A Traffic Suggestion Not Congestion

April 18, 2010

Nothing to do with post. Just a calming presence.

Pulling a left on my bike out of the alleyway at the top of the back lane behind our house onto the street, I failed to check to my right to see if there was any oncoming traffic. Legally it’s not something I’m required to do as it is, starting at that point, a one way street heading south. Technically speaking there should not be anyone coming from that direction. But, in most cases I do check as bikes frequently ride up the wrong way of the street as well the odd lost car driver, so turned around that they’re unaware that they’ve broken the law.

On this particular occasion, however, I failed to take the proper precaution before heading up the street. From just back behind me came this bird-like call. A short little greeting letting me know that I was not alone on the road making my way north. It had something of a finch quality to it. Perhaps even the titmouse. Pleasant without the slightest hint of aggression or nastiness. Wordlessly I was informed of the close proximity of another cyclist.

Quickly swerving to my left, I instinctively apologized to the other rider as he pedaled past me. The apology was graciously accepted and he headed off into the night. No harm, no foul.

Why can’t this be the tone taken in all interactions on our streets, roads and lanes? Enough with the indignant horns, angry bells and bellicose verbal taunts. We’re all just trying to get to our respective destinations in sound body and mind. It ain’t a war out there, people, regardless of what some of our campaigning pols are trying to hype.

If somebody does something wrong, makes a wee mistake or even simply gets overly pushy, let him have it with nothing more than a gentle reminder that you’re there and have been mildly inconvenienced by their inattentive (or selfish) actions. We’re all just simply trying to share the space with each other. It would make for a more pleasant trip whether behind the wheel of a car, atop the seat of a bicycle or strolling along on foot.

ornithologically submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Laschinger Gets His Man. Finally.

March 22, 2010

As news broke last week that John Laschinger would be assuming the chair of Joe Pantalone’s campaign team, the reality started to sink in for left wing and progressive voters that the Deputy Mayor was going to be their standard bearer in the upcoming election this October. Laschinger had guided David Miller to consecutive mayoral victories and was on board the Adam Giambrone Express that spectacularly derailed in lurid technicolour in almost record time. He then mused publicly about a possible run by budget chief Shelley Carroll.

But now he is in Pantalone’s corner and Laschinger’s status is such that it’s hard to imagine a credible candidate stepping in from the left-of-centre to mount a challenge. So it’s all Joe for Mayor in 2K10 and the excitement is, if not palpable, well… let’s just say it’s not palpable. Yet. Remember though, Laschinger took a much more obscure politician in David Miller in 2003 and helped elect him mayor of the city.

Joe Pantalone isn’t a bad candidate. He’s been a very effective councillor for almost 30 years, ably working with both sides of the political spectrum. For the last 6+ years, he’s been the deputy mayor, overseeing a massive reformation of the city as it has stumbled and lurched out of the darkness of the Harris and Lastman years towards a new, more forward looking post-amalgamation identity.

So far, however, Pantalone has been shockingly quiet on the campaign trail. Perhaps he was caught flat-footed by the virulent anti-incumbency atmosphere stirred up by rivals Smitherman and Rossi. Rather than standing up to the invective and insults hurled at the current administration – the administration he’s been an integral part of – Pantalone’s shrugged and bobbed a little, even mumbling thoughts of hiring freezes that only served to feed into his opponents narrative of a fiscally out-of-control City Hall.

It wasn’t until Mayor Miller stepped into the fray a couple weeks back, essentially calling Smitherman and Rossi liars for their deeply disingenuous representations of the city they sought to lead, that there was any perceivable pushback coming from the left. Maybe now, with Laschinger behind him, Pantalone will start being more aggressive in his own defense. He needs to re-invigorate the base who have been doubly sideswiped by Miller’s decision not to seek a third term and then the Giambrone debacle.

Nothing to do with post. Just been in the news lately.

What Pantalone can’t do, especially since it looks like he won’t have to seriously defend the centre-left terrain from another progressive candidate, is to take that vote for granted. It is a constituency that Pantalone must make sure comes out to vote on election day. Complacency is not an option especially with second tier outside candidates like Sarah Thomson lobbing grenades into the arena like she did last week with her proposals to bring in road tolls, replace LRTs with subways and a very elaborate plan for a dedicated bike lane system throughout the downtown core.

