21 Apr

Across the River Again

Pictures and observations from my 42nd two-wheeled visit to the Great State of New York:

1. As I was heading south along the canal trail this morning, the bridges at Carlton, Queenston and Glendale were all up, with the Homer Bridge at Queenston up long before the approaching ship even came into view. I respect the Seaway and what it means to our region, but they need to be ordered to be a better neighbor. Seconds count in an emergency situation and one of these days, it’s going to cost someone their life, if such a tragedy hasn’t happened already.

2. Going up the escarpment at Taylor Road, I thought I heard an ice cream truck behind me, only to find out it was a car with its muffler pipe dragging on the ground.

3. Turning off Mountain Road to the trail that connects to Stanley Avenue, I spotted this backpack next to the garbage can with a number of its owner’s possessions inside.

3a. The fact that it was still there on my return trip with those same possessions visible from the outside is further proof as to how far away I am from the SPRM.

4. What’s the big deal about having certified vehicles? Even I, as a non-driver, can certify that you have a vehicle.

5. At U.S. Customs, I was served by the same officer I had in December who was so taken aback that I had a NEXUS card.

5a. Given the number of times I’ve gone over the river on two wheels, I’m surprised it’s the first time I’ve recognized an officer from a past crossing.

6. The new Hyatt Place on Rainbow Boulevard. It wasn’t that long ago that they were driving piles and now it looks nearly ready to open. Once again, on both sides of the river in this part of the world, when shovels hit the ground, work gets done quickly, unlike the case in the SPRM.

7. The former Days Inn on 1st Street is now the Wyndham Garden Hotel. I’ve never been inside the Days Inn, but from the outside, it seemed like a bit of a dive, so for their sake, I hope they did more than change the name.

7a. If you haven’t been over the river recently, there are a couple of new hotels not far from the falls. They’ve still got a long way to go to catch up with their Canadian neighbors, but they seem to be figuring out that there are benefits to keeping American tourists on the U.S. side.

8. For the benefit of anyone looking to take the #40 bus to Buffalo, a shot of the Portage Road Transportation Center, the route’s northern terminus, one block north of the Tops. Or “Tahps,” as many on that side of the river say.

9. Parking fail:

9a. If you’re asking yourself what the problem is, that’s a Metro bus stop.

10. Off Porter Road is this graveyard for end-of-life Niagara Falls Police Department vehicles:

10a. I wonder if they were certified vehicles?

11. There was a serious traffic jam at the Tim Hortons on Military Road complete with horns honking as cars were trying to get into the drive-thru from two different directions.

12. While inside said Tim Hortons, a supervisor who looked like he had celebrated his 18th birthday only a few months ago was on his break. Most of the clerks behind the counter, however, looked like they had celebrated their 18th birthday only a few weeks ago. Which probably explains the reason for his “promotion.”

13. The Big K, formerly K-Mart, on Military Road. Last of a dying breed.

14. A communist casino?

15. Here, I suspect students, among other things, learn how to sell their product or service to prospective customers in order to earn money. If this was the SPRM, students would learn techniques for bleeding money out of the government.

16. Apple juice?

17. Scenes along the newly refurbished Shoreline Trail connecting LaSalle Waterfront Park to Niagara Falls State Park:

18. Shots from Niagara Falls State Park, including some from the observation deck, which was free today. Normally, there’s a $1 charge. That’s a U.S. dollar, not a Canadian dollarette.

19. Once again, before heading back to Canada, I paid my bridge toll with nickels and dimes, more of the latter on account of the massive increase from 50 cents to a whole buck. No doubt, they start playing a certain Nana Mouskouri tune when they see me coming:

20. Someone still needs to explain to me why I, as a Canadian citizen who has lived his entire life in Canada, have to wait 45 minutes in line at customs, while these so-called “refugees” get to walk across the border and have the RCMP act as bellboys.

21. There’s never a good time to have car trouble, but a pair of travelerettes from New York got an especially big dose of misfortune when smoke started pouring out of their engine while in line at Canadian customs.

20 Apr

Three Days on the Road

Observations from a busy three days on the road earlier this week:

1. The rainbow-colored bench at the Beamsville stop is again AWOL and someone isn’t too happy about it. Posted inside the new shelter is a sign “Wanted: Safe return of rainbow bench. Reward.” I’ll say this for the LGBT community, they are determined.

2. Also spotted at Beamsville was a truck from Industrial Commercial Environmental with the big letters ICE plastered on the side. Taking that truck over the river would undoubtedly send illegals scattering like rats.

