Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

10 Sep

Grass and the Miser


While out today, I spotted someone mowing a small patch of grass adjacent to a strip mall. It gave me a laugh as I thought of an incident involving a former employer and a similar small patch of grass. Perhaps the story will give you a laugh as well.

Before I begin, though I won’t name the employer, the owner is deceased and the company has long since gone out of business.
The fact that the company is no longer in business likely will not come as much of a surprise after you read this story. This is but one in a long series of comparable tales involving this foolhardy owner. He was skilled in his craft, but he was often left wanting as a businessman. As I look back, it was remarkable that the company stayed afloat for as long as it did.
This company had owned a two-storey building and it housed all of their staff comfortably for many years. A steady increase in business, however, had seen more and more staff come on board.
It got to the point that the building was literally bursting at the seams. A friend and I had jokingly suggested bunk desks as a solution. Like bunk beds, employees could work over top of each other. Perhaps the most senior employee would get dibs on the top bunk.
The company looked for more practical alternatives.
Across the street was a strip mall with a vacant office. A solution was readily at hand.
The owner and the property manager came to an agreement on the rent, though I’m sure that the negotiations were not easy. The owner was a notorious miser who would carefully track each penny that left the office.
As an example, there was a time during one winter that I had to wear a parka in the office because he had turned the heat down so much. It had caused such resentment that another staff member went as far as to call Workplace Safety and Health to no avail.
Everything looked to be on track with the nearby unit until the owner had found out that part of the monthly maintenance fee had included the cost of mowing a small patch of grass on the opposite side of the strip mall.
There was no grass next to his unit, so why should he have to pay for mowing grass, he said.
The property manager refused to lower the rent and the owner backed out of the deal.
Unfortunately, there was no other vacant office nearby. After much searching, he eventually found an empty building in an industrial park several miles away. He took out a second mortgage on his existing building to buy it and about a quarter of the staff made the move out there.
This arrangement soon resulted in many problems.
Staff were often shuttling between the two offices, resulting in an incalculable number of wasted person-hours. From my perspective, I began to spend so many extra hours on the phone trying to diagnose problems in the remote office that most often could have been easily solved with a five-minute trip downstairs.
This was in an era long before electronic communication became commonplace. The only network available to us was “sneaker net,” physically moving paper files from one desk to another.
Since so many items needed to be couriered between the two sites, the company had to hire an employee whose sole function was to act as a mailman. In addition, they also had to pay him a mileage allowance, since he was using his own vehicle.
In short, though those of us in the existing building appreciated having the space, the splitting of offices proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Bunk desks may have proved to be a better option after all.
Up until his dying day, however, I have no doubt that the owner was enormously proud of having stuck to his guns by refusing to pay for mowing that grass.
As they say, penny wise, pound foolish.
And that is why I will always chuckle when I see someone mowing a small patch of grass near a strip mall.

