Friday, July 24, 2009

Trails and Castles and Locks and Willie - some notes from a road trip

At 76, Willie Nelson is still an amazing performer. Less talk this time but much more guitar work.

It is a long way down stairs and trails from the road to the shores of the Niagara River just below the whirlpool. It feels a whole lot longer on the way back up.

Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls is ridiculous and tacky and strange and an assault on the senses. Never had any interest in doing any of the tourist attractions, but I love to take a walk through the area.

Motel 6 has some weird shaped bath tubs. Sometimes, with space at a premium, you should just do a shower stall.

Bob Dylan's band looks like it lives in fear of missing a change from the master. Seriously. Bordering on terror. Strangest band dynamic ever.

Side roads and regional highways are best. From pick your own cherry fields to locks on the Erie Canal, there is just so much more to do and see than on the poorly named freeways.

John Mellencamp did pretty much the show you would expect of him. I think I had most of the playlist memorized before I went to high school. That turned out to be a good thing.

If you chance upon a castle in the 1000 Islands region, visit it. My father and I chanced upon the Boldt Castle by taking the last exit before the Canadian border. It was amazing. Not just the castle, the grounds and the boat house, but the area itself.

The Radisson sleep number thing is overrated. Just give me a nice big pillowtop mattress and I'd be happy. As it was, the bed had a hard time keeping the settings. Still a good night's sleep, just not worth the fuss.

Cracker Barrel's pancakes are surprisingly good. I've kind of gotten used to being disappointed by bland American restaurant food (where quantity over quality seems to be the rule) so this was a surprise. Didn't come close to good homemade ones, but they were still pretty good.

Al Purdy's house is not as easy to find as one might think. I mean, Ameliasburg is not even big enough to have a population number attached. Stopped and asked an older lady and her response was "you mean the guy that died" (he died in 2000). Still didn't help. It was a nice drive, though, and not far from the Loyalist Parkway (one of Ontario's nicest drives).

The ipod was made for road trips. It's all about the variety.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If I had a rocket launcher. . .

I think I've already mentioned I watch way too much CNN than is good for any one person. It's kind of like junk food for the inquisitive mind and just as bad for you in the long run.

The worst thing about CNN is the commercials. Especially right now when the U.S. is making baby steps towards something most other nations started a half-century ago - public health care. All those ads warning people not to let the government get between you and your doctor - I guess there's only room for the insurance companies in that space not that they are quick to admit that. The only people that have direct access to their doctors right now are those that a rich enough to buy the services directly. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans are not that lucky.

Think about that. The biggest argument against a public plan is that it removes choice and yet the only people who have a choice are those rich enough to buy health care no matter where they live. I don't even need to dig out my Orwell to tell you that that is creepy and scary and wrong.

Even worse are the commercials talking about how horrible the Canuck system is. Like the lady who says she would have died of brain cancer if she didn't go to the states for treatment. Did anyone ask how she paid for her American health care? I fully admit that the American system is the best in the world - if you have the money to pay for it. If you're rich, they'll treat you for illnesses that haven't even been invented yet.

I am not rich. I am not poor either. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle (though that middle keeps sliding closer to the bottom it seems - but that's another rant). As such, I'll stick with the Canuck system. Why? Five years ago I was diagnosed with a giant aneurysm up near the back of my brain. It was treated. I went back to work. Last spring, I changed jobs. Not too long afterwards, I wound up back in the hospital after suffering a pretty massive series of seizures. I recovered, went on dilantin and went back to work. At no time did I have to worry about losing coverage. At no time did I have to worry about not getting the treatments needed because an insurance company cited 'pre-existing conditions' or used other lawyer speak to keep them from spending money on my health. At no time did I have to worry about anything other than getting better. For some reason, I doubt my story would make it into the commercials.

And now I'm sitting through commercials warning people that Congress is trying to create a tax on "simple pleasures we enjoy like juice drinks and soda". Why shouldn't they tax something that is turning out to be almost as dangerous in the long term as tobacco or alcohol? Take a tour around the American Beverage Association website and tell me that these people are not just as scary as the tobacco companies.

So, if I had a rocket launcher, I'd probably aim it at my tv.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I've been up to. . .

I went to Massey Hall Saturday night to see Steve Earle. It was great. Jason Collett opened and played a solid set alone with an acoustic guitar. It is kind of odd seeing a lone performer on a stage as large as Massey Hall's but it worked out nicely.

