Category Archives: Toronto

03 Feb

Braving the Extreme Cold in the Universe’s Center

Observations and pictures from yesterday’s visit to the Center of the Universe:

1. En route to Fairview Mall, I spotted a cyclist on Geneva Street with no helmet, no light and apparently no brain. Same goes for the cyclist who boarded the GO bus and got off at Beamsville, though at least the cyclist on Geneva had the benefit of street lights. Out on South Service Road at the Ontario Street exit, all the cyclist had for illumination was the light from the full moon.

2. Being a weekday, I was surprised that there were only a handful of people boarding at Fairview Mall, but then again, GO has increased the frequency of buses in the morning and afternoon peak hours.

3. There was a new message on the display inside the GO bus warning passengers, “Get serious about safety. The bus is bigger than you are.” People who need reminding that a double-decker monstrosity is bigger than they are shouldn’t be allowed out on their own.

4. GO has installed a new shelter at the lightly used Beamsville stop, yet they still don’t have one at the much busier stop at Nash and Barton. Sigh. But at least there’s the nearby Wholesale Club.

5. Dear City of Hamilton: There are holes in Kenora Street so big that a bus or a big rig could lose a wheel in. It doesn’t need patching, it needs to be completely repaved. Yesterday. This is not Winnipeg.

6. I watched as a heavyweight got off at Nash and Barton and waddled across the parking lot trying to catch a Barton bus. In a classic Winnipeg Transit moment, the bus took off just as she got to the stop. Not cool, HSR. You’re better than that.

7. Listening to that heavyweight pant and wheeze as she climbed up the stairs after getting on at Grimsby made me wonder why she didn’t stay down below since she was just getting off at Stoney Creek. It’s not like the bus was packed and there were no available seats.

8. I also noticed how that heavyweight came prepared with a heavy parka, yet didn’t bother to zip it up or put up her hood. No doubt she spent the morning complaining about the cold.

9. Recognizing people on the GO bus from past trips including the aforementioned heavyweight and cyclist in Beamsville made me realize just how much tenure I have acquired in this part of the world. Much to our mayor’s chagrin, I’m sure.

10. Just as the case on the return trip, the GO bus driver greeted each passenger upon boarding and thanked us as we got off. It sure beats the F-you treatment in the Old Country.

11. During the relatively uneventful ride on the express train to Union Station, I was seated opposite a middle-aged woman in a surly disposition who obviously did not get enough sleep last night.

12. The Danish Pastry House is one of a number of trendy eateries that have popped up in Union Station recently. Judging from the Tim Hortons-esque line, it seems to be popular.

13. I just missed a train in the subway and had to wait a whole minute for the next one. First world problems.

14. Can you imagine how often an alarm like this would get “misused” if they dared to install such a thing on Winnipeg Transit buses?

15. Obligatory shot aboard the subway:

16. Not long after having to wait that whole minute for the next train, I had to get off at the St. Clair West station since the one I was on was a rush-hour train and as such, was only going as far as Glencairn. I could have also transferred at Eglinton West or Glencairn itself, but as they advised in the announcement, if you wanted to wait indoors, St. Clair West was the best option.

17. Following the hour-long ride mostly underground, I got off at Vaughan Metropolitan Center, the new station which just opened in December as part of the Line 1 extension project.

Adjacent is a parking lot for subway riders as well as this new bus station still under construction as part of a rapidway being built in the middle of Highway 7. When completed, passengers getting off a York Regional Transit bus will be able to go below and catch the #1 line to downtown Toronto. All while Winnipeg is still farting around with Rapid Transit and more concerned about opening up Portage and Main to pedestrians.

18. Before approaching the Vaughan Metropolitan Center, there was an automated announcement saying that it was the terminal station. Not a big oaf behind the wheel bellowing out “TERMINUS” at the top of his lungs as I encountered last April while riding the STO in Gatineau.

19. Within a minute of getting to street level, I was approached by someone asking for directions to a DriveTest center. Sadly, not having been around there before, I couldn’t help the guy other than to point him the way to the subway station.

20. While getting some shots of the 407 ETR from the overpass at Jane Street, a truck from Bison Transport passed by and was soon followed by a truck from Gardewine. As I’ve said before, the SPRM does keep following me around.

20a. Bonus points for those who know where Manitoba’s 407 is. Or was.

21. After supplementing my collection of highway pictures, I walked along the newly constructed sidewalk leading to the Highway 407 station to catch the #1 line back to downtown Toronto.

In the latter shot, note how the sidewalk ends abruptly, forcing passengers to walk across the grass. This mysterious and Manitoba-esque design faux-pas isn’t an issue for an able-bodied person like me, but I can imagine the trouble anyone in a wheelchair or even someone who walks with a cane would have. There wasn’t even a ramp to allow such people to easily get off the sidewalk and onto the street.

22. Unlike the case in Union Station, the gates at this new station were clearly marked as to which one to use with each Presto card reader and there was no turnstile, just a Plexiglas door that opened after tapping.

23. Waiting at the Highway 407 station:

24. En route back to downtown Toronto, there was an announcement that trains were holding at Yorkdale because of a medical emergency. Minutes later, however, it was taken care of and trains were again moving. In the Old Country, police would have taken great pleasure in using such a circumstance to shut the entire service down for the day. Just because they could.

25. Spotted on the train was an ad saying that two of the three signs of mental illness can’t be seen. Oh, but they can. At the ballot box. After all, look how many Liberals still hold public office.

26. Also spotted on the train were two people using their laptops. No one would dare to do such a thing on a Winnipeg Transit bus for fear of it promptly being stolen, smashed and/or used as a toilet.

27. A guy with a Glad bag slung over his shoulder was going up and down the train asking people for spare change in multiple languages including gibberish. No one gave him anything, but I suppose it’s just because Toronto isn’t a compassionate city, another of the empty phrases our mayor continues to spew ad nauseum.

28. I got a pretty good whack on the knee from the excess blubber of a woman who sat down in front of me.

29. At the Osgoode station where I got off, children were collecting for Toronto’s homeless youth. Again, they didn’t get any donors from those of us who piled off the train. Cue the nauseating “compassionate city” lines from our mayor.

30. Even the rat dog vendors weren’t open in this “extreme cold.” Toronto was under an extreme cold warning even though it was only -11 when I left the house. The standard as to what is considered extreme cold certainly differs greatly from the Old Country, where -40 wind chills are par for the course at this time of year.

31. You think they use enough salt in this part of the world?

32. Scenes from the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square. It’s a wonder it wasn’t closed because of the “extreme cold.”

33. Or just let the law of natural selection run its course …

34. Several doors, including this one, were closed at the Queen Street entrance at the Eaton Center due to the “extreme cold.” It’s OK to laugh.

35. You know, if there really was a fire, I think that not having this fire hose available would be a little more than an “inconvenience.”

36. On the return trip, I noticed a woman who got off at Port Credit wearing leather boots that went way up past her knees. How people walk in such things is beyond me.

37. An older guy who got on at Clarkson bore a striking resemblance to Carl Bugenhagen, the exorcist in the first two Omen movies played by Leo McKern. As far as I know, he wasn’t carrying a box with daggers inside.

38. While waiting at the Burlington GO station for the #12 bus, I laughed as everyone went charging outside at the first sign of a bus only to realize that it wasn’t the Niagara-bound bus they were looking for. The bus’s destination was clearly labeled and plainly visible from inside the station, but you’ve got to look.

39. Among those waiting at the Burlington GO station was a guy with mental-health issues who was serenading the group with his own special brand of melodic ramblings. Though he continued to entertain us from the back of the bus after getting on, thankfully, he seemed to lose interest near Stoney Creek.

40. I remain grateful for GO’s express bus to the Falls that siphons off much of the riff-raff.

41. Being a weekday, I was surprised that most passengers boarding the #12 bus did not pay with Presto.

42. Our GO bus driver was otherwise very good, but an oncoming car he royally cut off pulling out of the Grimsby station had to swerve to avoid a collision.

43. So when there aren’t high winds on the skyway, it’s OK not to drive carefully?

44. As I’ve said before, you think they use enough salt in this part of the world?

 

16 Dec

A Commemorative Trip to the Universe’s Center

Pictures and observations from yesterday’s voyage to and from the universe’s center:

0. The purpose of yesterday’s trip was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of Carli Ward, a dear friend and subject of my second book. As she loved trains, a train trip to Toronto seemed appropriate to mark the occasion.

1. Even before 7:00, the Starbucks on Scott Street was blasting Christmas music on their speakers. If I could hear it from the street, no doubt the people in the nearby apartment blocks could as well. But I’m sure the people outside on the patio appreciated it. A patio that must be wildly popular at this time of year.

