Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chapter 5: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In chapter 5 Joe Fiorito investigates the theme of how Toronto is more like a town and not a thriving metropolis like New York City. I personally think Toronto is more made up of a bunch of little towns that just happenned to gradually grow. These small little towns eventually stopped growing, geographically, because they grew into each other. Eventually regions started up and these towns got lumped in with the main downtown area of Toronto. After a while, and the Mike Harris government, this particular region was truned into the city of Toronto as we know it today. But this city of Toronto is more of a governance requirement than a day to day living requirement.

In terms of character, each particular part of the city is different. North York (centred by the intersection of Yonge Street & Sheppard Avenue) is more of a suburban community to Downtown Toronto. Mel Lastman, the former Mayor of North York, wanted to create a second downtown for Toronto by building a commercial area along Sheppard Avenue East with the creation of a subway (Sheppard Avenue line). Toronto proper consists of the downtown core where people from the surrounding towns and cities tend to come and work during weekdays. Hence the downtown is centred by Union Station where a high number of those people coming into the downtown go through either on the subway (TTC) or Commuter Train (GO Transit). Within the city there are several ethnic groups including the Italians (little Italy) and Chinese (Chinatown).

Aurora, about a thirty to forty five minute drive north of the city is also a commuter town for those heading to Toronto jobs. Although, this is changing with the growth of the big business offices (World headquarters for Magna Autoparts and Canadian Headquarters for State Farm Insurance) and industries coming to town.

Like the Toronto example from Fiorito's book, Aurora's fire stations are easily accessible to the people. The firefighters welcome school children to either visit the fire stations or have a fire truck visit them in order to learn about fire safety. Having children and others get to know the local firefighters is especially important to fire safety. This is especially so considering in the event of a fire, chidlren are more likely to run away from a firefighter dressed in full breathing geer. Who wouldn't be afraid of a firefighter coming through the smoke looking strange and making weird breathing noises that sounds like Darth Vader? So children, at least at the Aurora fire station, get to see a firefighter in full breathing apparatus. These same firefighters are seen at local events around town both with and without the fire truck.

Local churches are also favourite places for people in Aurora to congregate. Just look at tonight at Aurora United Church where a group of all ages got together and organized an "evening of Contemporary Christian music". In the future there will be sales and other events that the community can come and enjoy. These events also help the local community as well with donations to the food bank and the local Women's Centre to name just two. I consider Aurora to be a great community of outreach both from the religious perspective (as evidenced by the church) and from a community group perspective (just ask the Optimist, Lions and Scouts organizations).

Within Aurora there is even that small town feel of a traditional downtown along Yonge Street (at Wellington Street). This small town feeling even extends to being able to go about my daily business and run into people I know. Every single person I meet is usually concerned with how I am doing and how my family is doing. That small town perspective even comes when the ups and downs of life occur considering cards, flowers and food are usually sent for weddings and funerals.

The above is why Aurora is "my kind of town."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chapter 4: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In chapter 4, Joe Fiorito explores the world of both drugs and sex in Toronto. He meets up with a Toronto hooker named Anita. He follows her over time to hear why she "turns tricks" for (her crack addiction). He even gets a call from Anita, from jail, after a while. He goes to the jail house and talks to her about how she ended up in the 'big house'. Joe basically documents the life of a hooker that most people in Toronto wouldn't know about but might find interesting.

Basically, Fiorito tells is a good journalist. Fiorito, notes in Chapter 3, that:

"If you get up in the morning and you make it to the end of the day, that's a story - how you got up, went off to work and came back home again is the story of what life is like here." (Fiorito 33).

Fiorito takes a look at exactly this in terms of Anita's life. She goes out and turns tricks all day in order to get her crack fix. Then she sleeps and then starts the thing all over again. However, the story changes once she is busted for prostitution and heads to jail. Also, she picks up a boyfriend and heads off to cottage country in order to live with him. But she eventually runs away from him and starts a new life in Toronto. She eventually breaks her crack habit and is now a convenience store cashier outside of Toronto. The story ends there as Fiorito has now lost contact with Anita.

Personal connection to Anita? I haven't thought of anything yet.....

