Tuesday, April 29, 2008

nice face, shame about the nose

Vintage Ad #533: You Have a Beautiful Face, But Your Nose?
Fetish gear, 1916? Also, does the "before" picture suggest to anyone else the shape of most ghoul noses? It's all in the positioning of the nostril!

If anything, "Trados" looks like the first stage in the evolution of the goalie mask - compare the nose-shaper with the guard used by Montreal Maroons goalie Clint Benedict (left) 14 years later. Improvised after an incident during a game with crosstown rivals Les Canadiens, Benedict wore his guard for two games before determining it hindered his vision, leaving NHL goalies bare-faced until Jacques Plante slid on a mask in 1959.

Source: The Toronto Daily Star, April 22, 1916

Sunday, April 27, 2008

that was the ttc strike that was

Friday was a quiet night for me, a chance to recover from the week and recharge my batteries for a busy Saturday. I was so lethargic that I did something I rarely do, take a nap.

Waking up around 11:30 p.m., I shuffled over to the computer and starting websurfing. I soon discovered that it was a good night to have planned nothing, as the TTC was suddenly poised to shut down within half-an-hour.

The city was primed for a strike a week ago, when the Amalgamated Transit Union gave 48 hours notice for a walkout effective at the start of morning rush hour last Monday. Thanks to a tentative deal on Sunday, the work week got off to a normal start. Once the ballots were in on Friday, the offer was rejected by 65% of those voting. Citing potential harm to TTC workers from an angry public, union officials cast aside previous promises to provide 48 hours notice and gave the signal for workers to shut the system down.

Bad, bad move...

Let me get this straight Bob Kinnear. You give the signal to walk away (a) a couple of hours before all but blue night runs wind down for the day, (b) on very short notice on a Friday night when those using your service are more likely getting plastered downtown, and (c) at a time and day when the effects of certain substances may provoke an even angrier backlash from the public than if 48 hours notice was provided.

Davisville Entrance, First Hour of the TTC Strike
Curious to see what was happening, I drove over to Yonge Street to see the initial effects of the walkout. Car horns filled the air as panicky pedestrians dashed out into the road to stop any cab that passed by, many of which performed sudden u-turns. Scouting out Davisville around 12:15 revealed no indication on the station doors that anything was amiss. Many tried to enter the station only to find the doors locked. Obscenities flew freely, with no TTC workers in sight to hear them (no pickets were part of the walkout strategy).

Davisville Closed (or at least TTC Headquarters)
The only sign posted was on TTC headquarters, but this may be the norm.

Walking up to Eglinton almost every passer-by was glued to a cell phone, trying to figure out their way home. In between obscenities directed at the TTC several commented that they were glad they weren't Scarborough natives stuck downtown. When I reached Eglinton an out of service passed by and was greeting with a chorus of "F**k you TTC!"

No Entry Into Eglinton
Like Davisville, no signs were posted at Eglinton to warn commuters that they would need to make alternative arrangements for the trip home. One guy took it upon himself to pace around the main Canada Square entrance like a modern Paul Revere. The most obvious sign was at the northeast entrance, where the metal doors had slid into place. There was a white van with a TTC logo near the Canada Square entrance that tables were being unloaded from but no taunts appeared to be hurled in its direction.

The timing of the news meant that anyone who had gone to sleep early or had not accessed any media outlets would have woken up yesterday morning unaware of a strike. When I picked up some friends to head out to the Good Food show, it was news to them. Along Pape we noticed bus stops full of people waiting for buses who would see Godot sooner than a Red Rocket. On the way back we passed by the deserted Hillcrest Yards, to which my passengers flipped the bird.

Subway Entrance, NE Corner of Yonge and Lawrence
This afternoon I walked north along Yonge from Eglinton. Both entrances to Lawrence were marked with broken glass (the northeast entrance is pictured). At the same time, the provincial government had reconvened to pass emergency legislation to send TTC staff back to work, which means I won't be setting up my camera in my cubicle tomorrow morning to survey the commuter chaos on the street below (though I wonder how grumpy commuters will be towards operators).

Service is being restored but this story is far from over. One thing is certain: ATU union popularity among the public ranks somewhere below George Bush, lawyers and bubonic plague.

Stories and links at Spacing and Torontoist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

you're watching wgpr, channel 62 detroit

Launched in 1975, WGPR-TV was the first black-owned television station in the US. It operated as a sister station to WGPR-FM, whose playlist over the years has varied from gospel to urban hits and was graced for several stints by The Electrifyin' Mojo. It was the second television station to occupy channel 62 on the Detroit dial - the first, WXON, had moved to channel 20 three years earlier.
WGPR was fascinating to watch, as it was the closest thing we had to local access cable stations...except this wasn't on cable. Even as a kid I could sense that its production values were low.

