Feasting on Ford Fest
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Feasting on Ford Fest

Long lines, rocking cover tunes, and prepping Ford Nation for 2014 marked the Ford family's annual barbecue.

One of the first things that happened when we arrived at Ford Fest: we were asked to provide our names, addresses, and phone numbers. When we tried to skip the sign-in process, a volunteer told us it was required. We said we weren’t comfortable providing our personal information. “Then why are you here?” demanded another. (She later said the information was for “security purposes.”)

Rather than protest further, we scribbled our names amid over 5,000 other signatures from those who came to enjoy the Ford family’s hospitality, as matriarch Diane Ford threw her Etobicoke home open to the entire city in an annual tradition.

Apart from disputes over people cutting into the burger line, it was one of the evening’s few confrontations. The laid-back atmosphere—which mixed die-hard supporters, neighbourhood families, politically engaged residents who often disagree with Ford, the curious, and the media—must have been a relief for the Fords after a rocky week in court. A Facebook-organized LGBT gathering didn’t materialize, though people wearing rainbow colours danced to Councillor Gary Crawford’s (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) hire-worthy cover band, Gently Bent.

The relaxed approach applied to the food line, whose mass disorganization would have made an anarchist smile. No one knew where the queue began, so people joined in wherever they could without offending others. We let in two elderly women who sweetly looked around to make sure nobody would call them out. As we waited, we observed several requests for security to deal with line jumpers and one loud public shaming by the pool.

The line snaked around the backyard, threatening to form an infinite circle that would never lead to the lone barbecue pit. Standing for over 90 minutes for burgers and hot dogs provided time to observe the Greco-Roman-inspired lawn décor and the rose petals floating in the pool. A beer and wine station along the way offered relief, though some trouble with the tap produced cups that were 70 per cent head/30 per cent brew.

Our wait was punctuated by watching the exploits of one enterprising party-goer ahead of us, who loaded up a cooler with a case of free pop, brought take-out containers for the grill, and tossed a used bun back at the cooks. His extreme behaviour embodied the front-of-line ethos, where the long wait broke down into a free-for-all whenever the latest charred item came off the grill. Once away from the line though, tension eased. (The entire event was much busier than last year. If Ford Fest carries on, the food line will require better planning: line markers and additional grills would be a good start.)

Ford Fest provided the mayor with a friendly platform to list his accomplishments and pep up the crowd for his 2014 re-election bid, which promises to continue with an us-versus-them mentality. “We have to get out there, bang on the doors,” he shouted. “As you saw this week, they’re coming after us, every which way.” While thanking his family (including a trembling salute to his late father), Ford indicated that brother Doug “gives me the marching orders, and I march.” (The crowd didn’t erupt in laughter.)

Ford also promoted his Don Bosco football squad, urging guests to attend their season opener on September 14 against the Donald A. Wilson Gators, who won last year’s Metro Bowl. “Mark my words,” he boasted, “we’re going to be the Metro Bowl champs, not Donald Wilson.” He was rewarded for his football and charitable efforts with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and couldn’t resist a shot at his legal opponents: “Some people think that it’s a terrible thing to help kids out, but I’m helping kids out!”

Plenty of kids were on hand, enjoying the food or the balloon animals made by a roaming man in a tux. They were also encouraged to lend vocal help to Gently Bent’s rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall.” It was unclear if that song accidentally or intentionally commented on the depths of the mayor’s knowledge of municipal law.

What stood out most at Ford Fest was the family’s genuinely welcoming nature—including personal thanks from Diane Ford, who went table to table to say hello. For all his faults as a public official, Rob Ford’s ability to connect with people on a personal level is what has gotten him as far as he has, and its merits are real. However and whenever he leaves office, it’s at least one (and possibly the only) thing future mayors may want to adopt from his tenure.