It was also indicative of things to come. It soon became clear that not much setup was required between acts as Steve Earle also came out alone with a guitar. With only the guitar, some harmonicas and a short stretch with a mandolin, Earle showed you don't need a band to rock the house.

He played old stuff. He played new stuff. He talked about Townes (his latest album is a tribute to his musical mentor, the late Townes Van Zandt). He talked about living on the street where The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album cover was photographed (and helping to make sure the Japanese tourists are facing the right way for their photos). All in all, it was a great night and worth the lack of sleep (I had to work at 5:45 the next morning).

Other than that, I've been working. Thankfully, my last shift is this afternoon. Then I'm on vacation for 13 days. This weekend, my father and I will embark on a road trip around Lake Ontario with a stop in Syracuse to see Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.

I'm a little bit excited.

Must be off. Hope all is well with you all.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Trains, plays, child labour and Alice Munro

I was actually going to title this post "Holy Crap! I met Alice Munro in Stratford!!!" but I thought that might be a tad undignified.

Now that the title is done with, though, I have no such reservations:

Holy Crap! I met Alice Munro in Stratford!!!

First off, taking the train is the best way to get to Stratford. Two hours of reading, relaxing and scenery was a great way to start the day. When you do get to Stratford, I recommend forgoing the cab. Two other playgoers offered to split a cab with me but I declined because a) I knew the theatres were at most 15 minutes walk from the train station and b) Stratford is a really beautiful city and a joy to walk around.

Second, Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson is a riot. Fun and bawdy, it was definitely worth the trip. Oddly enough, this is the first time this play has been performed in North America. It deserves to be done much more often.

Third, my chance meeting with the master herself. Waiting to be let into the theatre, I called my sister and said I thought I saw Alice Munro also waiting to be let in. I wasn't 100 per cent sure but I was pretty close. I didn't see her during the intermission but after the play I couldn't resist. Well, I tried to resist. I kept chickening out. I think I've mentioned before that I don't do well meeting writers I idolize. I tend to get shy and nervous. It's pretty ridiculous.

But I keep trying. So I went up to her and asked if she was Alice Munro and she was. We had a short conversation that wasn't too embarrassing. She laughed when I admitted to being starstruck. I let her know I was looking forward to her new book which is coming out this fall.

Next time, I will actually take out my camera. Baby steps.

Later, after walking up and down both sides of the river, I had a nice dinner and then wandered around downtown Stratford. You have to love a town that has three independant bookstores in it's downtown core. I stopped in front of the Avon theatre to watch a 9 year old busker playing the fiddle. He was pretty good. It did leave me wondering if the toonie I tossed his way means I support child labour?

My sisters and I are planning to go to Stratford in September to see West Side Story, a production that has been getting great reviews. This Stratford thing could become a habit.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A long awaited day trip

I'm off to Stratford in the morning. Ever since I read about it in Clara Callan, I've wanted to do a day trip to Stratford by train to see a play. It just sounded kind of cool.

Of course, I read the book years ago and I'm only getting around to it now. Every summer, I'd think I should go see a play. Then things would come up and soon enough I was making plans for the next year. It was kind of a ritual.

This year things have finally changed. Last week, I looked at the fact that I would have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off this week and I quickly made plans before something else could come up.

So it's off to Stratford on the 1105 train to catch a matinee showing of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair. Then it's an evening in Stratford and a train ride that will get me back to Union Station by 1130 at night.

So, am I the only one who has made travel plans inspired by a good book?

Monday, July 06, 2009

A great line. . .

I was looking for my first book for the Shelf Monkey's Critical Monkey challenge. I was toying with the idea of searching the dollar bins for a copy of Jonathon Livingston Seagull. If I'm going for cheese, I might as well go for some old school 70's style cheese. There are a lot of people out there claiming this book is a masterpiece and that it changed their lives. As Corey would probably point out, there are people saying the same thing about Twilight and they are wrong.

Anyways, I looked up the book and decide to read some of the reader reviews. It wasn't long before I found this gem:

"Anyway, some people call this book "inspirational", or "motivating." I'm guessing that these are the same people who consider accidentally getting two extra cheesesticks for free in their Papa John's order "a miraculous affirmation of a higher power.'"

Jonathan, semi-anonymous book reviewer out there somewhere in the interweb, I salute you.

Now it's off to the dollar bins.