All posts by curtis72

11 Aug

Ode to a Return to the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, for the second time I had occasion to enter
Ontario’s capital, otherwise known as the universe’s center

While waiting for the GO bus, there was a sight I wish I did miss
A fellow passenger gave his dog a big, wet sloppy good-bye kiss

As we sped our way around the lake, no ex-Winnipegger can resist taking a poke
At the Rapid Transit system, Winnipeg’s longest running joke

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Curiosity must have been in the air when I was out past Brown’s Line.
Who was this guy standing in the median taking pictures of a highway sign

On Kipling Avenue, a jolly fellow on the sidewalk I did see
What is a bear that has no teeth, he asked of me

He clearly wanted to catch me off guard
As he tried to get me to apply for a credit card

I heard a weirdo near the end of my lengthy stroll
Ranting and raving at some poor, unsuspecting soul

It’s Toronto, what else can I say
It’s still a whole lot better than the one I left more than a year ago today

08 Aug

Ode to the NOTL Peach Festival

Today, I enjoyed a bit of a break
As I took in the Peach Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake

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It was the second visit to the festival for me
Cogeco was even putting it on TV

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Even though the morning crowds were light in the town they used to call Newark
There was not a single place close by for anyone to park

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Peaches were available everywhere, even on a truck
You could buy a quart, a basket or just one for a buck

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Peaches were in every type of food
There’s one to fit just about any mood

Smoothies, tarts, pies and scones were in the group
There was even chilled peach and yogurt soup

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Eating a hot dog with peach relish does not sound like fun
Nor does peach garlic dressing or peach-infused sausage on a bun

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Pets were welcome if restrained by a piece of twine
But around food is the not the place to take a canine

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The two-man band was playing without a frown
While the horses waited to take visitors around town

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The going exchange rate was 20% for those paying with American dollars
This place that was taking U.S. money at par deserved some angry hollers

It was another interesting celebration of the peach
Summed up by these lines of rhyming speech

31 Jul

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed, but tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the day I left Winnipeg for the last time and came to settle in St. Catharines. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it feels like it happened more than a decade ago.

The hassle involved in the long-distance move certainly took an emotional toll, but it has paid off in spades. My only regret is that I did not come here sooner. I miss my friends, as I expected to, but I long for little else in the SPRM.

I suppose there’s a part of me that will always be linked to Manitoba. As Sylvester Stallone said about Vietnam in one of the Rambo movies, “As long as we’re alive, it’s alive.” Many positive memories from that part of the world do remain with me, and I try to focus on those instead of the many negative ones that helped fuel my desire to leave.

Today, I am better for having made the move, and I look forward to many more years to come in my new home city.

15 Jul

A Tale of Two Signs

While on North Service Road this morning, I noticed this new sign announcing upcoming bridge work at Victoria Avenue in Vineland in addition to a similar sign farther down the QEW for work at the Ontario Street bridge in Beamsville.

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Though the sign is in Liberal red and does have a slogan on it, most of the sign is informational, giving the location and expected completion date of the construction. For a scandal-plagued regime not above raiding the public treasury for self-promotion, I was actually quite impressed that they didn’t go overboard patting themselves on the back.

Contrast that with the approach taken in the SPRM, my former home.

More than a year ago, when I was still there, the Non Democratic Party rolled out a lavish ad campaign at the expense of taxpayers like me, spending over $1 million putting up signs like this at every construction site around the province.

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Conspicuously absent are the details of the construction project such as the estimated completion date, cost and the specifics on what’s actually being done. Clearly, the sign’s only purpose is to tell us poor suckers how grateful we should be for the infinite wisdom of the NDP. Steady growth. Good jobs. Words to make any Manitoban, past or present, vomit.

Yet another reason among many that I’m so glad to be out of the SPRM.

07 Jul

Return to Tonawanda

This past weekend, I took my 12th tour of Western New York on two wheels since coming to St. Catharines. I covered 60.9 miles in a trip that took me through Niagara Falls and across Grand Island before returning through Niawanda Park in Tonawanda.

