Monday, 30 September 2013

Friday Thoughts

I thought I’d park in the underground and walk to Wellington.  Fresh air and exercise before the show? Waded through the spittoon we call a sidewalk; lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth.  And I was in open-toed shoes. Panhandler outside the garage, another with his cap in hand a few feet down and a God-fearing crusader (banner in hand) at King & James. I’ve had a vision of a pedestrianized King William; fear we’ll see another Hess Village before the revitalization is complete.  Surprised that twenty-somethings were out before 8PM.  In my day, you had to sit in someone’s room ‘til 10PM while those around you drank their insecurities away.  Then they could confidently enter a club and enjoy themselves.
Would pedestrianization work on King William?  There is a mix of restaurants, clubs and coffee shops at the West end, a void of back lots, police station, long term care and Goodwill then Theatre Aquarius as the East anchor.  Hope the new Chop House at the bottom of the Lister Block fares well.  Just missed a food truck on the old Zellers lot.
Opening Night for Mouse Trap at Theatre Aquarius.  I rubbed shoulders with the benefactors; they in their heels and LBD’s, me in what turned out to be head to toe Marks Work Warehouse.  Surprising how you can dress it up, though.

Great show and I hope you’ve all sworn yourselves to secrecy on the whodunit. Sixty years and counting; must be doing something right.  I’m a big fan of Trish Lindstrom who was last here in Educating Rita.  North Americans struggle with British accents and in my next life, where I may actually win the lottery, I would contribute to a fund specifically designed to help actors master the various British dialects. There are no Cockney maids in Mouse Trap.
Good to see a full house and so many people excited about the UPCOMING SEASON .
What to do about the Fidget-Arses, the Gossips, the Candy Poppers and those that are willing to turn a cell-phone down but not quite willing to shut the thing off?  My seat mate plowed through an entire tube of Mentos in two minutes.  That gentle rustle of peeling paper in one space is amplified in a quiet theatre.  And I would say, if you’re uncomfortable in your cravat and jacket, take the jacket off.  Don’t flap the program all night long in an effort to cool off.  I know I’m not alone in this thinking.

Seeking a little apr├Ęs-theatre, decide on a wander down James.  Whatever immunity I had left after a week of cold was gone by the time I got back to the car.  Hamilton has come a long way but we need a little tweaking.  Made it as far as Barton to find most places closed or closing; the little man from the garage had found his way down James and was still looking for a quarter. 
Travelled through a lot of places in the last little bit and whether it’s a small town or corner of a capital city, the streets are clean, buildings are in good shape and the paintwork is fresh.  We’ve got to crack down on building owners to do a little maintenance every now and again.  Just reading about the latest Gore fiasco.  Surely we have to have a set of conditions in place whereby owners are given a short period of time to get the spit & polish going. Supercrawl is one thing but getting people out and about on any other night should be a goal.   

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

People Watching-Soo to the 'Peg

Destination:  Winnipeg, MB
Book: Vinyl Cafe books-Unplugged, Diaries, etc.
Film:  Highway 61
Daily km:  1471.3
Coffee & sugar units:  11
Soundtrack:  ELO, ABBA, Billie Holiday, Martha Wainwright, CBC

The dull thump of water pressure from beyond the wall served as my alarm.  It was decided to go with mid-range accommodations and even within a chain of hotels there is a great deal of variation from province to province. I hesitate to even use the word hotel with one of them, details of which will be forthcoming.  A nice B&B would be ideal but you need time to settle in to a B&B; at least three days. So in the end went with Best Western, Best Western Plus, The Glenmore Inn, and the Choice Hotels. We are not, after all, spending the day inside a hotel.  I am now a master of twelve different alarm clocks. 

The water pressure aside, a Quality Inn is not bad at all.  The Soo location affords a splendid view of a Walmart and the International Bridge.  The irony being that at the time of travelling up here, Walmart had announced that it was going to single handedly get the US economy back on its feet.  By building more stores to which they import Chinese goods?  I’m patronizing them, though.  Has anyone been in a Target since the unveiling?  I’ve been in three times and it’s been desolate each time; myself and two others.  Curious to see what will happen at Hallowe’en and Xmas.

After the usual breakfast starters, I turned my attention to the hot bar.  Bacon and scrambled eggs in copious supply. I don’t buy bacon so when it’s offered (and cooked right) I dive in.  Besides, I’d just enjoyed a bowl of BRAN so this took some edge of the guilt.  A young boy of about seven approached the table.  “Bacon!” he exclaimed.  Although it was obvious, I asked if he was a bacon fan.  “We’re bacon heads!”  Good to see kids embracing breakfast.

