Steel Rails 2016. With almost zero idea of what to expect beyond some art(s) and a wild rumpus, we’d bought in to this crazy Waterloo art party idea. In previous years its elevator pitch was an art party on a train. This year they’d outgrown the capacity of a train. As my friend so aptly put it, this year’s event would either be known as the year that Steel Rails reached a new plateau or the one year that wasn’t held on a train.
Arriving at our hotel with all of 40 minutes to get ready (possibly justifying the surprising lack of a whirlpool tub we’d expected), we got straight to business. Drinks were poured as we prepped and primped. I don’t want to gloss over that first detail. Drinks were poured. I don’t think we even intended to bring that much alcohol, but things snowballed. Someone mentioned they’d picked up a bottle of Manischewitz, someone else said they’d grabbed a few beers. I felt bad about only bringing a small water bottle filled with Kraken and coke, so the girlfriend and I stopped off at a beer store. The Beer Store is generally a tragically under-stocked, shitty foreign owned outlet that has a poor craft beer selection. The one leg up on the LCBO they do have is that they stock the perfect beverage for a locomotion themed event. Which is how the Lokoschewitz came to be. Fruit Punch flavoured Four Loko with Manishcewitz. The surprising compliment on everyone’s lips was “I expected worse.” A winner indeed.
We piled drink upon drink as we hastily tried on different configurations of outfits. Without knowing too much about the event it was tricky to establish the requisite level of class. If we were lacking in the slightest, the Lokoschewitz gave us renewed vigour and confidence to compensate. We ordered an Uber and strutted downstairs to meet Sangim, our chauffeur. I was probably about four or five drinks deep at this point, so I was in a chatty mood. Upon seeing a doorless Jeep, Sangim mentioned that they used to drive those in the military. Immediately I shifted into interviewer mode and tried to discover as much as I could. He mentioned that military service felt a little like an office job. After it became the norm, it just felt ordinary. Middle management strutted around, while the infantry generally kept their head down and did the work. After a 15 minute cab ride, we arrived at the ticket checking venue and said a tearful goodbye to Sangim, our new mate.
The ticket checking venue, Chainsaw, felt like the human evocation of a feeding trough. Everything you’d imagine a small town bar to be. Neon lights, a few pool tables and foosball tables. A stage with a local band doing covers. Cheap beer served in large bottles or pitchers. The staff wore T-shirts with the bar’s name and motto emblazoned across the chest. “Chainsaw: We live here.” The darkest timeline indeed. After getting our tickets scanned just after 6pm we crammed into a school bus and headed off to the real mystery venue.
We arrived shortly afterwards at an old railway yard with a massive warehouse. The theme this year was summer camp. Shipping containers littered the yard, each with a different activity attached. There was a choose your own dance party (plug in your phone), a table with food/celebrity magazines that encouraged you to make your own food/celebrity puns. I made Ryan Goslinguini, an inspired choice if I do say so myself. Another container had a stack of styrofoam and wires out front to be used for sculpting. A bunch of hay bales surrounded a faux fireplace where people told stories and performed bluegrass tunes. A tent was set up for tarot readings, the line stretched right across the yard. The concrete floor of the warehouse was covered with picnic blankets and tables. The tables were stacked with coloured paper and pens, inviting people to write a letter for their parents back home.
Food and alcohol vendors were everywhere, the cost being voluntary donation. Like most people, I dropped a $20 in the bucket and went nuts. There were artisan ice-blocks, gourmet mac and cheese, pulled pork or eggplant sliders, rice dishes with lentils or shawarma. There was a metric fuckton of booze. Things got loose pretty quickly, but everyone was giddy and excited. The douchebag quotient was zero, as far as I saw. Like a planetary alignment of goodwill, people looked out for one another. I didn’t have a single encounter that was anything less than enthusiastically friendly.
The performances were strange and manifold. Two gals squirmed their way into the undersides of these large inflatable art pillows that’d been lying around. They writhed and wriggled around to a nightmarish tempo shifted Bee Gees “Staying Alive”. Two costumed fellows on stilts, one with a horse getup and the other some papier-mâché Dionysis type, roamed around the venue. There were flag dances and drum circles and a neon garbed local band (on loan from Chainsaw perhaps?). Lemon Bucket Orchestra closed down the night with an on foot performance that migrated from the stage to the hay bales. Things closed down around 11pm and the bus headed back to Chainsaw.
What happened in Chainsaw? Well that stays in Chainsaw.