Thursday, July 05, 2007

Top 5 Chicken Wings

My apologies for being off the radar of late, I had some exam-writing to do.

Moments ago, I weighed in on a discussion about chicken wings between the Road Hammer and the Webber. The Hammer alleges that Local Heroes, an Ottawa sports bar, disguises turkey wings as poulet. These wings, retched as they are, are too small to be turkey wings and are more likely pried off a seagull or pigeon. The Parking Lot's picks for best chicken wings:

1. St. Louis' Bar & Grill (anywhere)
2. Gabby's Bar & Grill (Bedford & Bloor, Toronto, Ontario)
3. Lou's Bar & Grill (Kitsilano in Vancouver)
4. Boston Pizza (anywhere)
5. Ring-A-Wing (Oxford St., London, Ontario)

Surprisingly, the Anchor Bar - birthplace of buffalo wings - in Buffalo, New York, doesn't even come close to making the list. The beef on weck is to die for, however.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute III

In 1989 the state of football in Ottawa couldn't have been any worse. It had been eight years since the Rough Riders had been to the Grey Cup and thirteen years since they'd won it. Coming off Super Season '88, when they managed to win only two games, the desperate team hired marketing superstar Jo-Anne Polack as general manager. Polack poached free agent Damon Allen from Edmonton where he couldn't escape the long shadows of Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham. Allen as saviour became the focus of Polack's "Rider Rage" marketing campaign, along with running back Orville Lee and kicker shanker Dean Dorsey. 1989 also saw the arrival of one of the worst coaches ever to pace a CFL sideline, Steve Goldman.

The Riders were en route to a Super Season '88 sequel, with a 2-11 record, when Allen went down with torn ligaments in his throwing hand. With two games left in the season, the Riders' record was 2-14, back-up Willie Gillus was injured, stop-gap Tony Kimbrough had proven hopeless, and a defensive back had been taking snaps from centre. Polack went searching for hope to salvage "Rider Rage" and it came in the form of Ken Hobart. As he had done at Idaho and in Hamilton, Hobart stepped up to beat Winnipeg in back-to-back games, Ottawa's first consecutive wins in half a decade and doubling Ottawa's win total.

The next season, every time Damon Allen faltered, the "Ho-bart" chants rained down from Lansdowne Park's south side upper deck where Byron Smith, "President of the Southsiders for Life", whipped up the ham 'n eggers into an anti-Allen frenzy. Frustrated watching the hapless Allen, Hobart would stir the crowd by donning his helmet and warming up on the sidelines. Goldman, who had never wanted Hobart back for the 1990 season, made the worst of many bad decisions when he released the fan favourite. For the 1991 season, Ken Hobart was back home in Idaho, Allen threw 31 picks, and Goldman was canned after four games, but the southsiders were relentless with their chants of "Ho-bart". To this day fans torment Allen with these heckles.

Despite only starting for one year and being active for less than five, Hobart concluded his CFL career as the leader among quarterbacks in rushing.

Today Ken Hobart lives in Lewiston, Idaho, with is wife and three children where he sells billboard advertising and real estate. He remains active in football as the colour commentator for University of Idaho Vandals' football and supervising the development of his son Zack, a quarterback himself.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Imagining the Freedom

I came up three numbers short for Wednesday's Lotto 649 $40 million jackpot. Had I won, after making the appropriate disbursements to friends and family, I would have picked up the following:

  1. Chevrolet Silverado
  2. Simmons Sea Skiff
  3. A farm in the Madawaska Highlands
  4. The Airstream trailer for sale at Highway 7 & Ferguson Falls Rd.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rant: Business Words

I've recently discovered a hideous term: buy-off. This awkward combination of "buy-in" and "sign-off" is used in the following manner, "we'll need buy-off from three people before we can send the document".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Six Blind Mice

Am I the only one who thinks that a table of six professional poker players, all wearing wrap-around sunglasses, looks like gaming night at the Perkins School for the Blind?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute (II)

Following his success at Idaho, Ken Hobart rode the bench in 1984 for the USFL's Denver Gold, throwing for a touchdown and 576 yards, and rushing for another 160 yards and a touchdown. In the NFL supplemental draft that year, Hobart was drafted 10th overall by the New York Jets, ahead of future NFL stars Ricky Sanders, Gary Clark, and Mel Gray.

Although he later regretted the decision, Hobart never took a snap in the NFL, landing in Hamilton for the 1985 CFL season where he lit up the league as a rookie. Rushing for an unprecedented 928 yards, he won the Jeff Russell Memorial Trophy for the most outstanding player in the eastern division. To this day, Hobart shares the record for most touchdown passes in a playoff game, having thrown five on November 17, 1985 in a win over Montreal in the eastern final. In a championship loss to the BC Lions, Hobart never quit, scrambling for his life and throwing three touchdowns.

Hobart was replaced by Mike Kerrigan the next season, but took home a Grey Cup ring as a member of that championship team, playing a couple of series late in the game. Eventually Hobart was cut loose by the Ti-Cats and bounced around, stopping in Regina long enough for a cup of coffee before returning to Idaho for what he thought was the quiet life of a retired CFLer in the American west.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Everything I Love: The Green Valley Restaurant

One of the highlights of visiting my grandparents in Ottawa as a child was dinner at the the Green Valley on Prince of Wales Drive. Before it was destroyed by fire on New Year's Eve a few years ago, the Green Valley served the best continental menu on... well, the continent, for almost seventy years. For an eight year-old, it was the best of everything - the quiet evening drive through the Experimental Farm, past the barns where my grandfather and I had visited the animals earlier in the day, exploring the gift store's toy section while we waited for our table, a Shirley Temple cocktail with a plastic monkey hanging from the rim, the monster cheeseburger and thick-cut fires, and - of course - the Mickey Mouse ice cream sundae with green maraschino cherry eyes staring up at you as you dug in.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ken Hobart Tribute (I)

To celebrate the opening of Canadian Football League training camps this week, the Parking Lot is pleased to pay tribute to a long-forgotten, but half-decent quarterback, Ken Hobart.

Before Damon Allen was professional football’s all-time leading passer, he was a hapless goat who threw enough interceptions to make him a pariah among Ottawa Rough Rider fans in his first season with the team in 1989. Later that season, from the potato patches of Idaho, Ken Hobart emerged as the saviour for the ham 'n eggers sitting in the south side stands at Lansdowne Park by winning two games, thus doubling Ottawa's wins for a respectable 4-14 season. Long after Hobart had returned to the simple life in Lewiston, Idaho, Southsiders would dog Allen with extended moans of "Ho-bart, Ho-bart". The Southsiders, originality not their strong suit, continued hurl this epithet at Allen's successors who had no idea what they were referring to.

Although it's his off-the-tractor performance in 1989 that many of us remember, Ken Hobart was more than just a flash-in-the-pan back-up. He was a natural athlete and leader who came through for his teams, making do with the situations given to him. As a walk-on at the University of Idaho, Hobart established himself as a prolific running quarterback in coach Jerry Davitch's option-play offense. When Davitch was replaced by Dennis Erickson and his spread passing offense, many wondered whether Hobart, who had barely thrown the ball under Davitch, could keep his starting role. Quickly adapting to the new Vandals' offense, Hobart emerged as a talented passer, being named All-American in 1983 en route to becoming only the second player in NCAA history to pass for 10,000 yards, setting 12 Division I-AA records, and crushing rival Boise State 45-24. Today, the "Kamiah Kid" is ranked the 45th greatest athlete from Idaho by Sports Illustrated.

