27 Oct

Nuggets from the Road in the Great State of New York

Observations from my 39th two-wheeled trip to the Great State of New York:

1. I remain surprised at the appalling lack of regard some people have for their own safety. Such as the kid who blindly strolled across a busy St. Paul Avenue and the scruffy hobo carrying the Union Jack over his shoulder who decided that walking on Portage Road near Five Corners was a better idea than using the sidewalk.

2. If you lost some jewellery in Niagara Falls, check the left-hand turning lane on Portage Road at Five Corners.

3. Dear crossing guard on Victoria Avenue: It’s all right for you to go back to the curb as soon as the person you stopped traffic for gets to the other side of the street. You don’t have to stand in the middle of traffic and wave at us.

4. While stopping to take a picture of this sign welcoming me to the Great State of New York, blasting out of the loudspeakers at One Niagara Center was a song called “Shattered Dreams,” the title of my fifth book.

5. More sign overkill brought to you by the NYSDOT:

6. Do they make ceramics there or is their factory housed in a ceramic building?

7. I’m sorry for the poor soul who dropped a $5 bill on Buffalo Avenue, but rest assured it was and will be put to good use. Same goes for the poor soul who lost a quarter a half mile to the east.

8. Someone parked at a lot on Buffalo Avenue had a bumper sticker which read, “Locally Hated.” Is this something one should be proud of?

9. Near the North Grand Island Bridge, I spotted someone wearing a big, heavy fur-lined parka. As a long-lost friend once said to me, the farther south you go, the wimpier they get about cold.

10. Even though it was her first day on the job, the clerk who served me at the Tim Hortons on Niagara Falls Boulevard was far more courteous than many others whom I’ve had recently.

11. The obese man who took a seat in front of me should have had a “WIDE LOAD” sign strapped across his back. One thing’s for sure, he certainly didn’t need the pastry that he polished off in a flash.

12. While I was there, it was snowing in the Old Country, snow that would later result in many crashes on bridges in and around Winnipeg. The last time I was at that Tim Hortons, Southern Manitoba was under a blizzard warning. Coincidence? You be the judge.

13. Someone driving a pickup truck from Hayes Door sure seemed to be in one powerful hurry as he peeled into the lot headed for the drive-thru.

14. How exactly do you melt pepperoni?

15. A shot of the Wegmans, where an Ontario truck driver hauling refrigerated hydrogen clipped the pole in the foreground earlier this week, causing nearby businesses to close for most of the day as Hazmat crews responded to the scene.

15a. Unlike what would have happened in the Old Country, police in the Town of Niagara deemed it a reportable offense and issued the driver a citation.

16. The Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA. Which isn’t actually in Niagara Falls. Details, details.

17. This Kansas plate reminded me of the Jesse Ventura line in Predator, “This place makes Cambodia look like Kansas.”

18. A Tops store, one of the most telling indicators that you’re in WNY:

19. An American would define this as “worldwide coverage”:

20. It beats Democrat services:

21. Something about the American flag at a memorial for a rabid fan of an NFL team doesn’t seem quite right anymore:

22. If you’re the guest of honor, you’re gone. You don’t need to ask.

23. Snacks may be welcome, but what about customers?

24. Make America Great Again:

24a. How can any patriotic American, particularly a Trump supporter, still be displaying NFL paraphernalia?

25. Um, whatever …

26. My face must now be so familiar that the people inside the Niagara USA Visitor Center didn’t even ask if I needed any help. Or maybe they just didn’t want me asking any questions they couldn’t answer, since I seem to be more knowledgeable on navigating WNY on two wheels than any of them are.

27. I’m still not sure how the mentally challenged man pedaling the wrong way on Thorold Stone Road who blindly pulled out into the middle of traffic managed to avoid being killed.

22 Oct

IceDogs vs. Ottawa – Autism Awareness Night

Observations from last night’s game as the Niagara IceDogs took on the Ottawa 67’s:

1. On the way in, I noticed the contents of a woman’s purse scattered across the table as the rent-a-cops stationed at the Rankin Gateway were ravenously searching it for contraband material. For the love of Pete(tm), how much longer do they think people are going to put up with these shakedowns for the privilege of attending a junior hockey game? Enough already.

