A cafe for the ages

Meallenium Cafe

On Yonge Street at Aylmer Avenue, the Meallenium Cafe serves up food for the ages. Or aged. Or something. The name may seem a little anachronistic given that we’re currently twelve (or eleven, depending how you count) years removed from the millennium celebrations, but keep in mind that we’re barely 1% of the way through the current millennium. The name will be fresh for at least another 300 years.

One name that was instantly anachronistic was anything that referred to Y2K. Most perplexing of these to me was the Y2K Bar & Grill on the Danforth which not only first appeared well after Y2K, but persisted until just a couple of years ago:

Y2K Bar & Grill

The Star tries to make up its mind

[January 28 update: the Star‘s public editor addressed my complaint in her column today. Here’s my reaction.]

[January 26 update: the Star finally prepended a correction to the article yesterday, more than a full day later. I’ll have more to say about it in a couple of days.]

Although the Star is somewhat notorious for its editing mistakes, it’s not often that you see the same story covered under two completely contradictory headlines. But such was the case today when a story about a raise for town councillors in Whitchurch-Stouffville first appeared and was later updated:

Town council votes itself a giant raise. Or not.

Half an hour later:

Town council votes itself a giant raise. Or not.

I didn’t have a chance to read the first version of the story, but it’s clear that at least a couple of the early commenters on the article saw a story about a 43% raise. Based on the headline alone, a correction should be appended to the online article. No such luck. It’s worth noting that the URL for the story also changed, from:




Both URLs currently take you to the same version of the story, but that’s only because to the Star‘s chosen content management system, this is also a valid link to the story:


A lot of minor corrections are fixed silently and go unnoticed, but an error on this scale requires some sort of acknowledgement.

I’ve written an email to the Star‘s public editor, Kathy English, in the hope that this kind of situation may be addressed in the future.

I hate to break it to you, Joe…

Still hopeful a year later.

…but you lost the election. Well over a year ago. It’s probably time to take down that sign on your Bloor Street East campaign headquarters.

But if flying a flag upside down is the symbol for a ship in distress, then this sign displayed elsewhere on the same building speaks pretty accurately to your campaign:

International symbol for a mayoral candidate in distress

Every time I walk past these signs I wonder if there’s an equivalent to “nerkle” for people who leave election signs up long past their relevance date.

No admission

Toronto Zoo admission booth

A Toronto Zoo ticket booth, accompanied by a pile of logs, an oil tank, and other assorted detritus, sits abandoned in an overgrown field near the zoo’s rear entrance. I guess this is the zoo’s basement: just shove everything there that they don’t really want at the moment, but can’t quite bring themselves to get rid of.

Pottery Road improvements revisited

Sharrows on Pottery Road

When Pottery Road re-opened at the end of November, cyclists and pedestrians rejoiced. So did drivers, but their joy was a little tempered. As a cyclist, I have nothing but praise (well, almost nothing but praise) for the outcome of the project, but I’ve heard a lot of complaints from drivers. Their concerns fall into two broad categories: why are these new traffic lanes so narrow, and what the hell are these bike symbols in the middle of the road? I first heard the former complaint from Risa, who drives down Pottery Road to work every day. I’ve since heard it from numerous others too. The latter complaint first came to the attention of Ward 29 Bikes via an email from a police officer who was recommending that the sharrows be removed because they confused motorists and encouraged cyclists to ride down the hill in the middle of the lane (which is kind of the whole point of them). He went on to explain that some motorists thought the sharrows indicated that they were driving in a bike lane. To get out of this supposed bike lane, they tried to do u-turns on the hill. I thought that was a joke when I first heard it, or at least an exaggeration to make some kind of anti-bike point. But after I heard the same thing elsewhere, I thought there might be a grain of truth in there after all.

