All posts by curtis72

30 Aug

Getting Around

As I begin my fifth week in my new home, as many of you might suspect, I continue to get around and discover the area.

Earlier this week, I headed south for my first visit to Welland, the city whose name adorns the canal that bisects the peninsula. One of these days, I need to look into why it’s called the Welland Canal and not the Thorold Canal, Port Colborne Canal or the St. Catharines Canal.

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Upon reaching the Welland Canals Recreational Trail, I did a double take when I noticed the name of this ship. When I lived in Winnipeg, my home was backing the sewage lagoon otherwise known as the Assiniboine River.

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I continued down the trail, up the escarpment through Thorold.

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Between Thorold and Welland, the terrain mercifully Saskatchewanizes and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it very much reminded me of the area around Whiteshell Provincial Park, located at the western tip of the Canadian Shield.

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On the way, I took a side trip across Bridge 11 to Allanburg.

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As those of you who know me would expect, picking up more highway pictures was the motivating factor behind this particular diversion.

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I then retraced my steps, got back on the trail and was soon in Welland.

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The Main Street Bridge, under construction.

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Canal Terrace, a nice little place to stop and look out at the Welland Recreational Waterway. Again, I kept expecting to find bums staggering around a morass of broken beer bottles, condom wrappers and other assorted presents left on the sidewalk. Old habits from Winnipeg die hard. Instead, the area was clean and perfectly well civilized.

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I made my way to Main Street and the roundabout where King’s Highway 406 ends. Standing on the sidewalk, I was able to understand the instructions on this mammoth sign, but I can imagine how motorists not familiar with the area might throw their hands up in despair trying to decipher its meaning. It is thorough, but I think someone at MTO outsmarted themselves on this one. They might have been better off applying the K.I.S.S. principle. Winnipeg has a famous intersection informally known as Confusion Corner and I think Welland just got one of its own.

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The Main Street Tunnel. I will save my first trip through it for a future visit.

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I returned through downtown and stopped for a break at the Welland Transit Terminal.

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Like Winnipeg Transit, Welland Transit also operates a “Sorry” route.

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Continuing on, I passed Welland City Hall.

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Elsewhere in downtown Welland.

As I have noticed ever since I set foot on the peninsula, the people have been very friendly and Welland proved to be no exception. However, I must have stood out as an unfamiliar sight as I got a lot of “you’re not from around here, are you” kind of looks. Which is true. Sort of.

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I returned to the trail and headed north back towards St. Catharines.

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Crossing under both spans of the 406.

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This frog was in the middle of the trail and I luckily avoided him.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit and I look forward to returning when I have a little more energy to look around more. Because of the side trips I made along the way and being an experienced cyclist well aware of my limits, I knew I was at the end of my tether. I will have to make a point of studying the Welland Visitors Guide to see what other attractions the city offers.

Later in the week, I went to the Seymour-Hannah Complex to check out the training camp of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, likely soon to be my new favorite team.

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It was an impressive facility and had four rinks. For those reading from the SPRM, it was like the ChipmanPlex. Without Chipman.

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Before heading for Rink 1, where the IceDogs were working out, I stopped at the display for the City of St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame. Of particular note for me was the name of Rudy Pilous, who was listed in the inaugural class. A Winnipeg native who had spent many years in St. Catharines, Pilous was once the coach and, later, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets during their years in the WHA. His biography at scshof.com incorrectly states that he had coached the team in 1973-1974, but he did coach the Jets the following year and subsequently served as the team’s general manager until John Ferguson dismissed him on December 15, 1978.

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Stepping inside, my nose immediately told me that much hockey had been played in this rink as the stench of decades worth of fermented sweat shot right up my nostrils. However, the rink looked very well maintained and I was stunned to see clean, padded seats on both sides of the ice. I had expected instead to see rows of bench-style seating consisting of little more than roughly chipped plywood that had not had contact with the end of a paint brush in the last quarter century. Again, that was the cynic in me that many decades of living in Winnipeg brings to the surface.

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Action between the red and black teams. I was a little curious as to why they were sporting jerseys with the OHL logo rather than that of the IceDogs. Perhaps that’s one of those things I’ll learn as my fandom builds. While watching, I really didn’t know who many of the players were, but again, I’ll learn.

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The IceDogs braintrust, I presume.

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I noticed this ad on the boards and it was another pleasant reminder that I no longer live in Winnipeg. According to the Winnipeg police, if you are walking down a street and are hit and nearly killed by a car pulling out of a driveway, it is not a reportable offense. You can imagine how they would react to something as comparatively trivial as graffiti.

In my first real foray into the world of junior hockey, I was surprised to see so few young, female admirers fawning over their favorite players/would-be boyfriends. When I followed the Manitoba Fighting Moose during their years in the AHL, watching the fanatical behavior of these groupies/puck bunnies proved almost as entertaining as the games themselves. Perhaps that will come when the puck drops for real.

I didn’t stay all that long, but I am eagerly anticipating the junior hockey experience. Unlike the case in Winnipeg, where junior hockey barely registered on the radar even when they had a team, smaller communities such as St. Catharines really seem to rally around their team. This new fan experience intrigues me as much as any future action on the ice and the seeds of a future novel have already been planted. Our MP seems to have dibs on “Hockey Night in St. Catharines,” so I’ll probably call it something else.

A couple of days later, I rode out to Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the way there, I went out of my way to take Niagara Stone Road. It isn’t a route I would normally choose or recommend due to the high volume of traffic, but the opportunity to get some shots of the former King’s Highway 55 was the reason I went that way. There was at least a paved shoulder to keep me a reasonable distance away from passing cars and trucks.

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I know it’s a lousy picture, but this particular sign on Queenston Street struck me, one that obviously dates back to when Niagara Stone Road was King’s Highway 55. After the route was downloaded to the region, they must have simply stuck a regional marker over the provincial marker, leaving the rest of the sign intact. Even though it has clearly seen better days, the sign still serves its purpose and common sense dictated that it did not need to be replaced entirely.

In the SPRM, they adopt a much different approach. Evidently flush with cash, the province has been on a search-and-destroy mission over the past few years to replace signs such as this at a dizzying pace and for no apparent reason. In a case like this, crews would be out either repainting or replacing the entire sign, most likely on a Sunday or holiday to rack up overtime. Click here for a glaring example of how this practice works in the SPRM.

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Entering the Greenbelt. Oddly, the sign is in blue. Perhaps it should be the Bluebelt.

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The Great Mountain Center, one of the places along the route that offers grape and wine tours. This one also offers locally-grown ginseng and tea.

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I soon reached the community of Virgil.

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Crossing Four Mile Creek.

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At East and West Line, cyclists like me can take advantage of a shared pathway and get off the road.

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Picard’s Country Store, where you can buy Ontario-grown peanuts.

