Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Final Holiday Guffah

With the holiday season coming to a close, and plenty of plans to start off the new year in a positive fashion, one sometimes need to look back at the holidays for a smile.

The Christmas season always brings a smile to my face. Usually it happens with the misunderstanding of something such as Christmas carols.

During the Christmas season I heard a story from my church where one young lady was singing the second verse of Away in a Manger which she sang as:

"The castles are lowing..." The music director stopped playing during the rehearsal of the song before the church service started and said "The cattle are lowing..." The young girl replied " it."

To end this post, I link to Mary P. with the best story of kids misunderstanding a christmas carol.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Transit Trip Planner

York Region Transit has been promising since their October 2006 newsletter to create an online trip planner for people wishing to plan out a route from point "A" to point "B". The fare increase coming in January 2007, which according to media reports will raise an additional two million dollars for YRT, will also provide funding for new technologies including the online trip planner. Now, as a YRT transit rider, I wait for this come to fruition.

Toronto also has one in the works as well. However, I would think the Toronto one might even happen before the York Region transit one due to the fact the TTC (Toronto's transit agency) is attempting to team up with techno geeks at Google to accomplish this. Google already has the experience in this trip planning with trip planners already created for U.S. cities like Burbank and Tampa. So the technological expertise of Google is already there and all that is really needed is for the TTC to turn over the needed maps and schedules to Google. Once Google acquires these necessary items, the techno geeks can start working on creating the interface.

Why will the Toronto one happen before the York Region one? Knowing the bureaucrats running York Region Transit, they will try and do it themselves instead of handing it over to a company like Google to do it for free. A company like Google, who already has experience in doing this, would have completed this task probably as little as three months. But of course, for York Region Transit, this would make too much sense and thus would not be possible to do. Thus, I don't the promised York Region's transit planner until at least six months to a year from now.

Are there other cities in this world that have great transit planning technologies?

New York City currently has four transit planner

SUBWAYblogger takes a look at the four of transit planners that New York City has complete with links to the planning websites themselves. I've used while during my time in New York City and found it to be pretty reliable and convenient to use.

What would York Region and Toronto need to include in their trip planning systems?

Here is a list of needed features the trip planners would require:

1. A clean and easy to read map in order to clearly show the directions visually to the user. Hence why Google would be a good company to do a transit planner considering they have the Google Maps technology already in existence.

2. Integrate the system maps and schedules of TTC, GO Transit, YRT, Missisauga Transit, Brampton Transit and Durham Transit. This is to ensure a full Greater Toronto Area transit systems are available to transit riders. Currently it takes flipping between websites, schedules and maps of at least two transit agencies to complete an inter regional transit trip. This only leads to frustration. With all of these transit agencies in one easy to use trip planning system, it will be easier to use transit across borders (e.g. Mississauga to Toronto, etc.).

3. Clearly worded instructions on directions of where to go. Basically clear instructions on how to get from point "A" to point "B" which means the instructions need to include what station or intersection to transfer at and what route (and direction!) one needs to get on. Also, these instructions need to include what time the connecting bus is expected to arrive at the stop.

4. Indicate the fares required to complete the trip. If one is crossing from Toronto into York Region, a rider needs to currently pay two fares in order to ride the TTC and York Region. These fares need to be clearly listed of how much each fare will be for the individual transit agency (e.g. YRT $2.75 TTC $2.75 for a total of $5.50).

5. The route taken needs to have the shortest travel time possible. With the schedules included in the trip planner, connection times between buses can be optimized for riders. There is nothing more frustrating than to realize that you have to wait half an hour for a a connecting bus to arrive. Hopefully, the mapping system can avoid this and suggest another route that may take longer distance wise, but at least the overall travel time is shorter.

6. Take a look at the New York City's and other versions of trip planners. Why should Toronto and York Region "re-invent the wheel" when ideas have already been thought of and implemented? The inventors of the planners should take a look at's options of walking routes, less connections, etc. These options will further assist the transit planner technology to be even more useful to people.

7. Use of GPS technology should be . GPS units on transit vehicles will provide real time arrival times (i.e. is the bus going to arrive on time?) and assist planning an appropriate route. For people with PDAs (i.e. Blackberries) the trip planner could quickly re-map the route one is taking in case unexpected problems (i.e. accident or heavy traffic) occur.

These are just some of the possible suggestions that York Region Transit and Toronto should investigate for their respective online trip planning gizmos. Their own transit planning gizmos? Why can't the transit agencies of the Greater Toronto Area get to together and provide Google with the required information to do an excellent online transit planner? Because that would be thinking and, as we all know, bureaucracies would never do that!

Footnote: Google explains how the Google Transit Planner came about here on the Googleblog.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mental Note...

When going to the store to buy milk to make Macoroni & Cheese, always make sure you have Macaroni and cheese first.

This is very important! Otherwise you will be left to swill milk without Macaroni & Cheese.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Total Weirdness

There are two kinds of weirdness I felt over the past week:
1. On December 24th I was at my church's ten o'clock Christmas Eve Service. It is a tradition that near the end of the church service, the lights of the Sanctuary (the place where the worship service occurs) are dimmed, each member of the congregation has a candle lit and the carol "Silent Night" is sung. On this night as the pipe organ was finishing, the town clock, located across Yonge Street and a little to the north, chimed off the eleven o'clock hour. The bell was the only thing that could be heard after the organ finished and there we were, 150 people holding candles enjoying the silence with the bell tower quietly chiming off in the background. It was eerily weird. I still want to know if the minister and the organist had this planned or whether it was an eerily weird coincidence.

2. Here's an excerpt from Joe Warmington's column from today's Toronto Sun that totally gave me a "that's totally weird" moment:

" 'It was actually supposed to be Gretsky,' laughs Walter. 'My dad did the 's' backwards and it become a 'z.'" - Walter Gretzky, father of current Phoeniz Coyote Head Coach & Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Wayne Gretzky.

This column also gave me a "who knew?" moment as well.

Some things are just kinda of weird. But at least there are different kinds of weirdness which, in itself, is kinda weird as well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The loss of someone special....

"That voice on the subway!" "Who is it?" "What will they say next?" "How will they make this trip more interesting?" A first timer might ask.

"I love that voice everyday. I even wait for that train to show up because I love that voice!" A regular might recall.

But all that is disappearing on subway trains accross North America as transit agencies relieve conductors and drivers of subway trains from the responsibilities of announcing stops.

In New York City the new subway cars announce the stops in both a female and male voice. Usually, the female voice announces the stop and the male voice announces the connecting trains and services at the stop (an mp3 example can be found here). This new automated system works remarkably well for New York City because the automated voices are clear and match up with what is being shown on the automated scroll signs. That way both the blind and hard of hearing people can know where they are going on the subway.

However, the automation removes the uniqueness of the some of the conductors that people enjoy. For example, in New York City when at Atlantic Avenue on the 2 train, (click the above link to here the automated announcement) a conductor will give the transfers available and then announce "connection is available to the


Island Railroad." This announcement usually makes the riders smile and giggle. However, with the automated system this is lost.

New York City has gone one step further with the automated announcements. Unlike VIVA in York Region that uses a computer voice to announce the stops, New York City had paid two real life radio announcers to do the announcements for each stop and connections. The New York City announcements have been much more successful than the VIVA version. Why? Because by hiring people the annunciation is properly done in New York City. Whereas, VIVA had been struggling with the announcement at Richmond Hill Centre (one of its major stations) with the a simple announcement like this "Next stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink Routes." However, this announcement turned into" Next Stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink crews." Another example is "Golf Links Drive" which the VIVA voice turned it into "Goolf Links Drive."

With automation comes problems like those experienced by VIVA require a lot of time and frustaration to solve issues like those mentioned above. However, with New York City they seemed to have automated voices correct through the use of radio personality voices. However, with the automation of announcements some of the "personalization" of announcements have been lost. As conductor's announcements of upcoming stops is gradually phased out, this personalization will become a part of transit history.

No longer will you hear from fellow passengers "this conductor has the best voice!" or "That conductor sounds like he is announcing the stops via an old rusted tin can and string system." Its a shame really. But first timers on New York City subway will at least be grateful because they will know where they are going due to the clear automated voices telling what stop it is and which of the over twenty train routes they are able to transfer to.