But I guess I made a connection with what I have read earlier in Fiorito's own book (see quote above) and a story from a later chapter (Anita's story). I guess, I personally made the connection.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chapter 3: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In Chapter 3, Joe Fiorito explores this quote:

Human beings have been my maps.

Fiorito explores how immigrants and visitors to Toronto rely on the those of us who have lived in and around the city for directions. People who are brand new to Toronto, and for that fact any other major city, are pretty easy to spot. These are the people who seem to wander around the downtown areas totally awstruck by the buildings.

I reflected on this thought when thinking of my past observances of new people to major North American Cities that I have lived in (e.g. Toronto, Ottawa, New York City, etc.). Those of us who have lived in and around the city for years don't take notice of the buildings anymore. The buildings, to us, just exist and the aura of these buildings has become tarnished to us. These buildings, in other words, have become familiar to us.

Wheras the new people to the city stop on the sidewalks totally awstruck at buildings like the CN Tower and Rogers Centre in Toronto, or the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Quite often these new people cause pedestrian traffic problems on the sidewalk as they stand their gawking at the buildings.

The "regulars" of the cities are more interested in getting to where ever they are going whether it be work, the bar or home. However, these regulars make the first impressions on the visitors and other new people to the city. Toronto has become known for, and I also noticed this in New York City as well, for being friendly to newcomers. The friendliness I'm noting stems from the easyness it is to request directions from the regulars. An example might be: "Where can I find a good family restaurant?" Another example might be: "where is the Eaton Centre/Brooklyn Bridge?" These questions in either Toronto or New York City are easily answered by most people who might be walking by on the sidewalk. These directions are usually accompanied by a friendly tone of voice, a smile and/or a welcome to town! Tourists and other newcomers are more likely to return to the city after being greeted friendly like this.

Governments and others should be looking at how to make services for necomers and/or tourists more visible and easily accessible. Allowing these people to come to the town/city and have a good time may mean these same people may make a return visit. Fiorito and his people are right in this particular chapter: A way to see if a town/city is worth anything in terms of how easy is to get around is to forget the city map in the hotel room/home and go out and explore the city by using human beings as your maps.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the way home....

My friend James and I were on the way home from a day out in Waterloo, Ontario, after seeing a Wilfrid Laurier vs Western Ontario university football game this evening. It was a good evening to be going home as the roads were dry and traffic was steady but moving.

We were on had been driving along Highway 401 in James' car heading back to Toronto following a stop off at the McDonald's restaurant outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo area. We were full of greesy burgers and fries from this fine gourmet eating establishment (did I mention it took my server in her royal robes to 10 minutes to serve me a Big Mac, fries and fine fountain coke?) when a "bang" happenned on the passenger side of the car. We immediately pulled over about two kilometres on Highway 401 from Guelph Line near Campbellville, Ontario.

We had a hole in the back passengar side tire. James pulled the car up to the Guelph Line into parking lot near Mohawk Raceway so we could change the flat tire. Neither, James or I had ever changed a flat tire in our lives. But I figured, "hey, this can't be that hard". So James showed me where the jack and spare tire is in his trunk. I took a look under the car but I couldn't figure out if the jack went behind the wheel or in front of the wheel. I also knew I had to also take the hub cap off in order to remove the hubcap. But I didn't want to break the hub cap.

I asked James if he had CAA. He didn't but he did have road side assist as part of his warranty. So we called Toyota around seven p.m. and by seven thirty we had a fabulous tow truck driver stop by and have the flat off and the new one on. He even gave us the information of how far the spare tire is good far and the maximum speed we could go. For safety sake, we took Derry Road all the way back from Guelph Line to just the other side of Lester B. Pearson airport.

Once we got into the Toronto we headed for James' apartment. I headed to the subway from there. You would think that would be all, but that is only where the lull in the excitement occurs. I got safely along the Bloor Subway line to Yonge and all the way north on the Yonge Subway line to Finch Station.

Next, I boarded the VIVA Blue bus northbound bus at Finch Station. We must have waited five minutes before the driver got on the bus and started up. We travelled up six lane Yonge Street and, just north of Steeles Avenue, had to merge left from the curb lane into the middle lane due to cars parked in the curb lane. The bus driver stopped there and got off the bus quickly and ran around and looked at the driver side of the bus. This is somewhat unsual but I thought nothing of it. She then got back on and pulled the bus ahead and back into the curb lane just in front of the parked cars.

