Friday, December 29, 2006

...and We're Back

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - Hundreds were tragically blinded when the author of this blog went swimming in the Atlantic last week. Removing a t-shirt, he revealed a bleached skin that reflected the sun's light with the intensity of a supernova. Later, dressed like a 65 year-old retiree, he was seen waddling around the island gorging on conch fritters and self-serve draft Coors, demolishing three books, and avoiding interaction with tourists from Ohio.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Buffalo 21, Miami 0

The Buffalo Bills and I have long had an angst-filled relationship, as much for the opportunity cost of watching their games as for any style of play. I became a Bills fan in 1988 when, late on a Sunday afternoon while I should have been writing an essay, I watched rabid Bills fans tear down the goal posts with their bare hands after the Bills clinched their division by beating the Jets 9-6 in overtime.

For the next decade I followed the Bills every Sunday, usually when I should have been writing some paper. I suffered through four Superbowl losses, when I had math homework to do, and I cursed an exam for which I missed the comeback win against the Oilers in 1993. I found respite from this habitual procrastination when, during the Wade Phillips coaching era, I ditched football for NASCAR. In the last few years, however, I have returned to the fold just in in time for the Bills to sabotage my MBA. And so it was this past Sunday, when I should have been completing a school project, that I headed down the QEW to the City of Eternal Flame for my first live Bills game.

For someone whose perspective is rooted in 26,000-spectator Ottawa Rough Rider games, spending three hours with 70,000 wild-eyed Bills fans was overwhelming. The tailgating, which spanned mile upon mile of parking lot, is everything you've heard it is and Bills fans take every opportunity to supplement the experience with fire, seemingly unconcerned by flames licking the fuel tanks of their cars. With the Dolphins in town, fans didn't settle for incinerating stuffed dolphins, but were laying dead fish on the parking lot and driving over them to literally "squish the fish". You can imagine the salty epithets that were directed our way as we walked to and from the stadium with my mother-in-law who proudly wore her Dan Marino jersey and dolphin tattoos.

I'm now off to Nassau in the Bahamas for a week. If the business center attendant can tear herself away from the phone, I'll try to post. If I'm too busy eating conch fritters and reading Pegasus Descending, be sure to take in a claymation Christmas special or go see Rocky Balboa.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Memorable Christmas Gifts

We all have Christmas gifts we recall with great fondness, particularly from childhood. Here are a few of my own:

  • The Epson computer on which my brother and I spent hours playing Winter Games, Olympic Decathalon, Earl Weaver Baseball, and typing "a:\"
  • The AM/FM, dual cassette stereo from my parents
  • The G.I. Joe Combat Jet Skystriker left by Santa Claus behind the couch at 642

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Iraq Solution: Roger Ramjet

As President Bush recalibrates his Iraq strategy, he should consider asking Roger Ramjet to do to the insurgents what he did to Noodles Romanoff and Red Dog the Pirate. Who doubts that Ramjet and his American Eagles could pop a couple of Proton Energy Pills and restore order? Witness how he handled the Enchilada brothers and Tequila Mockingbird in the San Domino Revolution.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The "Everything I Love" Christmas Wish List

The Parking Lot's Christmas list:

  • An extra large box of Wes' Chips
  • Caesars in the Adirondack chairs at Lou's Bar & Grill in Kits
  • A come-from-behind win by Damon Allen and the 1991 Ottawa Rough Riders at Lansdowne during Super Ex
  • An afternoon with Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell on Bayou Teche, fishing for bass and drinking Dr. Pepper
  • An afternoon nap

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Update: London Blizzard of '06

I've returned to London for my rescheduled exam. The last few days of above-zero temperatures have taken their toll on the Great London Blizzard of '06. I'm glad I don't have a basement.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Day 2004: Daytona

I should be working on a school project right now, but the overcast day reminds me somehow of Christmas Day 2004 when the CFO and my brother indulged me with a trip to Daytona Beach. Santa was good to me that year, highlighted by the largemouth bass I hooked on my first cast into a puddle near our Orlando rental. Later, with the outlet malls closed, we battled Interstate traffic and a driving rain to visit Daytona International Speedway. Daytona is open 364 days of the year and, of course, we arrived on he 365th. Nevertheless, several cars were parked and while motorsports enthusiasts stumbled around, dazed by the colossus, their wives impatiently rolled their eyes at one another. I was able to snap some pictures with Dale and we drove on the beach before the rain sent us off in search of a Denny's.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Medical Arts Building: End of an Institution

The Medical Arts Building, on the northwest corner of St. George and Bloor streets, has been a community health care institution for almost 80 years. The University of Toronto, which owns the building, has evicted its doctors and dentists to make room for the English Department. I have been visiting my dentist there for twenty-five years and I'm left with fond memories, as much for the mornings off from school and the McDonald's breakfasts as for fluoride treatments and flossing instruction.

Friday, December 08, 2006

London Blizzard of '06

London has been buried by three feet of snow, closing school and cancelling my exam. There are some exams where you pray for this kind of reprieve. This is not one of them. With the trains still reportedly running, there's hope that I can escape, but getting to the station will be an adventure.

Update (9:00 a.m.): Taxis aren't taking calls and the lazy, unionized bus drivers haven't shown up for work, so I'm going to walk to the train station to escape this devastation.

Update (10:12 a.m.): I made it to the train station after catching a taxi half way. This snow storm really hasn't lived up to the hysterics of the A-Channel morning show hosts. They were reporting that offices have been closed and pleading that no one risk their lives by stepping outside. Later, they couldn't figure out why everyone was calling in to ask whether the malls were open.

Update (1:15 p.m.): This storm appears to have cut across southwestern Ontario like a knife. Ten minutes outside London, there is little more than a dusting.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Forget French Citizenship

Somebody just told me that Stephane Dion carries a change purse.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Earnings Per Share

When calculating fully diluted earnings per share, don't forget the effect of the tax rate on the income per incremental share attributed to debentures.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Logs Floating On Water

"Toronto" is an aboriginal word, but few agree on its specific meaning. According to The Terrific Toronto Trivia Book, likely published in an Annex basement in 1979, the five most accepted translations are:

  • Timber in the water
  • Logs floating on the water
  • A place of plenty
  • Place where trees stand in the water
  • Gateway from Lake Ontario to the country of the Hurons

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Stephane Dion Elected Liberal Leader

The Parking Lot's Liberal Insider, the Rubber Duck, kept us on top of things all day with his frequent dispatches from the floor of the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal. The following is a summary of how the day unfolded according to the Duck:

9:57 a.m. - BIG MO FOR RAE & DION

"Big Mo for Dion and Rae. The Iggy people are stunned. They will have to do something they never expected, make a choice."
"I've been working the Iggy delegates hard and they are still true believers. Too close to call."

Reporters keep asking Dion supporters whether it's a mistake to select another leader from Quebec. I wish one of them would respond, "No more than selecting one from Boston."

"Mood is somber among Rae people, but I think they're breaking 60-40 for Dion."
"Dion in a big way. I could never ever vote for Iggy. Ever."
"Iggy is satanic. That last line in his speech was like Darth Vader. 'I will bring you victory!!!!'"
"I am really looking forward to seeing the Iggy supporters lose. Especially those that joined right out of the box. On what basis? Nothing but manipulative opportunism. Ruby Dhalla, Brendan McGuinty, Cauchon, Smith, and, of course, Alf Apps."

Scott Brison steals the mantel of Biggest Loser in Canadian Politics from Stephen LeDrew by backing the wrong horse for the second time in one day. The Duck comments:
"He should be so characterized. An enduring image for me will be the sight of Iggy and Brison riding the escalator up to the Iggy suites. Brison was holding up Iggy's hand and shouting 'Okay!!! Come on!!!' as only Brison could yell it. The floor below was filled with Iggy supporters but they were damn near silent at the spectacle of offensively senseless opportunism."
"Just saw Marlene Catterall stumble by with a cup of Tim Hortons and an Iggy scarf."
"Je pense que Stephen Harper is a very happy man tonight."
Absolument, et moi aussi.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Liberals on the Homestretch

From Parking Lot Liberal insider, the Rubber Duck:

"Kennedy is back in this thing. Very good day for Rae. Very bad day for Iggy."

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Little Less Talk

Who is more obtuse:

  1. First-year law students
  2. Co-workers who golf
  3. Investment bankers after three scotches
  4. Wine lovers

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Goes Around...