Workable or not, what Thomson’s gambit did was to reveal just how superficial and hollow the debate amongst the mayoral candidates has been so far. Sir Bitch-A-Lot and Dudley Do-Nothing have dictated the tone up until now and the razed ground they’ve created has made it difficult for capital I ideas to sprout up. Thomson has endeavoured to alter that. Joe Pantalone must follow suit or else be relegated to the category of Just Another Politician Without A Vision. Teaming up with John Laschinger may be a move in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Scenes From An All Fired Up In The Big Smoke’s Oscar Evening

March 8, 2010

The doorbell rings, interrupting our weekly All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s Sunday story meeting over roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. (The meat, it’s slightly overdone. The Yorkipud? Perfection.)

At the door stands an all decked out and bee-jouxed Nancy, ready for Oscar Party 2K10©®™. Our surprise at it being Oscar night is matched by her surprise at our surprise. “How could all 3 of you not remember?” Nancy asked. “What the hell have you been doing?” Cityslikr remains unconvinced, absolutely positive that the Oscars happen in April and on Monday nights. “Yeah well, it ain’t the 20th-century anymore, grandpa,” Nancy points out. “Johnny Carson and Bob Hope are dead. Time’s have changed.”

A flurry of activity gets us in front of the TV, ballots filled out with time to spare to even catch the last of the red carpet ceremonies. There is much talk of dresses and hairdos. Cityslikr is already livid at the sheer vapidity on parade. This happens every year but it seems much earlier than usual.

Before the actual show starts, Nancy explains to us that the Oscars are looking to draw in a younger viewing crowd who have long since tuned out, not really seeing it as a Must See event. So it’s all going to be very fast paced and hip with no big dud musical numbers and briefcase toting accountants from Price Waterhouse. “It’s all about the zazz factor tonight, boys!” Nancy promises. We have no idea what that means but don’t really care enough to ask for clarification.

For most of us in the room, the only movie we’ve seen all year is Avatar. Some of us have seen it many, many times. “How many times is too many?” I ask Nancy who seems almost antagonistic to my devotion to the film. She provides no satisfactory answer.

Urban Sophisticat claims to have also taken in many foreign language films including 4 or the 5 Oscar nominated films. “It’s a travesty Broken Embraces was overlooked,” he opines but his authority is seriously undermined after a lengthy explanation about why the Israeli film, Ajami, will win the foreign language category only to see El Secreto de Sus Ojos from Argentina scoop up the award. Apparently it’s the one foreign language film he didn’t see. I guessed it correctly with a simple eenie-meenie-minie-moe choice.

While we find the opening of the show fairly amusing, Cityslikr wonders how co-host Steve Martin brings in the youngsters. Martin seems to concur, joking how the young presenters don’t even know who he is. “Not only is he old,” Cityslikr figures, “but the guy hasn’t made a decent movie since…” No one can figure out the last Steve Martin film they saw which seems to prove Cityslikr’s point.

“They want the young kids, Dane Cook should be hosting this crap.” After explaining to everyone who Dane Cook was (“A hugely unfunny standup comic who mystifyingly fills up Madison Square Gardens for HBO specials.”), Cityslikr thinks that it would be a train wreck he would gleefully sit through.

Urban Sophisticat notices that the shaded Jack Nicholson is not in his usual place front row centre. “Maybe they gave his seat to Robert Pattinson.” Nancy suggests. She then has to explain to everyone present who Robert Pattinson is and all about the Twilight phenomenon.


Half of the room is now asleep. Nancy is desperately texting to find out if there’s another Oscar party in the vicinity. I am sensing an Avatar backlash amidst a groundswell for The Hurt Locker. This is why everyone hates the Academy Awards. They punish success.