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I had to pull off the road and get this shot. On this specific day, on the occasion of the four-week anniversary of my defection from the SPRM and arrival in St. Catharines, I spotted an SPRM flag and a New Brunswick flag on the same pole. Immediately to my right as I took this shot was a Beemer.

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Not far from this spot was Anne Street.

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Later in the outing, I would spot this “C” on the ground near the spot where I took a particularly nice picture.

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During a break, I would also spot this Whirlpool Jet. Number 5.

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Across the river was the number 5 on this communication tower.

As always, I knew I was not alone. Some of you will understand. Most of you will not.

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I continued on into the Historic Old Town, a place I am quickly becoming very fond of.

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A clever sign.

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One of the many fashionable dwellings along the lake.

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Scenes in Ryerson Park.

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Niagara Boulevard.

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I got another shot of the floral display honoring the United Empire Loyalists. When I got there, there were two women taking turns snapping pictures of each other, so I offered to take a shot of the two of them together. Sadly, the only words of English they spoke were, “I’m sorry, we don’t speak English.” Nonetheless, through the use of some clever charades, I got my point across and they gratefully accepted my offer. I hope the shots I took worked.

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The post office. As I understand, this is the correct spelling of the town’s name, yet I would later find this sign that has a capital “O” and capital “T” in the “on” and “the,” respectively:

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I know I’m being a little petty here, but the town ought to spell its own name correctly.

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One of the many bed and breakfasts in town. It seems like there’s one on every street corner.

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Overlooking New York State as I stop for a break. I know you’ve heard this before, but I could get used to this.

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Visitors from Wisconsin. Or as they say, “Wiscahnsin,” in their catchy accent. If you haven’t recognized the symbol, the picture I use on both my Facebook and Twitter profiles is a Wisconsin state trunk highway sign.

These are just the latest in a series of adventures over the course of the more than 300 miles I’ve racked up on two wheels during my first month here. No doubt, there’s more on the way. Stay tuned.

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.

15 Aug

Hockey Night in St. Catharines

Last night, I attended Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the fifth annual such event in support of the United Way of St. Catharines and District. It is not an event I would normally have attended, but it was a way of taking the first baby steps to becoming part of my new home city. It also allowed me to see some former WHA players in addition to those who played in another major league, many of whom I have not seen for a decade or more.

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The game took place at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, a.k.a. Jack Gatecliff Arena, now, with the completion of the Meridian Center, the former home of the Niagara IceDogs.

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I was one of the first to arrive and I got some pictures around the seating area.

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The flags along with a picture of the Queen at one end. Ironically, the Winnipeg Arena, a building that saw my shadow hundreds of times, was famed for its long-standing picture of the Queen that hung in the south end before being moved across the rink once the Jets moved from the WHA into another major league. Unlike the picture that hung in the Arena, the Queen is sporting a cheeky grin, much like the one on my face when my one-way WestJet flight was taking off from Winnipeg two weeks ago.

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The banners honoring the Memorial Cup champion St. Catharines Tee Pees. The 1953-1954 Tee Pees were led by Rudy Pilous, who would later spend many years with the WHA Jets. Pat Stapleton, a former longtime major pro player and a wonderful man whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, was a member of the 1959-1960 team.

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Before the game, Rick Dykstra, our MP, was circling the ice sporting a blue jersey with the Conservative logo.

After the warmups, it was time to introduce the players.

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Former WHA player Dave Gorman.

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Former Winnipeg Jet Bill Derlago.

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Dave McLlwain, another former Jet. Mark Osborne, playing for the red team, would make it a threesome of ex-Jets.

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MP Rick Dykstra.

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Steve Ludzik, a former pro player and someone who I last saw behind the bench of the Detroit Vipers of the late, great IHL. The woman circling the stands selling raffle tickets for the free WestJet flights and wearing one of his jerseys said that Detroit was “about four moves ago.” She also mentioned that Darren Banks, one of Ludzik’s former players with the Vipers, was playing for the red team. For those who don’t know, I followed the IHL for several years and the subject of my next book will be my experiences with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose. Pro hockey’s most unwanted team, its owner/president/general manager/head coach and its handful of supporters will be dissected with heavy doses of humor and sarcasm.

Interestingly, coaching the red team was former WHA player Jim Dorey. Like me, Dorey is also a member of the WHA Hall of Fame advisory board. For those interested in the history of the WHA, I encourage you to visit WHAHOF.com and, specifically, the database section that represents countless hours of research on my part.

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Former pro great Phil Esposito did the honors for the ceremonial opening faceoff. I found it odd that a security guard packing body armor followed him out to center ice. This is St. Catharines, not Winnipeg.

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O Canada being performed by Antonella Cavallaro.

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Al “Stomach Muscles” Secord chats with referee Ron Hoggarth. Hoggarth had a microphone with him all night and did his best to entertain the crowd, but I found it a bit much after a while. Having seen him work many Jets games at the Winnipeg Arena, it seems like he hasn’t changed a bit.

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During the first intermission, Hoggarth took his act into the stands. Later in the intermission, he had Kraig Nienhuis sing a little of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I know one reader will appreciate the reference as it relates to my late uncle.

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Second period action. The game itself, as one would expect, was little more than an organized pillow fight with all the intensity of a Jets-Oilers playoff game from the 1980s. Sorry, old grudges die hard.

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“Bones”, the IceDogs’ mascot made appearances throughout the stands. On this occasion, he was dangling a woman’s purse over the boards and put on a show as he rifled through it. I didn’t find all that funny, but maybe it’s just me.

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The post-game handshake.

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Our MP holds up a ceremonial check for $182,329.00, the amount raised at the event.

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Both teams gather for one last picture.

All in all, it was an interesting evening and I’m glad I went. I’m looking forward to October when the puck drops for real at the Meridian Center.

10 Aug

Discovering New Surroundings

As you can imagine, my first week in St. Catharines has been hectic, to say the least. However, I have managed to find the time to get out on two wheels and explore some sights in and around my new home city.

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Soon after my bike arrived from the degenerate capital of the SPRM, I took a run up to Port Dalhousie, where 12 Mile Creek, the original Welland Canal, meets Lake Ontario. Having seen it briefly during my exploratory trip last September, I was anxious to check it out upon settling here. I would not be disappointed.

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The marina.

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For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, I can describe it as a cross between Gimli and Duluth. Except better. Those who know me know that Gimli, the tiny cottage community nestled along the shore of Lake Winnipeg, will always hold a special place in my heart and now I can get a reminder of it almost within walking distance of my front door. I could get used to this. Quickly.

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The Riverboat Mexican Grill. Sorry, but as they say in Texas, El Paso. Those of you who know me know that I am not gastronomically adventurous on land or on the water.

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The lighthouse on the east side.