3. Facing the QEW in Stoney Creek is an office for Manpower, a company that obviously has not fully embraced gender inclusivity.

4. Call it a hunch, but I get the feeling this student driver still has some learning to do:

5. The Tim Hortons at the Burlington GO station is now officially open, capping off an epic five-year construction cycle that had to have involved Manitoba contractors.

6. Spotted on the UP Express train to Pearson was the Toronto Equine Hospital. Couldn’t they just call it a horsepital?

7. On the Lakeshore West train was a new automated announcement, “Friendly reminder: Keep your feet off the seats. The person sitting there after you will appreciate it.”

8. Parking fail:

9. Seated across the aisle from me on Tuesday’s bus ride to Burlington was a heavyweight who was badly hooked on his smokes. Soon after taking his seat, his snoring was loud enough to wake up the dead, but he managed to wake up in enough time to crack open a Pepsi before his stop at Stoney Creek, where he again lit up within seconds of his feet hitting the pavement.

10. The sign at the Dixie Mall in Mississauga pointing hungry customers away from the food court:

11. Proficiency in the English language is obviously not a requirement for anyone working at the Tim Hortons in Markham where I had my lunch. I had an easier time understanding the clerk at the Subway in Gatineau and I’m anything but fluent in Quebecese.

12. The Kennedy Square mall in Brampton had a distinct odor that suggested it was an exterminator’s preferred client. Maybe even his only client.

13. But domestic objects are OK.

14. It cause me inconvenience none …

15. And so is you …

16. Dress “royaley” …

17. Especially on Tuesday, I lost count of the number of trucks I saw from the SPRM. The most popular carrier was Bison Transport, whose offices were only a ten-minute bike ride away from my last house there.

18. Inside the King City ONRoute. Sure beats those Manitoba rest areas that have nothing more than a rickety old outhouse.

19. At the snow-covered Barrie waterfront:

20. As Yosemite Sam once said, ya better say your prayers, ya flea-bitten varmint … I’m-a-gonna blow ya to smithereenies!

21. This reminds me of the burrito place I spotted in Toronto’s East Chinatown recently …

22. At the Port of Collingwood:

23. It’s nice to know they have a special theater for the LGBT community in Collingwood …

24. A tribute to Shania’s twin?

25. View from the basilica in downtown Guelph:

26. In Elmira, I found Dan Snyder’s grave and got a shot of the Woolwich Memorial Center, which houses the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena. Both shots will be used in a future book on the history of the Atlanta Thrashers, the team that, as a former Manitoba taxpayer, I was forced to purchase for Mark Chipman.

 

09 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Hamilton

Observations, pictures and even some video from Saturday’s road trip to Hamilton as the Niagara IceDogs took on the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 2 of their OHL Eastern Conference Semifinal series:

1. In order to secure my place on the bus, I pedalled down to the IceDogs office first thing on Tuesday morning, only to have to wait for Brianne, because only she can handle the road trips. Just like only Matt can handle the complex task of printing the date on a media pass for when a customer like me wants to bring his DSLR camera to the game. For such a small office, things seem to be a little too territorial around there.

1a. While waiting for Brianne, I listened as Nino, other staffer, processed a phone order for tickets with the customer’s credit card they had on file. Yet when I tried to pay for the road trip to Peterborough last year with a credit card they also had on file, Brianne said she had to see the card and forced me to make a special trip to the Meridian Center. What gives?

1b. Also while waiting, someone came in looking for tickets. As she explained that she was going to be late for work because she had to make the extra stop, I said, “Get Bones to write you a permission slip.”

1c. When she came in, Brianne still recognized me even though it had been more than five months since the Meridian Center last saw my shadow. I know this is a small town, but I was mildly surprised given the number of people she must deal with on a daily basis.

2. Not that downtown St. Catharines is anything like the danger zone that downtown Winnipeg is, but I was still pleased that the buses were leaving from Fairview Mall instead of the Jack or the Meridian Center as they have in past road trips.

2a. For those keeping score, this was my eighth IceDogs road trip over the past four seasons.

3. There were five full busloads of fans and in order to keep it “affordable,” they used school buses instead of regular tour buses. As a result, the cost was only $25 – $18 for the ticket and $7 for the transportation. As I would find out, you get what you pay for.

4. Despite getting there 20 minutes before our scheduled departure time, I was among the last to arrive. As I’ve long since discovered, people here are notorious early birds.