Footnote: Click here to try these out for yourself using the AT&T demo of the voices. Funny examples include the word "Aurora" (which is one of the towns VIVA goes through). To here the "VIVA voice set the language to "U.S. English" then the voice to "Crystal". Don't forget to type in your message!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A fairly busy but good week at work and musings on the holiday season

Leading up to Christmas at work is very busy and stressful. There are so many deadlines my company is trying to meet during this busy shopping season.

From the time I walked in the office door until I left every day I was working steady. There were demos being planned, customer surveys being done and regular merchandising being done. All of this is just part of the merchandising industry during the biggest shopping season of the year. To say the least, I sleep well every night, just to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Do I have my own Christmas shopping done? Yesiree! Now I just have to wrap it all and send it.

I even got extra items like an electric toothbrush and shaver as I will be doing demos this coming weekend for one of our clients. I love these demos as I get to interact with different people and show them how a product I know well works and benefits them. On the plus side I get some product afterward and paid very well.

Even better in this industry is the gifts you receive from the clients. From Fedex I received a new key chain (of course it says Fedex on it, but that works for me) as well as a new watch from one of the clients our company merchandises for. I needed a new watch, my old Timex was looking a little battered. The one I got actually looks pretty good and sturdy for the day to day beatings that I seem to inflict on the time pieces that reside on my wrist.

I look forward to this coming Christmas season as it is really the first time I will have my own apartment to celebrate Christmas in. I already have Christmas lights in my window to make my apartment feel more "festive". Will I have anything else to decorate my "humble abode?" Probably not as I really don't have room to store a Christmas tree or anything else when not in use. Perhaps I could just hang a picture of a picture of a tree on a wall or something. Even better! I should tape a video of a Christmas Tree and loop it on DVD for my T.V. HOW FESTIVE! Oh the fun of apartment dwelling!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The First Snow

The first major snowfall in Aurora is now coming down. The traffic on Yonge Street (pictured below) is slowing down.

I looked out my apartment window to see a sheet of white snow. I love how snowstorms sneak up on you in the winter sometimes. At one moment it is clear blue sky and the next a sheet of white.

Ottawa is well known for this phenomenon happening. When I was in first year university in Ottawa I used to love watching from my 20th floor residence room the snow storms advance from the Gatineau Hills to the north, southward until I could barely see across the street.

Also in Ottawa I used to enjoying the quiet the snow used to bring to the downtown. I loved walking around the National War Memorial and the Parliament Buildings hearing the snow pile up. The scraping sound off in the distance of snow plows trying to keep up also added to the poetic sounds in a strange sort of way.

I do a lot of thinking while walking in the snow. In Ottawa, I used to think about university term papers I was writing (some of them can be found here) on these walks. The questions that wandered through my mind in terms of the paper writing included: "Where am I going with this?" "Do I have enough info to write this?"

History has been made with walks in the snow. Just ask Pierre Trudeau who made a famous walk in the snow. Will there be more history to be made in the future with walks in the snow? Probably because "history repeats itself."

Canada is made of snow, or is that "snow makes Canadians"? People are considered "unCanadian" if they cannot deal with the snow.

So I guess I, like Trudeau, am Canadian because I love the snow!

That is until February rolls around....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chapter 11: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

"If Toronto is a sort of amalgam of New York and Chicago, Montreal can be understood as the best of Boston and New Orleans, a combination of old-world charm and modern technology." -Alan F.J. Artibise, "Canada as an Urban Nation" quoted on page 161.

Fiorito calls Toronto bland in chapter 11 and then proves it by going on to tell about how various facets of Toronto are merely 'mediocre'.

Is Toronto mediocre?

Since Toronto is supposed to be an amalgam of New York and Chicago, as the above quote from Fiorito's book would suggest, lets start there. Since I have never been to Chicago, but do know New York City quite well since I lived there for a year, lets compare Toronto to New York.

1. Transit: New York City has a kick ass subway system that moves millions of people a day (1.4 billion trips in 2005 according to Wikipedia) into and out of the city. The system not only connects with commuter trains (Metro North and the LOOOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG Island Railroad), Staten Island Ferry, annoucments of transit connections (announcement: "This is Times Square-42nd Street...Transfers available to the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, Q, R, W and Shuttle to Grand Central"), but also has express trains that moves people quickly past smaller "local stations" that the majority of people would not want to stop at. Sure the subway system is more than 100 years old, but it was built right from the beginning with switching redundancies between lines which helps to detour trains during construction on weekends as well as helping to keep the trains moving when there is a medical emergency. Medical emergency? Max ten minute holdup in New York to get things back on the move.

Toronto's subway system is becoming antiquated and useless. The system needs to expand big time! York University is Canada's largest bus station with GO Transit, TTC, YRT, VIVA and York University transit buses feeding passengers into, out of and through the campus. There is a proposal for a subway extension through the university grounds, but this is starting to become bogged down in political blame and bureaucracy between the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

Perhaps one comparison between New York City and Toronto on the transit issue is how many people does each subway station serve (i.e. divide the population by the number of subway stations).

New York City has 468 stations serving aproximately 10 million people (living within the 5 Boroughs of Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhatten, and the Bronx) whereas Toronto with a population of 2.5 million (within the former cities of Scarborough, East York, York, North York, Toronto and Etobicoke) has 69 subway stations. So on a per capita basis:

New York: 10,000,000 / 468 = 21,367.52 people

Toronto: 2,500,000 / 69 = 36,231.88 people.

What does this mean? There are more stations in New York serving the population than Toront. Considering that many trains in New York don't stop at the smaller subway stations (i.e. Express trains) and better connections to connecting transit, as well as the ease of their fare system it is no wonder why New York's subway system just totally rocks and Toronto's looks just plainly mediocre. Not only that, New York's transit system (subway, trains and buses) combined gets you everywhere. Toronto's transit system is so disjointed, confusing and stuck in traffic that the only thing one gets is to be late for work.

How to fix Toronto's subway problem?

Simple: 1. Complete the Sheppard Avenue line Eastward to Scarborough Town Centre and Westward to Downsview (and not further) to connect to the current Scarborough RT (and future Bloor-Danforth line extension). 2. Extend the University-Spadina line to Major Mackenzie Drive and Jane Street in order to service the booming new development in that corridor as well as finally give York University subway access. 3. Demo the Scarborough RT (because the system is coming to the end of its life span and no replacement parts are easily accesible as well as demand oustrips capacity) and extend the Bloor-Danforth line out to at least where the Scarborough RT currently ends. 4. Extend the Yonge Street line north to at least Bernard Avenue (one block North of Elgin Mills Road) to reduce congestion on Yonge Street. 5. Twin the Yonge Street line with an Express Tracks and local tracks like the 2/3 line in New York City. This would probably catch Toronto up on it subway stations and provide far better service.

2. Sports: The Toronto Blue Jays keep increasing their payroll year in and year out in an attempt to keep up and hopes (!) of surpassing the New York Yankees in terms of bringing in on field production. The Jays are hoping to eventually get back to winning the World Series for the first time since 1992 and 1993 dynasty years. So far this can only happen if The Boston Red Sox (like in the 2005 season) and New York Yankees are plaqued by injuries allowing Toronto to inch by them into second place in the East and into the Wild Card spot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been trying to get back to winning a Stanley Cup on a regular basis since 1964. If that doesn't spell out a history of mediocroty what else will?

The Toronto Raptors are just plain losers considering this team has been around for at least ten years and has spent more time on the wrong side of the scoreboard than on the right. This barely even qualifies as mediocre.

3. Architecture: Toronto has hints of great architecture but more often than not this has been subdoed by the mediocre cement and/or glass buildings that surround them. The hints of great architecture include the new Ontario College of Art and Design on McCaul Street (page 162), Queen's Park, ROM, the CN Tower and others. But these buildings are surrounded by boring buildings like Metro Hall, Toronto Convention Centre and other office buildings. These buildings hold back or even block the amazing sightlines to the spectacular buildings. The rising condo buildings along Toronto's waterfront are starting to imped the spectacular view of the famous Toronto skyline of office towers, the CN Tower and Rogers Centre (SkyDome). In fact, Rogers Centre is almost totally blocked out by the condo towers depending on which angle the skyline is viewed from the Toronto Islands. It is sad really that such great architecture is being glossed over by mediocre utilitarian buildings.