Click here for Ken Hobart Tribute (II), the Grey Cup years.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Blogrolling: Fishing Jones

Fishing Jones is one of the web's premier fishing blogs, doubling as therapy for Pete McDonald, a self-confessed fishing addict. As a technical editor for Boating Magazine, Pete's extensive travels give him many fishing adventures to share, be them in Bimini, Alabama, or Michigan. While he works in New York where he chases bluefish and albacore tuna off Long Island, Pete's home waters are in Florida and his most passionate posts are ones where he recounts trips to his secret peacock bass locations. One of the dangers in reading Fishing Jones is that Pete will periodically post videos that'll make you wish you were fishing for blue marlin instead of sitting in that meeting that starts in ten minutes.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Everything I Love: River Fishing

The Iv'y Rod & Gun Club assembled yesterday on the banks of the mighty Grand River at Caledonia, a town known as much for its indian wars as for its warm-water fishery. We all played our part yesterday - me stomping around mid-stream to spook the fish, RG catching every tree in Haldimand County on his back casts, Uncle Alec sleeping in the dirt like a true trout bum, and Pastor T actually catching fish. Though our quarry was catfish and we kept catching (and releasing) out-of-season smallmouth bass, the fact that my wild false casting didn't put a fly in my ear made this adventure as an unqualified success.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Toronto's Garbage

The City of Toronto has decided that it will compete directly with Canadian Tire and Home Hardware by selling garbage cans to reduce household refuse. Well, it's not really competing since residents will be compelled to buy one of the City's receptacles. One's garbage collection fee will be the price of the container, a function of its size. While I'm a fan of user fees in general, am I the only one who thinks that a $300+ jumbo container will last no more than two garbage days before it's nicked?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Everything I Love: Sour Grapes

Tonight on Buffalo's WGR 550, Chris "Bulldog" Parker asked whether Buffalo Sabres fans can, in good conscience, root for the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup finals. Bulldog himself hopes that the Senators are annihilated because, although he loves Canada because he loves hockey, he's too bitter about the Sabres' defeat in the semi-final. Seems counter-intuitive to me, since what does that say about Buffalo if the Sens are swept by Anaheim?

The humiliation for Bytown, however, was when the Team 1200's Lee "The Franchise" Versage called in from Ottawa to plead for Bulldog and the Buffalo fans to cheer for the Sens because the two cities have so much in common. No they don't, Lee, and to steal a line from a very good friend of mine, your call embarrassed me and it embarrassed yourself.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rant: The Political Panel

Partisan political punditry used to represent the worst in televised politics. Discussions between politicians or their advisors are pointless since they seldom answer questions or address one another's arguments, preferring to parrot the party line. A rare exception was a panel on CBC radio's Morningside on which Stephen Lewis, Dalton Camp, and Eric Kierans had candid discussions about Canadian politics in the 1990s. My guess is that they never received their parties' talking points because party hacks thought they were all dead.

These panels used to be the intellectual basement for televised politics, until pseudo-celebrities started debating serious issues on this gong show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Canadian City Pronunciation: Toronto

Last week I reviewed the correct pronunciation of Ottawa. Today we look at Toronto, a city name butchered by Canadians and foreigners alike. "Toronto" is pronounced "Tronno", like the 1982 Bruce Boxleitner flick with a "no" on the end. When said with a clipped southern Ontario accent, it comes out sounding like "Chronno", with a "ch" sound as in "chips". While many wince at the "To-RANT-o" commonly heard in places like Windsor, the real fingers-on-the-chalkboard version is the over-enunciated "Toe-RON-Toe" employed by the city's mayor, David Miller, who is not actually from the city and should generally be ignored.
Photo credit: JamSki

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review: Spider-Man 3

Movie adaptations of comic books are good when there are lots of fights with ghoulish villains. In Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man fights with decidedly un-ghoulish villains played by Forman from That '70s Show and Lowell from Wings. That's when there is any fighting at all. Most of the movie has the goofy-grinned Peter Parker gushing about his feelings for Mary Jane Watson and having heart-to-hearts with Aunt May. It reminded me of last year's Superman snooze-fest. On a go/no-go scale, I give the Tobey Maguire-Topher Grace Battle Royal a "no-go".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rant: Air Travel

A few observations about the safest most irritating way to travel:

  • If you need to use the on-board washroom before take-off, you need to drink less.
  • Don't blame insufficient leg room on being too tall... blame it on being too cheap to buy business class.
  • Air France is just like Air Canada, except that the flight attendants are polite.
  • People used to wear their best suits to travel. On today's trans-Atlantic slumber party, they now wear their best track suits.
Photo credit: ricklibrarian

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Luxembourg Gardens

For election Sunday in Paris we bought baguettes and pastries and picnicked at Luxembourg Gardens, the expansive park that flanks Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate. In cities where most residents are apartment dwellers, parks are the hub of daytime activity. In Toronto, where most live in houses, they're primarily for dogs.

The fountain was full of model sailboats that children pushed into the breeze and while their parents fed french bread to pigeons. Back in the shade, fastblitz chess matches drew the interest of tourists who were mesmerized by the flurry of hands and moves as time ran down on the three-minute timers. My favourite activity were the games of p├ętanque, a bocce-like game, where metal balls are thrown as close as possible to a marker. Some players are skilled take-out specialists, making seemingly-impossible shots to dispose of another team's ball with a deafening clank. I had previously thought this game to exist only on the Cosby show.

Photo credit: Hello Hillary

Canadian City Pronunciation: Ottawa

I've had all that I can take of those geniuses on Buffalo's WGR 550 butchering the name of my hometown. "Ottawa" is not pronounced "Attawa", as though you're slapping your 300-lb buddy on the back, saying "attaboy" for scarfing down his 10,000th chicken wing at the Anchor Bar. It's "Ot-uh-wuh" and the first syllable is pronounced as though you're saying "awe". The end of the word, however, is not pronounced "awe", it's more like "wha", as in "wha the... how did the Sabres get swept?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jack Granatstein on the Division of Powers

The success of Hee Haw's guest blogging last week has convinced me that this space is enhanced with voices other than my own. The Webber contributed this to the Parking Lot:

I went to see military historian Jack Granatstein last Thursday night at the Toronto Public Library, for a lecture on his new book, Who's War Is It? How Canada Can Survive in the Post - 9-11 World. It was a really good lay-of-the-land speech about the state of Canada's military and how Canada thinks too much in terms of values when it comes to international affairs and not enough about interests.

It appeared to be a good night out for the residents of the nearby retirement home, but predictably a few trouble makers showed up to vent their frustrations about the US, George Bush, and the environment. Professor Granatstein, no doubt used to this after teaching at York for 30 years, took them all on with vigor. He had many good lines, but there's one that I must share...

Someone claimed that Tony Blair was quitting because he is so unpopular over the Iraq War, citing Labour's losses in the recent municipal votes, to which Professor Jack laid the smack down with, "Did you vote for David Miller because you hate Stephen Harper? People don't vote in municipal elections on national issues. They vote for garbage pick-up."

Review: Music & Lyrics

The Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, Music and Lyrics, was the in-flight movie en route to France, so I was a captive audience. Grant plays a has-been pop star with one shot to get off the Holiday Inn '80s Night circuit by writing a song for a teen diva. His disturbed plant-waterer Barrymore is recruited as his lyricist and, over late night writing sessions, romance blossoms, and then withers when they disagree over changes requested by the pop princess. This follows the romantic comedy template: courtship, hook-up, break-up, reunion, and falls apart at the break-up over a trivial conflict (especially since we all know that Hugh Grant is capable of much worse). There are a few chuckles at the beginning of the film thanks to Hugh Grant's skill with self deprecation, but otherwise, on a go/no-go scale Music and Lyrics is a tedious "no-go".

Monday, May 14, 2007

Do you have something simple, like soup?

