Monday, January 26, 2009

scenes from a shuttered 401 service centre

401 Eastbound Tilbury Service Centre (1)
Driving along 401 between Windsor and London is rarely a pleasurable experience. The long, straight drive and flat landscape quickly induce highway hypnosis and leadfootitis. Toss in impatient truckers and seasonal hazards like black ice and the matching sets of service centres at Tilbury and Dutton/West Lorne come as a welcome break to ease one's nerves...

...well, they were a welcome break.

The province is overhauling the service centres along the freeway, many of which date back to the 1960s. While some have been razed and reconstructed in the past decade, such as Ingersoll westbound, others have not seen major renovations since fast food chains moved in back in the 1980s. The problem for any driver passing through southwestern Ontario is that all service centres west of London are either fully closed or have limited facilities (washrooms/telephones). No gas is available, requiring drivers to make significant drives off 401 to find a fill up—signs erected by the province recommend exiting at the west end of Tilbury or waiting until London or Windsor.

Temporary services have been set up at the Tilbury service centres. As the main structures haven't been razed yet, I snapped photos of the eastbound complex, which housed Tim Horton's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Shell gas bar.

401 Eastbound Tilbury Service Centre (2)
The skeletal remains of the Shell gas signs.

401 Eastbound Tilbury Service Centre (3)
The main building. Stops here were rare, as we waited until Dutton or Ingersoll to take a break. One factor that didn't work in Tilbury's favour was its cafeteria. Until fast food chains arrived, a variety of cafeterias reigned along 401. Each oil company either operated their own mini-chain (such as Esso's Voyageur restaurants) or partnered with an existing hospitality company (as was the case with Texaco, who linked up with Scott's, best known for their chicken villas). Tilbury and Dutton had 1867 restaurants, which I only remember for being the butt of family jokes/eye rolls and for almost always being stuck behind the smelliest person in line on the rare occasions we dared to eat at one.

Most early childhood trips along 401 did not involve a trip to a cafeteria. Dad loved to eat outdoors, so we took advantage of the picnic areas adjacent to the service centres and brought our lunch. The fare was sandwiches, cheese, the odd pickle and a jug of lemonade. The government later closed off most of the picnic areas during a round of budget cutbacks but several later sprang back to life.

The only cafeteria I recall eating at regularly was at the Wayfare at the westbound Gulf at West Lorne during trips back from Toronto. That service centre was one of the first to host a major chain (McDonald's) and is currently rubble.

401 Eastbound Tilbury Service Centre (5)

401 Eastbound Tilbury Service Centre (6)
The current extent of services, reopened in August. I failed to summon up the courage to check out the state of the temporary facilities, which I imagined to be the Three Bears of public restrooms. - JB

UPDATE: Link to a postcard of one of the Texaco/Scott's service centres. If it's slated to go, I'll miss seeing the dome at Ingersoll (referred to as "Woodstock" on the postcard).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

fear no man, even if it's a loudmouth threatening to beat the h--- out of you

Vintage Ad #690: 10 Seconds that Separate the Men from the Boys
As one viewer of this ad noted, what if the "loudmouth" had also sent away for the Joe Weider course? So much for fearing no one else...

Billing itself as "the world's no. 1 selling hockey magazine," Hockey Illustrated appears to have been a mix of opinions from prolific hockey writer Stan Fischler, player profiles, colour action spreads and muscle-building/training school ads. The cover feature of this issue was a look at the 1970/71 NHL All-Star squads, with Gordie Howe as cover boy. Other articles included Fischler bemoaning the continuing inability of the New York Rangers to win a Stanley Cup and the league's executive power shift from Canada to New York, the step-by-step process to produce a goalie mask, Kent Douglas's irritation at winding down his career in the minors and profiles of Dave Balon, Bill Goldsworthy and Jacques Laperriere.

Source: Hockey Illustrated, January 1971

Friday, January 16, 2009

behind the burger

The Famous Big Chief Double Decker
Are your salivary glands going into overdrive?

A number of friends have indicated that the burger depicted above gave them cravings for charred ground meat when they stumbled upon it on my Flickr stream. For those of who'd like to know how I stumbled upon this beauty, read on...


Last year the Detroit Free Press carried a feature on the best burgers in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. I saved the link on my computer for use on future trips to Detroit whenever any family members felt like a light meal or wanted to try an unfamiliar restaurant.