2. Waiting at Fairview Mall was a woman wearing a pair of Smurf-blue sweatpants that one would wear around the house. Come as you are.

3. Spotted in the shelter at Fairview. I’d rather see these four-letter words than the ones I used to see with much more frequency in the Old Country. You know, the ones that start with the letter ‘F.’

4. Someone from a group of four with huge piles of luggage in tow asked me if this was there they could catch the bus to Brampton. I replied that the bus was going to Burlington, but she seemed satisfied. Brampton, Burlington, what’s the difference?

5. Boarding just ahead of me was a GO trainee who insisted on holding up the line to give the driver a sob story about showing up two hours late to work yesterday because he missed a bus connection. Something told me the grunt behind the wheel couldn’t have cared less. Save it for your future boss.

6. Some pee-wee hockey player who got on at Fairview stored his huge bag full of hockey equipment in the luggage area by the front door, yet he made the effort to haul his sticks up the narrow stairway to the upper level. I wondered if he was perhaps planning a little pickup game.

7. I could have gotten out and walked faster than the school bus taking the curve on the 406 on-ramp. Yet on so many other occasions, I’ve seen lead-footed school bus drivers go like crazy. There does not seem to be a happy medium with them.

8. Even at that early hour, the parking lot at the Tim Hortons in Vineland was nearly packed.

9. LGBT activists can breathe easier now that the rainbow-colored bench at the Beamsville stop is back.

10. Dear delivery truck driver at the Beamsville park and ride: The next time you need to tend to some vitally important texting, try pulling into one of the many empty spots in the lot instead of forcing the GO bus driver to struggle to maneuver around you.

11. Many thanks to the older woman who boarded at Stoney Creek and sat behind me for sharing her cold or flu bug. I’m sorry she was in bed sick with a high fever and had to miss work the previous day, but from her coughing, it sounded like she should have called in sick again.

12. This same woman was trying to console someone she was talking to on the phone who was apparently distressed over a sick loved one. “He’s going to get better, mark these words. I’ll say a prayer,” she said. “And the other cat too.” Sigh.

13. Thumbs down to the Halton Police for not clearing the accident scene at the off-ramp at Fairview Street. The pieces of cracked taillights and fenders that were strewn all over the road no doubt were the cause of some deflated tires.

14. Waiting at the Burlington GO station for the Lakeshore West train, the Brampton/Burlington travelers left their luggage inside the station completely unattended while they went outside to smoke. Priorities.

15. I had the pleasure of waiting on the platform alongside someone with a long and annoying xylophone ringtone on her phone. A phone that went off three times in less than five minutes.

16. You think they use enough salt in this part of the world?

17. Spotted on a parked rail car was the notice, “Hammering on the side will contaminate product.” If that isn’t an open invitation, I don’t know what is.

18. Past the Oakville station, I noticed a sign for “Beaver Rentals.” Just in case you need to rent a beaver.

19. Fittingly, at the Long Branch station, there was a long branch sticking out from a tree that scraped the car on its way by.

20. At Union Station, I made my way to the platform for my first ride in a streetcar.

Passengers enter the station at the same gates as they do for the subway, but instead follow the signs for the streetcar platform.

I took the #510 line, which runs in the middle of Spadina Avenue, with cars passing on either side.

21. Scenes along Queen Street. It wasn’t my primary destination on this day, but I would like to return and spend more time here in a future visit.

22. “Butter Avenue” would indeed be a fitting address for the rising number of heavyweights out there.

23. I doubt these sessions do much for the customers, but they certainly help the psychic reader’s financial problems.

24. Scenes in “Graffiti Alley” just behind Queen Street:

25. I stopped at this A & W for a meal break. Though I did wait for a human to serve me, there was a self-order kiosk available as well. As with other fast-food restaurants, those kiosks will become increasingly popular as a result of unreasonable minimum-wage legislation. As someone put it on Twitter this morning, “I hope someday supporters of minimum wage hikes get to meet some of the folks who’ve lost jobs as a result, so they can look them in the eye and say ‘sorry, it was for the greater good.’”

26. Seated across from me was an overweight woman with Smurf-blue nails who was delightfully savoring her sweet potato fries and burger. See previous comment on “Butter Avenue.”

27. There was a numbered keypad on the door to the washroom along with a sign stating that the code to open it is printed on the bottom of your receipt. But I didn’t get a receipt. Yes, I hate begging for the privilege of using a washroom.

28. Not just a fender-bender, but an engine-bender:

29. Given how Carli was also a big baseball and Blue Jays fan, I made a point of touring the area around the Rogers Center.

29a. I used to be such a rabid baseball fan that I would take the day off work to watch Opening Day. Yet the last time I watched a baseball game for any significant length of time was when I was sitting next to Carli in Grace Hospice one evening back in the summer of 2007 when the Blue Jays were hosting the Dodgers.

30. Funny, I was looking for the line for past event sales …

31. Outside Ripley’s Aquarium. Our photo club is going on an outing there today, but of the many things I would want to do in the universe’s center, visiting the aquarium is just not one of them.

32. I used to think the Falls was the selfie capital of the world until I stumbled upon this sign outside the CN Tower. I had to wait several minutes for the riff-raff to move on before getting this shot.

33. Scenes in the skywalk between the CN Tower and Union Station:

34. The “Union Holiday” display near the Great Hall. Of note is that the dog at right was one of three I spotted inside Union Station on my return trip. Not cool.

35. While waiting for my Lakeshore West train, someone passed by with a box of heart-shaped candies. It’s the Christmas season, not Valentine’s Day.

36. On the platform, someone was digging into a malodorous takeout dish from Thai Express that I could smell from across the tracks. To say the least, it was not exactly a ringing endorsement for the chain.

37. Two people in my car were carrying bags from Uncle Tetsu Japanese Cheesecake. Too many people live to eat rather than eat to live.

38. The woman across the aisle from me on the train had more cords in her bag than I’ve seen at the desks of some server and network techies I’ve worked with.

39. Leaving Union Station, I spotted an interesting billboard from the Government of Canada. Over top of a background of a picture of weed was the caption “Don’t Drive High.” Wouldn’t it just be simpler not to legalize the stuff?

40. I think I see some pavement under all that salt …

40a. I got some strange looks from the guy seated across from me when I took that shot. Perhaps only someone born and raised in this part of the world can fully understand the “need” for such excessive use of sodium chloride.

41. I spotted a car with SPRM plates in the Oakville GO parking lot. As I’ve said before, that place does continue to follow me around.

42. In defiance of the crippling wave of political correctness sweeping the globe, both GO and Oakville Transit buses had “Merry Christmas” flashing on their signs. Maybe there’s still some hope for us yet.

43. They spent five years working on the new Burlington GO station and it still needs work …

44. Seated across the aisle from me on the GO bus was a chatty older couple from St. Catharines. The guy was the classic back-seat driver who kept making comments as “let’s go,” “give him a push,” “easy now” and “OK, smoke ’em” all the way back to Fairview Mall. The woman also interjected her share of commentary, particularly lamenting how slow drivers react to green lights. As we got closer to home, they made a point of talking about their disappointment with the prices at Lakeshore Meats. Like me, they were on a day trip to Toronto as well, but they had gotten up at 4:00, much earlier than I did.

45. Kudos to the GO bus driver on my return trip who exercised great caution on the highway under increasingly worsening conditions.

01 Nov

Halloween in the Universe’s Center

Observations and pictures from yesterday’s voyage to and from the Center of the Universe:

1. Even before the crack of dawn, there was a long line at the drive thru at the Tim Hortons on Scott Street. Oy.

2. Dear jogger on Scott Street: Even if you don’t care about breaking the law, show that you take your own safety more seriously than you expect passing motorists to by using the sidewalk instead of the road. Especially when it’s pitch dark outside.

3. After hearing train whistles near Fairview Mall, an area with no railway presence, I spotted this abandoned stocking cap or mitten with the number 5 on it.

Then when I got to Burlington, there was this 642 license plate right in front of me on the platform.

Messages sent, messages received. As I’ve said before, you may understand and you may not.

4. No doubt LCBO will be accused of racism with this edict …

5. On this Halloween day, much to my relief, my bus driver came dressed as … drumroll please … a bus driver.

6. On the QEW, we passed a sign that read, “Work Zone: Drive with Care.” So evidently, it’s OK to drive carelessly if it’s not a work zone.

7. Dear cyclist who got off at Beamsville: Much like the case with the jogger on Scott Street, place a premium on your safety by considering a small investment in a light for your bike. Especially when you plan to use it in the dark on roads without street lights.

8. Dear smoker on the platform at Burlington: Don’t let that big “no smoking” sign you were standing underneath bother you.

