"We need to be prepared for a riot."
Those were the words of one CBC curmudgeon at a planning meeting for the final run of Chase the Ace.
Here's the logic: People had been spending great globs of cash, the record-setting crowd would be gargantuan, thousands of people wouldn't get inside the hall to buy tickets in time and — as it would be the last chance to win — there would be desperation.
At 7:55 p.m. on Wednesday, Newfoundland's latest celebrity, Carol O'Brien, announced organizers were running out of tickets, and they'd be winding down and shutting the doors a little early.
Massive collective gasp rippled through the throng of chasers.
The 50/50 tickets had already run out.
"Here it comes," I thought. Trouble.
Rattling the cage
Many years ago, on a delayed Marine Atlantic ferry crossing from North Sydney, I remember an announcement over the PA system telling passengers that we were now on Newfoundland Time and consequently, the bar would not be opening.
One thirsty man yelled, "C'mon by's, throw the switch! We're gettin' our drinks!"
A number of men started rattling and shaking the cage that had been rolled over the bar. It was ugly.
That memory appeared to me as the clock struck eight Wednesday night.
Conditions for serious mob trouble seemed apparent.
And then ... nothing.
Sure, there was disappointment for people — like me — who had been in line for five or six hours, but the crowd merely fell back to wait for the draws to happen.
And when it did, there were chest-splitting roars of joy for the winners.
This weekly pilgrimage may have been based largely on greed (some people must regret spending far too much on tickets), but the event also brought out the best in people.
Dozens of kids along the route had set up tables to sell cold drinks, muffins and cookies.
Teenagers in sports uniforms hauled wagons with hot dogs and pop and pleaded with a willing crowd to help them raise money for their basketball and baseball teams or martial arts clubs. Buckets filled up with money.
Talented musicians were strumming their guitars, singing along the route and they sounded sensational.
And best of all, there was humour amidst the tedium.
Not subtle in the least
One Goulds woman flirted from her deck, "Buddy! Yes you buddy, the one in the black tank top!"
Good-looking, targeted man points to himself.
"Yes, you b'y! You should come use my bathroom!"
Roars — and I mean roars — of laughter at the unsubtle pass.
As we snaked our way through a cul-de-sac, another Goulds woman shouted from her staircase, "Listen now, my dears, if any of ye needs a drink of water or to use the bathroom, you're all welcome."
Man behind me answers, "Got any chicken? I'm hungry."
The Ace of ♠️ has attracted more people in Newfoundland to gather in one place than the Pope's visit in 1984. pic.twitter.com/Wfyc7SRMLZ— @AnthonyGermain
The cheerfulness was infectious and the Chase the Ace slow-motion final marathon took on the feel and fun of a country fair on a superbly sunny day in late August.
It was a riot — just not the kind that had been predicted at that CBC planning meeting.
Oh, and by the way, that curmudgeon?
That was me.
Anthony Germain is the former host of the St. John's Morning Show. He joins Debbie Cooper as the co-host of Here & Now in October. You can read more articles by Anthony Germain here.