Now you’d think that being part of a restaurant, the breakfast room would offer guests china plates and stainless steel cutlery.  Paper and plastic it was.  Have you tried to cut bacon with a plastic knife?  Go with your fingers.  It was agony to watch a twenty-something take fifteen minutes to eat a carton of yogurt.  I’ve seen others tackle yogurt; it’s excruciating; like watching things in slow motion.  The pots are smaller than they used to be so maybe people don’t want to show themselves up by going back to the counter for seconds.  Hence, the long ordeal for the rest of us.  I digress.  Tea is always a bit of a challenge and restaurants need a little science lesson.  Fresh boiled water is essential for properly brewed tea.  “Hot Water”, as the sign claims, won’t do.  If you trust your guests with a waffle maker, then surely you can trust them with a kettle. Hmm?  Returning in ten days to the hotel at the other end of the street and we’ll see what they can do with a hot breakfast.

I actually managed to leave before checkout time.  Think the same girl was on the front desk-long days.  Note the one way streets and make sure you don’t turn onto oncoming traffic as one motorcyclist nearly did.  It was a fine morning and ideal for pictures.  Will be having a wander ‘round town next week. You will need patience with the traffic lights as you’ll be sat at a red for an eternity.  There is work afoot to get us interacting with lights. 

Bagel #1. It is essential to pit stop just outside of Wawa to gas up and take a Horton’s break.  Do not underestimate the size of Lake Superior.  Apart from the odd motel with a gas pump, there are no Services on this route.  My initial sources pegged the trip to Thunder Bay at fifteen hours.  It’s at least twenty from Hamilton.  Fifteen is doable but when you get into twenty two hours with stops, not so doable in one.   Young’s General Store offers gas and they carry just a little bit of everything inside.  Look for the large Canada goose just outside of town. 

Heavy rain and I was less than enthusiastic.  But through the rain drops, the scenery is quite marvellous.  This is hiking country so do keep an eye out for pedestrians.  Lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, and rock-everything has a little sign attached.  There was a little touch of Fall colour and it would be great to come back up month end to see the progression.  Eventually, the tree line is taken over with dense evergreen.  There are ten Provincial Parks between Soo and Thunder Bay.

I have long laboured under the expectation of heavy industry-steel mills and mining from Sudbury to Thunder Bay.  And let’s face, most Canadian films usually (or did) paint a pretty grim picture of life in the North.  It’s not the case at all.  It’s the quiet that you first notice.  So when you’re standing on a rocky cliff overlooking Superior take a moment to absorb the quiet.  A woman stopped to take in the lookout, umbrella in hand.  “We’re not going to let a little rain spoil our day?”  A boy was down in the bushes picking berries. 

Progress was slow as this was bridge repair season and we’re now down to 70kmh and one lane across the bridge.  Lots of bridges.   Waiting for a 53 footer to get in gear to take on a hill demands your patience. 

12 PM and time for Vinyl Cafe.  Story exchange from a reader who had undergone a similar Statistics experience to Dave’s daughter.  The writer was listening to that story when she was pulled over for speeding.  In her letter, she explained how she told the officer she’d just been listening to Vinyl Cafe and it turns out the officer is a fan, too.  The fine was waived. At this point, the temperature had dropped, my windows were fogging up and I was heading down a steep hill.  And lo, a police car appeared in my mirror.  I had crept up on the speedometer in my preoccupation with the defogging.  I thought to myself, I wonder if he’s a Vinyl Cafe fan.   Would I be able to write to Stuart McLean? Would I write about my encounter with the police while listening to his story about a story?  As it turned out, quotas had to be met as this was a long weekend.  But I did fare better than expected and I still had money in the bank for some rather nice meals later that week.  My letter to Stuart will have to wait.

Do keep an eye on your speed; the kmh is not consistent in this part of Ontario. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture a lot of the scenery.  Sometimes there is just nowhere to pull over (no verge or median) or it was pouring rain and foggy.  This is why you have to set up camp for a few days and get out on foot. This is not U-Turn country.  Pancake Bay, Nipigon Bay, Black Bay and finally Thunder Bay.  I was in fleece by this point.  It was bloody freezing and the wind was a cold one.  I had a cooler full of salads, boiled eggs, cheese sandwiches and ice cold water.  What I needed was hot soup.  I settled on a mass-produced burger which sat heavy.  Onwards.  If you take the south exit out of the city you’ll join Highway 61 which wends its way South out of Canada and through the US to Louisiana.  Don McKeller stars in Highway 61.  There’s a touch of that Northern bleakness I mentioned earlier. McKeller’s character helps transport a corpse (boxed and strapped to the roof of his beloved car) to New Orleans meeting a cast of eccentrics  along the way.  Good film.

The decision to press on to Winnipeg was not undertaken lightly.  I actually made good time.  Would I do it again?   Advise on taking the extra day. 