9. I think I was only one of three or four people on the platform and on the train who was not preoccupied with his phone. It shouldn’t surprise me at this point, but it still does.

10. As it was an express train, the customer service ambassador kept reminding passengers wishing to travel to stations between Clarkson and Exhibition to detrain at Oakville. This was just after I debused at Burlington and an hour before I would desubway in Toronto.

11. At the opposite end of the car I was in, there was a sign commemorating GO’s 50th anniversary. Why is it that I get the impression that GO was more advanced on their first day than Winnipeg Transit is today? Not that I’m bitter or anything, mind you.

12. Parked in a lot near the Bronte station was a trailer from Arnold Bros. Transport. As I’ve said before, the SPRM does follow me around.

13. The person seated next to me on the train should seriously consider upgrading her laptop from Windows 7, which is in the extended support phase. But at least she had the latest version of Office installed.

14. The guy seated across from me had a silly, almost stupid-looking grin on his face all the way to Union Station. But he sure thought he was important. Oh, and he’s an RBC customer. The things you learn about people on public transit.

15. It wasn’t even November and this GO locomotive was already decked out for Christmas:

16. At the washroom in Union Station, I had to wait in line to use a hand dryer. Once again, this is not the Old Country.

17. Traffic and crowds were not a problem on the way to Union, but I was caught off guard by the mass crush of humanity headed for the subway.

18. Dear TTC: Having taken the subway there before, I realize I should have known better, but please consider putting arrows pointing passengers to the proper gate to use after tapping their Presto card. Just like you do at other Presto-enabled stations. When you put a Presto machine between two sets of gates, not everyone is going to know which one to use, particularly in a city that gets as many visitors as Toronto does.

19. This jogger at Queen’s Park did not appear to be in costume. Her attire was just weird.

20. Normally, I would scoff at the prospect of students buying assignments, but today’s professors are so blinded by left-wing ideologies that they’d probably give a passing grade to anything, even if it was directly copied from Coles Notes, as long as it properly conformed to their worldview.

20a. Back in the late 1980s when I was in a class taught by a former NDP MLA, I got a D on an essay in which I disagreed with his left-wing politics. I pretended to agree with him on the next assignment and got a B. Coincidence? You be the judge.

21. Shots along Philosopher’s Walk on the campus of the University of the Center of the Universe. Or would that be Central Universe University?

22. When liberals talk about “everyone” being welcome, they mean everyone who agrees with them. The rest of us can take a hike.

23. Chew on this: 0 out of 8 households seem to have trouble getting a hold of cigarettes or LCBO products. There are some genuinely needy people out there, but far too often, it’s a matter of priorities.

24. The back of the arena that hosted the WHA’s Toronto Toros in their first season after moving from Ottawa.

24a. If you recall, following one season at Varsity Arena and two more at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Toros moved south and became the Birmingham Bulls. As an old Jets fan, I can still hear the “Birmingham stinks!” chant.

25. Shouldn’t this be code red?

26. Give him a call …

27. Outside the Royal Ontario Museum:

28. No, this shot was not taken in Winnipeg, the discount capital of the Western world …

29. The only difference between a regular piece of art and an “objet d’art” is the 50-100% premium in price.

30. Given how Halloween has seemingly become a national holiday, I was surprised that this was about as radical as things got as far as costumes and decorations were concerned:

31. Shots around the Yorkville area:

32. In case you have a dirty Canada Goose on your hands …

33. I don’t think I want to get my hair cut there:

34. Spotted at Yorkville Center was a couple who were fawning over a poodle as if it was a newborn baby.

35. I used the washroom at Yorkville Center, where again, people were washing their hands after doing their business. As I’ve said before, this is not the Old Country.

36. Near the Yorkville Center, I passed by a Ferrari and Maserati dealership, open by appointment only, strategically placed in the middle of the high rent district.

36a. If you recall, back in 2003, Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers wrecked his Ferrari in a single-vehicle accident that claimed the life of his passenger and teammate, Dan Snyder.

36b. How many of you remember that Heatley’s father played in the WHA?

37. Better than an old street …

38. It wasn’t bitterly cold by any means, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be riding around in the open-air top deck:

39. I guess those packages don’t move …

40. Obesity has evidently become such a problem in our society that the Shoppers Drug Mart in Hudson Bay Center had a “Weight Management” aisle.

41. Perhaps this is commonplace elsewhere in the world, but this is the first time I’ve seen an intersection like this one at Bloor and Yonge where pedestrians can cross diagonally.

42. Though I didn’t stop to investigate further, there was someone on Yonge Street looking to pocket a little extra cash by running a less-than-legal spinning-wheel gaming operation. No doubt, police will be on to him quickly. After all, the government hates competition.

43. Heard over the crowds at Yonge-Dundas Square was a mentally challenged gentleman who yelled, “Why do you make noise jeery freaks jerks?”

44. Many were lining up inside Eaton Center for a chance to win a Google Home Mini. Whatever that is.

44a. Even if it was something valuable, with Google partnering with their Silicon Valley allies in censoring any political views to the right of Lenin, you probably had to show a Liberal Party membership card to get an entry form.

45. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were out in full force all along Yonge Street. At one display, they had their literature available in Arabic. If that doesn’t scream desperation, I don’t know what does.

46. Before seeing it advertised on an overhead display, I didn’t know Toronto had an annual celebration of Iranian cinema. I also didn’t know that they were allowed to make movies in Iran other than government newsreels preaching hatred of Western culture.

47. At right is one satisfied customer …

48. In a province that blankets its roads in salt every winter, even when it’s not needed, this just screamed “Ontario”:

49. I get the feeling the Leafs and Raptors won’t take kindly to having their flags flown at this establishment. Call it a hunch.

50. And best of lucks in your new location …

51. I spotted this “DropBike” left out on the sidewalk. Apparently it’s a service where you can unlock one of their bikes using a QR code generated from their app and leave it at designated locations around the city when you’re done with it.

51a. You will never see such a service in the Old Country. Trust me.

52. Farther down Yonge, I spotted a bum sleeping on the sidewalk using the front wheel of his bike as a cushion. A bike that looked to be in better shape than mine.

53. At the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, caps from the North Stars, Whalers or Nordiques were readily available, but they had nothing from the Thrashers.

54. Outside their store at the Tim Hortons was this display featuring the (real) Jets:

Of particular note was the replica AVCO Cup, the Hawerchuk jersey and those old ticket stubs, all still fondly remembered by yours truly.

54a. On my list of ideas for future books is a memoir featuring the Jets’ final season.

55. Nearby was a display of pucks, two of which were from the WHA Jets:

56. While waiting at Union Station for the Lakeshore West train, I spotted this dude doing his exercises out on the floor:

57. You don’t need to have an M.D. after your name to know that the obese woman I spotted hobbling along on a cane would be able to get around a lot easier by dumping a few pounds.

58. I’m proud of the fact that I don’t get the rings seemingly normal people stick in their noses.

59. It couldn’t have been possible for the 20-something woman I spotted with dyed blond and blue hair to get more makeup and lipstick on her face without it falling off.

60. The two women on the platform standing near me might as well have been holding a big neon sign with “TOURISTS” on it. Act like you’ve been there before.

61. There was a “medical emergency” which delayed the train by 13 minutes, but to their credit, GO arranged for the #12 bus to hold at Burlington for those of us wanting to catch it. Once again, this isn’t the Old Country, where a Winnipeg Transit driver would have taken great pleasure in taking off just as the people who were running after the bus got within a few feet of the door. Spoken from a great deal of personal experience in that regard.

62. One guy got on and asked the driver, “Have I ever been on the bus with you?” and “Do you know where I like to get off?” Sure he does. I’m sure he knows each and every passenger by name.

63. I noticed a sign on the QEW for the Organized Crime Winery. Funny, I didn’t know the Clintons were in the wine business.

64. During the day, the rainbow-colored bench at Beamsville was replaced with a regular wooden one. I can just hear the liberals crying “Homophobia!”

65. I didn’t know what the obese woman in the drive thru at the Tim Hortons on Scott Street was about to order, but trust me, she didn’t need it.

03 Sep

Touring Danforth Village

Yesterday, I made another excursion to the universe’s center, this time making a tour of Danforth Village on the east end of the city. “The Danny,” as they euphemistically call it.

The trip would get off to a bad start as the #12 bus left Fairview Mall almost 20 minutes behind schedule. The bus we had appeared to be a last-minute substitute as it pulled off the QEW from the eastbound direction and was completely empty when I boarded. The regular bus that was supposed to arrive from the Falls probably broke down, but there was no official explanation provided from the driver.

En route to Burlington, I spotted a black pickup truck from the Great State of New York with “Smith & Wesson” plastered over his back window. Even though I am fully supportive of law-abiding citizens possessing firearms, displaying such a motto so proudly when crossing an international border might not be the best thing to do. But to each his own.