Toronto is a unique city. It just wants to be like New York, but it has to come to the realization that it is not. Perhaps if Toronto found its own niche market like London, like Paris, like New York, like Berlin and others, then perhaps Toronto could become great. But until then, Toronto will have to sit it the realm of mediocrity.

Torontoist: An Open Letter to Toronto's Drivers

Torontoist: An Open Letter to Toronto's Drivers

An interesting posting (click above) that reflects my feelings on car drivers.

Will someone come up with a funky graphic to link to this for one of those blog campaigns? Is there a blog campaign against bad drivers? If not, why not, there is ones for Liberals, Conservatives, bloggers that hate either of the two preceding political parties, cyclists, little old ladies crossing streets, etc....

It's a Cavalcade of Lights!

I went on a walking adventure last night of Downtown Toronto last night.

I started by taking the subway to Union Station and beginning there. Union Station is a great place to start considering it is practically the centre for everyone's adventure in Toronto.

From Union Station I walked up to the Great Hall of Union Station (the VIA Concourse). I have been trying to take a picture of this hall for months now. But the pictures never seem to pan out. I finally have a decent shot though. I'm still not totally happy with it because it doesn't should the full view of the greatness of this hall. Here is what I have so far:

In this picture there is room behind me, so I guess I should move further back in order to capture more of this grand hall. I compare this hall to New York's Grand Central Station's main hall. This is where people are coming and going from outside Toronto. Down the stairs, in front of you in the picture above, is where arrivals from VIA rail arrive and another concourse for both GO Transit and TTC Subway. When one surfaces up this stairwell the grandeur of the hall you are looking is revealed! It is a site to see. Too bad I just can't seem to get a good picture of it that I'm happy with.

On with the treck though....

I walked out the front of Union Station and westbound on Front Street to John Street. I then walked north along John Street to Queen Street West. On the South East corner is Toronto's famous CityTV and Much Music studios. I then walked Eastward along Queen Street West and entered Nathan Philips Square.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get great pictures of the Cavalcade of Lights display in focus. I decided this was a great opportunity to try the "night time" function on my camera. \

Note to self: A novice digital camera operator should not fool around with the functions when trying to take night pictures. It is best to leave it on "Auto" mode and let the camera do its own work. There is, though, some out of focus shots I thought were decent in the Toronto section of the Scrapbook area on my website.

After visiting Nathan Philips Square and Toronto's City Hall, I continued Eastward on Queen Street West to Yonge Street. I then headed northbound on Yonge Street to Yonge & Dundas Street where Dundas Square is located. Here is what I found sitting near the corner:

An interesting rendition of a Christmas Tree is what I found!

After visiting Dundas Square, I continued further north on Yonge Street to Rosedale where I picked up a Steamed Cider at Starbuck's.

Now that I was warmed up again, I was eager to continue northward on Yonge Street. However, in Rosedale, on the railway bridge that crosses Yonge Street I found this view:

The tree seems to be like a shooting star coming from the bridge with a trail of blue stardust glistening behind it.

I furthered my treck further up Yonge Street to Eglington Avenue. This was the farthest I had ever walked before up Yonge from the Downtown Union Station / Rogers Centre area. According to Google Maps, I walked, not including my side excursion to Toronto's City Hall, eight Kilometres.

I forgot to mention, one of the purposes of this adventure was to test out my new winter jacket I bought myself earlier that day at Mark's Work Warehouse. In case you're wonering, the jacket kept me perfectly warm!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

TTC Picks on a Pregnant Woman

Mike Strobel - Heavy-handed behaviour by TTC officers leaves single mom convinced there has to be a better way

Say it ain't the Toronto Sun's Mike Strobel reports, a pregnant lady with her own four year old son in tow, on her way home has been picked on and threatened with being arrested by the TTC's Rent-a-Cops (a.k.a. Goon Squad).

Apparently, the pregnant woman had produced a December Metropass (monthly transit pass) while going through the turnstiles at a Toronto Subway Station at the end of November in order to show she paid her fare. The woman had mistakenly left her November Metropass at home, but did have the receipt for the November pass with her.

When asked further about her fare by Toronto's finest Transit "Fare Hosers", she easily explained what happenned and then produced a receipt for the November pass. This would seem to be a simple mistake of a pregnant woman with obviously quite a bit on her mind.

Toronto Sun columnist, Mike Strobel put it best of what any sensible person of authority would have done. Which would be to say to the lady: " 'Okay, ma'am, please be more careful next time,'... "

Then tell her four year old son, Johnny, that everyone makes a mistake and this time we will let this one slide.

But sadley this was not the case. The "Goon Squad," who obviously has nothing better to do than intimidate and harass a defenseless pregnant lady, decided to confiscate the legally paid for December Monthly Pass and issue her of a hefty ticket. The Rent a Cops did this instead of moving on to more important crime prevention matters like patrolling the stations in order to prevent something like a recent situation where someone was recently killed by a brick at the Jane Street station on the Bloor-Danforth line.

No, that would be too easy.

Here's an even better idea!...according to the TTC: First you accuse a lady, who has basically proven she has paid her fare and her son's fare, of not paying a fare. Then you let this same "fare beater" ride the subway anyway. If you believe someone hasn't paid their fare, why would you let them board the subway? This must be TTC bureacratic reasoning at its best, because who can figure out this logic? In fact, there isn't any logic in the TTC's actions in this case at all.

If the TTC, and other transit agencies, want to continue to increase ridership they must become a little more accomodating. This dooen't mean opening the fare gates to allow passengers to ride for free. This means in this pregnant woman's case to simply write her a warning for this simple mistake and let her and her son go on their merry way. If this particular lady tried to pull this stunt again, then the TTC should hand her the ticket.

The TTC needs to remember that we are all human, and humans make mistakes. But apparently at the TTC no mistakes are allowed by their customers. Especially pregnant customers who have a four year old in tow. Apparently, customer's mistakes, like this one, only provides the opportunity for the TTC's Goon Squad to pick on defensless pregnant ladies. Perhaps the TTC's should really learn which ones are the "goons" in this case, it's the ones wearing the uniforms! SHAME ON THE TTC!

UPDATE! : Mike Strobel's column today (Saturday) in the Toronto Sun provides an update on the situation. Strobel notes that Sun readers have come forward offering to pay both the fine and the new December pass. Strobel figures that with the offers from the readership be taken into account, the pregnant lady could easily ride for a couple of years on the TTC for free. Congratulations to the readers for stepping up. That is what Toronto is all about.

The TTC even stepped up to the plate and returned the December TTC back in, what they called, "an act of compassion." The TTC should do even more by waving the the fine and offering up a free January monthly pass as compensation. But that would be common sense and, as we all know, transit and government bureaucracy doesn't have a lot of common sense. If the TTC was a business and treated it's customers like this, they would be bankrupt in no time. Instead, because the TTC is a government agency they are able to still operate and be bankrupt in another sense, in this case it is morally bankrupt.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Santa is here!

Saturday night, after doing some extra in store demonstration work on behalf of my employer, I attended the Aurora Santa Claus Parade. The Aurora parade is a little different from most others, it occurs at night. For over ten years Aurora has held their parade at night.

Santa at the end of the Aurora Santa Claus Parade.

Check out further pictures of this here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy U.S. Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving

The company I'm currently working for released a little something fun for the upcoming U.S. Thanksgiving that I thought I would share.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my U.S. readers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Last week I celebrated my birthday. I received a new digital camera that, finally, I have been able to download pictures from. An example of a picture that I have finally been able to download is below. The bear was made by my former roomate from Brooklyn when I was living in the United States. She hand knit all by herself. I'm proud of her. The card is also from her.

The camera is awesome! I thank my Aunt, Uncle and cousins for buying it for me. No longer will be I be seen fumbling with batteries for my old camera...NO SIREE!

Today is my sister's birthday....HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTINE! Thanks for the purple tie that I have to match my purple shirt!

Thanks to everyone who helped celebrate my birthday.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chapter 10: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 10, Joe Fiorito investigates what different cultures do best. Fiorito investigates the a Lebanese family restaurant during a breakfast on a Sunday, an Italian family pork shop, a Polish Met Market and others.

