Friday, December 26, 2003

when frankfurters ruled the kitchen

Being from a family with strong culinary genes, there are a ton of cookbooks lying around the family homestead. Most have eye-catching, mouth-watering looking recipes. The further back you go in the collection, the more the eyes pop out at some of the dishes that passed the publisher's test kitchen.

One of the larger series we have is various versions of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks. Volumes from the 60s are telling in how much opinions about tasty, economical foods have changed through the years.

Key findings:
1) Every other dish was a "bake", "strata" or "hodgepodge".
2) Spam (and its knockoffs) was the monarch of the kitchen. This wonder of science could be used in every way imaginable.
3) Other kitchen basics: creamed corn, lima beans, sherry, the number of the nearest heart surgeon.
4) Anything was fair game to be an exotic dish.
5) Velveeta is the king of cheeses.
6) Frankfurters are as diverse in their uses as Spam.

Let's go to the highlights...

Cooking With Cheese (1966)
Interesting Fact: Sapsago is "the green cheese that the moon is made out of".

Jiffy Cooking

Jiffy Cooking (1967)
Baked Bean Pie - sounds innocent...'cept it's not really pie! Combine pork n' beans, Spam, hot dog relish, maple-flavoured syrup and Velveeta. Make your appointment with the toilet now.
Pork Chops on Amber Rice - pssst, the secret ingredient is orange juice on the rice! "The main dish can be put in the oven and almost forgotten till served."
Meat and Vegetable Soup - sounds OK, until the ingredients are revealed: dry onion soup mix, canned meatballs n' gravy, cremed corn and tomato soup. Definitely fills the recoommended daily amount of vegetables.
Squaw Corn - problem numero un: the insensitive name. Problem numero deux: it's more Spam than corn. Problem numero trois: It's more eggs than Spam and corn. We conquered the natives, then dishonoured them with this dish.
Dublin Dilly Hot Dish - It looks like the editors of this book had it out for all foreign nationalities. This concoction mixes corned beef, chicken gravy, dillweed, peas n' onions, mashed potatoes and Velveeta. More Dublin, Ohio than Dublin, Ireland.
Easy Perfection Salad - nothing says salad like jellied sauerkraut. "It looks like jellied yuck!"
Self-Pickling Onions - there's an obscene joke lurking in this dish.
Corned Beef Captains - "Avast ye scurvy scallywags! We are armed with scallion swords! Arrr mateys!"
Swiss Yodelers - The editors turn their insults to the Swiss, with this mish-mash of cheese, cream and god knows what else. You'll yodel with indigestion.
Hong Kong Sundaes - "Hong Kong Sundaes are a concoction of pineapple, mandarin oranges, kumquats, and marmalade with a jazz of ginger". We're still looking for the metric equivalent of a jazz...

Ground Meat Cookbook (1969)
"Ground meat casseroles are as American as the Fourth of July." If this book was produced today, it would recipes like Beacon of Liberty Beef Bake (with a side of Freedom Fries).

Meat Cook Book (1969)
Creamy Liver Over Rice - what can we say?
Chicken-Fried Heart - The dinner of cowards.
Cheesy Tongue on Rice - Eat it before the cat does.
Tongue-Stuffed Peppers - Again, insert your own dirty joke.
Scrambled Brains - What was wrong with the chef when they concocted this dish.
Frank and Corn Crown - Looks like a crown any royal would be proud to wear!
Bologna Bake - Perfect to give somebody a coronary - recipe includes mayo, hard-boiled eggs and potato chips.
Snapperoni Franks - AKA every condiment known to man tossed together. Combines pork n' beans and relish - 'nuff said.
Ham Wafflewiches - Waffleriffic!
Tokyo Turkey Toss - Key ingredient: French dressing. How Japanese.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

night of lights

A few pix from the Kensington Festival of Lights...

The Night The Crowd Spilled Out of EuropeanThe procession moves along Baldwin St. The crowds around European never cease. Note the masks and number of people moving along. Anyone could join in, most with lanterns in tow. All this to celebrate the longest night of the year.

Fishing For Lights
A mermaid and fisherman above a falafel shop. Across the street was a rooftop of native-inspired birds (the shots didn't turn out so well), then rooftop drummers at Baldwin and Augusta.

Somehow The Vehicle In The Background Doesn't Match
More masks near the end of the procession route on Kensington Avenue.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

the box spring rebellion

Let's say that since I moved down to Toronto, the items I've used for sleeping have driven others up the wall. From the last days of scanty student income, I used a cheap guest bed from Ikea with an orthopaedic pad. Surprisingly comfortable, it lasted until one part fell off (plus a basement flood was a good excuse to ditch it). Next I used a futon, which was good as long as I stayed on one half without rolling over the top of the trench in the middle. Finally, after recent repairs to my place were finished, I started the hunt for my first bed.

Amazing how the suggestions of others linger in one's mind. From the prodding of coworkers, I got it into my head that I needed a queen-size bed. Spent a couple of weeks going to stores, bouncing up and down on beds. In the end, it was a toss-up between Sears and Sleep Country. The latter won, and I happily walked out with a nicely-priced queen.

Got home, reassessed space, concluded I'd goofed. Called the next morning to change the order, resulting in more money for Xmas shopping. No problem, it would still come on the original delivery date.

Jump forward a week...

A couple of calls came, reassuring me it was still on its way, there had just been some troubles at the other places. Finally arrived 5:30. Moving the bed in went smoothly, until the box spring.

I live in older house, where the dimensions are narrower than modern standards. The frame pieces went in with no problem. Ditto the mattress. The box stuck.

So, I was left with 2/3 of a bed, which I left wrapped. The deliverymen indicated I could easily order a split box the next day. Did so, only to find my particular bed didn't come this way, but I could switch to a similar model. No problem, and I didn't mind waiting three more weeks, since this meant there'd be spillover room in case an army came to the dinner party I had in that time (which almost happened - see Nov 30th entry).

Jump forward three weeks...

Events moved quickly. I made a brief appearance at the divisional office party (food wasn't out yet) then ran home, hoping the wait wouldn't be as long. It wasn't - the delivery guys showed up at 2:20 and were finished less than half-an-hour later.

So far, no further drama. The bed fits and I'm sleeping like a baby.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

doppleganger time

At first I thought it was just another piece of phone spam. Lately, the majority of messages left on my phone have been of the unwanted variety, which is a growing complaint around the city. It tends to either be for a "free" vacation by Collingwood or a moving company. The latter's messages crack me up, as it's the same guy everytime (who never took public speaking, judging from the long, drawn-out "uhhhhhhs"). Whether he calls himself Boris, Jimmy or Janos, I find myself wishing there was a skip command.

Twice in the past month I received an "urgent" message from an unidentified company looking for "Jamie or Barb Bradburn". Figured it was someone calling at random, since I haven't a clue who Barb Bradburn is. At least they got my gender right.

But then the other night I got the message again and it sounded urgent, complete with a case number and company name - D & A. Decided to call the number. Turned out D & A was a collection agency. Tried to look it up the phone book or on the web, but there's no trace of this agency. Was this a scam of some sort?

Called them the next morning. No scam. Turns out there's another Jamie Bradburn who owes Sprint Canada $122. He lived either in Weston or near the Junction. A few phones put me in the free and clear.

I wonder if this is the same Jamie as the other Jamie that went to U of G the same time as I did, in Enviro Science. I never met him, though some e-mails and phone calls crossed, and I recall a couple of acquaintances who'd run into him.

I have done occasional searches on the net to see what other Jamies are out there. One appears to be a member of the National Barrel Horse Association in Minnesota.

Next week, I'm expecting to here from Boris, Jimmy or Janos again. This time, I'll pass the word the CRTC.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

red noses running

Spent the day down at the Santa Claus parade, third year in a row. This year, a bunch of us helped out Jess and Dee by selling noses for Sunnybrook/Women's down at Queen and Yonge. All I hoped was that it wouldn't be as bone-chilling damp as it was last year.

Did not get off to an great start. Took longer to get ready than expected, so I made a mad dash to the subway. Thought I'd make it down just in time, until a fire investigation at St. Patrick station brought the Yonge line to a crawl, then stop. I was stuck at St. Clair and nearly got off to search for a taxi, until it was announced all was good to go.

Arrived 15 minutes late, but that didn't seem to matter too much. Picked up a bag of moses and headed south on Yonge with Kiersten and Dee's mom. Business was good - went through two bagfuls quickly. Was a little nervous at first, following behind the others, then gradually starting bellowing out like a baseball game program huckster.

The parade took awhile to reach our cubbyhole. We had the area around the van semi-cordoned off, which didn't prevent onlookers from trying to sit on the van or crowding around it. We had to act like cops to shoo people away, which some took better than others - a few comments were muttered under people's breaths. One family tried not to understand the concept of "move away", asking every possible way to stay.