Despite the lengthy delay, we still managed to make it to Burlington in time to catch the scheduled Lakeshore West train. Much more noteworthy, however, was that the driver pulled into south loop at the newly opened station, the one they had been working on for so many years. As I said to someone while waiting on the platform, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to live long enough to see it completed.

Inside, the ticket office was actually open and more importantly, so were the washrooms. Indoor washrooms. I don’t have to use the Burlington Outhouse ever again.

Up on the platform, I was not the only Center-of-the-Universe-bound traveler on this day, though most had other plans, including the popular CNE, located just a few steps from the Exhibition stop.

On board, I took a seat across from a couple of young heavyweightettes and, like, listened to their chatter, like, all the way to, like, Toronto. As the train pulled out of Burlington, they, like, first talked about how, like, hard it was to, like, not eat all their, like, snacks right away. Like, from the looks of them, they could do without the snacks.

One of them then shared the details of how she and her sister were both delivered by c-section. Born in 1984, she was a planned pregnancy, but her sister wasn’t. The other one then mentioned something about needing to pay Lisa $650 and bragged how she got a free $60 ticket to a convention she was attending. Or should I say, it was, like, for free.

Ms. C-Section then talked about the possibility of, like, being sent somewhere to help them with, like, public speaking. Like, I need help on public speaking from her like I need a free trip to North Korea. But as she said, if she goes, it will be super fun and there will be 50 million things she will want to buy. She will just have to be adult about it.

This just in. She needs to try harder.

After they got off at Union Station, I just filed that experience under Chapter 641 of “The things you learn about people on public transit.” Perhaps one day to make it into print. You never know.

I stayed on the train and got off at the Danforth station to begin my tour. You can check the album I posted on Facebook for many of the pictures, but there were other scenes that caught my eye as well.

A creative name for a dog groomer.

Up to 80% off a mattress. But only one mattress.

Pick up a cheap “camisol.”

It’s important to care for your pharmacy. They need love too.

If you want to drive a contract around.

I could only shake my head at this sight. Have we sunk so low that there’s a demand for a take-out window at Tim Hortons?

Funny, but I don’t think this stroller was taken by mistake. Call it a hunch. Maybe it’s that crusty old Winnipegger in me.

We delivery for you.

Someone’s got to explain this one to me.

A couple of hours later, I caught the #2 subway line at the Broadview station. The connecting station to the #1 line is called the “Bloor-Yonge” station, but they only announced it as the “Yonge” station and, unlike what they do on the #1 line, they didn’t announce that it was a connecting station. A significant faux pas in my opinion, especially given the number of tourists the universe’s center attracts. Nonetheless, I knew enough to get off there and caught the southbound #1 line back to Union.

I thought I had just missed a scheduled Lakeshore West train back to Burlington, but as luck would have it, it was delayed, so that gave me a chance to make it up onto the platform in more than enough time to catch it. The platform itself was packed, as was the train when it finally arrived, but it almost completely emptied at the Exhibition stop. One of these years, I should consider a visit to the CNE.

From there, it was a relatively quiet ride back to Burlington, where I was able to get the connecting #12 bus a short while later. While in line waiting, I laughed as someone came around asking if this was where she could catch the #12 bus as she was standing right underneath a huge sign to that effect. Duh.

After the bus came, I went up top only to find a bunch of noisy families yelling and screaming. Luckily, when the driver announced that an express bus to the Falls had pulled up, it caused an exodus of biblical proportions, and I don’t think I was the only one silently applauding. Good riddance.

Unfortunately, the riff-raff was soon replaced by a couple of millennials who, like, spent the next hour and a half spewing, like, their favorite word. Which they like. A lot. It all started with one of them, some kind of a middle manager at his workplace, lamenting how, like, casual Friday has become, like, a (manure) show. His companion talked about how, like, your performance should be graded on, like, your work.

On and on this went. It, like, needs to happen this year. Like, for example, she, like, she coached her colleague. But not, like, directly.

Behind me was an older couple who was also getting into the act after hauling their luggage up the stairs, also a phenomenon that continues unabated. The woman talked about how she wanted to make, like, nachos on sweet potatoes.

As the bus inched along in the holiday weekend traffic, there was at last some relief with some long periods of silence, briefly interrupted only be the incoherent ramblings of a mentally challenged man sitting a few rows behind me. All that I could make out was something about a strip club in Scarborough.

There was an interesting sighting at the Vineland exit, where a car had pulled off onto the shoulder. A few feet away in the middle of the tall grass was a father watching his young son take a leak. Sometimes the call of nature comes when you’re stuck in traffic and there’s nothing you can do about it, but there was a service station only a hundred feet away and Tim Hortons just on the opposite side of the QEW, as the signs on the highway clearly indicated. But why use a regular toilet when you can take a whizz in the full view of several thousand people driving by.

Not long after watching the kid fertilize the grass, our bus took the Lake Street exit and turned into Fairview Mall, where there was an older gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. He was not on the sidewalk, where he should have been, but in the left turning lane at an extremely busy intersection. If it’s not illegal, it should be, but in any event, you have to wonder about people who care so little about their own safety.

It was another interesting sight and, in a sense, a fitting way to wrap up an eventful day.

22 Jun

An Eventful Day Trip to Toronto

Thoughts, observations and pictures from yesterday’s day on the train to and from the universe’s center:

1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You graduate from university. You graduate from high school. You do not “graduate” from Grade 8.

1a. Even if a Grade 8 “graduation” would otherwise have been something worthy of a celebration, today’s no-fail policies render it utterly worthless. A stuffed animal could get a high school diploma nowadays.

2. As I took my seat on the top level of the GO bus, a gentleman came behind me huffing and puffing with all his might. If getting up the stairs was such a problem for him, why did he not stay on the lower level and take advantage of the priority seating? After all, that’s what it’s there for. No one put a gun to his head to go up top.

3. Just before the bus was scheduled to leave Fairview Mall, one of the young children of an extended family on their way back from a trip to Niagara Falls suddenly decided she had to go to the bathroom. So the driver made us wait while the mother ran off with the daughter to the mall. Which was closed.

Then we were made to wait while the pair went running around trying to find a place for the kid to answer the call of nature. They ultimately settled on a tree in PetSmart’s parking lot in full view of the bus, but then we were made to wait still longer while the mother ran back to the bus to retrieve a bottle of water for the cleanup while another female relative remained with the daughter.

Only after all of that were we granted the privilege of taking off.

3a. The mother’s half-hearted apology as she returned to the bus, the tone of which betrayed an entitlement to hold up the bus for as long as she deemed necessary, didn’t cut it. There have been other similar cases on GO when the driver has simply told such people in need that if they weren’t back in time, he had to leave. That’s the difference between public transit and a taxi. The bus leaves with or without you.

3b. That all said, it is surprising there are no washrooms on double-decker GO buses. Many, including the #12 that serves Niagara, run long distances and such emergencies do happen.

4. Even before getting out of St. Catharines, I spotted a Reimer Express truck on the QEW, one of four I would spot on the day. I would later spot a truck from Bison Transport and someone wearing a Bomber cap. In addition, I saw this car with a Manitoba plate double-parked in front of the ACC:

As I’ve said before, the SPRM does continue to follow me around.

5. At the Grimsby stop, an agitated Falls-bound cyclist asked our driver when his bus would be coming, acting every bit like someone who was mortally offended by a five-minute wait. This just in. The #12 bus only comes every hour. You need to check the schedule beforehand and plan accordingly.

6. Though I wasn’t in a hurry, the delay in St. Catharines combined with the heavy traffic caused some tense moments for the other passengers, many of whom needed to catch the connecting Lakeshore West train in Burlington. Full marks to the driver for his creative efforts in getting us there in time.

7. With the front rack full, the driver allowed a cyclist boarding at Nash and Barton to store his bike in the space strollers and wheelchairs normally occupy rather than asking him to use the rear storage compartment. I certainly hope it was strapped in, since it could have become a dangerous projectile if the driver had to stop suddenly.

8. Though I had my choice of seats when I got on the train in Burlington, the upper level on the car I was in was nearly full by the time we got to Oakville. Yet someone still had his bag on the adjacent seat.

Somehow I doubt he paid an extra fare for his bag.

9. I remain surprised that there are no signs on board the train showing the upcoming stop, something that has become standard practice on buses, even here in St. Catharines.

10. The customer service ambassadors must get up at night in a cold sweat muttering, “Please stand clear of the doors, the doors are now closing.”