The perfect opportunity to start sampling the featured burgers arose when Amy and I spent a day roaming around Motown over the holidays. We had gorged on Mexican food for lunch and still weren't feeling too hungry as evening approached. We spent the late afternoon shopping at Great Lakes Crossing (featured in Bowling for Columbine), where an oncoming cold made its presence known. A fog settled over my brain, other shoppers sounded a thousand miles away and every cell in my body felt numb. A quick run out into the cold to grab reading material from the car while waiting for Amy briefly perked me up, but I soon settled back into a hazy state—mall air does not do wonders for the ill. As we pondered light and reasonably quick dinner options, I remembered that several of the spots on the burger list were located along one of the relaxing ways to head back to Canada, Woodward Avenue.

After mulling our options and driving back and forth through Birmingham and Royal Oak, we settled upon the Red Coat Tavern. People nearly spilled out the door, which seemed odd for 8:30 on a Monday night. The wait was expected to be 30 to 45 minutes. We overheard the staff mention that the power was out in the surrounding neighbourhood and people had flocked in. Given the time and my woozy state, we moved on.

We headed across the road to Duggan's Irish Pub. Apart from a leprechaun staring down from the entrance, nothing stood out as being inspired by the Emerald Isle—the decor in our room paid homage to mid-century car culture and summer cruising along Woodward, with vintage gas pumps and ceiling fans made out of license plates (note the link on their website to the annual Woodward Dream Cruise).

The menu reflects the decor, with several items preserved from the drive-ins that once lined Woodward. I ordered the Big Chief double-decker burger, originally served up by the Totem Pole. Imagine a superior, meatier version of the Big Mac with two twists: sweet pickles and special sauce with a hint of curry. Both of these were a pleasant surprise, as the combination of sweetness and slight kick of heat mixed well with the standard double-decker elements. Perhaps the burger's inventor was inspired by curry powder popping up as an "exotic" ingredient in 1950s cookbooks? On the side was coleslaw (average) and onion rings (crunchy, full of onion, not greasy).

Duggan’s Chargrilled Black Angus Hamburger
Amy ordered the chargrilled Black Angus burger, which also proved tasty—the sauteed onions went well with the half-pound of meat.

One burger down, 40 to go...

Friday, January 09, 2009

cbc carries all of your favourite sports

Vintage Ad #682: CBC Has Your Favourite Sports
It's been awhile since we looked in on the Warehouse's large supply of 1970s CBC advertisements. Today's selection highlights the network's commitment to all forms of sporting activity, from hockey to...well...we assume the model in the middle represents swimsuit competitions. The Montreal Expos don't appear to have been on the Mothership's radar at this point.

As for the Montreal Canadiens, 1970/71 saw the arrival of goalie Ken Dryden near the end of the season. Dryden won all six regular games he appeared in and led the Habs, who had missed the playoffs the previous season, to a Stanley Cup victory over the Chicago Black Hawks. The goalie in the ad could have stood in for Rogie Vachon or Phil Myre, neither of whom saw any playoff action due to Dryden's Conn Smythe Trophy-winning play.

Source: Macleans, January 1971 

Thursday, January 08, 2009

feeling hot, hot, hot

A Mild Case of Detroit-Style Steaming Manholes
Steaming manholes are a common sight around Detroit, pouring large clouds onto city streets. Under the right conditions (grey skies, barren or decaying neighbourhoods, people pushing shopping carts), these bursts of steam lend a post-apocalyptic movie set atmosphere to your drive. The ones above at Temple and Woodward Avenues are weaklings as far as these things go or took a rest while I whipped out the camera.

Hot Hot Hot
While driving down Temple I came upon this monster that carries a warning to anyone thinking of touching the venting tube. Perhaps the person who applied the red paint was also a Buster Poindexter or Cure fan expressing their favourite song to the world (though, to be humble, they left out the exclamation marks).

Pictures taken in Detroit, December 29, 2008 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

walking in windsor

Phog Lounge
Just before Christmas, a notice for an upcoming activity in Windsor caught my eye:

On December 28th, when your body is overstuffed with food and in need of a good evening walk, head to Phog Lounge and take one with some friends and strangers. When we move through cities we tend to stay on the beaten path, rarely diverting. We see Windsor from the same perspective each time. Psychogeography is a way of breaking out of that routine and paying attention to and getting excited about the locations in the city.