Traveling is a great opportunity to sample new restaurants and cuisines. Not everyone feels this way. Witness this exchange with a fellow tourist from Boston in the middle of a Paris street where we were browsing menus:

Boston: Do you speak English?

David: Yes.

Boston: Oh, thank God - have you eaten anywhere around here? Nobody will tell me what the things on the menu are. I'm afraid they'll serve me creepy crawly things.

Clearly, this woman had recently seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and mistook Paris for Pankot Palace, and Camembert for Snake Surprise.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

A great quotation from a cynical accounting professor who's teaching us an exam preparation course:

"The Toronto Maple Leafs aren't a hockey team, they're an entertainment act. Nobody expects them to win hockey games. As long as they put on a show, people will pay lots of money for tickets."
Like the opera.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

AZERTY Keyboard

Email was frustrating in France thanks to the bizarre AZERTY keyboard used in that country. Several letters are reversed, punctuation marks are impossible to find, and the shift key must be pressed to type numbers. Using it is what I imagine post-stroke recovery to be like.

Photo credit: Cosentino

Friday, May 11, 2007

My Heart's (Bleeding) in the Highlands

For those socialists who are distraught or rioting over last weekend's defeat in France, I say fear not. Scotland is more than willing to bear the distinction of becoming northern Europe's economic basket case.

Photo credit: reabhecc

Everything I Love: French Politics

On our first night in Paris we dined on French sausages at Montmantre and then climbed to le Tire Bouchon Piano Bar for beer and wine. On our descent, the blue light of the Royal-Sarkozy presidential debate flickered from the windows of every restaurant, bar, and corner store, with as many as twenty customers crammed around thirteen-inch sets.

I caught the last half-hour of the marathon debate and it reminded me of how much more I enjoy Quebec leaders debates in Canada to either the federal or Ontario versions. French politicians, animated and charismatic, seem to directly engage one another and speak from the heart rather than their notes. Over 20 million people tuned into the debate and, from what I could make out, they were treated to a meaningful discourse.

Election fever exceeded any I've seen in North America. Everywhere we went, people were arguing over the Sarko-Sego question. Election coverage pre-empted prime time television programming as the candidates swung across the country for the last three days of rallies. On Saturday, when campaigning was to have stopped, flag-waving young socialists paraded past a cafe where we were eating and got into it with a young couple drinking espressos.

In a grocery store on election day, we were accosted by a man asking whether we'd voted. When he learned that we were Canadian, he pumped his fists and declared triumphantly that it was "a great day for France. For twenty-five years we've had some sort of socialism, and now we will have twenty-five years of business!".

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Perpendicular Parking in Paris

The smartest thing about a SMART car.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thank You, Hee Haw

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my cousin George for his able stewardship over the past week. Thanks to Hee Haw, the word "hockey" actually appeared in a non-derisive post and I now know that I'm not half the gentleman I thought I was. Thank you, George, for bringing your sharp wit and subtle sophistication to some of the Parking Lot's most entertaining posts yet. I hope you'll do it again soon.

Before I run off to clear my ears from one of those signature Air France landings, I'd like to respond to a comment left last week by the Webber, who wrote "I am pretty sure David would never have mentioned Voltaire or extinction in his posts!". Well, just for you, Sean, I snapped this picture at Voltaire's tomb. He's definitely extinct.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Writer Comes Back From Vacation

I am handing the reigns back over to David’s more capable hands. It has been an honour writing on the Parking Lot this past week and I can honestly say that I have a new respect for bloggers. Both writer and editor combined, the blogger has to determine whether a piece is in fact interesting before even sitting down to write it. I’d like to thank Rubber Duck, who I deferred to when I didn’t trust my own editorial instincts. I once read a short story called “The Writer takes a Vacation”. The point of the story was that the writer never takes a vacation. There’s always another chapter, another article, another post to think about. Let’s hope Dave had a few moments of real vacation in Paris. It will probably be quite evident after his first few posts that he didn’t.

How to be a Gentleman

For my birthday, I received a book published by Brooks Brothers called “How to be a Gentleman.” I thought I would share my favourite instructions.

"A gentleman knows how to make a grilled cheese at 2am and an omelet at 7am."

"If a gentleman attends a great many bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, he buys his own yarmulke."

"Unless he is a Texas Ranger or a cattle rancher, a gentleman does not wear cowboy boots with a suit."

"When a gentleman feels the urge to colour his moustache, he shaves his moustache off."

"When a gentleman outgrows his clothes, he gives them away to charity. He does not pretend that someday he will lose weight. When, and if he does lose weight, he certainly will not want to celebrate by wearing out of date clothes."

"A gentleman has never been seated beside a boring person at dinner."

"A gentleman may not be able to dance a samba, but he should be capable of a fox-trot, which is almost like not dancing at all."

"A gentleman reads a newspaper, preferably the New York Times, at least three times a week."

"A gentleman always carries a handkerchief. Because it is always clean, he readily lends it to others."

"When a gentleman realizes that his fly is open, he zips up-on the spot, if convenient."

"When a gentleman quotes Shakespeare, he does not give the name of the author. If the quotation is not quite accurate, all the better yet."

Monday, May 07, 2007

A digression on an expression

The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” has an unlikely origin. It is said to have first been used in reference to American novelist Edith Wharton’s great-aunts Mary and Rebecca Jones, who horrified the rest of their austere society by building a mansion in uptown Manhattan. So next time you use that expression in reference to your neighbour’s new patio furniture, think of what those poor New Yorkers were up against.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

We're All Ottawa Senators Fans Now

At the beginning of the playoffs I went for a run in downtown Toronto wearing my Ottawa Senators jersey. I was honked at, yelled at, and given the finger. One car even followed me a half block so the angry driver could ensure that I caught all his expletives. Yet when I went for a walk in my Sens jersey yesterday the response was considerably different. In fact, the only responses I elicited were friendly ones. The comparison isn't entirely fair. Running in a Senators jersey is a more antagonistic statement than walking. A hockey sweater isn't your everyday running attire and I had clearly gone out of my way to lord it over disappointed Leafs fans. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Torontonians are reconciling themselves to the fact that the hard-working Senators, Canada's remaining hope for the Cup, are a very likeable team.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dispatch from Paris: Ou etes vous, Michelle?

Between the funky keyboard and Hee Haw's momentum I wasn't going to blog until I came home, but by then I fear a great tragedy will have taken place. France, it seems, is on the eve of electing a president with a belief in the free market. Where is Michael Moore to save the French from themselves, and interfere with the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rant: The New Globe and Mail

I’ve never been one to embrace change but I’m not in the minority when I say that the re-designed Globe and Mail is a failure. The Globe is Canada’s most serious newspaper. You used to be able to tell that from five feet away. It looked substantial and assured of itself. It had a visual quality that insisted it be read. But the new design has squandered all that. The once airy masthead is crowded, the layout has been cluttered with lines, and the new sans serif font makes the paper look perfectly at home beside the tabloids. A dignified old lady has become a petulant little child. The only redeeming or at least understandable change is the paper’s smaller size. All the big dailies are going this way and it’s easier to handle on buses and subways. Still, one of the best things about the weekend was picking up that goliath Saturday edition, bursting with newness, and putting it under your arm.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

He went to Paris...

Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.

Sniffing and Swirling in Niagara

The town of Jordan is little more than a quaint touristy strip. The expression “blink and you’ll miss it” would apply to a pedestrian here. Sara and I arrived Saturday morning to celebrate our second anniversary in mixed form. I, a little hung over. Sara, a little over-zealous. I knew this when Sara, normally a flawless driver, backed her SUV into the only other car in the parking lot. Luckily there was no damage and, since people don’t actually exist in Jordan, no one saw it. Shortly after checking into our hotel we met our wine tour guide, Dan, a 70 year-old who doesn’t look a day over 45. Our wine tour included tastings at three wineries: Jackson Triggs, Strewn, and Caroline Cellars. After picking up the seven girls who would join us on our tour, we were off.