Shows shot in health food stores? Check.
Budweiser commercials dubbed into Arabic? Check.
Low-tier college basketball packages? Check.
Ads touting nightclub dancers who are barely conscious? Check.

Movies? Any low-priced package they could get. Lots of old British movies, especially the early Carry On flicks (usually Carry On Spying or Carry On Screaming). The piece-de-resistance was the Auction Movie,with host Fred Merle. Like a flashback to the 1950s, local businesses put items up for bid during the breaks in the movie.

Music? Channel 62 was home to one of the last local dance shows in Detroit, The New Dance Show, which carried on from The Scene. It was the butt of jokes among schoolmates that tended to have mildly racist overtones, though I suspect this reaction was a mix of how alien it was compared to our lives and the usual 62 high-tech production values. The show provided a television showcase for emerging dance music scenes in Detroit, including techno.

Here are two commercial breaks, which provide a good idea of the station's style. Depending on how prudish your computer firewall is, there's a chance these aren't safe for work, especially if there are blocks against high-energy credit pitchmen.

Clips posted on YouTube by aseagris, who has an extensive collection of NDS excerpts

Reruns? Not many. The only shows I recall with any frequency were Dark Shadows and The Streets of San Francisco. My memory may be off, but I dimly recall seeing Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who and wondering why it wasn't the same version on TVO (I figure it was a late run of the earliest Time-Life Television package of episodes). The station can't be faulted for not having the cream of the syndicated rerun crop, given it had to battle the major network affiliates, two better-financed independent stations and a CBC channel in Windsor that had to fill airtime reserved for American shows on the rest of the network.

Late night programming? Channel 62 ran parts of the CBS Late Night lineup, which featured mystery/cop show reruns (usually Kolchak: The Night Stalker whenever I flipped by) and Canadian imports (Night Heat).

On Saturday nights The Arab Voice of Detroit filled the airwaves, mixing news and music in English and Arabic. Ask and I'll hum a few bars of the news theme for you. I loved to watch the ads, especially those where certain terms did not translate. Three Brothers sticks in my mind, an auto body shop whose proprietor sang about their services in Arabic, including "transmission" and "radio wire".


All good things must come to an end. For WGPR, the writing was on the wall when Detroit's long-standing CBS affiliate, WJBK (channel 2) switched to Fox in the early 90s. Needing a station, CBS bought 62 and booted off all the old programming, even changing the call letters to WWJ (the call letters of CBS's local radio news station, which had also been used by NBC's Detroit TV affiliate until the late 70s).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

big v: once upon a time, it was an amazing part of your life

Big V Receiving Hours
While dodging back alley drunks in downtown Kitchener a month ago, I noticed that the back door to a Shoppers Drug Mart bore the mark of its previous identity as part of the Big V pharmacy chain.

Years of hearing their slogan "an amazing part of your life" have burned it into my brain, along with images of their comical crusading knight mascot, 25 cent cans of Coca-Cola and the free lunch cooler bags sometimes offered up with the latter.

Big V was started in the mid-1960s by a group of Windsor pharmacists who joined together to pool their purchasing and marketing. Most locations were pharmacist-operated, with names reflecting the owners (DeRe, Pond's, Cornett), the neighbourhood (Seminole in Windsor) or town. The chain grew to 135 stores by the time it was purchased by Shoppers in 1995.

Amherstburg's store was originally Haslehurst's Big V, then switched to the more generic "Amherstburg" by the time I started shopping there with my parents. Located on the main street through town, the store's tiny parking lot was responsible for numerous traffic jams and fender benders. Mom liked to browse the gift section, one of the things she missed and grumbled about after the Shoppers deal.

Many former Big V locations have been rebuilt or vacated as part of Shoppers' current building/retrofitting boom. The Amherstburg store was levelled and replaced a few years ago, having long outgrown its small quarters.

The store in the picture above was also on the move, setting up shop in a larger space across King Street that weekend. I suspect this is one of the last signs bearing the Big V logo and it's a matter of time before it fades away, making physical reminders of the chain as hard to as find as any references beyond the Shoppers deal on the internet.

Thanks to Andrew Foot and Shawn Micallef for their help with store names and links.

Monday, April 14, 2008

granny knows best

Gran Gran's (1)
While driving near Buffalo Central Terminal a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this odd ice cream stand. Given the general state of the neighbourhood, it was hard to say if Gran Gran's was closed for the season or if Granny had discovered business was better elsewhere.