Two of my favourite Windsor websites, International Metropolis and Scaledown, had teamed up with Murmur/Spacing/Toronto Psychogeography's Shawn Micallef to organize a walk. I brought Amy along to sample a slightly more formalized version of what has occupied many a night for me over the past few years. The night lived up to the billing, as I discovered parts of downtown Windsor I didn't know mixed among the familiar, even if the familiar is starting to look alien to me with the passage of time.

Walls of Phog Lounge
Inside, the walls at the front were lined with t-shirts, bags and a variety of locally knitted items. I may have seen the wheels in Amy's head turn. After wandering around to see if there was anyone I knew (and being introduced to the organizers), Amy and I settled down at a table at the front, where we were soon joined by another Toronto walking veteran. The room gradually filled, with an estimated turnout of 40 to 45 curious souls.

Shawn Explains It All
Shawn provided an introduction to concept of psychogeography, from its origins with radical French intellectuals (whose fate made the crowd laugh). Once the introduction was finished, the room split into small groups. Each was given a slip of paper with an algorithm to follow for 50 minutes before returning to Phog. Here's a recreation of what ours looked like:

Windsor Star Ferry Street Entrance
The first line of instructions led our quartet (Amy, Liz, Shawn and I) to the Windsor Star entrance on Ferry Street. As we followed the directions, long-gone places I passed by all the time in childhood came up in conversation, such as the Trolley Restaurant at University and Victoria. Dad often parked in front of the Trolley for our Sunday morning newspaper run, though I don't recall ever going in (the only downtown eateries I remember going to during early childhood were Tunnel Bar-B-Q and a once-in-a-blue-moon bite at Kresge's lunch counter).

Back Alley Warning
A warning from a construction project in a back alley. One backyard we passed along this alley looked as if it was prepared for riots or nuclear attack, thanks to the bunker-style placement of concrete blocks. Each of us pointed our personal landmarks as we zig-zagged through an area roughly bounded by Ouellette, Elliott, Pitt and Bruce—places where relatives lived, headquarters of employers, spots with a birds-eye view of street fights, etc.

Alley Behind Ouellette Park/Pelissier Parking Lot Entrance (2)
Two views looking north from Park Street: the alleyway behind Ouellette Avenue and the adjoining entrance to the Park-Pelissier parking lot. Note the traffic light inside the lot, designed to maintain order between this entrance and one off Pelissier. I forgot to check if the main stairwell still bears the sweet smell of urine. There once was a connection to Ouellette from the garage via an elevator into a long-gone Big V drugstore—the ramp to the elevator appears to be there, but I have no idea if the public may still use it.

Final Clearout at Turek Camera Shop
Heading north along Ouellette, we noticed longtime businesses that were for lease (Coffee Exchange, on the move) or cleared out (Turek Camera Shop). These made me think of several stores that vanished over time along the the block from Park to University—McCance's English Shop, Birks, Dack's Shoes, Sam the Record Man and Whittington's newsstand.

What Kind of Solutions?
Hey, if it works...

Drawing Their Route
Upon returning to Phog, each group drew their route on a chart overlaid with a satellite map projection.

A recap of another group's trek. Full set of my photos.

UPDATE: More videos and tales from the evening.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

good appliance repairmen are scarce as edsel dealers!

Vintage Ad #694: Tom McCahill Says...
I'm not sure what Tom's intending to do with that iron...too much damage from smoothing out the wrinkles in his morning paper? Threatening to connect the iron with the head of the poor schlump who won't take his advice to learn more about appliance repair training? Holding it up to protect himself from goons sent by car manufacturers who disagreed with his latest automobile review?

Wikipedia has an extensive article on McCahill, an automotive journalist credited with inventing the "0 to 60" speed measurement and was one of the first to regularly write about test drives of new vehicles. McCahill began writing for Mechanix Illustrated in the mid-1940s and was considered such a key element of the magazine that his death in 1975 went unacknowledged in its pages—his grandson ghost-wrote his column for several years.

From the height of James Bond mania, check out McCahill's test of a 1965 Aston Martin.

Source: Mechanix Illustrated, September 1967


The latest vintage ad over on Torontoist: Astral offers the best of two worlds.

Monday, January 05, 2009

martha logan says...

