This is my new Presto card:

Presto card

It’s much more convenient than the old 10-trip tickets I used to get for my occasional travels on GO Transit: it fits in my wallet, it can be purchased in advance and used for any random trip rather than a fixed route between two specific end points, won’t expire when fares change, and uses card readers that are far less finicky than the old ticket readers. I bought and first used it for the Toronto-Newcastle portion of my trip to the cottage a couple of weekends ago and think it’s great.[1] I look forward to being able to use my Presto card on the TTC. I love tokens and all, but seriously, it’s the 21st century already.

This, on the other hand, is the agreement I apparently entered into when I first used the card:

Presto card terms and conditions

It’s a full page of impenetrable legalese written in virtually unreadable 5-point text. Some say that government should operate more like a business[2], but I don’t think that foisting indecipherable and unenforceable standard form contracts onto people is quite what they have in mind. I’m not really sure why they need all of this just to let me hop on a train. Still, I’ll take Presto over a 10-trip ticket any time.

[1] As an IT guy, I could poke holes in some of the customer-facing issues that betray back-end limitations, but that’s a post for another day.

[2] People who think that government should be run like a business understand neither government nor business.

Bargain Harold’s ghost letters

People of a certain age will remember Bargain Harold’s department stores, which went bankrupt in 1991. More than twenty years later, the name still appears on the façade of the West Rouge Plaza at the corner of Island Road and Friendship Avenue (no kidding) in Scarborough:

Bargain Harold's ghost letters

I didn’t have a Bargain Harold’s in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, but we did have Kresge and Woolworth, along with Bi-Way and Consumers Distributing not too far away. Zellers arrived later, replacing the local Eaton’s. Here are some random discoveries you make on the first page of a Google search for “Bargain Harold’s”: the founder, Harold Kamin, died two years ago; the Urban Dictionary says that a Bargain Harold is, well, pretty similar to every other definition in the Urban Dictionary; and this commercial:

Two roads, one day

The first ever Bells on Danforth ride pauses at Pape.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday: The first ever Bells on Danforth ride pauses at Pape.


Lakeshore Road outside Newcastle, Ontario.

Early evening on Saturday: Lakeshore Road outside Newcastle.

Saturday was a day of contrasts and lots of fun bike riding. In the morning, I was helping to set up the skills course for the Ward 35 bike rodeo in Scarborough. By mid-afternoon, I was cycling to Queen’s Park very slowly with 90 other cyclists as part of the inaugural Bells on Danforth ride. And in the early evening, I was pedalling down a virtually deserted Lakeshore Road on Lake Ontario between Newcastle and Port Hope. After cycling out of Newcastle and before arriving on the main drag of Port Hope 90 minutes later, I encountered a scant eleven cars and three pedestrians—and none at all of either for a full 45-minute stretch. With the sun finally peeking out from the clouds for the last half hour of my ride, it was the perfect way to unwind from a long day of good cycling and lousy weather.

Tankful for QR codes

Kohler toilet with a QR code

The inside of the tank on my new toilet has a QR code! How geeky is that? I had to stop the installation to wash up and grab my phone to see what this important message could possibly be. I felt like Ralphie with his new Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. It turns out to be a link to, which redirects to a PDF with steps for troubleshooting flush problems. I’ll fully admit that I thought it was the stupidest location in the world for a QR code, but now I think it borders on brilliant: can you imagine a world full of parts labelled with QR codes that take you directly to the appropriate service manual? It ought to be mandatory. Of course, the real test will be whether the link remains active for the entire 20+ year lifetime of this toilet.

Barely a year ago, I wrote about my surprise at seeing QR codes on a politician’s campaign signs; now they’re so ubiquitous that they’re inside my toilet. Which, some would argue, is where politicians have always been anyway.

Fresh baked pies

Painted lettering on the hydro poles lining the quiet country road whets your appetite as you approach: “Pies / Butter tarts” and an arrow pointing to deliciousness ahead.

Hydro poles point the way to pies and butter tarts

A little farther along, a whirligig-topped sign advertises “Fresh Baked Pies” and “Just Tarts Tuesdays” with another arrow pointing across the street.

Sign across the street from Glenn's pie stand

Turning across the street, you see the pie shop beside the road in all its grandeur:

Glenn's pie stand

To a downtowner, life seems a little different in the rural belt surrounding the city. Roads are quiet (and sometimes not even paved), vistas are grand, and payment is on the honour system. But you don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the country. You don’t even have to leave the city: this pie stand sits in front of a home on the Toronto side of Scarborough-Pickering Townline, which separates Toronto from Durham Region north of Finch Avenue.