Jackson Triggs is the biggest and most technologically advanced winery in Niagara. We learned that French oak casks produce better wine than American oak, ice wine grapes are picked at -8, and hot, dry summers produce better vintages because water dilutes the grapes. We then tasted four wines from their 2004 vintage. I was surprised that they didn’t switch the glasses after each tasting. ‘But I can’t tell if I’m tasting the butter in this chardonnay or the oak from that Riesling.’ Next stop was the much smaller Strewn Winery. I didn’t enjoy the wine as much here but the salmon lunch was quite good. We were also given a brief tutorial on food and wine pairings. Our third and final stop was at Caroline Cellars. Caroline Cellars is a family-run winery with no presence in the LCBO. That’s a shame because the wine here was easily the best of the day. Or was it all the attention? As soon as I finished a glass, a fresh one with a new wine was placed before me.

On the way back, Dan gave us a tour of Old Niagara. This historic, elegant little town deserves more than a quick pass through. But our hotel, Inn on the Twenty, was enough reason to stay in Jordan. We had an excellent dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, well-known in the region.

All in all, it was a fun and informative trip. And I came up with a handy expression: “What’s bad for the farmers is good for the vintners.” Though if I were to actually use it, I’d probably need to figure out which wine goes best with a knuckle sandwich.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dropping the Ball

It’s with a great deal of pride and no small amount of trepidation that I temporarily take over the reigns here at Out in the Parking Lot. Maintaining the quality of Dave’s writing and the interest of his readers will not be an easy task. I just hope I don’t drop the ball. And so for my first post I’ve explored a history of ball-droppers. Here are the five biggest ball-droppers of all time.

5. Dallas Cowboys QB, Tony Romo.

With 1:19 left in last year’s NFC wild card, Romo fumbled a routine snap and botched what probably would have been a game-winning field goal.

4. Mark Kelley.

Mark Kelley drops the ball every time he appears on the National’s Road Stories. I have better things to do at night than watch Mark Kelley hitch-hike across Canada or walk the Bruce Trail.

3. The American Electoral College.

2. The last Dodo Birds.

The last Dodo birds dropped the ball when they went extinct. When other animals were busy adapting, the Dodo Birds were just hanging out. You know when you go extinct you have really let the team down.

1. Louis XVI.

He bankrupted France, financing America’s fight for liberty-a counter-intuitive move if there ever was one. He married the haughty Marie Antoinette. He invited such beacons of liberty as Ben Franklin and Voltaire to his court. Louis dropped the ball when he dropped his head, ending centuries of Absolute Power and aristocratic privilege. The Sun King would have been rolling in his grave.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Guest Blogger: Hee Haw

While I'm in Paris this week, my cousin Hee Haw (George) has generously agreed to be a guest blogger. George is an advertising man, responsible for several celebrated campaigns. He acquired the moniker Hee Haw one summer when he started receiving mail addressed to "Hee Haw" and "Banjo". This puzzled the farmer, who collects our mail at the cottage, to no end. I try not to ask...

Everything I Love: Our Theme Song

The song from which this blog takes its name is about the whisky drinking, fist fighting, and necking that takes place on a normal night outside any ramshackle honky tonk. In this description of west Texas nightlife, the real show is out in the parking lot. As the songwriter Guy Clark has said, "it's the antithesis of the Boot Scootin' Boogie". Clark and guitarist Verlon Thompson performed our anthem a couple of weeks ago at the Homer, New York show and I recorded a portion of it for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Review: The Falls

Last week's Hot Docs Festival paid tribute to Canadian documentary film maker Kevin McMahon by screening several of his films including 1991's The Falls, a disparaging examination of his home town of Niagara Falls. The story: corporations poison the Niagara River and the good (if simple) working people pay the price in birth defects and cancer, while fat, dumb, and happy tourists take snapshots of a waterfall manipulated for show by Ontario Hydro. I knew we were in trouble the moment McMahon introduced the film and thanked sponsor Autoshare "because cars are bad", and when the Festival's Executive Director described it as "poetic and lyrical". On a go/no-go scale, I give any movie that's "poetic and lyrical" a "no-go".

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Road Songs: I Got A Name

Through the hill country of the Madawaska Highlands, Highway 41 is squeezed by the pine forests of the Canadian shield. Leaving Upper Mazinaw Lake behind, the chorus from Jim Croce's posthumous classic, "I Got A Name" seems appropriate. Jerry Reed's version is one of my favourites, but the original is unrivaled. Here are some of the lyrics:

Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I've got a name, I've got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I've got a name, I've got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I'm living the dream that he kept hid
Moving me down the highway
Rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life wont pass me by

Like the north wind whistling down the sky
I've got a song, I've got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the babies cry
I've got a song, I've got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud
Moving me down the highway
Rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life wont pass me by

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Virgin Waters

Scientists this week announced the discovery of a planet that has the climate of the Carolinas and may be completely covered with water. Imagine the size of the bass in this place.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Everything I Love: MBA Graduation

In a few hours I'll be graduating, suggesting that they probably lost my paper on the North American auto industry. I decided to pursue this MBA during a miserable day at the bargaining table where I was fighting a trade union over the placement of a comma. I became determined to find a job as an accountant. Next month I start such a job with one of the world's great companies.

It has been a wonderful two years and I'll ask your indulgence of a little narcissism while I record a few of my favourite reflections of my time here.

  • Early on, billionaire and Hamilton Ticats owner Bob Young shook our confidence when he recalled that he was denied admission to this business school
  • I shook hands with Bill Clinton (and found some Purelle)
  • I spent a month in China teaching business strategy at Tsinghua University in Beijing
  • My friends and I won a case competition in a blizzard
  • By January of first year, I figured out cycle time
  • TD Bank CEO Ed Clark told us that networking is for chumps
  • I spent a summer as a consultant with a great firm and mastered PowerPoint
  • I was taught by three great professors
  • I've made some lifelong friends
  • My friends and I helped an international NGO with how not to raise money
  • Of all our field trips, the freezer factory visit was the best
Tonight I get to go home for good. Let the fishing begin.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Back To School: Then and Now

I returned to school for my MBA 10 years after I started my undergrad. Things had changed a little.

Then: For most of us, our first email accounts were through the university. We'd line up 15-deep behind six computers at the library to check our email on a complicated DOS-based email system. The line moved quickly because we never had any email.
Now: I have wireless Internet everywhere on campus which means that, with instant messaging, universal email access, and blogging, I never get anything done.

Then: The only reason we had to leave the classroom was a well-planned bathroom visit to break up the monotony of the IS-LM macroeconomic framework.
Now: The ubiquitous cell phones routinely interrupts class, apparently a land that the vibrate function forgot. It's equally irritating in the library where where students take calls and proceed to converse as though they're talking through a tin can.

Then: A Diet Coke and a Twix bar offered a convenient ten-minute break.
Now: A study break starts with a cup of coffee and ends two hours later at the end of a Wikipedia search loop.

Then: Girls wore overalls and fleece... like on a camping trip.
Now: Lululemon... thank you, Chip Wilson.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doesn't He Pitch for the Astros?

Yesterday, on Buffalo's WGR 550, morning show hosts Jeremy White & Howard Simon took a call from a Sabres fan.

Caller: Jaromir Jagr is like Samsonite from the Bible. Since he cut his hair he's had no power in the playoffs.