The moose warnings can cause panic is some people.  First it’s a NEXT 2KM warning sign (with the white beady eyes) then it rapidly jumps to NEXT 30km.  I avoided moose but had a close encounter with a deer that was going to take a stab at getting across the highway.  The attempt was abandoned at the last second. 

Our merry band of vehicles began its slow ascent through English River, Dryden and Kenora.  The end was in sight.  At this point you have to take the music up a notch.  Yo Yo Ma and his cello would lull you off the side of the road.  After the exceptional Martha Wainwright, the evening calls for Billie Holiday. Perfect 7PM music. Then it was ABBA and ELO.  Never been able to sing along with Abba;  I cannot manage the pitch.  Enjoyed both screen and stage versions of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  ELO is a little easier to sing along with; we need more piano and strings.

The flatness is the first thing you notice and downtown Winnipeg looms in the distance like some spaceship.  But stay off the Ring road or you’ll wind up in some northern industrial park at 1:30 AM on the eve of a long weekend.  A sign appeared for a town that does not appear on the map.  “I’m not even in Winnipeg!” I blurted.  I lost the city.  Not many people can say they lost Winnipeg.  Where did I go wrong?  My Garmin had never heard of the street I was looking for and I abandoned it.  Eventually I made it back to the core.  Ah, the one way streets of downtown.  Looks harmless, but…

Tanked up and made enquiries with the manager. I was not on North/South as thought.  But how could it be East/West?  Apparently the manager had heard it many times before.  From there, lodgings were easy to find.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”  Took the extra hour checkout and after taking in the Pea Soup odour and garish green walls, cracked open the crab and olives and had a nibble.  An hour and thirty five minutes to find my hotel.  I ask you.  One thing, though, I had gained an hour with the time zone so that’s something.

Until next time where I ask, "Might one see the sun?"

Monday, 23 September 2013

People Watching-The North

Destination: Sault St. Marie
Book:  Garbo’s Laugh
Film:  The Lives of Others
Daily km:  858
Coffee Units:  3
Soundtrack:  Pearl Jam, Sarah Vaughan & Denzel Sinclaire

No light at 5AM.  They don’t mention that in the guide book.  But, we were on the cusp on September and I was greeted by only a sliver of moonlight.  Finished loading the car and backed quietly onto the road.  It took ‘til Oakville to confirm that the overnight bag was still in the house and with it, toothbrush and deodorant.  UGH.

approaching Barrie

Fearing the construction crews would still be in full swing, drove into Burlington with some trepidation.  They were gone.  It was a treat to be on the 401 with like-minded travellers.  No lunatics weaving in and out of lanes; no one driving within a quarter inch of the bumper.  Pearson Airport traffic is generally at a stand-still; not at 6AM.  I had actually convinced myself I was still on the QEW in some Twilight Zone moment.

This was to be the first trip outside of Ontario since ’98; time to explore a little of the country.  Can you see the country in fourteen days? I opted for a little culture soaking tour of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. This would be more of a reconnaissance mission-a who, what, where of each province.  Other questions: how reliable is a CAA guide book?  How reliable is Canadian Living's foodie recommendations?   I made a list of food destinations based on these two publications.  Someone asked if I was over-planning as I’d laid out daily options for activities and meals for each of my stops.  I think a modicum of planning is good but it doesn’t mean you’re committed to anything.  Based on previous experience, I did not want a repeat of spending an hour or two deciding where to eat.
outside of Parry Sound

Afternoon Tea was essential as was pastry shops, French cuisine and pancakes done in the Finnish style. I also wanted to prove the anti-Prairie people wrong.  More on this later.  It was also essential to have ice cream on this trip.  Last year found me in Hastings County in close proximity to Kawartha Dairy ice cream but it was so cold and rainy I couldn’t bring myself to buy a cone. 

CBC for the early morning drive.  Left the Burlington Rib Fest far behind but heard tell of another in Sudbury so scheduled a detour.  A large black cloud hovered over Vaughan and then the rains came.  As you know, it is likely to be raining if I’m behind the wheel.  Somewhere to the left and right of me was farm country. Went through Barrie years ago and my only recollection of the area is a comic book store that had a fine collection of Cracked-spoof of M*A*S*H and the like.  Don’t know what became of the magazines. Thirty Thousand Islands and lots of early AM fishermen out on the banks.

