Tuesday, January 27, 2004

on the skids

At first, I didn't think much of reports that a major storm was going to hit SW Ontario yesterday. There had already been a few "Chicken Little" storms that had passed through. I took a day off work to leisurely make my way back to Toronto after spending the weekend in A'burg for my aunt's 70th birthday. If it snowed, I had time to play with.

Driving wasn't too bad going through Essex County. The back roads were drivable, despite some drifting snow around Woodslee. Got onto 401 at Comber, with an immediate taste of things to come - at Tilbury, the westbound lanes were backed up due to a jacknifed truck blocking the road.

Drifting snow dominated Chatham-Kent, with the odd vehicle in the ditch. I was carefully, rarely going the posted speed. Most drivers were equally cautious. Figured I'd reach London around 1-1:30 and grab a late lunch. Crossing into Elgin County, the drifting stopped and the road appeared fine. Remained cautious, stayed at or below 100. Strong winds rocked the car, making my stomach flip. Just before London, noticed the number of vehicles at the side of the road was going up.

Then the fun began.

Past Hwy 4, I hit a patch of black ice. The car skidded. I tried to regain control, but that only made it swing wildly. Not knowing what was behind or beside me, figured it was better to veer the car into the ditch on the right than the median on the left. My heart felt like it was going to explore. For a second, I felt like the car was airbound. It ended up doing a 180 before coming to a stop.

I wasn't far from the road, but I landed in a bank deep enough that the car wasn't going to go anywhere. Then I noticed a van further down the road, which must have hit the same patch earlier. Hopped out to check for any damage. A car stopped and asked if they could call a tow truck or the police.

10 minutes after I flew off the road, a van with a horse trailer skidded into the median. It didn't tip over, so it moved on. The police showed up and called CAA. Stayed in the cruiser for awhile until another motorist stopped to report a major accident before Hwy 4. Went back to the car, turned on the heat and read the paper, figuring a tow truck would arrive soon.

An hour later, no tow. Instead, my eyes popped out when a trailer tipped over a hundred feet from the car. The cops came back and helped him out. I checked the status of my tow - the dispatcher said the call had gone through, but the large number of accidents was responsible for a 3-4 hour delay. Back to the car.

The long wait was eased when heavy-equipment movers arrived to right the trailer. A CFPL truck showed up to shoot footage of the trailer and my car. The reporter was disappointed when told none of the 3 vehicles in the ditch were not part of a chain reaction. Just as they wrapped up, my tow showed up, 2-1/2 hours after becoming acquainted with the side of 401. The car was pulled out quickly, then the tower blocked traffic so I could turn the right way. This didn't make the cops happy, even though they'd closed off a lane to right the trailer.

Took a few minutes out to wolf down a gyro at White Oaks Mall before deciding to continue on or stay in London for the night. The latest forecast made the former imperative, since conditions were expected to deteriorate overnight. Hopped back on 401, but felt nervous. The road was slippery and there were impatient trucks. I couldn't wait to get on 403, which sounded trouble-free. The choice was made for me when traffic backed up right at 403.

No problems through Hamilton, other than snow started falling. Hopped onto old Hwy 2 at Ancaster to avoid any problems going down the Mountain on 403 (figured it would be scary). QEW was fine until the Ford plant, where a familiar backup appear. I veered off onto Royal Windsor Drive, into a white oblivion.

Plows had barely touched the surface streets. Since more accidents were reported on the QEW/Gardiner, figured I'd stay on Royal Windsor, then head into the city on Lakeshore. Light traffic and a long string of green lights eased things, but conditions deteriorated rapidly. Blinded by drifting snow at Humber Bay. Some dork decided to form their own lane at Parkside, causing me to nearly smash into them. Cabs made the trek up Yonge frightening.

10 hours after setting out, I was home. After a nerve-induced...well, you don't need to know..., I let out a loud sigh of relief.

The car will not move for awhile. Hello TTC.

Note: I tried finding London links on the storm, but CFPL's website ("the new PL") is worse than useless and the London Free Press had zilch.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

motivational malarkey

Sitting with some friends the other night, brainstorming for ideas on short films we could make. One subject that came up was the strain of lame motivational speakers that darken the nation's school gymnasiums and corporate theatres. Plenty of comic potential with the speakers we've seen over the years who failed to inspire any of us, except for laughs.