11. Upon arrival at Union, I took the subway to Queen’s Park for the 10:30 tour of Ontario’s legislative building. Given my long-tenured association with Manitoba’s equivalent and the prior tours I’ve had of the Minnesota state capitol, it had been something on my radar for a while, and yesterday, I finally had the opportunity.

Oddly, there were no big security checks and showing photo ID was a condition of entry to the building.

Since the only other person with me on the tour was a Chinese lady who didn’t speak a word of English, our guide spoke to us ve … ry … slow … ly. As if speaking to us like we were six-year-olds was going to enable her to understand a completely foreign language any better.

Among our stops was the chamber where laws are made, unlike Manitoba, where laws are instead made at a police station. But I digress. And yes, I’m still bitter.

The government sits on the left, while the opposition sits on the right. All around are galleries for the public and political activists who still have the gall to call themselves “journalists.”

Facing the opposition is a sickly looking eagle, symbolically situated to remind them to keep a watchful eye on the government. On the opposite side, the owl faces the government, reminding them to act wisely, something this Liberal government has rarely done.

Unlike Manitoba, the Lieutenant-Governor does not have a separate residence, but she does have an office in the building.

Down the hall leading back to the front entrance were several items from the St. Catharines Museum:

Finally, a shot looking south from the front entrance.

It was nice to see the inside of the building, but I was disappointed that our guide was not as well informed as she should have been and the whole thing seemed rushed, as if she had a cake burning in the oven.

12. A shot taken at the police memorial across the street:

13. By accident, I happened to pass Sunnybrook Hospital, where former Jets assistant GM Mike Doran was taken following his near-fatal crash on his way to a game in Peterborough. It was indeed fitting that I was wearing my Jets jersey.

14. Signs of “pride” were everywhere. Here, a gay bank.

A gay hairdresser.

Gay pizza.

A gay ATM, one that presumably dispenses rainbow-colored bills.

Another gay bank.

Gay tea.

And gay beer.

Rainbow-colored hair, for those so inclined.

Statue of Alexander Wood, a “gay pioneer” among other things.

Even the Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens got into the act.

I really don’t give a flying rat’s rear end what consenting adults want to do in their bedrooms. But, as a good friend of mine often says, stop shoving your sexuality down my throat. Enough already!

15. Approaching MLG, the site of the Jets’ only two road victories of the 1980-81 season, a scruffy character with a few loose screws stopped me after noticing my Jets jersey.

“You know who my favorite player of the Winnipeg Jets was?” he asked.

How could I possibly know? And why would I care?

“You know, that guy who scored with two seconds left.”

I like trivia as much as anyone, but that’s the most obscure clue I’ve ever heard.

Then he told me.

“Tony Tanti.”

“But he played for the Canucks,” I replied. “He never played for the Jets.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, acting as if he just had a brain fart. “He played for Vancouver.”

After regathering his limited and scrambled thoughts, he said, “Keith Tkachuk. He played for the Jets.”

Well, he at least knew that much. But as for Tkachuk, all I could do was give a thumbs-down.

“See ya later,” he said.

16. Not more than a block later, someone else noticed my jersey and said, “Go Jets!” before taking off on his bike.

17. Is this a terribly tasteful item to be offering on your menu?

18. Memo to the tourists from New Mexico who had lost their way: Spreading yourselves out four abreast blocking a busy sidewalk in the heart of one of North America’s largest cities while staring at a map is not a good idea.

19. A store that does not accept legal currency has no right to call itself “nice,” such as this one at Yonge-Dundas Square.

20. An interesting way to see the Center of the Universe:

21. Walking down Yonge Street, I heard someone drop the F-bomb. Unlike the case in the Old Country, it stands out like a sore thumb in this part of the world. As I’ve said before, it’s yet another reason why I’m happy to be here.

21a. The three-year anniversary of my defection from the SPRM is rapidly approaching.

22. I was one of only a handful of people out and about on the sidewalk during the lunch hour who was not talking on the phone or texting.

23. A picture of Tim Horton at a future Tim Hortons location. What a novel idea. You have to wonder why his legacy isn’t more celebrated at their stores.

24. I made a point of stopping at Legends Row in front of the ACC. The latter shot is of Darryl Sittler, who, as loyal readers may recall, I met personally at an IceDogs game.

25. The construction of the new Burlington GO station has been going on so long that I think this “temporary” orientation map can now be considered permanent.

26. Just go ahead and light up. Don’t let that big “no smoking” sign bother you at all.

27. On the GO bus back to St. Catharines, there was a couple who boarded at Burlington who insisted on dragging their suitcases up the narrow and steep staircase despite the fact that there was plenty of room for both them and their suitcases down below. To each his own, I suppose.

28. A couple of teenage princesses got on and Nash and Barton and were genuinely pissed off to find that the two front seats, one of which I was in, were occupied. It is, after all, first come, first serve. Nonetheless, they sat down nearby and like, proceeded to, like, fill the airwaves with their, like, juvenile conversation. About when they, like, have to take trips to, like, ‘Sauga. (Saying “Mississauga” apparently required too much vocal effort.) And the courses they, like, have to, like, take.

I nearly laughed as I listened to the older one, who was, like, in her first year of, like, university, like, lecturing the other. “You’ll learn that when you get older,” she said. Then she, like, began to talk about, like, her course on, like, women’s gender studies. A course that will surely be of far greater value than any other in the nursing program she was proposing to enter.

28a. If I end up in a hospital, I can only hope to be cared for by someone more mature. Even just slightly less immature.

16 Dec

Back to Toronto – St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District

Yesterday, I braved the “extreme cold alert” to travel to the Center of the Universe and the capital of our Great Salt Republic otherwise known as Ontario. Though the -11C temperature and occasionally biting wind made it a bit miserable at times, the people in my new part of the world can’t possibly understand the true meaning of “cold.” Tomorrow, for example, back in the Old Country, the high will be -28 with a wind chill of -41. As a friend of mine said the other day, “You can have it.”

Though it really wasn’t that bad outside, I might normally have waited for another day to make such an excursion, except that December 15 is a special day. No, it’s not because it’s the day the Indianapolis Racers folded or the day John Ferguson fired Rudy Pilous, but because it’s the nine-year anniversary of Carli Ward’s passing. My memories of that day at Grace Hospice remains as fresh as ever, and given her love of trains, riding the rails to Toronto was a fitting way to honor her.

First, however, there was the bus ride to Burlington. I went up to the top deck hoping to get the front seat, only to have it occupied by a couple of guys who must have boarded in Niagara Falls, one of whom was busy counting sheep.


Now I understand it’s first-come, first-served, but why bother taking the front seat if you’re just going to snooze all the way.


The ride was otherwise uneventful, aside from the thickening traffic entering Burlington, except for when the heat came on, giving us a blast of not only heat but of a special fragrance. Eau de fart, I believe it’s called.

I wish I had been able to get a picture, but at a construction site in Hamilton we passed by, there was a big bin with “Earth Boring” in big letters painted on it. Hey, if it’s so boring here, try another planet.

Also en route, I must have spotted about five or six salt trucks dispensing generous quantities of the essence of Ontario. I understand there was a quite a blizzard that ripped through the area after I got home, but when I was out, the streets were bone dry. But you can never put down enough salt, I suppose. There are times I wonder why they don’t mix up salt with the concrete when they pave the roads around these parts.

Following a nice train ride, after which our customer service ambassador warned us to bundle up before venturing outside, I proceeded east along Front Street.


I couldn’t help but stop and take a shot of this Metro box. In Toronto, these boxes are used for “newspapers,” but in Winnipeg, they’re used as public urinals. When the indigents need to take a dump, they use planters inside Winnipeg Square. Someone once captured the details on video, which you can see here.


After a brief stop at St. Lawrence Market, where I would return, I continued east toward the Distillery District.


As expected, there was plenty of the white stuff on the ground. There was also a fair bit of snow as well.


Touring some low-income neighborhoods:


Forget Rob Ford, it seems like John Tory is the man who needs to be stopped. Like Brian Bowman in the Old Country, he seems like someone on a tax-and-spend rampage.


A snow-covered park.


Fittingly, I spotted this mural with a train motif in the middle.


I then made a brief tour of the Distillery District, where I had been on an outing with the St. Catharines Photographic Club not too long ago. It is currently hosting the Toronto Christmas Market.


Moving on, I doubled back and proceeded west along Adelaide.


I found this post rather, well, odd. The writer in me could use this as a starting point for a novel.


I then came across St. James Park, oddly enough, located outside the Cathedral Church of St. James.


Someone taking advantage of the church’s accommodations.


Outside the church.


I continued west through the Financial District, and after a brief lunch stop, I spotted this display outside the Scotia Tower.


Heading back toward St. Lawrence Market, I spotted the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts.


I also stopped for a shot of this mural facing Front Street.