2. Outrageously priced souvenirs of the night: A fleece jacket for $67.95, a flimsy men’s hoodie for $59.95 and this knit cap for $24:

3. I can’t decide. Should I open MediaShare or not?

4. As the title suggested, this was Autism Awareness Night. For those who are not aware, there is a strong personal connection as my friend and subject of my second book, the late Carli Ward, had a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome. Hence the reason for my attendance. In addition to the autism-themed jerseys the team was wearing, there was a display in concourse from Autism Ontario selling jars of “Hugga Honey” for $15 with the proceeds going toward a camp of some sort. There were also shirts on sale with “I (heart) someone with autism” on it. Though it was tempting, I have more than enough articles of clothing.

5. Instead of my usual perch high up in the corner in the retractables, I opted for a different vantage point:

6. I was actually able to walk down to my seat without being harangued by an usher. Will wonders never cease?

7. Scenes from the warmup showing the autism-themed jerseys:

8. Miraculously, the P.A. announcer did not introduce himself before the game. Once again, will wonders never cease?

9. The pregame ceremony featuring an autistic child:

10. A choir from Dalewood Public School sang the anthem partially in Quebecese, giving the middle finger to their mostly Canadian audience in so doing.

11. In a common theme I’ve been noticing over the last couple of years, aside from the seat to my immediate right, this entire row was marked as “sold”:

12. Yours truly along with 5,000 others were alleged to have been in attendance. Something about that figure doesn’t quite ring true:

13. Make Hair Great Again:

14. Seated behind me were a group of chatty guys in their late 50s whom a long-lost friend would describe as “good ol’ boys.” As they entertained me with their in-game commentary, it was obvious they had long since graduated from being Howie Meeker-wannabees and were gunning for head coach Billy Burke’s job.

14a. As they added an “eh” at the end of every sentence, I didn’t need to check their passports to verify their Canadian citizenship.

15. During the game, they read an ad for Enviro-Niagara, which is apparently located on Highway 20 in Welland. Except that Highway 20 doesn’t go through Welland. Details, details.

16. Bones in the crowd:

17. Bones delivering birthday greetings, including a card signed by the team, to a child seated nearby:

18. Many of the people seated around me seemingly had ants in their pants and had to keep getting up during the play to head to the concourse. On one such occasion, someone came back with a beer, two rat dogs and an order of nachos, spending more in the process than I did on my ticket.

19. During both intermissions, I couldn’t help but notice the long lines at the concessions, proof that people will eat anything and pay any ridiculous price for the privilege.

20. For those so inclined, prices and offerings at “The 406 Bar”:

21. During the second period, Ottawa goaltender Olivier Tremblay acted like he had been shot in order to try and draw a penalty call. He stayed down for several seconds trying to milk his “injury” for all it was worth, but he was miraculously cured when an IceDogs player was winding up for a shot from the point. How very convenient.

22. Also in the second period, chants of “fight, fight, fight” began breaking out during an altercation. For a moment there, I thought I was at a Fighting Moose game.

23. During the third period, they had a friendly competition between the guys and girls to see which one could make more noise, completely excluding the transgenders, gender-neutrals and all the other made-up genders liberals are so fond of. I smell a human rights complaint coming.

24. I didn’t think it was physically possible, but regulation time expired without a single goal being scored. OHL history surely must have been made.

25. The lack of goals was not due to lack of effort on either side, but rather due to a comedy of errors. Missed chances, bad passes and pucks dribbling off the end of sticks along with some goal posts and crossbars defined this game.

26. It was more of the same in overtime, but just when it appeared the game was headed for a shootout, Ottawa scored with 4.3 seconds left.

27. Though I didn’t stay for it, the IceDogs auctioned off the players’ jerseys after the game in support of Autism Ontario, raising a surprising total $10,050. One player’s jersey fetched $1,200.