There are genuinely good speakers out there who make impactful speeches that cause the brain to go for a workout, but they are rare birds. The majority fail. especially if the audience they're working for is jaded high school kids, who already have ideas on how the world works. I hated going to these assemblies back at General Amherst, whether it was a fancy multi-media show or a humble pep rally.

I had a trick to escape these assemblies in high school. My father was a teacher there and he enjoyed them as much as I did. By grade 12, we worked out a plan to dodge them (unless he was suppose to supervising the halls or, if he was unlucky, forced to endure the proceedings). He had two rooms, one for teaching, the other for half of his newspaper clippings collection.

(Aside: my father's newspaper clipping collection was the salvation of many students for over 30 years. Based on a collection one of his profs had, rather than toss out papers and magazines, he hacked out articles of interest. The earliest samples were from 1962, but the collection didn't begin in earnest until the '68 election and Trudeaumania. It braodened over the years to include any subject under the sun - history, politics, literature, music, geography, etc. Before he died, he started to parcel it out among other teachers, but the majority sat idle for a year. Some wound up at a private school, while I suspect the rest was recycled. A tragic end, but it's hard to say what could have been done otherwise - at the end, it took up three rooms).

I'd go into the clipping room, out of view from the slit-window on the door until the halls emptied out. I'd remain there for the rest of the afternoon, doing homework or shooting the breeze. My sister soon joined in, as did several friends. It was better than whatever was going on down in the gym.

One that the board loved was a roadshow put on by Pepsi. A triple-screen set out showed scenes that were supposed to inspire the audience to move on to better things in life, to the strains of Van Halen's Right Now or other uplifting power ballads. The key lesson? Life was better if you tried hard, especially if you tried hard with Pepsi at hand.

Keys to the world of motivational speakers, high-school division:

1) If there is any musical element to their presentation, it is usually 10 years out of date, in that strange state where it's not close enough to revival time, not far enough to be remember with fondness or a post-modern viewpoint. Hello break-dancing melodica players.

2) Unless it's graphic, it ain't going to have an impact. Even then, the kids will think blood and guts is cool.

3) If it's sponsored by a corporation, the underwriter will make damn sure they get their 10 cents in.

4) Yelling doesn't make your message sink in any further - you look like a fool or a zealot.

I was lucky in that I never had to endure travelling troups of happy young people or quasi-religious assemblies. At work, I've been spared speakers, other than short sections of quarterly state-of-the-company meetings. I don't remember these parts, since I'm asleep in the cushy Silver City chairs by the time that part rolls around. My sister was less lucky, but she'll get to that subject someday, or send me her memories.

users are losers and other classics of public service announcements

Updated September 14, 2010. This post originally contained links to these classic PSA campaigns on the Ad Council website which no longer work. In their place, YouTube videos that may cease to function at anytime.


Smokey The Bear - Smokey's deep, stern warnings admonishing people that "only you can prevent forest fires" used to spook me. I imagine this ad's quick change from Joanna Cassidy to ol' Smokey might have sent me scurrying, given my inability to handle any sort of transformation scene when I was five.


McGruff The Crime Dog - 80s kids icon (at least if you grew up close to the border). Columboesque mutt who urged the audience to "take a bite out of crime" (cue chomp sound). Sadly, "Users are Losers" failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 chart.


The United Negro College Fund - another one that I saw regularly during childhood, it's slogan "A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste" still rings true. A child's first exposure to the realities of college funding.


Drinking & Driving Can Kill A Friendship - the classic crashing glasses spot. Not shown: ads with grim reaper, or Stevie Wonder urging friends "Don't Drive Drunk" (no no no no, no no no no...).

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

return to the land of bowling for columbine

Finally got around to watching Bowling For Columbine today. I enjoyed it for the way it took on the insanity of guns in the US. Sure, odd bits seemed forced or took jumps of logic, but overall I agreed with Moore's barbs at his country.

Having grown up surrounded by the Detroit media, all we ever heard on the news was the latest shooting of the day, the coverage of which grew more sensationalistic over the years. Whenever I head home, I catch a local newcast just to see how much further down the toilet its gone. It never fails to meet the lowest expectations, as shown in the film by the behaviour of the reporter when the cameras weren't rolling (here he is covering the shooting of a child, and he's worried about his hair. Looks triumph over substance again).

Lots of the local groups and events covered in the film were the butt of jokes while growing up...Gibraltar Trade Centre gun shows (advertised enthusiastically on billboards and TV), the Michigan Militia, the grimness of Flint, etc. Once my dad and I went for a drive around Decker (where the James Nichols segment was filmed - I was waiting for him to say something in his pop-eyed manner about the Reds or little green men) to see what the place looked like. All Dad could say was "yup, this looks like Michigan Militia territory!"

