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.

09 Dec

My First Falcons Game

Pictures and a few observations from last night’s GOJHL game between the St. Catharines Falcons and the visiting Ancaster Avalanche at the ancient Jack Gatecliff Arena:

1. Despite the larger-than-normal “crowd” of 433 in attendance at the 3,500-seat arena, buoyed by the presence of a high-school-age team from Cleveland, I didn’t exactly have a long wait in line to buy a ticket. The elderly gentleman at the counter almost seemed surprised that I wanted one.

2. Upstairs, two more seniors acted as the greeting committee, one of whom stamped my hand and thanked me for coming. It was a pleasant change from an IceDogs game at the Meridian Center, where rude rent-a-cops rummage through your belongings and act like they’re doing you a favor by allowing you in the building.

3. This guy in a red jacket with a black “SECURITY” cap hanging out at ice level was all there was as far as security was concerned. The way it ought to be.

4. Though the GOJHL is hardly a guaranteed ticket to future stardom, there are a handful of players who have made it from the Falcons to the NHL, a fact they proudly display on this banner.

I was surprised to see former Fighting Moose Brandon Nolan’s name on the list. During my time as a fan, he was little more than a third- or fourth-line player whose career seemed to be going nowhere. In addition, St. Catharines native and former Falcon Daultan Leveille was a first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2008.

5. Shots around the sparsely populated concourse:

6. The $1 puck toss took place in the first intermission with the big prize being a chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet on Fourth Avenue. In addition, the lucky winner of the 50/50 draw took home $298.

7. Shots around the historic rink. For those who are unaware, not only was this once the home of the IceDogs, but it was where stars like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Marcel Dionne and Pat Stapleton spent their formative years. During the early 1980s, the AHL’s St. Catharines Saints, then the Leafs’ farm team, also played at “the Jack.”

8. The smell from decades-old fermented sweat that permeates every corner of the stands stuck to my nostrils so badly that I was still smelling it when I woke up the following morning.

9. I think it was warmer outside than it was in the stands.

10. Given the rink’s age, I wasn’t all that surprised to see how hacked up the glass was. But at least the place was clean. I didn’t have to wipe down my own seat and despite covering much of the rink, I didn’t find any sticky spots on the floor. The SMG staff who “clean” the Meridian Center should come by and take some lessons from the city crews.

11. Line combinations or defensive pairings written on the glass at the visitors’ bench:

12. Just like the old Winnipeg Arena, a picture of the Queen hangs in one end:

13. Scenes during the warmup:

14. I got the distinct impression that this person is a regular. Call it a hunch.

15. The Falcons are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, something they proudly display at center ice:

16. Section F’s collection of bell ringers. Every low-level junior hockey team seems to have them.

17. Aside from the team from Cleveland seated in the far end, I was one of only a small handful who wasn’t drawing CPP and who didn’t know most everyone else there. Many of them are probably still wondering who that guy with a notepad and a camera was.

18. Before the game:

19. The siren sounded like a recording of a pig being slaughtered.

20. It was a nice touch for them to honor a longtime Falcons fan who had passed away earlier in the week with a moment of silence.

21. For the anthem, I had expected a tape-recorded version of O Canada to be played, but instead, the P.A. announcer opened up the door behind him and handed the mic to a woman seated there. She actually handled the task pretty well, much better, in fact, than the school choirs the IceDogs frequently use.

22. Unlike the case at IceDogs games, the P.A. announcer did not deem it necessary to introduce himself.

23. The opening faceoff:

24. First period action:

25. In contrast to games played at higher levels, they keep the games moving quickly in this league. No fussing around, no TV timeouts and no lengthy pregame ceremonies. Drop the puck and let’s go.

26. Shots of both benches:

27. When and if this kid ever gets married, he should seriously consider using his wife’s name.

28. Sound carries particularly well throughout the rink, especially with so few people in attendance. The officials, coaches and players really can hear fans when they scream and likewise, we could hear them and their frequent use of the F-bomb.

29. Apparently in this league, a boarding penalty carries an automatic 10-minute misconduct. For the most part, I think that’s a good idea.

30. Are they penalties or are they penal ties?

31. After the Falcons’ second-period goal, lights flashed near the bench:

32. During the second intermission, instead of having a lucky fan stand at center ice to try and shoot a puck through the empty spot in the board covering the net to win a prize, they had a player do it. Unfortunately, the player missed both shots, drawing a couple of boos for his efforts.