17 May

Cycling in Minneapolis

This past Friday, I left for Minneapolis for a four-day adventure that would include two days of cycling around the Twin Cities. I was a little under the weather, but I was well enough to go on Friday morning. Barely.
We were picked up bright and early and, along with a group that had already boarded in Brandon, we headed south for the border.
Before approaching customs, I noticed this new sign:
According to the newest published Manitoba map, PTH 75 turns east into Emerson and PTH 29 continues on to the border. After I got home I checked the latest update to the online Manitoba highway map and confirmed that PR 200, which previously ended at PTH 75 in Emerson, now turns west to meet it here.
It also means that PTH 29 has been officially taken off the books and that PTH 75 goes directly to the border.
Those are details that may only interest me, but, well, it’s my blog. In any event, I’ll have a little bit of work to do to fill in those details at http://www.canhighways.com/MB/.
We passed into the U.S. and we were served promptly and professionally by CBP officials at the Pembina Port of Entry. While waiting for them to search the bus, I noticed that I was surrounded by a bunch of people wearing Blue Jays paraphernalia.
This was a baseball tour and though I wasn’t going to any of the games, I didn’t realize that so many people were going for the wrong team. In many respects, it’s a sad statement showing what power the media holds over the Canadian people.
20 minutes later, after a little bathroom break, we were back on the bus headed south along I-29. For the first time on one of these tours, we didn’t make a stop in Pembina at the Duty Free Americas shop. Since they wanted to get the group to the game at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis that night, they decided to skip the Pembina stop in favor of a stop there on the way back.
Soon after we passed Pembina, we had to suffer through several games of bingo. I suppose it’s not a real bus tour without it, but it’s getting more and more annoying each time I have to listen to those bingo numbers being called.
I noted with interest when we passed by the rest area past Exit 180. Years earlier, I had always called it the “Fort”, since there was a replica of an old fort there. That fort has now been dismantled and replaced with a brand new building. According to the sign, it’s also a Wi-Fi hotspot. How times change.
I also noted that most of the exit signs along I-29 had been replaced with new equivalents featuring ClearviewHwy typeface. This is the new standard font that is replacing the former FHWA typeface that had been previously used across North America. The S.P.R.M. is also in the process of replacing all of its signs with Clearview, including the trunk highway and provincial road markers.
Again, these are details that may only interest me, but if you’re driving down a highway and wondering why that sign looks a little different, now you’ll know why.
We made a brief pit stop at West Acres mall in Fargo before getting back on the road.
Our bus
Again, it’s not a bus tour without an annoying movie and this was no exception. Moneyball was the choice this time and though the movie wasn’t that bad, it was particularly annoying on account of the high volume it was played at. I liked the book better. There was more detail and it was quieter.
As we headed south east, I took note, as I did along I-29, that the side of the highway was clean and free of litter. This is in sharp contrast to many highways in the S.P.R.M., in addition to the trails in Winnipeg, that double as junkyards. Throughout my trip south of the border, I did not notice one single piece of litter on any of the trails I traversed.
I remember conversing with someone on an old BBS board many years ago who said that Canada has much cleaner cities than in the U.S. Not now they don’t.
We made a brief stop at Sauk Centre and I noticed this sticker on the back of the other bus we were following:
Do you really want to be on this bus?
In any event, the rest of the passengers loaded up at the liquor store next door and I think I was the only one on the bus who didn’t buy any liquor. We got to the hotel a couple of hours later and the rest of the group were on their way to the game shortly thereafter.
I later learned that, after Sauk Centre, a piece of wood struck the windshield of the other bus on the passenger’s side. Glass flew everywhere, but everyone was all right, including the driver. They got the windshield repaired that night, probably while everyone was at the game.
The view from my hotel room
The next morning, with the bike that I had brought along and stored in the lower compartment, I set off for the big city. Still a little tired and sporting a fever, climbing hills were particularly difficult, but I got on the Cedar Lake trail at 11th Avenue in Hopkins.
From there, the trail turned into the equivalent of an Interstate highway for a cyclist. There were benches, garbage cans, little rest areas, and all sorts of signage on the dedicated trail.

More important, however, was the people on them.

They were respectful.
When I was passed, which was often, I heard nothing but “on your left, sir”, not the “f— you, a—hole” that I would more commonly hear in the capital of the S.P.R.M.
There were no unleashed dogs, nor any joggers armed with the self-proclaimed moral entitlement to disregard every law in the land. Everyone stuck to their own side of the road and though, later in the day, the trail became quite congested, I can’t say it was a problem. The other cyclists were also well-behaved and stopped at stop signs and red lights. Imagine that!
I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.

My first major stop of the day was Lake Calhoun, a highly-scenic area near downtown Minneapolis.



Circling the lake are two separate trails, one for cyclists, one for pedestrians. Again, the separation is respected by the trail users.

Strangely, the bike path around Lake Calhoun was only one-way, but since I was circling the entire lake anyways, it wasn’t a problem.

I had to stop a number of times to take pictures.



This is a little lake just off the south west corner of Lake Calhoun.

I noticed this sign for the Linden Hills neighborhood.

“We look out for each other,” the sign says. Another indicator that I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.
After finishing with Lake Calhoun, I spent a little time around nearby Lake of the Isles.


Back on the Midtown Greenway, I took note of one of the many Emergency call boxes along the route.

Knowing that, unlike the S.P.R.M., they actually have law enforcement agencies in Minnesota, there might actually be someone on the other end of the line who would care if you were in distress.