According to the bus driver of VIVA Bus 5212, we were sideswiped by a car who was in that lane. She said the driver of the car continued on his way. She claimed it was a hit and run. There were thirty passengars on this sixty foot articulated Van Hool bus and not one of us, except the driver, would admit to witnessesing anything unusual.

We waited about five minutes before two VIVA supervisors arrived in their two white cars. One car parked in front of the bus and the other in the back. One of the supervisors put on the orange and yellow striped vest and took a look at the bus with the driver.

Another VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) pulled up and stopped in the middle lane. The other supervisor, not wearing a vest and dressed in black pants and black fleece jacket signalled for the driver to stop in the MIDDLE LANE! The VIVA supervisor then signalled for the passengars on the bus the bus that was in the accident (Bus # 5212) to disembark that one. Next, these passengars were told to walk between the bus involved in the accident and behind the supervisors car in order to board the new bus (Bus # 5222). This was taking place at between 10:00 P.M. and 10:30 P.M. on a dark and steady rain night on a major six lane arterial road just north of Toronto.

The new bus could have easily pulled in front of the supervisor's car in the curb lane and then boarded the passengers from the affected bus. For passenger safety this would have probably been preferrable. But apparently VIVA supervisors believe in passenger safety. The bus that the passengers were boarding in the middle lane (Bus # 5222) could have easily been hurt or killed if a car or truck had come up from behind that bus and rear ended it. There was less of a chance of people being hurt if Bus # 5222 had of simply pulled in next to the curb on Yonge Street. It would also been just like picking up from a regular bus stop instead of forcing people to step up onto the bus ( a difference of about an added foot in elevation) Having the new bus pulling over to the curb would have also meant that only one of the three lanes on Yonge Street would have been disrupted instead of having two lanes disrupted. But again, apparently the supervisors of VIVA don't believe in safety for their passengers.

Further north on Yonge in Oak Ridges at the intersection of Yonge Street and Old Colony Road the VIVA Blue bus (Bus # 5222) comes up to the intersection. As we arrive at the intersection the light changes from green to yellow to red. Any normal driver would prepare to stop at the red light. But three metres from the stop line, with not another car around, the bus driver doesn't brake and we continue right through the red light and the intersection.

To make matters worse, this same bus driver rides the white dotted line of the two northbound lanes as we continue northbound on Yonge Street between Bloomington Road and the construction area just south of Industrial Parkway South in Aurora. This bus is now taking up two lanes of traffic!

This morning I called into the York Region Transit (YRT) call centre to report my trip home on VIVA (the rapid transit division). The customer agent, Leslie, said she took down my story and said she would have the Operations Division look into it. She asked if I wanted to have someone from Operations call me back with a response to what occurred. I said probably the people investigating the incident would be the same two supervisors who directed unloaded us at Yonge Street just north of Steeles Avenue. I said to her I don't trust those operations supervisors because of their lack of safety conscience in this particular instance.

I then said I would report this incident to York Regional Police's Roadwatch program so that perhaps a police officer could invistiagate and possibly get the driver of bus 5222 that evening off the road. During my conversation I requested the plate number of bus #5222 and Leslie (the YRT customer service agent) said she didn't have that information.

So ununfortunately I could not fill in the licence plate number of that particular vehicle into York Region's Roadwatch Program's online complaint form when I filled it out today. But I do hope this will help VIVA take notice that customer's safety should be important. This is because, as the above examples show, neither the two supervisors or the second bus driver do and I find that unacceptable.

So all in all, I had a fun Saturday night!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

See Mom I'm not a Nerd!

I am nerdier than 9% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


I found this on another blog to see if I was nerdy or not. Apparently I'm not.

Besides, what is it with people posting these little quiz results on blogs anyway? Isn't it kind of dorky or...er...nerdy?

Wait.... on second thought.... NO it is not nerdy :)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What happenned to the CNE?

TheStar.com - Longing for the CNE of years gone by

Over the past two weekends I have been down to the Canadian National Exhibition's (CNE) 128th season.

