A game to unite a city

On Friday, November the 6, in the heart of the high-rise and concrete-ensconced financial district in downtown Toronto, a game of capture the flag broke out.

We get there in the nick of time – hurried, but excited. Travelling with a friend from school, neither of us are really sure what to expect. We are familiar with the rules and game from our youth, identifying it from high school and elementary.

But this, this is like that, except huge. And outdoors. And we are stoked. With glowsticks, they say? Why not! The anticipation though – it burns like a figurative fire in our belly. The action and adventure has yet to begin.

We can see people around us, walking down the street and as we approach the meeting point, we start seeing hoards of people wearing coloured glowsticks around their necks.

We gather on the corner at 9pm at Bay & King, the meeting point for the game, and I’m suddenly hit with the premonition of running around on a huge board of Monopoly. Quickly, my friend and I are able to deduce the division of teams: green glowsticks for the green team; blue for the blue team. The refs wear pink.

The flags are hidden on each team’s side. Planning strategy time is over. Some people run, some people wait – half-confused, half-observant.

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Photo by Keri Knapp

Someone going over the official “capture the flag” rules, before the match.

There is always stir and bustle on the street, but tonight it is different. Different in the way that it’s difficult for me to imagine another time in life that I’ve experienced human interaction to this extent, outside of friends, and school. Right now we all have the same goals; the same desire to communicate with one another.

In stark opposition to the grind of the everyday races – the push to get to work or school, and then back again, then maybe back out; this time to the bar, or maybe somewhere else, but all to spend money. Not only is this, what I am doing right now, financially free, but it is also freeing – it is a thing of beauty. A breath of fresh air, quite literally. Never gladder, never brighter than I am now – and at the risk of sounding like little Suzy Sunshine, it’s a wonderful feeling.

Flash Forward, the recycle bins tell us. So we do. Flash to King. Us, mere flies on the foot of the giants; megaliths which take form all around us. The monstrous financiers. We are dust on the shoe of the stair; but we brush them with our feet; lightly, swiftly, purposefully, in zigzag lines across them.

Flash to Bay: “All the world’s a stage” an ad proclaims; “don’t be an understudy”. Flash to Wellington: “Pedestrians Obey your Signals.” The message is loud and clear: confine, conform; but we say nay; to hell with the actors, this is what’s real. At least tonight, we might catch a taste of what it’s like to be carefree.

We head west to University, careful not to let our feet touch the sidewalks, with the exception given when facing traffic; all other times our feet reside in the neutral territory of curbside gutters.

A friend and I talk amongst some people on the way to the hidden location of the other team. Together, we negotiate their position on the other side of the street and how to get to it, and they negotiate ours.

We make a run for it, up the granite slab stairs and into the building. We meet resistance. A blue runner passes; he’s quick and agile, with energy to spare, and like a shock of electricity we run through the halls, bounding down the stairs, using the railing as leverage to hurdle ourselves over it, flying up and over; landing on our feet like two cats in an amateur parkour video. We tag each other, and it’s a draw, but it doesn’t matter anyways – this is just way too much fun, and all too good of an excuse to not keep doing it.

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Photo by Keri Knapp

Past the look of shock and horror on the face of some finely-dressed lady, the annoyance of the security guard, who tells us promptly “the path is locked!”, or the smothered amusement of the proper mid-30s businessman coming off late from work, whom for 10pm, it was business as usual. We run past all of it – carefree, joyous, alive.

Teammates and opponents travel by bike, bus, tram, and train. Some wail down the alleys on bikes with lights, like rogue kittens in the night. Racing across and under the streets like little sparks; our energy combined could power the streetcars that clang by us, and the busses that drive past, and the subway under our feet. Each one of us is unique and interesting in some way, but there’s another reflection that we all move for the same reasons.

By 11:30pm the game is called to an end, and with a faint sense of sadness but much more gratitude, we walk (not run) away from the epic night when we “Captured the Flag” in Toronto, downtown.

To friends that we met, both known and unknown; and those whom we will not see again, here’s hoping we will. And here’s to you, to people – go forth and create unexpected things in unexpected places; be free; be wild; be happy, and discover the world around around you.