My first instinct is always to cast aside such tales as just part of the general grumpiness that accompanies any cycling infrastructure in this town. But after giving it some thought, I realized that drivers probably do have a legitimate problem with sharrows: they have no idea what a sharrow is. Although sharrows are explained over and over again on the city’s cycling website, in the city’s cycling newsletters, and at public meetings about cycling infrastructure, those audiences always consist of cyclists. I couldn’t recall sharrows ever being explained to drivers. Explanations aren’t included when you renew your licence, there are no explanatory signs beside the road, and no one holds public meetings explaining new cycling infrastructure to motorists. Whenever a new stop sign or traffic light appears, a big “NEW” sign is placed somewhere in the block leading up to it. Bike lanes, HOV lanes, bus lanes, turning lanes, crosswalks, and even parking spots all come with accompanying overhead or roadside signs. In contrast, sharrows just appear out of nowhere without any explanation. That may be fine on streets like Wellesley where they form short connectors near intersections between sections of the bike lanes, but there is no similar context on Pottery Road, where they appear mysteriously at the top of the hill and disappear just as enigmatically at the bottom of the hill.

When you’re inside the bubble of cycling information, it’s easy to forget that the memo was never really sent to the general public. Unless you are relatively active in the cycling community or visit www.toronto.ca/cycling once in a while, you probably have no idea what a sharrow is or what it’s supposed to indicate. What’s needed here is driver education, not removal of the sharrows. Fortunately, as reported on OpenFile last week, the city will be putting up signs in the spring explaining the shared lane markings.

As for the narrow lanes, having driven up and down Pottery Road a few times myself, I agree that the lanes are narrower than they used to be. I could even be convinced to admit that I may feel a little crowded sharing the road with oncoming traffic between the retaining wall on one side and Jersey barrier on the other. And you know what? I don’t really have a problem with that. The lanes are still more than wide enough for cars and trucks to find their way up and down the hill. Studies say that narrowing lanes causes car drivers to slow down and I don’t have a problem with that, either. Speaking as a cyclist, pedestrian, and driver, anything that makes other drivers slow down a bit and think about driving safely is the kind of road improvement we need to see more often.

Tip creep

It’s still early days but I’m going to go ahead and award restaurateur Tom Earl, co-owner of a restaurant that I will never patronize, the prize for boneheaded quote of the year for 2012. He was quoted in yesterday’s Star defending his restaurant’s standard tip rate of 20%, up from the usual 15%:

“We feel we are providing great service. Waiters don’t get paid too much.”

So Earl, owner of a business, feels that his underpaid employees deserve a raise. Good for him. Oh, wait, he expects me to pay them? What’s wrong with that picture? Shouldn’t the business owner be the one rewarding his valued employees?

I’ve been questioning the whole tipping convention over the last several years, especially as it grows outward to new businesses and services. I consider myself a pretty good tipper at sit-down restaurants. But tip jars have become ubiquitous on quick-service food counters, in doughnut shops, and at take-out windows. I always tip the pizza delivery guy, but why am I being prompted for a tip when picking up a slice to go? Should I be reading something into the fact that my change from a ten was two toonies and a loonie instead of a five? Am I really supposed to flip a little something to the guy at the coffee shop for handing me an empty cup that I have to fill myself? I get more service (and exact change) from that vending machine that slides a cold bottle of Coke down the chute and into my waiting hands. Why do I have to look at the stupid sign on the counter at the local gelato place informing me that “Tipping is sexy”? That may work on horny and naive teenaged boys, but I’m 42, jaded, and really don’t care what you think is sexy. What I do think whenever I see that sign is that you’re in the wrong business if you believe that my giving you money is sexy.

I tip my haircutter, even though she owns the business and is free to set a higher price if she feels she isn’t making a living wage. In fact, I think her price is way too low, so I top her up by almost 50%. But really, who am I to make that decision for her? Movers and taxi drivers, okay; but is that courier at my door rubbing his thumb and index finger together because he’s cold? Then get moving back to your truck!