At the market, I took some time to walk around and get a number of pictures.


Much like the Forks in the Old Country, except much bigger, the market is spread out over two levels, and filled with all sorts of eclectic smells that you may or may not enjoy. Unfortunately, proper food handling practices are not always followed as one vendor was spotted sneezing into his bagels, then wiping his nose with his hands. I also noticed a few sparrows flying around inside. Perhaps they’re the “catch of the day” at one or more of the meat markets.

Worn out from another full day of exploration, it was then time to return to Union Station and board the Lakeshore West train to head back to St. Catharines. I don’t foresee a need to return to St. Lawrence Market, but no doubt, I’ll be back to the universe’s center at a future date to cover another corner of the metropolis.

08 Nov

Exploring C.U. – Kensington Market, Chinatown

On Monday, I set off for another tour of the universe’s center, this time focusing on the Kensington Market and Chinatown districts.

As usual, I caught the GO bus from Fairview Mall, and it moved well until we hit some thick rush-hour traffic near Burlington. En route, those of us on the upper level were entertained by someone snoring quite loudly. Wherever he was going, I hope he didn’t miss his stop.

The bus was also uncomfortably hot as the heat was seemingly turned up to full blast. I suppose I can understand, since after all, it went down to +2 C overnight. Don’t want those tootsies to get too cold now.

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After getting to Burlington, the train came in short order and it was a comfortable and less steamy ride into Toronto. On the way, we passed a couple of trucks parked behind a building with their corporate slogan, “Courage to Go Far” emblazoned on the side. That is a slogan that definitely hits home. Even though it’s been 27 months since our defection from the Old Country, I still sometimes wonder how we did it.

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Following a little tour around Union Station and the ACC, I set out north on Bay Street, then followed Dundas to the west, where I came across many interesting sights.

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The Village Idiot Pub.

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The Art Gallery of Ontario.

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I noticed a couple of these Car2Go vehicles during my travels. Apparently you sign up for a membership, pay for the time you use the car, then just leave it in a legal parking spot when you’re done with it.

It reminds me of a similar service back in the Old Country. There, a thief steals your car, takes it for a joyride, then strips it for parts and leaves it wherever it suits him. The difference is that the thief doesn’t have any membership fees to deal with and I doubt police even deem it to be a reportable offense. I know, old grudges die hard.

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More sights along Dundas. It wasn’t too far from the latter shot where I saw some old guy pushing a walker wearing a Chipman hat. Ewww. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I spotted someone later in the day wearing a Chipman jersey. Even worse was that he had it customized with Teemu Selanne’s name and #13 on the back, a revulsive connection between the Jets, a team that no longer exists, and the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Pardon me for a moment while I barf.

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My first stop in Kensington Market was at this statue of the late Al Waxman, who starred in the King of Kensington, the only show the Canadian Brainwashing Corporation ever produced that was worth watching. Besides hockey.

To my surprise, there was no button to press to play the show’s famous introduction. He’s a man of the men. The people’s champion. Here comes King. You get the idea.

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Touring Kensington Market. To say the least, it is an interesting place.

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Now which political party do you suppose the proprietor of this seedy establishment supports?

I could only shake my head when spotting the “Welcoming New Patients” sign in the window. Since when are we supposed to refer to potheads as “patients” of something?

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More scenes around Kensington Market.

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Free sofa and mattresses, no doubt filled with lots of multi-legged guests just waiting for you to welcome them into your home.

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Returning toward Spadina, I spotted this bum catching a few winks on the sidewalk. Throughout the day, I would also spot others doing likewise.

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Union Station seemed to be a hotspot for beggars as well, though at least they were not aggressive like they are in the Old Country. One guy who had a sign in front of him looking for money for food also had a dog. So he’s got money to feed and care for a dog, but he doesn’t have money to feed himself. Just so I understand.

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Following a brief meal break at an uber-crowded Tim Hortons where patrons had to beg to be let into the washroom, I continued south on Spadina before getting some more shots around Kensington Market.

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Personally, I don’t think this building is quite big enough for all the jerks out there.

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Elsewhere in Kensington Market.

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I ducked through an alley and got these shots of the work of various “street artists.” Vandals, actually.

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Another shot along Spadina. Off to the right shows the streetcars that run in both directions in the median. For anyone looking to visit the area, you can catch the #510 streetcar right from Union Station instead of hoofing it like I did.

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The People’s Book Company. Sounds like a venture affiliated with the NDP.

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Other scenes along Spadina.

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Those of you who know of my affinity for poultry understand why I took this shot.

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They think of everything in the Center of Universe, even providing free outhouses for passers-by.

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Entering the Fashion District.

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Continuing south, I got this shot at the overpass over the tracks. At right is the Rogers Center, formerly known as the SkyDome, and in the distance is the CN Tower. I haven’t been up there yet, but maybe I will in a future trip.

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Blue Jays Way. No, I am not, nor have ever been a Blue Jays fan, but I took the shot for the benefit of a couple of others, one of whom owns the cap I keep warm whenever I go out.

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In front of the Rogers Center.

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Grey Cup banners facing Beggars Row at Union Station. I wonder how many, or how few Torontonians know or care that the game is being played in their city.

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Before getting back on the train, I made a point of going past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Though most of you know him from the presidential election, I first heard of “The Donald” back in 1983 when he bought the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. <shameless self-plug>For more on the Generals and the USFL, check out my most recent book, Fallen Generals, at http://curtiswalker.com/books_generals.aspx.</shameless self-plug>

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My last destination was Nathan Phillips Square and the now-iconic “Toronto” sign reflecting in the water that will soon be ice.

I then returned to Union Station and boarded the Lakeshore West train to wind up a long and action-packed day. I wouldn’t want to live there, but Toronto is a city with many sights to see and I look forward to returning for another visit.

16 Oct

Outing to the Distillery District

Yesterday, I joined six others from the St. Catharines Photographic Club in an outing to the Center of the Universe’s Distillery District. I had been to C.U. a number of times before, but this would mark my first visit to this particular corner of the universe’s center.

As those who know me would expect, I got a number of good highway shots en route.

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Entering C.U.

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Passing the Ricoh Coliseum, home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Nearby is BMO Field, home of the Toronto Argonauts. Rumor has it they were playing yesterday. Not that many would notice or care. I figured they were playing the Farmers’ Republic of Saskatchewan since I spotted a few people milling about the Distillery District decked out in Riders gear later in the evening.

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Passing the Rogers Center, née SkyDome.

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At left is the Air Canada Center, home to a team in one of hockey’s major leagues.

Following an enjoyable drive that went much quicker than expected, I began exploring the area.

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A group on a Segway tour. Watching them roll through the cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but think of the late Lindor Reynolds, a former columnist with Socialism Illustrated who once interviewed me for a piece back in 2007. Reynolds fell and broke her pelvis while on a Segway in Minneapolis, and she later blew off a lot of steam in a self-serving column in which she unfairly laid the blame for her mishap entirely on the devices themselves.

But I digress.

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Here was a magician at work. He was so good, in fact, that he must have made himself disappear. I later did spot him back at work, so he obviously knew how to make himself reappear as well.

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Some urban art. I think.

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An old truck.

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As a non-coffee-drinker, it doesn’t brew my mind.

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This was a particularly popular spot for selfies. All told, I probably saw more selfies taken around the Distillery District than in a typical visit to Niagara Falls.

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Uber-trendy shops were everywhere, yet I hardly spotted anyone with shopping bags. The many people out and about were patronizing the bars and restaurants, taking pictures or getting married. I lost count of the number of wedding parties I saw around there through the course of the day and early evening.

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It’s a good thing they put this sign in upper case to SHOUT at those hard of hearing.

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Hook up with a Segway tour here.

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Whatever this is, it reminds me of the giant spider outside the national art gallery in Ottawa.

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Warm sake keeps you warm. Duh. I didn’t think it keeps you cold.

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Plenty of space for outdoor seating for those so inclined.

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Enjoy your “macarons.”

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This piece of artwork with a Leafs motif caught my eye.

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For $20, you too can have a lock put up on this selfie magnet. That includes engraving.

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Just beyond the entrance was a block-long line of taxis coming and going. This is a popular destination.

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With some extra time, I took a stroll around the neigborhood, covering the Canary District on my way to Corktown Common. This particular shot comes from George Brown College.

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Elsewhere in the Canary District.

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Shots around Corktown Common, a park bordering a bike trail.

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Forget about the animals, stop voting Liberal. But again, I digress.

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This Tim Hortons-branded bicycle caught my eye. If they are indeed branching out into bike sales, I hope that means they’ll soon by offering more bike racks at their restaurants.