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A swan feeding.

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Looking out towards Lake Ontario.

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And, of course, a spelling error. Bad spellers of St. Catharines are now officially under “surveilance.”

On Saturday, I headed east towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, rightly named the prettiest town in Canada. One of the real estate agents who we met with on our visit last year took us around the old town area and it was one of the first places I wanted to visit once I returned permanently. Once again, I would not leave disappointed.

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Waiting for a ship to pass at Lakeshore Road.

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Peach and pear trees along East and West Line and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.

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I guess you can call me a Niagara Nut.

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Jackson-Triggs Winery.

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I made for the Historic Old Town and toured the streets near the riverbank.

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A floral display commemorating the United Empire Loyalists.

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The Charles Inn.

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The Old Bank House.

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The Prince of Wales Hotel.

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Scenes from Queen’s Royal Park. Across the Niagara River is Fort Niagara State Park.

Unbeknownst to me, the annual Peach Festival was taking place, so I parked my bike at one of the many racks in town and walked along Queen Street.

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One of the exhibitors along the street was the Niagara Historical Society and Museum. This, along with the St. Catharines Museum at Lock 3, will be places I will be visiting soon so I can learn more about the history of the area.

I didn’t know how lucky I was that I was there so early in the morning. Later in the afternoon, crowds kept pouring into the tiny community.

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A line of cars headed for the festival. Sadly, there was nowhere left for them to park.

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Wanting to explore a little more, I headed south along the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail towards Queenston.

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Scenes along the trail.

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Youngstown, New York. All the way down the trail, you can look out to your left and see the USA. With a slight easterly wind, I was even able to breathe some American air. I know one reader in particular will be especially jealous.

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The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Or the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, depending on which side of the border you are on.

The pathway was relatively deserted in the morning, but coming back in the afternoon, it was the cyclists’ equivalent of being on the QEW near the site of the recent Burlington Skyway closure. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised how well the trail users made it work. With some rare exceptions, courtesy and respect were in abundance. Many loyal readers know how effusive with praise I have been over the courtesy shown by the trail users in the Twin Cities. If anything, it was even better here. There were no unleashed dogs, I was not sworn at, threatened with bodily harm, swung at or dragged off my bike, like I have been in Winnipeg. This is definitely not the SPRM and I couldn’t be happier to leave the hatred and vitriol that permeated every nook and cranny of Greg Selinger’s sovereign republic behind.

One anonymous person from the SPRM who commented on one of my recent postings said that Ontario would eat me alive. If this is what being eaten alive is all about, Ontario is quite welcome to keep gobbling away at me.

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One of the many sights along the way.

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There were many parks with clean washrooms along the route. Inside each of them, I noticed this sign by the sinks. I can’t say I had been planning to wash my feet in the sink, but it’s good to know that they don’t allow it just in case I got the sudden urge. Thank you, Niagara Parks, for the heads-up.

Upon reaching Queenston, I saw a familiar sight.

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Green is the color, football is the game. We’re all together and winning is our aim. So cheer us on in the sun and rain. Saskatchewan Roughriders is our name. For the benefit of the husband of one reader, please do not throw anything at your monitor.

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I was ready for a break and the Queenston Heights Park provided such an opportunity. I was a little worn out after climbing the steep hill and you can take it from me that they don’t call it “Heights” for nothing.

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I wasn’t too bushed to notice this sticker on the back of the above sign. I suspect someone stuck it there as a joke, but it was interesting to see a USPS Priority Post sticker on the back of a Canadian highway sign. It’s one way to ensure the sign was delivered to the right location, since Canada Post can hardly be trusted.

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Hopefully someday soon, I will be one of those cyclists heading to the USA for an adventure on the east bank of the Niagara River.

The park itself was beautiful and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it reminded me of the Peace Gardens south of Boissevain.

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Butler’s Rangers.

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The monument to General Brock.

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Looking north from the scenic overlook near the monument.

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The fountain.

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I returned along the same path, but before returning home, I stopped at Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm, a little petting zoo as part of a scenic park along the shore of Lake Ontario, located east of the canal.

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One of the goats.

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Poultry.

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More poultry.

There is a nice walking path that follows the lake and I will be sure to explore more of it in a return visit.

My first week here has left me feeling so thankful to have been blessed with the courage and conviction to leave Winnipeg and come to St. Catharines. I look forward to exploring more of my new home in the weeks and months to come.

04 Aug

A Triumphant Return to St. Catharines

In the words of the General Douglas MacArthur, I have returned. Not to the Philippines, but to St. Catharines. I was impressed with what I saw during my exploratory so-called “business trip” last year and now I’m back to stay.

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Welcome to my city.

As promised, here are the details of the move two years in the planning that, at times, I never thought was actually going to happen. Time seemed to stand still over the past year, yet as moving day approached, it sped up so fast that hours seemed like seconds. As you can imagine, so much was happening that the task of moving became overwhelming. Over the past few days and weeks, I was often reminded of the line I heard on a documentary describing the home front in the U.S. during the conflict in Vietnam, “America lived through more history than it could digest.” I think this line might apply to anyone who attempts a major move such as this.

After moving out of our old house, one that we had occupied for 15 years, we spent two nights at the Hilton near the airport before flying out on Friday.

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I took note that they had a meeting room named for a former USFL player. Ironically, Bruce Laird of the Arizona Wranglers played in the 1984 Championship Game opposite Ken Dunek of the Philadelphia Stars, who is one of my Twitter followers.

For the most part, it was an enjoyable stay. There was a barking dog in an adjacent room, but they moved us and there were no further problems. The room was spacious and clean, the restaurant was surprisingly good, but the petty charges for parking your car and making local calls left a bad taste in our mouths. I left comments to that effect when asked by the Hilton for a review and also posted a review to tripadvisor.ca. In retrospect, we should not have been surprised by the nickel and diming. It is, after all, Winnipeg.

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I needed no more evidence of that fact after spotting this classic sight across from the hotel. This shot might very well end up as the cover image of the book I am currently working on. Take pride, Winnipeg, indeed.

Interestingly, the tow truck driver who picked up our car for shipping couldn’t stop gushing about St. Catharines when he heard we were moving there. He had recently moved to Winnipeg from the Center of the Universe and offered yet another glowing recommendation of the area. When offered the keys to the club for the steering wheel, he declined and said, “You won’t need that in St. Catharines.” Quite the change from the auto theft capital of the Western world.

Bright and early Friday morning, we couldn’t wait to make a run for the airport. We were so anxious that we left some stuff behind in the fridge, but I guess that’s to be expected. It was again ironic that the shuttle driver who took us from the Hilton to the airport was also was looking to move to St. Catharines and had been trying to get a transfer. In the words of the late Richard Dawson, I detect a trend developing.