28. Waiting for the bus after the game, one guy dropped the F-bomb, then immediately apologized. This is not the Old Country, where such salty language is par for the course.

19 Oct

Random Thoughts – Passing of a Non-Icon, Hydro Dividends, Nuggets from the Road and More

1. Admit it. You never even heard of Gord Downie before he was diagnosed with brain cancer and being subsequently forced by your inconsiderate neighbor to listen to his last concert. Yet upon his passing, he is being hailed as some kind of Canadian icon. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry he passed away. But his death is no more or less significant than anyone else’s in this country.

2. Much more newsworthy, in my opinion, was the passing of original Jet Dunc Rousseau. My condolences to his family and to his former teammates.

3. Dear Sportsnet: During the very infrequent occasions in which I tune in to a hockey game, I want to, get this, watch a hockey game. Not a three-hour tribute to someone who played in a rock band I never heard of before. And I certainly don’t need to see crocodile tears from our adolescent prime minister leading off the broadcast. Or at any other time during the broadcast.

3a. Where, pray tell, were those crocodile tears from said adolescent prime minister when those people were mowed down in Edmonton?

4. I fail to be surprised that Mayor Sendzik is planning to spend every last dime of the $4-million hydro dividends the city will be getting. No need to put the money in reserve, he says. Spend, spend, spend. Just like a true Liberal.

4a. We need a new mayor. Badly. And not a hard-line leftist.

5. A poll came across my Twitter feed yesterday asking who is the dumbest person in America. There were some worthy contenders on the list, but I chose NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is proudly spearheading the league’s death spiral. With its popularity and ratings in a self-induced free fall, the once-mighty and seemingly infallible sports colossus is slowly circling the drain. All I have to say is thanks for the memories.

6. Out before sunrise this morning, I spotted three cyclists without helmets, lights or brains.

7. Happy “Anniversery”:

8. As opposed to dirty food …

9. Happy “Hallooween”:

10. I couldn’t resist this shot of a pizza joint named for a former USFL team. For those unfamiliar with USFL history, Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly starred for the Houston Gamblers for two years and would have done the same with Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals if the league had not gone under.

10a. Shameless plug: Fallen Generals features a comprehensive history of the Generals, including the aborted 1986 season that would have seen Kelly suit up for New Jersey.

10b. Shameless plug 2: Coming in a few months time will be my first mystery. Set in Winnipeg, it will feature a potty-mouth lesbian detective matching wits with a deranged, self-absorbed sicko who believes the world is out to get him.

11. At the Tim Hortons in Chippawa, I was served by a crusty old fartess whose commitment to customer service could have used some improvement.

12. I think I was the only one there who wasn’t known by one of the staff or patrons. I suppose it was like the Cheers bar where everyone knows your name.

12a. There were more flies inside the restaurant than patrons.

13. Don’t ask me why, but that place seems to be a hangout for bikers, and I don’t mean cyclists.

14. Someone in the washroom walked out without washing his hands. It does happen here, but unlike some other part of the world where yours truly once called home, it stands out.

15. Parking fail:

16. It’s a bike rack, not a dog rack …

17. Even though it’s mid-October, parking at Table Rock today was running at $20. For tour buses, it was $65. It remains sad to see how they shake down tourists here, particularly given the importance of tourism to the region.

18. This Holiday Inn, one of the closest hotels to the falls, offers free parking to registered guests, yet the Hilton by the Winnipeg airport charges for parking. I don’t get it.

19. Enjoy “Niagra” Falls:

14 Oct

Random Thoughts – Involuntary Organ Donation, Million-Dollar Fiasco, Promotional Mailings and More

1. My former MP, Steven Fletcher, touched a very raw nerve with me this week when he announced that his so-called “Gift of Life Act” will be coming up for a vote in three weeks time. If passed, this would give the Manitoba government the legal right to presume upon your death that you consent to being an organ donor.