Leaving bright and early, there wasn’t much of a lineup at U.S. customs at the Rainbow Bridge, but I was a little worried when I saw the cars ahead of me getting a much higher level of scrutiny, no doubt on account of the Independence Day holiday. The guards normally stay inside their booths, but they were coming out to meet the cars and checking around the back before going inside to process the passports. Luckily, they let me through with little fanfare.

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From the bridge, I followed the trail that runs alongside the Robert Moses State Parkway from Niagara Falls State Park to the North Grand Island Bridge.

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I took advantage of the seasonally open washroom there before walking across the nearly mile-long bridge to the island. Grand Island itself has a lot to offer the cyclist, but on this day, I simply cut across the island on Grand Island Boulevard/NY 324.

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After crossing the South Grand Island Bridge, I took the trail that follows River Road/NY 266 through Niawanda Park, so named because it follows the Niagara River in Tonawanda. Surely they can do better.

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This journey was easily the highlight of the trip. Much like what I found encircling Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, the trail is separated into bike and pedestrian sections and is just as scenic.

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On one side is the mighty Niagara River and Grand Island and on the other side is thick greenery.

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There are many places like this to rest and enjoy the view before continuing on towards North Tonawanda. Along the way, I spotted ample parking for those coming in a car and there were no less than three sets of public washrooms between the bridge and Seymour Street/NY 265. The only downside were some cracks in the pavement closer to the bridge.

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I didn’t take the time to go there, but on the way, you can see the boats docked at nearby Tonawanda Island.

I stopped for a rest at McDonald’s, which once again got my business because, unlike some other quick-serve restaurants, they welcome cyclists by providing a bike rack. Following the break, I continued back on a circuitous path towards the Rainbow Bridge through North Tonawanda.

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Longtime readers will understand why this sighting grabbed my attention.

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It wouldn’t be a proper trip without snapping some pictures for my road photos site and I was able to supplement my collection with shots like this, soon to appear on a Web site near you.

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Along Oliver Street are these painted horses. Such horses can be found at the nearby Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, which the city takes great pride in as “Home of the Carrousel” is proudly proclaimed on each sign entering the city.

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When going through Wheatfield, I passed by this one-time Polarski & Son customer, who is obviously dissatisfied with their tree service. I sense some business for members of the legal profession in both parties’ future.

I stopped once again at the park by the North Grand Island Bridge, where a gentleman approached me. Mistaking me for someone he knows, he started asking when they were going to build the third bridge to the island, but all I could give him in response was a blank stare. After establishing that I wasn’t the person he thought I was, he began a little American political dissertation and I just let him talk, leaving my citizenship out of the mostly one-way conversation.

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Once I got back to the Rainbow Bridge, I paid my 50-cent toll and then waited for a half hour in line at Canadian customs, where a snarky officer all but insinuated that I was a disloyal slob for cross-border cycling. There are plenty of great cycling opportunities on the Canadian side of the border, which I continue to take advantage of, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the many equally fine places to explore on the U.S. side well within reach.

I look forward to a return visit.

08 Jun

Open House at Tiger Town

Yesterday, I was one of a crowd estimated at around 5,000 at the open house at the Tiger-Cats’ new stadium in Hamilton. Out of respect for Canada’s energy workers, I shall not identify the major corporate sponsor whose name is attached to the facility.

I took the GO bus from Fairview Mall and got off at Nash and Barton, where I took a little tour of Hamilton before heading for the stadium. On the bus, I was hoping to use my PRESTO card for the first time, but the fare box was out of order and, as a result, all the passengers ended up with a free ride.

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Not that I was in a hurry, but the bus was several minutes behind schedule. Perhaps I should complain and demand my money back. Every last dime of it.

Parking at the stadium, nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is undoubtedly a chronic problem, even when Ivor Wynne Stadium stood there, but there was plenty of parking for cyclists like me on the plaza off Cannon Street, otherwise known as Bernie Faloney Way.