The first weekend I was really excited to go to "The Ex" as I hadn't been in quite some time. I also had reason to, a former colleague from New York was up here on vacation and I thought "Let's go to The Ex!"

Over the next two weeks I was dissapointed:

First, after getting off the streetcar I paid $12.00 admission to get into the grounds. Sure this twelve buckaroos would have been great if it included even one or two rides. Nope sorry, out of luck. This twelve simoleans only lets your sorry ass get through the gate and the right to enter a melting pot of a flea market and land (carni market? flea land?).

While walking around the CNE I was fairly dissapointed that really the only excitement was the rides which I will point out you had to pay for at a cost of $3 to $6, various casino games, traditional "try your luck" or carni games.

Inside the old buildings things weren't that much better. A the food building, overpriced food supposedly prepared by well known vendors like Swiss Chalet, Pizza Pizza, and other Toronto area chain restuarents were a great dissapointment. This disspointment emanated from the fact the food quality people have come to expect from these chains was lacking.
Basically the food building was a large mediocre food court. If I wanted this type of environment I would head to Vaughan Mills Mall or Upper Canada Mall thank you very much!

Over at the Sports exhibition in the "Better Living" building more of the same flea market stalls were present. These "stalls" sold everything from sweat socks to ball caps. However there was a glimmer of excitement in the hall! While I was in this building for an hour there was one half time basketball show that was fairly good. The players would jump off trampolines and dunk a ball in a basketball hope. This was perhaps the funnest thing at the CNE.

Over at the Horse Palace, which apparently in the olden days used to be a two floor building brimming with the sounds of stallions and mares in yesteryear I was again dissapointed. The building was perhaps only a quarter used if that. There were two aisles describing to the youngsters what horses were and why horses were important. Sure this was great for the four or five year old who grew up in the city and has never seen or even been near a horse before. But I was looking for perhaps some trick riding or some true horsemanship.

I was sadely mistaken, all I got was one gentleman with a horse on a rope running around and around and around. I felt sorry for the horse having to be watched by all the city slickers and going around and around and around in order to get some excercise.

It seemed the horses in the horse palace seemed more like a inmates or a nuisance than anything else. Children had to use tongs in order to get a chance to feed a horse a carrot. Ride a horse? Sure the kids got to ride a horse! A fake mechanical horse at that! It seems horses at the CNE are more to be kept in stalls with "Do not pet" signs on the outside doors of the stalls. I really felt sorry for the horses that were there, at least the few of them that were there.

Was there anything great about the show? On the second weekend (and really the only reason I returned to "The Ex" at all) the Air Show was, as it usually is during this time of year, pretty good. It wasn't spectactular as the weather was drizzley to rainy. But the CF-18, the Aurora aircraft, the Harvard planes and the Canadian Snow Birds made appearances. I didn't get to see the Snow Birds while I was there on the Saturday of the Air Show because I was too cold, wet and hungry after two hours of standing outside. So I retreated to the warmth of the Food building for some substandard fries from Swiss Chalet. But at least I got to see a CF-18 woosh accross the sky and hear the unique sounds of three Harvard Aircraft doing tricks in the sky.

But I think next year I would skip paying the $12.00 admission and just watch the air show from the lake front. I found the two announcers who described every single detail of the planes right down to the type of screws used to fasten the door handle, to be a little annoying. In fact they were repeating things over and over again.

Would I go next year to the CNE? Probably not because I can go to carni land and flea markets for the less than $12.00 in other locations in the Toronto area. So this being the 128th season, what happenned to the CNE's past glory? What happenned to the CNE?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Vacation in New York!

For the first week of August saw me flying down and back to New York City on vacation!

It was a great time to just let loose with one of my former roomates from my New York City teaching time. I also got to see some of the attractions I had never seen before or hadn't seen in a long time as well as attractions that I could go to time and time again.

Perhaps the biggest memory of this trip is visiting the two Broadway Shows: "Avenue Q" and "Dirty Rotten Scounderals" (starring Richard Kind who was the press secretary from television show "Spin City"). For "Dirty Rotten Scounderals" I got to see the show from Box Seats after the person I was staying with won a draw to purchase the box seats for $26.75 each! Both shows were great!

Here are some of the pictures I have taken on my trip to New York City (they will all some day be added to the New York City section of my scrapbook section on the main website):



Brooklyn's Borough Hall in August 2006.





