Wednesday, June 24, 2009

finding relevancy in bad movie clips department

Hopefully the rage that is fueling some citizens our fair city during the current garbage strike does not manifest itself in a remake of this classic scene from Silent Night Deadly Night 2. Once the strike ends, I'll be curious to see how many heart attacks, brain aneurysms or other fatal maladies will be caused by the stress of writing vitriolic comments on websites.

For cooler-headed views of the strike, check out columns by Rosie DiManno and Joe Fiorito in today's Star. Despite hotheads on both sides, life rolls along and the sky hasn't fallen...yet.


While strolling around the neighbourhood last night, I checked out the state of the garbage cans two days into the strike. During day one, most were wrapped with Saran Wrap to prevent their usage during the walkout. How successful was this tactic?

2009 Toronto Municipal Strike (4) - Plastic Wrap and New School Garbage Cans Don't Mix

Not very. Either the wrapper had poor aim, or someone found it easy to slip the plastic sheets down this new school garbage can. Pedestrians ignored the sign's plea with little second thought. There were indications that some people followed the suggestion...and left their half-empty gelato cups on the edge of someone's lawn.

2009 Toronto Municipal Strike (3) - Sold?

The wrap and warning side were no longer necessary on this bin at Bayview and Belsize, as it was sold to the highest bidder at an auction earlier in the day.

2009 Toronto Municipal Strike (1) - Unwrapped Receptacle'

This receptacle, located next to the McDonald's at Bayview and Eglinton, did not notice the strike at all. I should have gone in and asked if the Golden Arches was maintaining this one (the answer would have been a blank stare and "would you like fries with that?"). Note how the message on the front has been heeded.

2009 Toronto Municipal Strike (5) - If All Else Fails...

No sign of plastic wrap. A wide-open backside. Empty bins. Who is taking care of the container at Bayview and Roehampton? A good neighbour? The car wash next door? A city employee with guilt pangs? Nobody (I forget if this one was out of service beforehand)?

All photos taken June 23, 2009 - JB

Monday, June 22, 2009

president's choice memories of toronto childhood television

One of the things I loved about visiting Toronto as a child was watching television at my grandparents. The kiddie shows were completely different than those available in the Windsor area, so I'd glue myself to the TV before the day's activities. This exposure came in handy years later in conversations with those who grew up around the GTA—no head scratching on my part whenever anyone mentioned Commander Tom or Rocket Robin Hood.

While looking for material for this post, I stumbled upon a series I'd forgotten everything about except for the theme music, The Wonderful Stories of Professor Kitzel. Figures I'd watch a cartoon about history. I also loved watching Once Upon a Time...Man around this time.

Tales of The Wizard of Oz was an early Rankin-Bass production, utilizing CBC vets for the voices as they would a few years later for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It also appears as if the persona of the Wizard was based on one of the first casting choices for the 1939 movie classic, W.C. Fields.

One show I wasn't crazy about was Uncle Bobby. Even when I was in single digits, Bimbo the Birthday Clown was obviously a cheap cutout whose voice and manner were beyond the pale. Mom couldn't believe her eyes either. Creeeepy...

DISCLAIMER: JB's Warehouse and Curio Emporium will not accept any responsibility for medical disorders caused by exposure to cardboard clowns with mechanically-processed voices.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

tape from california 7: mission possible

I Know Which Way the Wind Blows

By this point in the trip, the relaxed vibe of the west coast was sinking in, as I didn't feel an urgency to rush across the bay. I had settled into a pattern of processing photos, writing pieces of blog entries, reading the local papers and waking up to a steady diet of Norman Lear shows on cable (the final season of Good Times gave way to the first, The Jeffersons appeared to be near the end of its run, etc). Any tensions and stresses I felt before the trip had long evaporated, apart from occasional worries about how to park the Grand Marquis in compact lots.

Day two in San Francisco started with a trek to The Mission to check out the neighbourhood's murals and sample some Bay-style burritos. The parade of art began upon exiting from the BART station at Mission and 16th, with a piece based on 1940s Wonder Woman comics greeting me at street level. Near the station were the murals of Clarion Alley (example shown above).

Taqueria Cancun (1)
Taqueria Cancun (6) - Al Pastor Burrito

SF Weekly's "Best of" issue had published the day before. Among the categories was "best burrito", which provided the solution to the problem of deciding where to sample one: Taqueria Cancun. I went with the small al pastor, which was filled with tender marinated cubes of pork. The burrito was accompanied by a small plastic basket of chips that included a smooth, avocado-based green salsa that I wouldn't quite call guacamole.

