Even now, I remember the sensation of lying on hard plastic bus station seats in Quebec City. I was supposed to be a 100km away, in another province, getting ready to report on the Ryerson University men’s soccer team at the Canada’s national CIS tournament. Instead, at 2 a.m., I settled into a Quebec City bus terminal for six hours. These seats were curved to a point, ground to a fine edge, and smelled of a finely tuned mixture of mud and sweat. As much as my reporting partner and I pretended, no one was going to sleep that night.
We had six hours of unwanted wakefulness, then six hours in a bus, then six hours in another bus, and then an awards gala, and then an article to write. It was a trip that we had planned to take in half a day that instead took two, and all because of one late bus.
I am the features editor at the Ryersonian student newspaper, where I work with Victor Ferreira, a news and sports editor. He’s also a pal of mine. Two weeks ago, he asked me if I was interested in going with him to Fredericton, NB to help cover the men’s soccer team. I don’t have much experience covering sports, and I only watch soccer during the World Cup. But it was a chance to visit the Maritimes. I’ve never made it east of Quebec City, so I was enticed.
Once we had confirmation that the Ryerson Rams soccer team was going to the nationals, we packed our suitcases, arranged a series of busses, and picked a hotel. Given our other responsibilities as editors, we did it in a rush so we could finish our jobs at the newspaper and left the province Tuesday afternoon. We were going to make it to Fredericton Wednesday morning, and then attend the CIS men’s soccer awards gala at 6 p.m. that evening.
Ryerson’s soccer team is notoriously under-covered and uncelebrated, despite being one of the best sports teams in the school’s history. This team never lost a game in their regular season, however, fans rarely came to see them play. Their audience was comprised of coach and family. The Ryerson Student Union attempted to attract players to the Rams’ field all the way in Scarborough with a free bus ride. Only one student went.
I had this in mind on the first leg of our trip from Toronto to Montreal because it looked like we might not even attend their first CIS tournament game. We had traffic all the way down the 401. Looking out the window was like staring out into a sea of unmoving metallic fish, all bobbing a little further into the current as the way cleared.
The other issue was that we had run out the door so quickly that we had forgotten to check our equipment. We didn’t have the right cable to connect our microphone to our camera. We had forgotten to pick up a data-enabled iPhone. All we had was a microphone, a camera, and a tablet with no access to the internet, and no way to connect them. Yet, a day from now, we were supposed to be reporting on the game.
We missed our bus in Montreal. As we scrambled for a solution, a bus driver offered to give us a lift to Quebec City where another bus would take us to Riviere-du-Loup in the morning. We said sure, not realizing that meant a six hour wait in the bus terminal.
I’ve never felt more foolish than when I looked through my suitcase at 4a.m., unable to sleep or relax and praying that I had the equipment somewhere. My hand was hovering over an email to our professor, Gavin Adamson, describing the sheer absurd stupidity of our situation. I couldn’t send it until the morning. For a couple hours, Victor and I just sat there. Occasionally we lay on our sides, once I lay on the floor, but never caught more than a moment’s rest.
When the bus finally came, only Victor slept. I called up the newsroom, told everyone our location and started looking for solutions. The Ryersonian wanted an update while we were still on the road, and we had to file it before the Orléans Express arrived in Riviere-du-Loup, since it had wifi. As our next connection, the Maritime Bus, pulled out of the station and away from the Quebec village, I hit send on our short script. The last thing we saw before the internet cut out was a brief email saying, “Thanks so much!”
On our way to Fredericton, I caught some of that New Brunswick beauty. Trees covered the hillside and, even though all their leaves had fallen, their branches emanated with a red glow through the lush evergreens. I loved seeing towns built on the hills. The highest building was often a stone church with a tall steeple, as if it was trying to climb higher than the landscape allowed. The smallness of the towns amused me. When we passed by them, I could see all they had to offer on a single road. These villages had never grown beyond a few thousand people, and the only thing that kept them alive was the stubbornness of its inhabitants to move elsewhere.
It helped that we met Ken Parker, our unofficial tour guide. If there is a dictionary definition of a Canadian, underneath it is a picture of Ken Parker. On his mother’s side he’s Acadian and his father’s ancestors were some of the first English settlers in New Brunswick. He’s lived in Manitoba, Alberta, the Maritimes and Ontario, and told stories with the excitement of a child, though his grey hair and bursting paunch gave away his age.
Moose are smaller in New Brunswick, according to Ken, but the deer are much bigger. The roads are ancient in New Brunswick. Old highways lead into dead ends or massive potholes. He explained that New Brunswick is slower than other provinces. The people who live here have always lived here and they work on their own time. He told the story of the time his grandmother’s car was stolen because she left the keys in the ignition.
"You know the police never found it. My grandmother did," he said. "She found it in the same spot two days later!"
Ken pointed out the original McCains’ factory, and the rotting Irving gas station whose number, like the Irving family’s fortune, seems to dwindle as years pass. He claimed to have grown up alongside the McCains children and laughed when he recalled their youngest daughter flying to Toronto for a haircut. Children don’t stay long in New Brunswick, Ken said. When he was in Alberta he found a town of just ex-maritimers, who had left their homes in search of work. Occasionally having a job is more important than history.
Ken left in Woodstock, which is close to his hometown of only a couple hundred people. He met up with his mother and we travelled on to Fredericton.
Victor and I arrived in our hotel at 6p.m. with the awards gala already underway. We had been debating whether we should even attend, but once we entered, Victor jumped in the shower and I called Maureen Sparks, the woman who organized the CIS soccer tournament in the University of New Brunswick. No one minded if we were a half-hour late. So I had my shower, we both wrapped ourselves in makeshift suits, and then ran off to the Fredericton Inn Convention Centre.
Alex Braletic, our star striker, won athlete of the year, and suddenly we were filled with smiles and excited. The team, however, felt slighted. Braletic was the only athlete to win a prize at the gala, though the team is ranked second in the nation. After the ceremony we ran back to our hotel and Victor started writing on the article, while I started editing our video and audio.
We passed out soon after. To our surprise, everything worked out before the Rams’ first game. We bought the missing connector for the microphone to our camera for less than $10, plus there was fast wifi at the stadium.
And then we lost 3-2 against the Laval Rouge et Or. Braletic pulled in an amazing goal in the second half. Victor and I were practically bursting out of our seats, but it wasn’t enough.
It feels strange having travelled across the country for our men’s soccer team only to have them lose in the quarter-finals. I’m still thinking about that. I thought Victor and I had lost our way back in Quebec City, when the lights turned off and we were left alone with our laptops and a security guard. But we managed to pull through. I find it hard to believe that we did, but it’s true.
I’m not disappointed. With all that Ryerson has won this year, second place at the Ontario University Athletics, and two prizes at the awards gala, just getting this far might be a victory in itself.
Or maybe I just need to catch up on the 27 hours of sleep I missed.