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Parked at one of the racks was this motorcycle, whose owner is obviously a passionate fan. The CFL barely registers on the radar in this part of the world, but you wouldn’t know it by walking around here.

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After entering through Gate 1, I was given a free jersey rally towel, which currently hangs from my mantel right next to the IceDogs towel I received at the regular-season finale. The cellophane wrapper had a “Made in China” sticker on it. Buy local. Or not.

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Just past the gate is the Seagram Touchdown Lounge, where fans can sit back in comfort and enjoy the game.

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Later, I noticed these tables right at field level, presumably reserved for VIP customers. I’m not sure I’d want to sit there for any amount of money. Even at this level, the guys hit pretty hard and that’s a little too close to the action for comfort.

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Walking through the concourse and passing the concession stands, I couldn’t help but think back to a year earlier when I was touring Manitoba Taxpayers Stadium for the first and only time. How things have changed over the past year.

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The stadium seats only 24,000, making it a target for the critics, who call it a high school stadium. However, I could find little fault with it. Everything looked first-class with all the amenities.

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Throughout the stadium, who I presume were Tiger-Cat alumni were signing autographs for eager fans. Since my knowledge of the proud history of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is practically non-existent, I had no idea who these guys were. I thought I recognized former quarterback Chuck Ealey, but that was all. It would have been nice to have signs at each table giving their names.

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My next stop was the Champions Club, the full-service restaurant on the club level where you can sit and watch the game while enjoying your meal.

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I arrived just as they were finishing with some announcements, but I was still able to partake in some of the free food. To my amazement, it was not a spread of hot dogs, nachos and other assorted junk, but rather yogurt and juices. The yogurt I had didn’t even have any of those hideous artificial sweeteners in it. This deserves a two thumbs up.

While near the podium, I had a nice, long conversation with Carol and Walter, an older couple who are regulars at the games. Carol actually does the face painting on the east side. In addition to being a connoisseur of all things Tiger-Cats along with cheese and sausages, Walter is also an avid cyclist who shared some tips on good places for a ride around the area. I nearly choked when he talked about how dangerous some streets were in Hamilton. I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate what danger means until taking to the streets of the degenerate capital of the SPRM on two wheels. The only thing that prevents me from writing an epic novel on that subject is the painful memories it would dredge up, memories I would rather leave in Canada’s toilet bowl.

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After finishing up in the Champions Club, I went down to watch as head coach and general manager Kent Austin put his team through a light workout. It is a refreshing change that the head coach and general manager doesn’t also own the team. Hockey fans reading from the SPRM will understand that reference.

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While watching, I couldn’t help but look to my left and notice the escarpment to the south.

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Contrasting that view is the industrial sector to the north with all the steel mills.

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Hamilton in a microcosm, right from your seat.

After practice, fans were allowed on the field to meet and get autographs from their favorite players, but with a 40-mile bike ride ahead of me to get back to St. Catharines, I left before the practice was over.

It’s not likely I’ll ever go to a game there, but I enjoyed the tour as I continue to explore my new home region.

30 May

Book Release: Shattered Dreams

Hot on the heels of my fourth book, View from Section 26, I am pleased to announce the release of my fifth – Shattered Dreams: Diary and Downfall of a Utopian Socialist in the Heart of the Canadian Prairies. Very different than any of my previous books, this is a heavily sarcastic tale featuring idealistic social worker Gavin York, who sets foot in Winnipeg to begin his career, convinced of his opportunity to change the world. After enduring many trials and tribulations in Canada’s toilet bowl, Gavin eventually sours on his insufferable adopted home city and opens his eyes to the harsh reality of socialism and its disastrous long-term consequences once the unsustainable welfare state in Manitoba comes crashing down on him.

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Although this is a work of fiction, it is based on many factual incidents I’ve encountered over the course of many decades in Winnipeg. The reader is free to judge as to its similarity to real life.

