A note from an overflowing heart

From time to time, you come across a story about a company that does something above and beyond, and creates a loyal, lifetime customer as a result (in fact, if you want to read stories like that, Scott Stratten's fantastic book "UnMarketing" is a great place to start). But what do you do when you're a brand that already has a massive, loyal following? How do you take a fan and turn them into a fanatic — an evangelist? This is that story.

Well, actually, this is a story about friendship and community. It's a story about how technology can bring people together and create bonds that can affect your life in ways you wouldn't have ever imagined. It's about putting the "social" in social media. This is that story.

Okay, it's both those stories. And buckle up, because this will be a bit of a read. But I'm not sure I've ever written anything more important.

On May 4, 2009, my then-girlfriend Erin and I got engaged. We weren't in a rush to get married, but we figured if we stuck together for 10 years, it was probably going to work. So we set the wedding date for September 26, 2015, ten years and one day after we started dating (so it would fall on a Saturday).

Earlier that year, I had started going to the odd Toronto Marlies' game. Erin and I both came out of the womb Toronto Maple Leafs' fans, and I've been on the Leafs' season ticket waiting list practically since I moved to Toronto 27 years ago (still deep down that list, by the way). When I started to see events pop up on Twitter and Facebook that made it easy to dip a toe into the Marlies water, I jumped on them. They were fun, full of great people and really good hockey. Then we won some tickets, so I brought Erin along. Soon, we were hooked, and in the spring of 2011, we signed up for season's tickets.

The price point for Marlies' games is ridiculously good value for the money. Our seats for these last three years have been in the front row of the north end zone, where we can see them score on the visiting team's goalie two periods out of three. We pay about $16 per ticket per game for that (the cheapest seats in the house), which also gets us discounts on merchandise, a couple of events each year where you can meet the players (including one night with full run of the Hockey Hall of Fame), and the free use of an 18-person suite once a year. The team has won their division each year we've been going and gone to at least the second round of the playoffs (and still counting this year). It's been an amazing investment of both time and money.

Unfortunately, we weren't going to be renewing for next season. See, back in February, Erin and I decided to move the wedding up a bit because of some health problems in our family. The most important thing for us was to be surrounded by the people we love, so we set May 24th of this year as our new date, and plunged headlong into planning. Pulling that off in three months, even on a small scale, meant that any spare cash we had would be going toward making the wedding. There was no room for Marlies' tickets for next year — in fact, there wasn't even room for playoff tickets this year.

Now, we'd already been touched by generosity. The folks in the seats beside us are a great father and son named Charlie and James Craib. Season ticket holders get an extra pair of seats for each home game during the first round of the playoffs, and knowing what was going on in our lives, James reached out to me and offered us their extras for game 3 of the first round, where we got to see the Marlies sweep Milwaukee out of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, good friend, Movember partner-in-crime, and groomsman Joshua Murray had a plan in mind. Josh had been out at some games with me over the last while, and had become a bit of a Marlies' fan (as a Habs' fan, I'm not sure he'd admit it, but it's true). Knowing that we weren't renewing the Marlies' tickets next year, he decided that just wouldn't do. So he started beating the drums amongst our friends, and rounded up a gaggle of them — fully 25 people who bought in wholeheartedly to the proposition that we were going to be keeping our seats come hell or high water.

Next came the question of how to make that happen. Sports industry vet Shannon Kelly pointed out that many in the group were connected to Jon Sinden, who runs the digital and social efforts at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. So, Josh reached out to Jon, relayed the whole story to him, and asked if there was something that could be done.

A couple of weeks ago, Josh heard back from the folks at MLSE. Not only the was the season ticket renewal arranged, but it was all being done courtesy of the team. The Marlies were giving us our tickets for next year. Giving them to us. Giving them. To us. Giving.

The whole thing was kept secret until Saturday night, when at the end of the speeches at our wedding reception, Josh pulled out this gorgeous leather box bound up in a blue ribbon. As we undid the ribbon and opened the box, Josh was relaying the story to our guests, at which point we saw the two Marlies' season ticket holder scarves, and a note from the team that said…

Dear Sean and Erin,

Congratulations on your big day! On behalf of the entire Toronto Marlies organization, we want to wish you much happiness and all the best in your life together.