We breezed through security and had plenty of time to make a stop at Tim Hortons and check some e-mail. My Twitter followers can easily guess which post I made from the airport.

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In a way, I was envious of this poor soul. Understandably, I didn’t sleep very well in my last night in the SPRM.

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I checked the boards to see what gate we were leaving from, but I should have known better and just gone directly to Gate 5. You may understand. You may not.

During the wait, I noticed the seeds of a pair of future human rights complaints. First, in the airport chapel, the only brochures there were for Christian denominations. Later, I noticed only male and female washrooms.

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There were no gender-neutral washrooms for people who identify with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Where’s this spirit of inclusion that socialists are so fond of trumpeting? Shameful, indeed. Or not.

A battalion of paramedics came rushing to meet a teenage girl who was being wheeled off an incoming flight. After they attended to her, she seemed to be all right. Perhaps she just had a panic attack once she realized that she was about to touch down in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

I noted with interest that a QuebAir pilot asked to visit his brother, who was flying the WestJet plane we were taking. After they let him pass, the WestJet staffers remarked how odd it was that the brother of a WestJet pilot was flying for the “reds.”

At last, it was time to board. After all the passengers of the sold-out flight were seated, the flight attendant undoubtedly set a personal best for the time taken to read the canned speech about safety. This just in. There is no point to making the speech if no one can understand you.

Just before the plane began taxiing out to the runway, an ad for Smarties popped up on the screen in front of my seat. Once again, I knew I wasn’t flying alone. You may understand. You may not.

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Tears of joy filled my eyes as I caught a glimpse of the Winnipeg skyline for the last time. This is the only city that I had ever lived in during the many decades I have walked the face of the Earth and as much as I will miss the dear friends I was leaving behind, I will not miss the city. I thought back to my Grade 12 English class when the teacher asked for a show of hands as to who planned to stay in Winnipeg. I was only one of three or four who put up their hands. Now, so many years later, I was among those who were leaving.

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We took off down the newly refurbished runway to the north and I got what would be my last shot of a Manitoba highway. If you don’t recognize it, this is PTH 190, Winnipeg’s newest “expressway,” complete with traffic lights and a railway crossing just before a railway overpass.

Soon after leaving Greg Selinger’s sovereign airspace and crossing into my new home province, I set my watch one hour ahead from Central Daylight Time to Central Universe Time.

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It was cloudy much of the way, but I got this shot of King’s Highway 17 somewhere between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie.

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As we approached the Center of the Universe, my heart nearly skipped a beat when the flight attendant announced that we were making our descent into Winnipeg. Egad! I don’t want to go back. Ever. I think she quickly realized her mistake, but she didn’t bother to correct herself.

Once the plane reached the terminal, we had an excruciatingly long wait as the people in front of us were in no hurry to get off. These were many of the same people in Winnipeg who were tripping over each other in a big hurry to get on. I swear we spent longer waiting to get off the plane than we did in the air. Normally, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the delay, but we were pressed for time since we had to pick up the keys at the lawyer’s office by 5:00. Furthermore, there had been a crash on the QEW that had shut down the C.U.-bound lanes on the Burlington Skyway. Even though we were going in the opposite direction, I figured that the Niagara Airbus schedules would be thrown way off kilter.

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Fortunately, we got on a bus within 15 minutes of our arrival at the desk and traffic was moving smoothly.

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The only exception was on the skyway when motorists slowed down to get a glimpse of the crash scene.

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On the way home.

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Entering the Greenbelt.

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Welcome to the Regional Municipality of Niagara.

En route, I had a nice little chat with our driver, Paul, while snapping pictures soon to appear on a Web site near you. He told me an interesting story about how accident rates plummeted after the former NDP government introduced photo radar, then rose again once the Liberals removed it. I told him how photo radar in Winnipeg was simply used a cash grab and a substitute for law enforcement instead of part of an effective road safety strategy.

Paul had someone else to pick up, so he dropped most of us off at the Vineland car pool location and Fran took us the rest of the way to St. Catharines. When heading down the 406, she went one exit too far and had to double back because she was listening to the signals from her GPS instead of the signals from her brain. Of course, I noticed that she didn’t get off at the proper exit, but I didn’t say anything because I thought she was dropping off the other group before us. She candidly admitted her mistake and told me the other group was headed for “Nig Falls.”  That awkward abbreviation for Niagara is far too close to a word not terribly high on the political correctness scale and I hope she has the good sense to simply use “The Falls” in future instead.

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Almost immediately after touching down at the Avis car rental office on St. Paul Street, a “642” license plate passed by.

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I would later spot this truck from New Brunswick a block away from our house.

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Also nearby, this pet store was offering Siberian Huskies for sale.

Once again, I knew I was not alone and that I had a dear friend with me in my new home city. You may understand. You may not.

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At the car rental place, I also noticed this sign alerting passers-by that you won’t need to be “empting” your wallet. I was hoping St. Cathariners would be able to spell better than Winnipeggers. On this point, early returns would not be positive. During my first four days in St. Catharines, I would spot a total of five such signs. Among them are as follows:

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School “unforms” are “availble.”

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For all your car “maintenence” needs.

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Too bad the insect “controll” products are not included.

As they were getting the car ready, a young woman passed by sporting a skimpy halter top that might have fit her properly prior to her recent surgery that augmented a pair of body parts. Emblazoned on the fabric stretched so tightly that any sudden movement would undoubtedly cause it to rip was “Guess?” Ah, such class. For the record, the answer is silicone. Or saline. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with the material they use in implants these days. She could have been strapping a couple of bottles of Elmer’s glue to her chest for all I know.

Fortunately, the rest of my early experiences in the Garden City would be much more positive.

We got the keys from the lawyer and walked into our new house. It was spotless inside and the previous owner left us with a nice card.

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Toto, we’re not in the SPRM anymore.

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Our agent, Diane Walker (no relation), came by the next day and also gave us a nice card along with a big fruit basket to welcome us to St. Catharines. She was very helpful during the entire process and I would like to publicly thank her for all her efforts. For my friends who have expressed an interest in joining me in relocating to the Garden City, I can offer a strong endorsement.

Touring the rest of the house for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice this:

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There indeed was a “satalite” dish atop the house and, fittingly, it was a DirecTV dish. Many readers who I had the pleasure of working with at the Division for DirecTV Viewing Locally will understand the significance.

The previous owner also left us with a religious pamphlet. Apparently she is one of group of people who have witnessed something. I think most readers can figure out the rest.

The house is at the end of a cul-de-sac and the neighborhood is deathly quiet. There were no drug transactions, no booming noise coming from a nearby park and no one was outside pissing on the street. Everyone in the area seems quite friendly. I could get used to this.