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This shot was taken for the benefit of one former colleague. Those of you who are friends of mine on Facebook may have already seen it.

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Neither the dogs nor their owners seemed to be paying much attention to this sign.

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More scenes around the Distillery District.

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Look up. Look way up. So says the Friendly Giant.

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This “treasure box” will set you back $38. Plus KST. No wonder there weren’t many people with shopping bags.

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Many of the shops like this one were making an effort to cater to their customers who had a dog with them. There were a lot of dogs around, but in sharp contrast to what I’ve experienced in the SPRM, all of them were on a leash.

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I’ve seem them before, but I got these shots of a TTC streetcar. It still amazes me that Winnipeg got rid of them once upon a time. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

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We took a break and had supper at the Mill Street Brewpub. The dining options around there were horrible, but it was the best of a bad lot, so rather than make the two block trek to a Subway, I opted to stay with the group. The fish and chips I had were all right, though it did leave an aftertaste, and of course, I didn’t partake in any alcoholic beverages. The real problem there was that they stacked up their customers like cordwood. You really did have to step outside to change your mind.

Perhaps the funniest moment of the day came when we were ordering. Our club president asked the waitress if a particular offering was good. Did she expect the waitress to say it was lousy?

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After eating, I took a stroll on the west side between Parliament and Lower Sherbourne Streets. This shot was taken at a basketball court in front of a housing co-op.

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This dry cleaner offers “taperring.”

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More scenes from the area. I took the shot of the fire hall for the benefit of one reader who I know will appreciate it.

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Just in case you need to vacuum yourself.

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A nice shot after the sun went down. The others, with skills and equipment far superior to mine, enjoyed the opportunity for some night photography.

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The CN Tower lit up at night.

All in all, it was a long, but productive and enjoyable day. Thanks go out to Vic for organizing the event and to Steve, who got us there and back safely.

18 May

Voyage Under the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, I made another trip to Toronto, spending the bulk of the day in the universe’s center.

I left the house bright and early and walked to Fairview Mall to catch the #12 GO bus. Waiting nearby at the bus stop was a scruffy character madly gorging himself on a large box of Sugar Crisp as if someone was about to take it away from him.


Just can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp!

Just after St. Catharines’ answer to the Sugar Bear got to the bottom of the box, the bus pulled up and I joined about 15-20 others in getting on board.

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Traffic was moving slowly as we got past Burlington Street in Hamilton, but we eventually made it to the Burlington GO station, where I joined most of the others in heading to the platform to wait for the train.

While waiting, I spotted someone standing close by who had her eyes closed and was gently nodding her head up and down. No, she was not wearing headphones.

Watching her reminded me of a scene in Slap Shot, when “Killer” Carlson was recanting “One with the universe,” a line from the recordings of the Swami Baha, while his teammates were getting the tar beat out of them by Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken’s Syracuse Bulldogs. If you recall, McCracken was the head coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team, known for his ability to carve out a man’s eye with the flick of a wrist. But I digress.

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The train came shortly enough and we soon began making our way east toward Union Station. As the seats began filling up, I noticed what looked to be a small, semi-permanent gathering place for the homeless right by the tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw three of them seated on plastic chairs tapping away on their cell phones. I’ve heard about texting and driving, but texting and homeless? And again, I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. I’ve worked hard to pay my own way through life and I’ve never had a cell phone.

Closer to Union Station, I spotted a billboard for Krave Gourmet Jerky. How anyone could categorize ground-up testicles and hooves as “gourmet” is beyond me.

Just before pulling into the station, we got another introduction from our “customer service ambassador.” GO runs a fantastic service, but these self-serving introductions that are now coming a rate of twice per trip are growing increasingly annoying.

Following a bathroom break, I then followed the signs for the subway for what would be my first underground rail experience. Having just paid for my GO train ride, I kept my Presto card at hand and used it at the subway entrance to get through the turnstile. TTC is in the process of rolling out Presto throughout their system and not every station is Presto-enabled as yet, but luckily, Union is one of them.

As I would discover later, for those paying cash, you can either purchase a magnetic-striped ticket at the counter or put $3.25 into a machine and get a token smaller than a penny. To get through the non-Presto turnstiles, you swipe your ticket or deposit the pin-size token, assuming you didn’t drop it on your way from the vending machine.

When I got through the turnstile, I was glad I prepared ahead, since the #1 line serving Union Station runs northbound, but in two different directions. You need to know if you’re going north via University Avenue or Yonge Street, but I knew I was going via Yonge, so I quickly hopped aboard the waiting train headed that way. Even if I had missed it, however, they run about every three to four minutes.

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Seconds after I sat down, the doors closed and we began heading north underneath Yonge Street. Once again, just like on the GO train and buses, the subway cars were clean and the vomit, graffiti, condom wrappers and beer bottles frequently found aboard Winnipeg Transit buses were conspicuously absent.

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A handy feature was the subway system map above the doors where it not only shows the routes, but an amber light flashes at the next stop, while stops already covered are in green and those to come are in red. When approaching a connecting line, the entire line flashes on the map and a special announcement is made to that effect.

As you would expect, verbal announcements are also made at each stop, telling passengers not only the name of the station, but whether the doors will open on the left or right.

Near every seat is a yellow strip to press in the event of an emergency, and according to the posted signs, misusing it is a $500 fine. I can’t imagine the fun the hoodlums and bums would have it if they put such a thing aboard Winnipeg Transit buses. There, it would be more fitting to put in a yellow strip to press if there wasn’t an emergency.

When passing the College station, I couldn’t help but notice the mural depicting Montreal Canadiens players. Maybe one of these days, Toronto will get its own NHL team.

I got off at the Sheppard-Yonge station, where I had to go up an escalator to transfer to the eastbound #4 line. It was then I realized there are two levels of this underground rail system. All this, while Winnipeg is still farting around with Rapid Transit. But again, I digress.

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My subway ride came to an end at the Don Mills station, where I followed the crowd up to street level right by, oddly enough, Fairview Mall. I then proceeded east on Sheppard, stopping for pictures of 404, before turning south on Victoria Park Avenue.

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This is a shot I couldn’t resist. NBCUniversal just had to have a presence in the Center of the Universe.

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Crossing the 401, the world’s busiest highway, I continued south to Lawrence, west across the DVP to Don Mills Road, then south to Eglinton, where I again proceeded west.

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There are a lot of people in Toronto, but also a lot of raccoons, giving rise to new entrepreneurial opportunities.

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On Eglinton, there were times when I was getting farther on foot than the cars were on account of the multiple lane closures as GO puts in the Eglinton Crosstown line. More superior transit service, while, again, Winnipeg still farts around with Rapid Transit at great expense with nothing but ridicule to show for it.

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Farther down Eglinton, I ran into our esteemed premier’s constituency office.

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Across the street, not by coincidence, is a nice, big “in your face” billboard from The Rebel aimed squarely at Canada’s most unpopular premier. Of course, that distinction used to belong to Greasy Greg Selinger until he and his gang were unceremoniously thrown out of office. I posted this picture on Twitter today and it is quickly making the rounds in Twitterverse.

I was hoping to cover more ground, but growing tired and weary after putting on so many miles on foot, I decided instead to continue west to the Eglinton-Yonge subway station and return to Union. Oddly, one of the more popular stations on the route was not well-signed on street level, but I eventually found it and went below to catch a train.

Sadly, this was not a Presto-enabled station, so I had fork over the cash for a token. It also cost me a little extra, since the fare when paying with Presto is 40 cents cheaper. For those who are not aware, not only is paying with Presto more convenient, but cheaper. Each round trip to Toronto saves approximately $3.00, the TTC and OC Transpo fares are also cheaper with Presto, and the Hamilton Street Railway fare is only 50 cents when transferring from the GO bus. The card itself costs $6.00, but it more than pays for itself, even in the short term.

On board, the southbound train was packed, and I was lucky to get a seat after someone got off at the next stop. As in the northbound direction, the train moved swiftly, and I was soon back at Union.

Before getting on a Lakeshore West train, I wanted to make one last stop at the gift shop of the nearby NHL Hall of Political Correctness, known to most of you as the so-called Hockey Hall of Fame. Just for the heck of it, I wanted to browse around and to see if they had any small trinkets from the late Atlanta Thrashers, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t find anything. On my way in, however, I could have sworn that I spotted Craig Ramsay, the last coach of the Thrashers, talking on his cell phone. Now that would have been an interesting encounter.

Following that diversionary trip, I returned to Union, where a Lakeshore West train was minutes from departing, so I went right up to the platform and found an empty seat. The train soon took off and I watched the familiar sights go by while recovering from a long day.

Everything seemed to be going normally until we got to the Oakville station. There, passengers who were disembarking got off, then the rest of us waited for the train to continue on.