I find these "ethnic food places" have some of the best food to be found in any town. Perhaps this is because the owners of these fine eating establishments take great care in preparing their food. T.C.'s Fish & Chips in Aurora, located conveniently right next to my church on Yonge Street in Aurora, a Greek family makes fabulous burgers, fries, salads and of course fish! My favourite at this fine establishment is the cheeseburger combo. After ordering your choice of drink, medium fries and burger you can listen to the jokes and tomfoolery of the staff. Usually Chris, the owner, is at the grill with either Glen or one of his compatriots. Talk from the grill ranges from women, to life in general to how much the Toronto Maple Leafs rule or stink. The food, while the banter is going on between Chris, his assistant and yourself goes on, your burger is put on fresh and flame kissed and your fries are being fried. The burger? Top it just the way you want it. Its like Harvey's but even better because the food and staff are exceptional instead of some pimply teenager who you may never see again slopping stuff on your burger. Once the food is done your mouth is just salivating to dig into it! Portions are quite generous as your paper plate overfloes with a burger and fries. On the tables there is ketchup galore to cover your fries. You never go home hungry after visiting T.C.'s. In fact, some people request smaller portions so no food is wasted. I still wonder why people would go to McDonald's when a place like this exists in Aurora.

What are different ethnicities known for making?:

Italians - Pizza, Pasta & Pork Products.

Polish - Pork products.

Chinese - Chinese food of course!

Canadians - Bacon, Beer and Donuts.

Have I missed any? Probably, please let me know in the comment section.

Santa Claus and Christmas at the Northpole

Santa Claus and Christmas at the Northpole

When does the official shopping season for Christmas begin?

This year it seems to be as soon as the pumpkins, the ghouls and the gobblins of Halloween have been laid to rest for the year. I was in Canadian Tire store here in Aurora last weekend when I passed by the seasonal area. Already in eisle were the LED Christmas lights, the garland and other Christmas bric a brac were being put on the shelves.

Heck, Friday the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City was being erected. When I was in New York City, I loved the tree and the festive skaters of Rockefeller Center, but in November? This seems to be a little much.

The question is who is driving the season of Christmas earlier and earlier? Commercial establishments, like Canadian Tire & Sears, would be the main culprits. My question to these multi million dollar corporations is why do you have your Christmas Commercials on now?

Canada Post has even gotten in on the rush to get Christmas going by sending out a flyer that says when the last day Christmas packages can be sent via mail. Is this really necessary before December 1st? Sure Christmas presents headed overseas must leave before December 1st in order to be gaurenteed prime real estate under someone's Christmas tree.

As for me, well I bought some LED Christmas lights this morning from Canadian Tire. Am I a hypocrite? No, I'm just prepping my window that faces Yonge Street for next weekend's Santa Claus Parade in Aurora. Aurora has "Santa under the Stars" parade which means the Santa Claus Parade occurs at night. Want to see the parade in Aurora? Check out the local cable company, ACI, website because apparently the cable company will be taping the parade and broadcasting it on their website. As for the lights, I'm hoping to be apart of the celebration that evening of fine Aurora community spirit.

The only dissapointment I have about the lights, and I only noticed this when I opened the box, is that the LED lights I bought, when they burn out their done! Yes, no replacement bulbs are available for this string. I find that a little environmentally irresponsible of the people at NOMA. NOMA, the company that made the lights, should have all their strands of Christmas lights have the ability to have their bulbs replaced instead of being forced to throw out the entire strand and buy a new one once some of the lights have burnt out. It just doesn't seem right.

As I'm in the marketing business with my job, however, I don't mind Christmas hitting the stores earlier. This season secures my employement as this is the biggest season for merchandising and associated product placement industries in large stores like Loblaws and Canadian Tire.

But, I do find it weird to be looking at Christmas crap in November. Christmas should not start until December 1st. Otherwise you might get tired of Christmas by the time Christmas Day actually arrives. But I guess that is why people usually take the week of Christmas off....because people have grown weary of the Christmas season. Its a pity really.

What ever happened to Christmas starting on December 1st? What ever happened?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Today I headed down to the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto to check out the 84th Annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I love seeing farm animals and vegetables at their best. Below is a sampling of what I saw:

Can you pick your nose with your tongue?
How many pies can one make from a 950 pound pumpkin?
"Please tell me my tail is nicely braided. Please tell me."
"Phew...thank goodness, my tail is nicely braided.."

More pictures of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair can be found here

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bad Restaurant Service

Things that make you go hmmmm:

From the Calgary Sun:

It takes 20 minutes to get a coffee at the drive-through and after ordering seven large double-doubles to take back to the shop, the rocket surgeon on the other side of the window will ask if you need a tray.

Perhaps he's thinking you'll balance the boiling hot cups on the dashboard and try to avoid any turns.

You need the patience of Mother Teresa to get a seat at a restaurant and if you order fast food, there is a definite chance you'll be chomping into someone else's burger when you open the bag.
Hope you're not allergic to pickles.
-- Jose Rodriguez column.

It seems not only Calgary has the above issues.

On my travels over the past five years I've seen the worst:

1. Near Kitchener, Ontario at a McDonald's Service Centre on the 401 Eastbound, it took ten minutes to serve me a simple Big Mac Meal. Normal volume of customers seem to be there. Question: Isn't McDonald's a fast food location? If I wanted to wait 10 minutes for food, I would have gone to a gourmet burger place or perhaps ordered a steak. But then again, if I wanted a real burger I would have waited 10 minutes. Trust me, the jury is still out if the words "real beef" and "Big Mac" were ever truly associated without criminal charges being laid.

2. New York City restaurant bathrooms are so small for the number of people frequenting these locations that often the two toilets (one for men and one for women) are so dirty and disgusting you don't even want to walk into them. Wendy's in Downtown Brooklyn is one of these. I tried this bathroom once and mistook the men's toilet as a sewage treatment plant. This is one of the most busiest Wendy's restaurants I have seen in my life!

3. Idiot customers who, after paying for their order and moving on to wait for the order to be assembled, want to add a cheeseburger to their order. This means the said idiot customer in front of you must push back around you twice (once to get back to the cash and once to reclaim his spot in front of you). Of course the fact the fast food location has us hearded like cattle through narrow turnstiles doesn't help matters.

4. The "may I take your order" introduction from the attendant at McDonald's as a greeting. Hmmm....lets see....NO! Perhaps I just want to stand hear and oggle you in your sexy blue robes and dorky visor. YOUR SO SEXY in that fast food uniform! OF COURSE YOU CAN TAKE MY ORDER! What else am I there for? To wash the floor?

5. At McDonald's and Wendy's locations the person serving you is often both the cashier and the person who assembles your order. So the attendent usually takes your order, your money and then asks you to step to one side so the attendent can do the same with the next customer after you while your order is being prepared by the kitchen. I just love when the next customer after me has a million questions to ask the attendent or they don't know exactly what they want and this only leads to even more questions. Meanwhile during the interrogation of the lowly pimply teenager is going on about every single ingredient in the burger, your order is ready to be assembled. There are times I just want to hop the counter, grab my fries, burger and coke and get the hell out of there. Its like the food is teasing you saying: COME GET ME, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO! BONUS ANNOYANCE: There is some loser standing behind the counter doing nothing of much importance that could have easily helped out his fellow co-worker by retrieving my order. But apparently this said loser wasn't told by a manager to do this, the thought of helping a co-worker never crosses their mind.

6. Not having my order taken within 5 minutes at a fast food location. Um....if you can't take my order, never mind fill the order, in 5 minutes then why call yourself a "fast food location"?

7. Finally, and this happenned to me this morning when I went for coffee at Tim Horton's. As I was standing waiting for the attendant to pour my coffee in the store, I heard the drive through attendent say: "We don't have any donuts ready yet this morning." Tim Horton's and no donuts? That is like a peanut butter and jam sandwich without jam, Bert without Ernie on Sesame Street. IT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. BONUS! I was in the store this morning at 6:45 A.M. as the morning rush was starting.

Oh the fun of food service industry!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Am I on the Voter's List?