Subtle irony pervades Canadian politics as Garth Turner has become Patrick Boyer, the man he upset for second-to-last place in the 1993 Tory leadership race.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mayor Larry O'Brien

The Out In The Parking Lot decision desk is declaring, with 60% of the votes counted, Larry O'Brien the next mayor of Ottawa.

We also declare, with a whopping 1.3% in the Toronto mayoralty contest, Stephen LeDrew the "Biggest Loser in Canadian Politics", supplanting Tony Clement.

Hot Beverages

Yesterday, the local Running Room herd came between me and Tim Horton's new breakfast sandwiches. Because line-ups are for little people, I went to the Hob Nob instead. It made made me ask, though, why anyone would want a scalding hot double-double after a dehydrating run. It reminded me of Rennie, an undernourished and leathery member of the Madawaska Golf Club, who gulps down several buckets of hot coffee over a four-hour round in 35-degree heat.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Everything I Love: Dashboard Jesus

With a roll of the eyes to the United Church's latest act of impiety, I offer the lyrics to my favourite song from my favourite film:

I don't care if it rains of freezes
'Long as I got my Plastic Jesus
Sittin' on the dashboard of my car.
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my Plastic Jesus I'll go far.

I don't care if it rains or freezes
As long as I've got my Plastic Jesus
Glued to the dashboard of my car,
You can buy Him phosphorescent
Glows in the dark, He's Pink and Pleasant,
Take Him with you when you're travelling far

You can buy a Sweet Madonna
Dressed in rhinestones sitting on a
Pedestal of abalone shell
Goin' ninety, I'm not scary
'Cause I've got my Virgin Mary
Assuring me that I won't go to Hell

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rant: Technology

My habitual procrastination was so much easier to control before wireless Internet, instant messaging, and blogging. When I resume my career I may ask my employer to cut off my Internet access.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Some Much Needed Cheer

For those mourning today's resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, may this cheer you up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Toronto has the money, but not the class

The Webber referred me to this biting piece by Jonathan Kay regarding last Saturday's obsequious tribute to Toronto's nouveau riche. We all owe a big thank you to him for articulating the embarrassment that Torontonians should have felt about this "small town cheap" puff piece.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Tragedy: Hundreds Die of Hypothermia

Halloween on Richmond Street in London, Ontario is a sight like no other. No costume is safe from the ladies of UWO who seem determined to make the most benign object or animal into an inappropriate costume. Besides the usual collection of playboy bunnies and Marilyn Monroes, I witnessed trampish turtles, bimbo crayola crayons, and fire fighter tarts. That they could wander the streets in sub-zero temperatures made them even more impressive than the seven Osama Bin Ladens I saw.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Everything I Love: The Writing of James Lee Burke

My addiction to the written eloquence of James Lee Burke began when I borrowed my dad's copy of Sunset Limited for subway reading. I missed my stop by five stations the next day. His prose is one-of-a-kind and impossible to compare. Read the opening paragraph of a novel and you won't easily return from the Gulf Coast or the Blackfoot River. Better still, read Jesus Out to Sea, a short story published earlier this year in Esquire Magazine, inspired by Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Islamic Poetry Wednesday

I was taught fifth grade by an outrageous liar who terrorized us with tales of man-eating snakes and blizzards that burried school children alive. He was an ogre of such depravity that he assigned obscure poems for us to memorize and transcribe, punctuation and all. Yesterday, deadlines loomed, I soaked my feet on a slushy walk to school, and my lunch leaked grease and mayonnaise down the front of my good suit. With Diet Coke dribbling down my collar, my despair brought to mind the opening lines of one cheesy poem (it's ironic that I still struggle with fractions, but I remember this). I Googled it:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile but you have to sigh
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit
For surely Allah is with those who believe
Surely the mercy of your Lord is yours to receive
After hardship there is ease
Sure after hardship there is ease.
(Sulaimon Afolabi Banjoko)

Now, I'm certain that my wicked instructor deleted the Islamic references because I know I'd remember a poem with these lines. I'd also have enjoyed watching the herd of parents storm my alma mater - in defence of secular education, of course.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Golden Words: Elizabeth May

On the occasion of Green Party leader Elizabeth May's decision to seek a parliamentary seat here in London North Centre, let's reflect on her golden words from this summer's Couchiching Institute conference:

"My parents put off having children for six years because they thought there would be a nuclear war."

"On the night of the Cuban missile crisis, my parents said good night and good-bye to each other."

I believe that this qualifies Elizabeth May as, in the Road Hammer's parlance, a moonbat - or at least the direct descendant of a couple.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Canada's Bushplane Museum

It's Friday and I'm killing a couple of hours at Sault Ste. Marie's Bushplane Museum. An octogenarian volunteer welcomes me as the day's first visitor. With 90 minutes until close, I'll likely be the last. A film will be shown in the Ranger Theatre in five minutes and I can take a seat while she announces it. I'm at a loss as to whom she is making the announcement and, to no great surprise, no one joins me. Grandma Volunteer pokes her head between the doors and is startled that I'm alone. "I guess you'll be watching it by yourself." Guess so. The film, an elementary-school NFB-type documentary, traces the bushplane's evolution from a canoe with wings to a pick-up truck with wings and describes its role in protecting northern Ontario from fire. It asserts that Roberta Bondar's astronautical aspiration came from hearing the buzzing of DeHavilland bushplanes.

After the movie, the self-guided tour of the 25,000 square foot hangar holds my attention for about five minutes before I walk over to the Children's Flight Centre . I spend the rest of the afternoon building cars with Lego, flying a Noorduyn Norseman, and climbing the ranger tower to triangulate and call in a forest fire.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dispatches: Sault Ste. Marie

Spending the weekend in Sault Ste. Marie. Pictured: St. Mary's Paper (foreground) and Algoma Steel (beyond the International Bridge). See you on Monday.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Everything I Love: Cheeseburgers

I’ve sampled cheeseburgers from racetracks and vending machines to roadhouses and bistros, and I’ve concluded that debates about the world’s best are irresolvable. I know it’s on a soft white bun that squishes and that it’s so laden with grease that it turns a brown paper bag a translucent grey. Garnished carefully, it's dabbed with relish and mustard, sprinkled with shredded lettuce and chopped onions, and crowned with a slice or two of dill pickle. With a nod to intemperance, gobs of cheese ooze from a melting plank of cheddar and bubbles of fat gurgle to the surface on each bite. It’s set apart from the crowd by an understated twist – barbecue or chili sauce replacing ketchup. Wherever this holiest of junk food grails is served, be it at a truck stop, a drive-in, or from a backyard charcoal grill, I am quite sure of how it tastes.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rant: Lionizing Liberals

Liberals tend to canonize their standard-bearers after they’ve left office, revealing either short memories or a complete ignorance of reality. In the August 31 edition of NOW Magazine, the weekly wrote:

“[Michael Valpy’s] anatomizing of the many layers of Ignatieff’s personality made fascinating reading, and there were some touching anecdotes about his journey to Liberal ideas. But how could anyone in their right mind truly like the other face of Ignatieff that emerges – that of a smarmy preppie, prig and all-around prick? Is this the son of privilege really a standard-bearer of the party of Trudeau? We wonder.”
By NOW’s logic, Trudeau himself – a prig, a son of privilege (heir to his father’s fuel distribution fortune), and an all-around prick – surely would not have been qualified to bear his own standard.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Season's Last Catch

I caught this smallmouth late on Thanksgiving Sunday while pitching from the dock into Pocket Bay. As with the season's first fish, this bronzeback found the Blue Fox Vibrax Spinner, my go-to lure, irresistible.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Review: The Antrim Truck Stop

At Thanksgiving, mom treated us to an Antrim Truck Stop breakfast in Arnprior. For years, Antrim served greasy eggs in a dingy and squat red-brick building near Kinburn, but the twinning of highway 17 forced its relocation to a gleaming new complex on the White Lake Road. This did not affect the food, the bacon and eggs maintaining their decency and the hash browns their unpalatable stench of onions, but anything tastes good in the shadow of a giant tractor - a welcome reprieve from staring at camo-clad duck hunters and hung-over teenagers through your meal. We didn’t sample the butter tarts for which the Truck Stop is renowned, but the CFO enjoyed the coconut cream pie which she anoints Arnprior’s best, supplanting the ever-reliable P.J.’s.

On a go/no-go scale, I give the Antrim Truck Stop a “Go”.