5. Seated in my immediate vicinity were several teenage drunkettes who joined many others in cracking open their favorite beverage as soon as we hit the road.

As one of them said, the “no food or drink” sign only applies Monday to Friday.

6. After getting off the lap of her friend seated next to me, one of the drunkettes decided she would rather sit on the floor than take the last available seat near the back of the bus. Then she complained that she was feeling seasick as we were going over the Burlington Skyway. Being on the floor of a rickety old school bus rolling along at 60+ mph while you’re slightly inebriated will do it every time.

7. Following a short, but annoying ride being forced to listen to the immature ramblings of said teenagers, the driver let us off at the York Boulevard entrance, where two arena staffers opened the door for us.

There were no bag searches, no one got frisked, no wands and no free rectal exam from rude rent-a-cops. Just two friendly guys who scanned our tickets and said “Enjoy the game, eh.” The way it ought to be. All while our mayor, instead of holding their feet to the fire for not cleaning the place properly, wants to turn over an extra $11,000 to SMG to install metal detectors at the Meridian Center.

8. Shots around the concourse at the FirstOntario Center, formerly known as the Copps Coliseum:

9. Circling the concourse, I was appalled at the concession prices. They wanted $5.25 for a hot dog, $8 for a footlong, $10 for chicken fingers and fries, $6 for popcorn, $5 for a chocolate bar, $5 for a canned drink and $2.50 for coffee. At Pizza Pizza, a slice of pizza was $5.25, while a whole pizza was $26. For those so inclined, the cheapest beer was $9.75 and wine was $12.50.

It was no different at their souvenir store, where jerseys were $130 and caps were $30, each even more than the exorbitant prices the IceDogs charge. On the surface, the prices may not seem that unusually high except for the fact that this is junior hockey, which has a substantially lower price point than the NHL.

10. The Budweiser King Club, where you could sit in a lounge and watch a band perform:

11. I spotted this gentleman who had a jersey with the name of the IceDogs’ mascot on it. For the record, the Bulldogs’ mascot is called Bruiser and was a cheap knock-off of Bones, who is truly the best mascot of any team I’ve seen in any sport at any level.

12. Like the ticket scanners, the ushers were very friendly and helpful to those who needed their services. But for those of us who didn’t, they stood to the side, let people pass freely and didn’t feel the need to run after you if you walked past them or, even worse, dared to stop and look at your ticket to make sure you were in the right place. Whereas the IceDogs have the best mascot in sports, they have the worst ushers.

13. Scenes around the stands. As is standard operating procedure, the upper deck at this NHL-size arena is closed and covered with a black curtain. As the Bulldogs’ owner admitted in print recently, having an abnormally large facility for junior hockey is the reason this year’s Memorial Cup will be held in the capital of the Farmers’ Republic of Saskatchewan instead of in Hamilton.

13a. Did you catch that guy with a backpack? Try getting that past the rent-a-cops at the Meridian Center.

14. While roaming the stands taking pictures, finding a clean seat to sit in was surprisingly difficult. One seat had gum stuck to it and several others had some sort of dried liquid on them.

15. Some people from one of the buses watching their heroes during the warmup. For those wondering, the IceDogs wear those special Meridian Center jerseys for the warmup both at home and on the road.

16. Performing the national anthem was some little girl and kudos to the crowd for drowning out that horrible abomination in the line the Liberals changed.

16a. Dear Andrew Scheer: I know there will be a lot on your plate, but please make restoring the old wording of our national anthem a top priority of your new government in 2019. I’m sick of being embarrassed in the eyes of the world. Sometimes I feel like putting a bag over my head with “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote Liberal” written on it.

17. Even though it wasn’t a home game, having developed a familiarity and fondness of sorts for Hamilton, I didn’t feel like it was a road game either.

18. The view I had from my seat:

19. The IceDogs’ faithful greeting their heroes before the start of the game:

20. Did you remember that the Hamilton Bulldogs were previously the Belleville Bulls, the visiting team for the historic home opener at the Meridian Center?

21. As they do at the Meridian Center, the IceDogs contingent reacted with a collective “Who Cares?” to the announcement of Hamilton’s first goal early in the first period. One Hamilton fan seated at ice level answered with a sign “We Do.”

22. After the visitors tied the score later in the first period, the IceDogs fans yelled “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, which appears to be a special playoff tradition having its roots in the world of wrestling:

So naturally, the Hamilton fans shouted back, “No! No! No!”