In September I received a letter from the Deputy Clerk for the Town of Aurora. The letter mentioned, at great length, mentioned that I was not confirmed to be a Canadian citizen or a resident of Aurora. Thus, I was not on the voters list for the upcoming municipal election in Aurora.

I thought to myself, how weird, with the exception of my time in Ottawa and New York, I've always lived in Aurora, how could I not be a Canadian citizen?

Also on the letter it stated that I could sign the declaration stating:

I declare that I am a Canadian citizen, that I have attained the age of eighteen years on or before voting day, and that I am entitled to be an elector in the Town of Aurora.

and present the above declaration at the Town Clerk's office in person.

Now it makes no mention that the Town Hall offices are only staffed between 8:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday. Considering this how am I supposed to ensure that my name is on the voters list considering I work during those hours? Am I to take the financial hit in order to ensure my name is on the voters list? It seems like an odd thing to have to endure just to ensure my right to vote.

So I figured, as advertised in the newspaper, that I could just bring my passport and proof of tennancy in Aurora (i.e. Hydro Bill and Apartment contract) to the local poll in order to vote in this upcoming municipal election. I take voting quite seriously and do my research via candidate websites, debates and press coverage in order to vote for the best candidate. So I was prepared to not have my name on the voters list and figured I would have no problem as I was following the instructions the Town Clerk's Department had advertised in the local media if a person's name was not on the voter's list.

Earlier this month, I was puzzled when I checked my mailbox to find a voter card with my name on it with my apartment address on it. The card indicates all I have to do is prove who I am and then I can vote. Considering I have made no action myself to convince the Town Clerk's Department that I am in fact a tenant in Aurora and a Canadian citizen, this voter card continues to puzzle me.

On one hand I have a letter stating I need to prove my Canadian citizenship and Aurora tenancy. On the other hand I have a voter card stating I can vote at a certain polling station on November 13th. So am I or am I not on the voter's list.

I went online to investigate if I was on the voters list. On the Town of Aurora's website there is an "Online Voter Lookup" page in the Elections 2006 section. On this page I filled in my name and address and pressed the "submit" button. No entries were found. I tried my first initial and my last name and address and nothing happenned.

I figure since the page doesn't have a space for apartment numbers, my name will not show. Considering there are over twenty units in the building I live in, there are probably more than five voters in this building who are on the voters list. So perhaps next time the Clerk's Department might want to add a apartment number space for a case like my own. Then I might find my name.

But this still leaves me with a question:


Friday, October 27, 2006

Troubles at VIVA continue

This morning on my way into work, while waiting for 9 minutes to transfer buses between VIVA Purple to VIVA Orange, I decided to purchase my November monthly pass.

I used the automated fare machine to purchase the pass. However, nothing came out after the machine's screen finished saying "please wait, I'm printing your tickets." I looked in and saw the problem. There was a gap between where the ticket is dispensed from and the receptacle. There was a white piece of paper in it. It was my receipt. I managed to fish that out of the machine. Next, I searched for the pass in that same hole no wider than your pinky. I nudged the piece of paper in the gap and it fell lower out of reach. This pass cost me $120.00!

While my hands and knees were getting acquainted with the concrete sidewalk, I copied down the Location# (9715) and Device # (0802) from the tag at the bottom left hand corner of the machine. I then reported it to the VIVA Orange bus driver on bus # 5132. He called it into transit control who said I had to call customer service instead.

So, I got to work and called customer service. I listened to their two minutes of pre-recorded information and was told that now my call was being transferred to the customer service agent. The phone rang four times and then I got nothing except dead air. I waited a minute and then nothing.

So I dialed the number again and waited through the two minutes of pre-recorded information (including for more information please visit our website! ARGH!). Then, I had to wait in the usual que for a customer service agent to pick up. This call occurred shortly after 8 A.M. and there isn't enough customer service agents to handle the calls? Perhaps more agents need to be hired or perhaps the bus system is receiving so many questions and complaints that communication with the customers need to be thought out.

Elsie picked up and I explained what happened. She said that I should expect a response to my query sometime next week.

I pointed out November started next Wednesday and what was I supposed to do then, get a $150.00 ticket from VIVA/YRT's Rent a Cops because I didn't have a monthly pass and the receipt would not suffice? I asked why one of the supervisors who always seem to be hiding in their cars sleeping instead of assisting the passengars, might be able to deliver me the monthly pass in question. I pointed out that I did work really close to one of their major terminals (Downsview Station) and perhaps they could deliver one there sometime by Wednesday.

Elsie said she would transfer me to someone, she said I had to lose the sarcasm though.

I thought to myself, I'm out $120.00 right now, I believe I've paid for the right to be sarcastic.

Elsie noted that person is not working yet as this person starts work at 8:30, so I should leave a voicemail.

I was transferred to another line and someone picked up. She said Elsie had transferred me to the wrong person. This person transferred me to Vanessa.

Vanessa was awesome! I gave her all my information of where, when, and how I lost the pass. She said she would call dispatch to see if a technician could visit the VIVA vending machine in question and figure out when I could get the pass. She called back in five minutes to say a technician was en route to the machine.

In fifteen Vanessa called back to say the technician would visit me at the office in under an hour. She apologized profusely about the situation. She also noted that the technician said there were two problems at this machine.

Apparently, there was a report of another Michael Suddard who had his debit card stuck in the machine as well as Vanessa's request to retrieve a pass for Michael Suddard. I said to Vanessa that I never said I had my debit card stuck in the machine. In fact, I noted, I have my debit cards on me and their perfectly fine. Elsie hadn't been listening to my story about losing the pass. But at least Vanessa did. She noted she was going into a meeting later that day and would bring up the problem I ran into. I also pointed out that the VIVA Orange to Downsview and the VIVA Purple to Martin Grove miss each other every day by one minute, yet I just get the runaround that "VIVA operates like the subway." I pointed out to Vanessa that perhaps VIVA should run the Toronto subway and have the TTC Subway trains operate every fifteen minutes! We both laughed at this, but she got my point and would pass it on.

Within the hour, Wade had dropped off the pass and again apologized for the confusion.

So BRAVO to Wade and Vanessa for quickly fixing the problem. I was imagining a possibly bureaucratic nightmare. I'm ecstatic that didn't happen.

JEERS to Elsie for screwing this up and the customer service line where you have to wait for two minutes and cannot press "0" to speak to a human.

JEERS again to customer service centre and the VIVA Rent a Cops for not ensuring the Ontario Smoke Free Act and the YRT Customer Code of Conduct (Region of York By-law # R-415-2005-028 section 3.21) at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal is enforced. People smoke at this transit terminal despite the no smoking signs being posted at the station,. the above customer code of conduct posted on the York Region Transit website and a report by myself that smoking is an ongoing issue. The terminal is also littered with cigrette butts and yet enforcement never seems to be around! Even BIGGER JEERS and a BIGGER SHAME! to the transit supervisor at Richmond Hill Centre Termianl who, every morning, stands next to a VIVA driver on break and lets this said DRIVER SMOKE! So why go about posting the signs on every single window at the station and post it on your website if your own enforcement refuses to even enforce it? SHAME ON YRT!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Chapter 9: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 9 Joe Fiorito investigates Toronto's Seaton House. Seaton House is a homeless shelter for men located near downtown Toronto. The homeless that attend this shelter usually have lost their jobs, have an alchohol addiction, and/or are mentally unstable.

Heres the question I have always had about my experience between Toronto and New York City: Why are the homeless more noticeable in Downtown Toronto as opposed to Manhatten Island?

I have several theories for this:

1. New York City has quite a few subway lines that operate twenty four hours a day. New York's Subway system provides the homeless great spots to curl up in warm and dry locations in trains, passages stairwells and stations for the day and night. Heck, even the homeless advocates go from train car to train car handing out free sandwiches and other nutritious meals.

Whereas Toronto's subway system shuts down around one or two in the morning which means the homeless are forced out onto the streets as the trains go out of service for the evening. So the homeless would rather lay on heating grates an sleep

2. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) enforces the loitering laws far better than Toronto's Police force. This is particularly true considering that the homeless in Toronto can be found throughout the downtown sprawled out on street corners or begging for spare change. Whereas, in New York City, the homeless are barely seen and if they are seen, you can bet they are not sitting around begging for change. Perhaps this is because New York's finest ensure the sidewalks are not obstructed by anything or anyone.