The Midtown Greenway passing under the Uptown Transit Center
I exited the Midtown Greenway at Nicollet Avenue and proceeded north into the heart of the big city. Unknowingly, I passed by an area that tourism officials call “Eat Street”.
What these bureaucrats like to call “culture” is, in reality, a collection of run-down, dirty, mom-and-pop-style restaurants that most people would be embarrassed to take their dog to. Despite my blocked nasal passages, I could still smell the foul odors coming from these restaurants and they weren’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
I did have an appetite, but I didn’t need a tour of the nearby Hennepin County Medical Center, so I kept going.

 

Passing the Hilton Minneapolis, I noticed one of the many depots for Nice Ride MN, where you can rent a bike. Swipe your credit card, take a bike for a ride, and return it to one of the many other depots around the downtown area.
After locking up my bike at the IDS Center, I stopped for a lengthy lunch break at Gaviidae Common before moving on.
I always make a point of touring Cancer Survivors Park in downtown Minneapolis every time that I am there.

 

Continuing on, I went past Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

I then followed the river trail and went past the historic Stone Arch Bridge.


I continued on past the I-35W bridge and stopped for some shots.

 Overlooking the Bohemian Flats park.
A view of the Mississippi River.
It was already mid-afternoon and with my tank already depleted, I decided to call it a day and turn around. My total mileage for the day was 36.06, not bad considering the condition I was in. It was an absolutely fantastic experience that I would highly recommend to any cyclist looking to escape the melancholy of the S.P.R.M. Please make sure you leave your inherent foul attitude at home first.
The next day, I decided to stick a little closer to the hotel. I was out on Bryant Lake Road near US 212 when my camera suddenly died after nearly four years and over 38,000 pictures. Fortunately, I was near a major shopping mall and Target was open at 8:00. Yes, that’s 8:00 am on a Sunday morning. No, I wasn’t in the S.P.R.M.
I picked up a replacement, the successor model to my dearly departed loyal soldier and, after a brief return to my hotel room, I was back in business in short order.
My first stop was the Bryant Lake Regional Park near the hotel.


It’s not the biggest park in the area, but it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re staying in Eden Prairie as I was.

In the afternoon, I went north and linked up with the Cedar Lake trail once again. West of 11th Avenue in Hopkins and into Minnetonka, the trail is not paved, but it is a crushed-gravel surface that’s still pretty good.


There are still some rest stops and scenic places along the route. I went west of I-494 before turning around at the Glen Lake Golf and Country Club and going back to the hotel after covering more than 31 miles.

Come Monday morning, it was time to get back on the bus and head north. It was an incredibly depressing ride. The trip had been such a good experience that I didn’t want to leave and the prospect of returning to the S.P.R.M. was making me feel ill.

Fortunately, we were headed in the opposite direction of Monday morning rush hour traffic.

The ride back was also quite scary. Seated opposite the driver, I could see him reading his e-mail on his BlackBerry, writing notes on a paper nestled against the steering wheel, and rummaging through papers and his CD collection. He was even packing his bag on the road.
Meanwhile, our tour guide was fast asleep. She was little more than a passenger on the trip and she made me appreciate the good tour guides I have had so often on this bus trips.


North of Fargo, we spotted a series of wind turbine propellers being hauled south on I-29.

We were also treated to another annoying movie. Bench Warmersis the most juvenile and worthless production that has ever come from Hollywood. Bar none.
As we passed the Crystal Sugar plant north of Drayton, I saw a billboard that read “God Bless America”.
There should have been one nearby that read “God Save Canada.”
It was at that time that, so close to the border, I felt like we were about to cross from West Berlin into East Berlin.
Our last stop before re-entering the S.P.R.M. was the Pembina Duty Free Americas store.

As I sat near the border waiting for all of the liquor boxes to be loaded on the bus, I stared across the 49th parallel into the abyss of the S.P.R.M.