At least we could see the action, unlike others in the crowds around us. People would swoop down and block the view of those who'd been standing for hours, leading to a few near-bustups. Kiersten got to stand in the middle of one, as an older woman started yelling at others. So much for holiday cheer.

There was a long lull between the first few clowns (the only one I recognized was Norman Jewison) and the parade proper. Kids went running after the clowns, pulling on the odd one. Some candy landed our way, with thumbs down on the gum. "Disintegrates in the mouth" was the concensus.

Things were brighter once the rest of the parade rolled by. One of the highlights was the little kids in miniature Florida Orange Juice cars. Cute to begin with, but even cuter when they piled into each other when coming to a brief stop while waiting for the folks ahead of them to turn the corner.

One motorized bear (forget who the sponsor was) sped down the street, making me wonder if there were frat students inside planning revenge against the world. Astonished it didn't wipe out at the bend. Lots of marching bands, mostly from western New York state. Lots of happy kids walking or riding along. More miniature cars, from Pizza Pizza, but no pileups.

The parade wrapped up just past 3. After the crowds thinned out, we headed over to Church St to Hair of the Dog to grab food and drinks, and for some to say goodbye to a friend who was going away for a month. We caught the transition from brunch to dinner - I went for the former. Forget the name of what I had (along the lines of "easy pie" or "easy as pie") but it was the largest breakfast dish I'd seen since my last trip to Louie's in Detroit. A huge bowl with a bottom layer of scalloped potatoes, then ham and peameal bacon, then poached eggs with hollandaise sauce. Very good, but very filling, but luckily Chris was able to finish it off.

Left around 6, loped back up here, then sat staring into space in a daze for an hour, letting my body finish thawing. - JB

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

election wrap-up

Looks like the polls at the end of the race were accurate - David Miller won the mayor's chair, with John Tory a close second (44% to 38%). This will go down as the first time I ever voted for a political candidate who got into office. Barbara Hall's campaign completely collapsed - from polls indicating support in the mid-40% range before the campaign picked up full steam, she wound up with 9% of the vote. I walked by her campaign party (the old York theatre), where glum faces paced outside. Nunziata's car-honking only grabbed him 5%, while Jakobek...BWAHAHAHAHA...1%.

monkeys from the past

Decided to sift through the back reaches of my rarely-used Hotmail account (aka Spam 'R Us). Found this note, received way, way back in September of 1995, the oldest e-mail I have kicking about. We're talking the dawn of my second year at U of G. It's juvenile and gut-busting at the same time:

I like monkeys.

The pet store was selling them for five cents apiece. I thought that odd since they were normally a couple thousand. I decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I bought 200. I like monkeys.

I took my 200 monkeys home. I have a big car. I let one drive. His name was Sigmund. He was retarded. In fact, none of them were really bright. They kept punching themselves in their genitals. I laughed. Then they punched my genitals. I stopped laughing.

I hearded them into my room. They didn't adapt very well to their new environment. They would screech, hurl themselves off of the couch at high speeds and slam into the wall. Although humorous at first, the spectacle lost its novelty halfway into its third hour.

Two hours later I found out why all the monkeys were so inexpensive: they all died. No apparent reason. They all just sorta dropped dead. Kinda like when you buy a goldfish and it dies five hours later. Damn cheap monkeys.

I don't know what to do. There were 200 dead monkeys lying all over my room, on the bed, in the dresser, hanging from my bookcase. It looked like I had 200 throw rugs. I tried to flush one down the toilet. It didn't work. It got stuck. Then I had one dead, wet monkey and 199 dead, dry monkeys. I tried pretending that they were just stuffed animals. That worked for awhile, that is until they began to decompose. It started to smell real bad. I had to pee but there was a dead monkey in the toilet and I didn't want to call the plumber. I was embarassed.

I tried to slow down the decomposition by freezing them. Unfortunately, there was only enough room for two monkeys at a time so I had to change them every 30 seconds. I also had to eat all the food in the freezer so it didn't all go bad. I tried burning them. Little did I know my bed was flammable. I had to extinguish the fire. Then I had one dead, wet monkey in my toilet, two dead, frozen monkeys in my freezer, and 197 dead, charred monkeys in a pile on my bed. The odour wasn't improving.

I became agitated at my inability to dispose of my monkeys and to use the bathroom. I severely beat one of my monkeys. I felt better. I tried throwing them away but the garbage man said that the city was not allowed to dispose of charred primates. I told him that I had a wet one. He couldn't take that one either. I didn't bother asking about the frozen ones.

I finally arrived at a solution. I gave them out as Christmas gifts. My friends didn't know quite what to say. They pretended that they liked them but I could tell they were lying. Ingrates. So, I punched them in the genitals.

I like monkeys.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

one fine saturday in the city

Feeling impatient about wanting to see the remaining Halloween pictures in my camera, I spent Saturday walking around downtown, snapping whatever looked interesting, or worth looking back on 30 years from now.

Started by heading west along Bloor to the Annex. The ROM has an old new temporary look - the last addition has been demolished to make way for the touted Daniel Liebskind design. Currently, you can see the old outside walls of the museum. Enjoy the view while you can.

As I headed south on Bathurst, a steady stream of cars adorned with red balloons raced by, horns honking. It was a caravan of vehicles for John Nunziata's faltering mayoral campaign. I resisted the urge to yell "Nunziata sucks!" A few ballons fell off, causing anxious moments for drivers behind them.

From there, went across College and down through Kensington Market. One of the few times I didn't run into anybody I know. Went into Chinatown, stopped to snack on some Chinese buns. I should know by now that the "pineapple" style are too messy to eat while walking, but the taste is worth it ("pineapple" buns have a crunchy sugar pattern on top that suggests a pineapple. Have never had one that contained said fruit - usually vanilla custard).

The new addition to OCAD is coming along quickly. For those of you who haven't seen it, go down to McCaul and Dundas to take a look. The least you can say is it's different. The expansion is being built above the current building, supported by slender multi-coloured poles and an elevator shaft.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

mayor or bust

A quick run through the five most prominent candidates running to replace his Melness here in the centre of the universe...

Tom Jakobek - least you can say it takes someone wallowing in dung (hello MFP) to find the dung in other candidates campaigns. Otherwise, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA...

John Nunziata - Dear John: You've made a lot of hay about one of the other candidate's teams, but haven't spilled the beans on who. Sounds like a last stab to toss dirt on somebody, or the backroom boys are at it again.

Barbara Hall - when the race began, it was assumed that Hall had a reasonable chance of running away with the job. Now she's in danger of falling into third, behind Miller and Tory. Boosting the island airport hasn't helped, nor have Jabokek's attempts at legal actions, a sense she's trying to win the centre-right vote, etc. Looks like strike two at the plate.

John Tory - Then there's the coverage of the Tory campaign, especially on 680 News. Whenever there's the slightest statement from the Tory camp, it's treated as headline news on 680. One of these days, while tuning in for traffic, this earth-shattering story will be previewed:

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, the latest on Britney Spears's libido, and hear what kind of soup mayoral candidate John Tory will have for lunch tomorrow. Stay tuned.

That Tory was an executive with the owners of 680 is merely coincidence...

David Miller - notwithstanding the musings about freeway tolls, Miller has risen to the top of polls lately. One of the papers (I forget which, but I think it was the Globe) made an interesting point - while the other candidates are harping on issues that aren't great concerns of city residents (hello law and order), Miller has stumped on things like infrastructure and keeping the city clean (of garbage, and not the human variety), which may be fuelling the rise in the polls. Still time for something wacky to happen to this campaign.

There's the other candidates, though they're getting less attention than usual this year, one of the side-effects when there are so many prominent contenders. Here's the official list of who's running. Just remember to vote, OK? - JB

Saturday, October 25, 2003

days of halloween past

Halloween is in the air. From highly decorated lawns to the candy displays in grocery stores, it will soon be time for the little ghouls and goblins to wander from house to house. For adults, a time to go a little crazy, step out of the day to day, to let creative impulses go wild.

Sure sign we're getting close - CBC is digging out all the old Universal horror flicks from the 30s and 40s...right now, Son of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff's last appearance as the Monster.

I've been going through the seasonal flicks in my collection over the past couple of days. Seems like the right time to watch them. Evil Dead, Ginger Snaps, Tomb of Ligeia...

Halloween was one of many things I rediscovered in university. Wasn't too keen on it as a kid - liked the candy, hated the dressing-up part. By the end, I was either going out in my sports uniforms or, the last time I went, around age 11 or so, deciding to go out at the last sec by borrowing part of my sister's costume. Didn't do anything at all through high school (the closest was acting in plays). The came Guelph and Arts House, where I finally figured out how fun it was. Didn't do much my first year (virtually everyone in the rez was a vampire, so my variation was me having just crossed over into the land of the undead - no makeup except for some neck punctures and press-on nails held on with poly-grip for fangs).