Monday, October 16, 2006

10 Best Places to be a Marriage Counsellor

When the avalanche season slows, adventure and outdoor magazines fall back on their favourite feature - the best places to live and play in America. Climb a crevasse over lunch in Boulder, raft every weekend in Taos, commute by kayak in Missoula, and fish during your coffee break in Key West. Escapist photos bring this list to life as men toast their climb in a Jackson Hole saloon, unload the canoes in North Conway, and weave down mountain bike trails in Burlington. What you will not see are their wives or children. This is because these guys fell for an illusory life created by magazine editors who are gainfully employed in Manhattan. They fail to describe the mechanics of how one convinces a spouse to remove the kids from school, quit her job, trade the house for a yurt, and shelve books part-time at the Boise Public Library while you whitewater raft.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Apple Day

In support of Scouts Canada's 74-year tradition, I bought an apple from my old troup at All Saints' Kingsway Anglican Church. When I was a Cub Scout, we were sent across Bloor Street to Park Lawn Cemetary where we'd play hide-and-seek among the headstones. This was safer, albeit more ghoulish, than our trip to the McLaughlin Planetarium where half the pack was lost on the subway. One hopes the caliber of leadership has improved over the last twenty years.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Everything I Love: Playoff Baseball

America's game is best played under the lights on cold October evenings. With managers exhausting bullpens and dramatic home run endings, the post-season is electric. Its tension is reflected in the hopeful eyes of the players draped on the dugout rail and on the faces of fans silently mouthing words of prayer. Case-in-point: on Wednesday night, protecting a three-run lead, and with two out on a full count, the Tigers loaded the bases for Oakland's Frank Thomas. You could hear Motown's collective sigh of relief here in London when The Big Hurt flew out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rant: Shop Talk

Next to golf, there is no more mundane subject than work. Unless you’re a coast guard captain, a rodeo clown, or a Playboy photographer, the only people with whom you should speak about your job are co-workers and your spouse. The rest of us don’t know “John” or “Michael” or about what an EBX report is, and we don’t care. Within five seconds of your work story, we’ve tuned out and are thinking about sports, sex, or politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Thanksgiving in the Valley

You rise early because the fire went out at 4 a.m. and the buzzing of outboard motors en route to the duck blinds keeps you awake. You dress in cold jeans and shirt to restart the fire. The sun’s not up, but through the fog you hear shot guns popping at the mouth of the Mississippi. A pot of coffee must be remade because you misread the proportions. From the dock, you watch steam rise from the water and drift into Pocket Bay; at the beach, you examine skeletal reminders of the summer’s catfish kill. After an afternoon nap, you gorge yourself on Grandma’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and butter tarts. When the wood boxes are filled for the evening’s fires, you lift the cedar strip canoe from its rack and set in the bay. Into a blinding sun you paddle, breathing the cold air and recording the deciduous brilliance in the soft light. You float in Goodwin’s Bay and watch the sun dip behind the hardwoods, the filtered light casting a lattice over the still water, before turning home towards a golden harvest moon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dwight Yoakam Plays Massey Hall

With a voice resonating like a slide guitar, Dwight Yoakam hiccupped and yodeled last Thursday at Massey Hall in one of the most complete concerts I’ve seen. Gliding and twisting and sliding and kicking, Yoakam, a genuine showman, generates enough energy in the five-by-five space between his guitarists and drummer to power a three-continent Garth Brooks tour. From taking the stage in a maroon-and-white western suit to the encore two and half hours later, the music was interrupted only a handful of times to thank the crowd or change guitars. Transitions between songs were so seamless that the concert felt like one long medley in which he played from twenty years of material including Little Sister, Pocket of a Clown, and Guitars, Cadillacs, paid homage to Owens, Jennings, Cash, Smith, and Haggard, and ignited material from2005's Blame the Vain. The show featured the most robust country and western instrumentation I have heard live. His four-man band masterfully complemented the standard four-piece accompaniment with banjo, mandolin, tambourine, maracas, and piano. I may have even heard the drummer break out the spoons during a Jimmy Smith bluegrass tribute.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, see you on Tuesday. Best wishes to the Webber who begins his western Canada odyssey this morning.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

John Prine Played Toronto

Two Saturdays ago, the Rubber Duck and I joined a packed house at Massey Hall for a stirring performance by John Prine, one of the premier country and folk music writers of our time. Prine’s is a comeback story for the movies, having survived throat cancer to produce last year’s Grammy Award-winning Fare and Square. His voice deep and grainy after his battle, Prine has added a rawness to his music that infuses the lyrics with resonance. Grinding out classics like Angel From Montgomery, Fish and Whistle, and Dear Abby, he set up the crowd for his inspiring new works like Some Humans Ain’t Human.

Prine's talent is phenomenal on its own, but he treats the crowd by bringing a one-man folk music circus in opening act Dan Reeder, who sings Work Song - a single-line tune ("I got all - all the fucking work I need") to which he claps for five minutes. But more peculiar than Dan is the John Prine audience, which has dropped enough acid to have inhabited a barracks at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. This was easily the worst audience for screaming out requests. Seriously, has anyone ever been at a concert where the play list was changed to accommodate these jackasses? Prine's reply was gold: "Yep, I know them all". One guy, in a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, jumped up on stage and was ejected - 20 minutes before the curtain was raised. Further proof that Leaf fans are yet to set foot on the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder.

Tonight the Duck and I return to Massey Hall for Dwight Yoakam – a show I’ve been looking forward to all summer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rant: In the Middle Lane

Drive on any of Ontario’s 400-series highways and you’ll observe a nose-to-tail Freight Train of Death steaming down the center lane at a blistering 108 km/hr. To the outside, empty lanes afford ample room to pass, but these drivers hold their positions as though drafting at Indianapolis. The middle lane is not an easy place to drive with cars merging from both the left and right, but these convoys are as inevitable as Monday. I suspect that the Freight Train of Death contains a disproportionate number of minivans, easily the most dangerous motorists on the road.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Golden Words: Restrictor Plate Racing

This weekend the Chase for the Nextel Cup visits the NASCAR heartland at Talladega, Alabama. A lot of the drivers don't like Talladega because NASCAR requires restrictor plates to reduce the cars' horsepower. Most decry this practice because it compresses the field and increases the risk of a calamitous wreck. Dale Earnhardt, the all-time winningest restrictor plate driver didn't like plates because they slowed his car down. In response to the argument that plates ensured safer speeds at Talladega and Daytona, Dale Earnhardt uttered these golden words:

"Well, get the hell home. If you're not a race driver, stay the hell home. Don't come here and grumble about going too fast. Get the hell out of the race car if you've got feathers on your legs or butt. Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won't climb up there and eat that candy butt!"

Monday, October 02, 2006

Leadership: Two Tales

Former Privy Council Clerk and CN Rail honcho Paul Tellier commented recently on working with two Prime Ministers:

"Brian Mulroney is a very sensitive, people-oriented person. At one point, my sister got involved in a bad car accident. Afterward, every time I would walk into his office, he would ask, 'how is your sister?'. Something could happen to my children, good or bad, and he would phone. Pierre Trudeau, on the other hand, would never take the time to say 'thank you', ever. Trudeau had an outstanding mind and he was able to define a problem and look at options; to write a paper for him and discuss it and have him take it apart was a real joy. Mulroney, on the other hand, was a very practical guy. He would ask, 'What is the practical solution here?' And you know, maybe it was only second best, but that's all we can do... They were two outstanding individuals but very, very different."
Now, who do you like better? (The original version of this post disguised the identities)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Happy Birthday

The CFO celebrates a special birthday today. Happy birthday!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Funnies: LeDrew For Mayor

Is this some kind of joke? The ludicrously bow-tied Stephen LeDrew thinks he is going to stop David Miller?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: The Big Picture With Avi Lewis

On the heels of yesterday's review of The Agenda, I caught The Big Picture With Avi Lewis last night. You'll recall Avi Lewis, former Much Music VJ and Upper Canada College egalitarian, who once hosted Counterspin on CBC Newsworld. The Big Picture is just Counterspin preceded by a film that serves as the subject of a townhall discussion. The audience is larger and more liberal, but poor Avi, the intellectual runt of the Lewis litter, is no brighter. Mimicking his father's affectation, he fawns all over beauty queen Elizabeth May and berates conservative strawmen to the wild applause of his Annex audience. It begs the question of why any conservative would subject themselves to the uninformed ravings of this boob.