Click here for the paperback edition and here for the electronic edition.

03 May

Let’s Go Buffalo

Yesterday, I set off on an epic 67.4-mile biking adventure that took me to Buffalo for the first time, consuming much of the day in the process.

Knowing that Buffalo was a little beyond what I could handle in a single day, I loaded my bike on to a Niagara Regional Transit bus that runs from the St. Catharines downtown terminal to Target Plaza in Niagara Falls, giving me a 14-mile head start. From there, I took the scenic route along the Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie and the Peace Bridge.

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I followed the signs and walked my bike over the bridge for what would be the first of four crossings of the mighty Niagara River.

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Though there were no problems on the bridge, I was a little surprised there was no guard rail separating vehicle traffic from the sidewalk. I can see why there are so many signs urging cyclists to walk their bikes over the bridge. I hope this will be addressed with the planned makeover this bridge is getting.

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After going across I-190, I approached the border station, where you press a button and wait until a guard buzzes you into the building. Cyclists leave their bikes at the rack just outside the door and then go inside.

Everything went fine, but I was a little unnerved when the officer’s handheld radiation detector was going off. He came out from behind the counter and waved it around me, but after taking it inside, he saw it was malfunctioning and let me through. Because it’s not intuitively obvious, he pointed out a door to go through and instructed me to proceed through the parking lot, under the bridge and on to Busti Avenue.

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Within minutes of setting foot in Buffalo, I again spotted this Reimer Express truck that passed me when I was walking over the bridge. For those who are unaware, Reimer is based in none other than the degenerate capital of the SPRM. One of my former colleagues, in fact, once worked there. What are the odds of seeing one of their trucks in Buffalo?

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From there, I continued south towards the heart of downtown.

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Across from the Adam’s Mark Hotel and WKBW, Channel 7.

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The train heading north on Main Street.

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By accident, I ended up across from Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, the AAA affiliate of the Center of the Universe Blue Jays. Apparently, there was a game this afternoon, which helped to dilute the otherwise seedy populace. Going on a weekend does have its advantages in terms of reduced traffic levels, but as they say, there is safety in numbers.

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The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library might have been a good place to visit, but I needed my bike to get back home. I suspect the bike sharing program they have in this area is much like the one they have in Winnipeg.

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After a lengthy tour of some residential areas that included many stops to take pictures of New York state highway signs, I stopped for a brief respite at George Washington Park. At left is I-190 that follows the Niagara River and at right is Niagara Street/NY 266.

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I continued north into a largely industrial area, where I spotted this state trooper cleverly camped out near I-190 and NY 325.

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Turning northeast, I followed this trail that follows NY 325 towards the South Grand Island Bridge in the Town of Tonawanda.

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Not to be confused with the City of Tonawanda.

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Loyal readers can probably guess why I stopped for this picture.

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Though I do have a fear of big bridges, needing to economize distance, I opted to take the short cut through Grand Island rather than the longer route through North Tonawanda. It also offered me the opportunity to get off my bicycle seat for a while. On a long outing like this, the seat can start to feel like a javelin.

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At least this bridge, along with the North Grand Island Bridge, has a guard rail separating I-190 traffic from pedestrians and cyclists. Interestingly, unlike the northern bridge, there is no sign on this bridge instructing cyclists to walk across the bridge and one cyclist actually passed me while I was walking.

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After cutting across Grand Island, I made my way back to Niagara Falls and the now-familiar route down Buffalo Avenue/NY 384 to the Rainbow Bridge. I stopped at the gift shop for a small, but noteworthy souvenir and a bathroom break, then repatriated myself and returned home without incident.

It was a long, but enjoyable experience, one that I’ll likely enjoy more on my next visit, now that I’ve been to Buffalo and am more familiar with the area.

11 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Oshawa

Last night, I was one of 32 fans who made the trip to Oshawa to see the IceDogs open their second-round best-of-seven series against the Generals at the General Motors Center.