23. Despite the relatively short length of time since Hamilton has been back in the OHL, there is clearly a healthy and growing rivalry between the fans.

24. I find it odd how vocal IceDogs fans are on the road, yet at home, the place is so quiet that many call their home rink the Meditation Center.

25. I noticed this small contingent of fans known as the “Golden City Brigade” on its feet waving flags all night long. Dedication. Or something.

26. Hamilton’s Brandon Saigeon’s surname is pronounced “say-john” and is apparently not connected with the capital of the former South Vietnam currently known as Ho Chi Minh City.

27. Late in the first period, IceDogs defenseman Elijah Roberts, last seen at the Meridian Center trying to imitate Serge Savard’s spinerama move, first ran into an official when coming out of his own end, then lost the puck after colliding with a teammate, resulting in a good scoring opportunity for Hamilton. To say the least, that’s no way to impress scouts. Focus on the fundamentals, kid.

28. While doing my business in the washroom during the first intermission, I noticed that the tops of the urinals seem to be favorite places to hold beer cans and phones. The beer cans are especially ironic since the beer was what likely brought their owners there in the first place. As I’ve heard it said, you don’t buy beer, you just rent it.

28a. I still appreciate the fact that most people were washing their hands after answering the call of nature. Once again, this is not the SPRM.

29. Also during the first intermission, someone did a serious double-take after spotting my “Make Speech Free Again” hat.

30. Sadly, the same teenage drunkettes who were sitting next to me on the bus were also seated next to me during the game. After each of them polished off three beers, they returned after the first intermission with “food” to complete their gastronomic misadventures, to say nothing of their financial illiteracy.

One of them brought back a tray of nachos with cheese-colored melted plastic, an old Winnipeg Arena classic that set her back $6.50. The drunkette to my immediate right had an order of ketchup with some fries that she spent most of the period with.

31. Once again, as I have come to expect from people in this part of the world, everyone who passed by my seat was very courteous and said “thank you” each time.

32. The second intermission promotion was “Hungry Hungry Hippos” where four teams of two crawled around on the ice trying to scoop up as many pucks as they could.

The pair in the bottom left hand corner was the eventual winner and for their efforts, took home passes to the NHL Hall of Political Correctness.

33. Early in the third period, the IceDogs tied the score at 2-2 on a power play as a result of Hamilton’s second too many men on the ice penalty of the game. Even at this level, that shouldn’t happen once in a game, let alone twice.

34. In the final minute of regulation time, the IceDogs fans began the “cheeseburger” chant. For those who are unaware, when at home, if the IceDogs score in the final minute of the third period, everyone in attendance gets a free cheeseburger courtesy of Wendy’s.

35. On the bus after the overtime loss, fans were griping about the officials, but when your team gets outshot 50-23, it’s not the officials fault that they lost. It was only Stephen Dhillon’s heroic efforts that kept the game close.

35a. I continue to find it interesting how understanding fans are about the mistakes the players make, yet that same understanding never applies to the officials, who are also in the developmental stages of their careers.

36. Hamilton has not been drawing well, but on that night, they had 6,021 in attendance. In addition, the 50/50 winner took home $6,345.

37. Waiting on the bus after the game, many Hamilton fans were taunting us with chants of “Let’s go Bulldogs!” and “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

38. There were no fights during the game, but one did break out at the Salvation Army Booth Center across the street, prompting someone to say, “Let’s get out of this cesspool.” Trust me, you don’t know what a cesspool is until you’ve spent time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

39. As I have come to expect in this part of the world, each of us thanked the driver as we disembarked at Fairview Mall. Once again, this is not the SPRM.

05 Apr

Another Doug Ford Rally in St. Catharines

A few takeaways from Doug Ford’s second appearance in St. Catharines in recent weeks:

1. The fact that Ford came back so soon after his last rally here might very well be an indication that the party is going to put on a major push to eject the stubborn Jim Bradley from office. Now all we need is a candidate …

2. Seated in front of me was someone who couldn’t stop gushing about Sandie Bellows, the only one who has stepped forward to seek the nomination here. I only wish I shared his enthusiasm for our prospective new MPP. If she is indeed successful in garnering the nomination, I will probably vote for her, though very reluctantly.

3. Once again, my “Make Speech Free Again” hat drew plenty of raves, including from someone who instantly recognized it as coming from Gab. Good news is travelling fast.

