Friday, March 31, 2006

how to spend your sister's birthday in southeast michigan (2)

Our next stop was Frankenmuth, which bills itself as "Michigan's Little Bavaria". An odd place for a tourist town, tucked in between Michael Moore and Michigan Militia territory. Flint is 15 minutes to the south - if you're seen any of Moore's films, you'll know why we bypass it, though Dort Hwy (M-54) is a hoot for its alternating pattern of auto body shops and massage parlours.

You know you're headed into tourist country when the first site you pass is a giant year-round Christmas store. Having exhausted our holiday cheer on Dec 25th, we drove along.

Next Stop: Dinner, Little Bavaria Style

Classic Sign Time

Dinner was our sole stop. I'd passed through Frankenmuth, but never dined on the chicken dinners the town built its reputation on. Zehnder's has served up monster dinners for decades, in a building that began as a hotel in 1856. Popular place - at 4:30 there was a long line, which moved swiftly. While they waited, I walked out to Main St and snapped some pics.

Christmas Buggy Ride In March
Buggies take the old Christmas Eve on Sesame Street tune "Keep Christmas With You" literally.

Glock Around The Clock Tonight
We're gonna glock around the clock tonight...

Homeland Security, Frankenmuth Style
I consulted with the local head of Homeland Security, on watch outside the Bavarian Inn, if I would be safe while dining. He assured me all was well to the strains of oompah music.

I was warned that Zehnder's didn't skimp when it came to the trimmings for dinner. One wonders how large was the family their "family-style" meals were designed for, though now it might feed the typical American nuclear family.

Frankenfeast - Noodles, Noodles, Noodles Frankenfeast - Still Life of Liver Pate, Cheese Spread and Toasts
Left: Chicken noodle soup. Bulged with fresh noodles.
Right: Chicken liver pate and cheese spread. Both were better than they looked.

Frankenfeast - The Birthday Girl
Amy was a happy camper...

Frankenfeast - Mom
...as was Mom. Among the dishes in front of them are peas, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, preserves and coleslaw.

Frankenfeast - Dig In!
Here's the chicken and buttered noodles. Guess who grabbed them first. The chicken lived up to reputation - meaty and not greasy. My wacky digestive system smiled. We ate in moderation, only ordering seconds of items mentioned in this paragraph.

Frankenfeast - Dessert
Luckily, dessert was on the light side. The only heavy aspect of the orange sherbet was the slowly-sinking elephant.

We worked off dinner by heading to our usual destination in the area, the outlet centre at Birch Run. I hadn't been there for several years, when it seemed like it was starting down the road to dead malldom (Great Lakes Crossing opened 50 miles to the south - you might have caught a glimpse of it in Bowling For Columbine). Any downward track didn't last long, as the centre appeared healthy. Mom and Amy did well buying "smelly stuff", Amy's term for all the lotions, sprays and toiletries she stocks up at Bath and Body Works. I picked up a few more cookbooks in a series I've been building for years from Borders' bargain tables. This time: Vietnamese and Ice Cream.

On the way home, we stopped at Meijer and dealt with a frustrating u-scan machine that didn't like any of our items. I originally lined up at another checkout, but found myself stuck behind dingalings and decided to toss my groceries in with Mom and Amy's. This led to some yelling by the clerk in charge of the U-scan. It took a few minutes for them to clue in I was with my family and not purposely ignoring their shouts that the u-scans were closed. Good example of technology not making life easier.

At the border, the guard was too engrossed in a paperback novel to ask any questions. We sat there for a minute, with no words or apparent security checks before he waved us off. - JB

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

classics of western young adult literature

Whenever I glance at the 50 cent/$1 bin outside of any used book store, there are always one or two titles good for a laugh. In Ann Arbor, this dose of comedy relief is provided by the rolling cases outside Dawn Treader Book Store on Liberty St.

Classics of Western Young Adult Literature #1 Classics of Western Young Adult Literature #1 Back Cover

Love that title. Alas, a late 80s teen novel about a bunch of misfits calling themselves "obnoxious jerks" was not enough to make Amy or I part with 50 cents US, despite the teasers on the back. Further research reveals that the writer is currently a columnist for Forbes and PC World magazines.