While waiting between the double doors at the Jack for our bus to arrive, many others including me were amazed at what a beehive of activity the IceDogs’ former home was on this late Friday afternoon. We could only presume there was a tournament going on as endless streams of kids and their parents kept shuttling back and forth. Space inside was evidently at such a premium that one of the teams had to go to the parking lot across the street to do their pregame stretching.

Among the many parents with their kids was one gentleman who was wearing a jersey from the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Yuck! Double yuck! As a good friend and loyal reader would say, “Loser!”

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I was relieved when our bus came so we could get out of the way of all the hustle and bustle. Thinking they had been hired to pick up the team, the dispatcher sent the driver to the Meridian Center and only after inquiring inside did he then come to meet us at the Jack. Our driver was excellent once again, but I knew he wasn’t much of a fan when he asked me what league this was.

The group consisted of a few who had made the trek to Ottawa along with some mothers and their children who brought along some sign-making materials that kept them occupied on the way. Without the photographer and Captain Ammonia to provide their unique brand of entertainment, much to my relief, it would be by far the quietest of the three IceDogs road trips I had been on this year.

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Not unexpectedly, we ran into a fair bit of traffic, but we got to Oshawa in plenty of time.

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While waiting for the doors to open, I got some shots out front of the building and of our group.

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IceDogs owner Bill Burke stopped to shake hands with a few of us on his way in and the Generals mascot, Deke, was having a little fun with us.

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Deke didn’t quite measure up to Bones, but he was one of the better mascots I have seen.

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Despite the long line forming on the street and with the high winds making it miserable outside, arena staff defiantly refused to let us in even a minute before 6:35, one hour before puck drop. Season ticket holders were allowed early entry, but not the rest of us common folk. It’s not any different at the Meridian Center, but at least we get to wait indoors.

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After finally being allowed in, I made a point of circling the concourse and my first target was the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, a dedicated room displaying artifacts of the area’s sporting history.

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Among the many displays was a game-worn jersey from former Manitoba Fighting Moose John MacLean.

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The view from center ice.

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Walking through the concourse, I noticed banners like this honoring past Generals players, such as this one for Scott McCrory, another former Fighting Moose. It is nice to see teams do this and I hope the IceDogs follow suit with something similar once they get enough history of their own.

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On the opposite side of the rink was the “Canadian Hockey House,” a popular restaurant/bar where patrons could sit and watch the game while getting plastered. Unfortunately, this was probably the best choice for anyone looking for food as the offerings at the concessions were most disappointing. All that was on the menu was pizza, hotdogs, nachos and a $10 “carve of the day,” but luckily, I wasn’t in need on this trip as I snuck in some food of my own.

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After taking my seat in section B, so named because it was squarely behind the netting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s unfortunate gift to the world, I noted with interest that, just as they did in Barrie and Ottawa, they introduced the timekeeper, scorekeeper and goal judges in addition to the on-ice officials. As IceDogs fans say after the announcement of an opponent’s goal, who cares? The announcer didn’t introduce himself before the game, but he made sure to after the game. It’s one less time than what the IceDogs announcer does, but it’s still one time too many.

Looking down at ice level, the glass looked a little hacked up, but it was still reasonably clean and, unlike the case at the Meridian Center, a patron would not have cause to plead for a lower price because of an obstructed view. I couldn’t believe my eyes when someone came out with a squeegee during the second intermission to clean a spot where it had been sprayed earlier in the game. That is one shot I should have taken to send to SMG, who manages the Meridian Center, to prove that it is indeed possible.

I paid special attention when they announced a fan bus trip to the Meridian Center in “Niagara.” Not that I am not proud to be a resident of the region, but team’s and my home is St. Catharines. This is another case highlighting how the previous mayor and council seriously erred in not insisting the team take the name of its home city when making the investment to build the rink. Interestingly, one of the late arrivals two rows in front of me was none other than Dawn Dodge, the recently defeated councillor for my ward, who was adorned in a red IceDogs sweatshirt.

