So long, and thanks for the oysters
"You must be really hungry," said Heather as we arrived home from the Keyano College Foundation Gala. My stomach was a little growly, so I grabbed a few pieces of leftover pizza and settled in to relax on the sofa after Fort McMurray's premier social event.
"How is the food?" asked one of the chefs as he passed me in the crowded hallway earlier last evening.
"Oh, I never eat at these things," I replied. "No offence."
I know it seems a little strange to attend an event with such a focus and effort on the variety, quantity, quality and presentation of food, and not eat any of it, but this is just one (of many) of my personal quirks. When I'm in a networking environment - which the Keyano Gala is one of the finest - I get so caught up in conversation that I rarely end up with a plate of food in my hand.
Last night was a slight exception to my practice of not eating. I spied oysters on the half shell as we did our initial tour of the stunningly decorated Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. There weren't many people around yet, so I scarfed down three in quick succession. That was my supper.
Some people pay $350 per ticket to enjoy the amazing entertainment. By all accounts, Hey Romeo and Great Big Sea appeared to be smashing sensations. Other people come to sparkle and shine, to be one of the jewels in a sea of people dressed to the nines, in all their finery. Some enjoy the auction action, both the silent and live versions; they spend money to come to Gala and spend more money buying stuff, all under the alluring guise of supporting Keyano College.
I enjoy Gala for the visits and social collisions. Wandering from one end to the other, it is a blur of friends, acquaintances, business associates and familiar faces. What I had envisioned as a five minute dash to buy a couple of drink tickets at the customer service counter, turned into an hour of random conversations and delightful reunions. We got to hear stories of the early days of Keyano College, of exotic travels in Tibet, of a motor home being dropped off for repairs in High River the day before the flood (a story that didn't end well as the owner got to watch his baby floating down the street on the evening news), of personal health successes, and of politics and the process of change we're going through in Wood Buffalo after the election.
My head is swimming with all the amazing people we got to see and talk to in the three and a half hours we spent at the event. If I had the superpower to slow down time, I would use it at the Keyano College Foundation Gala as it all flashed by way too quickly.
I'm not sure if my two visits to the scotch bar helped or hurt by desire to slow down the clock. What I am sure about is that I enjoyed two very different samplings, the first being a maple syrup Canadian whiskey called Sortilege, which blew me away. The second was a finger of Lagavulin, a piece of peaty perfection.
We were so busy visiting, that we completely missed the live auction - an element of Gala that I always enjoy, and Great Big Sea. All we saw of Alan Doyle and company was on the huge screen on the adjacent Shell Field where we were taking a load off, catching up with friends.
The other thing about Gala that is so fascinating is how many people we didn't see. Looking at Facebook this morning, I'm seeing pictures of dozens of people who were there that we completely missed. I think that adds to the mystery and mystique of the event. It truly is a special evening, the black-tie event of the year.
It's worth noting that one of the first visits I had last night was with long-time resident, Keyano College Distinguished Alum, and an ardent supporter of the Foundation, Doug Golosky. He shared the story of his family's deep connection to Keyano, over many generations - his history going back to the 1960's when Bechtel helped establish the Alberta Vocational College (which turned into Keyano) to train welders and tradespeople for GCOS (Great Canadian Oil Sands - now Suncor). Unbelievably, in all his years of supporting Keyano College, last night was the very first time that Doug had attended the Gala. That alone made the event one for the record books.