White: First of all, it's Sampson. Samsonite is a brand of luggage. Second of all, Sampson wasn't in the Bible, he was in a movie with Delilah in the 1950s. He's a Jewish hero. What would he be doing in the Bible?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Choosing an MBA Program (2)

After deciding what you want from the MBA, consider the business school's pedagogy, of which there are two approaches. Everyone is familiar with the lecture method where you (plan to) do the assigned readings, attend the lecture, and practice the skills. The case study method tries to present real life situations for students to analyze and discuss in class. Theoretically, the students' discussion is the focus of the class and the professor's role is that of facilitator.

Lectures require the discipline to attend class and keep up with the readings, and the stress comes at exam time. Cases build the discipline into the curriculum. Class participation comprises between 30 to 50 percent of a course's grade, making inadequate preparation fatal. The workload can be overwhelming - preparing three cases per night tends to equal nine to ten hours of homework; the stress is daily with the chance of being called on to explain your quantitative analysis while 59 classmates watch you sweat. The pay-off is during exams when you might as well go to the movies because there is no value - and I cannot overemphasize this point - in studying for a case exam.

Neither method is necessarily superior and each should probably be employed as necessary depending on the subject being taught. I'd look for programs that blend the two approaches because either in its extreme becomes tiresome. This is particularly true for cases because, Harvard aside, it's hard find professors who can teach them properly.

With the major considerations out of the way, there are a host of additional factors including program length, placement strength, alumni network, physical facilities, and location. Take at least a year to apply and kick the tires on at least four programs.

Review: Manufacturing Dissent

In 2003, intrigued by his controversial Oscar speech, documentary filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine turned the camera lens on Michael Moore. What was to be a biography by a pair of Moore fans, in time became Manufacturing Dissent, a critical look at Michigan’s most controversial son.

Unlike most of Moore’s critics, Melnyk and Caine are not conservatives, a point they emphasized at the film’s Canadian premiere this weekend at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. They agree with Moore’s politics and enjoy his movies (Canadian Bacon aside). Shedding their initially favourable view, the film can be enjoyed from either one of two perspectives – that of the documentarian, dismayed with a propagandist masquerading as one of their own; and that of the citizen aghast that one of their own could be such a complete asshole.

Labeling Michael Moore a propagandist wouldn’t cause him to lose any sleep, but to the documentary filmmaker, his casual approach to the truth is a capital crime. Manufacturing Dissent puts the lie to Moore’s winded Oscar acceptance speech about “fictitious times”. In Roger & Me, a film about GM President Roger Smith’s refusal to speak with him about the plight of the American autoworker, Moore omitted out the fairly salient fact that Smith met with him twice during filming including a lengthy interview, the transcript of which was published in a national magazine. Most galling is Moore’s hypocrisy. Having made a fortune pillorying business people and performers for refusing to talk to his camera, Melnyk and Caine chase him with interview requests for years and are repeatedly stonewalled by Moore and his entourage.

Aside from employing Moore’s own questionable editing style (turnabout is fair play, I guess), one fair criticism leveled against the directors by a couple of true believers in Sunday’s audience its possibly excessive focus on his personality. Moore is a boor. His mistreatment of those close to him – friends, colleagues, political allies – is appalling. Roger & Me could just have easily been called Me, because that’s what it’s always been for Michael Moore – shameless self-promotion and profiteering through the misery of the down-and-out.

For me, the film put Moore in perspective – the left’s version of Ann Coulter: shrill, intellectually lazy, and dishonest. I was anxious to gauge the reaction of the progressive Toronto Annex art house crowd to a film casting him in an unfavourable light. More than all the nicks the film inflicts, it’s in the amused and approving reaction of that audience, the most loyal of Moore’s constituencies, that would cut Moore, a thin-skinned narcissist, the deepest. With that kind of endorsement, on a go/no-go scale, I give Manufacturing Dissent a “go”.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Choosing an MBA Program (1)

Two weeks ago, Skeelo asked whether I'd recommend the Big Picture School's MBA and I left a brief comment in response. Choosing an MBA program starts with what one plans (or hopes) to do afterwards and where that might be.

Almost every incoming MBA candidate (here anyway) wants to be an investment banker or a management consultant. 5% might actually know what either profession involves, but hope is held out until the Christmas Dean's list dashes the hopes of two-thirds, at which point selling soap flakes looks pretty good. For the rest, the appeal is quashed by a summer spent aligning boxes on PowerPoint slides. All kidding aside, if there's any chance that you want to be an investment banker or a management consultant, you should go to either the Big Picture School or the University of Toronto since those are pretty much the only places where these employers recruit.

If you just want to become a general manager with an interesting company or get ahead in your present line of work, it really doesn't matter where you go. I don't see any advantage in going to Big Picture or U of T, where you'll get stressed out by grades and pay a (now slight) tuition premium. You learn the very same things at Laurier and McGill that you do at the other schools, but you pay less, are more likely to graduate at the top of your class, and will have a more relaxing time.

Things change if you plan to work in the U.S. when you're finished. While it's not impossible to be recruited by an American firm out of a Canadian school, it requires plenty of initiative and becomes something of a lottery. You really have to go to an American school to be certain. If you plan to work in Canada right away, and you'd just like to have Wharton on your resume, you're paying a big premium for which you won't be rewarded. To recoup your investment, you really need to work there for several years because that's where all the money is.

Part 2 - Teaching Methods.

Guy Clark Plays Homer, New York

Last weekend, my cousin - the Rubber Duck - and I travelled to Homer, New York, for some pickin' and grinnin' with song writing legend Guy Clark and guitarist Verlon Thompson. We were a tad surprised that this giant of country music was appearing in tiny Homer, but we were grateful for a road trip that took us over the Appalachian Upland, through the Finger Lakes - what I believe to be the most beautiful place in the northeast.

Several years ago, Homer's Baptist congregation vacated its red brick church for a concrete cathedral out by the Interstate. A community group bought the church and established the Centre for the Arts. The result is the most intimate and engaging concert hall that I have ever visited. The pulpit has been removed and a small stage is enveloped on three sides by barely enough seating on the floor and balcony for 400 visitors. The stained glass windows and hardwood pews set a particularly stark atmosphere for music laced with drinking and cheating themes.

Guy Clark has been penning songs in Nashville and Austin for over thirty years and he treated us to his very best. When the audio equipment failed, sounding "like rice crispies up here", he and Thompson took to the front of the stage and performed an unplugged version of "Tornado Time in Texas", while the sweating music director frantically sorted through cables. He cruised through two forty-five minute sessions, hitting all the songs the Duck and I had come for including "Magdalene", "L.A. Freeway", "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train", and of course, "Out in the Parking Lot". The highlight of the evening was the duet performed Clark and Thompson on "Boats to Build", the song they co-wrote and which Jimmy Buffet and Alan Jackson have covered.

The trip was capped off when we ran into Guy in the Hampton Inn lobby later that night and thanked him for the show before he limped off with a guitar in one hand and a sack of McDonald's hamburgers in the other.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Shoes In The Parking Lot

The CFO and I were doing a little grocery shopping at Wal-Mart this afternoon and saw no fewer than four pairs of shoes between the car and the store. How do you lose a pair of shoes in the Wal-Mart parking lot?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rant: Cart Before the Horse & New Verbs

An email from the Big Picture School today congratulates the class on "transitioning from students to up-and-coming executives". A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, had the program spent more time teaching me how to do be an analyst and less time on how to be an "executive", I'd be more confident about starting work next month. Second, when did "transition" become a verb?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blackberrys Down

NBC is reporting that all Blackberry devices in the western hemisphere are neither receiving nor transmitting data. Imagine how productive everyone will be this morning, actually doing work instead of discussing it over email.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Stephane Dion: Economic Nationalist Nutter

Liberal leader Stephane Dion is accusing the Conservative government of setting up Canadian corporations for foreign takeover. Because economic nationalism and foreign ownership restrictions are the hallmarks of good economic policy. It is becoming increasingly clear that this man is a dangerous loon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Road Songs: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Winding up Lake Superior's north shore from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa, Highway 17 offers a coastline panorama so breathtaking that it puts British Columbia's fog-laden shore to shame. Beyond Batchawana, out past the mouth of Whitefish Bay, is where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in a wicked storm in November 1975. It's a good time to throw Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald into the CD player.

