“The first bus is here,” my publisher Lakyn Barton yelled to me. She was standing at the front doors of LOT42, and I was in the neighbouring room.
Steel Rails ‘19 was about to begin. I watched the first flood of people enter the space — curious, thirsty, ready to be entertained.
I have watched that first flood of people get off that school bus four times now. In 2016, at my first Steel Rails (also at LOT42) I watched the first group of 50 people enter the party. Looking around with wonder and delight.
In 2017, I was tending bar inside Max’s Sports World when the first group of people exited the bus and immediately lined up at my bar. I couldn’t pour beer fast enough.
In 2018, at the Waterloo Central Railway Museum, I watched the first bus unload our guests into an outdoor garden. They walked underneath a balloon archway, rain clouds threatening the sky, music playing in the background. It rained all night that year.
On Saturday, June 22, 2019, I stood and watched the first group of people enter LOT42 — the first 50 of 600. I watched the second bus come, the third, and the fourth, until all 600 of our guests were at our party.
It’s in that first twenty minutes, when the school buses arrive, that the real panic sets in. Lakyn, Care and I look around, searching for final touches that still need to be placed. Although stress levels are high, it’s still my favourite view.
It’s a formula that’s lasted 10 years — buy a ticket to a mystery party. We won’t tell you the location or the entertainment, but we promise you it will be fun. All the proceeds support the Community Edition. Every year is different; no two Steel Rails’ are the same.
The only thing I can count on for consistency is the view from inside the party of that first group of people getting off the bus. It will always look the same. It will always feel the same. It’s a strange mixture of nerves, stress, excitement and sadness that it’s almost over.
I want to thank everyone who bought a ticket, trusting us. I want to thank everyone who donated at the bar, supporting the Community Edition. I want to thank all our sponsors who made this party happen; you’re one of the most important ingredients in this bizarre recipe. I want to thank my family and friends who came out and took an interest in this weird thing that I do every year.
To all the artists, thank you for sharing your art with us, for working with strange requests and for engaging with our guests. This party is a celebration of you and the work you do in our community.
To Anna, Emily, Paige, Victoria, Andreas, Brit, Chantal, Hayley, Kurtis, Aaron, Emily, Christina, Jer, Eric, Teghan, Will, Diana, Betsy, Travis and anyone else who lifted anything heavy — thank you for volunteering your entire day to this party. Thank you for coming back every year.
To Evan, thank you for being our sound engineer even though every year, you say: “this is my last year.” To Pat, thanks for the hug at the end of the night when I needed one. To Jesse, thank you for doing more than I ever expected you to and for still being enthusiastic at 2 a.m.
To baby Atticus, thank you for waiting five days to be born so your parents could come to Steel Rails. Your mom really wanted to be there and you let her do that. We love you, kid.
To my co-organizers, Lakyn and Care, thank you for more than I can even express. Thank you for being great partners. Thank you for riding the tiny train with me at the end of the night.