Volunteers and Labour Day

ImageRecently I have had a change of heart.

For the past 43 years, I have been associated with the Canadian Open Tennis Championships in Toronto. I have volunteered playing the role of Ball Boy (4 years), Linesman (3 years) and this year, I drove on the Transportation Team. The math doesn’t add up to 43 years as I have definitely taken years off in between. There has been lots of investment in Tennis in Canada in the last few years as evidenced by the likes of Milos Raonic, Sharon Fichman and Vasek Pospisil who have all climbed the ranks of Professional Tennis and the men are about to engage in the Davis Cup Semi Finals in Serbia, later this Month. I played as a Junior and I went on to play at University. I loved Tennis. My parents did, so I did. That was the way it was back then. You didn’t give your children a choice as to what to do, instead they did, what you did and far be it, that you would drive especially or go the extra mile for your children the way the modern parenting is done…but I digress.

Let’s go back to those years (43), The first time I was exposed to Pro Tennis, I was 8. In the old days of the tournament, It was magical. I was a member at one of the host tennis clubs. For weeks before the start, they were preparing. Watching them put up stands, watching the players roll in, all for free. In my first attempt to be a ballboy I failed. My sisters were in, but I was out.In my belly I knew I was going to make it.Good Lesson! Later on, I became the “Captain ” of the ballboys. The day I failed, my mother said to me, as I was crying…”hey why don’t you run down there and be their ballboy”. Unbeknownst to me at the time, There was Pancho Gonzalez teaching a young Arthur Ashe how to serve (even better). Onto the court I strode, welcomed by the Tennis Players with a gentle nod. I then proceeded to catch and run after every ball I could. Throwing, and rolling them back as were needed. That went on for 45 minutes. I was a ballboy. when they were done, they tousled my moppy hair. I was beaming. I had volunteered. 

The tournament at the time was innocent, We even billeted some of the lesser known players at our house. Running them up for their practices and matches, as was necessary. As ballboys payment was the endless supply of pop, that we could drink. Wimbledon had only been professional for a couple of years and Monica Seles had not been stabbed as of yet. Innocence is a powerful thing. That is the key to all of this. Don’t lose it and don’t exploit it. 

These are just people, people.

But here I want to discuss the act of volunteering. It has always been the most noble of my pursuits, I thought. Where would we be without Candy Stripers in hospitals? I mean there is definitely places where it is beyond necessary. If you look closely at the pictures, you will see a dearth of Red. I capitalize that word because it is Rogers “Red”. Everyone who is visible is a volunteer that is wearing red and promoting a company that they may or may not know or end up agreeing with in terms of their policies or their business practices. That really isn’t the point here though. Rogers, now owns (in Toronto), The Blue Jays, half of the MLSE (Leafs, TFC), The Skydome, and The Rogers Cup and the better part of 143 dollars that I pay them to have the privilege of owning a phone in Canada AND I was volunteering for them?

I am an Actor and a Comedian and have worked as a freelancer for the better part of a quarter century. 25 years is a long time not to work for anybody regularly. There is a power in that though. I know I can survive. People who have been working, panic in “our situation”. The condescending tones, I have heard, with regards to my choice to be an independent contractor are many.  but again I digress.

When I took the job on, and don’t let you be mistaken, driving celebrities around Toronto is a Job, I was excited because it meant I was out of the house. (I have been a stay at home Dad for the last 3 years and needed to be out). I went to the first meeting and picked up my swag which include two RED shirts and a black warm up shirt, all made of Second Skin material with Rogers logos all over them. The material is unique and exceptionally comfortable. No complaints there. But RED.