On a go/no-go scale, I give The Big Picture a no-go.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Review: The Agenda

TVO has overhauled its 8:00-9:00 p.m. timeslot, morphing Studio 2 into The Agenda. According to today's Globe and Mail, the intent is to delve more deeply into fewer stories because, apparently, the old format left some wanting more. I never found that to be the case and I fear, if Monday night's two-segment premiere is any indication, this will be a snooze-fest. While they've put a tie Steve Paiken, dumped Paula Todd (thank you), and replicated the Sports Centre set, there's no material difference between Studio 2 and The Agenda. Steve continues to lob intelligent, but softball, questions at guests and they're booking the same panelists (Janice Stein, Eric Margolis). I won't bother rating this on the Go/No-Go scale because, even if the show is worse, there's simply no Canadian alternative. At least I can now download it to my laptop and watch it during my Information Systems class.

Monday, September 25, 2006

MBA Rankings & Dean Martin

My apologies to semi-regular readers for "Pulling a Coyne"... will endeavour to update at least three times a week from here on.

Last week the Wall Street Journal published its ranking of MBA programs. The Ivey School of Business was rated the top Canadian business school. The Rotman School of Management at U of T finished outside the top 20 behind even York's Schulich School. As he is wont to do, Rotman Dean, Roger Martin, fired off a savage, if winded, email to his students and faculty to rebut the study. Like all surveys, this one is imperfect (Thunderbird?), but if it is as discredited as Dean Martin rants, why dignify it with 693 words?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wouldn't It Be Nice

Stories like this one about the 61st Annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby make me wish I wasn't stuck in rainy London. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it would be like to spend just one year chasing fish from Cape Breton to the Keys, bobbing in your wooden skiff, drinking alongside old salts in the wharf saloon, and competing in these tournaments if only for the stories. I think I'd even enjoy the rainy days...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Everything I Love: Lululemon

Thank you, Chip Wilson.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Review: UWO On-Campus Coffee

I have returned to the University of Western Ontario, a suspect academic institution if ever there was one, and I have come to realize how bad on-campus coffee is. Although served in Tim Horton's cups, the catering service somehow concocts a witch's brew that simultaneously tastes like black licorice and wet tobacco. Fear not, triple cream seems to fix things.

On a Go/No-Go scale, I give UWO on-campus coffee (and a number of other things around here) an emphatic: you should have gone to Queen's.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Style and Design

Men's Journal, a favourite periodical of mine, recently published its picks for 100 pieces of gear representing the best in style and design. Most of these items are well outside my frugal price range, but I was surprised to discover that I either own or have access to three of the items - the Filson briefcase, the Moleskine notebook, and a cedar strip canoe.

To their list, I think five additional knick-knacks are stylish.

  1. Mounted taxidermy
  2. Heavy leather chairs
  3. The Tolman Skiff
  4. Plaid shirts
  5. Cardigan sweaters

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Review: "Canada's Largest Ribfest"

When smoke hangs low over Burlington Bay on a long weekend, it's probably because the wind is blowing in from Hamilton, but on Labour Day, the haze was coming from what the Burlington Rotary Club has dubbed "Canada's Largest Ribfest". That Burlington has a claim to any "est" other than "boring-est" surprises me, but this is what they call it. Thousands of lakeshore 905ers gave up their routine Kelsey's/Milestone's/Montana's night-on-the-burb to gnaw the meat off pig bones.

Bibb's BBQ of Naples, Florida, and Bone Daddy's of Dallas, Texas, both claim, inexplicably, to have won last year's festival. Perhaps Canada's largest ribfest is not its most decisive. Bone Daddy's fall-off-the-bone meat is what you want in a spare rib, but Bibb's salty rub and finger-licking sauce combination would have taken the Silver Sow on taste. Neither, however, could top Silver Bullet BBQ of Fort Erie, Ontario, with its complete package of tender swine and candy-sweet sauce. Silver Bullet's brand of barbecue was good enough to justify another 20 minutes in line for a pulled pork sandwich, for which we asked them to ring out the sauce mop a little more. Washed down with the silver bullet beer, Silver Bullet BBQ is the Parking Lot's winner of Canada's Non-Trivial Ribfest.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Song of the Summer: Seashores of Old Mexico

With 39% of the votes cast, George Strait's remake of the Merle Haggard classic, The Seashores of Old Mexico, is the 2006 Song of the Summer. See the video.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dirtiest Toilets - Part II

The Globe and Mail needed three PhDs, one public health nurse, and the founder of the World Toilet Organization to tell them that public washrooms are dirty. They could have just asked my mom.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Everything I Love: Saucer Fries

My obsession with a simple box of fries is well documented, but frome time to time I stumble upon a variation on this staple that is simply too good to pass on. Bubba's poutine in Kingston and baked chili cheese fries at Mullins on Bay Street come to mind. The most delicious mutation that I have found is at The Flying Saucer Restaurant in Niagara Falls, a UFO-shaped diner serving a smorgasbord of junk food under seizure-inducing red lights. Saucer Fries are a heaping dinner plate of chips bathed in the Saucer's peppery spaghetti sauce. A similar dish was served at the former Lino's of Kingston, but with the terrifying risk of food poisoning. Let the plate sit for five or ten minutes to let the sauce soak in and order Saucer Fries with nothing more than a bucket of Pepsi - you'll need all the appetite you can get.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rant: Dr. Z

Daimler-Chrysler is running television spots during NASCAR races where a reporter asks Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche about the Daimler-Chrysler merger's benefits. The ridiculously-mustached Dr. Z hauls off in a Charger, drives around maniacally, and, when pressed about what kind of a "doctor" he is, crashes headlong into a barrier, brushes the dust off his suit, and takes off. Effective use of metaphor to show how two great companies are being recklessly driven into a wall by megalomaniac German bureaucrats who, ensconced in subsidized luxury, will walk away unscathed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Overheard in a conversation between a couple of 30-somethings flipping burgers in Toronto yesterday:

"George Bush is the stupidest guy in the world."
I bet W. doesn't have to clean out the grease trap at the end of his shift.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Review: Allen's

After some do-gooding went awry, the Webber and I found ourselves looking for dinner in Toronto's Dark Territory (east of Yonge). Allen's (143 Danforth at Broadview) displays a promising selection of whiskies behind a rough-hewn pine bar, rare in an age of over-varnished Fionn McCools/Firkin/Molly Blooms mahogany.

The meal started poorly when our waiter, let's call him "Chip" to be nasty, delighted in rejecting our Coors Light order because Allen's refuses to carry Labatt or Molson products. Alright then, how about a Schlitz, jackass? The best they could do was Amsterdam Light.

A startlingly pricey menu makes the audacious claim to have Toronto's best burgers, blood in the water for a pair of junk food warhorses. The burger is adequate. The thick, moist patty would make a good meat loaf. As with most gourmet burgers, however, the cook doesn't understand that a burger is all in the dressing, which at Allen's is left to the diner. If we wanted to dress a burger on our own, we'd do it at home.

Allen's is supposedly the owner's shrine to the Irish-American bars of a bygone New York. My guess is that, back then, two burgers and a couple of drinks would not have cost $80. Allen's is really just part of a snotty trend in over-priced faux-Irish pubs that has swept most cities. If you want genuine, go to the Old Sod in the Kingsway. If you want burgers, go to the Wheat Sheaf.

On a go/no-go scale, I give Allen's a "no-go".