Tower Theatre, San Francisco Mission Theatre, San Francisco
El Capitan Theatre, San Francisco

Mission Street was lined with movie palaces whose glory faded long ago. The El Capitan met the same fate as the Michigan Theater in Detroit—a parking lot with elements of the original building. Only the facade and foyer escaped demolition in the mid-1960s.

La Quiropractica es Effectiva!

I hate it when lightning bolts attack like mosquitos.

Tearing Their Hearts Out

Most of the murals in the Mission were along 24th Street. The first batch I encountered were based on traditional Mexican images of death and sacrifice.

Blue Mural

This eye-catcher at the corner of 24th and York is Juana Alicia's La Llorona (The Weeping Woman). According to an interview on the artist's website:
La Llorona weaves the stories of women in Bolivia, India, and at the U.S. Border together. It highlights Bolivians in Cochabamba who have fought to keep Bechtel Corporation from buying the water rights in their country; Indian farm workers in the Narmada Valley protesting in the flooded waters of their homes against their government’s irresponsible dam projects; and the women in black protesting the unsolved murders of women in Juarez, in the shadow of the Rio Bravo and the maquiladoras (sweatshops).

Lavenderia Mr. Burbugas

A few commercial murals have nudged their way in. These tended to be more whimsical and lacked the gore factor and other allegorical goodness. A mobile laundry machine engaged in ritual slaughter might not do wonders for business.

Balmy Alley Murals (2) - The Joy of Childbirth?

Many of the murals that caught my eye along Balmy Alley contained images associated with childhood. Could this be the happiest baby to have ever entered the world?

Where Are The Wild Things? They're on Balmy (1)

Now I knew where the wild things were.


Zoinks!...unless this dog is meant to resemble Marmaduke more than Scooby Doo (I could never imagine Marmaduke ever being political in any way). Here's what this duo is afraid of...

Full set of pictures. All photos taken May 21, 2009 - JB

Monday, June 15, 2009

dish du jour: asparagus

DeLuca's - Asparagus Salad
Asparagus salad, DeLuca's Wine Country Restaurant, Niagara-on-the-Lake

During my formative years, Dad was the only person in the house who ate asparagus. We drove down to Harrow during peak season and bought it from farms where it was the only offering. Dim memories tell me that once in awhile he picked some growing in the upper part of the ditch alongside Ridge Road. Mom steamed several slender stalks and bestowed upon them the honour of being served in a glass dish. Dad gingerly picked them up and smiled as he ate each stalk. The rest of us stared, occasionally interrupted by a look of disgust from Mom, which I suspect delayed any notion of trying asparagus for years.

I didn't warm to asparagus until one night a friend pan-fried a few stalks and drizzled then with grated parmesan. Suddenly I had an inkling of what Dad had enjoyed years earlier. Another item was scratched off the "yuck" list. Since then, I've tended to add asparagus to stir-fries, risotto or pasta dishes, though Sarah recently discovered a recipe for baking it that produces stalks that are crunchy and tender at the same time.


For the June outing of the monthly dining group, we headed down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to sample DeLuca's Wine Country Restaurant. The menu used seasonal ingredients, of which asparagus popped up several times. My meal started with the asparagus salad (shown above), a mound of perfectly cooked stalks accompanied by lemon aioli, pine nuts and manchego cheese. The plate also came with a poached egg whose yolk had the ideal runny consistency for dipping bread in.

DeLuca's - Venison Roast

A bundle of asparagus wrapped in pancetta came as a side with the venison roast. The wrapping pleased those who believed there cannot be such a thing as too much pork in a meal. Much of the table chose Bambi or Thumper (rabbit fettuccine) for their main. The plate also included zucchini and a tasty potato-blue cheese gratin.

Photos taken June 6, 2009. Full set on Flickr.


Sidebar: An hour before dining, Sarah and I drove to the restaurant to verify its location. It was found in a faux-downtown styled plaza on the south end of town, which also contained a sales office for a subdivision and a Shoppers Drug Mart. On our way into the parking, we passed by a hunched-over man who slightly resembled Jerry Stiller. He didn't appear to be moving, so we drove past him.

Satisfied we had found our destination, we turned around and headed out. The man was still there...he might have moved an inch or two. As we crept towards him, he slowly raised his arm. The slow extension of his middle finger followed in a precise manner. The withering look in his eyes yelled out "f**k you." I stared in disbelief. Sarah thought he might have been saying something, but it wasn't loud enough to hear over the air conditioning and radio.

We couldn't stop laughing for the next five minutes. "Grumpy old man" formed part of the next few sentences, as we theorized as to why he might have been so cranky (apart from the obvious thought that he suspected we were going to run him over). - JB

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

vintage national home monthly ad of the day

Vintage Ad #822: You Think I'm Crazy?