3. Better housing services are offered by the New York City than Toronto. I have no proof on this one, but the fewer homeless on Manhatten's streets would indicate there are fewer homeless. Manhatten, considered the "downtown" of New York City would theoretically have more homeless in this city of over ten million than Downtown Toronto would with a population of just over 2 million. Yet I can find more homeless in Downtown Toronto than in my extensive adventures throughout Manhattan. Could this be because the homeless in New York city are routed towards programs that encourage them to find "geared to income housing" and away from the street corner?

These are just theories of why I believe the homeless are more noticable in Toronto than New York City.

I'd like to finish up with an anecdote though. When I was going to the University of Ottawa, I used to walk over the Mackenzie King Bridge behind the Rideau Centre there was always a pandhandler. This spot, you would think would be a prime location for a person down on his luck to gain quite a few sheckles in order to purchase some food and clothing. Or you would think shyster could do pretty well here if he played the part. Well, there was a shyster playing the part. Except the shyster had one problem: Why would a homeless person down on his luck have a brand spanking new leather jacket and winter toque on?

Naps & Colds

Late this past week I came down with a cold. Not a full blown runny nose cold, but a soar throat and slight headache cold. The nose, on Saturday, tried to start running, but that was short lived.

Now here I am Sunday afternoon feeling fit as a fiddle. How did that happen considering Thursday the symptoms were only just beginning?

Simple. I have a plan when it comes to challenging colds to test me:

1. Increase the amount of milk or milk products that I consume. The invention of chocolate milk makes this even better.

2. Increase the amount of Orange Juice in order to ensure I am getting more Vitamin C than I know what I do with.

3. Soar throat and sinuses congested? Try chewing Wrigley's Excel Extreme Gum which will just kick the hell out of your soar throat and do a number on the sinuses all in a positive way. I learned this one day after trying a pack of the new Extreme Gum from Loblaws. When I first tried this particular product, I was healthy, and thought the gum was disgusting. But I did note that the gum had an intense menthal tasting action that might be good for getting rid of disgusting mucas tastes in my mouth like you have when a cold is in full swing. After my first cold, I will never leave without this gum! Its widely available at Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws and its affiliated stores (e.g. Real Canadian Superstore, Zehrs, etc.).

4. Chicken Noodle Soup. At least I learned something from my mother....when your sick, Chicken Noodle soap is for you!

5. Naps & Nyquil. er...Nyquil then nap. Nyquil, the night time cold and flu edition is will clean out your sinuses and runny nose. But be careful, after taking the recomended dose on the bottle, be sure to act fast in putting the cap back on and racing to bed. This is because you might fall asleep before your head even hits your pillow.

All of the above helped me kick some serious cold ass leave me feeling energized and ready for the world!

Naps are perhaps the best idea, even if you don't have a cold, to re-energize yourself. My sister explained naps in this post that is well worth reading. All though, I don't take setting the alarm part as necessary, I do enjoy a nice weekend nap out on your favourite futon or chesterfield. My favourite napping is usually on a Saturday afternoon on a dreary rainy day. I lay out on my futon with a "throw" on watching boring Saturday afternoon television and drift off to sleep. I have the knack of awakening from my 'power nap' feeling totally re-energized.

Usually I use naps to reward myself from a busy morning. Saturday mornings are usually the best times to get things done. The line ups at the local Canadian Tire are usually nice and short. This is great because I love going in, getting what I want in a store and getting out as fast as I can. Also, at the Candaian Tire I go to, there are usually free Toronto Sun editions right after the checkout counters. These free newspapers are gone pretty quickly though, so you have to be there early to get an edition! The bank on a Saturday morning at 9:30 A.M. is a ghost town! I can get in, see a teller, and get out in five minutes. Later on in the day I would be lucky to get in and out in under twenty minutes.

So with all this in mind, I love Saturday afternoon naps....especially when battling the evil Dr. Cold bug!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Autumn Walk in Aurora

Tonight, shortly after six p.m., I headed out towards Sheppard's Bush to enjoy the fall colours. Unfortunately, many of the pictures didn't turn out due to bad lighting within Sheppard's Bush. But at least I got out to enjoy a nice fall walk full of fresh air and rasque squirrels looking for food before winter.

Here are the pictures that did turn out though:

The parkette at the corner of Edward Street & Royal Road.

A look down Royal Road at sunset from Edward Street.

Sheppard's Bush entranceway from Industrial Parkway South.

A look down the fitness trail at Sheppard's Bush.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chapter 8: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 8, Joe Fiorito takes a look at entrepreneurs who have moved from Asia and try and make it in Toronto. These entrepreneurs open everything from restaurants, where Fiorito reminisces about good soup to vacuum dealers who had to struggle with unfair competition from next door and succeed.

Every single businessman who has struggled to make it big in Canada and, for some, the world. There are a couple of businesses in Aurora that have seen recent immigrants come to Canada and start their own small businesses.

First, the most famous person in Aurora to own a business is perhaps Frank Stronach who founded Magna Autoparts, and later, Magna Entertainment. Frank Stronach started it all in Sweden and gradually moved his operations to Toronto. Eventually Magna (after merging his with another company) got its first contract for autoparts from General Motors. Magna has emerged to become the leading autopart manufacturer in the world with companies ranging from Ford and General Motors to Honda and Mercedez Benz. The Magna Autoparts world headquarters is located in Aurora, on the former farm of Frank Stronach (who still lives there as well). More on Magna's history can be found on their website.

Another recent immigrant making big, but not as big as Frank Stronach but could have if he had of left Aurora is Omar Khamissa. Recently, Omar passed away, which was a major blow to Aurora's business community considering he was in business for over 30 years and has seen several thousand pairs of feet that required shoes. In fact, I probably got my first pair of shoes fitted by either Omar himself or a member of his staff. An article on the difference Omar has made to Aurora can be found here.

Aurora, for what was a small town, has made it big both within small business in terms of Omar, but also big worldwide in terms of Frank. Fiorito's looking for the average small business owner left this out. However, Fiorito's book was more based around telling the stories that aren't usually told in the Toronto area.

But I do find, at least recently, that I find books on how entrepreneurs made it big to be very interesting. For example, I have recently read The Google Story which explores how Google has gone from a company run out of a dorm room and a garage to a multi billion dollar company. Perhaps one of the biggest people I look up to in business is my own uncle, Bob Young, who made it big in the field of Linux as founder of Red Hat Linux. His book, Under the Radar, formed the basis for the research I did for a paper for my Business History course at the University of Ottawa on the rise of Linux in the marketplace. This paper can be found here.

Who knows, perhaps down the road I will have my own successful business story.....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A night out on the town...

I was out last night to visit a comedy club with a friend of mine at the Bad Dog Theatre. We were out to see "the Booby Benefit Deux". This comedy show's proceeds went to breast cancer research. The show starred five women doing improv in the style of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" from Television.

Following the show, my friend and I went to The Willow restaurant for after show drinks and snacks. Soon after the cast of the show came into the restaurant and invited us into the back of the restaurant to joined them. So we did. I helped the producer of the show, who my friend knew from doing improv classes at Second City in Toronto. We sat down next to each other with two seats across from us.

Two ladies, around my parents age, walked in and sat down accross from us. The producer recognized one of them immediately and struck up a conversation. I sat in awe at the lady sitting directly across the table from me.

She looked through the menu and looked at me and said "would you like to split some calimari?"

I was flabergasted, her was a person that most Canadian's admired (heck... a Juno and slab with your name on it on Canada's Walk a Fame with your name on it might make you famous) and she would choose the only seafood on the menu.

"I'm not one for seafood," I told her.

She offered the rest of the table to split Calimari.

I split my potato wedges with everyone else. I got asked by the lady sitting directly across the table if I had a nutritious dinner that night considering the potato wedges were high in calories.

I smiled and replied that I had a nice medium peporoni pizza.

The lady looked at me and asked "What would your mother think?"

I replied, with a smile "She would say: If you have the metabolism, why not?"

The lady laughed for a bit and the conversation continued on.

I left about 11:30 P.M. from the restaurant and took the subway and VIVA bus home. I was beaming the entire way thinking about who I had drinks with.

Who was it?