Gran Gran's (2)
The other passengers in the car were slightly freaked out by the girl on the sign. Is it her expression of devilish delight? Her strange eyes? her off-kilter pigtails? Her obliviousness to the giant cone about to fall onto her head?

Photos taken in Buffalo, March 29, 2008 

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

this could be your shrunken head

Vintage Ad #267: What to do With Surplus Apples
Source: Our Fighting Forces #163, January 1976

We're playing with our food today, thanks to a kit from Milton Bradley that poked around the pages of comic books in the mid-70s (picture of the actual box). For those of you who didn't head out to the store or weren't at the head of the line when Toy Town sold their last box, try this recipe to make your own (along with the process for historical shrunken heads).

Who better to serve as a pitchman for a ghoulish, slightly campy yet child-friendly product than Vincent Price? Little ghouls at the time would have known Price for his appearances on Canadian kid-vid classic The Hillarious House of Frightenstein. Price was also a culinary expert, so he could have advised gourmet touches he could have suggested for a dried-up apple.

Around the time Price pitched the apple kits, he warbled You've Got A Friend from the first season of The Muppet Show.

Our lovely model was drawn by Mort Drucker, best known for his caricature work for Mad since the mid-1950s. During his first decade of toiling for Alred E. Neuman, Drucker was also a regular contributor to DC's war comics, with work appearing in titles like Our Fighting Forces.

Launched as an anthology in 1954, Our Fighting Forces would house several headliners over its 24-year run, including Gunner and Sarge (45-94), Lt. Hunter's Hellcats (106-122) and The Losers (123-181), a team consisting of former headliners who literally were that, having lost their own series within the previous five years. While Axis soldiers could be overcome, the power of the DC Implosion couldn't and the book waged its last battle in 1978.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

vintage punch ad of the day

Vintage Ad #292: The Norwich Way
"David, do you think our Norwich Union policy is going to help us when that lovely ocean liner rams into us?"

"Just smile for the camera, dear."

The Oriana was commissioned by Orient Lines for its UK-Australia passenger route. Launched in 1960, it passed through several hands until extensive storm damage resulted in its scrapping in 2005.

Source: Punch, March 21-27, 1973 - JB

Monday, April 07, 2008

galleries, giambrones, and goodies

Opening Night at the Toronto Free Gallery
Toronto Free Gallery launched its new space at Bloor and Lansdowne two weeks ago, opening with an exhibit focusing on creativity in urban activism, Creative Activism.

The gallery was jammed, the common joke being you come to an opening for the food and booze and return several days later to carefully observe the art.

Dog Taking a Rest
A dog watched the goings-on from a safe spot underneath one of the pieces. Either the view was good or it was out-of-the-way enough to dodge the crowd.

Post No Bills You Can Quit Driving
Some of the works on display, ranging from a collection of "bills" to an assortment of signs and photos from Streets Are For People.


The opening also served as a starting point for that week's psychogeography walk. From the gallery we headed south along Lansdowne, past a block of front yards that belonged to members of the Adam Giambrone Fan Club...

Lansdowne Avenue Adam Giambrone Fan Club (2)
The signs stemmed from the Lansdowne Renewal Project, a reconfiguration of the street with measures to narrow the street incorporating wider sidewalks and the removal of parking spots on the east side of the street. How much consultation was made with the neighbourhood is debatable, but the fact that the signs have not come down after a year indicates the bitterness that arose from the project.

Smarties Door
We wandered over to Sterling Avenue and walked by the Nestlé chocolate plant. Originally Cowan's Cocoa (1922 photo), the plant was purchased by Rowntree in 1926 (Nestlé took control in 1988). Products such as Smarties are honoured with their own receiving door.

Wafer Flour Silo #2 Fruit Education Centre
Left: Doesn't everyone need a wafer flour silo to dive in? Presumably this is where the flour for Kit Kat bars is stored.

Right: North of the silo was a building whose faded words indicated that it was once a condiment plant or distributor. Nowadays, it's a Fruit Education Centre.

Icy Tree
Nearby stood spectacular icicle-covered trees and shrubs, the kind of thing one would expect on the first day of spring.

Creative Activism is on display at the Toronto Free Gallery (1277 Bloor Street West) through April 13. All photos taken March 20, 2008 (full set) - JB

Friday, April 04, 2008

soup for my father

Fish Soup
I'm thinking about my father today, partly because it's the anniversary of his passing, partly because I'll be attending a service for a friend's father this weekend. Keeping memories alive has come up in a conversation a number of times this week, with friends noting how reminders of loved ones are still close at hand.