Reviews from Amazon.

But wait, what is that book The Obnoxious Jerks proudly stands on top of?

Classics of Western Young Adult Literature #2

Since neither of us wants to know about fish tanks exploding or marine lust, we passed on this one.

Turns out this was a Canadian book! Another case that proves my theory that Ann Arbor is the graveyard for Canadian publishers (I've lost count of how many Canadian remainders I've seen over the years - Dad used to buy monster U of T-published reference books).

For those of you with dirty minds, a BBC report on guppies in love. - JB, books modelled by AT

Sunday, March 26, 2006

how to spend your sister's birthday in southeast michigan (1)

Last weekend was my sister's birthday, the last she'll see with a two in front of it unless science proves otherwise. Along with Mom, we hopped in my car and headed over the border.

The day started off in Ann Arbor. After dropping Mom off at Briarwood Mall, Amy and I headed downtown. The sun brought the city out, as finding a park became a challenge. Result: the highest I've ever had to go at the Maynard-Liberty garage.

Garage notes: Dad used to go on about the acoustics in the deck, before it was renovated. Our most amusing experience was one afternoon we were stuck behind a pair of giggly co-eds in a battered VW van that broke down every 50 feet. Nobody around us seemed bothered by the slow trip out of the garage.

Level 7 Gold The Rooftops of Ann Arbor
Parking so high has its privileges. From our spot, I pointed the camera east towards State St. Across the street from the lot was a long line-up outside the Michigan Theatre.

The draw? The Muppet Movie.

Encore Recordings Checking Out
Our main stop was Encore Recordings, where every nook and cranny is filled with music in all of its recorded forms, all well-organized. It was shocking to see the front desk not stacked five rows deep with incoming merchandise. Maybe the crowd inside kept the turnover steady - you might be able to see Amy checking out on the right. Might.

The Old Piano Roll Blues
Did I mention they carry every format? A wall of piano rolls greets you as you enter/exit the store. Dig around and you'll find 8-tracks and reel-to-reels. I wouldn't be surprised to uncover DATs or toy records.

There wasn't enough time to wander elsewhere, so we headed back to the garage. A mural we'd missed next to the garage door caught out eye.

Ants! Ants!
Ants! Ants! (this must be said in a mock Germanic voice - we immediately thought of Germany's Most Disturbing Home Videos).

We picked Mom up, then headed over to Trader Joe's (could someone buy a Canadian franchise, or at least one for Buffalo? Pretty please?). Many stores suffered from a St. Patty's Day hangover, hence organic corned beef and cabbage samples. After filling up a shopping cart (and harebrained ol' me nearly forgetting a jar of Mexican tomato/pumpkin seed simmering sauce - highly recommended), we loaded up the trunk and headed over to US 23.

To be continued... - JB

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

spring is here...


Spring 2006 Arrives
Spring officially arrived at 1:26 PM on Monday. Driving back to Toronto from A'burg, I pulled over and snapped the nearest object when spring sprung. Result: Wright's farm stand at Essex Rd 50 and Ridge Rd, just east of the booming metropolis of Oxley.

Essex Rd 50, formerly Hwy 18A, runs along Lake Erie from Malden Centre to Kingsville. I can't begin to count how many after-dinner drives were taken along this road. It's a scenic route, with many lanes shooting off of it for homes along the lake, though some of the "beaches" have seen better days. Main attractions include Holiday Beach Conservation Area, John R. Park Homestead and Iler Settlement Cemetery. The only signed town you pass through is Colchester (which may still be Canada's most southerly mainland settlement, unless post-amalgamation Leamington now counts). There were signs for Oxley, but the eastbound one has vanished. - JB

Monday, March 20, 2006

everybody's got a yearbook photo

While back in A'burg over the weekend, I scanned a pile of material for future use on this site and elsewhere. While flipping through some of my father's old yearbooks, I couldn't resist using these finds.