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Dirtiest Toilets In Ontario

The Globe and Mail reports on some some filthy bathrooms along the 401. Methinks them a tad delicate. Gas station restrooms are for only the most desperate of bowel evacuations. Beggars can't be choosers. At least there was toilet paper, a necessity absent in this concrete can I ran across in China. Here's where to go along the 401 if you can hold it:

Whitby - Brock Street Wendy's/Tim Horton's
Clarington - 5th Wheel truck stop
Cobourg - East Side Mario's
Belleville - Chapters
Kingston - Swiss Chalet

Saturday, August 26, 2006

2006 Song of the Summer Recap

Voting begins on Monday in the Parking Lot's 2006 Song of the Summer Contest. Recapping the contenders:

Rascal Flatt's Me & My Gang
Brooks & Dunn's Building Bridges
George Strait's The Seashores of Old Mexico
Aaron Pritchett's Hold My Beer
Brad Paisley's The World
Sorry, Brian. K.T. Tunstall doesn't qualify for this contest.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Everything I Love: The Chill of an Early Fall

"There's a storm coming on, it won't be too long till the snow falls. Oh I'll be sobersome, But when October comes and goes and no time at all I'll begin to feel the chill of an early fall." - George Strait
August's cool nights are a welcome reprieve from southern Ontario's oppressive July. You're so startled by the cool morning that, for a delusional moment, you think you'll see your breath if you breathe hard enough. Less healthy trees preview fall with their premature colouring and back to school commercials remind some of us of one more year in the classroom. Going back to school is an entirely different experience when you're thirty than when you're thirteen - you actually look forward to it and lament that it will certainly be your last. I didn't appreciate my last year of school as an undergrad and I implore all the other members of the class of 2007 to enjoy every moment - because work lasts a horribly long time.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rant: Reply To All

To become known among your coworkers as a complete simpleton, use the "reply to all" email function liberally.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Catfish Update: Let's Get Some Perspective

Riverkeeper isn't satisfied with the explanation for last week's catfish kill on the Ottawa River and seems to want a human trigger to blame. I'm surprised, because I thought Riverkeeper had the most clear-headed explanation from the start, which was, for the most part, supported by the evidence. She may find little more than a perfect storm of high temperatures, excess run-off, a crowded fishery, and bacteria. Hypoxic water and fish kills predate the advent of fertilizers and pulp mills. Nevertheless, this demonstrates what can go wrong, whether caused by nature or man. Pete, at Fishing Jones, directed me to the issue of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the worst example of what is taking place along the world's coasts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Envy: British Columbia

My friend, and fellow Iv'y Rod & Gun Club member, Ryan is closing out the summer in British Columbia. He has to deal with this every day. There aren't many days that I'd trade Ontario for BC (save and except the Adirondack chairs at Lou's Bar & Grill in Kits), but today is an exception.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Catfish Update: Mystery Solved

The puzzle surrounding the catfish deaths on the Ottawa River last week has been solved. High temperatures, excessive run-off, crowded fishery, and bacteria.

Coffee Time: Do You Want Crack With That?

I don't buy drugs, but if I did, I'd go to Coffee Time Donuts in Toronto, where every degenerate and n'er do well seems to spend his day. Until Pastor McGuinty brought nicotine prohibition to Ontario, the Coffee Time in Bloor West Village had a smoking room where solitary men would hack spittle into their coffee while blue smoke leaked through the partition. At night, the Coffee Time at Dupont and Lansdowne is a haven for junkies, hookers, and applicants to the local crack syndicate. A friend of mine was once assaulted by a couple of skin-heads outside the franchise at Bay and Gerrard. How did Coffee Time develop such a strong brand loyalty among the down and out?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Song of the Summer: The World

Brad Paisley has been dominating country radio all summer with his chart topper, The World. Brad opened his concert in London back in March with this tune and the audience of southwestern Ontario farm kids went nuts. If this blog wasn't so damned democratic, I'd declare this the 2006 song of the summer, but we'll let the voting begin next weekend anyway.

Between now and the end of August, the Parking Lot will reveal its nominees for 2006 Song of the Summer. The song must be country, appear on the Billboard chart this summer, and not be a ballad. Voting starts August 28th.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Everything I Love: Catfishing

I became fanatical about catfishing on a September evening, casually flipping a jitterbug off the jetty in the flickering twilight on Chats Lake. A fish hit my topwater lure with such force that I thought I'd hooked a trophy bass. My delusion grew to a muskie during a fight that tested every ounce of my $25 Canadian Tire rod and eight-pound monofilament. When I finally pulled the fish from the darkness, my lunker turned out to be a two-pound channel cat. From that night on, I became obsessed with a fish that is both easy to catch and, pound-for-pound, the best fighter in fresh water. I ignored the sophistocation of trout and the technical complexity of bass in favour of the the worm-and-cane pole simplicity of catfishing. I can't count the times I watched Doug Stange and Toad Smith chum the water with chicken blood in Catfish Secrets or the afternoons wasted, on my employer's dime, scanning pictures of Catfish Ed's Clear Lake monsters and studying three-way rigging.

My best catfishing was over two days I spent with my dad on the Ottawa during Arnprior's annual catfest. On the second afternoon, we took the cedarstrip outboard to the narrows at Blackhead Island where we anchored in the shadow of the railway tressel. The bite was off, but, under a royal blue sky, an afternoon could not have been more perfect - our little boat twisting in the eddies against the taut anchor line. Attempting a Hail Mary, I took a page from Doug and Toad's book and dug deep in my tackle box for the foulest-smelling brew I could find. Like ringing the dinner bell, the stink bait brought them swimming and every cast hooked a three- to five-pound grey-beard. As though onto billfish, at times I had to jam the rod butt into my hip to drag the muscular fish against the current. Three years later, I return often to the photo Dad took that afternoon of my excited grin and a midnight-coloured channel cat cradled at my side.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Catfish Tragedy on the Ottawa River

Although the test results won't be ready until tomorrow, I am ready to get into some half-baked conjecture about what will emerge. Generally, I think Riverkeeper has it right, though I don't agree that the sewage spill had much of an impact. Chats Lake, where the carnage has been worst, at the confluence of the Ottawa, Madawaska, and Mississippi rivers, is very shallow and water temperatures rise quickly in hot weather like we've had this summer. A fatal coincidence of events took place when heavy rains filled the Madawaska and Mississipi rivers with farm run-off from Lanark and Renfew counties, pouring nutrients into Chats Lake and creating a warm hypoxic soup. The resulting algal bloom deprived the heat-weakened fish of oxygen and made a crowded catfishery particularly vulnerable to bacteria like columnaris. An MNR study several years ago revealed that there are over 90,000 channel catfish in this part of the river, contained by four dams. At as much as 90% of fishery, if fish are going to die, they'll be channel cats.

I spoke with my mom this morning and she reports that the smell of rotting fish is tapering off so maybe we're close to the end. I hope the damage hasn't been too severe. I've got $400 worth of catfishing tackle that will be pretty darn useless if those catfish are all dead.

Rant: TTC Conductors

As long as it has riders, people will lean on the doors of the subway. The sanctimonious conductors hate it and routinely launch into winded sermons over the P.A. system, admonishing patrons. More futile these lectures could not be, since nobody knows which of the forty-five offenders the old coot is scolding. Let's return to the days when conductors had nothing more than a whistle to signal the all-clear.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Chats Lake Catfish Catastrophe

A couple of weeks ago, I found it strange that I didn’t hook a single channel cat while fishing with dead bait on the Mississippi below the Galetta dam. Bass and walleye were biting, but the only cats I saw were a couple carcasses floating by the dock in Pocket Bay. So it was with some alarm that I received a call from my mother on Sunday night reporting a mass catfish death on the Ottawa River between Cheneaux and Fitzroy Harbour. My brother buried ten that washed up on the White Cottage beach alone. Devastating.

Update: Ottawa Riverkeeper has the most complete version of this story. Interesting that the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources is not alarmed. The Ottawa Citizen has this creepy slideshow on the carnage.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Review: Morton's of Chicago

I've been itching to visit Morton's since Pauly Walnuts suggested to Christopher that they skip an assassination and go to Morton's in Atlantic City instead. The Toronto franchise scores on style, ambiance, and presentation. The room is dark and leathery, raw meat is carted to your table for pre-meal inspection, and the portion sizes are sufficient for three. The Colossal Shrimp live up to their name, the broccoli is served by the forest, and we're still eating the prime rib three days later. At the end of the day, however, the steak is better at The Keg and you're saved the irritating company of Yorkville patrons.

On a go/no-go scale, I give it a "no-go".

Monday, August 14, 2006

Celebrity Sightings

On vacation at home this weekend, we swung through Yorkville, where the family CFO spotted Rob Lowe shopping in a pink shirt and white shorts. I'm proud to say that she wasn't half as excited to see Rob as she was last weekend when she passed the great Timber Jack outside "Marmra" on highway 7.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Song of the Summer: Hold My Beer

This week's nominee is courtesy of the Road Hammer himself. In Hold My Beer (While I Kiss Your Girlfriend), Vancouver's Aaron Pritchett sings about asking some goober to assist him with his drink while he puts the moves on the guy's woman. For a man with earings in both lobes, I do believe Mr. Pritchett would end up on the wrong side of a crunchy beating if he suggested this at a honky tonk. However, given that his nightlife probably consists of candy-ass nightclubs in Kitsilano, he needn't worry. This guy isn't going anywhere without the crutch of Canadian content rules, but he has released a decent song this season.