Second year I dressed up as the Invisible Man. One of those ideas that's terrific in concept and looks great when fully assembled, but start falling apart once you wear it. Wrapped my head in bandages, slipped sunglasses over my frames, blacked out any facial areas that would potentially show, wore vaguely 30ish ensemble, then headed off to a party. Looked great (unfortunately don't have a picture scan handy). Problem - the bandages caused both sets of glasses to steam up. Also started feeling very hot. After a few minutes at the party, ripped off the bandages, removed the blackout areas, drew in a thin mustache then acted like i was from the 30s.

Third year I was Green Lantern, my first (and last) attempt to stitch a costume together. Didn't turn out too badly, except I used the wrong colour on the boots (but wasn't going to paint them again after causing half the rez to choke on aerosol fumes - though that was nowhere near as bad as the stories I heard while I was away in England about one guy who boiled a mink preserved in formaldhyde).

After that, due to restraints, it was variations on dead things...dead tacky tourists, frozen corpses, etc. Bought a metallic facial appliance one year, but never could fully decide where to go with it. Should have gone for a terminator type costume, if it hadn't been for a lack of cheap leather jackets in my size (instead I went vaguely superheroish and let folks decide what I was, since i sure couldn't).

If next week wasn't shaping up to be so crazy workwise, I'd almost be tempted to pull off an idea at the back of my mind. On Halloween, I'd go into work looking normal. Over the course of the day, I would decay, first subtly with bruising and blotches, then pale skin, then mottled, then full-throttle decay so that by the time 5 rolled around, I'd look like I was falling apart. someday, someday. Main disadvantage - endless trips to the bathroom.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

of indian food and canadian magazines

Busy weekend, the last one...

Spent Friday night and most of Saturday cooking up a storm. The kitchen smelled heavenly from all the spices needed for the Indian feast. It was the first test of the cookbook series I've bought on the last few trips to Borders. They passed with flying colours, judging from the reactions of friends and the yummy, if scant, leftovers. The sole flop did not come from this series, a rosewater pudding devoid of taste that met its fate in the bathroom sink Saturday afternoon.

The first dish out of the gate was a mixed success. Made some paneer, but when I tried to mix it in a mushroom curry, it fell apart (guess I needed to put a weight on it). Wasn't a loss - it added a nice flavour. The paneer itself had a taste and texture closer to ricotta than paneer I've eaten. Bet it would make a great lasagne.

Everything else was easy and tasty. Tandoori chicken, dhal, channa (though this was made with a pre-bought spice mix), raita, chutneys...all good. Was worried about the butter chicken, since I accidentally threw in an unmarked brown spice instead of garam masala, but it went over well. Put it this way - Dee asked for some of the recipes and Chris said it was better than the Indian food he had in London.

After eating, everyone buried their heads in CDs or books, ranging from 1960s X-Men to Johnny Cash. Good way to let stomachs recover from all the food they downed. Laughed or plugged ears at oddball music. Lots of laughter.

Everyone cleared out around midnight, after gathering around the computer to watch a Japanese TV pilot several folks talked about the week before, Toyko Breakfast. At times it was like one of those Saturday Night Live skits where one joke is pounded into the ground, though it took some potshots at stereotypes. The basic plot was a Japanese middle class family who try to act like homeboys, with gratuitous use of "niggah". You can check it out here.

Crawled out of bed around 1:30 on Sunday (I may have been alert earlier, talking to the family on the phone, but I had not left the comfort of bed). After downing some excellent leftovers (the tandoori chicken and dal got better with age), I managed to haul myself down to Word on the Street.

I made the Canadian magazine industry happy.

For the uninitiated, Queen St is shut down between Spadina and University one Sunday in September for publishers, writers and associations to set up booths and display their wares. The scene resembles a crowded subway car at rush hour, in a race to see how many people can be shoehorned in. One usually walks away with a stack of flyers, freebies or books they couldn't resist.

This year, it was cheap magazine subscriptions that drew me in. It started with Toronto Life, which I was going to sign up for soon. Next was Applied Arts, a few issues of which have been handy for reference at work. Along came This, which my father had bought regularly. Last money drop at the Broken Pencil table, since it's interesting to read about all the zines out there.

Let's compare my current subscription list to all the publications my father, who was notorious for picking up subscriptions, had coming into the house:

Jamie's Subscriptions
Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, New Yorker, Harpers, Toronto Life, This, Applied Arts, Broken Pencil

Jamie's Newsstand Pickups (regular and occasional)
Blender, Budget Travel

Dad's Subscription s(note: these may not have been concurrent, but it's a typical slate)
Toronto Star, New Yorker, Windsor Star, Harpers, Toronto Life, Atlantic, Time, Newsweek, Macleans, The Beaver, Rolling Stone, Ontario Historical Review, Rolling Stone, Canadian Forum, Sports Illustrated

Dad's Newsstand Pickups (regular and occasional)
Globe and Mail, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, New York Times (Sunday only), TLS, New York Review of Books

He made frequent forays into other subscriptions if they were cheap, a year of a mystery mag here, a year of This there, even a brief subscription to Playboy in the mid-80s. He picked up some of these publications for decades - I remember leafing through his files and regularly finding clippings from mid-60s New Yorkers, or from long-defunct papers like the Toronto Telegram or the New York Herald-Tribune. Those files are worth a future misty-eyed log.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

christmas shopping tips

...because it's never too early to start!

Only four months to go until the holidays. Beat the madding crowds in December - shop at the Warehouse now for gifts everyone will enjoy!

Is Rover wandering around the yard aimlessly, bumping into everything in site? Has man's best friend forgotten what you told then about watering the flower bed...because they can't tell it's the flower bed? Or, has your stressed pet been unable to lie back and read the newspapers you give them because the text is too small? Tragically, canine myopia happens and the eyewear available has stressed function over style and elegance...

Until now...

Scoobius Du Designer Glasses - Help Your Canine See In Style
Guaranteed to Bring A Smile...Or Your Money Back
If An Accident Occurs, We'll Pay For The Shots!

(The Call of the Wild not included)

Sunday, September 07, 2003



DAY 12
Winnipeg/Kenora/Ignace/Thunder Bay

DAY 13
Thunder Bay/Nipigon/White River/Wawa/Lake Superior Provincial Park/Sault St. Marie

DAY 14
Sault St. Marie/Blind River/Sudbury/Parry Sound/Toronto

The home stretch began with a huge breakfast at The Original Pancake House, where we stuffed oursleves with some of the best pancakes we'd ever had. Fast, cheap and delicious. Worth the waddle back to the car.

The retro sign didn't hurt

Continued on through the last stretches of prairie, before returning to a place to stand, a place to grow, Ontari-ari-ari-o. I figured it would take 3-4 days to get back to Toronto - our final overnight stops would be Thunder Bay, the Soo and Sudbury.
The drive to Thunder Bay was uneventful, except for more changes in landscape than expected - even farmland reminiscent of southern Ontario for a brief time. Saw enough inukshuks...

From Kenora to Waubaushene, these were a regular roadside site, usually coupled with graffitti. Must be a way of leaving one's mark on the Trans-Can.

We stopped at an info centre in Ignace around 5pm to book a room in Thunder Bay. When the hotel clerk asked as where we were from, she said it was a good thing we weren't there at that moment - the great blackout of '03 had hit an hour earlier. We flipped on CBC radio and discovered we were in the only part of the province that was still powered. We called Mom to see how things were there. Got into Thunder Bay late, ate at Swiss Chalet, went for a quick dip at the hotel pool, then blew a fuse in the room (probably due to two hair dryers going at once). Once that was fixed, we settled back and watched coverage of the blackout. We watched Channel 4 from Detroit to see what was going on in that neck of the woods - the studio appeared to be using footlights, giving the anchors a weird glow.

Next day, took the car in for a wash. Got most of the grasshopper goo off, but it would require a deeper cleaning later on. Got thirsty in Nipigon, but hit a cursed Mike's Mart (Mac's) - machines weren't working, slush cups kept collapsing, drinks tasted like crap, etc. Took several tries to find a way out of town. Won't be stopping there again.

One odd thing we noticed through northern Ontario...several chain gas stations had restaurants attached to them that carried the same name of those that were at the service stations along the 401 before the fast food chains took over. Never thought about stopping at any, since we remembered Mom saying how bad the old ones were. We kept driving along, munching on super-fresh sourdough bread picked up that morning.

Stopped in White River to make hotel reservations - luckily power was back on in the Soo. We tried calling Mom again to see if she was back, but she wasn't around so we called out Aunt Gladys, who said it wasn't out for long in A'burg. As we left the centre, we couldn't stop laughing at the posters we saw. Outside, things were being set up for a weekend Winnie The Pooh festival, complete with musical acts. Not just any musical headliners like Sync*In, Just Like Pink and Oops, Britney Did It Again.

Stopped for the obligatory pix of the birds in Wawa, then took a dusty road to the beautiful Magpie Falls.

