One distinct difference between 2006 Winnipeg and 2016 Winnipeg is the number of cyclists on the road. In 2006 you would see one or two cyclists on your route. And they would piss you off just for being there. “Get a real car, loser.” was the general attitude. Most drivers had no concept of slowing down to pass a cyclist, let alone changing lanes to pass them. Critical Mass was a Big Thing every month generating endless news coverage followed by intensely negative reactions. Like any change or sign of progress, Winnipeg fought bitterly against accepting a new reality where cars might have to share with non-motorized vehicles. Back in 2006, 5 Critical Mass participants were actually arrested by the Winnipeg Police Service. How things have changed.
I myself do not bike. I hate biking. It’s just not a thing that I enjoy doing. Nonetheless I have to admire those that do. It takes an awful lot of commitment to pack up your gear every night, leave early, cycle in cold morning weather all while hoping that drivers will shoulder check before changing into your lane. Judging by the number of Winnipeg drivers that treat signal lights as optional, I personally wouldn’t have a lot of faith in the folks on the road. Since 2009 designated bike paths have started to make cycling to work a little less like Russian roulette. It seems like it has been a case of build it and they will come because there are a ton of cyclists. Mike and I have been hitting construction on our way to work so we’ve been trying out a few different routes. Every way we go there is actual bike traffic. It’s amazing.
See, as much as Winnipeg has developed as a car city, there is something that is so nice to see the presence of people, actual human people. It turns Winnipeg from aggravating gridlock into an interesting dynamic city. I get to see all the different types of people who are on their bikes. Much like having pedestrians, cycling humanizes the city. We are a social animal so when we see others walking and cycling, it naturally makes us want to be a part of it too. Dehumanizing cars are part of the reason that road rage is so common. We forget that it is a human being driving in their car. All you see is that they are in your way. We don’t see them as someone like ourselves that is tired, sick, sad, or who simply made a mistake. I think it’s great that Winnipeg has (reluctantly) accepted that we can be a cycling city too.
This is that magical time of year where sports seasons overlap. The Blue Bombers season is picking up. The Goldeyes are starting a playoff run. The Jets are back in just over a month. These teams have the ability to bring us together as a community. After weather, the biggest small talk starter has to be that local sports team. Our teams incorporate local historical and cultural elements. They want us to identify with them and be proud of what they represent. What this boils down to is that ultimately our teams are a reflection of ourselves.
We embed these teams as part of our identity. They allow us to connect with each other, unite behind a goal and give us a reason to get together. The actual experience of a live sports game is exciting. Having a stadium full of the energy and noise of thousands of other fans is an amazing energy. This energy needs to be fed. It needs momentum and it needs to be able to pull people in. Beyond that, you have to get them to buy in to the team to begin with.
So how do you get people to buy in? While there are a lot of hardcore fans out there (one of my own family members has held season tickets for over 40 years), typically it takes a strong performance and/or the Banjo Bowl for the stadium to start selling out. Which it has. Today is the Banjo Bowl. Kickoff is at 3:00 pm. I was offered the opportunity to be a part of the action. I will be down there selling Bomber merch all game. It should be a great time. There is something so fun about a friendly rivalry. It takes the atmosphere up a notch. One of the reasons I’m glad our rivalry is with Saskatchewan is that they are great fans. A few years ago I was in Saskatoon and their transit buses were driving by with Go Riders on the Destination Sign. I asked a cashier what time the game was at and she said that the team wasn’t playing until the next day. Rider Nation is all in on their team. As much as I like to make fun of them, that kind of attitude is exactly what makes games fun. That enthusiasm and support is what brings us together in a positive way. And it’s true, Saskatchewan isn’t big enough or concentrated enough to be able to support (at this time) any team bigger than CFL. I think this makes them appreciate what they have instead of wishing for something better.
I’ve heard so many people trash the CFL because it’s not the NFL. Hate to break it to you, but we are not an NFL city. Also the football may be better, but the people sure as hell aren’t. I spent a good amount of time researching NFL teams last year, trying to find a single one that didn’t have problematic coaches or players. That league will sweep everything under the rug – domestic assault, murder, rapes. They can’t even get their own cheating under control. As a fan, I can’t get behind any of that. The CFL has created a comprehensive domestic violence policy. This year the CFL announced new player health and safety measures. Any cheating that has been reported in the CFL has ended up with fines (roster violations) or are relatively minor (allegedly watering the grass a little extra ahead of a game). I will take that over deflating footballs for a championship game. Winnipeg is not a moneyed city. Our population sits well below one million. We will never have an NFL team nor do I want one. We should take a page out of Saskatchewan’s book and go all in on our football. We didn’t build that stadium for nothing.