We also wanted to take the time to say thank you for your constant support of the team over the last few years. The Marlies have been fortunate enough to enjoy a lot of success on the ice over the years, and that is in no small part due to the enthusiasm and support from great fans such as yourself. When we heard about your wedding, we thought for sure we needed to give you guys a gift to mark the special occasion.

So we want to see you back next year. Please accept this letter as an indication that your season seats have been fully renewed for the 2014-15 Marlies regular season. Your commemorative season ticket book will be mailed to you following the release of the AHL regular season schedule.

Congratulations again!

All the best,

The Toronto Marlies (And Duke the Dog)

As you can see in that photo above, it was a massive surprise. It's a moment that we're both going to remember for the rest of our lives. It still doesn't feel entirely real.

I'll say thank you in various and sundry other ways, but for right now I have to say this:

- to Shannon Kelly, Jason Carlin, Rannie Turingan, Seth Wilson, Veronica Thor, Jason Chan, Jason Rolland, My Anh Tran, Shannon Hunter, Rayanne Langdon, Matt Cohen, Terri-Leigh Holbeche, Wendy Koslow, Katie Boland, Dan Levy, Andy Arias, J Campbell, Michel Neray, Sean Sydney, Allegra Sheppard, Trish Cassling, Christopher, Jerwin, and Rochelle Latinsky — almost all of you are connected to us through either karaoke or sports, and those connections either started or were strengthened through social media. People often dismiss social as being superficial and impersonal, but these are some of the strongest connections I've ever developed as an adult. You have have touched our hearts in ways that I can't even begin to explain. Our gratitude is boundless.

- to Josh — I'm so pleased you agreed to stand with Kiel and me on Saturday. We have done some amazing things together over these last years, and the best is yet to come for us. I've said it before; I'll say it again — you're a freaking rock star, and an awfully decent chap for a Habs' fan. But you really outdid yourself on this one, and we will owe you for a long, long time to come.

- to Sherry Jean and Marc Lira at the Marlies, and to Jon Sinden at MLSE — it's not possible for me to imagine being a bigger fan of either the Leafs or the Marlies, but we're going to have to figure out a way, or we're going to have to count on reincarnation being real so we can be fans for several more lifetimes. We now bleed bluer than ever before.

It was the cherry on what was already a perfect day.

The story behind the story

Here's this weekend's reminder that there's often more information about a situation than what's apparent to the naked eye.

On Friday, Toronto Life ran this piece on a new restaurant in midtown Toronto called SIP Wine Bar. I don't know what you'd call this. It's not a review, but it doesn't appear to be paid advertising. Public service? Justifying their existence?

Anyway, it's wine and pizza. I mean, who doesn't like that, right? Pizza in 60 seconds? High ceilings? It all sounds lovely.

It happens that this place is right across the street from me. So, I'm aware that there's a story behind the story of this "modern trattoria".

  • How exactly were they able to find a space that could fit a "big, wrap-around bar" with high ceilings, and find it on a residential side street in the much-sought-after Yonge and Eglinton area? Why, courtesy of a property owner who was willing to turn two units of rental apartment stock into a commercial space, that's how. While the building is zoned commercial/residential, it's always been strictly residential for the nearly fifteen years I've been living here. I wonder how the folks who live in the other apartments like their new neighbour?
  • How exactly are they able to offer their "fair-sized wine list", again on what's a residential side street? Why, by not visibly posting the signage on the property that's required of new applicants for liquor licenses, that's how. As a result, the only objectors to the license application were people who lived in that building and knew directly what was happening. This is a breach of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's (AGCO) regulations about which the AGCO is not terrifically concerned.