4. It was good to see a full house in double the size of the room he was speaking in last time.

5. I took note that once again, I didn’t have to pass through any security to get up close and personal with the next premier of Ontario, but I do need a free rectal exam for the privilege of attending a junior hockey game. Some people think that makes sense. I am not one of them.

6. Chuck McShane, the PC candidate in Niagara Falls, came around introducing himself to many in the crowd including yours truly. He impressed me as the kind of person who would have been better suited sitting next to Cliff and Norm in the Cheers bar discussing whether or not Wile E. Coyote is the second coming of the Antichrist.

7. During his speech, Ford mentioned that Wynne has stopped listening to the grassroots. Funny, but that’s exactly what happened with Patrick Brown. Remember him?

01 Apr

Random Thoughts – Rochester, Sean Avery’s Book, Endless Winter and More

1. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Rochester, GSNY and came away very impressed. For those of you who aren’t friends of mine on Facebook, check my album for a small sampling of the 700+ pictures I took on the day, many of which will be ending up on my road photos site.

Rochester reminded me very much of Minneapolis, a city I have a lingering fondness for, and those of you who have been there might also get that impression from seeing the pictures. Parking was oddly difficult there and once we found a parking garage that was not full, we had to drive up to the sixth level to find an empty space. I never knew downtown Rochester was such a hot spot.

Interestingly, though out-of-state plates are commonplace around Niagara Falls and Buffalo, I only spotted three such plates on the day and my tour guide’s van was the only one I saw from Ontario.

While there, I noticed Amtrak trains running in opposite directions and upon further investigation, I learned that the Maple Leaf line stops at both St. Catharines and Rochester as part of a daily run between the Center of the Universe and New York City. I have a feeling it is a train I might be on at some point in the future.

2. I recently finished reading Offside, a book written by Sean Avery, one of the NHL’s most obnoxious agitators of all time. Though there was no one better at what he did, he is a much better storyteller than a hockey player and I mean that very much as a professional compliment. But if you can read his book and still call yourself a fan of the NHL, let’s just say you’re a lot more tolerant of misbehaving players than I am. Long gone are the days when the players were just regular guys.

2a. I don’t fault Avery for this, but his publisher should be seriously embarrassed by the number of spelling errors the editors missed in that book.

3. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick of the winter that won’t end. And yes, I have become acclimatized to my new home. This would be a heat wave by Old Country standards, but I’m not in the Old Country anymore, something I remain very grateful for.

4. Speaking of the Old Country, tomorrow, Easter Monday, is a special day there that’s informally known as G.E.M. – Government Employees Monday. You see, that’s a day off for the government and public sector workers, a group that represents about 98% of the workforce in Manitoba. Here, only the privileged few get the day off, but there, it’s seriously embarrassing for those who have to suffer the indignity of going to work that day.

5. My “Make Speech Free Again” hat continues to draw positive attention on both sides of the river wherever I wear it, including from the future premier of Ontario. You can get yours at https://shop.gab.ai.

6. Does anyone miss Patrick Brown?

7. On the writing front, my first mystery entitled The Protector is currently with my editor. Here is the synopsis that I’ve got in mind for the back cover:

He had no choice. It had to be done.

Still, it grated on him as he sped down the dark, deserted highway back to the city. He didn’t want it to come to this. Lord knows he tried everything he could to avoid it.

They had become so close. Like brother and sister. Mentor to pupil.

He had done so much to help her over the years. He had practically become part of the family. She had hit rock bottom more than once and it was only his loving care and support that kept her going. But in the end, she had become another traitor to him. This was the thanks he got for all he had done for her and her daughter. Even at this point, with all the evidence he had, he still had a hard time believing she could turn on him this way. But there was no doubt. He had seen the proof with his own failing eyes.

Inspector Diane Wilson is summoned to lead a team to help locate a vulnerable senior who had gone missing. It soon turns into a murder case when her nearly unrecognizable body is found washed ashore along the sandy beaches of Lake Winnipeg in the sleepy cottage town of Gimli, Manitoba. As she digs deeper, she butts heads with a devious and diabolical adversary who targets anyone who stands in his way.

While my editor works on the mystery, I’m making some serious headway on my next book, a memoir of my fan experiences with the IceDogs tentatively entitled Tales from the Dog Pound: Chronicling the junior hockey fan experience. Some will like it. Others won’t. Among those in the latter category will be the IceDogs ushers, Meridian Center management and Brendan Perlini’s family.