One example happened over Easter weekend, when Amy and I had a Mexican lunch buffet in Detroit. We went to Armando's, whose spread mixes staples of the cuisine with oddball items like a concoction of fried eggs, saltfish and tomato sauce. One of Dad's favourite items is usually available on weekends, a dish we have never asked the official name of and refer to simply as "fish soup".

One of the elements Dad loved about this soup was that the content were never quite the same. Usually the broth is thin and clear, though you can see this Easter's version was the opposite. Types of fish, shrimp and vegetables varied. The only disappointment came when we didn't see a tray on the steam table. We eventually figured out the soup usually appeared on the weekend, which was convenient for whenever I came down for a visit after I moved away.

Liking the fish soup runs mainly among the males in the family. Besides Dad and I, at least one uncle sings its praises. While Mom won't touch it, Whenever Mexican food comes up in conversation she will always chime in on how much Dad loved it. - JB

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

a seat at the kitchen table (2)

Previously: The 15-course Kitchen Table tasting menu at Colborne Lane, where kitchen successes are leading duds 7-1 at halftime.

Dish 9 (Partial)
Dish 9: Arctic char sitting atop tofu, served with dabs of orange marmalade. This picture was taken too soon as a mushroom jus was the finishing touch, which blended nicely with the marmalade.

Dish 10
Dish 10: Venison, parsnip puree, amaranth, mushrooms, huckleberry sauce and beet jelly.

Venison is a meat I have fond memories of eating while living in England due to the reactions I provoked in my housemates whenever I prepared it. This was during the Mad Cow scare of '97 and everyone thought I had lost my marbles, since at first glance I appeared to be eating beef patties. Reassurances never dispelled their fears, as if I was pulling a fast one on them. Colborne Lane's rendition was juicy and tender, a piece of meat I could have happily eaten a few more ounces of.

The surprise was the parsnip puree. Attempts to eat parsnips in any form have not gone well in the past, despite the efforts of good chefs. This version I quickly shovelled away, possibly because other flavourings dulled the normal gag-inducing taste of the vegetable.

Dish 11
Dish 11: A trio of treats for the final meat course. Left to right: gnocchi with double-smoked bacon and green beans, short rib with sunchoke puree, beef tenderloin with HP jelly. The short rib was quickly considered a highlight of the evening, with meat so tender a pin prick would have caused it to fall apart. The gnocchi and beef tenderloin were no slouches, the former earning raves all around the table.

By this point, our stomachs wondered how much more they could process, as the small plates had slowly added up.

Dish 12
Dish 12: the cheese course, featuring manchego, multi-grain crisp, fig slice, fig terrine and candied pecan. A breather before the final onslaught.

Dish 13
Dish 13: The opening round of dessert, a raspberry lover's delight. Paired were a raspberry lollipop (as in ice lolly) and freeze-dried raspberries. As one person commented, it was "more raspberry than actual raspberries."

Somewhere along the line we debated about the nature of the relationship between a pair of gentlemen sitting upstairs and their overdressed dinner companions. All we knew is on a trip to another part of the restaurants, members of our table overhead the dinner companions complain about their evening and how weird the food was. We could cross "foodies" off our list of suspected relationships.

After a pause, out came the nitro...

Stirring the Liquid Nitrogen Making Ice Cream Quickly (1)

Making Ice Cream Quickly (3)

The waiter brought in a silver bowl filled with liquid nitrogen, to which he added a mocha cream base, producing instant ice cream in front of our eyes. The steaming bowl helped cool down the warm room a bit, while we stared in fascination at the dessert being produced in front of us. Once the ice cream thickened, it was taken back into the kitchen and readied for its role in the next dish.

Dish 14
Dish 14: Deconstructed tiramisu, consisting of the mocha ice cream, ladyfingers, freeze-dried espresso and other chocolate- and coffee-based garnishes. This proved the largest serving of the night. Though I was nearing the waddling point I wound up polishing off a bowl-and-a-half, thanks to the light texture of the dish.

Dish 15, Nightcap
Dish 15: The night cap, for which we were promised another surprise. Nitrogen played a key role again, this time forming a small white nugget atop a steaming pitcher. We were urged to pop it in our mouths quickly. The nugget melted in my mouth, revealing a coffee liqueur centre. Hello nitro iced coffee bombs, which beat Dippin' Dots any day.

By the time the bill was settled, nearly five-and-a-half hours had passed since we entered the restaurant. The night flew by, a sure sign we had been entertained by the entire experience - laughing with friends and restaurant staff and enjoying the range of plates that had crossed the table.

More photos on Flickr. - JB