It's not unheard of in midtown to have commercial properties where residential frontages co-exist with liquor licenses. However, in all those cases, the commercial properties are located directly at the corner of Yonge and wrap around onto the residential side street — think Fox and Fiddle at Heath St., Coquine at Manor Rd., or Duke of Kent at Roehampton Ave. Otherwise, you can walk Yonge Street from St. Clair Avenue in the south to Yonge Boulevard in the north, and not one of the commercial establishments located entirely on one of those dozens of residential side streets has a liquor license. At least, not until now. A precedent's been set, and it's been set without any meaningful chance for anyone in the community affected to object.

More incredibly, SIP has been granted liquor licenses for both indoor and outdoor facilities, despite the fact that they haven't been issued a boulevard cafe permit by the City of Toronto. Never mind that AGCO regulations require an applicant to demonstrate that they're eligible for an outdoor license in their jurisdiction — another tiny hitch in the AGCO's policies that doesn't seem to concern them.

Now, I'm not anti-fun. I would never have moved to this neighbourhood if I wasn't prepared for crowded sidewalks, late-night noise, and the occasional drunken moron. But I do believe that doing business is a privilege, not a right, and that it shouldn't be an unnecessary burden to do things by the rules, particularly when the rules themselves aren't burdensome.

So, I invite you all to come visit midtown Toronto, and to patronize one of the seemingly hundreds of restaurants where you can get a pizza and a nice glass of wine. And while I would never tell you not to visit SIP Wine Bar while you're here — because I'm pretty sure that there'd be some way that saying something like that would be actionable — I'm just telling you that you'll never find me sitting alongside their "exposed brick walls". Because I know the story behind the story. And now you do too.

Asking for help takes a lot of courage

Sometimes in your life, you meet people and you say to yourself very soon thereafter "this is one of the good ones". Let me introduce you to Kittana — she's one of the good ones.

Kittana is a Toronto Maple Leafs (and Toronto Marlies) fan, as most of the best people are. In fact, that's how we met originally. It was at one of the much-missed "Meet Me at the Marlies" events at Ricoh Coliseum — a chance for a group of people who might only know each other through Twitter or Facebook, if they knew each other at all, to get a chance to sit in a corner box to watch a Marlies' game. Free food, some swag, chances to win prizes, and a meet-and-greet with a Marlies' player after the game.

Kittana was at one of those, and I remember her far-too-cute daughter being with her. In fact, if I remember correctly, Kittana's daughter took home the big prize that day — season's tickets to the Marlies. I was suitably jealous.

We'd bump into other after that on Twitter from time to time, mostly during Leafs' games, expressing our shared frustration at whatever bonehead thing the team was doing to lose that particular game. And once Erin and I started attending Marlies' games more regularly, we'd see Kittana and her daughter occasionally, when she had the chance to make the trek in from her home in Hamilton and use those tickets.

Two years ago, the Marlies played Montreal's Hamilton-based farm team in an outdoor game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Erin and I travelled down for the game, and we had the chance to run into Kittana and spend some time with her — a little island of Marlies' fans among the hostile enemy.

  Kittana, me, and Erin — yes, I was exactly as cold as I looked. There was a jersey on under the jacket, honest.

Kittana, me, and Erin — yes, I was exactly as cold as I looked. There was a jersey on under the jacket, honest.

I was thinking about that outdoor game yesterday while watching the Leafs get their hard-earned victory against Detroit in the Big House. I was thinking about how cold it was, and seeing our friends Greg and Angela, and running into Kittana, and how badly the Marlies kicked the Bulldogs' asses — it was an awfully fun couple of days. Fun. Hamilton. Sounds weird to say.

So it was an odd bit of serendipity tonight when I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a post from Kittana. See, Kittana's recently made what I think is a pretty brave choice, to pick up like the pioneers of old and move westward to build a better life for herself and her now five-year-old Kitten (her daughter's nickname — not an actual kitten). There's a place to live waiting for her, and a job waiting for her, both things that have become a challenge in Hamilton.

And because those things have become a challenge in Hamilton, money's become a challenge too. So Kittana's made another equally-brave choice — she's asked for help. Through GoFundMe, she's trying to raise enough to get herself and Kitten out to Edmonton to start over. By the time I saw her post, she'd made some nice progress toward reaching her goal, but if there's anything I can do to help get her even closer, well, I pretty much have to do that.