The morning show continued with a BBQ and wine pairing guru and the news that TVO’s Saturday Night At The Movies would be airing its last film that night.  What are the good people of TVO thinking?  More to the point, what are The Bean Counters thinking?  CBC interviewed SNAM ex-pats who seemed like they’d been briefed by TVO’s legal counsel to say nothing controversial; reasons for SNAM’s demise was not mentioned.  So after losing Film International all those years ago, SNAM was preparing for the chopping block.  People get very gooey about movies and love a Top Ten List; try SNAM MOVIES  .  What are your favourites?  Elizabeth Hay’s Garbo’s Laugh includes a family of movie-philes who watch their favourite films over and over relishing every scene.  Really enjoyed this book and it’s my first recommendation. You cannot escape graffiti and even up here evidence of unrequited love and I Was Here abounds to say nothing of tagging.

Parry Sound in three hours. (Watch for the Orillia cut off because it will come up fast and you’re likely to miss it.) Cool and humidity coming in waves. Was in desperate need of caffeine and made a pit stop for a toothbrush and milk at the local Walmart.  Practically all my overnight accommodations had a splendid view of a Walmart parking lot.  For an effective caffeine boost, try the Tazo Chai.  Just add milk.   

The trail.  Watch your footing.

Next stretch stop was the French River.  You cannot ask for better WC facilities. So clean.  Not realizing there was a choice, most people were heading to the rustic latrines on the left-hand side.  Head a little further in land and there’s a museum, gift shop and someone to help you with all your Parks Canada needs.  There is a short but rugged trail of about 2.5km which is apparently full of Massassauga Rattlers-venomous, so reads the sign.  Time was getting on so I put the hike on the back burner.  The truck traffic is a little heavier here but manageable.

In Sudbury it’s important to stop and ask directions early on because there was no signage for the Rib Fest anywhere and you may find yourself heading West out of the city through what appears to be the Business District.  Not so.  Then you may find yourself finally crossing the Bridge of Nations but failing to make that critical left hand turn onto Elgin.  Even then, the signage was non-existent.  Eventually secured a parking space and made a B-line for the ribs.  As mentioned , Burlington’s Rib Fest was on this same weekend and it bills itself as the largest in North America.  Who would we find in Sudbury?  There were five all-Ontario contenders for top prize and I went with Jack The Ribber.  I’m not a connoisseur of ribs but I felt these were a touch on the dry side.  I wandered off to the vendor tables and found Perogy Princess-bottler of beets and cucumbers and maker of perogies. The Farmers’ Market was doing well and there was the usual classic car and motorcycle show.  Back to 17 West. 

Construction ongoing to widen #17.  Lots of on ramps and overpasses but overpasses from where?  It’s bush on either side.  I would have thought this kind of environment would be protected from dynamite.  Apparently not.  Not sure we need four lanes.

Unlike the French, the Spanish River rest stop left a great deal to be desired.  If you’re desperate and absolutely must stop, just before McKerrow is a little Provincial picnic area.  There are two washrooms but the water is no longer running and the light bulbs are burnt out.  Keep the door open a crack and you might be able to get to the toilet without walking into a wall.  I’ll leave it with you to determine how critical your need is.  Keep lots of hand sanitizer in the car at all times.  A little bit down the road are an Esso and Tim Hortons.  Hortons is busy so you might enjoy the solitude of the picnic area.  Bring a flashlight.

Took a half hour detour up to Elliot Lake.  Stopped at the Mining memorial and talked to a retiree from Ajax who was out getting some sun while reading his book.  There are 30km of trails in and around the lake and plenty of smaller lakes for boating and fishing.  There is very little in the town and I have to confess it didn’t dawn on me until much later that this was the Elliot Lake where the mall collapsed.  I saw the former sight on my travels around town but didn’t put two and two together.  There is large parcel of concrete left and the sign is still up.  Don’t know where locals are shopping as North of the town is a provincial park and south is Serpent River. This is the mining memorial on the lakefront… 

Very scenic would be an understatement.  Some nice spots along The North Channel.  The farms return within 100km of Sault St. Marie.  Cows and sheep; lots of nice barns. 

Arrived in the Soo and promptly scrubbed the last of the Spanish River off of me.  Young woman on the front desk who offered a less than enthusiastic check-in.  The front desk was the last place she wanted to be. 
Settled in for SNAM’s The Lives of Others.  Imagine if you will, life in East Germany under Stasi paranoia.  Excellent film; put it on your To Do list.  If you’re influenced by awards, I’m told it took an Oscar.  Fussed about with the alarm and settled down.  Couple of lunatics running about the halls and I was tempted to throw the door wide open, half dressed, to see what they made of that.  I was not in the mood for an arrest, however.  “Mommy, there’s a strange lady down the hall.”  I can hear it now.  But, people, do get a grip on your children.  Especially if it’s that time of day when they should be in bed. 
I’m having a T-shirt printed, I Curmudgeon.  If you can find it, recommend Alan Zweig’s documentary of same name.

Until next time (when we will actually get stopped by the police).