Thursday, June 19, 2008

beantown and la belle province 2: boston beckons

Day two began with a quick bite in the hotel lounge. It was your standard bare-bones continental: juice, cereal, fruit and Otis Spunkmeyer bagels (the latter displayed little spunk, but an application of apple jelly and Philly helped). I took the Thruway to Utica, then hopped onto New York Route 5 to drive along the north side of the Mohawk River.
It was a peaceful drive, with few agitated or pokey drivers between Utica and Schenectady. A relaxing winding highway, towns with baby food factories, places my brother-in-law warned me not to linger in, etc. The weather was a damper, with intermittent showers preventing me from shooting photos.
Farmer Boy Diner (2) Farmer Boy Diner (1)
I stopped for lunch at the Farmer Boy diner in Colonie. First up was a soothing squash soup with bonus red peppers and bacon. My main was one of the better-marinated half-chickens I've had, bathed in lemon and oregano and flattened, served atop chicken-flavoured rice pilaf. It was roadtrip comfort food gold.

After a few hours on the Massachusetts Turnpike listening to special reports about the health of Ted Kennedy, I reached my hotel in Woburn. I had booked a room at an Extended Stay America, figuring a cheap suite might be a good place to stretch after a couple of days of driving.

The room was larger than bachelor apartments I've visited.

Woburn Hotel Room (1) Woburn Hotel Room (2)
Woburn Hotel Room (3)

The full-size kitchen was well-stocked with pots and utensils, which I was tempted to test when I discovered that I let my search for a place to eat run too long after checking out local grocery stores. 8:00 p.m. on Sunday seems to be lock-the-door time for eateries in suburban Boston. If the search had been a cartoon, I would have been banging on the door at the last failed attempted, with physical appearance rapidly degenerating.

I made it just in time to be seated at the Burlington Mall branch of Legal Sea Foods (I had intended to eat lunch at one of their Cambridge branches the next day). After the frustration of finding one restaurant after another calling it down, Legal's ultra-creamy clam chowder was a well-deserved reward. This was followed by the Wood Grilled Assortment, featuring three kinds of fish (forgot to ask what they were but one was definitely tuna) and a choice of two sides (my picks were steamed broccoli and jalapeno cheddar polenta).

Back at the hotel I played around with the ice maker in the freezer, accidentally setting it so that it was a cube assembly line all night (I was convinced for awhile that I broke the lever). I settled in for a night of watching Showtime (Tombstone, a TV version of NPR's This American Life and a Weeds rerun) and plotting the next day's walking route.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

what is zato today?

Zato is a Groucho Marxist
Today, Zato believes in the powerful political philosophy known as Groucho Marxism. Adherents are known to have painted-on facial hair, a knack for humourous quips and a penchant for singing Lydia The Tattooed Lady.

Clip from At The Circus (1939)

This stencil appears to be in several spots on the streets of Montreal.

Photo taken on St. Laurent, Montreal, May 22, 2008 

Friday, June 13, 2008

garbage can words of wisdom

A Garbage Can Menage a Trois
Rough translation: "The garbage can, the garbage man and the citizen: it's a menage-a-trois" (or "threesome" if you prefer). Having grown used to Toronto's divided-by-garbage-type recepticles, it takes a moment to reacquaint myself with single-serving cans in other cities.

(Speaking of our city's garbage, here's Spacing's take on the recently-unveiled street furniture models)

St. Catherine Street, Montreal, May 21, 2008

Friday, June 06, 2008

beantown and la belle province 1: headin' east

The May long weekend has traditionally my time to hit the road on a long solo roadtrip to an eastern destination. This year it was Boston's turn for a visit, folded into my annual jaunt to Montreal.
I had been up late/woken up early to finish off an article, so I got off to a later start than intended. My first decision was choosing a border crossing. Queenston-Lewiston was out of the question, since it always has backups and its border guards tend to be the crankiest. I headed to my usual crossing, the Rainbow Bridge, only to find it had a bit of a backup. I was resigned to a wait no matter what until a timely intervention from the 680 News traffic report, which indicated no problems at the Peace Bridge. I rarely make the trip to Fort Erie, since my western Empire State misadventures tend to start in Niagara Falls. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I left the line and drove down to the Peace Bridge.

The crossing couldn't have been smoother. There was a mild backup but plenty of lanes were open and moving swiftly.

Conversation with the border guard:

Guard: Citizenship?
Me: Canadian.
Guard: Destination?
Me: Boston.
Guard: Reason?
Me: Vacation.
(one-second pause)
Guard (friendly tone): Enjoy your trip.

Thus was set a Guinness world record for shortest conversation with an American border guard on the Niagara River.


The only stop I made in the Buffalo area was at Wegmans. It was my lucky day, as the store was filled with sampling booths, mostly of fresh items. Wegmans strikes me as the food chain Loblaws should seek to emulate in their makeover - handsome stores with atmospheric fresh food sections, a wide, well-stocked variety of products, reasonable prices and knowledgeable staff. I stopped mainly for lunch, having one of their massive submarines. Filling-wise, a 7" Wegmans sub is equivalent to one-and-a-half or two 12" Subway sandwiches (depending on the thriftiness of the franchise) except that the Wegmans ingredients are higher quality and more varied (sweet pickles!). Partnered with a loganberry drink and a cookie and your stomach is set for the rest of the day.