First up, an excerpt from the graduate section of Leaside High School's 56-57 Yearbook, Clan Call. Take a gander at the first name on the class list for 13D:

From Leaside High School Clan Call, 1956-57 Edition

Before anyone asks, my father was a minor niner in 56-57 and didn't know her.

Yearbook pics #2 and 3 come from the 1964 edition of U of T's yearbook, Torontoensis. Interesting story behind this one: for years, my father only had the 1962 (his first year) and 1965 (his grad year) editions. He found the 1964 book, as he found many things, at a Windsor Public Library book sale. Why this book was sitting in Windsor may be explained by the law grad on the left. Even more interesting is the law grad on the right end of this row.

1964 Torontoensis Yearbook, College of Law 

Before anyone asks, my father was an arts undergrad and knew neither of these gentlemen.. - JB

Friday, March 17, 2006

vintage star-spangled war stories ad of the day


Vintage Ad #22 - We Are Stardust, We're Not GoldenJudging from this ad, nostalgia for Woodstock set in quickly...or at least the cash-ins did. If you weren't there for the brown acid, you could throw on the soundtrack and wear these beauties. "Never-to-be-repeated event", hah!

Warner Brothers must have hoped to milk the peace, love and music train. They released the film and soundtrack and owned the publisher of Star-Spangled War Stories, National Periodical Publications (aka DC Comics).

It may seem ironic that Woodstock jewelery was advertised in a war comic, until you've actually read any from that era. When artist Joe Kubert took over as editor of most of DC's war line in 1968, the stories took a less embracing view towards warfare. Bullets appeared at the end of stories, proclaiming "make war no more". Since none of the ongoing characters had series set in the present, writers and artists had more liberties to address modern concerns It helped that many of them had been WWII vets, drawing on their experiences. Enemies gained more dimensions, issues such as racism were touched on, etc.

Star-Spangled War Stories traced its origins back to Star-Spangled Comics (1941-52), which featured a wide variety of heroes and investigators (Star-Spangled Kid, Guardian & the Newsboy Legion, Robotman, Tarantula, Tomahawk, Dr. 13, Captain Compass and solo Robin stories). When heroes faded in the early 50s, the series mutated into Star-Spangled War Stories - postal regulations forced renumbering after three issues. Ongoing features were dropped until the late 50s. Through the 60s, Madamoiselle Marie (foxy WWII French resistance fighter), The War That Time Forgot (G.I.s versus dinosaurs on a remote island) and Enemy Ace (noble WWI German flying ace who despised killing) held the fort. The Unknown Soldier (WWII disguise master) took the lead spot in 1970 and held it until the series changed to his name in 1977, His war continued through 1982.

Source: Star-Spangled War Stories #156, April-May 1971 - JB

Thursday, March 16, 2006

vintage good housekeeping ad of the day


Vintage Ad #11 - Poppin' Fresh at the BriarIs Poppin' Fresh baking those biscuits or does he plan to curl with them? Imagine him yelling "SWEEP! SWEEP!", punctuated with his trademark giggle. Based on the last time I used refrigerator dough, these beauties would make a suitable mini rock or hockey puck.

Note that no food maker would boast about how "rich with shortening" their wares are, unless they produce shortening (even then, it's doubtful). Maybe the mild heart attack Poppin' Fresh had in '95 scared the beejeezus out of the suits.

Poppin' Fresh was a mere child when this ad appeared, having debuted in 1965. While I remember seeing products with his main squeeze Poppie, I don't recall the other members of his family: his kid Bun Bun, dog Flapjack, cat Biscuit and grandparents (some pictured here). His cousin, Burns Easy, stuck to his principles and refused to be merchandised.


Source: Good Housekeeping, February 1968. - JB

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

mount pleasant by night


While on a recent late-night stroll around the neighbourhood, I brought along my camera for company. While it refused to answer my questions about life and humanity's place in the universe, it agreed to snap some shots of Mt. Pleasant at midnight.