"Is the Rinso box really talking, or has Doris really gone crazy? Tune in tomorrow for the further adventures of Doris, Jane and the box in...RINSO RADIO PLAYHOUSE!"

Source: National Home Monthly, February 1941 - JB

more scenes from a shuttered 401 service centre

Dutton Service Centre Building

Back in January, I wrote a post on the revamping of the service centres along Highway 401 in southwestern Ontario, which has meant little-to-no services on the highway itself for those sufferi...enjoying the drive between Windsor and London. On the way back from my west coast adventure, I had my first opportunity to check out the current state of the eastbound facilities at Dutton.

Dutton Service Centre - Where Not to Park

The Dutton centre, which my family usually referred to as "West Lorne" due to another nearby town (that designation is used for the westbound facility), was our usual rest stop during trips to London or Waterloo Region. I don't recall using the facilities much before fast food chains entered the picture in the 1980s—before that, it was one of Shell's less-than-enticing 1867 cafeterias. By the time the facility closed a few months ago, services include a Shell gas bar, Mr. Sub, Tim Horton's and Wendy's.

Dutton Service Centre - Tourist Information
Dutton Service Centre - Faded Tourist Information

At one point, the province installed outdoor tourist information pillars at several service centres. The information at Dutton does not appear to have been touched for years, result in ghostly images of Toronto and a list of info centres that has gradually turned into a negative. Above the pillar, a tattered provincial flag decays in solidarity.

Dutton Service Centre - Faded Metro Toronto Map

Portions of a faded early 1990s provincial road map fill one side. Metropolitan Toronto boasts its pre-amalgamation/Mike Harris era highway downloading appearance. Good luck to any unprepared motorist looking for, say, Highway 407.

Dutton Service Centre - Rest Stop (2)
Dutton Service Centre - Rest Stop (3)

While gas is currently unavailable, travellers can stop for a break at the spartan temporary facilities. I overheard another traveller wonder why the leases for at least one stop west of London couldn't have been temporarily extended to allow for full services. They complained that the southwest was being treated as the armpit of Ontario yet again.

All photos taken May 31, 2009 - JB

Thursday, June 04, 2009

tape from california 6: towers, noveltio



The walls of the interior base of Coit Tower are covered with Depression-era murals created by two dozen artists as part of a government-funded program during 1933 and 1934. The project proved controversial due to the influence of Diego Rivera in injecting political commentary into the scenes. Mixed into the celebrations of the city's culture and industries were contemporary headlines and a library featuring not-so-hidden tomes by Karl Marx.

An elevator was the only means to go up to the observation area. The operator dashed off a summary of the building's history at 125 mph, but slowed down his diction to ask for tips to be placed in a plastic bracket.


A sampling of views from the top. This was my opportunity to glimpse sites like Alcatraz that I wouldn't have the chance to see up close during my stay.

Lombard Zig Zag

Another landmark taken from a hazy distance: the multiple switchbacks of Lombard Street. I had done enough hill climbing for one day.

I had bought a calling card in Chinatown that promised oodles of air time for only $5, which seemed too good to true considering that I would have been charged a minimum of $25 for a single call from a long-distance provider offering "cheap long distance" (I love the American phone system...). Called Amy from Chinatown, no problems. Called Mom after coming back down from Coit Tower, seemed my time had been depleted more than I expected, but I chalked it up to an error. Tried to call Sarah the next day, discovered there was "insufficient funds on the card" after heading the card company's mambo music. It was then I read the fine print about various connection charges that ate up most of the time on the card.

Lessons learned: you can never win with American telephones, and that bringing a laptop equipped with a chat problem is a wise move.

Musee Mechanique
Jolly Jack (1)

In the midst of the tourist haunts of Fisherman's Wharf, one attraction sucked me in: the Musee Mechanique. I kept exchanging one dollar bills for quarters to test the large collection of vintage mechanical novelties and arcade games, even if it meant putting up with a creepy laughing sailor or two.

Opium Den Sprint

Left: the dangers of turn-of-the-century drug dens played out for a quarter, complete with skeletons in the closet. Right: I'm certain that I played this game in arcades as a kid. It brought back memories of playing or watching an endless stream of video games before hitting the lanes at the Four Seasons Bowl in Amherstburg.

Play Ball (1)

Many quarters found a new home in the Rock-Ola World Series, a 1937 game utilizing active and recently retired baseball all-stars from the period. The object was to try and "hit" the pinball with a lever/"bat" into slots in the outfield, without fall into holes under the infielders. Fun to play despite my ineptness at it—the only hits I managed came when native San Franciscan Lefty O'Doul stepped up to the plate.