Not that it’s right to let down your guard, but I feel so much safer here, not just because of the neighbourhood, but because of the community itself. It won’t be perfect here and I don’t expect it to be, but all indications continue to point to everything being much better than they were in Winnipeg. I know many of my friends in Winnipeg were jealous of my move and I’m happy to make you even more green with envy.

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The view outside my room. The previous owner once had frogs in there, but the neighbor complained of the noise, so she got rid of them.

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for most of our stuff to arrive from the SPRM, but in the meantime, I’ve had a little chance to do some exploring.

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Fairview Mall, one of the two major malls in St. Catharines, informally doubles as the city’s largest nursing home. The food court is often filled cliques of seniors gathered together over cups of coffee from McDonald’s or Java Joe’s. It sure beats sharing the mall with marauding gangs of hoodlums or teenage princesses looking to add some more poundage to their wardrobe.

The Wal-Mart there was open at 7:00 am. On a Sunday. On a long weekend. Any merchant who dared to try such a thing in the SPRM would probably be locked up.

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Not that I’ve checked at Winnipeg Wal-Marts, but I doubt they would leave such large quantities of torch fuel on the shelves there. Being an arsonist ranks in the top 10 of Winnipeg’s most popular occupations. Maybe even top five.

At the other end of the mall is a nice Zehr’s supermarket. When I was in line, the clerk was breaking open a roll of coins and dropped some on the floor. When he got back up, he joked that he had just thrown some money away. I replied, “You’ve got a career in politics ahead of you.” Kathleen Wynne has probably already personally invited him to join the Liberal Party of Ontario.

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Monarch Park, one of the spots I covered last year.

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This shot is for one friend in particular.

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The sign at the head of the Welland Canals Trail. Rules are posted for General Trail Users, but none are posted for fans of other USFL teams.

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A ribbon with “Love” imprinted on it. It sure beats a bottle of piss accompanied by an “F-you” from a passer-by.

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It’s nice to see them honor the greatest goaltender in Winnipeg Jets history.

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A scooter on the sidewalk, not the road. This is a sight you would not see in the SPRM.

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For the benefit of one reader, a monument to the Polish pioneers. Evidently, I am unknowingly acting as my friend’s agent in following them around. But I’m sure it’s OK. It’s not a big deal. Sniff, sniff. Boo hoo. He will understand. The rest of you won’t.

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Designated for what?

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Most people don’t have as much in their car as this guy is balancing on his bike. I see an accident waiting to happen.

There’s still a long ways to go before I’m settled, but for now, I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that, at last, I am truly at home.

02 Aug

Touchdown St. Catharines

After a hectic and stressful week, I am back online speaking to you from my new home in the Garden City of St. Catharines. I know many of you who know me are anxious to hear more details and I’ll post them in the coming days. For now, I am thrilled to be a new St. Cathariner and I look forward to beginning the next phase of my life here.

26 Jul

One Last Tour of Winnipeg

Touring Winnipeg for one last time today
Only made me wish I had already flown away

The variety of debris on the streets I did not miss
Including broken glass, a condom wrapper and a bottle of piss

Profanity fills the air, it’s all around
Some even take the time to write it on the ground

A bum stands in the middle of traffic using a ski pole like a cane
Another spreads across the trail getting in his push-ups before it does rain

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A car with Minnesota plates parks outside a hotel called Mere
For the love of Pete™, what are they doing here?

A cyclist approaching a stop sign neither signals nor stops
If only the city had some real cops

They flaunt their authority to me and you
Their motto is “Do as we say not as we do”

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Another hole poorly marked and not well lit
You’ll likely only see the sign after you hit it

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Someone digs through a garbage bin hunting for buried treasure
Or a cigarette butt that might give him a few seconds of pleasure

What will I do without seeing any of this ever again?
Rest assured I won’t miss much of this city on the plain

24 Jul

Goodbye, Manitoba

Now that my upcoming move is official, for those of you who are not already aware, I can announce that I will be soon be pulling up stakes and leaving the only city and province I have ever called home.

My reasons for leaving the SPRM are numerous and could fill a novel that would make War and Peace look like a short story. It is a novel I do not wish to write. Rather than belabor the negative, I would instead prefer to focus on the many positive memories and friendships I have made during my time in this part of the world. For those of you who know me, please know that your friendship has meant a great deal to me over the years and it is one of the very few reasons that makes my decision to leave the SPRM difficult.

There are also many sights and places I will miss. Gimli. The bike rides to Lockport and Selkirk. Fraser’s Grove Park. Deacon’s Corner. Headingley. The White Horse. The memory garden at Grace Hospice. The bus trips around Manitoba and to Minneapolis.

Though I am saddened by the prospect of never seeing these places again, I am eagerly looking forward to discovering my new surroundings. Niagara beckons and I will soon be speaking to you from the Garden City of St. Catharines, Ontario. Good bye to my many dear friends and please keep in touch, as I will with you. I will soon have a new title for this blog, where I will continue posting updates as I cover the Niagara Region and surrounding area.

17 Jul

Bidding Adieu to Gimli

On Wednesday, I was part of a bus tour along with 33 other passengers and passengerettes for what was, in all probability, my last visit to Gimli. Many of you who know me understand the strong emotional tie I have to the little cottage community nestled along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. I was looking forward to going, but I was not looking forward to the return trip.

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I arrived early at our pickup point at the Holiday Inn, formerly the Red River Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn and waited for the bus. While waiting, I was talking with a couple from Mississauga who decided to go on this day trip to Gimli in the midst of their first-ever visit to this part of the world. I was telling them about Gimli and some of the sights they might like to check out and they sounded like lifelong Winnipeggers as they grilled me on how much it cost to get into each of the attractions. I could just hear the flock of birds circling overhead squawking, “cheap, cheap, cheap.”

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After the bus came, a couple of health care professionals pulled up nearby.

Following the second pickup, we were on our way north and Al, our driver, took PTH 8 north, the faster of the two major routes. As I learned, Al was short for “All Business.” Most drivers on these trips are very personable and outgoing. Not so with Al. He was, however an outstanding driver. Unlike so many others I’ve had, he kept his eyes on the road and was alert at all times. I would only hope to get him again.

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Interlake – Inland Oceans, Infinite Possibilities. This sign appears on all major highways heading into the Interlake region.

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The “exits” to Gimli. Seeing this and similar signs elsewhere in the SPRM always make me laugh. I-94 has exits. Pokey two-lane Manitoba highways have turnoffs.

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An hour after our departure, we were in Gimli. After a bathroom break at the Lakeview, I set out on my four-hour journey.

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Waterfront Center.

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A visit to Gimli is not complete without a visit to the Viking Statue, which is due for a refit.

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The Icelandic Air Force was patrolling the shoreline.

