Animal relief area

Animal relief area sign

Where to go when you need to go.

The best thing about this sign tacked up to a post by one of my neighbours isn’t that it continues the local tradition of telling dogs where to go or that it’s bilingual (for French poodles, natch) or that it carries itself like an actual official notice. No, the best thing about this sign tacked up to a post by one of my neighbours is that it points to his neighbour’s driveway and away from his own garden. Release the hounds!

Nothing to steal here. Move along.

Nothing to steal here. Move along.

The Ten Thousand Villages store on Danforth really wants you to know that there’s no cash in the store to steal after hours. So much so that they don’t just leave the empty till open behind the counter, but they put it at the front door so you can see for yourself that it’s completely cash-free without going to all the bother of actually breaking down the door to look. Unless, of course, it’s just a ruse and all the cash is still sitting in the real till behind the counter.

Muscovy duck, now two for one

It’s been a couple of months since we’ve seen our local muscovy duck in East Dodgeville, but he returned this week with a new companion. Emboldened by numbers, they proceeded to chase me around the yard:

Muscovy ducks on the lawn.

The muscovy posse is gonna run you down.

They’re more or less fearless of people and given the way that they ran after me, they obviously thought that some tasty food was going to pop out of my camera. If I needed evidence that they’re farm escapees, that would be it. They settled for munching on a patch of garden instead.

They’re both about the same size so I can’t tell if they’re a male/female pair or just a couple of dudes out for an adventure. Either way, I’m pretty sure that the one on the right in the pictures is the same one that first visited us in the spring. I’m glad that he has a fellow fugitive to hang out with now. With luck, instinct will kick in soon and they’ll start heading south.

Muscovy ducks on the lawn.

Best be careful, looking so plump this close to Thanksgiving.

Muscovy ducks on the lawn.

You talking to me? You talking to me?

That time I sorta kinda worked for Sam the Record Man

SamsCD.com streetcar ads

Originally on the side of a streetcar, these ads haven’t seen daylight since they went into my basement in 2001.

Way back in the Internet dark ages of 1999, I applied for a job as a system administrator at SamsCD.com, AKA Sam the Record Man. After a few years of building my skills through slave labour, short-term contracts, teaching, and one-off projects, it would have been my first honest-to-goodness 9-5, on-the-payroll, full-time permanent job. I was over the moon when they called back for an interview. Not because the job ad posted to tor.jobs seemed terribly interesting, but because, come on, it was a chance to work for Sam the Record Man! My temperament just isn’t cut out for retail, so sitting in a dark closet running their computers would be perfect.

Almost from the time I was old enough to stand, I’d tag along with my mother on her regular trips to Sam’s. For ten years, she’d emerge with an armful of Max Bygraves and Al Jolson, and I’d bounce out with anything ranging from a sound effects album (do I want the one with train pulling into the station or the lion roaring?) or a single coveted blank cassette to Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Great White North album. When we moved back to East York after three years in Scarborough, I started making my own weekly pilgrimages to Sam’s. For fifteen years, I’d been heading down to Yonge Street to buy the latest Metallica, ferret out an old John Lee Hooker album, or just to browse aimlessly. I’d almost always walk out with a CD or two—often many more—whenever I walked through the doors and entered the maze. I barely noticed HMV’s arrival down the street, A&A shutting down next door, or the various comings and goings of Cheapies. Sam’s, with its ever-growing and rambling layout, was my place, and I didn’t really care about the others. Going down to Sam’s was, and remains, the only Boxing Day shopping I’ve ever done. So yeah, I wanted to work for them.

I walked into an interview in a Toronto Carpet Factory office with fourteen-foot windows, twenty-foot ceilings, and two guys who were completely cluefree. The technical questions were so softball that someone who had never seen a computer could have answered them. I impressed sufficiently to progress to a second interview with a manager who was not only very clueful, but offered me my choice of jobs: take the SamsCD position, which he assured me would be boring and below me; or take a position at a sister company that was more challenging and (he may not have known this at the time) way beyond my previous experience. What a dilemma: take a job at a company I’d always wanted to work for, or take a job that I’d actually like. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I opted to take the more challenging job. It was a tough decision to make at the time, but ultimately the right one.

