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.