Listen here or read some of the lyrics:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya.
At Seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Photo credit: whitebirch

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Don Imus Gets Canned

Over the last several years, Don Imus got comfortable (and apparently turned 867 years old - look at that photo!). His political positions were reasonable, his guests were moderate partisans (Chris Dodd, John McCain) and mainstream media bores (Tim Russert, Evan Thomas), he made fun of buffoons (Jerry Falwell, Hulk Hogan), and he looked after kids with cancer. It's with no small degree of irony then that the first shocking thing in five years uttered by this "shock jock" got him fired.

The network execs win no honour in this thing. They didn't fire him - they waited for Oprah to do it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Everything I Love: The End of School

I wrote my last exam last night and I'll hand in a take-home today at noon. This draws to a conclusion the sixteen months of coursework required by the Big Picture School for its MBA. It also marks the completion of twenty-two years of formal education. That's it. Stick a fork in me - I'm done.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rant: Job Postings

Irrespective of its scale or industry, every organization that recruits here at the Big Picture School brags of its "entrepreneurial" culture and its interest in "entrepreneurs". Just once, I'd like to see one of these firms tell the truth:

This is an unresponsive bureaucracy that wants its employees to come to work and do as they're told. Creativity and initiative will only bring you trouble. Experience as a sycophant is an asset.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Raclettes: Something Worthwhile from the French

Last week, Pastor T treated our corporate financial reporting study group (a rowdier group than the name would suggest) to a feast of "raclettes". This meal essentially amounts to melted cheeses poured over buttery semi-mashed potatoes, and topped with cold cuts, pickles, and olives. It's like a gourmet poutine - who knew the French had this kind of contribution to make?

Photo credit: Glynnish

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Road Songs: Battle of New Orleans

Driving through Lanark County where the Mississippi River slithers its way towards Pakenham, Ontario, Johnny Horton's classic The Battle of New Orleans is brought to mind. This story of the Battle of Chalmette Plantation describes how Andrew Jackson stopped the British, led by General Pakenham, in their tracks and sent them scurrying towards the Gulf of Mexico during a little extra-curricular activity in the wake of the War of 1812.

Listen to the song here or enjoy some of the lyrics:

Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

We fired our cannon 'til the barrel melted down.
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannon balls, and powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind.

Photo credit: dbking

Thursday, April 05, 2007

North American Auto: Reason for Optimism (3)

One hears repeatedly that the problem with General Motors, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler is their unimaginative product portfolios. This assessment tends to come from two camps: SUV-haters and car aficionados.

The first group loathes the fact that gas-guzzlers are made in this sensitive environmental age (it's five below and snowing here in London today) and hold up Asian cars as the ideal in fuel efficiency. They ignore that (a) there are plenty of fuel-efficient domestic cars, and (b) light trucks and SUVs are selling like hotcakes.

"Car guys" assert that domestic cars are boring. I don't get exactly how a Camry is more exciting than an Impala or how a Lexus is sexier than a Cadillac CTS, but these guys probably find Asian cars boring as well. They'd prefer to spend a fortune on European performance cars, putting them outside the target for domestics to begin with.

That said, some companies are better at design than others. Ford has been hit-and-miss lately and Japanese designers have long been criticized for their conservative models. On this competitive dimension, General Motors has an ace in the hole: Bob Lutz. The GM Vice Chairman is the king of product development, staking claim to the Ford Explorer, the Dodge Viper, the Plymouth Prowler, and BMW 2002. Coming out of the winter car shows, GM won praise for its enhanced styles and interior fittings, a sign that its $8.7 billion investment in product improvement is paying off.

Rant: Email Signatures

The next time somebody signs off an email with "cheers", sign off your reply with "bottoms up".

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Remembering Dave Stieb's No-Hitter

On September 2, 1990, I was hours away from starting grade nine and Dave Stieb threw the first and only no-hitter in Toronto Blue Jay history. It was Labour Day weekend and we were we were shuttering cottages and stacking deck furniture inside the house - the most disheartening tasks of summer. Hoisting shutters from truck to building, we listened to Tom and Jerry, tension building in their play-by-play as Stieb pitched through the middle innings. It was the middle of a three-day blow on the Ottawa River and at times the howling wind would drown out the call on a deep fly and we'd scurry to the radio for reassurance. When Stieb retired the Indians in the eighth on three fly balls, we ran to the log cabin to watch the ninth.

Youtube clip was here.

This clip gives me chills and you have to love the glimpses of Henke, Wells, Bell, and Rance Mulliniks in the congratulatory scrum.

Editor's note: Youtube has been forced to remove the clip due to copyright violation.

North American Auto: Reason for Optimism (2)

In almost any quality survey of either vehicles or production facilities, the North American auto manufacturers are on par with Toyota, the gold standard in productivity and quality. Unfortunately for these firms, consumer perceptions have yet to adjust. This is an ironic dilemma in which the Big Three find themselves. Once upon a time, these companies promoted products as reliable when in fact they were lemons - subscribing to the fallacy that, by creating perception, marketers can manufacture a reality. Today, although their quality matches competitors, it is almost impossible for those same marketers to change the perception that they still produce lemons.

Through its NUMMI and CAMI joint ventures with Toyota, GM has learned how to make cars using lean manufacturing and, copying the Toyota Production System, its Oshawa No. 1 and Lansing Grand River plants are rated above the Japanese transplants for both productivity and quality. It will take time, but eventually through word of mouth, news reports, and personal experience, consumer perceptions will adjust and the competitive advantage that the Japanese automakers presently enjoy on the reliability front will be eroded. For GM and Ford, though, this has to happen before their liquidity evaporates.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

North American Auto: Reason for Optimism (1)

I know nothing about cars. I've been known to check the windshield washer fluid while meaning to check the oil, and if you asked me what kind of car I drive, I'd tell you that it's a blue one. My understanding of the automotive industry is limited to reading the papers and cramming for job interviews.

While doing research for my paper last week, I expected to find General Motors to be a lumbering bureaucracy, dismissive of consumer taste and a laggard in quality, as it is often portrayed in the media. I was not shocked to find that portrayal to be a fiction. In business school, we're counseled not to fall back on "management is stupid" hypotheses, despite the fact that both the business media and business school professors routinely employ it in their critiques of GM and Ford. Management at these companies is a lot sharper than they're given credit for. GM's quality today matches that of Toyota, its ten brands are not the the unimaginative portfolio of duds that aficionados assert, and it was not so myopic as to invite its current burden of insurance. I'll comment on each of these three issues, as well as the challenges that confront Toyota as the soon-to-be number one automaker over the next couple of days.

Review: The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland, the Idi Amin biopic, takes place through the experience of a fictional Scottish doctor whose life becomes entwined with the murderous reign of the Ugandan strongman. The young physician, in Africa to pursue adventure and heal the poor, is conscripted by the Scot-o-phile president to be his personal doctor. Quickly, he's elevated to political advisor and, later, cuckolds his polygamist boss. Forrest Whittaker's portrayal of Amin is stellar and, unlike Jaime Foxx in Ray, it never seems like he's just doing an Amin impression.

This is the third film about Africa that I've seen over the last few months and it doesn't want make me want to visit the place any more than the others. Amin was a murderer, a comedian, a radical Islamist, and a tartan turkey - all of which make you want to read more about him. On a go/no-go scale, I give The Last King of Scotland a "go".