So, I'm reaching out to my friends, and my Twitter followers, and the one person who I think actually subscribes to my all-too-infrequent posts on my blog — if you have a bit to spare, and are so inclined, my friend Kittana could use your help. And she's worth it. After all, she's one of the good ones.

Kittana's GoFundMe campaign can be found right here.

Movember 24, 2013

So, we're about 94 hours away from the 4th annual Movember Challenge Karaoke, and all the pieces are starting to fall into place, as they always do right around this time. But it happens that it was also two years ago today that we were throwing #MoChaKaTO year 2!

For me, the best parts of the night are always the challenges; after all, the event was originally born out of the idea that it could be a ridiculous amount of fun to make your friends sing the songs that you want them to sing. The notion that we could raise 20 bucks a crack by doing that was almost secondary.

With the help of the great TImehop app, I took a scroll through my tweets from two years ago tonight. There's so much to do while the event's happening that I often end up neglecting my Twitter account, even though Twitter is integral to the event. But two years ago, it appears that I spent the whole night tweeting out the all the challenges. It's a fun list, and it really highlights all the facets of what the 'Challenge' part of "Movember Challenge Karaoke" can be about.

For example, challenges can sometimes be about hearing someone do a song that's part of their regular repertoire:

  • Joseph, challenged to do Rammstein's "Du Hast"
  • Johan, challenged to do Stevie Wonder's "Ma Cherie Amour"
  • Sunnie James, challenged to do Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror"
  • Karaoke host Jason Rolland, challenged to do Jace Everett's "Bad Things"

Challenges can also be about having someone do a song they haven't done, but you're pretty sure they'll knock out of the park:

  • Allegra, challenged to do Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me"
  • Jon Crowley, challenged to do LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem"
  • Michael Nus, challenged to do George Michael's "Father Figure"

However, more often than not, the best challenges are about creating as big a disconnect as possible between the song and the singer:

  • Jason Rolland again, who started the night getting challenged to do "Toxic" by Britney Spears
  • Brad Koegler, challenged to do "Fireflies" by Owl City
  • Co-host and returning Mo Bro Jason Chan, challenged to do "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina & the Waves
  • David Akermanis, challenged to do "Ignition" by R Kelly
  • Sean Sydney, challenged to do "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias
  • Brad Machry, challenged to do "Ooh, It's Kinda Crazy" by Soul Decision
  • Gabriel Mansour, challenged to do "Drop It Like It's Hot" by Snoop Dogg
  • Co-host and lead Mo Bro Joshua Murray, challenged to do "Hit Me Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears

Heck, I even had to get up and throw out a poor rendition of 50 Cent's "Just a Little Bit". The less said about that, the better.

Related to the challenge is the buy-out, where the person who gets challenged is either so frightened by or so repulsed by the challenge song that they're willing to pay $30 to not have to sing it. It's possible that I introduced this feature specifically for my own benefit. In fact, it's possible that I may have used it at #MoChaKaTO II to get myself out of having to sing Katy Perry.

By the way, if you count all that through, you'll notice that's $370 worth of songs associated with the challenges. That's a not insignificant amount of the $1,116 total that we raised that year.

So, if you're planning on attending #MoChaKaTO IV on Thursday, I highly encourage you to start thinking about who might be prompting you to shout "Challenge!" that night, and just what type of song you might want to see performed.

And if you're not planning on attending #MoChaKaTO IV on Thursday, well, why the heck not?

Movember 9, 2013

The problem with having said that you're going to write a daily diary for Movember — or committing to any type of daily blogging, for that matter — is that you need to have something to say every day. 

I mean, it's easy enough to post that day's photo… 

And it's easy enough to throw another piece of men's health information out there to help educate anyone reading… 

One in five Canadian men will experience a mental health issue this year.

But after that, you actually have to have something to say. And I don't, especially. This is why my blogging is infrequent. Strike that — infrequent is too generous. It's why my blogging is almost non-existent.