Dreaming of Neon Fish Spring Costumes #1
Left: The smell of fresh-fried fish & chips occasionally greets me at the bunker after a long day's work, thanks to Penrose Fish & Chips. A neighbourhood fixture for five decades, take-out traffic remains heavy. It's not uncommon to see folks unwrapping their paper-wrapped fried bounty as they walk down the street. I'm still spoiled by memories of the light, non-greasy batter at Sir Cedric's in Windsor - I've tried Penrose twice and found the food fine, but the halibut can be on the skimpy side (the chips rock, but I only eat fries 3-4 times a year tops). Toronto Life review.

Right: Fairy-tale royalty reigns in the window of Sugar's Costumes. Considering their specialty, one wonders who'd these solemn-looking folks would make mascots for. Hmmm, based on their expressions, these might be great characters for a bloody Sam Peckinpah-style fairy tale (sorry, I rented The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs last week).

Spring Costumes #2 Spring Costume #3
Two outfits at Kids Costumes, which used to be two doors from the bunker on Manor. With Spring approaching, out come the insects and those who study/hunt them. A sweet pairing for kids with grade 1 crushes (little did I know that my grade 1 "dating" days would be the peak of my romantic life for the next two decades).

What North Toronto Read/Watched This Weekend
A survey of what North Toronto read/watched last week, courtesy of the Mt. Pleasant library drop box (Mt. Pleasant & Manor). Daddy Day Care...

Blue Light Special
A cool effect from the Greece Restaurant (Mt. Pleasant & Hillsdale).

The Price of Parking
If you're interested in driving to the neighbourhood, here's how much parking will set you back at the Briton House lot (Mt. Pleasant & Soudan). This Green P lot is sandwiched between a Shoppers Drug Mart and the former IGA/future Sobeys. - JB

Thursday, March 09, 2006

spam-o-rama: the word of the day is condotel

In the midst of all the foreigner-killed-in-a-plane-crash spam I receive, it's almost a relieve to see an old-fashioned timeshare scam crop up.

Condotels are a hybrid of hotel and condo, meaning your neighbours may change often. I think there was an article in one of the local papers about these hybrids a few years ago, when some condo buyers were unhappy to discover their buildingshad turned into condotels.

There was a website attached to this note but (a) they don't deserve the traffic and (b) I've seen five-year old do better sketches of buildings with fingerpaint than the drawings this company came up with. Trust me. Also note that I received this message from three separate addresses, even though the agent was the same in all (and not among the addressees).

As usual, we've left the spelling but tweaked a few details.

The world's largest Howard Johnson's hotel has been converted to a condotel! Located just 1 mile from the new Disney World entrance on West Highway 192 in Kissimmee, Florida (Orlando for those of you who don't know), this beautiful 450 unit Resort with Tennis Courts, 3 Pools, 2 Restaurants and a partridge in a pear tree is now accepting contracts to purchase units at $109k for a suite and $159k for a one bedroom cubbyhole.

Association fees are $208 for a studio, $312 for a 1bd, $367 for non-smoking 1bd and $586 for plumbing-equipped 1bd and they include everything plus daily maid service (legal alien maid service $400/mth extra). Financing is available with payments from $655.00 a month. Property taxes are yet to be determined as we released this project for sales beginning last Friday. 2005 numbers for the Resort document a 61.6% occ rate, as verified by entomologists. The owner receives 60% of the income generated by their unit. This property is currently being booked by Travelocity, Hotels.com, Orbits, Priceline, Sketchitravel.org and all the major online travel sites.

The Resort is getting an upgrade to a classic Polynesian tiki bar theme with the units having new furniture from the Sally Anne, kitchens with granite blocks, new appliances and new cubicle bathrooms which will increase the room rate to $85.00 and $135.00 a night. The value of the property will also increase. The unit owner will have no more than 3 weeks of down time during this upgrade to their stylish unit. The funds for the remodel will be held in escrow to protect the unit buyers and help the governing board. The unit owner will receive income from the property immediately after closing as the Hotel is completely operational. This is Resort #7 for us (previous 6 sold out!) and we currently manage over 1,400 units in former industrial neighbourhoods.