Let me be clear. I support organ donation. Voluntary organ donation. No politician, party or government has any moral authority whatsoever to harvest your organs without your express consent. No answer is just that, no answer.

Even though it does not affect me since I no longer live in the SPRM, I suspect the reason my dander is up about it is because it is being championed by a so-called conservative whom I know personally and once respected.

1a. For those who think this bill is a good idea, consider the example of an accused rapist who tells the judge, “She didn’t say anything, so I presumed she was OK with it.” Do you think that defence should allow the scumbag to get off?

1b. One of the reasons Fletcher broke ranks with the Manitoba PCs was because representing his constituents supposedly took precedence over the interests of his party. Yet I rather doubt the impetus behind this bill came from a groundswell of support from any constituents who wrote to his office or attended one of his Fletcher Forums. In this case, he is most likely only representing himself.

2. This week, the million-dollar donation IceDogs owners Bill and Denise Burke were to have made toward the construction of the Meridian Center officially came off the table. Yes, the city screwed up royally. It was a case of small-town politics at its worst. But as much as they are being portrayed as victims, the Burkes are not blameless in this sordid affair. When first having problems with city staff, rather than approach the mayor, they instead chose to air their dirty laundry in public. To their credit, when everything came to light, council and Mayor Sendzik acted decisively to address all the problems behind the scenes, yet the Burkes were still unmoved. All told, over the last year, they have come across looking very petty.

2a. If the Burkes really wanted to do something for the community, how about naming the team for the city whose taxpayers are putting up the bulk of the $50 million for the arena their team is the anchor tenant of? But I guess that’s asking too much.

2b. Since council is now free to rename IceDogs Way, the street upon which the Meridian Center sits, I propose calling it “St. Catharines Way.” It’s one way the Burkes can be forced to publicly acknowledge the city.

3. This week, this non-driver got yet another promotional mailing from CAA Niagara. When I shamed them on Twitter, they offered to take me off their list if I gave them my address, but I figured they should look it up themselves. After all, they added me to their list, they can do the work to get me off it. And if they can’t be bothered, far be it from me to stop them from flushing their money down the toilet.

4. I also got a promotional email from Bell recently patting themselves on the back for all the great things they’re doing for me. Call me a skeptic, but I get the feeling I’m being primed for another rate increase.

5. I am a frequent user of some highly credible open-source freeware such as the LibreOffice Writer and GIMP, the graphics manipulation program. But just because it’s open source doesn’t make it good. Consider the case of LibreOffice Base, the Access knockoff, that I had some experience with this week. On the surface, it has a lot to offer, but getting data in and out of it is clunky and it crashed more often in one day than Access has for me in several years.

6. Clear the track for Eddie “Shak” …

7. The apostrophe king of Vineland …

8. And on the other side of the street is “House across the street from the school:”

9. At the Tim Hortons/Vineland Seniors Center this morning, I was served by a clerk whose disdain for her job couldn’t have been more obvious if she put a flashing blue light on her head.

10. Seated nearby at said Tim Hortons was someone who said he lived in a townhouse near the “lie-berry.” Oy.

11. Maybe it was just me, but the tea I had at said Tim Hortons tasted like it was made with dishwater. Methinks the time to replace their water filters came and went several months ago.

12. I appreciated the fresh coat of asphalt on North Service Road between Jordan Road and Vineland. I appreciated that the project was completed the same year in which it began even more. Once again, this is not the Old Country.

13. Did the brainiacs who renumbered all the St. Catharines Transit routes consider that there is now a route 406, the same number as one of the main highways running through town? And that said route 406 doesn’t actually go on the 406?

14. Take the “huttle” …

08 Oct

Around Town – Canes, Joggers, Pet Blessings and More

1. This was the second straight time I’ve been out where I spotted someone carrying a cane. From the wrong end.

2. I know I’ve said this before, but I wonder if people are aware of how stupid they look while jogging.

3. Is this a boob job for a turkey?

4. Shot of Port Dalhousie this morning:

5. What’s next, have Rover take communion? Maybe get baptized?

6. If you truly cared about “the defender of your home” with a wonky back leg, you wouldn’t have let it get loose in the first place.