Between now and the end of August, the Parking Lot will reveal its nominees for 2006 Song of the Summer. The song must be country, appear on the Billboard chart this summer, and not be a ballad. Voting starts August 28th.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Everything I Love: Solitude

Last weekend, the Rubber Duck and I took grandpa's cedarstrip Peterborough downriver, under the railway span, to Black Bay. The Duck took a dip, I lost a couple of bass, and we had a memorable chat about politics, careers, and easy chairs. Black Bay couldn't be more peaceful. With few cottages and fewer people, I thought of its serenity when I read this Newsweek piece (hat-tip: Fishing Jones) about how under-rated solitude is. Nobody needs to be a hermit, but there's nothing wrong with enjoying your own company from time to time.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rant: Sunglasses as Headwear

Sunglasses shield the eyes from the sun. They belong on your face, not on your head. If you need to decorate your head with something other than a hat, buy a barrette - it's just as feminine and twice as effective at keeping hair out of your eyes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Review: Like Red On A Rose

Alan Jackson digs deep in his most recent single, Like Red On A Rose, with one of his best vocal performances since his cover of The Blues Man. Fusing country with blues, this Alison Kraus-produced piece leaves you chomping at the bit for September's full album release.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rubber Duck of the Bailey

Best wishes to my cousin, Rubber Duck, who begins a brilliant legal career on Bay Street this morning. Looking forward to lunches at Bardi's.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Song of the Summer: Seashores of Old Mexico

This week's Song of the Summer nominee is George Strait's cover of the Merle Haggard classic, Seashores of Old Mexico. An easy-going and Buffett-free beach song that drifts you down to the Gulf. Happy Simcoe Day weekend - see you on Tuesday!

Between now and the end of August, the Parking Lot will reveal its nominees for 2006 Song of the Summer. The song must be country, appear on the Billboard chart this summer, and not be a ballad. Voting starts August 28th.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Everything I Love: Roadside Attractions

I pursue giant roadside attractions with all the lust of a big game hunter. Some stalk big-horn sheep or lions, but my prey is a giant ball of twine. If you think this comparison to be excessively dramatic, I assure you that this pursuit imperils both life and marriage. Paul Bunyan and his blue ox have eluded me more than once as, in full highway hypnosis, I drift by their perch below Eagle Rock Lookout in St. Ignace, Michigan. My figurative trophy case includes The Big Apple (Colborne, Ont), The Giant Wooly Mammoth (Nova Scotia), the Big Goose (Wawa, Ont), the Big Twoonie (Campbellford, Ont.), and the Giant Rainbow Trout (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Regular Programming to Resume Shortly...

With a twist on the Mark Chesnutt tune, it's too hot to fish, too hot to blog, but a cool twenty degrees at Grandma's house...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Palmer Rapids Twin Music Festivals

The 2006 Redneck Roadtrip landed in the rolling Madawaska Highlands of Renfrew County this weekend at the Palmer Rapids Twin Music Festivals. For three days, Al Schutt's back 40 were transformed into a Redneck Riviera rivalling the Emerald Coast itself. For the music fan, the twin country and bluegrass stages offer enough fiddle, steel, and banjo to keep your feet tapping all the way home on Sunday. For those who come just for the party, the tailgating has few equals.

Through a haze of smoke, we arrived on Friday night to a shanty town of airstreams, pick-ups, and tents. 10,000 fans were already picking and grinning around their camp fires or blasting rock and country from tricked-out Silverados. Palmer's devotees are among the friendliest you'll meet - lending a chopping block, re-supplying beer, and selflessly cautioning against a bloody nose from an impossible double back-flip off the tree. I enjoyed a lively chat with Timber Jack from "Marmra" (Marmora) who, from the comfort of his green Dodge, told of fighting and flirting at the gone, but never forgotten, Gatineau Clog and Ompah Stomp. Behind a thick beard and Earnhardt shades, Timber Jack would be a frightening woodsman were it not for his Hello Kitty porkpie hat.

The idea at Palmer is to do as you please. As long as you keep your fists to yourself and don't clink your glass bottles too loudly, nobody will tell you where to camp, to put out your fire, or to be careful in the Madawaska's current. If you and two hundred of your friends want to splash and grapple in a mud puddle, whether you're five or sixty-five, go right ahead - you're in Palmer.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Song of The Summer: Building Bridges

The second nominee for 2006 Song of the Summer comes from the greatest country music duo of all time, Brooks & Dunn. Off their Hillbilly Deluxe release, the boys who sang about burning that bridge when they got there in 1993, deliver an inspiring summer song with Building Bridges. Unquestionably the vocal event of the year, this collaboration with Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow is an uplifting tune to lift you from the season's dog days.

Between now and the end of August, the Parking Lot will reveal its nominees for 2006 Song of the Summer. The song must be country, appear on the Billboard chart this summer, and not be a ballad. Voting starts August 28th. Last week's nominee: Me and My Gang by Rascal Flatts.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Everything I Love: Country Music

"Buddy never understood why I made my living as a country musician when I probably could have worked steady with hotel dance bands in New Orleans or tried the jazz scene on the West Coast, where I might have made it at least as a rhythm guitarist. But what he didn't understand and what most northerners don't, is that rural southern music is an attitude, a withdrawal into myths and an early agrarian dream about the promise of the new republic. " -The Lost Get-Back Boogie
George Strait sings that twin fiddles and steel guitar are the sound of the American heart. If you can't quite make it to Texas, Oklahoma, or Tennessee, then songs like West Texas Holiday or Red Dirt Road may take you pretty close. Country music is about what you know, brought to life with the perfect blend of words and instruments. It's that equity of lyrics and music that, for me, makes country music most meaningful. With "rap music", if you can keep up with it, you hear the words, but their obscure stories hardly resonate. With rock, the music is superb, but you can't always make out the words.

The Cash-mania of the last year has created "I-like-real-country" 20- and 30- somethings. These Johnny-come-lately posers would carve up country music into what they perceive as "legitimate" and "new country" based on a movie. Today's artists like Paisley, McGraw, Jackson, and Womack, are every bit the legitimate heirs to Haggard, Jones, Cash, and Lynn as those legends were to the legacies of Acuff, Wills, Wells, and Hank. Country music is a whole and, as long as there's a fiddle, steel, or banjo, it's real to me. If you've been blessed enough to find it, it's a way of life and a frame of mind.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rant: Full Employment

While we bask in the macroeconomic bliss of a full employment economy, let's reflect on some of the microeconomic misery it causes. At the McDonald's drive-through, fearing that the cup would topple out of the drink holder, and willing to pay the same price, I asked that my large coffee be transferred to a smaller container. A metal-toothed teenager cross-examined my rationale before declaring it to be the strangest thing she'd ever seen. I doubt this, she lives in Milton. At Toby's Good Eats (725 Yonge Street), the husky-voiced waitress in horn-rimmed glasses found it such a chore to serve the only occupied table a couple of Coors Lights that we pretty much had to serve ourselves. At Sobey's, a young cashier wagged a plump finger at the family comptroller, admonishing her for not properly tagging a bag of bulk food. That the customer is always right seems to be lost in the comfort these people have with their job security. In this respect, I think a recession every now and then may be a healthy thing.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Awesome Power of the State

Before the Forces of Dark and Evil put this dank Renfrew spice shop out of business, you better hurry down. It's likely the last remaining place on Earth where you can buy the full set of KISS action figures with a pound of nutmeg. Who knew that the Minister of Health's reach was such that he could shutter an obscure backwoods retailer? Sleep with one eye open - nobody's safe now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Review: The King Burger

We travelled upriver for some Ottawa Valley nostalgia this weekend. Out Stewart Street, over the Bonnechere River, on the fringe of Renfrew, the King Burger has been passing greasy cheeseburgers, onion rings, and shakes to cars and walk-ups for thirty-five years. A fresh homemade patty, bubbling with fat, dressed with chili sauce and fried onions, and squished between a soft sesame seed bun, a Kingburger must be the first meal after your chat with St. Peter. I was introduced to this wonderland of junk food at the old King Burger in Arnprior where, combined with a box of Wes' Chips, you found a treat you could not and, now can never, replicate. For anyone heading up to Palmer Rapids for the festival this weekend, you may find time to grab a couple for the road.