Continued south, through Lake Superior Provincial Park, where we saw a bear cub wandering close to the road. We did not stop to gawk or feed it or other silly things folks are tempted to do. Like the coyote and the cow, we let the bear be.

Made it to the Soo and what turned out to be the final lodgings of the trip, the Ambassador Motel, a cute little family-run place on the way into town I'd picked up a brochure for earlier. Looked like a lot of work had gone into keeping the place fixed up, from the homebuilt indoor pool in the back to the good shape of the sign out front. The billboard says it all.

Looking for food was easy - Hwy 17 going into town is a long strip of large Italian restaurants. Another winner - we said there were no duds on the trip. Even decided to induldge in some vino for this meal.

News reports indicated that some parts of Toronto were still without power. Feeling a bit worried, plus facing the hassle of having to get Saturday night accomodation, I decided that we'd head back to Toronto the next day. The map indicated it wasn't that long a journey, with less driving than we'd done each day since leaving Calgary. Besides, what if we were stuck somewhere without power?

The last day of the trip began with a stop in Blind River, where we couldn't resist singing Neil Young's Long May You Run. Stopped at a Tim Horton's that was tricky to get into, but worth it for oddball doughnuts (strawberry coconut, anyone?). Came across a giant toonie. Stopped in Sudbury to go to Science North, but it was closed due to the blackout (though power was on). Heard on the radio that was power was back up in Toronto except for isolated pockets...including one at Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant. I started to obsess about a large amount of meat in the freezer. Also heard stories about crazy gas station lineups and price hikes. Decided to fill up often to keep the tank topped up, with the last fill in Parry Sound (the only place we were affected by the blackout - the gas station we stopped at had a $30 fill limit).

Drove over to Parry Island to show Amy the ruins I found at Depot Harbour. Think I blew it up too much- I must have seen them previously in late fall or early spring, as you couldn't see the foundations through the trees. Back on 69/400, noticed abandoned/soon-to-be abandoned gas stations and restaurants on the old part of the highway that will soon be replaced by freeway, like an early version of what happened to McLean, TX. Thought about having dinner in Barrie, until I convinced Amy that it wouldn't take long to get back to TO.

Got back to Toronto around 6ish. Dropped stuff off, then headed down to the Annex for some Thai food and a walk around the nabe. Went back home, looked at the digital pix, then collapsed.

That's all folks

Monday, September 01, 2003



DAYS 10-11
Calgary/Medicine Hat/Morse, SK/Regina/Qu'appelle Valley/Moose Jaw/Winnipeg

Odd start to Day 10...

The night before, I wandered around Calgary by myself, criss-crossing the city to see what was there.

(Editor's note: this entry was not finished due to technical problems)


DAY 8-9
Calgary/Lake Louise/Moraine Lake/Banff/Calgary

Calgary was the only place we spent more than a day in the entire trip. Kind of a chance to explore a smaller area in more detail, yet the pace remained rapid. Because we couldn't immediately check in, we searched for a bookstore Amy had visited a few times on trips from Lake Louise. Her memory was good - it was exactly where she said it was, along 16th SW. Followed this up with dinner at a Mongolian-style restaurant, then splurging at a CD store (Tramps, part of a regional chain).

Day 9 started with the drive out to Lake Louise. Once we left Calgary, the landscape turned scenic in a hurry. It didn't take long to reach the gates of Banff.

We drove along the Bow River Pkwy to Lake Louise, where we stopped at Laggan's, a deli where Amy worked several summers ago. We loaded up on baked goodies, which would last the rest of the trip. On the way to where she lived, she lost her footing and slipped onto a gravel path, making a mess of her leg. History repeated itself after we passed her old she had a matching pair of beauties.

After circling the parking lot for the lake itself, we settled for an empty lot near a closed road to BC. Walked up a path, then saw the beauty of Lake Louise...then headed back to the car. Went to Moraine Lake next, home of the shot on the back of the old $20 bill.

If you stop atop the rockpile at left, you'd have the old $20 bill

Quick trip to Banff village followed, though neither of us bought anything. We wound down the day back in Calgary, with big bowls of pho for dinner.

Amy could provide better analysis of Day 9, since she lived there...


Moab/Green River/Salt Lake City/Pocatello, ID/Dillon, MT/Butte/a rest stop somewhere on I-15

a rest stop somewhere on I-15/Great Falls/Conrad/Shelby/Lethbridge, AB/Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump/Calgary

Day 7 got off to a good start, wandering around Moab. Both of us dropped a load of cash, from a vase for our mother to decorative tiles for my place. North of town, rocks dominated the landscape. We didn't go to Arches National Park, but the landscape around it was fulfilling enough.

Outside Moab

Most of the day's drive was uneventful. Had another good meal in Green River (place called the Tamarisk, lunch buffet with homestyle staples like fish and meatloaf), then drove up US 191 and US 6 towards Salt Lake City. Wasn't prepared for just how far Salt Lake City and its related towns stretch out in a corridor along Salt Lake and I-15. We drove quickly through downtown Salt Lake, passing the temple and the old Union Pacific terminal. Took forever to figure out how to get back to the freeway.

Wound up in Pocatello, Idaho for dinner. Didn't look like a happening place. Wound up at a Subway (after the restaurant next door was too busy). We laughed over the evil new customer card program they were testing in Idaho - sounded like an unfriendly way to scam personal info out of customers to sell to advertisers.

It seemed too early to get a hotel room, so we pressed on into Montana...

First stop was Dillon, which had a few hotels. All booked. Just missed out by 5 seconds the last room in town. Noticed there was no shortage of casinos. Figured it must have been a gambling town - maybe we'd have better luck in Butte.

Butte had more hotels...and casinos. Even the gas stations had casinos! The only room that was available was a honeymoon suite at a Days Inn, for the reduced rate of $175. No thanks.

Since it was approaching midnight, decisions had to be made - press on to Helena or spend the night in the car? Chose the later, but it felt like an eternity to the next rest stop. We had passed one before Butte with several cars pulled in for the night. We sghould have seen that as a warning. Finally stopped at one near Helena. Put the seats back and prepared for the night.

Except I couldn't sleep. Maybe half-hour at most. Amy was in la-la land, but I wasn't.

It drove me so crazy that around 4-5am, I got back on the road. Then the sleepies came over me. I'm astonished I didn't run off the road or into anyone. Felt like a drunk driver. Stopped at the next rest stop (a long 70 miles), slept for an hour. Around 6, both of us decided we couldn't sleep anymore, so we headed off for signs of breakfast.

We tried Great Falls. Nothing, except a seedy-looking dive. Lots of casinos though. Went through Conrad. Even less. Finally found eats at a truck stop in Shelby, 35 miles south of the border. Huge skillet breakfast, enough to fill us up for most of the day. This place had a room of slots too, as well as some of most defeated-looking people I've ever seen. Everyone looked dazed, like zombies, and not in that morning-dazed way. It was very sad, seeing people shuffle to the slots.

The whole Montana experience was not a pleasant one (though the food was fine). Will avoid in future.

We never cheered so loudly crossing the border. It was messy, a huge construction zone for more booths and security equipment. Got through with no hassles. Rushed to Lethbridge to get Amy a coffee fix.

Our home and native land...

We headed to Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, but then decided we didn't want to pay to wander down trails we were too pooped to enjoy. It was the purest National Lampoon's Vacation moment of the trip.

Reached Calgary...which leads to the nexrt entry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003



Santa Fe/Los Alamos/Espanola/Chama/Pagosa Springs, CO/Durango/Cortez/Monticello, UT/Moab

Time to start heading north...but first a sidetrip to Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project. It was worth the trip just for the scenic drive along New Mexico 566. Discovered Chevy Cavaliers don't like putting on speed while going uphill, but the car never overheated. Stopped at the Bradbury Science Museum, home of atomic-age artifacts.
One amusing, yet still frightening one in light of recent paranoia, was this notice...

Models of Fat Man and Little Boy were on display...not the originals, but similar casings from the period. Most of the museum was gung-ho about the benefits of nuclear physics, but efforts were made to show the downside.

Not a buh...

Drove back to US 84 and grabbed lunch at a Subway in Espanola. We were stuck behind a family who we suspected had never stepped foot in a Subway before, or were used to everything going to their picky, picky standards. The mother asked questions about the content of half the sandwiches, then discovered anything could be turned into a salad. She kept insisting on 3 slices of cheese on the side and some extra bread, in a tone that suggested her family's life depended on this. The workers were relieved when they took our order, making snide comments about the folks ahead of us while they were still there. All this time, the line grew...

Not much to report on the next leg, other than the scenery, which was beautiful.