Dinosaur skeleton at the Musuem of Natural History.


Steeplechase Park before a Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game.


A young fan looking for an autograph from Sandy the Seagull (the Brookyln Cyclones' Mascot).




Literary Walk in Central Park



Looking south from the observation deck of Rockefeller Center.

Retail densities in...Aurora!

manyhighways.com - Retail densities in NYC

So a while back while I was in New York City I did a little thing called "retail densities in NYC" which to a look at how many retail locations of various chains were within 5 miles of my then location in Downtown Brooklyn (Brooklyn Heights).

So I decided to revisit these totals with a comparison to Aurora.

Problem: Canadians do distance in metric whereas the Americans are do distance in miles. So with 5 miles equalling 8 and change kilometres I decided I would use either 5 miles or 10 kilometres depending on the website search preferences.

So here are the results (in same order as previously posted here) from my current Aurora location:

Starbucks: 2 locations

McDonald's: 7 locations

Dunkin Donuts: 0 locations.

KFC: 5 locations

Barnes & Noble: 0 locations

K-Mart: 0 locations

Swiss Chalet: 5 (estimation...website doesn't allow for distance searching).

Tim Horton's: 20 locations

Second Cup: 4 locations

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Good Samaritan or "How to Feel warm and Fuzzy Inside"

Last Saturday (a week ago yesterday) I was sitting outside of Finch Subway station waiting for a bus northbound. I had brought my extra VIVA/YRT bus tickets with me because a friend of mine from my teaching days in New York City was up visiting for a couple weeks. That night we had gone down to Toronto to see the CNE and have dinner out with another colleague.

It was around eleven p.m. and we had to wait for ten minutes for the next northbound bus to arrive. The inside waiting area, convenience store and ticketing machines were closed for the evening.

A sixteen or seventeen year old woman inquired if we had change for a ten dollar bill. We both didn't. I indicated the outside YRT/VIVA ticketing machines would give change. I thought this because YRT/VIVA shows on their VIVA maps that Finch Station has "Multi Ride" machines. Multi Ride Machines dispense one ride & monthly passes as well as change. So I thought the problem was solved.

However, in VIVA/YRT's infinate wisdom they decided to put all the multi ride machines in doors which, conveniently enough for a young woman riding alone on a dark Saturday night at an empty bus station in north Toronto, was locked for the evening. All three ticketing machines outside the station and were the only ones currently accessible were single ride ticketing machines that require exact change only.

So here we have VIVA/YRT spending multi millions of dollars on the ticketing machines and advertising Finch Subway Station as being a multi-ride machine location when, after ten p.m. the multi ride machines are inaccessible. Sure they put three single ride machines out doors for people to use. But if you advertise or indicate to riders Multi Ride machines are available at this station passengers would assume these Multi Ride machines would be available as long as you are running VIVA service. At eleven p.m. on a Saturday night VIVA service is still operational. So for safety sake, why not have at least one multi ride machine outside and accessible for people to use?

Now back to the story. I thought to myself: "would I want my younger sister wandering around Yonge & Finch Streets at night looking for change in order to get home safely?"

The answer was pretty simple considering: I had won ten free VIVA tickets playing their online game back in December of 2005. I also had found four VIVA tickets one day at York University in January of 2006 as well.

So I shared my good fortune with someone who needed it.

But I still can't believe the "bright lights" with their "PHds in transit logistics," at YRT/VIVA who you would think would have thought this out a little further, would have made Multi Ride machines accessible so a situation like this would not occur. I bet this situation has occurred in the past and will occur in the future and probably won't change until something bad happens.

Question to VIVA/YRT: Why isn't the brightly lit terminal open to at least midnight on Saturdays? Wouldn't this invite people to take transit after partying downtown instead of trying to drive, possibly drunk, home? As a single person I would feel nervous waiting alone on the platform at this terminal late a night. But perhaps a warm, dry, brightly lit terminal with bus drivers, transit enforcements, and/or closed circuit cameras would make me feel a little more safer.

But at least it made me feel good to be human and thoughtful for at least one evening.

A big thanks to the teenager who wrote a kind thank you note as well. It made my night even more warmer.

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