The game itself was controlled by the home team and was much more one-sided than the 5-3 final score would indicate. It was only Brandon Hope’s solid goaltending that kept Oshawa from running up the score. At times, it seemed like the ice was tilted.

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Not helping the visitors’ cause was Vince Dunn’s early ejection for slewfooting as well as the mediocre play of Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, two of their top offensive threats. Too many nights have gone by where I’ve barely noticed those two and as I’ve said before, it’s hard to win when your best players aren’t your best players. Those two have the skill to be dominant at this level and both seem content to get by because they are better than their contemporaries. As Kurt Warner once said to Larry Fitzgerald, “Why just be good when you can be great?” Hopefully they’ll learn that lesson once they get to the next level.

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Aside from the game, the two intermissions featured some fun and games including this first-period event with a couple of would-be sumo wrestlers. The last time I saw something like this was at a Fighting Moose game more than a dozen years ago.

After the game, Oshawa fans were eager to rub our noses in it. In addition to some comments outside, a couple of guys came aboard our bus, blew their bullhorn and yelled, “Better luck next year.” Even though one of the guys on the bus didn’t care for it all, it was all good-natured and perhaps later in the series, we’ll be able to return the favor.

As part of a promotion, since the Generals scored four goals, every fan was entitled to a free medium order of fries at McDonald’s, so on our way out, Wade Graham of the IceDogs suggested we go through the drive thru and order 34 medium fries, “just to stick it to them.” It was a good idea and it’s too bad we didn’t go through with it.

Even though the game didn’t go well, it was still a good experience and getting home at 1:00 sure beats getting back at 5:00 as I did after the Ottawa trip. Thanks to everyone at the IceDogs for making the arrangements and I look forward to future trips.

06 Apr

Good Friday in Ottawa

On Good Friday, I was among the group of 28 fans who made the long trek from St. Catharines to Ottawa to see the IceDogs take on the 67’s at TD Place, formerly known as the Ottawa Civic Center, the one-time home of the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals and Civics.

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Not unexpectedly, I was the first of the contingent to arrive at the Jack Gatecliff Arena, where our bus was scheduled to depart at noon for the six-hour drive.

It didn’t take long before I was joined by a few others who also came well ahead of time. One thing I have noticed is that people in this part of the world, very much to their credit and unlike those in my former home city, are chronic early birds.

Also along for the ride was Nino Bourikas and Wade Graham of the IceDogs staff and Nino collected the $100 fare from each of us while waiting for the bus to arrive. Nick Williams normally handles those duties but he was reportedly helping someone move.

Not surprisingly, also among the contingent was Natasa Djermanovic and her family who would take up seats beside and behind me. The sometimes vulgar banter between the team’s official photographer and David, a fan from Welland seated near the back, would certainly liven up the ride.

David was an interesting character and he was so loud that not only could everyone on the bus hear him, but I think passing cars on the 401 could hear him as well. On our way, he was hung up on Belleville and kept asking how far we were from the city that just lost its OHL team. He also made sure to tell us that he had recently recovered from a bout with “ammonia.” I presume he meant pneumonia, but he insisted it was ammonia.

Before leaving, Natasa was proudly showing off the $15,000 400 mm lens she had rented for this weekend and mentioned out loud, “Don’t have fun, don’t do anything because you’re going to be blogged about.” Whether or not that missive was intended for me, my presence certainly didn’t cramp her style.

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Badder Bus Services provided the transportation and according to Nino, their rate was half of what Coach Canada wanted. The discounted price, however, didn’t mean any less comfort or safety for us. Not only was the bus good but both drivers were excellent, in sharp contrast to many I’ve had when living in the SPRM. As an aside, it still feels so good to refer to the SPRM in past tense.

We left at noon and Ron took us to the car pool lot at Burlington, where Lyle took over for the rest of the trip. In Ontario, drivers are only allowed 13 hours on the road and a total of 16 hours on the clock before a rest period and because of the long distance, they needed two drivers to split the job.