33. They sold beer at a pub? Who knew?

34. The Falcons’ “Main” man:

35. Largely dominated by their opponents, particularly so in the third, the Falcons were fortunate to get out of regulation with the score still tied at 1-1. In this league, rather than use the three-on-three overtime followed by a shootout, they play five minutes of four-on-four, followed by another five-minute period of three-on-three. Since neither team could break the deadlock, however, the game ended with a tie score, marking the first time I had been at a tie game since the (real) Jets’ final season at the Winnipeg Arena.

36. After the game:

03 Dec

A December Cross-Border Cycling Adventure

Pictures and observations from my 40th two-wheeled trip to the Great State of New York:

1. Holiday gifts “avaible” now:

1a. The same error was made on the other side as well. As they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

2. Flashing on the overhead signs at the US Customs inspection plaza at the Rainbow Bridge were new reminders to take off hats and sunglasses, turn off cell phones and to have your documents ready. It all seems like common sense, but these days, common sense isn’t all that common.

3. The CBP officer who served me seemed a little taken aback when I presented my NEXUS card as opposed to a passport. I suppose I couldn’t blame him, since being a NEXUS cardholder on two wheels who doesn’t drive undoubtedly puts me among a very distinct minority.

4. Spotted at One Niagara Center was a souvenir Niagara Falls license plate with the name “Gavin” on it. I know at least one reader will appreciate that reference.

5. There was warmer air outside than what was coming out of the hand dryer in the washroom at One Niagara Center.

6. Progress on the new Hyatt going up near the bridge:

7. A sign spotted outside a Unitarian church on Main Street giving some sage advice for parents who spend more time on their phones than with their children:

8. A New York State legislator is referred to as an “assemblyman” and not an “assemblyperson”? Heavens to Murgatroyd, what is this world coming to?

9. Nothing quite screams “Niagara Falls, New York” like this scene:

10. An exciting opportunity awaits an enterprising entrepreneur who is looking to invest in the limitless potential of one of North America’s great tourist destinations:

11. Street art. Right across from the courthouse.

12. Seeing street signs like this that don’t give the indicator as to whether it is a street or an avenue reminds me of Transcona, now a suburb of Winnipeg but formerly a separate city, which for years, was littered with such signs. Perhaps only I care enough to remember that.

12a. In the background are more of those exciting opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs.

13. The new Amtrak station in Niagara Falls:

14. One of many homeowners on Lewiston Road who dumped all his leaves and assorted yard waste into the middle of the street:

15. Scenes along Center Street in Lewiston:

16. Scenes in the Lewiston honorary international peace garden:

17. None of the three employees working at the Orange Cat had a nose ring. Don’t tell me they’re going all normal now.

18. I’m sure the Orange Cat’s muffins are fabulous, but the overweight woman who hobbled in and put an undue amount of stress on the rustic old chair she was sitting in really didn’t need any of them. But from how loudly she smacked her lips, even the people waiting in line out the door could attest to how thoroughly she enjoyed hers.

19. Seated across from the Muffin Lady was someone who began doing some odd neck contortions as she was working on her laptop. It reminded me of a former colleague who would inexplicably stand up during meetings and start making all sorts of weird gyrations. He was only part of our group for a short time, but he made a lasting impression.

19a. Among the certifications this former colleague made a point of bragging about holding was the MCSE designation. Though it officially stands for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, another former colleague termed it Must Call Someone with Experience.

20. Seemingly half of Western New York was on hand as Santa was airlifted in by helicopter in the middle of Academy Park.

21. Is there a part of Lewiston that is non-historic?

22. On my way back up the escarpment on Route 18, I spotted a New York license plate with the first three letters “DJT.” Make America Great Again!

23. While at the Duty Free store at the Lewiston Bridge, I got a couple of strange looks from Canada-bound motorists. Perhaps they were unaware that cyclists are indeed allowed on that bridge.

24. While crossing said bridge, the driver of a U.S.-bound Jeep with SPRM plates was madly waving at me as if he knew me. As I’ve said before, that place does keep following me around.

24a. I spotted a Bison Transport truck on the 405 and another on the Garden City Skyway on my return trip. Again, the SPRM keeps following me around.

24b. You do realize that it’s been more than 40 months since I defected from that place.

25. After breezing through the dedicated NEXUS lane (yes, cyclists can use it), I pulled up behind a car from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the toll gate ready to donate another 50 cents to the coffers of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. The attendant, however, stuck his head out of the booth, waved me through and declined the toll. Maybe it was part of a new promotion where every 40th trip is free. Shrug.