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Toyota Tundra: A Pretty Truck

The professor pushed the deadline for Friday's paper to today, so student's syndrome being what it is, I finished it this morning. My plan to use this blog to sort out my thinking didn't work out, but I'll offer a few observations from my research over the next few days.

For tonight, I'll respond to a comment left by Sgt. Dub on last week's post. He asked about my quip that the Toyota Tundra pick-up was excessively feminine. The Tundra has been a disaster for Toyota since its launch. A quality embarrassment, it has had recalls of 800,000 trucks in 2005 and 500,000 trucks this year. Analysts have been critical of the Tundra body design, which they have labeled "too curvaceous" for the full-size pick-up market. You may note that its commercials are now trying to "man-up" to reassure Tundra buyers that they will not pull up to a red light to find a soccer mom driving the Tundra next to them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I am running up against a tight Friday deadline on a research paper for school and daily blog posts will put graduation in jeopardy. You're in for a treat though, because I'm going to use this blog to clarify my thinking on the paper. At the risk of losing my entire readership, my usual cynicism and sarcasm will be on hiatus, replaced by profound insights into the comparative operating strategies of General Motors Corporation's Cadillac Division and Toyota Motor Company's Lexus Division. In the interests of full disclosure, I am biased in favour of General Motors. Suspending that bias should be easy since the professor runs his house by the Toyota Production System. So, I won't write, for example, that the Tundra is the most feminine vehicle on four wheels. Never a dull moment around here...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Road Songs: Big Bad John

I first heard music's greatest spoken-word song riding in the backseat of our family's 1979 Volvo, coming home from the cottage. Cruising along that part of the King's Highway known as No. 7, just along the marsh's edge between Kaladar and Actinolite, Jimmy Dean's Big Bad John came on the radio. Along with pure pork sausages and his scene-stealing role as Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever, this Grammy-winning ballad - a heroic tale about Louisiana's version of Big Joe Mufferaw - is but one of many lasting cultural contributions from this Texas renaissance man. Listen here or read some lyrics:

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine
When a timber cracked and men started cryin'
Miners were prayin' and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought they'd breathed their last, 'cept John

Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed the saggin' timber and gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree, just stood there alone, Big John

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blogrolling: The Pursuit of Leisure

At The Pursuit of Leisure, Skeelo's observations on sports, politics, and beautiful women are a highlight of the blogging week. His sports commentary is among the most biting and amusing out there. The Pursuit of Leisure's take on Michael Vick's recent run-in with airport security is a classic:

"I'm on record as saying Michael Vick is really not bright enough to be a good NFL QB but getting caught with a water bottle with a hidden compartment containing something like dope is pretty stupid even for him. I don't care that he smokes dope because I think 75% of the players in the NFL and NBA do too, but everyone in North America knows you can't take a water bottle on a plane anymore."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Everything I Love: Tea Biscuits

231 years after America started the British Empire on its decline, a single commonality continues to unite the former colonies with our homeland. In the U.K., people dab marmalade on their scones at tea; in Canada, Tim Horton's serves up a forty-cent biscuit, zapped in the microwave with a little butter; and in the U.S., they're just plain biscuits, often made with buttermilk and drowned in chicken gravy. You can even get them at Popeye's. This is one of my favourite comfort foods, reminding me after school snacks with a basket of my grandma's freshly baked tea biscuits - perfect with a little butter and a generous dollop of homemade strawberry jam.

Photo credit: chotda

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Big Picture MBA

My business school is promoting itself on television and radio as the "Big Picture" school. That's one way to say, "our graduates struggle with math".

Rant: Table Clearing (2)

Previously, I ranted about waiters who clear the table before everyone is finished. This is only marginally more irksome than asking you to "hang on to your fork" while removing your salad plate. Is cutlery so expensive that diners need to place it, smeared as it is with Caesar salad dressing, on the dirty table or balance it delicately on the knife? From the standard 15% tip, I suggest that this justifies a further 1% deduction.

Now, lest you picture me an eccentric Morty Seinfeld-type, sitting at my table with a Wizard tip calculator (I know, it does other things), I usually start from a 20% base, adding or subtracting depending on the service.

Photo credit: kruder396

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Transformers: The Movie

On July 4th, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay team up to release Transformers, the live action remake of the 1986 animated film. With General Motors as a production partner, expect the Autobots to be played by Chevrolets and Pontiacs, while Toyotas will fittingly portray the Decepticons. Those of us who grew up watching the after-school cartoon will be pleased that veteran voice actors Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron) reclaim their original roles. Jon Voight also stars, but it's not yet been confirmed whether his 1986 Lebaron convertible will make a cameo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Review: Black Snake Moan

With an entertaining blend of humour, music, and shift-in-your-seat sex scenes, Black Snake Moan flirts with the crossroads of southern goth and pulp fiction. Pea farmer Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is kicking his ex-wife's belongings to the curb when he stumbles upon a bloodied and naked Rae (Christina Ricci), a poor cracker with a sex addiction. Lazarus accepts what he sees as God's challenge to cure Rae of her "wickedness". For the next hour, Ricci slinks around the pea farm in chains and underwear, so while not a movie to watch with your grandmother, the costume selection alone would be sufficient for at least three readers of this blog to see the film.

Weaving a superbly cuss-laden script together with a near-perfect cast, is a celebration of the blues, largely performed by Jackson who spent a year learning how to pick guitar. I say near-perfect casting because of the inexplicable appearance of Justin Timberlake playing a critical role in the climax as Rae's troubled boyfriend. I'm quickly building a list of actors who single-handedly destroy movies. To that list, which includes Ryan Phillipe and Owen Wilson, I've now added Timberlake. A price must be paid by directors who make these ghastly choices and, for this unforgivable error, on a go/no-go scale, I give Black Snake Moan a "no-go".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth May Puts Party Before Self

After placing a strong second in a London by-election last fall, conventional wisdom had Green Party Leader Elizabeth May competing in a Green-friendly riding in the next election. So it was with some shock this weekend that pundits greeted her plan to challenge the Foregin Affairs Minister for a seat. May claims it's because she has a "personal connection" to Central Nova, Alexa McDonough calls it a "publicity stunt", and Globe gossip columnist Jane Taber labels it "crazy".

It is none of these. It is a shrewd political move to completely realign the Canadian political left. May's strength is her media savvy and the credibility to go toe-to-toe with the established party leaders, but she's no rain maker and she had a choice to make. She could have won a seat herself, becoming Canada's first Green Party MP, or she could elect several members, making the Green Party a player in a minority parliament. She could not do both. Elizabeth May has conceded her own defeat, but has freed herself to launch a full-court press to elect a meaningful caucus. By taking on Peter McKay, May ensures that the story on election night will be the Green Party breakthrough and not her personal failure.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Road Songs: Dead Skunk

Driving through Hastings County en route to the cottage, at that point when mayflies had caked the windshield, a familiar stench would waft through the vents in the Oldsmobile 98. Somewhere out in the fading light, a Buick had flattened a skunk and you'd reconsider that vanilla milkshake you'd been anticipating from Peterson's Dairy in Tweed. My dad, whose Loudon Wainwright album was a favourite of my brother and I, would then strike up the chorus to America's greatest road song. Listen here or enjoy some of the lyrics:

Crossin' the highway late last night
He shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right
He didn't see the station wagon car
The skunk got squashed and there you are!

You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin' to high Heaven!

Yeah you got yer dead cat and you got yer dead dog
On a moonlight night you got yer dead toad frog
Got yer dead rabbit and yer dead raccoon
The blood and the guts they're gonna make you swoon!