On a Go/No-go scale, I give the King Burger a "Go".

Monday, July 24, 2006

The (real) Happiest Place on Earth

With my hands still sticky from a feast of sweet back ribs and buttery corn, I caught this pink-and-purple Ottawa Valley sunset over Chats Lake. It was another perfect weekend at the Bay.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

2006 Song of the Summer Kick-Off

Summers are memorable for rowdy road trips, fleeting romances, and waterskiing injuries, but nothing brands the season like music. Recent summers have featured classic anthems like B&D’s Only in America and Chesney’s Keg in the Closet. For the next six Saturdays, the Parking Lot is going to reveal its nominees for 2006 Song of the Summer and we welcome any additional nominees. The only rules are that the song be country (sorry, no “rap music”), appear on the Billboard chart this summer (sorry, no y’alternative obscurities), and not be a ballad (sorry, no Stars Go Blue). Starting on August 28th, we’ll open the voting and announce the 2006 Song of the Summer on Labour Day weekend.

The first nominee is Me and My Gang by Rascal Flatts, a trio that endured a lot of boy-band abuse when they appeared several years ago, but who have earned my respect with Mayberry, Fast Cars and Freedom, and God Bless the Broken Road. One of the few really up-tempo songs on country radio in this otherwise laid-back summer, Me and My Gang is this summer's tune to which you bounce your fingers on the wheel and lean a little harder on the gas.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Everything I Love: The Giant Tiger

While retail giant Wal-Mart has captivated the media for decades, my own favourite retailer is celebrating its 45th birthday, having expanded from a modest Ottawa five and dime to an international retail powerhouse. For me, every trip to the Giant Tiger in Arnprior promises all the surprise and joy of Christmas morning. Where else, for $3, can you buy a shirt reading "Some people say I have a bad attitude... those people are stupid" or a vicious beaver gnawing on a Canadian flag with which to decorate your lawn for Canada Day? I've bought fishing tackle, rubber boots, hunting clothes (I don't hunt), and electric flyswatters at this store. My good friend the Road Hammer recently picked up a handsome cowboy hat and has even been seen picking up a grocery or two. Torontonians will drop several hundred dollars in Yorkville on Lacoste t-shirts and Banana Republic pants, when all they need is to hit the 401 in search of a GT Boutique.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Rant: Culture of Entitlement

Canadian evacuees from Lebanon are none too pleased with the uncomfortable boat ride. It beats swimming.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Everybody's Gone NASCAR

"He says I don't believe in money
But a man could make him a killin..."

Like the Alan Jackson song about everybody wanting in on country music in the 1990s, last week's announcement of Juan Pablo Montoya switching from F1 to NASCAR and Danica Patrick's flirtation with a stock car ride suggest a similar phenomenon may be true in NASCAR. It remains to be seen how quickly, or even whether, these open wheel drivers will find success in NASCAR's top division. Tony Stewart is the only genuine open wheel cross-over to have made a successful transition in recent times. Montoya may discover that a heavy Dodge stock car is a lot harder to drive than his high-tech Mercedes and find it difficult to maintain the concentration needed to hit his marks in a four-hour, 500-mile oval race. Danica risks undermining all her IRL success when the weight advantage she presently enjoys is prohibited by the NASCAR rulebook. All questions will be answered in time, but NASCAR must be giddy with the interest it's attracting from non-American drivers and particularly pleased with what this means for its prized Diversity Program.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Review: Barcelona & My Thai Kitchen

I recently ventured outside my usual binary selection of Kingsway restaurants to sample Barcelona and My Thai Kitchen. At Barcelona, we enjoyed roasted goat cheese, crab cakes, and skewered pork, but the steak was too beefy and the Mariachi band was drowned out by the wailing toddler whose selfish parents couldn’t possibly have settled for the Swiss Chalet across the street. Good though the tapas may be, appetizers alone can't possibly justify enduring its boorish servers. In contrast to this Euromisery was My Thai Kitchen which serves beer in a female-shaped glass so anatomically correct that it would make a pornographer blush and the drinker drool when a lower lip snags on a nipple. From the hot and sour soup through mango salad and Pad Thai, this place keeps pace with well-known rivals, The Green Mango and Springrolls, bite-for-bite.

On a Go/No-Go scale, I give My Thai Kitchen a “Go” and Barcelona a “No-Go”.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Holstein Rodeo

With Toronto's steel and concrete radiating an unbearable heat all weekend, I rolled into Grey County to the A Bar K Ranch, at the headwaters of the Saugeen River, where the fifth annual Holstein Rodeo marked the mid-point of Ontario's Dodge Rodeo Tour. Few excursions surpass the excitement or ambiance of a small rodeo on a hot summer weekend. It was a spectacular day to be under a piercing blue sky in the green rolling hills around Mount Forest, with just enough breeze and homemade lemonade to keep the spectators from brawling for a spot under the maple trees. In the bleachers at a grassroots rodeo you're blanketed with churning dust in the barrel races, sprinkled with spittle off a twisting bull's snout, and lose your breath when a bronc collides with the fence, hanging his broken rider to swing helplessly on a steel gate. The winners' cheques were lean, but, for the awe and applause of the crowd, cowboys and cowgirls from both sides of the border roped, rode, and wrestled the A Bar K's stock with as much attitude and gumption as any you'd see in Houston or Fort Worth.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Gone Rodeo'n

See you on Monday.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Everything I Love: Air Conditioning

Air conditioning has been improving our lives since its debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, making it one of the 20th century's three most important inventions. The struggle for comfort from which AC emerged is faintly reminiscent of the American Civil War. Florida physician John Gorrie's early efforts to emancipate the heat-oppressed were quashed by Boston 'Ice King' Fred Tudor who made a fortune off the ice requirements of poor, sweltering southerners. This time the South triumphed over Northern aggression when Carolina working man's hero Stu Cramer relieved heat-struck workers everywhere when he installed humidity control in his textile mill, naming it 'air conditioning'. Yankee Willis Carrier quickly swiped the name and slapped it on the window and central air units we have today.

Although temperature control is an ongoing source of family tension on road trips, I contend there's nothing better than walking into your meat locker of a house when the humidex tops forty-two degrees centigrade. Southern Ontario's outrageous temperature range - from a nose-hair stiffening forty below to a stifling forty above - makes acclimation impossible. Tree-huggers denounce our liberal cranking of thermostats in summer, but I make no apologies. Comfort's an entitlement and AC's the enabler.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rant: Got Ear Plugs?

Last night, for the thousandth aggravating time, I caught the "Got Milk?" ad featuring farmers rapping in the barn yard with cows and hip hop dancers. I can't help but wonder why they continue to air this irritating spot. Does anyone else wish that one of the cows would rear back and hoof one of these hayseed homeboys through the barn wall?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Will It Play in Yorkville?

Sun columnist Steve Simmons, referring to last weekend's Molson Indy, has suggested that a minor league sport has no place in a major league town. Major league? Who is he kidding? Toronto is no more a major league town than Belleville, paying about as much attention to its MLB, NBA, and CFL teams as our highway 401 neighbours pay to theirs... exactly my point. As a friend of mine regularly points out, this is a Leafs town - full stop. Unfortunately for the Indy, competition in American open wheel racing has sufficiently fragmented the market that its brand lacks the cache necessary to draw band-wagoning Torontonians who crave the exclusivity of flavour-of-the-moment events like the Film Festival and the World Cup.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Review: Superman Returns

Sometime between dispatching General Zod and befriending computer whiz Gus Gorman, Superman took a five-year celestial road trip to verify Krypton's destruction, leaving humans to suffer in his absence. He has returned just in time to save Earth from aspirant real estate magnate Lex Luthor who, never a quitter, is revisiting his Superman I attempt to create Costa del Lex. Unfortunately for us, Lex left Otis, Miss Tessmacher, and his sense of humour in prison. This movie is lost somewhere between a remake and an art house flick with too many quotations from the first movie and a series of confusing religious allegories. It easily could have been forty-five minutes shorter by sparing us the gag-me scenes of the Man of Steel and Lois wrestling their feelings and an ending with so much cheese that you'd think it was shot in Wisconsin. Honestly, this film's only strengths are its soundtrack, which we've all heard before, and its special effects which, for those who have seen Spiderman plunge to earth and survive the impact, will be nothing new either. On a go/no-go scale, I give this turkey a "no-go".

