sound).  My belly and taste buds were happy.

We spent the evening as just a family since our friends had to go.  Everett's favourite things were to listening to the dings and rings of the midway games, watching the flashing lights, and laughing at all the people.  Since those things aren't as entertaining when you get past two years old, we also went to a show with Chinese acrobats.  Or something like that.  They didn't really do what I'd call acrobatics, but it was a really impressive show.  The choreography was top notch, and they twisted their bodies in ways that even made my back sore.  There were some pretty impressive feats of strength like lifting each other high in the air with their head or one hand or arching their back while someone else stood on them.  It was very impressive, and that half hour contained more athleticism and skill than I've displayed in my 34 years alive.



We then bought about 6 children's books.  Because there was a deal and that is what a parent who is a writer does.  I promise you many more children's books will be purchased over time.  The Ex is always great for good deals for this type of product.  Sadly, there wasn't any books that interested me, since last time I picked up about four or so books for myself.  Maybe this is just a sign I'm a parent now, and I'm more apt to spend on my child than myself.

So, this was my Friday.  This was my son's first adventure to The Ex.  We don't go every year.  Even with Everett, I'm sure I'll pass some years.  It was a fun day.  I know the place will be even more exciting when Everett can appreciate it more.



My final opinion of The Ex?  A great place to take your family, and there is a reason I went almost every year as a child.  But it is a glorified fair.  Sorry, Toronto.

But man, I need to hunt down those food trucks.


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