After having yet another positive experience in the Twin Cities, I wanted to throw up knowing what I was about to return to.
We pulled up to the customs office and a young man with tattoos on his arm came on board, followed by a younger woman. He asked the driver how many people were on board, then he got on the microphone and asked everyone to pass their Je Declare forms forward.
“Everyone here Canadian citizens, no permanent residents or other special status?”
“Everyone’s aware of their exemptions? Alcohol and tobacco. Anyone have anything they shouldn’t have?”
The two of them split the stack of Je Declare forms, making sure all the boxes had been ticked with an answer. One couple didn’t tick anything in a box, so the guy went to the back to find out why. A few minutes later, he returned and sent us on our way.
He didn’t even ask to see our passports.
I feel so much better knowing that our borders are so secure.
Or not.
After crossing the frontier into the S.P.R.M., a gust of wind nearly took control of the bus. The driver had an iron grip on the steering wheel and managed to get us through it in one piece, but it was only a stroke of good fortune that he wasn’t involved in one of his many other activities at the time.
In the immediate aftermath of the gust, with threatening skies still very much overhead, he started packing his bag again and persisted most of the way back to Winnipeg.
At the Salisbury House on Pembina, we got a new driver.
Mr. BlackBerry was replaced with Mr. I’ve Never Driven A Bus Before.
He couldn’t figure out how to release the parking brake and only after a half hour on the phone with someone from the office did he get it released. Even when we did get moving, he had a lot of difficulty negotiating some tight corners and he really wasn’t aware as to where he was going.
We finally got back to our dropoff point and I got back home safely, albeit almost by accident.
As good as the experience was, I felt like it was a cruel hoax. I saw how good life can be south of the border and it made the S.P.R.M. look like a rotten, third-world country by comparison. My eyes have been opened like never before.
I need to seriously look at emigrating to the United States. Or leave Winnipeg, at the very least.

06 May

Is Armageddon Next?

Over the past couple of weeks, deeply alarming and unusual events have threatened the very foundation of human existence.
Consider the following:
The Arizona Screaming Weasels, officially known as the Phoenix Coyotes, nee Winnipeg Jets won a playoff series.
Not only did they win a playoff series, they beat someone other than the Calgary Flames.
Never before in their NHL history has this happened.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Weasels won a game in the second round of the playoffs.
Again, it was a history-making event. The NHL Jets never once accomplished this gargantuan feat.
Then they won another game in the second round of the playoffs.
And a third.
These events support only one logical conclusion.
The world is about to end.
Or perhaps not.
But it’s probably a much greater foreshadowing of the pending Armageddon than someone reading tarot cards in the back of a coffee shop.
Winnipeggers thought Armageddon was coming when the Jets left in 1996. Maybe now it is.
Stay tuned.
18 Sep

Ode to the Provincial Election

It’s Greg and Hugh, both wanting to be your honey
While bribing you with your own money
Under the NDP, the financial house needs mending
Yet Selinger brags about his wild spending
Throwing money at Chipman and building a 30,000-seat saloon
Flood victims struggle and roads crumble, making him look like a buffoon
We turn to McFadyen, a man with no substance at all
Yet can smile wide when you meet him in a store or mall
He stands for nothing despite many a plea
His only redeeming quality is that he’s not a member of the NDP
If asked whether two plus two equals four, he would stop and lament
Then issue a statement that read “no comment”
Manitobans need a real option
Not more taxes and spending or an unknown concoction
17 Sep

True North Makes Capital Expenditure Without Government Aid

Naysayers alert.

This time, you’re going to have to admit you were wrong.
Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment today unveiled a significant capital expenditure without asking for a single dime from the public.
“We put up a tool shed behind our new practice facility. Someone was clearing out a rusty old shed on Craigslist, so we pounced on it. After some hard bargaining, we managed to knock down the shipping charge and today, it arrived,” said a spokesman for True North.
“I’m not at liberty to disclose the financial terms of the deal, but the total cost might run into two figures. I know everyone here connected with True North feels a strong sense of community and this is something that we felt we needed to do to give back to our city and province.”
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger was unavailable for comment since he was in the middle of feverish campaigning in a desperate attempt to stave off certain defeat in the upcoming provincial election, but a spokesman for his office issued the following statement on his behalf:
“This large private-sector investment made by True North and the Chipman family is what makes me proud to be a Manitoban. This shows the entrepreneurial spirit so common throughout our province that our government has been so honored to assist and help grow. The benefits of the public-private partnership we have nurtured with True North are again coming together to benefit all Manitobans. We congratulate the Chipman family on their acquisition and we look forward to further initiatives where public participation can again play a role.”
“Here I thought that Mark Chipman didn’t go to the bathroom without calling the Premier for a handout. Boy, was I wrong. I guess I owe him an apology,” said one observer at today’s press conference.
08 Sep

Matlock to Gimli by Bike

Last Sunday, I had the good fortune to go up to Gimli for another nice travel adventure, this time on two wheels. A friend and I drove up to Gimli and made the nearly 30-mile trek to Matlock and back.
For those so inclined and not familiar with the area we took a scenic path through Gimli and ended up at PTH 9 at South Colonization Road. From there, we followed PTH 9 south through Sandy Hook.