One of the lesser examples of the scenery along US 84

Quick pit stop in Chama (dash off e-mails), then we crossed into Colorado. Endless construction until we hit Pagosa Springs, where the power went out in a grocery store. Drove along US 160 in on-again/off-again rain until it was time for dinner in Durango. Looked like a resort which would have been interesting to stop in if we had time other than dinner. Eat we did, at an Italian place called Mama's Boy. Another winner...garlic soup, mmmm...

On the road for a few more hours. At Cortez, we hopped onto US 666 - "The Devil's Highway" - which I imagine some fundamentalists pressured the government into changing. According to this article, seems the road has been hexed over the years (though I found it a nice highway to drive along at dusk into Utah). As of a few months ago, the highway is now known as US 491...though US 666 markers remain for the timebeing for the transition.

Lead us not into temptation...

(OK, the liquor store was not on 666...but it was close enough).

Drove into Utah in the dark, unsure of what kind of landscape was around us. Drove into Moab late and managed to get one of the last rooms available at a Microtel. Place was unusually active for a small town around 10pm (later learned Moab was a resort town, a gateway for rafters and mountain bikers). Followed what was becoming a pattern on the trip - quick dip in the pool, then lights out.

Sunday, August 24, 2003



Tucumcari/Santa Rosa/Pecos/Santa Fe

Decisions needed to be made about how far west we would go at this point. When I left, I figured there would be enough time to reach Las Vegas, then head north on US93 into British Columbia. Some quick math proved this route might make time tight towards the end of the trip. We'd likely arrive in LV on a Friday night, which might have been pricey. At first, thought about going as far as Flagstaff, then shortened that to Gallup. Subconciously, we may have also wanted a day where there wasn't so much driving involved.

Drove through Tucumcari, which is nothing but hotels, active and abandoned. Out of town, all you could was a landscape that was bare except for the odd shrub. Drove along I-40, since parts of old 66 faded into the dirt. Stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at another 66 landmark, Joseph's.

Though it has been around since the 50s, it recently adopted the symbol of another (now defunct) 66 landmark, the "Fat Man" from the Club Cafe down the street. Another culinary hit - huge servings of Mexican food, along with a regional staple, frybread (which is literaly that - chewy bread that has been fried, with a top like phyllo pastry, great drizzled with honey). Amy's dish was colourful - enchiladas wrapped in blue tortillas.

Rather than drive to Albuquerque, we went on an old alignment of 66 (now US 84) north towards Santa Fe. The landscape changed again, with the first signs of interesting rock formations. Desolate, but interesting to look at.

Decided to stop at Pecos National Historic Park...needed to stop somewhere for a stretch. Glad we did, as it was a park full of ruins of past pueblos and Spanish missions.

Some of remains you can walk through at Pecos

While at Pecos, thought about our plans. Since neither of us wanted to push on much further, we decided to head into Santa Fe and get a hotel room (it was only 3pm). Being early, we'd have time to look around the city.

Turned out to be one of the best ideas of the whole trip.

Santa Fe has been described as the least American looking city in America. The architectural style is different - everything from homes to chain stores have the colonial adobe theme going. Fascinating to look at. After checking in, we headed downtown to get some gift shopping in before everything closed. Amy bought a pile of jewellery, while I bought some coasters to match my copy of the Beach Boys album "Surf's Up". We lingered in a gallery dedicated to animation legend Chuck Jones...though the cartoon they showed was from one of his rivals, Tex Avery (and a classic it was...1949's Bad Luck Blackie). We rested for awhile in the plaza, then headed off to find dinner.

Downtown Santa Fe

Good time to bring this up: one of the biggest disappointments on the trip was the lack of regional retailers that weren't connected to any of the national giants. Almost every "different" grocery store I had to check out turned out to be a variant of Kroger - it became a running joke. Everywhere we went, the stores were all the same. This was true of Santa Fe, though all the national chains designed their stores to match the rest of the city, resulting in the oddest looking Targets, Borders, etc we'd ever seen

Target a la adobe

On the way back to the hotel, we found a grocery store that wasn't connected to Kroger, Lowe's. We noticed a ritual specific to the Southwest in the parking lot - customers lined up with large bags of chili peppers waiting to be roasted. Inside, found all sorts of oddball Mexican/Southwestern foods, from every type of dried chili imaginable to Coke bottles imported from south of the border. We loaded the back seat with goodies.

We ate Indian for dinner...of the Asian variety, not Navajo or Apache strain. Another thumbs-up meal.

A quick dip in the pool, along with trips back and forth to the laundry room, brought the day to a close. Wait...there was the "Mondo" show of people doing bizarre tricks with their naughty bits on MTV or a similar channel. Strange sights to lull one to sleep...

Friday, August 22, 2003

in the meantime...

A quick break from the trip chronicle...

One positive side-effect of the blackout's aftermath - it's been much easier to adjust back to work. Monday and Tuesday were half-days, while the rest of the week has been on reduced lighting and air conditioning, allowing me to wear shorts to work.

Went to the CNE Tuesday afternoon with Mom and Amy. It was opening day, but not too busy. The ride operators were generous with ride time, especially on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Picked up the last thing I needed, compact discs, which were going for $5. One that I suspect will get a few spins at future dinner parties, if I don't hide it, is one of the discs played often in second year at Arts House...

I see it singalongs of Slow Cars, Fast Cars. Rock on Chicago...

Made one fatal error - don't go on spider/octopus like rides immediately after digesting large quantities of Caribbean food, Honeydew and water. Now I know how a egg feels when it's scrambled. Stumbled off the ride in a stupor towards the nearest bathroom. Compounded that by going on another ride after. Suspect the sun fried what was left of my brain.

Naturally I'll be back next week.

Aug 24th - alas, it appears there will be no more music from Mr. Willis.


Edmond/Oklahoma City/Yukon/Canadian River/Clinton/Erick/McLean TX/Groom/Amarillo/Tucumcuri NM

Day 4 began with a quick trip through Oklahoma City. One recommendation - drive towards the state capitol from the north - it's an awesome sight (but one with no parking along the way). Passed out of the city, stopped to snap pix of an old bridge on the outskirts, as well as Yukon, OK's main attraction...

Now, Yukon's claim to fame is as the hometown of Garth Brooks. Thankfully, no memorabilia was in sight.

Next main sight on 66 was the pony bridge over the Canadian River, with at least 38 trusses. The river was nearly dry. Then came Clinton, home of the Route 66 Museum. We stopped, took the tour, then picked up souvenirs. We started to the notice the landscape change, as the land grew dustier and vegetation sparser. Shrubs began to dominate.

Final stop in Oklahoma was Erick, whose main intersection is named after its two most famous sons - singer/songwriters Roger Miller ("King Of The Road") and Sheb Wooley ("Purple People Eater"). The town has seen better days, as this shot of the largest building downtown indicates.

At least Erick had a few businesses open...which is more than can said about the next town we stopped in, and our first in the Lone Star State, McLean. The only signs of life were at a small grocery store. Otherwise, the town looked like this.

We had seen abandoned businesses through the trip, but it didn't hit us so hard until McLean. This was the effect of the interstates. You could have mistaken the place for having been abandoned after a disaster. This would be the story for the rest of our tripalong old route 66/I-40. Heck, even saw abandonment like this occuring on the last leg of the trip, where the 400 extension is beginning to replace Hwy 69 through northern Simcoe county and Muskoka. The replacement? In small areas like McLean, nothing.

Couldn't resist taking this shot near Groom, TX...

The town's other claim to fame is a giant cross to the west of it whihc claims to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It wasn't that impressive, so we didn't stop for it. Crosses are a dime a dozen, but how often do you see perilously leaning water towers?

Next was Amarillo, where we stopped for dinner at a legendary tourist spot, the Big Texan.

The Big Texan's claim to fame, which we didn't see anyone test, is its challenge to finish off a 72 oz steak, with side dishes, in an hour. We settled for daintier cuts, which proved excellent. It may have been the most expensive meal of the trip, but it was worth every bite. Discovered another tasty treatment for okra - diced, fried and battered like mushrooms. Amy appeared to be in steak nirvana. Somehow we had room for a giant strawberry shortcake, freshly made at the front of the dining room.

Warning: this is not the place to go if (a) meat disgusts you, (b) hundreds of mounted animal heads scare you and (c) you don't want anybody singing country songs to you (never got around to us...I probably would have asked for somebody like Ernest Tubb to stay with the Texas theme).

On the way out of Amarillo, we stopped at the legendary Cadillac Ranch.

A few people were mulling around, though nobody was out spray-painting the cars.

The tools of the artists at the Cadillac Ranch

Nightfall came, along with the search for a room. We followed the old tourist billboards from the 50s... "Tucumcari Tonight!"

what we did on our holidays 3: oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day

Springfield, MO/Joplin/Kansas/Miami, OK/Vinita/Tulsa/many little Oklahoma towns/Davenport/Arcadia/Edmond

The third day began with a quest for a money order to pay off the cops back in Bourbon. Tried a bank first, but the over-enthusiastic teller told me that they wouldn't sell me one unless I had an account there. It was the strangest layout I'd ever seen in a bank - all of the officers had desks in the open in the middle of the floor. I wound up at a check-cashing place where (a) no questions were asked, (b) the fee was much less than the bank would have charged and (c) I didn't have to go searching for stamps to mail the darn thing. Once this was taken care (along with a brief stop at a supermarket and a Big Lots), we left town.