Even though we were only going for the day, one older couple brought a trunkful of stuff with them including blankets, pillows, a cooler, a case of Rolling Rock beer and hefty order that cleaned out a nearby Tim Hortons. I was surprised to hear from Lyle that though it is in the contract that no alcohol is allowed on board, they and other carriers willfully turn a blind eye to it.

Not long after we got on the road, I spotted someone who had parked his motorcycle on the side of the QEW and perched himself on a guard rail so he could use his cell phone. Give it a rest. Nino then went to put on a DVD, but thankfully, the audio wasn’t working. Natasa and Captain Ammonia would provide more than enough audio for the trip.

Sitting in the front seat, as loyal readers would expect, I was able to grab many more highway pictures, soon to appear on a Web site near you. Among the new shots came from the 407 ETR, the toll route the dispatcher had given Lyle permission to use.

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In order for large vehicles such as these buses to use the 407, they must have a transponder that gates like these will read upon entry and exit to calculate the charge.

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Traffic was quite heavy headed in the opposite direction, but things moved smoothly for us most of the way.

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It was my first time east of Toronto and as much as I was paying attention to the highway in front of us, I was equally interested in hearing Lyle’s stories from his two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy Seebees between 1969 and 1972. A native of Hamilton, he drove across the border to Buffalo to meet with a recruiting officer hoping to learn a trade in the service and instead, unexpectedly got shipped off to Vietnam.

I was particularly fascinated by his near-death experiences that he kindly shared with me. On one occasion, a young Viet Cong soldier no more than 14 years old had an AK-47 to his head. Not wanting to see the end, Lyle closed his eyes, “made peace with God” and waited for what seemed like an hour before opening his eyes to find that the young man had gone and let him live.

On another occasion when he was out in the field, he had tied something too tight and needed fixing as a result. He offered to stay to make the repair, but his lieutenant said the next crew would come and take care of it. That crew never came back, leaving him with an understandable case of survivors’ guilt.

There was also another time when a booby trap went off, sending out sharp metal shards, one of which would have sliced through his throat and killed him were it not for his dog tag that fell down around his neck as he was diving out of the way.

Though it bothered him at one time to talk about these incidents, he said it helps him now and today, he speaks to soldiers returning from Iraq, just as World War II and Korea veterans spoke to him after his return from Southeast Asia.

He also mentioned that he and his buddies would always have an annual reunion the week after July 4, but he’s the only survivor of the bunch as the rest have since succumbed to cancer as a direct result of Agent Orange.

Following his discharge, he was given American citizenship and went on to enjoy a 42-year career as an electrician. Today, he drives a bus part time “just for something to do.”

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As we rolled on into Eastern Ontario, the banter between Natasa and Captain Ammonia began to heat up. While passing some farms, they wondered what would happen if a horse and cow were ever to be mated. Captain Ammonia then yelled, “I want to hear some music,” to which Natasa replied, “Plug your ears!”

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Roughly halfway to Ottawa, we stopped for a much-needed break at the Trenton ONRoute, one of many such rest areas along the 401. As I mentioned when I first saw them on the 400 on the way to Barrie, it sure beats the SPRM’s equivalent of a weather-beaten outhouse.

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Past Trenton, we saw the first sign giving the distance to Ottawa.

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We passed this exit that leads a bridge connecting to I-81 in the U.S. As I mentioned to Lyle, it’s one of the few places where you see an Interstate highway sign in Canada.

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At last, we reached the exit for 416 that took us north towards Ottawa.

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After taking the exit off the 417 in Ottawa, I noted with interest that the stop signs read “STOP” and not “ARRET,” as they do in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg. If the Canadian-language wording is good enough for a city on the shores of the Evil Empire, it ought to be good enough for St. Boniface.

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The IceDogs’ bus was already in the loading dock by the time we got to TD Place, over an hour before game time.