Between Winnipeg Beach and Gimli, PTH 9 has a full paved shoulder and speeds are reduced to 50 km/h through both Sandy Hook and Winnipeg Beach.

I passed on the fresh “pickeral”.

Near Salty’s Drive Inn, we turned to take a tour of Winnipeg Beach before heading for PR 232, the highway that runs through the cottage communities of Ponemah, Whytewold, and Matlock, collectively known as the Village of Dunnottar.

The caboose in Winnipeg Beach.

The sign for Dunnottar. Apparently, the operation of off-road vehicles is prohibited in “Dunnotter” that is presumably somewhere near Dunnottar.

A block off the highway is the historic Dunnottar train station that has been turned into a museum. I didn’t go in, but I would like to check it out on a return trip.

Approaching Ponemah Road.

As you can see, PR 232 has a narrow shoulder, but speeds are reduced and traffic is relatively light, consisting mostly of weekend tourists.
The view from one of the many scenic rest stops along the route.

An apple tree.

Farther along, in Whytewold, there’s another rest stop with a pier.

I had the urge to yell “shark”, but I resisted the temptation.

An Olympic rower, Colleen Miller, apparently competed in “Indianapalis” and “Tazmania”.

The Whytewold Emporium is quite popular, though I can’t personally vouch for the reasons why.

The pier in Matlock.

Looking at the northern tip of Netley Marsh from the end of the pier.

On the way back, we stopped at the RM of Gimli Centennial Marker on the shore of Willow Creek.

One of the many cottages nearby:

A sign from Peter Bjornson, the MLA for Gimli, one of Carli Ward’s former teachers at Gimli High School, and perhaps soon to be returning to his old job after the October election:

I made a slight detour to Moonlight Bay, where I noticed the high water level. Normally, these rocks aren’t covered by water.

For those so inclined, there’s a new Robins Donuts location in Gimli, in the main floor of the Lakeview at Centre Street and First Avenue.

This is the webcam that shows the Gimli Harbor to the world:

A look at Loni Beach from the harbor:

And a look at Willow Island from the harbor:



Having covered this route as a passenger in both a car and a bus, I knew this was a scenic route, but even I did not fully appreciate it until I covered it on two wheels. For anyone looking for a bike journey out of the ordinary, this is a destination I can highly recommend. Public parking is available in Gimli just off First Avenue, south of the Lakeview, where you can bring your alternative transportation and explore the eastern Interlake region at your leisure.

28 Aug

Morden Corn & Apple Festival

Yesterday, I joined many others as Corn and Apple Nation descended on Morden for the 45th annual Corn and Apple Festival. I had not been there in over 30 years and, at the last minute, I decided that it was time to check it out again.
On the way there, we went through Carman, home of Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour, a key member of the 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars.

The memory of that championship season still brings a smile to my face and likely always will. For those that don’t know, since the “real” Jets left Winnipeg, I have two favorite NHL teams: the Dallas Stars and whoever will be playing Mark Chipman’s personal hockey team.

I was relieved that we did not stop at the Roland Golf Club.

I’m sure it’s a fine place to golf, for those who are so inclined, but we didn’t need to stop there on the way to the Peace Gardens earlier this month and we didn’t need to stop there yesterday either.

Traffic was quite bad as we took a less conventional route to Morden, turning west on PTH 23, then south on PR 432. Traffic was even worse when we got there.

Not only was there a Tim Hortons location at the light ahead, which can bring about a traffic jam in the middle of a farmer’s field, but we were moments away from the start of the parade. Apparently, it’s a really big deal in this part of the S.P.R.M. and we were in the thick of it all.

After de-bussing, I chose to go off the beaten path and I probably got some strange looks as I passed by so many people with lawn chairs in hand headed in the opposite direction. I’m surprised someone didn’t ask if I was lost.

I stopped to take a picture of this overhead sign draped across PTH 3/Thornhill Street on my way to Morden Park.

This is a scenic park nestled along Dead Horse Creek that was comparatively free of the hustle and bustle several blocks away.

On my way back to the center of town, I saw some other interesting sights.



I know that at least one reader will appreciate this picture. First, he gets a disease named after him, now he has a furniture store all his own.