Eyes are opened and interest rises when Jeff Bridges wins for Best Actor. It’s pointed out that while he acts like his character in the Big Lebowski, he is looking more and more like Sam Elliott’s The Stranger in the movie. There’s a letdown in the room when he doesn’t end his acceptance speech with “The Dude abides.” Everyone in the room except Cityslikr agrees that the Coen Brothers haven’t made another truly great film since The Big Lebowski. He loves No Country For Old Men. I don’t see it, frankly.

Urban Sophisticat goes on a long, Courvoisier fueled rant about the problems with the Oscars these days. “We already know too much about the movie stars. They’re ubiquitous with all the infotainment shows and channels on TV, supermarket check out aisle magazines. Back in the day,” he (actually) says, “the Oscars were one of the few times we got to see these legends of the silver screen with the guards down, out of their roles. There’s no magic or mystery in the pictures anymore. It all started to go down hill when People magazine came into existence.” No one’s really listening at this point.

Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech for Best Actress elicits much chatter about plastic surgery and growing old in Hollywood. “She’s 45!” screams Cityslikr. “When did that become old?” Nancy shakes her head, amazed at his ignorance about the real world.

Show concludes. The Hurt Locker is the big winner. I guess I’ll have to see it when it comes out on DVD. “It’s already out on DVD,” Nancy informs me as I walk her to the door. Cityslikr and Urban Sophisticat are curled up together on the couch. We pause for a moment, enjoying the silence. Sensing her general disappointment in the evening, I suggest that Nancy find some other, more movie friendly types to watch the show with next year. She shrugs. “There’s no surprises anymore,” she tells me. “Everybody won who was predicted to win. That’s just the way it goes these days. It’s stage managed to death.”

With that, Nancy wanders off into the night. Once more Hollywood has disappointed her. But how couldn’t it? She didn’t even like Avatar. In this reporter’s humble opinion, if you didn’t like Avatar, you don’t like movies. The childlike magic has gone inside you. As Ally Sheedy’s Allison Reynolds said in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club: When you grow up, your heart dies.

wistfully submitted by Acaphlegmic

One Big Happy Family Day

February 15, 2010

Family Day is quickly becoming our favourite holiday here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Free of the pressures of gift giving/receiving, religious connotations, easter egg hunting, tree planting and general all round labouring, Family Day is simply the third day of a long weekend in February, just past the half way mark of the winter season.

The Christmas spirit has long since past (although the overdue bills linger) but the days are growing noticeably longer, the nights shorter. If the winter has not yet killed us, we bask in the growing possibility of spring being right around the corner.. and up the street, then take a left and go two, no wait, three or four long city blocks until you reach a stop light. There, spring will be just around the corner.

With the annual trip down south into the warmth not until the kids’ spring break, by Family Day you realize that it is still more than a month away, give or take a week depending on your school board and you secretly start (once again) to curse your luck and your ancestors for possessing the grand stupidity in deciding to settle here. I mean, seriously. It was the olden days. Why didn’t they just keep going from wherever it is they came from, across the border, through the Midwest and spread out to the semi-tropical climes of Florida or the arid dry heat of the American southwest? Screw that. Why weren’t they even more adventurous and become pirates somewhere in the Caribbean? Anywhere in the Caribbean except for maybe Haiti.

Still, it could be worse. You could be living in Winnipeg or Regina. Or suffering under the unbearable spirit and constant drizzle of the Olympics in Vancouver.

But why did they give us an extra day in the middle of February again? Couldn’t they’ve jammed it into one of the summer months when there’s stuff you can actually do and enjoy? Downhill skiing is too expensive. Cross country skiing’s just stupid. The AGO still has the fucking King Tut exhibit. And no, I don’t care how bored I am, you cannot make me go see Precious.

I’ll tell you what. You take the kids and go see Precious or that real life football player story with Sandra Bullock while I just go into to work, book the day. We’ll try to tack it onto one of the other days off we have and make it a real long weekend. When it’s nice out. We can drive somewhere and it won’t cost us an arm and a leg. How’s that sound?