Instead of Meramec Caverns or walnut bowls, all of the billboards along I-44 led travellers to Ozark Village. Again, had to see what the fuss was about.

Ozark Village, the Famous Papgain Center

We didn't go in after taking one glance in the window - so much junk crammed in with no room to move. Besides, we were scared by what a "papgain" might turn out to be.

Our last stop in Missouri was Joplin, where Amy bought a stack of cookbooks, taking a 5-4 lead over me. Next came a brief journey through Kansas, which we would have missed completely had we ventured back onto I-44.

Hello Kansas!

Goodbye Kansas!

You're seeing as much of Kansas as we did. The only town 66 goes through is Galena. Before we knew it, we weren't in Kansas anymore.

Oklahoma proved far less tacky than Missouri. One of the first towns was Commerce, which I expected to be buried in memorabilia for its most famous son, 50s Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. There wasn't much on 66 indicating sites, shops, etc. All I noticed was a baseball field in his honour. Next came Miami, with had a beautifully restored movie theatre...

Waylan's Hamburgers

...and a great old hamburger stand sign.

Outside Miami was one of the one of the few surviving "ribbon road" stretches of the highway. Rather than pave the entire road when it was built in the 1920s, a one-lane strip was paved, with gravel on either side of it to allow vehicles to pass. The stretch near Miami (spometimes called "the sidewalk highway") is in lousy shape, but fascinating to drive, especially to see some of the old turns half-buried in grass.

Sidewalk Highway Portion of Route 66

The white lines mark the edges of the paved portion.

God Answers Knee Mail

The biblical billboards disappeared, but odd church signs continued to crop up, like this one near Tulsa.

After a quick bypass of Tulsa, we drove for a long, pleasant stretch along 66. Our stomachs started to rumbled, so we stopped at a BBQ pit in Davenport.

Dan's Bar-B-Que Pit

Another great meal...this place had a BBQ buffet, loaded with smoked delights. One oddball item I fell in love with - pickled okra. The apple cobbler was also delicious.

Odor Street

Next came Arcadia, home to a legendary round barn. It didn't grab our attention, but this street name did. We'd love to know the story behind this moniker. Little could top that, so we called it a day in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

what we did on our holidays 2: deep in the tacky heart of america

Bloomington-Normal/McLean/Springfield, IL/Cahokia/St. Louis/I-44/Bourbon/Meramec Caverns/Rolla/St. Robert/Lebanon/Springfield, MO

Began the day with the first of several hotel breakfasts in a row where make-your-own waffles was among the options. Couldn't resist a tiny taste of the other soon-to-be-staple, sausage gravy and biscuits, a dish definitely not found on this side of the border. It looks like somebody's healthy sneeze, and old folks love shovelling it away.

We finally drove onto an old stretch of 66 at the south end of Bloomington-Normal. The Illinois portion of the old highway is one of the least exciting, hugging I-55 close as it passes cornfield after cornfield. The odd town and attraction pop up, such as the much-written about Dixie Trucker's Stop in McLean. It was under renovation, but we caught a look at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. Snapped shots in other towns, but didn't take a lengthy stop until we hit Springfield.

Springfield, IL is full of sites devoted to its most famous son, Abraham Lincoln. The only one we visited was his tomb, which dominated an attractive cemetery. All of the trappings made it difficult to suppress wisecracks, mostly stemming from the horror his party has evolved into (there was a time where "Republican" wasn't a word to be instantly mocked on the left side of the slant). Might have been all the signs requesting total silence while in the tomb room. But hey, it's Lincoln we're talking here. If it had been, say, Millard Fillmore's tomb with the same requests, the story would be different.

We got lost south of Springfield but found the freeway and 66. A brief side trip to a well-marked covered bridge didn't turn out to be much (you couldn't drive across it), other than seeing teenagers petrified by snakes underneath.

Cahokia Mounds

Next stop was Cahokia Mounds, outside St. Louis. The interpretive centre was closed, but we walked around the grounds. I don't think the mounds thrilled Amy, who wasn't going to walk up any of them. After a quick walk down one trail, we hopped back in the car and drove across the Mississippi into St. Louis.

Ted Drewes Custard

All of the books and tourist guides I read urged any travellers to stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a 66 landmark for ages. Their claim to fame is the "concrete", an ancestor of the Dairy Queen Blizzard which is served upside down to prove its thickness. On the way, we passed this building...

Bradburn's Parent Teacher Stores

We turned around and stopped by. It was a branch of a small chain of educational supply stores, like Scholar's Choice. We couldn't stop laughing at the irony (my sister's a teacher, as was my father...I'm the only family member not employed by a school board).

Ted Drewes proved worthy of the hype. Each of our hefty concretes (I had roasted pistachio, she had Heath Bar) vanished quickly.

Outside of St. Louis, the onslaught of billboards for Missouri's tourist traps began in earnest. Ozarkland. Branson. Meramec Caverns. Especially Meramec Caverns , Stanton, MO. In the old days, barns for hundreds of miles either side of it were painted with signs for this cold, natural but highly commercialized wonder. Today, it's billboards like this one...

Meramec Caverns (1)

We couldn't resist driving by. We might have gone in if i hadn't been for a hefty admission fee. Still, on trips like these you have to see what all the hubub is about.

If Missouri billboards aren't out to capture your wallet, they're on a quest for your soul. Have never seen so many biblical signs. Believers in other faiths need not apply around there. The funniest were the inevitable ones beside adult video stores, battling for onlookers eyes with the pleasures of the flesh.

Once beyond the reach of Meramec, the signs were mostly for walnut bowls. See if you can figure out why these need so much hype (at least 100 miles either side of Lebanon).

We alternated between 66 and I-44, with the old road in patchy shape most of the way. While I had been a speed demon through Illinois, I wasn't straying far from the limit here, lest we miss another cheesy sign or trap. We had just passed through the unremarkable town of Bourbon when I saw lights flashing in the rearview.

I switched into panic/heart attack mode as Amy tried to calm me down. The officer pulled up and gave me a short history of 66 through the area, then noted this was a stretch notorious for fatalities where the speed limit had recently been dropped from 50 MPH to 40. He kept apologizing for having to write me a ticket, but he was instructed to target everyone by his superiors. Took my license, then walked back to his car for an eternity.

I didn't remember seeing any reduced speed signs, or anything marking a speed change as new. It also seemed strange that he didn't take my insurance number down. There were all of the apologies. I was feeling like no matter what I'd done, I would have been trapped one way or another.

He came back to the car and handed me a summons for a court date in late August. However, I could mail in the fine, which left me $83 US poorer. More apologies, then I was allowed to go. Still couldn't shake the feeling this was more a donation than violation.

Our opinion of the state didn't improve in Rolla. We tried looking for someplace to have dinner, but everything was closed. Power outage. Not that there was much to choose from even if the juice was flowing - looked like a depressing place. Instead, we wound up at a small BBQ pit in St. Robert, the Sweetwater. Now this was the type of dining experience we were looking for. A small place whose cooking area was larger than the seating area. Could have eaten outside by the smoker, but rain threatened. We loaded up on the standards - Amy had big meaty ribs, while I had a combo of pulled pork, brisket and smoked turkey. All delicious...

Drove a bit further, past more signs for walnut bowls. We drove by the place, but it was closed for the day. We carried on until we reached Springfield...

Wrong one again. We passed a strip of seedy-looking hotels that had been advertised for miles on the freeway, before settling on a Clarion at the south end of town. All we knew was the sooner we were out of Missouri, the happier we'd be.

Monday, August 18, 2003

what we did on our holidays 1: headin' to the mother road

After years of daydreaming and months of obsession, the long-pondered roadtrip across the continent became reality Aug 3, 2003. The plan: in two weeks, drive down old Route 66 as far as Las Vegas (Los Angeles was too far), head north along US 93 into Canada, turn east at Banff, then take the Trans-Canada Highway back to Toronto. With my sister along for the ride, here is the story of that adventure...

Detroit/Ann Arbor/Irish Hills/Coldwater/Indiana/South Chicagoland/Joliet/Bloomington-Normal

The trip began with a gargantuan breakfast at Louie's, a sandwich nook on the east side of Detroit. I hadn't been there for a few years, since my father passed away. We went there for excellent bean soup and ham sandwiches. One thing that had changed was the decor - there were now booths. Our booth was barely large enough to hold the food we ordered. I ordered pastrami and eggs - the pastrami was piled high on a separate plate.