But it didn’t.

Minutes later, our customer service ambassador, who again needlessly introduced himself as we were leaving Union, got on the intercom and told us this train was no longer in service because of “an emergency farther west.” He then instructed us to disembark and proceed to the bus loop, where buses would be waiting to take us farther west.

Great. GO suddenly turns into Rapid Transit.

I followed the rest of the crowd to the one waiting bus and was lucky to get on board. With no more room left, the bus took off, leaving countless numbers left to wait for another bus. We then proceeded through stop-and-go rush-hour traffic from station to station along the QEW. It was only on board that I heard from other passengers that there was a fire near the tracks, which forced the temporary closure of the Lakeshore West line.

When we got to Appleby, rather than take us one more stop to the Burlington station, we were told to get off the bus and wait for the next westbound train. No signs were posted as to which track it would be on or when it would be coming, so I just followed the crowd and asked a few people who I recognized from the bus.

Seemingly almost by accident, I ended up in the right place and ended up as part of an interesting conversation with three 20-somethings named Abby, Maria and Constantine.

Though soft-spoken, Maria was by far the most talkative of the three, and we listened as she espoused her theories on government conspiracies. According to her, the government wants to legalize marijuana to keep the people from thinking for themselves, briefly touching on how smoking weed opens up some part of the brain that normally doesn’t get used. I didn’t quite follow her thought process, but then she went on to talk about how the government might have started the fires in Fort McMurray because of the oil.

As Maria was treating us to her pseudoscientific thoughts, Abby grabbed onto the guard rail behind us and started doing some stretching exercises. I was again reminded of a former colleague who used to get up during meetings and go through all sorts of weird gyrations and contorting himself into varied and unimaginable positions. One loyal reader and former colleague will remember and no doubt laugh heartily at this reference.

After claiming to be able to read people’s minds and proudly stating “I am everything,” Maria then started talking about how to save money by peeing in the shower. I listened patiently as she and Abby exchanged their thoughts on this riveting topic. I just know I can use this stuff somewhere in a future writing project and conveniently left the fact that I was a writer with an off-beat sense of humor out of the conversation.

With so much writing fodder in the air, I was almost disappointed when the train showed up. We all got on and, minutes later, we pulled up to the Burlington station. After saying our goodbyes, I got in line for the #12 bus to St. Catharines and an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall, again having squeezed full value from my travel dollars.

It ended up as a much different kind of adventure than I had planned, but no less interesting and one I won’t soon forget.

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

Yesterday, with camera in hand, I spent the day touring the Center of the Universe for the third time.

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After catching the bus in St. Catharines, I got to Burlington in good time and waited for the Lakeshore West train. Before pulling into Burlington, the bus driver made sure to thank us for traveling with GO Transit and to wish us a happy new year. It sure beats the F-you greetings more common in my former home city.

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There were a number of people on the train, but being so early in the morning, I was able to get a seat off to myself. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice once again how clean the train was. There were no condom wrappers, vomit, graffiti, or any indigents passed out after another night of ingesting near-lethal quantities of solvents mixed with beverages sold only at LCBO stores. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this. In fact, I think I have.

Moving on, my early morning peace was disturbed by a family of four who got on headed for the C.U. aquarium. Just in case anyone on the train was asleep, their six-year-old daughter gave us several wake-up calls by screaming at the top of her lungs intermittently while her mother was bundling her up in a snowsuit as if they were about to march across frozen tundra to the nearest igloo a hundred miles away. Though there was a little bit of a wind on this day, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. These people just don’t know what real cold is, and I can’t imagine what they would do if they had to experience a typical January in the SPRM.

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My ears were relieved when we pulled into Union Station, which is undergoing many renovations. This shot shows what much of the station will look like in time, but for now, it’s a real mess. Navigating around the place, even for someone like me who is good with directions, was a challenge.

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I eventually got to Front Street, where I began my tour by walking through the largely deserted Financial District.

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The RBC Center. Other banks have equally gaudy towers, and TD even has two of them. For the benefit of one loyal reader, TD stands for Toronto Dominion, not Town Drunk, in reference to a former colleague.

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Continuing east, I ended up in the Old Town district passing St. Lawrence Market.

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It may not look like much from the street, but after checking into it the next day, St. Lawrence Market is probably worth a trip in itself. They even offer 90-minute guided walking tours of the market and surrounding area.

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On the way, I couldn’t help but be struck by all the white stuff. No, this isn’t snow, it’s salt. One thing I’ve noticed here in Southern Ontario is that as soon as the temperature hits zero and snow is forecasted, they apply salt by the truckload.

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Another trademark feature of Southern Ontario is the much-improved cycling infrastructure compared with the SPRM. Here, there is a special bike lane on top of the curb on one of many numbered bike routes in Toronto.

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Later, I would find many indoor racks like this one along the Bay Street entrance at Union Station. There were bike racks everywhere and many cyclists were out and about despite what they would call extreme cold.

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My first destination was the Don Valley Parkway as I made my way east on Queen Street.

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Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

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I couldn’t help but notice this sign. One loyal reader will understand the reference as it relates to a late colleague who used to brag about the number of computer languages he claimed to know.

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This sign certainly got my “attenion.”

After getting some shots of the DVP for my road photos site at the Queen Street and Dundas Street overpasses, I proceeded north through the Regent Park neighborhood.

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From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

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There, I found the grave of the late Jack Chow.

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I may want to use a character based on Mr. Chow, Canada’s answer to Lenin, in a future book, so I got some pictures of the monument. Though I know someone who would have wanted me to spit on his grave, I resisted the temptation. As someone who has suffered under the policies of the NDP in the SPRM, however, I admit the temptation was strong. Very strong.

While at Mr. Chow’s grave, I could hear the sounds of poultry across the street at Riverdale Farm. Apparently it is open year-round and it will likely be a place I will be touring in a future visit.

Moving on, I made way through Cabbagetown, where there are two and a half dogs for every human. It reminded me very much of Wolseley in the SPRM’s capital, where I swear there must be a neighborhood bylaw that requires each resident to have at least one dog. Leashes optional, of course.

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I ended up at Carlton Street, where I continued west until I reached Maple Leaf Gardens.

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Inside the former home of the Leafs is now a full-service Loblaws grocery store, where I wandered about before taking a break at their little café inside.

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Perhaps not coincidentally, I spotted this vanity plate right outside the historic former arena.

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After that much-needed break, I continued down Carlton to Yonge Street and the arts district.

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From there I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square, where many were taking advantage of the outdoor skating rink.

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Nearby, I was struck by this scene where people were lined up for opera tickets.

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I stopped for this shot of Roy Thomson Hall before continuing back toward Union Station.

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On the way, I passed by the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, otherwise known as the evil CBC.

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I was particularly galled by this sign claiming that this was “private property,” conveniently ignoring the billions that Canadians have been forced to part with to prop up this propaganda-manufacturing empire.

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They have some nerve passing their lies off as “news.”

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My last destination was the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, where I browsed through their shop.

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Outside, they had a jersey from Jets legend Phil Housley.

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Back at Union Station, I couldn’t help but notice this beggar across the street, but one of many wandering the streets of Toronto.

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I noted with interest that he has a much better backpack than mine. Maybe I should have been begging him for money. Or I could simply call my MP, tell him I’m a refugee and hand him a forged Syrian passport.

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With my adventure in C.U. complete, I went up to the platform to wait for the Lakeshore West train to take me back to Burlington and the connection to the bus.

As we pulled out of Union Station, someone got on the intercom said, “Hello, my name is Ken and I’ll be your customer service ambassador this afternoon.” Well, good afternoon, Ken, my name is Curtis and I’ll be your passenger this afternoon.

As we got past Long Branch, an artificially cheery female voice replaced Ken, yet she failed to introduce herself. No doubt this is a major breach of GO protocol and if there was a supervisor on board, she’d be in some serious trouble.

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With a little bit of time in Burlington before the connecting bus, I made my way to the washroom. As you can see on the ramp, salt was again spread very generously.

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Again, more salt on the sidewalk.

Just as I was finishing up doing my business and getting ready to head to the sink, someone who was standing behind me, evidently eager for a conversation, said “Hi, how’s it going.” While I was washing my hands, he remarked about the “freezing cold” outside. I didn’t want to get into it with him, but trust me, +1 is not “freezing cold.” Try a 25-mile bike ride when it’s -20 outside, then come back and tell me about this “freezing cold.”

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Soon, our bus came, and about an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall. I was surprised it took that long, since our driver was passing cars as if they were standing still. I have become convinced that the 100 km/h posted speed limit on the QEW is, in fact, a minimum, and not a maximum speed.

In any event, it was certainly an interesting day and one I won’t soon forget.