6a. I feel sorry for the cat, but not for the owners.

7. I reported this hazard in the bike lane on Martindale Road some time ago. Sadly, fixing it doesn’t seem to be a big priority with the Region.

8. When approaching a light where there are two turning lanes with the one on the left being empty and a cyclist in the other, why on earth would a motorist decide to pull up behind the cyclist?

9. The lizard doesn’t command me …

10. Further to my observations on the rise of obesity …

11. It’s nice to see there are programs available for the liberals in our community. After all, as our mayor/municipal Liberal ambassador likes telling us, we are a compassionate city.

12. The pigs of Meadowvale Road:

13. Chapter 786 of “The SPRM Continues to Follow Me Around” …

14. Just leave your junk out on the curb …

01 Oct

IceDogs Home Opener 2017

Thoughts and observations from the Niagara IceDogs’ 2017-2018 home opener against the visiting Erie Otters to kick off my fourth season of IceDogs hockey since relocating to St. Catharines:

1. Don’t ask me why, but the drivers on the road on the way to the rink seemed to be in a particularly ornery mood. Maybe because it was Friday night.

2. I passed by two people with dogs and both had their canines on leashes. This is not the Old Country.

3. Sign of the times: A woman sitting in a park with her head down busy with her phone and not paying the slightest bit of attention to her children.

4. Odd sightings en route: A biker sitting in a bar was a spitting image of the poor sap whom Arnold Schwarzenegger targeted in the opening scene of Terminator 2. Not more than two blocks later, the cyclist I spotted on Welland Avenue bore a striking facial resemblance to former IceDog Brendan Perlini.

5. Maybe I’m just noticing them more, but many, shall we say, diverse characters were coming out of the woodwork as I made my way through downtown. One of the strangest was a woman lying on the ground who was so disoriented after getting up that she nearly staggered into me. I don’t want to know the substance she was under the influence of.

6. The purpose of this headless mannequin on St. Paul Street is …

7. Why our civic leaders are celebrating the installation of a crosswalk half a block from a traffic light as a great accomplishment is something I don’t quite understand.

8. The long line on the Rankin Gateway of people waiting for the privilege of getting in.

9. When we were finally allowed in around 6:05, ravenous and rude rent-a-copettes were again rifling through bags and purses just as they had been back when the building first opened. In response to complaints, the practice had since been greatly relaxed, but it’s apparently back and with a vengeance. I hope it’s not the case of the new general manager looking to flex his muscle in order to impress his masters at SMG.

9a. Being among the thick crowds, I was able to run a pass pattern to avoid them and sneak in a juice box. Take that, SMG!

10. Outrageously priced souvenir item of the night: A baby outfit for $15.

11. This season’s menu and prices at the concessions, which did a booming business:

11a. The two women seated to my immediate left each had a mozza burger and three beers and shared a tub of popcorn, spending more than double the cost of their respective tickets in the process. And they probably drove home.

11b. Seeing how much cash people blow at the concessions, it’s no wonder the governments they elect spend money so wildly.

12. Obligatory scoreboard and center ice shots:

13. The usher at section 106 who was standing in the middle of the aisle acted as if she was doing me a big favor when she got out of my way. The role of an usher is to help patrons, not to obstruct passageways. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

13a. Note to IceDogs ushers: Being a volunteer does not entitle you to annoy the living daylights out of paying customers.

14. There was a booth from a radio station offering a chance to win tickets to see Elton John at the Meridian Center. The school project I was forced to do on him in Grade 4 is the only reason I even know who Elton John is.

15. New sponsors this year include Niagara Airbus, whose service brought me from Pearson Airport to my new home on the historic day of August 1, 2014 when I became an Ontario resident, as well as OPSEU, which is advertising on the ice and on one of the Zamboni machines. Like I always wondered with MGEU, why do they feel the need to advertise? It’s not as though public sector employees can go to another union.