Vintage Ad #605: Martha Logan Says Proper Carving Makes Your Meat Go Further
Continuing our mission to provide responsible, sensible advice from wartime home economists who never existed. Will current economic circumstances and trimming of meat budgets cause a revival in careful carving?

Previous words of wisdom from Martha.

Source: National Home Monthly, May 1944 

Friday, January 02, 2009

southern sojourn 4: graceland and stax

Welcome to Graceland
The second-most visited home in the United States - how could we stay in Memphis and not go to Graceland?

One expecting a rash of tacky Elvis-themed stores and outlets along Elvis Presley Boulevard on the way to Graceland from the freeway will be sorely disappointed. The strip has seen better days, symbolized by a burnt-out fast food joint. I prebooked tickets early in the day to dodge the crowds and afternoon heat.

Waiting for the Shuttle
Once we picked up our tickets, we headed out to the line for the shuttle bus to take us across the street to the mansion. Sounds lazy, but I suspect the buses (a) help control the crowds wishing to see Elvis' digs, and (b) prevent traffic congestion on Elvis Presley Boulevard that would result from a signal needing to change every 30 seconds to accomodate visitors trekking over. A steady flow of shuttles ensured that our wait was short.

A battery of fans kept those waiting in line cool. It was a good thing that we planned an early trip to Graceland, as the afternoon brought muggy, 100+ degrees Fahrenheit weather to Memphis.

Posing at Graceland
Those waiting in line are asked to pose in front of a backdrop. Note my cheery morning state. This turned out to be the only picture of all three of us taken during the trip.

Billiards Room

Jungle Room (2)
It was comforting walking through Graceland, as if I was revisiting the homes of childhood friends but on a larger scale. The areas open to the public maintain much of their 1970s decor and design, most noticeably in the green-carpeted "jungle room".

Other buildings on the mansion grounds are filled with memorabilia and preserved elements like Vernon Presley's office. We were impressed with tasteful and well laid-out presentation and relieved to discover that for all the jokes made about the later years of Elvis Presley and the fan base/velvet paintings that grew around it, Graceland was far from being a tacky experience (except for some of our fellow tourists). It was yet another pleasant surprise to add to the trip's growing tally.

Observing the Graves in the Meditation Garden
I admit that while I observed the Presley family graves, it was hard not to think of the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band pays their homage.

Jumpsuits (2)
After a trip back across the road on the shuttle, we checked out the other exhibits and gift shops, most of which are laid out strip-mall style. The exhibits focused on various aspects of Elvis, from his car collection to the staggering number of jumpsuits he utilized in the 1970s.


Standing by the Side of Stax
After dropping Mom off at a suburban mall, Amy and I headed to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Having been a Stax nut for years, this was a site I eagerly anticipated...and wasn't disappointed by.

The museum is a recreation of the original Stax building, torn down in 1989 after a decade of neglect. The complex is closely tied into the community, with an attached auditorium and charter school. While paying for admission, another tourist overheard that we were from Canada. She proceed to walk up to us and yell "Eh?" We didn't know how to react, though I considered identifying ourselves as Detroit natives at any future attractions.

Visitors are not allowed directly into the exhibit halls upon arrival. A introductory film outlines the context Stax operated in, dotted with interviews and footage from the label's prime. Once finished, the exhibits await, starting with a century-old church moved from the Mississippi Delta. Too bad pictures aren't allowed of the exhibits, or else your eyes would feast upon Isaac Hayes' pimped-out gold-plated Cadillac. Sadly, within a week of our visit Hayes passed away.

Stax Museum Parking Entrance
On the way out we noticed other efforts to improve the area, included a planned restoration for a one-time home of bluesman Memphis Slim.We drove around the neighbourhood for a few minutes. Several guidebooks I had read before the trip indicated that one shouldn't linger too long in the vicinity of Stax due to safety concerns and poverty. We looked around and while nearby streets were run down, it didn't look worse than some sections of Detroit we regularly drive through. This confirmed my theory that having grown up near Motown, we're all but desensitized while roaming through depressed neighbourhoods, unless the scale of devastation or sense something bad is going to happen is extraordinary (ask anyone I've taken to Buffalo how I react while driving through its grim areas). We shrugged and continued roaming.

Full set of photos.

Next: Downtown Memphis and the melancholy death of Meriwether Lewis