I have a lot of respect for people who turn out content on a daily basis. It's not easy — I need to get charged up about something to write, and that doesn't happen anywhere close to every day. 

So, what can I tell you so that this post is just a little less pedestrian? Well…

  • I can tell you that the Moustache Growers Union Local 416647 is up to a dozen members now, and there might even be a couple more yet to come. This is by far our biggest team yet.
  • Actually, if you want to have some fun with it, you could even say that we have 12 1/2 members, which is very cool.  Congrats, Mo Bro!
  • A propos of nothing, but Don Cherry is wearing poppy cuff-links tonight. That is all kinds of awesome.  Sorry for the interruption.
  • I can also tell you that #MoChaKaTO is less than three weeks away, and I'm getting pumped. I'd tell you to get your tickets now, but that's part of the beauty of it — there are no tickets. All you have to do is show up, and I can promise it'll be one of the most fun nights you have all year. Bring some money, though. You know; just in case.

And, as always, I should remind you that your support is always welcome, and appreciated.

Until tomorrow, when Movember will have hit the one-third complete mark. 


Movember 7, 2013

There are lots of people who like to watch auto racing for the car crashes. That's all well and good until someone dies, and then it's not quite so funny anymore. 

I don't know what made me think of that… 

So, a couple of days ago, we talked about the fantastic 96% survival rate for testicular cancer. Well, in today's Movember men's health fact, we learn that the survival rate for prostate cancer is almost as good. 95%, actually, again dependent on detecting it early. 

Guys — you know what that means. When you get to be my age, you need to get checked out each time you get a check-up. You do go for regular check-ups, right? Yes, it's not exactly the most enjoyable experience. But assuming your doctor is worth anything, it's over quickly and it could save your life. 

So turn, cough, get up on the table, hug your knees, clean up, and then get on with your day. You'll thank yourself later, and so will the people in your life who love you. 

That's important, by the way. The people in your life who love you ought to have your best interests in mind. They ought to be encouraging you to do absolutely everything that's necessary to stay both physically and mentally healthy. And if you fall out of good health, they ought to be helping to create an environment of safety and support to get back on track. 

I don't know what made me think of that… 

Until tomorrow, your support is always welcome and appreciated

Movember 5, 2013

There was a moment earlier today — one brief, elusive, seductive moment — where it felt like we might get a bit of a break from the circus. It was wonderful. 

But then the lights went on, and the ringleader stepped out in front of the crowd, and the music started up. All of a sudden, there were clowns everywhere. 

It's the lousiest show on earth… 

Yeah, it's finally happened; I have Toronto politics fatigue. And what did I prescribe myself as a cure? I went to a city planning department meeting about yet another condo development being proposed for my neighbourhood at Yonge and Eglinton. What is wrong me?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Meanwhile, let's talk about balls — mine, yours, your significant other's, everyone's. It's pretty widely known that one of the keys to early detection of breast cancer is for women to give themselves regular breast self-examinations. Well, the same principle holds for testicles. Testicular cancer is actually one of the most curable forms of cancer, and so the long-term survival rate is really high — 96% — if it's caught early.

So, guys? Next time you're in the shower, give the boys a bit of a grope. Then, a month or so later, do it again. If nothing seems different, then you're golden. If you notice something that wasn't there the month before, it might be worth swinging by your doctor's office for a second opinion. 

Heck, make it fun and get someone to do the groping for you. I mean, not me — I like you and all, but there's a limit… 

By the way, that was today's Movember men's health fact. I don't just randomly go around talking about balls, you know. 

Five days into Movember, and the fundraising really is building some MOmentum.  Thanks to my old CIBC buddy Kim Marisa for bringing both the noise and the funk. Thanks also to the Canadian National Exhibition for their support — well, okay, it's really a thanks to Mo Bro Joshua Murray, but the CNE made it possible. It's a long story. If you're interested in helping, the Mo Bank is always open for deposits.

Until tomorrow, remember that the bar for what's acceptable conduct of an elected representative is apparently getting lower and lower by the day. So, as I answered when I was asked earlier tonight, there's always a chance — we'll just have to see.