None other than Royal Canadian Air Farce's own Luba Goy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Chapter 7: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

Chapter 7 of Union Station takes a look at the contributions the Italian community has made to Toronto as both city builders and as current residents. Joe Fiorito contends that Italians built most of Toronto by hand. Everything from the skyscrapers to the Yonge Street Subway Line.

The history of Toronto and its surrounding cities is quite vast. Take for example Aurora, and other cities between Aurora and Toronto. Aurora was founded as "Machell's Corners" and eventually was renamed Aurora when formed as a town. Aurora's growth was spurred by the founding of Yonge Street which stretched north from Lake Ontario from Downtown Toronto northward towards Lake Simcoe. Industrial growth was encouraged by the building of the railway and especially so considering Aurora was the 'end of the line' on Canada's first railway. But the real question is not who the 'movers and shakers' were who lead the creation and building of both Aurora and Toronto, but who were the everyday workers who did the grunt work? These are the people Fiorito tells the story about. The person who owned the local corner store, the person who is the matriarch of the local market and others like these are the true city builders. These are the people who history seems to forget.

Footnote: For a complete history of Aurora click here.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chapter 6: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter six of his book, Joe Fiorito explores how the native culture sees the city of Toronto. He visits some homeless natives living in a local Toronto park, a local native stonecarver and native tourists. All seemed to like Toronto's character for different reasons. But Fiorito doesn't, for obvious reasons, tell the story of how a native of two hundred years ago see Toronto.

So this particular chapter got me thinking: "What would the natives of two hundred years ago shaking the hand of the first European, say about what they see North America as today?"

Why 'North America' and not just Toronto or some other section?

North America has developed quite similarly over the years. Cities and other major population centres developed around stratigic military and trade points. For example, New York City developed on the Island of Manhatten at the strategic inland entrance of the Hudson River at the Atlantic Ocean. Toronto and Montreal grew from the fact they are major inland trading points of commerce.

But the question is, would the all native from two hundred years ago approve of what they would see today? Probably not. In the Toronto area, and this also works for other cities like New York and Los Angeles, the native would be appalled at the sprawl of cookie cutter houses spreading for as far as the eye can see.

It has been said that some of Canada's best farm land can be seen from the CN Tower. From the CN Tower, if you click on the link, you will see nothing but street after street of buildings. Sure the downtown of Toronto works with the commercial skyscrapers and condiminium towers. But if you look northward, single, semi detached residential units appear. To believe that some of the world's, never mind Canada's, best richest farm soil exists under these houses is despictable.

What should have happenned, the native might think, is the downtown should have grown as it has. The rest of it should have been either left untouched with treed lots, while the rest should have been developed as farm land to sustain the cities.

Transit of course would be a must. Mass transit terms of subways within the downtown built up areas would be a must. Single family cars would not be an option. This would keep the pollution and the congestion on the roads down. Where subways and trains (i.e. VIA Trains) could not be used due to low demand, buses would suffice.

A getaway to country for a weekend of camping? Sure, a rental electric car would be in order. These cars would be available for rental to people wishing to leave the cities and head to the rural areas.

The road alignment of Toronto would have to change as well. Instead of windy turny roads that you find in the suburbs, the grid pattern of downtown Toronto would work. However, none of the "lets just curve this road this way to miss a building" would be accepted. Hence the circles and curves in downtown Toronto would be there.

GO Transit would also be forced to put in a stations at major centres. For example, why is there not a GO Transit station at Queen & Dufferin Streets in Toronto? The Queen Street and King Street street cars are easily accessible from the train line. A slight re-alignment of the train line would provide connections with the smaller rural centres to the north and major population centres in the city and straighten out the original grid pattern the city was planned on.

This is a perfect example of "lets just curve this road this way to miss something" attitude that occurred. The train line was there before the roads. So the road builders, at the time, re-routed Dufferin street around the train line. However, as anyone who has been down there lately, congestion occurs on Queen Street. So by removing a building or two, Dufferin Street is straightened out and congestion at Queen & Dufferin is significantly reduced because transportation routes are not forced onto Queen Street in order to continue south on Dufferin for any reason. As well, the major train line is maintained and enhanced with transit connections that make sense.

Is what there is today salvagable in the eyes of the native? Sure, but there has to be some willpower on behalf of both the people and ALL the governments. Transit expansion needs to become a priority as well as the densification of condos and apartments along the major transit lines. The current agricultural farmland needs to be maintained and enhanced in every possible way. Reforestation will also occur in the areas currently sprawled out upon in the suburbs where current "cookie cutter housing" is located. By creating and implementing a plan like this, it will help to solve the effects of smog and global warming currently being felt in Toronto and other North American cities.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chapter 5: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 5 Joe Fiorito investigates the theme of how Toronto is more like a town and not a thriving metropolis like New York City. I personally think Toronto is more made up of a bunch of little towns that just happenned to gradually grow. These small little towns eventually stopped growing, geographically, because they grew into each other. Eventually regions started up and these towns got lumped in with the main downtown area of Toronto. After a while, and the Mike Harris government, this particular region was truned into the city of Toronto as we know it today. But this city of Toronto is more of a governance requirement than a day to day living requirement.

In terms of character, each particular part of the city is different. North York (centred by the intersection of Yonge Street & Sheppard Avenue) is more of a suburban community to Downtown Toronto. Mel Lastman, the former Mayor of North York, wanted to create a second downtown for Toronto by building a commercial area along Sheppard Avenue East with the creation of a subway (Sheppard Avenue line). Toronto proper consists of the downtown core where people from the surrounding towns and cities tend to come and work during weekdays. Hence the downtown is centred by Union Station where a high number of those people coming into the downtown go through either on the subway (TTC) or Commuter Train (GO Transit). Within the city there are several ethnic groups including the Italians (little Italy) and Chinese (Chinatown).

Aurora, about a thirty to forty five minute drive north of the city is also a commuter town for those heading to Toronto jobs. Although, this is changing with the growth of the big business offices (World headquarters for Magna Autoparts and Canadian Headquarters for State Farm Insurance) and industries coming to town.

Like the Toronto example from Fiorito's book, Aurora's fire stations are easily accessible to the people. The firefighters welcome school children to either visit the fire stations or have a fire truck visit them in order to learn about fire safety. Having children and others get to know the local firefighters is especially important to fire safety. This is especially so considering in the event of a fire, chidlren are more likely to run away from a firefighter dressed in full breathing geer. Who wouldn't be afraid of a firefighter coming through the smoke looking strange and making weird breathing noises that sounds like Darth Vader? So children, at least at the Aurora fire station, get to see a firefighter in full breathing apparatus. These same firefighters are seen at local events around town both with and without the fire truck.

Local churches are also favourite places for people in Aurora to congregate. Just look at tonight at Aurora United Church where a group of all ages got together and organized an "evening of Contemporary Christian music". In the future there will be sales and other events that the community can come and enjoy. These events also help the local community as well with donations to the food bank and the local Women's Centre to name just two. I consider Aurora to be a great community of outreach both from the religious perspective (as evidenced by the church) and from a community group perspective (just ask the Optimist, Lions and Scouts organizations).

Within Aurora there is even that small town feel of a traditional downtown along Yonge Street (at Wellington Street). This small town feeling even extends to being able to go about my daily business and run into people I know. Every single person I meet is usually concerned with how I am doing and how my family is doing. That small town perspective even comes when the ups and downs of life occur considering cards, flowers and food are usually sent for weddings and funerals.

The above is why Aurora is "my kind of town."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chapter 4: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In chapter 4, Joe Fiorito explores the world of both drugs and sex in Toronto. He meets up with a Toronto hooker named Anita. He follows her over time to hear why she "turns tricks" for (her crack addiction). He even gets a call from Anita, from jail, after a while. He goes to the jail house and talks to her about how she ended up in the 'big house'. Joe basically documents the life of a hooker that most people in Toronto wouldn't know about but might find interesting.

Basically, Fiorito tells is a good journalist. Fiorito, notes in Chapter 3, that:

"If you get up in the morning and you make it to the end of the day, that's a story - how you got up, went off to work and came back home again is the story of what life is like here." (Fiorito 33).