Leftovers from the parade that could be heard all over town.

Nice homes in this growing community.

There was not a parking spot to be had anywhere in town. I’m sure the locals appreciate the money the festival brings in every year, but the streets were literally jam-packed with parked cars.

Hockey Night in Morden.

The old court house.

Not that I enjoy crowds, but I did want to check out Stephen Street, where all the commotion was taking place.

The midway on the east side of town.

The line for ride tickets.

$9 for a bag of cotton candy?
More rides as you move west.

This was the line for Bessie’s Famous Shish-Ka-Bobs.

And this was the shish-ka-bob outdoor kitchen.
Rest assured I was not ever part of this line.
Moving on, I came across the line for the free corn that attracts crowds from near and far.
This was just the front of the line. It stretched another block long. I would have appreciated the corn, but I wasn’t inclined to spend my day in line waiting for it.

There were plenty of public washrooms available in trailers such as these. It’s an excellent idea and I only wish other festivals in Manitoba made similar provisions for their guests, such as the Lily Festival in Neepawa, for example.

  
Clowns entertaining passers-by.
As I predicted, I ran out of energy before I ran out of time, so I strolled back to Morden Park to put up my feet and relax before our bus ride home.

On the way back, we took a very different and circuitous route home. I had not known that there were so many ways to get from Winnipeg to Morden, but I learned a couple of new ones on this trip. The bus driver told us that there was construction work on PTH 75 and presumably, that’s why he was avoiding it.

We went through KANE, as opposed to Kane. It didn’t dawn on me until I got home, but Kane is the surname of a player on the last squad of the Atlanta Thrashers. The young man is about to go from one badly-run team to another.

After passing through KANE, we went through LOWE FARM.

A short time later, we made it to Rosenort. The distance was barely noticeable due to the fact that we were travelling at 120 km/h for most of the way since leaving Winkler. All I can say is that I was glad that this driver, unlike the driver we had last week, wasn’t balancing his meal on the steering wheel. For those that are not aware, the speed limit on most Manitoba highways is 100 km/h. Sadly, far too many motorists feel that this posted speed limit is a minimum, not a maximum.

Rosenort has their own arena.

On the right is the Rosenort Subway.

Eventually, we reached PTH 75 and we found out why the driver had been avoiding it as best he could. The condition of one of Manitoba’s most well-travelled and important highways was worse than most of the side roads we had used to get there.
This is a shot taken just north of Ste. Agathe. They were doing road work south of Ste. Agathe and it was obviously needed.
In any event, it was an interesting day out in Morden, but the town would likely have been better experienced at any other time besides when the popular Corn and Apple Festival is taking place. I hope to get that opportunity at some point.

22 Aug

Farm Tour

On Sunday, I ventured out on a farm tour that took me to Blue Lagoon Organics near St. François Xavier and Littlepath Farm north of Minnedosa.
Bright and early, I boarded the bus with 13 other tour participants, two organizerettes from Manitoba Farm Mentorship, a tray full of cinnamon buns, and, of course, the bus driver, and we headed west for our first stop, Blue Lagoon Organics, located just south of the village of St. François Xavier off PTH 26.
Apparently, I was the only one on the tour who wasn’t a farmer(ette) or prospective farmer(ette). Everyone else on the bus seemed to know each other and I admit to being a little concerned about what kind of group I was travelling with when one of them got on the bus singing the words to the popular chart-topping hit, “I got to pee so bad, pee so bad.” However, the group was quiet and most everyone left me to collect my writing fodder and highway pictures in peace, though I’m sure many of them, if not all, were asking, “Who is this guy and why is he here?”
Back to Blue Lagoon Organics, I’ve been past this farm frequently, but I’ve never seen their actual operation before. We were met by the “brains of the operation”, who gave us a nice tour of the family farm and told us of her many trials and tribulations from her years of experience. I was particularly surprised by how many hoops they have to jump through to be “certified organic”.

Two of their more significant problems are deer and coyotes and they’ve come up with some ingenious ways of fending them off. They have red lights on top of posts to ward off deer, who confuse them with the eyes of a coyote, in addition to the electrified fencing around their chicken yard.

They do sell “tomatoe” plants, though I didn’t ask what they were.

An elaborate irrigation system.

Their worm farm.

The greenhouse.