So happy, happy Family Day, everyone. From our family here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to yours. And don’t fret. We can all get back to work tomorrow.

forced vacationally submitted by Cityslikr

Note To The TTC: There Is A Better Way

February 13, 2010

One has to wonder if the Adam Giambrone imbroglio has served as welcome relief to the TTC or just furthered the public’s perception of a badly run, highly dysfunctional outfit. Certainly it’s been a juicy distraction for the rank and file front line operators who’d been enduring an annus horribilis so far in 2K10®©™, contending face-to-face with customer dissatisfaction with fare hikes and shoddy service. Mob ire has been diverted, at least temporarily it seems, as local media coverage has turned its slavering, beady-eyed attention to matters of a more carnal nature.

But the respite will be brief and there’s no indication that the TTC and the running of it will be any less a sensitive and exploitable campaign issue in this fall’s election. Hopefully, the TTC has used this break in the assault to recalibrate (to use the Prime Minister’s term) and overhaul its PR approach. The battle, so far, has had little to do with substance and everything to do with optics. There’s no reason to think that’s going to change between now and October 25th.

The question is, who exactly has been giving the TTC PR advice? Not even stopping to wait for an answer because the question was entirely rhetorical, whoever it was, they should be relieved of their duty. Clearly they’ve been napping on the job and prone to waking up with a start and blurting out unhelpful, nonsensical rejoinders. They’ve been off on unauthorized bathroom breaks, rendering themselves oblivious to the shit storm of public discontent swirling around them. Rather than helping the TTC’s cause, their public relations have only further undermined it.

First off, stop using union head Bob Kinnear as the public face of TTC workers. Pugnacious, flinty and defensive is not helping the cause. That old axiom about the best defense being a good offense isn’t always applicable. It only feeds into the public perception of a surly, intransigent work force.

Ditto your Facebook group, tracking and photographing customer misdeeds. Two wrongs do not make a right is an adage that might be useful in this case. And a work to rule campaign? Ba-a-a-a-d idea! Terrible in fact. The public already thinks you don’t work hard enough. Why give them more ammunition?

Your best plan of action now is to dip into your union membership dues and hire yourself a smooth talking, photogenic spokes person. A female would probably be best to undercut the public perception of doughy white bus drivers. Someone perky but not cloying; knowledgeable not condescending. Someone non-threatening.

She will possess daily talking points in order to drive the discourse rather than simply reacting to whatever’s being pushed by other vested interests.

Such as: with a work force of 9,000 or so people, there are bound to be slip ups, let’s call them, occasional displays of poor workmanship. When they are brought to our attention, we will deal with them in an appropriate manner. However, let’s compare those poor interactions with the number of times riders get from point A to B in a, if not blissful manner, at least an entirely uneventful one. Despite the recent woes, that ratio is very likely heavily weighted in the latter’s favour.

Or take some time to explain the TTC’s revenue structure. (You’ll have to speak slowly and deliberately with this as most journalists don’t really like or understand details, being the bigger picture thinkers that they are.) Discuss the difference between operating and capital funding while making sure that everyone realizes the TTC has been chronically underfunded by senior levels of government for over a decade now. Because neither the province nor Ottawa places that much importance on public transportation, there is a much bigger reliance on the fare box for revenue than almost anywhere else in the world. Thus, constant fare hikes. Sure the feds and Queens Park love to build big shiny edifices when it suits their fancy but when it comes to running the system, well, not so much.

Ask the candidates for mayor, who are making vague pledges of getting tough with the union and overhauling the TTC, if they also plan on securing stable, long term funding from the federal and provincial governments or if it’s all just about the empty gesture of being the new sheriff in town. Suggest that if the candidates really want to debate the issues thoroughly they should take a time out from making anger inciting headlines and harping on less than flattering photos and spend some time looking through more thoughtful sources of information such as Steve Munro’s Website for a fair, non-partisan examination of the public transit situation. Then the candidates could offer up ways to make getting around this city better, easier, more enjoyable rather than just leading the pitchfork crew in demanding some sort of frontier justice.

Stoicism not combativeness is what I’m suggesting for the TTC right now. Acknowledge problems but put forth solutions rather than accusations. Be the bigger person in this fight and leave the petty antics and regressive poses to those who aren’t really inclined to make things better. They’re just looking to sell newspapers and get elected.

optically submitted by Urban Sophisticat