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KurtKountry: An Unofficial Kurt Browning Website

Air Canada Centre: Toronto, ONT

With Kurt at the TV rehearsal

Since my buddy, ,Kurt Browning did not tour with Stars On Ice in the United States during the 1998-99 season... I thought I wouldn't get a chance to see him skate in the show, but as luck would have it, a trip to New York to visit family & friends put me near enough to Toronto to justify a short side trip to see the two shows held there.

I had never visited Toronto before,and found it to be a charming city: filled with interesting shops... My Mom & I spent the first day shopping and searching for the elusive "Maple bear" beanie baby, a birthday gift for my sister. We also had lunch with our dear friend, Gill, a Toronto native.

Eventually, the time came to head to the beautiful Air Canada Center. The first night I had a Birds-Eye view from the "club" level. Great for seeing the general layout...and design of the show, but not-so-good for seeing the facial expression and detail upon which this production relies.

I didn't really care. I just couldn't wait to see Kurt at the reception which followed. Unlike the US, the reception was held in a separate building, the convention center. 450 people were packed into this all-purpose room waiting for their favorite skaters. Mom settled into a chair at the back of the room, until things started to fill and I realized that, we'd be trapped by the time Kurt got there. It was a good thing we did, even though I nearly got crushed as we made our way forward, I did encounter old aquaintences Brian Orser and U.S. pair skater, Kyoko Ina, who was spectating as well. I literally bumped into Victor Kraatz, who I had not spoken with since 1998 Worlds in Minneapolis.

Kurt blew in and was, as expected, immediately swallowed by the crowd. Fortunately, I was not far away... and heard that he was looking for me, so a few kind people drew his attention my way...

Somehow, he broke free long enough to greet us with hugs and kisses...to ask how I'd been and stuff...but realizing it was getting late, and having an hour or two of autograph signing ahead of him... he suggested that he leave passes for the TV rehearsal at the arena the next day. He'd find time to talk then. He was also concerned for my safety in the crowd... So I left with instructions to be at the arena at high noon the following day. I'm sure those watching wondered how I rated such treatment... I always wonder... But on Kurt's command the crowds made a path for my exit...I'm sure they were glad to get his attention back.

On the way, out I encountered Victor Kraatz out by the payphones talking with 3 young ladies -lucky guy! I don't know how he slipped out of the reception room where he was surrounded by admiring fans...and I forgot to ask because I got so intrigued with the conversation.

Victor asked them where they went to school, what they were studying -- he even spoke of his own school days. They asked my Mom to take a photo, which of course, she did. Mom and I laughed about that, as I have known Vic for about four years... and still don't have a picture with him. He gets you so involved in conversation things like that do not occur to you until later.

Anyway, we taked about computers. I just got this one. He said he had three. A desktop, and two laptops-- a new one, and an older "beat up" one for traveling.
"Apple or PC?" Victor asked.
"PC:Gateway." I replied.
He's an apple man.

I told him I had just upgraded from WebTV. I liked it... but after a year and a half, I decided I wanted a scanner, so I just got a new system.

Victor said while he was in Lake Placid, he bought a WebTV unit for his mother. He didn't realize WebTV service did not extend to Canada. So, when he gave it to her, it was useless.

It was getting late, so I told him Kurt invited me to rehearsal...so I would see him then, and I hoped to finally meet Shae. He said if he remembered, he'd bring her over. Skaters -- especially male ones-- are not always good at remembering those things... so I never count on anything. Vic, however, had proven surprisingly dependable in the past, so there was hope. We'll see.

When we arrived at the arena, the passes Kurt promised were not there. I wasn't surprised. He is very busy... and things like this tend to get lost in the shuffle. Anyway, the security people were kind, called down to the tour office... and once someone found Kurt and checked with him there was no problem. It didn't take very long and as I said, I'm used to it.

When we got to the ice, the rehearsal was just beginning. It is interesting to watch a TV rehearsal, because it is simply an opportunity for the director to select angles and shots and for the camera operators to learn the patterning of the programs, so few jumps are done. When it was Kurt's turn to do Ain't No Sunshine somehow he noticed me, and I got a little "finger wave" during a spread eagle. Sitting at ice level things looked very different than they had they did the night before. I was able to follow the clown story much better, especically since Kurt offered a few of his own narrations along the way. Soon, intermission came, and it was time for cast and crew to take a break.

I thought that would be a good time to take my medication. Just as I was about to do so, I heard: "What's that? Medicine? It was you-know-who. I wasn't expecting him to pop up that quickly or that quietly. I should know by now. Anyway I suggested he try some, but he declined. Some friend.

Mom, then, excused herself to go to the Ladies' room. Actually, she just likes to give us time alone, since we don't see each other very often.