Fiorito takes a look at exactly this in terms of Anita's life. She goes out and turns tricks all day in order to get her crack fix. Then she sleeps and then starts the thing all over again. However, the story changes once she is busted for prostitution and heads to jail. Also, she picks up a boyfriend and heads off to cottage country in order to live with him. But she eventually runs away from him and starts a new life in Toronto. She eventually breaks her crack habit and is now a convenience store cashier outside of Toronto. The story ends there as Fiorito has now lost contact with Anita.

Personal connection to Anita? I haven't thought of anything yet.....

But I guess I made a connection with what I have read earlier in Fiorito's own book (see quote above) and a story from a later chapter (Anita's story). I guess, I personally made the connection.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chapter 3: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this here.

In Chapter 3, Joe Fiorito explores this quote:

Human beings have been my maps.

Fiorito explores how immigrants and visitors to Toronto rely on the those of us who have lived in and around the city for directions. People who are brand new to Toronto, and for that fact any other major city, are pretty easy to spot. These are the people who seem to wander around the downtown areas totally awstruck by the buildings.

I reflected on this thought when thinking of my past observances of new people to major North American Cities that I have lived in (e.g. Toronto, Ottawa, New York City, etc.). Those of us who have lived in and around the city for years don't take notice of the buildings anymore. The buildings, to us, just exist and the aura of these buildings has become tarnished to us. These buildings, in other words, have become familiar to us.

Wheras the new people to the city stop on the sidewalks totally awstruck at buildings like the CN Tower and Rogers Centre in Toronto, or the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Quite often these new people cause pedestrian traffic problems on the sidewalk as they stand their gawking at the buildings.

The "regulars" of the cities are more interested in getting to where ever they are going whether it be work, the bar or home. However, these regulars make the first impressions on the visitors and other new people to the city. Toronto has become known for, and I also noticed this in New York City as well, for being friendly to newcomers. The friendliness I'm noting stems from the easyness it is to request directions from the regulars. An example might be: "Where can I find a good family restaurant?" Another example might be: "where is the Eaton Centre/Brooklyn Bridge?" These questions in either Toronto or New York City are easily answered by most people who might be walking by on the sidewalk. These directions are usually accompanied by a friendly tone of voice, a smile and/or a welcome to town! Tourists and other newcomers are more likely to return to the city after being greeted friendly like this.

Governments and others should be looking at how to make services for necomers and/or tourists more visible and easily accessible. Allowing these people to come to the town/city and have a good time may mean these same people may make a return visit. Fiorito and his people are right in this particular chapter: A way to see if a town/city is worth anything in terms of how easy is to get around is to forget the city map in the hotel room/home and go out and explore the city by using human beings as your maps.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the way home....

My friend James and I were on the way home from a day out in Waterloo, Ontario, after seeing a Wilfrid Laurier vs Western Ontario university football game this evening. It was a good evening to be going home as the roads were dry and traffic was steady but moving.

We were on had been driving along Highway 401 in James' car heading back to Toronto following a stop off at the McDonald's restaurant outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo area. We were full of greesy burgers and fries from this fine gourmet eating establishment (did I mention it took my server in her royal robes to 10 minutes to serve me a Big Mac, fries and fine fountain coke?) when a "bang" happenned on the passenger side of the car. We immediately pulled over about two kilometres on Highway 401 from Guelph Line near Campbellville, Ontario.

We had a hole in the back passengar side tire. James pulled the car up to the Guelph Line into parking lot near Mohawk Raceway so we could change the flat tire. Neither, James or I had ever changed a flat tire in our lives. But I figured, "hey, this can't be that hard". So James showed me where the jack and spare tire is in his trunk. I took a look under the car but I couldn't figure out if the jack went behind the wheel or in front of the wheel. I also knew I had to also take the hub cap off in order to remove the hubcap. But I didn't want to break the hub cap.

I asked James if he had CAA. He didn't but he did have road side assist as part of his warranty. So we called Toyota around seven p.m. and by seven thirty we had a fabulous tow truck driver stop by and have the flat off and the new one on. He even gave us the information of how far the spare tire is good far and the maximum speed we could go. For safety sake, we took Derry Road all the way back from Guelph Line to just the other side of Lester B. Pearson airport.

Once we got into the Toronto we headed for James' apartment. I headed to the subway from there. You would think that would be all, but that is only where the lull in the excitement occurs. I got safely along the Bloor Subway line to Yonge and all the way north on the Yonge Subway line to Finch Station.

Next, I boarded the VIVA Blue bus northbound bus at Finch Station. We must have waited five minutes before the driver got on the bus and started up. We travelled up six lane Yonge Street and, just north of Steeles Avenue, had to merge left from the curb lane into the middle lane due to cars parked in the curb lane. The bus driver stopped there and got off the bus quickly and ran around and looked at the driver side of the bus. This is somewhat unsual but I thought nothing of it. She then got back on and pulled the bus ahead and back into the curb lane just in front of the parked cars.

According to the bus driver of VIVA Bus 5212, we were sideswiped by a car who was in that lane. She said the driver of the car continued on his way. She claimed it was a hit and run. There were thirty passengars on this sixty foot articulated Van Hool bus and not one of us, except the driver, would admit to witnessesing anything unusual.

We waited about five minutes before two VIVA supervisors arrived in their two white cars. One car parked in front of the bus and the other in the back. One of the supervisors put on the orange and yellow striped vest and took a look at the bus with the driver.

Another VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) pulled up and stopped in the middle lane. The other supervisor, not wearing a vest and dressed in black pants and black fleece jacket signalled for the driver to stop in the MIDDLE LANE! The VIVA supervisor then signalled for the passengars on the bus the bus that was in the accident (Bus # 5212) to disembark that one. Next, these passengars were told to walk between the bus involved in the accident and behind the supervisors car in order to board the new bus (Bus # 5222). This was taking place at between 10:00 P.M. and 10:30 P.M. on a dark and steady rain night on a major six lane arterial road just north of Toronto.

The new bus could have easily pulled in front of the supervisor's car in the curb lane and then boarded the passengers from the affected bus. For passenger safety this would have probably been preferrable. But apparently VIVA supervisors believe in passenger safety. The bus that the passengers were boarding in the middle lane (Bus # 5222) could have easily been hurt or killed if a car or truck had come up from behind that bus and rear ended it. There was less of a chance of people being hurt if Bus # 5222 had of simply pulled in next to the curb on Yonge Street. It would also been just like picking up from a regular bus stop instead of forcing people to step up onto the bus ( a difference of about an added foot in elevation) Having the new bus pulling over to the curb would have also meant that only one of the three lanes on Yonge Street would have been disrupted instead of having two lanes disrupted. But again, apparently the supervisors of VIVA don't believe in safety for their passengers.

Further north on Yonge in Oak Ridges at the intersection of Yonge Street and Old Colony Road the VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) comes up to the intersection. As we arrive at the intersection the light changes from green to yellow to red. Any normal driver would prepare to stop at the red light. But three metres from the stop line, with not another car around, the bus driver doesn't brake and we continue right through the red light and the intersection.

To make matters worse, this same bus driver rides the white dotted line of the two northbound lanes as we continue northbound on Yonge Street between Bloomington Road and the construction area just south of Industrial Parkway South in Aurora. This bus is now taking up two lanes of traffic!

This morning I called into the York Region Transit (YRT) call centre to report my trip home on VIVA (the rapid transit division). The customer agent, Leslie, said she took down my story and said she would have the Operations Division look into it. She asked if I wanted to have someone from Operations call me back with a response to what occurred. I said probably the people investigating the incident would be the same two supervisors who directed unloaded us at Yonge Street just north of Steeles Avenue. I said to her I don't trust those operations supervisors because of their lack of safety conscience in this particular instance.

I then said I would report this incident to York Regional Police's Roadwatch program so that perhaps a police officer could invistiagate and possibly get the driver of bus 5222 that evening off the road. During my conversation I requested the plate number of bus #5222 and Leslie (the YRT customer service agent) said she didn't have that information.

So ununfortunately I could not fill in the licence plate number of that particular vehicle into York Region's Roadwatch Program's online complaint form when I filled it out today. But I do hope this will help VIVA take notice that customer's safety should be important. This is because, as the above examples show, neither the two supervisors or the second bus driver do and I find that unacceptable.

So all in all, I had a fun Saturday night!

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