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My first destination was Moonlight Bay, located in South Beach. Given that I was there on a weekday, I had hoped to find it unoccupied, as I often have on past trips, but alas, there was a collection of rowdy teenagers there whooping it up. The fact that dogs are expressly prohibited on the beach didn’t prevent them from bringing theirs. Even though I was far away from Winnipeg, it was yet another reminder that I was still in the SPRM, where the rule of law and common decency are so often flagrantly disregarded.

Moving on, I went west towards PTH 9/Seventh Avenue.

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Savage’s Sugar Shack.

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South Colonization Road. Not to be confused with North Colonization Road. Or Colonization Road.

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The familiar lighthouse near Shelley D’s at the intersection of PTH 9 and South Colonization Road that greets visitors on their way in.

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The flags were already up in preparation for the upcoming Islendingadagurinn, the annual Icelandic Festival that I attended last year for the first time.

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Welcome to Gimli.

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Sounds like a good idea.

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Gimli Park Road, which is at the opposite end of town from Gimli Park.

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Near the corner of Sixth Avenue and Roddy-S Drive was a Manulife agent offering some terrific rates on a savings account and a GIC. I don’t think any financial institution can beat 245% on a five-year GIC. I’m surprised this agent wasn’t beating off prospective investors with a stick.

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“Surley” common sense should include consulting a dictionary.

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The old bus stop. The Grey Goose sign is still there, despite the fact that bus service to Gimli has long since been discontinued.

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Moving north, I stopped at Gimli High School for a while. As many of you who know me are well aware, this is one of the schools that the late Carli Ward once attended and one of the places she visited during the last months of her life when she was a resident of Grace Hospice.

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Before leaving later in the day, I also made sure to go past the office of MLA Peter Bjornson, who was one of Carli’s teachers.

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Continuing on, I made my way to Gimli Junction.

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I spotted this blue straw in nearby Gimli Park, which is similar to the ones given by P.E.T.R.O.-Canada for their slurpees. Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.

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In two weeks time, this tranquil park will become a midway for Islendingadagurinn.

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A river of sludge along North Fifth Avenue, not far from the intersection of Fifth Avenue. No, this is not the Love Canal.

Returning south, I decided to take a stroll along the beach. This stroll would prove to be, well, interesting.

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For starters, I spotted this guy busily tapping away on his iPad. Why bother coming to the beach if you’re just going to spend the time with your electronic toys?

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Care for some “Kool-aide”? How about a “Revele”? Or perhaps some “lemanade”? Top it all off with an ice cream “sandwhich”? Remedial spelling is in order for someone.

As I headed for the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but think of the often grotesque images at PeopleOfWalmart.com as I spotted two examples of beachgoers who should seriously reconsider their decision to put so much of themselves on display.

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Cleavage. From the back. Oy.

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Is he about to give birth? Twins, maybe?

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Mercifully, I made it back to the main dock before taking a tour of the harbor area.

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An artistette paints a mural.

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Boats in the harbor.

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Direct from Artesia.

Since I had a little time to spare, I took a walk down Centre Street for one last time.

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Seeds of your future garage sale.

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Golko’s Hardware.

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Check out these antique “cateloges.”

With my time in Gimli coming to a rapid conclusion, it was time to re-board the bus. The four hours I had spent on the ground seemed like five minutes. Before leaving, our driver asked for a show of hands if anyone wanted to stop and buy some smoked fish. Three of the 34 passengers raised their hands. He then asked how many people wanted to stop at the Half Moon in Lockport for ice cream. Five people raised their hands.

“Majority rules,” he said. Two vocal people then complained, so he gave in to this NDP-style majority and decided that we’re stopping anyways. Fortunately, we escaped a frivolous stop at the fish place because they had no fresh fish left, but he would take us to the Half Moon against the express wishes of the overwhelming majority of the passengers.

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Before leaving Gimli, we were treated to a skateboarding display from some teenager on Centre Street. Of all the streets in town to hone his skills on, this is easily the busiest and the one where he is most likely to get hit. Like so many law- and logic-defying joggers in Winnipeg, however, if he was in a less-travelled location, he wouldn’t be noticed. That’s why he’s out there.

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At the Half Moon, I disembarked just to use the washroom and take this picture. The day’s adventure came to an end with our return to Winnipeg shortly thereafter. Gimli is a place I will miss, but I have plenty of fond memories from my many visits over the years to fall back on.

09 Jul

Farewell Tour of the Twin Cities

This past weekend, I was one of 30 passengers on a bus tour to the Twin Cities. The official purpose of the tour was to see the Yankees battle the Twins at Target Field, but I took my bike and instead used the time to tour the area once again on two wheels. Despite the sweltering heat, I would put on nearly 85 miles over the two days I was there.

During the four-day adventure, many others on the bus kept asking me if I made it to the games at all. Though there was a time when I was such a passionate baseball fan that I would regularly take a day off work to observe Opening Day, I attended neither game. I haven’t actually watched a baseball game since 2007.

I got on bright and early on Friday morning as the bus made various stops to pick up passengers. At one stop, our tour director had to call a couple of passengers who were late. It turned out they were sitting in the nearby McDonald’s and didn’t see the bus pull up.

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I can certainly understand that a bus of this size would be hard to spot.

At the Salisbury House on Pembina Highway, my heart nearly skipped a beat as I saw Dave, our driver, come on board to relive the driver who came from Brandon. He was the driver we had two years earlier who, as loyal readers may recall, put us in mortal peril with his many man-made distractions on the road. This time around, however, he was much more attentive and there were no major incidents.

Speeds were down to 80 km/h for a while as road work was going on north of Morris. PTH 75 is one of the worst highways in the province and badly needs the work, yet the government propaganda sign before the start of the construction reads, “Steady Growth, Good Jobs,” as if this is just a job-creation scheme instead of vital road maintenance.

We picked up the last six passengers in Morris. We first pulled up next to Motown Motors before moving on to Burke’s Restaurant.

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Does this mean they take ½ hour off each day or that it will take them 23½ hours to get to you?

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Hopefully the six of them enjoyed the “karaokee” while waiting.

With everyone aboard, our tour director gave us his usual spiel, skipping his time-honored line “if I can leave my wife behind, I can leave you behind.” It was likely not a coincidence that his wife was sitting across the aisle from him. Nonetheless, I’m quite familiar with the spiel, having gone with him six times previously. I’m surprised he doesn’t end it with the line, “this has been a recording.”

Once we reached the border, I took note of the new traffic light in front of the duty free store on the Canadian side. I swear there are more traffic lights per capita in the SPRM than anywhere else in the Western world. In a way, I suppose it’s fitting to put another one in as one last reminder of the province travellers about to leave.