Glenn started the pie stand about six years ago as a sideline when he began taking care of his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, at the house. She couldn’t be left alone and he was restless at the house all day long, so decided to start baking one day. Glenn bakes all of the pies and tarts himself but mostly uses his mother’s original recipes. The stand was named Mary’s Pies in her honour and started as just a table and sign in front of the house.  “I can still remember the first one I sold.” And yes, that first customer still buys pies. Glenn built the stand later and keeps it open from “12:30–dark” 7 days a week.

Money jar at the pie standThere’s no staff and the counter is self-serve. You’ll find an assortment of fresh pies or tarts inside the stand on any given day, along with a simple payment jar to drop off $9 for each pie or $5 for a half-dozen tarts.

The honour payment system works out well. “People just freak out about the honour system,” but Glenn says that he’s never lost money from the jar. “Sometimes people come and, you know, they’re short a little bit and you find a little note in the jar there with some money and it says, ‘I was short such and such the other day and here’s the money.'” He adds, “People like to be trusted.” Still, some people won’t leave money in the jar and bring it up to the front door of the house instead. He does lose the occasional pie to kids but he shrugs it off, recalling his own youth. “We used to do it too, eh?”

Glenn sells up to 80 pies a week in his summer peak season along with a couple of dozen 6-packs of butter tarts on Just Tarts Tuesdays. He’ll bake to order and takes requests.

Can he see himself doing it for another six years? “I dunno, man,” he chuckles. “It is a lot of work. I’ll keep it going for a while…”

Where do the wires go?


Hydro wires to nowhere

Ever wonder what’s at the other end of the hydro lines that come into your house? Well, I traced this set from my house back to their origin—behind a fence guarded by a No Trespassing sign, at the end of a gated gravel road at the edge of a secluded ravine—only to discover that they aren’t wires at all, but are just ropes that are tied around a pole and pooled haphazardly at the base. So if this is where the hydro lines go, where does the power come from? No wonder they put the ropes up on such tall poles: it’s so that you can’t tell what they really are. This investigation seems like a job for Geraldo Rivera.

Hydro wires are a hoax!

The top of Toronto

The view from the top of Toronto

At only about 180 metres of elevation, the peak of the hill at the former Beare Road Landfill isn’t even close to being the highest point in Toronto (that honour goes to the intersection of Keele & Steeles at 209 metres), but it is one of very few places in the city that offers an uninterrupted 360° panorama of the surroundings. The peak is in the far northeastern corner of the city but it’s not at all hard to get to: a few minutes’ walk from the Toronto Zoo parking lot or a few minutes’ bike ride from the end of the Gatineau hydro corridor trail will get you to the base with energy to spare for the quick climb up.

There’s an easier way to the top than the trail below, but I made it about halfway up this path before running out of steam and dismounting to carry my bike up the rest of the way:

Trail up to the top of Toronto

This coyote was reading a big sign about habitat restoration in Rouge Park:

Coyote at the Beare Road Landfill

It was too hazy to see the 27 km-distant CN Tower (it would be on the horizon somewhere to the left of the road in the top picture), but the Pickering nuclear plant and wind turbine are just 7.5 km to the southeast and visible as the lumps on the horizon near the right side of this picture:

Looking toward Pickering from the top of Toronto

Bike Month

Most people who read this blog will already know that Bike Month kicks off on Monday with the Group Commute to City Hall. But you may not know about two other biking activities taking place in June that I’m helping to organize through my work with Ward 29 Bikes:

  • Bells on Danforth. Inspired by Bells on Bloor, Bells on Danforth will be a fun—and with luck, huge—group ride on Saturday, June 2 from East Lynn Park (south side of Danforth, one block west of Woodbine) to Queen’s Park for the Cycle and Sole rally. We’ve been talking about organizing this ride for years and we finally got it off the ground this year by joining forces with the other east end cycling groups—32 Spokes, SoDa Bikes, and DECA Bikes—along with a lot of help and advice from Peter Low of Bells on Bloor. We have no real idea how many people to expect on the inaugural ride but I’m hoping for at least 200.
  • Thursday night rides. At Ward 29 Bikes, we’ve also talked about running social rides for almost as long as we’ve been around (since 2008!) but we’ve never quite gotten around to actually doing it until this year. We’ve organized a slate of four rides on Thursday evenings in June, leaving from the East York Community Centre and tootling around various parts of the city for 90-120 minutes. I’m hoping for 10-20 people on each ride. I’ll be on all of them, so set aside a couple of hours on one Thursday in June if you’ve ever wanted to heckle me in person.