Monday, July 10, 2006

Indy Round-Up

A busy weekend in motorsports – Juan Pablo Montoya is moving from Formula 1 to NASCAR, Dirtiest Driver EverTM Jeff Gordon stole a win in Chicago, and the Webber and I baked for two days in the bleachers at Toronto’s Molson Indy.

As a stock car fan, I think of open-wheel racing as follow-the-leader in wheeled kayaks, so I approached this event a little cynically. Unlike the chest-pounding roar of stock cars, you wince with the turbo-charged screams reverberating in your teeth and, like a one-way tennis match, your head snaps from left to right whenever the cars happen to pass by. More video screens and a leader board would make the race easier to follow, but the speeds are impressive and Toronto’s Paul Tracy satisfied everyone with his second-place finish in the two-lap shootout to the checkers.

The real spectacle, however, was off the track where plenty of skin, sunburn, and suds rendered us both delirious. There must be an agency that arranges for exotic women to hock goods and services because, from the instant you pass through the gate, barely-clad women descend, promoting everything from poker schools to pills that clean your engine (I think they were talking about cars, but forgive us for our distraction). As insufficient as the girls’ costumes may have been, the concessions offered plenty of excess with over-cooked Pogos and over-priced Coors on which we gorged.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Drivers, Start Your Engines

Gone racin'. See you Monday.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Everything I Love: Wes' Chips

Few would believe that man's greatest gastronomic creation is served from an old tin shack built over a 1956 Ford truck, but for five decades, the good people of the Ottawa Valley have visited Wes' Chips in Arnprior for little white boxes of golden brown perfection. You may claim to have your own favourite fry truck, but whatever imitation you've found cannot compare to the soft and sweet chips at Wes'.

Wes', for me, is the crack-cocaine of comfort food. During the first Summer of David, with my cousins Hee Haw and Rubber Duck, I visited the chip wagon nightly, tearing down Highway 17 for a steaming box of spuds before Andre flipped off the yellow lights and shuttered the serving window. My family's loyalty the chip wagon dates back to its opening when, for fifteen cents, my mother and aunts were served plates of fries by the ruddy-faced Wes Dodds himself. Several years ago, my cousin, the aforementioned Hee Haw, even romanced one of the chip girls.

For some, the autumnal equinox marks the first day of Fall, but for me it's with the last box of chips at Thanksgiving that we can toast the end of another memorable summer.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

(Not So) High, (Kinda) Lonesome

If you need a little back porch picking, and you live in Toronto, you’re probably shit-out-of-luck. But, if you’re as hungry as a vegetarian at a NASCAR race, High Lonesome Wednesdays at the Silver Dollar Room feature a local bluegrass outfit called Crazy Strings. Clad in cargo shorts and roman sandals, a down-home band this is not. Crazy Strings can’t sing worth a lick, the acoustic guitarist needs smelling salts to stay awake, and the Dobro man’s facial contortion suggests a heavy metal ambition. Nonetheless, these are talented pickers, anchored by the gifted Chris Coole on banjo who contributed a tinge of honky tonk when he set down his instrument in mid-song to visit the can. If you can tolerate the hippies with feathers in their filthy dreads, dancing goofy Irish jigs, on a go/no-go scale I’ll give it a “go” for lack of alternatives around here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

First Catch of '06

Spin casting off the back dock, I pulled this spirited Pumpkinseed from Pocket Bay on a Blue Fox Vibrax Spinner, a steady workhorse if there ever was one. Though it won't set any records, it's on the books.

The weekend itself was complete harmony: steak and pork chops grilled on a kettle barbecue, a lazy front nine on Sumac Grove, lunches from two of this world's most satisfying menus, thunder and lightening that shook the Little Cottage on Saturday night, freshly-squeezed and sugary lemonade at the old Antrim Truck Stop, and my cousin carving ascendant fins out of the river with his water-ski. Monday was so flawless in its serenity that it took every ounce of will to return to the city.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Who Would Want To?

One of my favourite signs, this one posted outside the men's room at the Skydome, is posted at the lavatory entrance in many bars and nightclubs. It prompts two questions. First, what possible harm can a cup of flat beer do in the bathroom? Second, who would want to take their drink to the toilet? I think that if someone wants to expose their beverage to the particulate in the men's room, let them. These people are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day

Gone fishin'. See you Tuesday.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Everything I Love: The Kingsway Theatre

"The posterboards in front of the picture show were naked. It seemed to Sonny it would have been better to have left some posters up, even the posters to The Kid from Texas." -The Last Picture Show
Tonight the lights on the Kingsway Theatre's marquee go out for the final time. An Etobicoke institution since 1939, my dad spent many a Saturday afternoon watching a Captain Midnight short and a Roy Rogers western in this place. A 1950s matinee at the Kingsway was a circus, complete with popcorn boxes flattened into flying saucers and hurled at ushers from the balcony. My aunt and the other grade nine girls from Etobicoke Collegiate wailed through six back-to-back showings of A Hard Days Night in 1964.

The old theatre is only a shadow of its former self, the rowdy ten year-olds and necking teenagers replaced by an audience that is decidedly sedate, solitary, and strange. Still, its plush upholsted seats are comfortable in spite of their teetering, its concessions are cheap and bad for you, and the on-screen entertainment is augmented by the oddball who migrates from seat to seat before inevitably settling too close for comfort. I've seen some great movies there - Sunshine State, Spellbound, Y Tu Mama Tambien - as well as classics, like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Godfather, I'd missed the first time through.

What I liked most about the Kingsway, and doubtless sealed its fate, was the space to stretch out and relax. Attending multiplexes between Tuesday and Sunday has become almost intolerable. Delusional latecomers spend an eternity stumbling in the dark while they look for seats and multi-pierced teenagers field phone calls mid-film while they tap the soundtrack into your chair. The Kingsway was one of the few remaining places to enjoy a film without risking a coronary.

Tonight the Kingsway is turning back the clock with $1 admission to see Raiders and Casablanca. If I can get anywhere near the box office, I'll sit through one last show.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Reward Small Wins... Phooey!

"People are driving the streets with children hanging out the windows or sitting on the hoods of their cars... They are behaving, as befitting the tourney's univeralistic claims, like the world's biggest idiots." -John Barber, The Globe and Mail.

More troubling than these incidents, is a general chickens-before-they-hatch celebratory trend, illustrated recently by Portuguese nationalists frothing onto Dupont Street to bask in a round robin victory over first-time World Cup qualifier Angola (as though colonizing the place wasn’t insult enough). For this jubilant satisfaction with small wins, I place the blame squarely at the feet of Dr. Spock and The Toronto Maple Leafs. Upon advancing to the second round of the playoffs, Leaf fans pour onto Yonge Street – blaring horns, hoisting homemade Stanley Cups, and performing minivan burnouts – in a league with more than half its teams in the postseason. So let’s all relax until we have something in which to genuinely rejoice – like the return to glory of the Buffalo Bills under their experienced, if geriatric, new leadership. In the meantime, I’ll turn up the Brooks & Dunn to drown out the excitable Europeans.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Saturday Night Thunder

On Saturday night the Niagara Escarpment shudders under the roar of grass roots stock car racing on Flamboro Speedway 's one third of a mile oval. Back yard racers from across the Golden Horseshoe drive the wheels off their hobbies for the bragging rights that only a plastic trophy and mention on the local country music station can bring.

The Webber and I stretched it out down the backroads of the old Wentworth County this weekend for an evening of racing and weren't disappointed by either the Flamburgers or the competition. Paul Howse's #8 sanded Scott Lyons' bumper to the chrome from green to checkers, but the 5-time late model champ would not be overtaken, conducting a car control clinic for 25 laps despite the #8's relentless bump-and-run efforts off turn four. By the end of the night, the fried onions were free and the full qualifying line-up of Thunder Cars was inverted, forcing the fastest cars to fight traffic for a shot at the win. Bobbing and weaving for fifteen laps, Randy Rusnell's #72 hauled Paul McIlroy in the #4 to the front, but had few laps remaining to work on Cambridge's Jamie Cox. Under the white flag, the #72 tried the high side on Cox's #44, but could gain no more than a quarter panel in turn one. Cox and Rusnell screamed nose-to-tail down the backstretch with McIlroy only a car length behind. Rusnell took one more shot at the high line coming off turn four, but after twenty laps of near-flawless piloting, the #72 got loose, allowing defending champ McIlroy to steal the second spot on the inside while Cox sprinted to his first win of 2006.