I thanked him for arranging my rehearsal visit. I usually get to do this in the U.S., but I thought things might be different in Canada. Kurt said it was easy and he would've done it both days, but he'd never been in that arena before and wanted to check out the wheelchair accessibility. He can be very thoughtful. Then he asked about my health, which had been fine... and our trip....which had been long for me. So, he told me about a long trip he'd made to Australia. It was Winter there at the time, so the beaches were closed.KB took a dip in the ocean, despite the rules. Big surprise. I told him travel was getting difficult for me. And so I didn't go to US Nationals or Worlds this year. He hadn't seen much of Worlds this year either... But couldn't believe the Russians swept Gold... and was extremely impressed with American Tim Goebel's Quad Salchow/Triple toe loop combination. Then Mom came back... and it was time for my buddy to get back to work...

The second half of the rehearsal went without incident, except that they decided not to go through the finale, and just tape it twice, keeping the best parts of both, which turned out to be a good thing for my buddy, as you'll read later.

When it was over, Kurt was on clean-up crew, picking up costumes and such that had been tossed aside. He tried some of his old "Red Hat" tricks with Tara Lipinski's clown hat, and actually made--- one of them. Surprisingly, the hat was too big, and kept falling off. (Tara must have more hair than either one one of us, because it was too big for me, as well.)

Kurt and I talked about the clown number, I said I enjoyed the rehearsal more, because it was hard to follow up where we were sitting the night before. The next thing I knew, KB had arranged an ice-level center seat. What a guy!!!

While Kurt was putting stuff away, I had a chance to visit with long time friends, Jenni Meno & Todd Sand They live nearby. I used to go watch them train when they were amateurs, sometimes we'd have lunch or something. I hadn't seen them in about a year, and they were surprised to see me all the way up there. They said they would be trainning at home in the Summer...and I should come by the rink. I just might.

Kurt returned and told me this was the night I just might meet his wife, Sonia Rodriguez. She was performing in Montreal, but if the planes and trains were on schedule, she'd be there.

With Dean

Then, Sandra Bezic's adorable 5 year-old son, Dean took the ice. He's a good skater.... and a hard worker! More dedicated than some. Kurt wanted to play, but Dean would have none of it. He "had to practice!" It was all KB could do to get the little guy to pose for the photo above.

Then Dean's lovely mom came by to talk business with my friend, So Mom and I made a discreet exit. We had to get Mom's glasses fixed anyway. She popped a lens earlier.

We'd be back by showtime!

Showtime arrived. And I enjoyed my front-row seat. An usher did stop by to ask "who I knew" to rate such accomodations? I just laughed. I also noticed Sonia had arrived... so I began to get nervous... After all this time... What if she didn't like me? The show began, and it took my mind off the butterflies in my stomach. It went much faster than the previous night, it seemed.

All of a sudden, intermission was here. Sonia scurried backstage to see her husband. I went into the hall for a little break myself. I watched Sandra playing on the floor with Dean...and before long act 2 was upon us. As Sonia passed, Mom and I introduced ourselves, mentioning that we had spoken on the phone once. She said she remembered. I doubt she really did. She's just a gracious lady. It was time for us to take our seats.

The biggest event of the second half was the spectacular fall Isabelle Brasseur took from a lift. She was OK for a re-take, but that had to hurt! Kurt took a stumble during the finale, but since they were doing it twice for camera angles anyway, it didn't cause an actual re-take. Kurt did host the retakes, first in a "Gretzky 99" jersey, in honor of Wayne 's last game that day, and then in his own "Browning 00" attire. It was fun, but I wanted it to be over. Saying good-bye is always difficult, never knowing when or if we'll see each other. I was preparing myself.

Finding Kurt & Sonia backstage, Kurt was eager to do the introductions. I would've let him but Sonia stopped him. I told him I thought he skated well. He said he was just praying not to do a retake. He had the reception ahead, and a 6 a.m.. flight to catch who knows where... and then had to be back to host a cast and crew party at his home the following day, before continuing with the tour. Then other friends drew his attention. That was OK. It gave me a chance to finally meet Shae-Lynn Bourne, who was as sweet and gracious as I hoped.

Kurt & Sonia walked us out. We agreed there was no point in my going to the reception. Kurt had to work there. So I thanked him for everything. He said it was "nice to have someone to hang out with. It was easy." Sonia gave me a warm hug. Kurt said: "This feels special!" They are the special ones: An elegant couple, obviously incredibly in love...and so generous with their time...and with me. I am truly blessed to know them. May God bless them always.

Special Thanks to:
The people at IMG-Toronto; the cast & crew of Chrysler Stars On Ice; and the staff at the Air Canada Centre: Wendy Kane, Sandra Bezic, Sonia Rodriguez, and,of course, Kurt Browning for all they did to make this great experience possible.