Since we were travelling on Independence Day, I was expecting the third degree at U.S. Customs. When crossing the border in 2008, one day after September 11, all of us faced a higher level of scrutiny than normal. Luckily, it turned out to be the exact opposite. For the first time, I wasn’t asked any questions and it seemed like they couldn’t get rid of us fast enough.

Within minutes of crossing the border, our tour director put on his first movie of the trip. This one featured a bunch of older men chasing after young women in bars and strip clubs. I wish I had a better talent for tuning these movies out.

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It is a sight I’ve seen countless times, but I still grab a shot of the Crystal Sugar plant north of Drayton.

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At the Drayton exit, I made sure to once again catch a glimpse of the sign that used to have the word “CHICKEN” on it. I also thought of former colleague Steve Conner, who lost his wife and three-year-old daughter near this location in a tragic accident this past winter.

As we passed Sucker Town, my eyes drifted far to the east, well beyond the horizon. Those who know me will understand why. Though we had been on the road for over four hours, it felt like it only took us 15 minutes to get to Fargo and West Acres, our lunch stop.

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An unwelcome reminder that we’re still too close to the SPRM.

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As I’ve said before, anything Snoopy-related is always going to grab my attention. At least one reader was surprised none of these beagles came home with me.

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I picked up lunch at Subway and checked my e-mail before getting back on the bus. Following a detour to Happy Harry’s, where everyone but me loaded up on liquor, we headed east and crossed the frontier into the great state of Minnesota, where we spent the bulk of the time on the trip.

On our way, a couple on a motorcycle waved to us as they passed by. Unlike what normally happens in the SPRM, they used all their fingers. It was also a nice sign to see a school bus that actually has the words “SCHOOL BUS” plastered on the front instead of “ECOLIERS.”

I spotted a clever billboard that showed a man sitting on a toilet in obvious agony with the caption, “There’s got to be a better way. Get a colonoscopy.” The first misspelled sign I saw south of the border was a billboard for McDonald’s in Sauk Centre that said RV parking is “availiable.”

Our next stop was Albertville, the black hole of civilization.

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Albertville is the home of Albertville Premium Outlets, a massive collection of stores where people get slightly less gouged for brand-name merchandise they likely don’t need and walk away thinking they’re getting a bargain.

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Sadly, our tour director gave us two and a half hours at this miserable place. For some, it’s not nearly enough. For me, it’s two and a half hours too long. Before setting us loose, he went inside to pick up some VIP coupon booklets, but not one of them contained a “get out of jail free” card.

It was absolutely sickening to walk around seeing these teenage princesses in groups of three or four with armfuls of bags from the trendiest stores. As a good friend of mine put it, it is a cultural sickness. Perhaps it was only fitting that one of the vanity license plates I spotted was “PRESIUS.”

While stopping to jot down some notes, a couple came up to the drink machine next to the bench where I was seated. They seemed puzzled by how it works and asked me for help.

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It wasn’t that complicated, but even with my help, they couldn’t seem to figure it out and moved on.

Trying to kill some time as best I could, I walked around to wear off the bus legs.

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In front of Coach New York, there was actually a line waiting to get in. I don’t know what they sell, but I suspect they’d have to pay me to go in there.

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A typical Manitoban. This would make for a perfect submission to WpgParkingFail.com if only the site owner had decided to keep it up.

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I guess taking your dog for a leak qualifies as “Emergency Stopping.”

Having run out of places to walk to, I returned to the bus an hour early and waited for the rest of the passengers to return. Aside from me, there wasn’t one who didn’t have an armful of bags. After everyone was back on board, the weight of the bus might have been double what it was when we pulled in.

Several of my fellow passengers were showing off their purchases while waiting for the bus to leave. One woman took out a purple leotard with black polka dots that she bought for her daughter. Any self-respecting woman would have been embarrassed to wear it to bed and she likely paid more for it than I spent on the entire trip.

Every time I visit the Twin Cities, I always pay attention to the Pine Point Wood Products sign in Rogers. It has been there ever since my first visit and serves as my unofficial marker that we’re indeed here.

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I was incredibly disappointed to see that they replaced their iconic yellow sign with something more generic. Sacrilege.

This time, I’m not seated at the front of the bus and I can’t see many of the signs on the highway, but I’ve been coming here so often over the years that I can tell what suburb we’re in by looking at the street signs.

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We got in to our hotel at 7:45 and I saw their much-ballyhooed renovations for the first time. It has easily been the best hotel I’ve stayed at and I wondered why they needed to renovate. I appreciate the modernization, but the color scheme they chose is certainly not a step forward in my opinion.

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The following morning, after the complimentary breakfast, it was time to hit the road. Soon after getting to the trail, I made a brief stop to fill out a survey they were taking. I made sure to compliment them on how well they had done and mentioned a few of the horror stories during my many adventures in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

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I made a point of stopping at Lake Calhoun, a scenic area in the western edge of Minneapolis. There is a nice trail that circles the lake as well as nearby Lake Harriet to the south, but since I had bigger fish to fry on this day, I continued east on the Midtown Greenway towards West River Parkway and Saint Paul.

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This was one of a few bike repair stations I found along the trail system. In addition to the pump, there are cables where you can raise your bike up and perform any necessary maintenance. The fact that it hasn’t been vandalized, wrecked, used as a toilet or set on fire is another strong indicator that you’re not in the SPRM.

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A repair shop and café along the Midtown Greenway.

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More scenes along the Midtown Greenway.

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Where the Midtown Greenway meets West River Parkway.

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While stopping here for some pictures, someone came up to me and asked for directions, which I was happy to be able to do.

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I crossed the mighty Mississippi at Lake Street into Saint Paul, the Capital City, as the sign says.

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So many people on the trails in the Twin Cities kindly yell “on your left” when passing. Little did I know that it’s a state law.

I proceeded south to Summit Avenue, where I turned east towards downtown Saint Paul in the dedicated bike lane.

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I planned to stop for some pictures at Snelling Avenue and get some shots of the MN 51 markers on both the south and north sides of Summit.

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After finishing with the pictures, the gentleman at right approached me and asked me why I was taking the shots of the highway signs. After I mentioned my Web site, he told me his father used to work for Mn/DOT and that he is one of a handful of contributors to the informative Minnesota highway pages on Wikipedia. We exchanged some stories that only fellow roadgeeks could appreciate and he invited me to a meet-up they were having in Como Park the next day. I would have loved to have gone, but I only had the two days there, so I had to decline. Nonetheless, this chance encounter was one of the highlights of the trip. This is something that would only happen in friendly Minnesota.

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I continued on and got this shot near downtown.

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The Cathedral of Saint Paul.

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The Xcel Energy Center. The WHA once had two teams in Saint Paul, but today, it is home to a team that plays in another major league.

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The former Saint Paul Auditorium, the original home of the first edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Continuing east through downtown, I stopped at a Subway.

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Need a bail bond to go with that sub?