From there, we stopped in another of our usual hangouts, Ann Arbor. Arrived just as stores were starting to open. Dropped a pile of money at Encore Recordings, where compact discs go to die (their inventory is ridiculous - the front counter is buried in discs waiting to be processed, but at least they let people look through them). Went on a soul tear, picking up the likes of the Isley Brothers and Joe Simon, along with an album of ba-ad celebrity recordings (Hollywood Hi-Fi, featuring the immortal warblings of folks like Jayne Mansfield and Dennis Weaver). Also picked up several cookbooks at Borders, which required numerous reshufflings around the trunk over the trip.

From A2, we headed down US 12, through Michigan's tourist trap heaven, the Irish Hills. If mysterious hills or prehistoric forests are to your liking, this is your kind of place. Home to folks like these...

Sand Lake Volunteer Fire Department

None of the traps made us want to stop, so we carried on through Coldwater, then down to Indiana. Hopped on the Indiana Toll Road, passing the names of the places my mom goes to with her cousins every year (giant flea markets and craft shops). We flew along until we reached suburban Chicago, where every road we tried to go down was clogged—partly heavy traffic, partly local flooding. US 30 looked like a good alternate, but we ended up in one jam after another, passing dead shopping malls. Maybe we would have been better off to go into the Windy City (though we did pass through one sweet little town, Frankfort, on a stretch of the old Lincoln Highway).

Lincoln Highway Marker

By the time we hit Joliet, our stomachs growled. Hit a local eatery (something that began with a Amy!), where we snarfed down decent broiled fish dinners. Hopped onto I-55 (the modern day replacement for Route 66 in Illinois) and drove to Bloomington-Normal to find a hotel. We flipped through one of the handy hotel coupons books you can find along any major US highway. Settled on a Signature Inn, which was a nice place for $49 (fridge and microwave in the room), but proved to be the only place we stayed the entire trip that didn't have a pool!

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

one fine weekend in southwestern ontario and southeastern michigan (2)

We zig-zagged around the city for the next hour, going back and forth across Woodward. We covered areas like Ferry St, the New Center, Boston-Edison, ground zero for the 1967 riots, Hamtramck and so on. Almost missed the Motown Museum - I thought it was on the other side of the street and the view was blocked by several tour buses. It's one of those places you've always intended to visit, but never get around to. Should have marked that as a New Year's Resolution...

One comment that kept cropping up as the others saw more of the city was how they now understood why musicians from the region like Eminem were so angry. The abandoned landscape led to thoughts about the decayed inner cores of American cities versus healthy ones like Toronto (some American exceptions were mentioned, like Boston, SF or NYC). The decay struck a nerve, especially when we crossed into the suburbs and saw the landscape change immediately. The lack of visible minorities in the burbs was duly noted.

Another thing they noticed was the size of the flags flown by businesses. In Canada, we're not used to seeing flags flapping away that are larger than a car.

Started to make stops again in the burbs, beginning with a Slurpee run in Oak Park. Big Lots was next, where Dee and Jess pondered hideous vases as potential joke gifts. Had an off day at Street Corner Music - some days you have to keep tossing discs and records back, but this wasn't one of those.

Target (pronounced tar-zhay) was our next destination. Think the gang was impressed, judging by the time we spent there and the cart full of stuff. Sounds like they want to go again in a few weeks (but a closer location - Buffalo). From Sesame Street garments to cat dishes, from cereal to video tape, items flew into the cart. Somebody would disappear then return with hands full. Mark picked up a new signature item - a cowboy hat. Items were marked out for potential future purchases. Maybe I have a future doing Target runs, like the Cherry Coke runs for the border in university.

Wandered over to the East Side next, staring at mansions in the Grosse Pointes. A quick trip to Belle Isle, where the architectural ruins were admired. Had a late dinner at La-Shish in Dearborn. Still running on my streak of not having had a bad meal there (this time soup and fattoush). We had to help Mark finish off his lamb dinner, a fine example to the group of the size of American restaurant portions. Everybody appeared to enjoy the fresh pita bread, the soups, salads and smoothies. The female members of the party also enjoyed the waiter...

Meijer (a regional supermarket chain) was the final stop. Jess borrowed Mark's hat and took a penny pony ride. Eyes popped at the wide selection of patriotic junk food. Eyes rolled at large, leaky tubes of hamburger.

Got back across the border with no problems, went back to my place and collapsed. The sleep would be necessary to get through the final packed day of the trip.

Stay tuned for Episode 3, with adventures on this side of the border...

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

third birthday present

Third Birthday Present

Hours of fun in the sandbox to come!

Photo taken July 1978 - JB

Sunday, July 27, 2003

one fine weekend in southwestern ontario and southeastern michigan (1)

Brought a carload of friends back to my hometown this weekend, a chance to get out of the city for a few days. Covered a lot of ground, which will take a few entries to tell.

Had an easy drive out of the city. Stopped in Woodstock at Dairy Queen, where we sat in the parking lot with the local teenage population. Drove through London, past several sketchy strip joints ("sketchy" was a term thrown around often during the weekend) and into a livelier-than-I-remember downtown London. Maybe the place is now dead by day, alive by night, like Windsor. Arrived in A'burg around midnight, watched an episode of the Muppet Show, then collapsed for the night.

Things got off to a good start at the border, where the guard joked around with us, asking if the girls were dragging the guys along for shopping. More proof the guards are friendlier at Detroit than along the Niagara River. Once across, we swung around the Hotel Yorba, then grabbed lunch at Armando's. Dee's chicken enchilladas were the hit of the meal.

After stuffing our faces, we drove by the ruins of the Michigan Central Station and Tiger Stadium (the latter site now being pursued by Wal-Mart - NOOOOOOOO!!! Don't let that be the fate of a chunk of land that provided many happy childhood memories!). Went across Lafayette, then parked south of Greektown to head over for a spin on the People Mover.

For the next hour, endless mentions of the monorail episode of the Simpsons were made.

The others were struck by the lack of people walking around. Definitely not downtown Toronto. Eerie, post-apocalyptic...these were the words being tossed around. If only they could drive around downtown Detroit on a foggy day with the sewer grates on full-steam, a sight that's pure Robocop/Blade Runner. Finally ran into other intelligent forms of life in Greektown, just in time for a group bathroom break.

I figured there'd be one in the Greektown Casino building (formerly Trapper's Alley, which used to house a store that sold only purple-coloured items and where I saw my first live sex act on a railing). The only survivors from the pre-casino days were tow places Dad and I used to eat at, the Pegasus and the Olympia. None appeared to be outside the casino, so we went in. Discovered casinos creep me out - felt very uncomfortable amidst the dull drone of slot machines, stale smoke and sad-looking characters. Also saw the largest mullet any of us had seen in years. One of the floor staff marked us as Canadians (was it the accents? the dazed wandering around?) We all tested the slots after Mark won back a dollar he threw in. Jess won $5 and stopped while she was ahead. BTW, I apologize to the others if I seemed too eager to leave...but it really did a number on me. Going to love to see my reactions to Las Vegas next week (though there will be other distractions at the gilded palaces of sin there).

(photo temporarily out of commission)
Three people in search of an elevated train
Here's the gang standing on the platform at the Greektown People Mover station. Detroit's rail system (we debated the merits of calling it a monorail) is short, cheap and a great way to see the city's ruins. Usually it runs in a loop, but the reconstruction of the Renaissance Center has forced to go in a back-and-forth pattern. We waited...and waited...and waited...and sang the monorail song a few more times...and waited...and stared at the shoe somebody lost...and waited. Once on, the others liked the art in the stations and the designs on the Guardian Building. Rather than go back around, we got off at the Millender Centre and walked through more people-free areas, such as this building on Congress.
(photo temporarily out of commission)

continued in Episode 2...

Sunday, July 20, 2003

on the radio

Spent Friday night/Saturday morning on the airwaves for the first time in several months. I didn't forget how to use the equipment, though more of it was in less-than-functional order (now both turntables and one CD player need a manual cue - the board will only send the sound out). Things seem to be in better order around there these days - they have finally started to catalogue the new releases and make it easy to figure out if anything has gone for a walk. Good new material is available, not missing after a week. Record library's still a mess, but don't think that can be helped. It's scary to still see signs posted in there from my attempts to rearrange the years ago.

Nobody called, so I can't be sure if anybody was listening. Whenever I do a late-night fill-in, there's usually a drunk or stoner who'll call in and keep pestering for stuff. Still remember the first call I ever got at the station - it was before my first show, and a little girl called in wanting to hear the Spice Girls. The request went unfulfilled because:
(1) The Spice Girls weren't station fodder at the time (no top 40 if possible...though given how bad "top 40" radio is these days, that's not a difficult task. Somebody could probably play them now out of camp value.
(2) I had just returned from England, during the height of Spicemania. Any mention of them was enough to cause a temporary loss of sanity.

Felt a little bad, since it was a little kid, but hey, them's the breaks.