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When we were going in, I paid special attention to the security procedures. Unlike the case at the Meridian Center, there was no one rifling through bags and purses and security staff were friendly. After making a bee-line for the washroom, with plenty of time to spare, I took the opportunity to stroll through the concourse and get some shots inside the seating area.

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Having not eaten for about nine hours, I also needed to scout around for food. There was a little more choice than I found in Barrie and I eventually settled on the $6.50 “Smokin’ Hot 67’s Pizza” with the $5 hot beef sandwich coming in a close second. Consisting of a BBQ sauce base, the pizza had chicken and onions and the taste stayed with me well into the next day, not to mention the fact that I got my monthly supply of grease in the process.

Elsewhere in the concourse, I noticed free charging stations for cell phones, much like I found at Eaton Center in Toronto. Browsing through their souvenir shop, I noticed that they sell 67’s jerseys for $140, $20 more than the IceDogs ask for one of theirs. I consider a $120 price too steep, let alone $140.

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I joined several others in stepping outside to check out the attached football stadium whose grandstands back the arena before the security guards ushered us back inside.

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I nearly fainted when I spotted none other than Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant general manager of the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club, busy on his cell phone, undoubtedly getting marching orders from his boss. What are the odds of running into him here?

After taking my seat, I noticed there was little leg room, but the seats were thickly padded and clean. I also noticed the glass was clean. If they can do it here, in Barrie, at the Xcel Energy Center and at the old Winnipeg Arena, they can do it at the Meridian Center.

We were seated in the parents’ section and Anthony DiFruscia’s mother was directly behind us. To my immediate left was Natasa’s son and on the other side was Captain Ammonia and his brother, who lives in Ottawa. Captain Ammonia’s lungs were still in high gear and he spent much of the night getting into it with a 67’s fan behind him from Gatineau. Even if I had a radio, there would have been no need to listen to the broadcast as I got all the play-by-play I needed from Captain Ammonia.

The game itself that almost seemed anticlimactic after such a long and eventful voyage turned out very well. The IceDogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period and after the 67’s narrowed the gap to 4-3 before intermission, the visitors broke it open in the third for an eventual 8-3 win. Yours truly was very pleased to be among the Niagara rooting contingent yelling “Go Dogs Go” and supporting our home team.

None of the three mascots, those from the 67’s, the REDBLACKS and the soccer Fury could hold a candle to Bones and I mentioned how nice it would have been for Bones to make the trip.

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During the second period, the mascot for the REDBLACKS, not to be confused with the Redblacks, paid us a visit and used the throat-slash gesture to us. Needless to say, that was in exceptionally bad taste and I hope the person underneath the costume realized it.

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Once the game was over, the IceDogs skated over to our section and saluted us on their way off the ice. It was an awfully nice gesture that I think all of us who had made the trek appreciated greatly.

With all of us on board, we took off around 10:10 for the long trip back to St. Catharines. Many of us were snoozing and I was able to get a little shut-eye, but not very much. What little I had was rudely interrupted by Captain Ammonia, who, unable to sleep, decided to come up front and talk to Lyle to spread his misery among those of us who were able to doze a little.

We stopped at the Napanee ONRoute at 12:30, where I went to the washroom while others loaded up at Tim Hortons. Inside the washroom, there was a man at the urinal doing his business while chatting on his cell phone. As I said before, give it a rest.

Lyle was alert and attentive throughout the entire trip, but he made the mistake of using his GPS as a brain substitute once we got to the eastern edge of the GTA. With permission to use the 407, instead of following the clearly marked signs to follow 404, he listened to the GPS that told him to go in the opposite direction. Even after getting back on the correct path, he followed the GPS’s incorrect instructions to get off on a side street. I hope he learned his lesson.

We got back to the Jack at 4:25 in the morning and 50 minutes later, I was walking through my front door. It was a long, exhausting journey that I don’t want to repeat any time soon, but I was still glad I went.

Go Dogs Go!