16. Sadly, Horizon Utilities remains a sponsor. I still do not understand why does a publicly owned utility with a monopoly has any need to spend money to promote its brand. And why the municipalities which own Horizon/Alectra do not put a stop to this frivolous practice with an iron fist.

17. I liked this clever IceDogs-themed ad:

18. There were many familiar faces in the crowd. Perhaps I’m becoming one of them. After all, this is a small town.

19. Among the crowd of 4,768 that, if anything, was under-reported, was a big contingent from the Commonwealth who came to see their team, including the group in my row. Seated to my immediate right was a 40-something teenager who spent the entire night trying to become the next Howie Meeker. Her favorite player appeared to be Christian Girhiny, whom she first called “Pogo” then later “Coco.” Her calls of “hit ‘em,” “skate, Jordan,” “Jordan, what are you doing?” and “get up there, get up there” were pretty tame, but I nearly jumped when she yelled “Shoooot!”

20. Seated in the section to my right was a woman in her 20s with “LOVE ME Always and Forever” emblazoned on the back of her blouse. Are people that desperate for affection?

21. Sadly, the band was back, but at least they weren’t too obnoxious.

22. The presence of so many higher, designer numbers on this year’s roster is further proof Marty Williamson is no longer in charge.

23. I’ve officially lost hope that the glass will ever be cleaned in that building. Worse yet, the floor beneath my seat was so sticky that I had to keep moving my feet during the game to avoid the risk of having my shoes permanently adhere to it. I suppose the off-season wasn’t long enough for them to clean the place properly. *eyeroll*

24. Before the game, I did another eyeroll as they again showed the “Hockey Night in Niagara” graphic on the scoreboard. Funny, but I don’t see any other Niagara municipality rushing to help pitch in to help retire the debt and share in the cost of maintaining the building. Yet they’re more than willing to share in the glory and celebrate the IceDogs as a regional team. Yes, that remains a sore point.

25. Among the hockey operations staff introduced before the game was the IceDogs’ new director of analytics. Seriously? This is junior hockey, not the NHL. Let the kids have a little fun, for the love of Pete(tm).

26. Dear public address announcer whose name I will not repeat since he loves to promote himself so much: We know that St. Catharines, Thorold, Mississauga and Oakville are in Ontario. When giving the player’s hometown in the introductions, you don’t have to repeat it each and every time. Even if we didn’t know, the fact that we’re at an Ontario Hockey League game might give it away.

27. It was a nice touch to honor longtime season ticket holders and others in the IceDogs family who had passed away in the off-season with a moment of silence before the game.

28. The Grand Avenue Public School choir handled the anthems poorly and sadly, did part of the Canadian anthem in Quebecese. Not cool.

29. The winner of the “Move of the Game” was a little kid named Gavin, the same name of the lead character in Shattered Dreams, my fifth book.

30. When visiting the washroom, I noticed many people using the sinks as well as the urinals. Once again, this is not the Old Country.

31. Oh by the way, there was a game going on. The first period was relatively uneventful, and despite the rash of penalties called in the second, it wasn’t until the 16:45 mark that the IceDogs opened the scoring. Erie answered just over a minute later, but the IceDogs regained the lead early in the third and put the game away with two more late in the period.

32. In the third period, I laughed as Elijah Roberts tried to put a spinerama move on an attacking Erie forward at the Otters’ blue line. Kid, you’re not the second coming of Serge Savard.

33. The IceDogs saluting the crowd after the game:

34. While waiting for the bus after the game, I spotted a guy wheeling a bike to the platform. He likely didn’t know it, but his bike needed a new cog. He also seemed to have a great deal of trouble figuring out how to read the board showing when the next buses are coming. They taught us that in Grade 8, but it didn’t look like he had gotten that far in school before dropping out. Or flunking out, if they allow that these days with the “no-fail” policies in place.

35. On the bus, the back door opened automatically and all but one departing passenger thanked the driver. You’ve heard this before, but this is not the Old Country.