As the playlist...ranged all over the rock map, from recent tunes by the likes of the White Stripes and New Pornographers to all the way back to Gene Vincent. A bit of reggae, bit o' country and Quebec rock were tossed in. A dash of soundtrack music. A pinch of outsider stuff (the unbelievable Curly Toes, the lamest striptease tune ever written, so lame nobody knows who recorded it). A couple tunes suggested by friends (Andy Stochansky and Mitsou). Vintage Detroit car dealer commercials. In short, the usual eclectic bag.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

random notes

Updates and news...

1) The test laboratory in the basement has picked up a newfangled gizmo called a digital camera. Results of its tests will appear in the next few weeks.

2) I'll be on the road the first two weeks of August, travelling across the continental. Updates may appear, if only to keep straight the places I've been.

3) Chateau Cola is still a mystery (May 20th). Any leads are appreciated. Other family members recall having root beer, grape and orange.

4) Looks like one miscarriage of musical justice has finally been rectified, according to the latest issue of MOJO magazine. In Britain, it looks like Neil Young's On The Beach has legitimately entered the digital era (June 11th).

5) No more sushi for me. Another food through trial and error that i have discovered no longer agrees with me. However, discovered the cure the tummy woes may be lazing around a hotel pool all afternoon and going out for a nostalgic dinner with siblings.


Let's just say my digestive system is screwed up. It's a fussy beast, usually tamed by medication whenever I suspect danger lurks. It's when I'm caught off guard that I throw on the deerstalker and figure out the root of the problem. Saturday, I had a tasty lunch at a local Japanese restaurant. Japanese cuisine has had an on-again, off-again history with me, depending on the restaurant (I'm beginning to suspect the Ho Su restaurants are the only place I'm safe!). Sushi and teriyaki seemed to go down fine. Spend the steamy day wandering around the city, passing one too many inflatible Shoppers Drug Mart teddy bears as I wandered all the way down Yonge (it was Street Fest weekend, one of Mayor Mel's brainchilds. Yee-haw).

Felt OK going to bed, decided I didn't need to take a pill. Four in the morning....ugh.

I will spare you, sensitive reader, what usually accompanies these periodic reactions to things. Wait until Halloween. :)

So by 7am Sunday, I figure I'm in the clear, sleeping peacefully until my sister and her boyfriend call to meet up for lunch. They were in town on one of the special post-SARS packages, which included a night at the Chelsea, one dinner, a couple of attractions and tickets to The Lion King. I felt OK during the phone call, then I fell off the wagon.

Determined not to have my day ruined, I met them down at Mel's Deli in the Annex. While they ate, I slurped away at a treat rare in these parts, unsweetened ice tea. Followed them to the record store next door, picked out a couple of discs (James Brown, Elis Regina), then left my goodies with them to flee back to their hotel room for the last act of misery.

After lazing around their room, we spent the rest of the afternoon resting around the pool. OK, it didn't start out as a rest. I want the see the Chelsea's new waterslide. There were no restrictions on adults, so I gave it a shot. Fast, yet not stomach-turning, though I stuck my elbows out (and bear the scars). Go on again. Sister's boyfriend follows, not repeating my mistake.

Spend awhile around the adult pool before a quick trip uptown. I was going to drop them off for dinner, but hunger pangs struck. Dilemma time - felt OK, but would food at this point cause further misery? Taking the risk, I joined them for dinner.

Wise move.

We went to the Old Spaghetti Factory, where we used to go all the time as kids. Figured it'd be good for a nostalgic kick. The place hasn't changed much since the late 70s-early 80s - still lots of Tiffany lamps, knick-knacks, happy kids and garlic butter. Dishes looked the same, as did the prices (with inflation). So did the food. Sometimes about a bout of misery, it's the simple meals that taste so good. Wolfed down a bowl of spaghetti in no time flat. Felt no misery, heck better than before entering the restaurant.

Wonder if they finished their tour of all the sites used for the Degrassi TV shows today...

Finally got home around 10pm, feeling like Tony the Tiger - grrrreat! Slept like a baby and woke up the next morning ready to take on the world!

Monday, June 30, 2003

chicken run

Guess it's been a week since I last posted anything. Life's been busy in the interim - dinner with friends (one occured, one postponed), a trip home, opening birthday presents (even though the actual day isn't for two more weeks), watching my life flash by on the the 401...

The ride back last night? Not bad until Dutton. Just beyond the service station, I noticed a car gaining fast on me. I was driving in the right lane, so i figured the guy would pass and maintain my speed, around 110. Instead, they kept gaining, breathing on my tail. Then they starting flashing their high beams off and on, like a strobe light. Even though the left lane was clear, they refused to pass. I wanted to pull into the left lane, but my eyes were full of spots and the glare from the other car was too strong. I pulled over and they followed. Pulled back into the right, and the chase continued. Then there was some traffic ahead of me and I attempted to brake a bit, but the other car was not going to give any room.

My heart raced as traffic ahead was in both lanes and I was closing in. Thoughts about mortality entered my head, and sputtered out "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die..." Luckily, the guy in the left lane ahead of me pulled ahead just enough for me to slip in. Once past the two cars, the maniac sped back up and pulled even beside me. I did not turn my head, concentrating on the road ahead of me. I tried to put my panic aside. The other car pulled back a distance, and I soon returned to the right lane. They came back up on my tail one more time, but then around Hwy 4 some trucks appeared ahead of us.

I think the maniac must have had their fill of fun by then, as they didn't do anything else. I think I saw them get off at Highbury Ave in London. I stopped at the next service station and relaxed my nerves with a donut. I'm stumped by what caused the other driver to act so recklessly - I don't remember cutting anyone off, or pissing anybody off at the Dutton service station. Wasn't being a slowpoke in the left lane or going slow. Was it a drunk or a thrillseeker playing chicken?

works in progress department—test pattern, part two

Continuing on...

(If the project was set in the 60s, the concept album/rock opera had to rear its head. What was the most mundane Cancon topic one could choose?)

In 1969, the group was commission by the CBC and several FM stations to compose a Canadian rock opera, to compete with the likes of Hair and Tommy. Why the group chose to create a song cycle based on the life of Canada's 5th Prime Minister, Mackenzie Bowell, remains a mystery to this day. "Bowell Movement" was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in May 1969.

Test Pattern Presents...

The pride of Belleville, he had no plan
Beyond being a loyal Orangeman

The album ended with an 11-minute epic, So Long Mr. Bowell

So long Mr. Bowell
It was good while you had it
So long Mr. Bowell
Tupper's back and right at it
So long Mr. Bowell
If only you’d had more time
So long Mr. Bowell
You'd have made another rhyme.

So long Mr. Bowell
Those damn Manitoba schools
So long Mr. Bowell
Made you look like damn fools
So long Mr. Bowell
If only you'd had more time
So long Mr. Bowell
You'd have made another rhyme.

Sales were initially brisk, as buyers thought they might be getting something dirty inside. Discovering that the title was not a double entendre, sales leveled quickly. Still, it made everyone a tidy little profit.

The initial reaction prompted organizers of the Woodstock music festival to extend an invitation to the group. Unfortunately, the group misunderstood the invitation and set out for Woodstock, ON, for local farmer Mack Yasser's farm. They stayed for several days, playing only for Mr. Yasser's cows.

MACK YASSER: I was on vacation at the time, when I got a call from my neighbour, who said there was some hippies, or whatever they called them crazy kids back then, running around the farm. I rushed home and saw they'd dismantled one of my barns and used the wood for a stage. It was just the cows staring at them, no people. I tell ya, never seen my stock ever look so confused when those boys were banging away.

Yasser figured they'd drift away, but word about Test Pattern soon spread to town. An estimated crowd of 300 showed up on Day 5, only to find a band ragged in voice and appearance from playing 4 days straight to the livestock.

A plaque now marks the site.

(If this tale was going to go into the 70s, and especially if it wound up involving friends in photos, the glam rock era had to be touched upon. Looking at photos of acts from that time, it's amazing there weren't any serious/fatal accidents due to their outfits).

This phase was worst on Bottell, who barely fit into the tight costumes the group was provided with. It proved too much on Aug 12, 1973, when he collapsed halfway through a television performance of "Glamour Puss". Thus ended the group's flirtation with glam

Canuck Records fell into receivership at this time, its tie-ins with the World Football League, World Hockey Association and the Bricklin all turned to rust.

And then disco hit.

(and there the fragments end, other than a list of potential names for group members).

Group Membership
Gord Labatt
Gord Molson
Carl O'Keefe
Mary Seagram (later known as Marigold Sunray)
Horace "Hi" Walker
Juliette Gooderham
Jack Worts
Ben Sleeman
Pierre Brique
Raja Sri Pultabi
Jack "Stubby" Bottell

Other proposed tales in this series:

Episode 2: Forbidden Libido
Episode 3: The Maple Leaf Singers
Episode 4: Spazims