Although I wouldn’t be working at Sam’s directly, I’d still be providing administration services through the sister company. Among other things I did for them, I got to upgrade Sam’s hardware and software, recover the primary server when their pseudo-admin mounted a blank partition over /usr on a running system (if you know Unix, you know that’s no good), sit in a handful of meetings discussing the server load and performance problems, and ultimately power off their four servers when the ecommerce venture was shuttered. Sam’s would eventually re-launch with a new website, but the damage from HMV, Amazon, and Napster was already done. So although I never worked directly for Sam’s, I can say that I had a small hand in keeping their systems going for a while. And I ended up with the two streetcar ads above. Maybe this will be the year that I finally mount them for display.

I’ve only been into record stores a couple of times since Sam’s finally closed five years ago. Sure, I still buy music, but only online; HMV and Sunrise are pale imitations of the Sam’s experience. I’d like to think that if Sam’s was still around, I’d still be making regular trips to pick up the latest blues releases, get my hands on an Edgar Winter album, or just see what’s on the racks this week. I never browse Amazon or Chapters, I just search for the thing I want and add it to my cart. There’s no sense of discovery, no joy. Just consumption. Although the passing of music and many other traditional businesses into the online world has largely provided me with a career, it’s a shame that so many kids will grow up thinking that the only thing worth lining up for is this year’s iPhone and will never experience a Boxing Day crush at Sam’s.

Rest in peace, Sam.

Gone fishin’ in Waterloo

I posted about a fish-shaped catch basin grate near the Leaside Bridge a couple of winters ago. It remains the only one I’ve seen in Toronto, but I found the mother lode of them last weekend in Waterloo:

Fishy catch basin in Waterloo

They seemed to be along the entire length of Margaret Avenue in Waterloo, and were probably elsewhere in the city as well. Waterloo Region has a detailed casting design for them (page 20 of this PDF) while also noting that they are only for use within the city of Waterloo and nowhere else within the region. So how did we get one in Toronto? The one here has a slightly different design, or I might have suspected someone at Toronto Water of having sticky fingers.

Penny-farthing spinning

Penny-farthing on display in Kitchener

This penny-farthing is on display at a downtown Kitchener storefront operated by the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo. It looks great and is a treat to see, but the best thing about it is not immediately obvious. If you look closely at how it’s propped up, it’s sitting on a magnetic trainer allowing people to pedal away on the high-wheeler right there in the window:

Penny-farthing on a mag trainer

Unfortunately, the lab was closed every time I went by so I wasn’t able to ask them about it or, more importantly, take a spin. It’s just as well: I forgot my tweed jacket and pipe at home.

Secure bike parking in downtown Kitchener

The new parking garage at Charles & Benton in downtown Kitchener has a secure bike parking corral. Similar to Toronto’s bike stations,  Kitchener has two of these facilities downtown now with at least one more planned. Where access to Toronto’s bike stations comes at the cost of a daily fee or monthly membership, Kitchener requires only a one-time $10 deposit.

My hotel last weekend was directly across the street from the Charles & Benton facility, so I thought I’d give it a shot for locking up even though the city doesn’t recommend using the secure corrals for overnight storage. I’d rather take my chances in a secure facility than leave my ride in the hotel’s bike rack tucked away in the darkest corner of its own parking garage. By the time I picked up my pass at City Hall and wheeled over to the garage on Friday afternoon, the sun was out and it was a gorgeous day, in contrast to the mudstorm I’d ridden through just a couple of hours earlier.

Here’s a quick look at the still-shiny-new garage and corral. Cyclists get a separate curb cut and ramp into the garage (between the bollards on the right side of the picture), so there’s no waiting in line with cars or squeezing around lift gates:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s the sign at the front of the secure corral, showing cyclists how to use it and how to get access:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s my bike, complete with stylishly dangling shopping bag, ready to be locked up while I go spend the afternoon on the town:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

Here’s a sign assuring cyclists that the crowding problems will soon be alleviated. It was unclear to me if the promised additional racks were already in place or if there were more yet to arrive:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

 

And here’s a shot of my bike locked up among all the others in the corral. This was as crowded as it got all weekend long:

Secure bike parking corral in downtown Kitchener

This was 3 p.m. on Friday. Granted, the rain earlier in the day may have kept some people from commuting by bike, but I confess that I expected to see a few more bikes than that. I do know that at least one other person was in there over the weekend because he or she left a water bottle resting upright on the floor beside one of the racks on Sunday morning.