Chickens, chickens, and more chickens. If you’re wondering what that big black pile is off in the background of the second chicken picture, it’s all horse manure.

  
No, this isn’t their house, but it was a, ahem, collector’s paradise.
  
Need a used car?

They have some chickens out on one of their berms fertilizing the ground and they regularly move the chickens from berm to berm.

While there, they were good enough to let us use their outhouse and my decision to bring hand sanitizer with me paid off for the first and not final time on this day.
Two hours later, we were back on the bus heading west towards Littlepath Farm somewhere in the general vicinity of Minnedosa. Once we got on the Yellowhead past Macdonald, the bus driver pulled out a Swiss army knife and began to cut up some mini squash that he bought at Blue Lagoon. The problem here is that he was driving at the time. Many of you may be aware of the new cell phone law in the S.P.R.M. that bans the use of cell phones without a handsfree device while driving, but let me be the first to call for a similar law that bans the cutting of squash while driving.
Once we got past Gladstone, I used the washroom on the bus. For those that have never tried to answer the call of nature in a washroom in a vehicle being driven at a speed likely exceeding 110 km/h on a neglected and typically rough Manitoba highway, that is one of life’s experiences that need not be repeated.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon, we ended up at Minnedosa. From there, we proceeded north through the pretty town, past Minnedosa Beach, and found our way to a deserted country road officially known as Road 90N in the RM of Minto, where we stopped at a small house, not sure of where we were or where we were going. After one of the tour directors asked for directions from the people at the house, who must have been shocked by the sight of this big tour bus in their midst, we headed back down Road 90N and turned down a different unnamed road, where we arrived at Littlepath Farm.

We were met by an enthusiastic farmer named Wes, who took us around his scenic workplace. The first thing we saw was their collection of “chicken tractors”:


The first of their “tractors” was empty on account of the fact that the chickens had already been taken to market, but the second set still had the chickens inside, though they only had days to live. I was able to touch one of them, as did a few others.

We then walked down to see his expansive vegetable garden, complete with a much-needed irrigation system, then it was on to his pig pen.
  
Don’t worry. I won’t eat you.
Wes then took us up a hill to where his turkeys are penned up.

Just outside the cage is his kitchen:

It’s not something you’re likely to see on HGTV, but it works for him and that’s all that counts. Nearby is the tent he calls home during the summer months. He has no power or running water and he has to truck the water he has from nearby Bethany. He does, however, have a solar panel that he uses to get a small amount of power to charge the battery on his BlackBerry. I remain convinced, now more than ever, that I am the last person in the Western world without a cell phone.

After the tour of his farm, Wes led us back into Minnedosa, where we saw his makeshift retail outlet in the north end of town. While there, Wes told us about the farmer’s markets he goes to and how he tries to get some local bands to be playing while the market is open. He mentioned this topic while at his farm as well and I was puzzled as to why he deemed it necessary to have loud music blasting near his stand. Personally, hearing bands playing next to a farmer’s stand would make me buy my food elsewhere.
As he continued talking, I listened as a few of my fellow travellers discussed the best methods for slaughtering chickens. That wasn’t something I really needed to hear, so I returned to the bus and waited for the rest of the group.
Though the farm tour was over, the ride back to the degenerate capital of the S.P.R.M. was not without adventure. Our bus driver picked up a dish of chipped beef and fries at the burger stand next to Wes’s retail outlet and was balancing the Styrofoam container on the steering wheel while trying to eat the contents and control the bus travelling at a speed of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110 km/h.
As he ate, the bus weaved back and forth slightly, nearly running onto the rumble strips past the white line a couple of times, and no one was more relieved when the driver finished his meal. Only then was his full attention focused on the road in front of him.
I would like to be the first to call for a “the steering wheel is not a dinner table” law.
By accident it seemed, we arrived back in Winnipeg safely and I nearly kissed the ground when I got off the bus. We left Minnedosa at 4:30, and after slowing down for Neepawa and Gladstone, then having to go through Portage on account of the construction on the bypass, we were in Headingley at 6:20. You can do the math to find out how fast we were travelling.
Overall, it was an enjoyable tour, though I’m not sure I’d do it again, regardless of the issue with the bus driver. I used the tour evaluation form to indicate my comments regarding the driver and I hope that, in future, this driver will place a higher premium on paying attention to the road.