Ebisu - Waiting for the Sushi to Come

A lonely pile of pickled ginger and a mound of wasabi paste waiting for raw seafood to pay a visit. They wouldn't be alone for long as I waited for my dinner to arrive at Ebisu in the Sunset neighbourhood.

Ebisu - Deluxe Sushi - Sushi Portion

Part of the Deluxe Sushi meal—this platter included tuna, clam, freshwater eel, yellowtail tuna, scallop, salmon, salmon roe and sea urchin nigiri. Not pictured is the King California maki roll, which featured real king crab. The selection was fresh and flavourful.

Ebisu - Sushi Counter

I seemed to be the only person at the counter who didn't know the staff. Two women next to me who were recovering chatted awayn with Tommy the sushi chef, happy to be back dining at Ebisu after the restaurant had closed for renovations. A steady stream of customers came up to the bar and gave a friendly "welcome back" to those working away on rolls. I expected a Cheers-like "Norm!" moment at any time. The cosy, friendly atmosphere was a comforting way to wind down before heading back across the bay.

Full set of pictures. All photos taken May 20, 2009 - JB

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

tape from california 5: san francisco, here i come


Day five was the first of three full days in the Bay Area. Rather than find lodging in San Francisco, I chose the East Bay for several reasons:
  • Cheap accomodations. A little hunting turned up a Comfort Suites in Castro Valley (south of Oakland) for under $70 US/night. Parking alone in San Francisco could have eaten up to $40 US/day.

  • No desire to drive up the hills in San Francisco. Waiting for a red light in the middle of a steep incline does wonders for my nerves.

  • Easy access to public transit. The Castro Valley BART station was a short drive from the hotel, with plenty of cheap parking ($1 for entry between 4 AM and 3 PM). Comfortable, roomy seats made for relaxing rides into San Francisco and Berkeley, along with an opportunity to catch a few Zs on the way back.

  • Previous success using these tactics, at least for cheap sleeps and public transit, in cities like Boston and New York.

Ferry Building

First stop in San Francisco was the Ferry Building Marketplace, home to an assortment of food vendors. The building was a sampler's delight, with free nibbles ranging from salamis to oodles of chocolate at Scharffen Berger.

021a Taco de Pescado "Baja"

I stocked up on buns at Acme Bread to nibble on the rest of the day (the raisin bun earned a big thumbs up). For my main meal, I settled on Mijita Concina Mexicana, where I downed two tacos—carne asada (cubed beef) and pescado "baja" (shown above, battered mahi mahi with cabbage and avocado-cilantro cream). Before leaving, I had a cup of Maple Ginger Snap gelato from Ciao Bella, loaded with gingerbread-like chunks.

Herbie the Stagecoach Eyeing Black Bart

One accidental discovery not far from the Ferry Building was the Wells Fargo Museum. The name "Black Bart" always conjured up a grizzled desperado, not the dignified-looking fellow standing in the distance as I peered out at while taking a "ride" in Herbie the Stagecoach (an ancestor of The Love Bug?).

China Town Kites Chinatown: Grant and Jackson

Next stop, Chinatown. Anybody for a kite?

Grant and Jack Kerouac Alley

Must be nearing North Beach and City Lights...

City Lights Bookstore (2)

Ta-da! I spent nearly an hour browsing in City Lights and did the honourable tourist thing by picking up a postcard for my girlfriend. I also walked out with a guide to urban studies terminology illustrated with aerial photographs. Let's see how it takes for phrases from the book to work their way onto this site.

I came across City Lights at the right time for my feet to take a break. I had done some climbing up city streets, but now needed to have my tender tootsies in good shape to tackle the streets leading to Coit Tower.

Looking South on Columbus Ave

But first, a moment to capture a view of the Transamerica Pyramid.

Looking Up Filbert Street
Park at 90 Degrees
Parking at Filbert and Grant

Prime exhibit on why I wasn't eager to drive into San Francisco: the steep angle on Filbert Street. I shook my head several times before believing I was viewing cars parking on such a significant angle. The steps alogn the sidewalk provided a healthy workout, even if I was gasping at the top as if I had walked up 40 flights of stairs.

San Francisco Public Toilet Automatic Sink
Cleaning Cycle, Please Wait

Once at the base of the tower, I felt the call of nature. Luckily,the city came to the rescue with one of its self-cleaning public toilets (before anyone notices something fishy, yes the exterior shot at the top left is from another part of town). Tourists were filled with awe as they waited fifty-five seconds for the unit to make itself presentable for the next user.

Full set of pictures. All photos taken on May 20, 2009 - JB