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Snoopy in Lafayette Park.

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Mickey’s Diner.

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The Mexican consulate.

I turned around at the corner of 7th and Arcade and retraced my steps in making it back. The heat was taking its toll, but I made sure to stop for some badly needed fluids.

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A service station at the corner of Grand and Cleveland in Saint Paul.

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It’s Hennepin Avenue, not “Hennapin.”

All told, I covered 47.4 miles before putting on a few more after a rest at the hotel to go to a nearby grocery store to pick up some food for the next two days.

Next morning, I was crushed when I looked out the window and saw the rain coming down in buckets. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly and I was on the road again by 8:15, this time headed for downtown Minneapolis via the Kenilworth and Cedar Lake trails.

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I exited the trail and made a side trip to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

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After a little break, I crossed the foot bridge over I-94 to Loring Park

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While in Loring Park, a white squirrel came up to me and posed for a picture.

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Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.

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Moving on, I made to Nicollet Mall and north to Cancer Survivors Park.

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For me, the park is always a must-see on every visit and many of you who know me understand why.

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View from the 3rd Avenue Bridge.

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The light rail. Real rapid transit.

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This is where the once-mighty Metrodome once stood, soon to be replaced by a palatial new stadium for the Vikings. The Metrodome may have not been one of the most legendary sports facilities in the country, but I think many of our tour participants were wishing the Twins were still playing under its air-conditioned, climate-controlled Teflon roof as they roasted in the mid-summer heat.

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Oddly, I found more beggars in downtown Saint Paul and Minneapolis than in any past visit, including this one, who was holding up a sign saying she was homeless and needed money. She should consider cutting back on her food bill.

I was hoping to go through the skyway and stop for lunch in the food court at Gaviidae Common, but, curiously, many of the stores weren’t open until noon. I realize it was a Sunday, but it was a Twins game day and Americans are, if nothing else, enterprising entrepreneurs. Where there are prospective customers, corporate America will be there to open their doors. Instead, I found an attitude that I would more expect to find in the SPRM.

When I finally did get through to Gaviidae Common, I was shocked to see that the food court that I had been visiting for years was gone. I had to move on and managed to find one of the few Subways open in the area.

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I had been to this Subway once before and their policy of needing to show photo ID to use the washroom was still in force, but I was one of the lucky ones who they evidently trusted with the key without needing to show ID. I felt so blessed.

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After a few shots around the Stone Arch Bridge, I got back on the trail and headed back towards the hotel.

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Heading underneath Target Field.

On the way back, a couple of teenagers passed me who were talking about sales and profit margins. In spite of Obama’s best efforts, entrepreneurship is still alive and well in the U.S. If I was in Canada, such talk would likely center around government handouts.

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I couldn’t resist this shot on 11th Street in Hopkins. Many of my former colleagues will understand the significance as it relates to our former employer.

After getting back to the hotel, I went for a little walk around the area.

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The significance is obvious in more than one way.

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Manitobans don’t have a monopoly on double-parking.

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On the north side of MN 62, I spotted this Caribou Coffee location alongside Einstein Bros. Bagels.

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On the other side of the street was another Caribou Coffee location. Canadians aren’t this bad with their addiction to Tim Hortons.

Since this was what is virtually certain to be my final visit to the Twin Cities, it was tough to leave the following morning. I had been going there since the days when I-394 was still Wayzata Boulevard and when the state’s pro sports teams were all playing out of Bloomington. I still remember both the Met Center and Metropolitan Stadium, long before anyone ever thought of the Mall of America. I’ve seen the Twins play at the Met in 1978, 1980 and 1981. Back then, I-494 hadn’t been finished and ended at MN 5, just past the airport. I’ve got a lot of history there, most of it good, and it’s sad to see it come to an end.

In any event, with the Monday morning rush hour traffic going in the opposite direction, we headed northwest and down the familiar path on I-94. Despite having taken that route so often, there seemingly is always something new for me to see. For example, there was a billboard offering laser therapy for arthritis. For pets. Groan.

I thought of a former colleague when we crossed into WRIGHT COUNTY. Most such signs in Minnesota are in mixed case, but this one was in ALL CAPS. I know at least one reader will appreciate the sighting and perhaps more than one. Even though I spent so long there on the way in, I didn’t notice that they finally made an exit from the westbound direction for Albertville until we passed it on the return trip. Oddly, one of the most popular exits in the state was not previously accessible in both directions.

Once again, I noticed an army of white trucks from St. Cloud-based Spee-Dee Delivery Service on I-94. I can’t imagine anyone in the state having more vehicles than Spee-Dee. A truck passed us in the opposite direction with the words “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” emblazoned on the grill. Luckily for him, he was headed away from the SPRM. Near Fargo, there was a billboard promoting the Fargo Air Museum. It’s so good that they have places like this dedicated to preserving the legacy and heritage of their air.

Once we crossed the Red River and back into North Dakota, I looked out my window and south down University Drive. Feeling especially nostalgic on this trip, I couldn’t help but think of the Bowler, a place my parents and I used to frequent on our trips to Fargo. As its name would suggest, it was primarily a bowling alley, but it also had a popular smorgasbord that we often took advantage of. On one occasion, we sat down and drank some water before getting up to fill our plates. While we were away from the table, one family sat down at our table and unknowingly drank from the same glasses. We didn’t say anything and just moved to another table.

Just before arriving at West Acres, our tour director passed out the Je Declare forms for us to fill out for the border. While everyone else was madly totalling up their bills, I had nothing to declare and filled in a big, fat zero under the total value of goods purchased.

Aside from trying to tune out the movie, my last trip along I-29 proved uneventful. I laughed when I saw the billboard near Drayton that said “Be Kind.” It seems pointless to say such a thing to people headed back into North America’s toilet.

Our last U.S. stop came in Pembina, famous for the Duty Free shop.

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As you’d expect, I was the only one who wasn’t in line to buy booze or smokes. I’m proud of that. Oddly, while outside taking pictures, a GO bus whizzed by. For those of you not familiar with GO, it is a major transit system in the Center of the Universe and surrounding area. As for why it was there, Pembina is not just home to the Duty Free store, but to a Motor Coach plant.

At the border, we were served by a guardette who came on board to collect our Je Declare forms. She didn’t search through any of our possessions and was only making sure that all the boxes were ticked on the Je Declare forms. Only a handful of people even had to show their passport. Bureaucracy at its finest. Once again, I feel so much better knowing the security of our borders is in such capable hands.

As always, returning to the SPRM is depressing. Nonetheless, it was another tremendous experience. I want to publicly thank Tony Rinella and his wife Yolanda for all the great memories over the years as well as to all the great people in the Twin Cities who make coming there so pleasurable. I would also like to thank everyone at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eden Prairie for their hospitality.