C'mon stink!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogrolling: SGT DUB

Sgt. Dub is an Oklahoma National Guardsman who is on his second tour of duty at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. Despite his serious business, Sgt. Dub has maintained his optimistic outlook and positive theme, helped a just a little by visits from the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a few country music stars. Besides a candid look at day-to-day life inside the camp, this blog offers the occasional political commentary that is so refreshing in its honesty that he maintains a reader coalition of doves, hawks, and the ambivalent. If Barak Obama or John McCain stumble in next year's primaries, don't be surprised to see a write-in campaign that puts this patriot in the White House. In the meantime, Sgt. Dub seems more interested in getting home to his wife and daughter, visiting his local TSC, and working his land. As Sgt. Dub signs off each of his posts, "be safe and have a great day."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Everything I Love: Radio Play-By-Play

Uncle Alec's recollection of clandestine Canucks games on NW98, brought to mind many an August night when I'd lie awake on the top bunk, tuning the AM dial on my Sony Sports Walkman with painstaking precision. From the banks of the Ottawa River, I heard baseball games from Atlanta, NFL preseason games from Houston, and traffic reports from some place called Kentuckiana.

The best memories are the games of home teams crackling through the radio. With no television at the cottage, Jerry Howarth and the late Tom Cheek called Blue Jay games through the summer, including Dave Stieb's dramatic no-hitter on Labour Day weekend in 1990. Cleaning the kitchen after dinner was never a chore during the Miracle Food Mart Win What You Buy Inning, where George Bell or Lloyd Mosby would win somebody's groceries by parking one in the grandstands at Exhibition Stadium. Heartbreak always came from the voices of Dean Brown and Jeff Avery calling Rough Rider games on CFRA in Ottawa, and never more so than the July night in Hamilton when the Riders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Dean Dorsey's five consecutive missed field goals. Brown and Avery were never better than they were that night, describing the implosion of coach Steve Goldman's head.

Television writer Ken Levine spent some time as a radio play-by-play announcer for the Jays' farm club, the Syracuse Chiefs. Here is an amusing tale of his greatest home run call.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rant: Tartan Turkeys & Everyone's Irish

Few things rankle me more than native born Canadians who complain about burkas and turbans and then show up at their weddings wearing kilts. My forbears left Scotland to settle Upper Canada. I respect their decision to leave the highlands behind and I feel no compulsion whatsoever to wear a skirt. Truth is, kilts look ridiculous on everyone except those born in Scotland and professional wrestlers from Saskatoon.

I told you that rant so I could tell you this one. On Saturday night, everyone is going to prance around in green and pretend to be Irish. I'm not sure that there's much to celebrate, but every Italian, Greek, and German I know would beg to differ. Enjoy your green beer and shamrock tattoos.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Great Jobs: CSI's Detective Brass

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.

Except apparently in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the people are represented by the crime lab scientists who investigate the crime and, well, we're not sure what happens after that. Every Thursday night, LVPD Detective Jim Brass (played by Paul Guilfoyle) kicks back in the easiest job on television. Police tape, morbid quips about corpses, and cuffing the guilty are all in a days work for Detective Brass. All the while, the CSI team is collecting and analysing evidence, interrogating witnesses, arresting suspects at gunpoint, and extracting confessions. They never advertise jobs like that of Detective Brass here at school...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review: The Bars of The Danforth

The Webber and I enjoyed an unplanned pub crawl through Toronto’s Greek Town on Friday night, the first trip east of Yonge since our disappointing visit to the over-priced Allen’s. We hit four bars along Danforth Avenue, and these are my impressions – on a go/no-go scale:

  • The Old Nick (123 Danforth Ave.) is a prison-themed bar, but prisons don’t serve baby green salads. I bet, however, that the beer is colder and less flat in the Don Jail than at The Old Nick. "No-go".

  • If you can squeeze past the day’s discharges from the Don, you’ll find that The Black Swan Tavern (154 Danforth Ave.) more closely resembles the “sports clubs” that front organized crime than a bar. "No-go".

  • Terry O's Sports Bar & Grill (185 Danforth Ave.) will serve you a cold Bud Light, but that’s the last you’ll see of your server. It’s probably just as well because Mr. Clean doesn't appear to have visited the kitchen since 1974. "No-go".

  • Parched and famished, you may wander into Brass Taps Pizza Pub (495 Danforth Ave.), where you’ll be tended to with cold Coors and meaty wings. The service is welcoming and the patrons don’t look like ex-cons. "Go".
With these choices, it’s no wonder that the pretentious Allen’s is thriving.

Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 Tim Horton's Brier

The Brier - the Canadian men's curling championship - is an 80-year tradition and the nation's most prestigious athletic title. Well, perhaps not quite, but it's only place you'll see the manager of the Penetanguishene beer store and the manager of the Collingwood Weed Man play on national television for their sport's highest honour.

The CFO and I attended the semi-final draw in Hamilton between Ontario and Manitoba. This was our second Brier, the first being six years ago in Ottawa, and I made a couple of observations about this event. First, Hamilton puts the "ham" in ham 'n egger, and nowhere is this more apparent than in and around Copps Coliseum. Second, curling fans are an eccentric group, but none more so than Jack, an maniacal Ontario cheerleader who looks like he played in the 1927 Brier. Jack sprints around the arena, hurdling over cameras and straight-arming children while he screams his province's name and waves a flag tied to a telescopic golf ball retriever. Fortunately for old Jack, Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton just couldn't put the rocks on the button. Which is a shame for Jeff, because the insurance broker sitting behind me seemed to know exactly where he should have placed them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brad Paisley's Ticks

Brad Paisley's new single is a guaranteed 2007 Song of the Summer candidate. Ticks is classic Paisley - light-hearted and down-home - reminding us of the intimacy created in this age of Lyme disease. Listen to the song or, if you're in a cubicle without earphones, enjoy the chorus lyrics:

I'd like to see you out in the moonlight
I'd like to kiss you
way back in the sticks
I'd like to walk you
through a field of wild flowers
And I'd like to check you for ticks
See also: Everything I Love - Country Music

The "Guy and Duck" Tragedy

Before my "Sitemeter" died this week, I had a visitor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who discovered Out in the Parking Lot by searching for the phrase, "guy and duck went out in the parking lot killed himself". We are now the #1 Guy and Duck Parking Lot Massacre page on Google - a milestone to celebrate.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blogrolling: Apostryphal

Toronto is one of the world's great cities, its cultural and geographical diversity generating more than its share of places to visit and oddballs at which to gawk. Brad Suisham has an eye for the very things that make this city so intriguing - from abandoned factories and storm sewers to alien invaders and naked snake charmers. Visit Brad's complete gallery at Apostryphal.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Everything I Love: Daylight Savings Time

Say what you will about the United States Government, but perhaps we can all agree that it's done a good thing by extending daylight savings time this year. Fewer traffic fatalities, less energy consumption, and more light for little league games - there's something in the earlier time change to make everyone feel good. For me, there are few more pleasant surprises than, having become accustomed to leaving work in darkness, being startled one early spring evening when you head home in sunlight. So while you're turning your clock forward this weekend, take a moment to think about those poor people in Saskatchewan who will continue to toil on the dark prairies for as long as that province remains a lone holdout in its opposition to light and goodness in Canada.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rant: TTC Blames Delays on Riders

That model of customer service, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), has found a scapegoat reason for repeated delays: misbehaving riders. The TTC's 13,000 lost minutes last year were due to door rushing, litter bugs, and clumsy riders. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with 10-minute driver changes, conductor bathroom breaks at St. George, or Museum Station.

Following the TTC's lead, expect similar excuses from:

  • Air Canada re lost luggage: "Next time, use carry-on."
  • Canada Post re misdirected mail: "You have poor penmanship."
  • Foreign Affairs re passport delays: "Should've stayed home."
Any others?