As you can see in the picture, RED was everywhere. Everyone who volunteers is really using it as access to the stadium to see the Tennis. Now why is this ? I wanted to be there to take pictures of the tennis…my reason. Others, I know not why, other than they stood and watched in their breaks and when they finished their shifts and on their days off. I do know this…The prices of the Tennis are prohibitive. I only looked at the prices once but I noticed that it was 70$ for the day session and 100$ for the night. Who has that kind of money? And seriously I would have trouble rationalizing it compared to a year of some sport played versus 1 day watching. So that even makes the attendees complicit in the ruse being perpetrated by rogers as they play the role of seat fillers. Except they didn’t show up!!! So they let the RED army of Rogers volunteers wearing the same colour sit in various sections…is is that obvious? Then they would kick us out of others…STOOPID!! Firstly don’t dress us all in Red and then if you do …let us sit anywhere so it doesn’t look empty and then “fixed” Confused? Me Too…Or don’t dress us all in the same shirt and we could sit anywhere. Still Confused? Me too…

I put in 7 shifts of approximately 6 hours each. 42 hours I spent to get the equivalent of 4 tickets and a grounds pass (and all that swag I mentioned earlier).

At Minimum wage that would be the equivalent of $420. As a young Tennis player, I would have gone to the ends of the earth to be involved . To see Laver and Rosewall, Borg and McEnroe, Even Lendl and Wilander…but now, I am a father, bonded more to my kids more than I would ever be to these players. Which again, makes me stronger. I am not phased by fame, Maybe because I have had droplets of it myself or because I am past it or I have moved on . I drove Marina Hingis, former number one…nothing. I drove Marion Bartoli…nothing. Don’t get me wrong, being a cynic didn’t hamper me from being nice. In Fact, I think they thought it was refreshing that I didn’t drool all over them.  

My confusion and cynicism is rooted in the fact that I am an Actor. I have made commercials. I have been in movies. I have been an extra and a background performer. And I have been the star…

When we had the big dinner after the event, I watched as the volunteers were lavished with oversalted meat and overcooked vegetables in the guise of a thank you. You see, what you don’t know, is that when we were working, they portioned our food to the ounce. I asked them “I am 240 pounds…do you give the same to a 120 pound person?” They answered “Everyone gets the same”…so I said “This everyone is going to feint”…”good thing I a will be driving when it happens”. Luckily I didn’t feint…but I was hungry. Good thing, I could eat all I wanted at the big dinner. 

What did Tennis Canada and Rogers get for their Money?…A giant, feint, background performer…and I was doing the paying…to get there, and to supplement with 10 dollar burgers and nitrate laden hotdogs. But here is the thing, I am an Actor, not just an Actor but a card carrying A.C.T.R.A member. Eventually, through the haze of the lack of food, and the one and a half hour commute, (by bike, from Main and Danforth) to York University. I figured it out. We were being used. I am all for people working as apprentices, Volunteering at hospitals, even doing things by bartering makes total sense. But when you have an Oligopoly running a major Tournament. When they thank the volunteers and say “this wouldn’t be possible without all these Volunteers” I say “So?”…But herein lies the problem… what would happen without them…Who knows…who cares. 

I love Tennis, but no decent movie in Toronto would be made with free talent. 

Interestingly enough, we were also, making a show, A TV show. With the burgeoning 500 channel universe, content is king. Even though the men were in Montreal, and the women this year were in Toronto, it is becoming more and more obvious that this is a Television production. There is a seamless transition between matches from the two cities. When one match ends in one city then another starts in the other. It works perfectly on TV but not in real life. 

This year I witnessed a young girls accreditation being ripped of her because she tried to get Drake’s Autograph. Drake was here to watch his friend Serena play. A reprimand would be in order but instead ,but in order to maintain the status quo, her day and dream was ruined because we hold one above another. Her problem was the same as theirs. They all value a Rap singer over a young girls innocence. That crushing moment will last in her head the same way my Arthur Ashe story lasts in my head …and certainly not in a positive way. 

I Understand if you volunteer because have nothing else to do at the time, I understand if you are being paid by them. But I don’t understand the gladiatorial hero worship that drives people to give up their dignity so as to serve at the hands of a professional tennis player or anyone just to say they met them. And Rogers, I am on to you 
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