After spending the afternoon hopping on and off the New York Thruway, I reached Syracuse around 5PM. I had checked before I left to make sure that graduation ceremonies at the University of Syracuse didn't coincide with my trip, as this had caused accommodation issues in previous years. I could have played it safe and driven onto to Albany, but I felt I had driven enough over the day and suspected it would be an early night in bed.

Armed with my highway hotel coupon book, I checked out the Microtel in East Syracuse. Just off the Thruway is a cluster of hotels just off Carrier Circle, a massive roundabout named after the nearby air conditioning company. Several ghosts dot the circle, including a burnt-out vintage Howard Johnson's that I wasn't able to get a clear shot of.

The Microtel wasn't accepting coupons, due to graduation at a minor institute but still had a couple of rooms available at a not unreasonable price ($64 versus $44). I went back to car and pondering staying put or driving a few more hours, as the other hotels on the block would be in the same boat. Fatigue won and I stayed put.

Wandering into my room proved a wake-up call.

A Hotel Room That's Tickled Pink
My senses were hit with pink overload. The hotel was undergoing renovations and though nothing in my room looked worn, I suspect it hadn't been touched. It was clean and comfortable, which was all I needed. After a few minutes of stretching, I set back out to see what I could find downtown.

Like many American cities, downtown Syracuse was mostly a dead zone on a Saturday evening. Where there were signs of life overcompensated with long lines. I had intended to try the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for dinner until I drove by and saw the spillover crowd stretch for a block. Drove by the university and saw little to draw me in.

I wound up at the Carousel Center, a massive shopping centre on the edge of downtown that is slated to be incorporated into a massive tourist complex with the slightly sinister sounding name of Destiny USA. Plans for the complex include green-friendly elements, a stadium, accommodations, golf courses, an artificial lake and an indoor recreation of the Erie Canal. In its current state the mall was huge and soulless, more so than many shopping centres I've been in. Perhaps it was fatigue, but nothing felt enticing and the customers looked more like zombies than the creatures George Romero whipped up for Dawn of the Dead. The area around the mall was dead, mixed in with freeway overpasses.

I was happy to make a break for it.

After more driving around and seeing little that aroused my interest, I wound up at my default Syracuse dining spot, a Ruby Tuesday on Erie Boulevard. The salad bar was all I needed to wind down the day, accompanied by a trio of surprisingly tasty mini-burgers. Back at the hotel I flipped open maps and plotted the route to Boston.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

cycling, comedy, and psychogeography

Vintage Ad #550: Don't Condemn a Bicycle You Haven't Test-Driven
With Toronto in the swing of Bike Month, it seemed appropriate to focus on two-wheeled transport in my Vintage Toronto Ads column on Torontoist. This week, a bike modestly promoted by its manufacturer.

You can also catch my most recent Historicist column, covering the sole fatality of the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.


Valet Bicycle Parking (1)
Last week, I headed down to the Bloor to catch a fundraiser for the Toronto Cyclists Union, a Rocky Horror-style presentation of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. A valet lot for bicycles was set up in front of the theatre (alas, I took the subway down - I intended to finally get my bike on the road this weekend, but the weather gods had other ideas). I was surprised to find out how many people I knew in the audience who, like me, had never seen the movie. Can't say I was a big Pee Wee fan at the height of his popularity, nor were most of my peers - it was that age where you (temporarily, as it turned out) reject things that seem childish in nature, even if they really were aimed at adults. At 10, I would have scratched my head; at 32 I clapped along with the audience and those reenacting the movie onstage.


After the show, a band of psychogeographers met outside the theatre for a northwesterly stroll. We were accompanied by a reporter from CIUT - listen to the story.

Trespassing Allowed?
This sign on the pool at Christie Pits was not altered with Photoshop. We did not take up its invitation. Elsewhere in the park, drumming, dancing and the scent of frankincense filled the air.

Hallam Sharrow Bear Safety Service
Left: one of the "sharrows" for cyclists that have been added to Hallam Street.
Right: One of Shawn's favourite signs in the city, located at the northeast corner of Dufferin and Dupont.

Wallace Emerson Community Centre (1)
A series of tiles on the wall of the Wallace Emerson Community Centre, south of the Galleria.

View from Regal Road Public School - Looking Down Bristol Avenue
We ended up at the corner of Dupont and Davenport, where a fenced off ramp once led up to Regal Road Public School. While the fence is high at the top, the barrier at the bottom is easy to hop over. A short trek up the ravine is rewarded with a great view of the neighbourhood below and the downtown skyline (Davenport and Bristol is the intersection depicted above).

All photos taken May 29, 2008. Full set on Flickr

Sunday, June 01, 2008

is your advertising drowning in greasepaint?

Vintage Ad #543: Is Your Advertising Drowning in Greasepaint?
The model in this ad is - the heaviness of the makeup under her nose makes you wonder what else she may be hiding. Her expression under the clown's smile fits with the ad's message that print ads aren't necessarily fun to produce. Marketing in magazines might not be glitzy, but print ensures longevity for a striking image or campaign even if the passage of time wipes out the advertiser.

We apologize to those readers with coulrophobia.

Source: Saturday Night, September 1970