I’m always deeply appreciative of all kinds of good cycling infrastructure—not just bike lanes—and get a little alarmed when it seems underused. If facilities like this are frequently empty, it’s much harder to make the case to maintain them, never mind install more of them. With a rock music festival going on just a block away all weekend, I was keenly aware that my little bike was taking up the equivalent of five parking spots for cars. I’m assuming that the seeming lack of use was from a combination of the weather discouraging cyclists that day and the newness of the lockup which has only been open for a couple of months. Getting access also requires in-person registration during business hours a few blocks away at City Hall. There are a lot of bikes in Kitchener and I’ve got to think that it’ll be more heavily used as word gets out and more people register. I also think that the two big hotels within one block of this new garage should partner with Kitchener to publicize it and make it available to guests on a short-term basis as part of their room fee.

Guelph to Kitchener

The road from Guelph to Kitchener

The farm-lined road to Anywhere, southern Ontario.

First, a travel tip for anyone taking a bike into the York Mills GO terminal: the canonical way to get to the bus platforms is to go into the York Mills Centre at the northeast corner of Yonge and York Mills, take the well-hidden elevator up to the second floor, and then walk down a short flight of stairs. It’s not so bad on foot, but it’s an overly complicated two-step when you’re swinging a loaded bike around. It’s way more convenient to ride just a few more metres north up Yonge to the same portal that the buses use and ride in through that as if you owned the place. It’s not only a shorter and easier route to the platform, but it means you don’t have to shoulder your bike down stairs or make everyone in the elevator miserable. It’s also far safer. You won’t be riding into a fare-paid zone, so it’s not like you’re doing anything underhanded.

I made a multi-modal trip to Kitchener this weekend (I’ll write more about that in the future), taking GO Transit to Guelph and cycling from there to Kitchener on Friday morning, and then reversing the trip on Sunday evening. Riding the roughly 28 km from Guelph to Kitchener is unlike riding in the countryside anywhere near Toronto. Oh sure, you’ve got the same corn fields, roadside ruminants, sod farms, rural communities, and quiet country roads, but the terrain is remarkably flat. There were only two noticeable hills for the entire ride and even those were smaller than climbing up Danforth from Coxwell to Woodbine. I’m used to traversing the Oak Ridges Moraine or climbing hills on hills on hills in the Peterborough drumlin field when I ride in the country, so riding somewhere flat is quite a treat.

Highway 7 provides the shortest and most direct route between the two cities, but it’s not very pleasant to ride on. A more southerly route along Wellington 124 is about 5 km longer but it’s at least 10 km nicer to ride on. I took a middle way to Kitchener that had theoretical advantages over taking 124: the route along Fife Road is both quieter and shorter by almost 3 km. It also has a long stretch of riding on dirt roads, which doesn’t usually bother me. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t been riding in Friday’s rain, which begat mud, which begat a poorly functioning drivetrain, which begat sucking the fun out of the ride. I was insanely happy that my hotel room was ready three hours before check-in time. “How are you today Mr. Dodge?” “A little muddy.” “I see that.” In total, the ride from downtown Guelph to downtown Kitchener was 28.5 km and took 90 minutes in the rain with a malfunctioning rear derailleur that left me more or less stuck in an awkward gear.

Sunday’s evening’s return trip was sunny and warm (see the picture above) with a steady tailwind. I took advantage of the tailwind to ride the slightly longer return route along Kossuth Road and Wellington 124. Both of those roads have nice wide paved shoulders for most of their length and are easy to ride on if not quite as scenic as some of the quieter rural roads. The return trip was 30.5 km in just 75 minutes with a tailwind blowing all the way. Not bad for a loaded mountain bike. I’d recommend the Fife Road route if it’s dry and you don’t mind riding on dirt roads. I don’t think I’d do it on my road bike. If you want a smooth ride that’s relatively fast but with less traffic than Highway 7, take Wellington 124 and Kossuth Road. You’ll have to head either north or south to cross the Grand River into town; take whichever way is the shorter route to your ultimate destination.

If you’re so inclined, you can read a more detailed ride report below the fold.

Read More …

No public befoulment

No park befoulments allowed in Markham.

Markham sets down the rules about park befoulment.

Oh, Markham. I can’t even count the ways I love this sign. Start with the peculiar wording (“It is prohibited to allow”), work in an odd euphemism (“befoul”), continue with a parenthetical plea for cooperation, and wrap it up by citing a long-obsoleted by-law. And if that wasn’t enough, you top it all off with “Markham” written in that 3D typeface straight out of the ’80s. That’s a whole lot of awesome packed into a simple “stoop and scoop” sign.