Orlando is a hot market for Condotels right now. Do your homework and you'll find most of them at $300k and above. We have been doing Condotels for many years with a perfect track record. We assure you no bodies have been encased in the new foundations of our properties. I will answer any questions by telephone or email. Thank you for your interest in Royale World Centre.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

gourmet's gallery: quisp

Quisp
Big Lots, Perrysburg, OH


Ever pine for lost cereals from your youth? Make enough noise andd there's a chance your favourite from 30 years ago might return. Take the story of Quisp.

Quisp the Alien's heyday was the late 60s and early 70s, largely due to cartoon ads produced by Jay Ward, who once made a cartoon series featuring a moose and flying squirrel (the previous line must be said aloud in a fractured Russian accent, dahlinks). Quaker soon produced a similar corn-based cereal, Quake, featuring a miner. Battles raged between the two cereal mascots, as Quaker eventually held a contest to see which brand would stay on the shelves. Quisp won, but it was a hollow victory, as Quisp vanished by the time little Jamie pointed out cereals to his parents at the grocery store. As nostalgia hit adults who grew up with the cereal, Quaker relaunched Quisp through internet sales in 1999.

Package Notes: a plain, retro layout, with Quisp stretching his arms above a cereal bowl.

What's It Like?: Light, rounded sweetened corn puffs.

One spoonful and it's easy to see why Quisp disapppeared. There's nothing wrong with the taste, except that it closely resembles another Quaker cereal Jay Ward produced ads for...Cap'n Crunch. Quisp's corn flavour is not as pronounced as the Cap'n's and it goes great mixed with chocolately cereals.

Verdict: Depends on your opinion of Cap'n Crunch.

There's tons of info on Quisp floating around the net, starting with its official Quaker site.

Maybe there's hope for Golden Honeys or Kellogg's Frosted Rice. - JB

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

invaders from public space

Headed on the first of several trips downtown this week last night, to catch Spacing magazine's evening of urban planning/transit-related short films. Since I suspected I wouldn't know anyone there, and to re-jig my memory while writing this post, I brought along a notebook. It came in handy before the switch on the video player was flipped on.

First time ever in the Drake. Not much light down here in the basement, so I suspect I'll be lucky to read anything afterwards. The room is filling fast - I'm four rows from he front in a folding chair, surrounded by lawn chairs and padded benches.

It's been awhile since I've gone to an evening like this. Used to go to readings a lot during my "hermit" year, not so much since. Busy life. I flip through the weeklies, browse websites, see events that look interesting but never follow up.

My timing was good. It was standing-room only when the films began.

Starting with a sped-up trip down the University-Spadina line (which should be an amusement park ride), the local films covered topics like the Toronto's longest escalator ("Crisanne", located at York Mills station), Critical Mass cyclists, a young subway rider crushed when she discovers there's no rhubarb crumble to be had, a tragic life in Parkdale and videoblog walks. Also included were an art project from Berlin where images were projected onto walls (which would help the Dupont-St. Clair West stretch) and a the City Repair project in Portland, which fosters a greater sense of community by allowing neighbours to paint and remodel local intersections.

Most of the evening's laughs came from two vintage films. The first was a late 50s episode of CBC's Explorations on the competition to design Toronto City Hall. The host was architect Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, an English urban planner who taught at U of T and Harvard. She scared most of the audience - was it her strange eye rolls as the camera swung in her direction? Her ethinicity-based commentary? Weird quips? Scholarly tone? Vague insults towards Toronto?

At one point, commentator Eric Arthur noted that one designer wanted to know how much dirt fell on TO in a year. Turned out to be 40 tons. Tyrwhitt: "I'm not surprised".

As for the rejected models, they ranged from an "exotic" Australian entry that looked like a 50s resort changing room or exterior of a cheesy polynesian restaurant to a Danish design than looked like a generic office block, the type that would have been demolished for condos in the past decade. The pipe-smoking panel chose Viljo Revell's design, our beloved flying saucer.

The second vintage flick was a mid-50s progess report on Toronto's subway. Let's just say there was a Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style commentary running in my head. Test passengers were overdressed, but then the subway was "a big red limousine". Endless shot of people picking up tokens. Some ticket counters have changed little in 50 years. Our subway was "the sign of transit progress, of civic progress".

Lesson: nobody gets hurt when cars are coupled mechanically. - JB