The hardest part to get through was the Chuck Heston interview at the end. Now knowing that he has Alzheimer's made it even more painful to watch, as you could not be sure if his answers were muddled because of the disease or because he didn't want to answer the questions about showing up after the tragedies in Littleton and Flint (I suspect both). It felt like catching up to an ancient war criminal who's dying and will never quite pay fof their actions.

I'd seen portions of the film when Moore spoke at U of T a couple of years ago, while it was still in post-production (though my main memory of the night was the ruckus caused by folks in the nosebleed seats of Convocation Hall, who were angry not everyone could get in due to fire regulations. This pissed off most of the audience, who told them to shut off. Moore led a few rounds of "O Canada" to calm everyone down). Was impressed then and knew I wanted to see the finished product. It turned into one of those movies I keep meaning to see but either forget about or discover the video store is out of copies. Friends were astonished I hadn't seen it, especially with portions filmed in my old stomping grounds.

One lingering thought - I will feel odd the next time the family decides to go up to Great Lakes Crossing, the mall in Auburn Hills the welfare workers took the bus to. I'll wonder which employees came in on the bus and who's sitting behind at home.

If you're interested in what Michael Moore's up to, check out his website. And if anybody's got a banged-up copy of Stupid White Men they want to get rid of, let me know!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

how to misplace your car in a parking lot in niagara falls, new york

Even though there were a couple of cancellations from others intending to come along, I ended up shufflin' down to Buffalo on Saturday. All signs pointed toward a good day. First good sign - no lineup at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Sign #2 - the first border guard I've ever encounter there who didn't have their humanity surgically removed (made jokes after he asked where I was going and I rambled off all potential destinations). Sign #3 - immediately finding what I was looking for (a new backpack).

Then came the comedy. After spending an hour at the outlet mall, I headed back to the car. No sign of it. I wander the parking lot for 10 minutes, frantically looking but finding no sign of the car. My pulse quickened, my mind raced and a steady stream of obscenities flew out of ny mouth.

I flagged down a security vehicle, who then did a search of the entire lot. He assured me that usually people had forgotten which entrance they came in and wound up miles away from where their vehicle was. I waited in the entrance of the Gap while he roamed.

My brain raced in every direction. Nothing valuable was in the car. Thought of who could rescue me. How to break the news to the folks back home. How to finance another vehicle. How the security guard looked and sounded like a skinnier version of my sister's boyfriend (who's in the same biz).

After 15 minutes, he came back. Vehicle found. I had looked in the wrong area. Cue maniacal laughter.

The rest of the day carried on in the same vein as it began - found things i wanted, picked up stuff for friends, got back across the border with no hassles.

Tip: if driving by Niagara Falls in the winter, especially along the Niagara Parkway, and it's colder than the Arctic, watch out for the spray forming beautiful but annoying ice patterns on the windshield.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

random notes

1) Give 'Em Hell, Batboy!
It's 99-cent week at Loblaws, which means lots of time spent in grocery checkout lines. Looking for reading material while my imitation crab flakes and lunch meat creep up to room temperature, I've been browsing through a paragon of journalistic integrity, The Weekly World News. Seems their mascot, Batboy, was there when Saddam Hussein was captured. Other enlightening stories included the musical genius of Britney Spears, a couple banned from all buffets in North America and the discovery that the Earth is shrivelling up like a prune. Worth a few laughs, especially the "Ed Anger" column parodying frothing-at-the-mouth conversative radio commentators.

2) Now It's Sal
Came back from dropping off some of my mom's famous nanaimo bars at Mark and Jess's, decided to check if anybody had called. More junk phone mail, from our friends at Best Price Movers (in no way a division of the Warehouse). New twist - the pitchman is now named Sal and it's not the same guy! Boris/Jimmy/Janos must have gotten the boot, as the new guy never stumbles on "uhhhhh". The phone number flew by too fast for me to send it off to the CRTC.

3) More On My Doppleganger
My sister picked up more info on my Sprint-owing doppleganger while shopping on Friday. She bought a pair of shoes at the John Fluevog store on Queen West. The salesperson asked for her name and a "Jamie Bradburn" came up on their computer, with the doppleganger's address. So now I know their phone and shoe preferences - what's next? -JB