The thing I dislike about tipping is that in the quarter of a century that I’ve been giving tips out of my own pocket, the very act of tipping has changed: where it used to be a reward, it’s now an expectation. It’s not a bonus, it’s part of an employee’s wages. It used to be that I thought I was rewarding someone for attention to service when I gave him or her a good tip. Now, I feel that I’m rewarding restaurant owners for failing to pay employees a living wage.

So if, as restaurateurs like Earl and countless workers contend, tips are an essential component of employees’ wages, why don’t we abandon the concept of the suggested/mandatory gratuity, get rid of the minimum wage exception for food service workers, and incorporate their higher wages into the base cost of a meal? Earl obviously knows how much his employees rely on tips and is even telling me how much he thinks I should top up their wages. So why doesn’t he just do it for me?  I see two objections to getting rid of tips in favour of better base wages:

  1. Tipping encourages better service. I call bullshit. I may have been swayed by this argument when tipping was a reward, but in an era when tips are little more than semi-organized extortion, it no longer holds true. Besides, it’s not up to me to police your employees’ performance. As a good businessperson, you should be doing that yourself and rewarding them accordingly. In virtually no other business are employees’ wages and performance evaluations left to the whims of customers. In fact, in most other businesses, accepting money on the side from customers would range from unethical to illegal. What’s so special about restaurants that normal rules of business don’t apply?
  2. Restaurants can’t afford to pay higher wages. Again, I call bullshit. Restaurants choose not to include the full cost of employees’ wages in the advertised product cost, instead encouraging/forcing customers to make up the difference. But the cost to me is the same: at the end of the day, a $50 meal and $10 tip is indistiguishable from a $60 meal and no tip.

What’s needed here isn’t yet another bump in the “standard tip rate,” but a common-sense look at the outdated custom itself. In the meantime, I’ll continue tipping where it’s warranted and ignoring the proliferation of tip jars and “Tip Y/N?” prompts on debit terminals.

Supermarket finds: Holy Crap!

Holy Crap breakfast cereal

This cereal is supposed to be so good that it was a virtually instant deal on Dragons’ Den. The name refers to its laxative effects but as far as I’m concerned it refers to the price: twelve bucks for 225 grams? My cereal of choice is already one of the most expensive options in the supermarket at $7 for a 540g box, and Holy Crap is almost twice the price for less than half the product. Holy Crap! I’m not averse to spending money on a high-quality product but four times the price of a premium cereal that is itself already twice the price of everything else seems a little rich. I’m also not quite sure what I’d do with the suggested serving size of two tablespoons, which is maybe a tenth the size of a proper bowl of cereal. Eating it also seems to require adherence to instructions or advance preparation far beyond what my fuzzy brain is willing to deal with in the morning. Despite more than a little curiosity, the great name, and the fact that it’s a Canadian company, I just can’t bring myself to spend $12 on a taste. Maybe if they offered me a free sample…

The travails of Mr. Stickman

[This is a repost of an article that I originally put together for Torontoist in 2008. Torontoist’s recent redesign seems to have eaten all of the photo galleries in older posts, so I’m adding this one here because it was way too much fun (and work!) to allow it to disappear into the ether.]

Trucks are just one of Mr. Stickman's many nemeses.

Mr. Stickman has the toughest job in Toronto: keeping you safe. In a day’s work, he gets smushed, crushed, beheaded, befingered, mangled, strangled, thrown, blown, ground, and crowned. And unlike the relatively delicate spokesmodels who calmly remind you to mind the gap or use proper escalator technique, Mr. Stickman is willing to give the extra effort and actually demonstrate the consequences of not following the rules. Wherever danger lurks, Mr. Stickman plies his educational trade. He endures every manner of indignity, accident, and disfigurement that you can imagine, all in the hope that you will learn from his painful and sometimes deadly misadventures. What follows is a small sampling of his daily work around Toronto.

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