Saturday, December 31, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year 2012 to all! 

It has been quite the year for myself and the world around us. 

Here is a retro look of City of Toronto's celebrations in 2007:




Hope you have a happy, yet exciting, new year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Swiss Chalet Not on the Scene Points

Swiss Chalet Rotisserie & Grill on UrbanspoonThis past Thursday I received an e-mail from Swiss Chalet promoting their line of gift cards for the holiday season.  Near the bottom of the e-mail was a promotion for Scene Card holders could obtain 6 points for every dollar spent on gift cards to Swiss Chalet, Harvey's, Milestones, Kelsey's and Montana's.

So looking for a gift for one my friends I thought this would be a great idea.  After hitting our local Zellers on Friday night we cruised over to Swiss Chalet (9350 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) for some chicken and a gift card.  The wait for dine in was 30 minutes to be seated.  We inquired about the gift card and was told it was at the take out only.  So about face and headed towards the door where the take out was.  We stood in line for about ten minutes to order the chicken. 

A server took our order, copying it down on the back of receipt in crayon and dissappeared into the kitchen.  Next we arrived at the cash where I ordered the gift card.  The cashier rang up the gift card and nothing else.  My food order did not even get entered and I was forced to reorder.  Not only that this location was out of the special Scene point marked gift cards and I had to settle for a regular one. 

I'm not really sure of two things from this Swiss Chalet experience:

1. Why promote the Bon Apetit gift card with Scene Points benefits when there are not enough cards in stock?

2. What was the purpose in having a server take my order and dissapear into the kitchen with it only for me to have to reorder at the cashier and have the cashier's order take presidence?  After all I did order two quarter chicken dinners one with a multigrain role and one with a white role to our crayoning expert server and received two quarter chicken dinners with white roles when I unpackaged our dinner at home. 

Other than that, the food was the usual Swiss Chalet quality. I just wonder sometimes how chains can promote something when there isn't enough stock and their attention to detail is somewhat lacking.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

YRT/VIVA Strike: The Rest of Mr. Doyle's Story

As the York Region Transit Strike drags on into it's eighth week, union leaders are still trying to get their message out to the public, the Region of York and the contractors that the unions are unhappy with the current private contracting arrangement using contractors Veolia, Miller and First Group.  ATU Union Local 1587 President Ray Doyle though has taken the step too far by not telling the full truth behind York Region Transit's history and it's current operations.

Ray Doyle was interviewed on CityTV saying that:

GO Transit, a government operated transit system, paying better wages and benefits, operated regional service...York Region transit service in Richmond Hill and they turned a profit on those lines and now it's turned over to the Region they put four private contractors in place and they are subsized at $4.10 per ride. I would like Bill Fisch to explain to the taxpayers of this Region why now with all these contractors that he says are working so well is costing the taxpayers so much more money to operate. - Ray Doyle, ATU 1587, CityTV Interview.

Mr. Doyle continued speaking to the media on this same issue when David Fleisher who is a reporter for Yorkregion.com caught up to Mr. Doyle:

Mr. Doyle pointed out GO Transit used to run profitable routes on Bayview Avenue and Yonge Street, while the region’s taxpayers subsidize more than 60 per cent of every transit ride. - Yorkregion.com Story

What Mr. Doyle fails to understand is the full history of York Region Transit (YRT).  He is completely right that, in 2003, Region of York purchased GO Transit's old Yonge "C" Route on Yonge Street and the Bayview Avenue route and were notably profitable. 

What Mr. Doyle fails to explain was that 2 years earlier, in 2001, the Region of York amalgamated five municipal transit agencies (Vaughan Transit, Richmond Hill Transit, Markham Transit, Newmarket Transit and the former Aurora Transit) into one Regionally controlled and funded agency.  Each of these individual agencies had contracted their operations out to contractors like Miller, Laidlaw and Can-ar.  These routes include same routes that Mr. Doyle's own Union Members now drive including Route 85 along Rutherford Road, Route 1 along Highway 7 in Markham and others.  These same routes and other neighbourhood routes (like the 86 Weldrick-Newkirk) are not currently profitable at all because there just is not the ridership or these routes travel long distances through winding neighbourhoods in search of passengers.  Bottom line Mr. Doyle, you conveniently left out the old routes the municipal transit agencies used to operate that never were intended to be profitable and thus only provided half the truth.

By conveniently leaving out the other 95% of the pieces that make up the Region of York, and probably 80% of ATU Local 1587 (i.e. Mr. Doyle's) membership, it is quite easy for Mr. Doyle to try and paint the Region and the contractors as money mismanagers. But then again, perhaps Mr. Doyle is subtely suggestiong that the Region should get rid of 80% of Mr. Doyle's membership and the contractors and invite GO Transit to resume service along the Yonge "C" Service and Bayview Avenue.  The real question in all of this, do the other 80% of the drivers stand behind Mr. Doyle and his suggestion of Union Layoffs or half truths? 

Mr. Doyle should study up on the History of York Region Transit a little better.  Obviously he doesn't know the full history otherwise Mr. Doyle, as President of ATU Local 1587, would know of regional amalgamation of transit through Aurora Transit, Markham Transit, Newmarket Transit, Richmond  Hill Transit and Vaughan transit in 2001 and not just the purchase of the GO Transit Routes.  Otherwise Ray Doyle and the ATU Local 1587 has slid into only conveniently telling half truths during this strike which will never stand up in the court of law where in most jurisdictions it is "the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God".

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Always Something Good Going Down at Mr. Sub

Mr. Sub on UrbanspoonThis past Friday, I headed out for lunch to Mr. Sub (14760 Yonge Street, Aurora) for a little old fashioned Mr. Sub footlong sandwich that I remember devouring as a teen. 

I arrived with a coworker to a well staffed store of three workers just moving customers through like no tomorrow.  The franchisee, Arthur, took my order immediately. 

The Order: Foot long Assorted Cold cuts on Whole Wheat Bread with Sour Cream & Onion Potato chips and a can of Coke.

I was in and out of the store in less than 5 minutes with my order, not too shabby.  This is a significant improvement over some sandwich shops who only have one or two employees working behind the counter and it seems to take forever for them to power through a lunch time line up.

The surprise came at the cash register, the final price for a basic Assorted combo after taxes was $10.11.  This seems a little steep considering the equivalent sandwich at Subway, which has a location just down the street, for $5.00 plus tax.

The sandwich itself was just as I remembered it.  A healthy combination of vegetables, meat and bread with a side of guilty pleasures in potato chips and a refreshing can of Coke.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

YRT/VIVA Strike 2011: The Full Story

The YRT/VIVA Strike has been going on for over six weeks now in York Region and has reulted in only 40% of the York Region Transit's routes are in operation.    What happenned to transit service in York Region?  Whose to blame for the ATU Locals 1587 (representing Miller who has the YRT contract for Markham area & First Group who has the contract for Newmarket and Aurora areas) and 113 (Representing Veolia Workers for both VIVA drivers and the current at work Vaughan area) walking out? 

This is a complicated issue with the Region of York, the Unions (ATU 113 & 1587 locals) and the contractors (Miller, First Group and Veolia) themselves. The best way to figure out where the issues lie and how this the whole labour dispute can be resolved is to separate out the parties involved and look at their angle indvidually and then see how each party is strategizing to get their way (The Skinny).

The Region of York

The Region of York amalgamated the old municipal transit systems of Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Newmarket (which had previously amalagamated with Aurora) and sections of GO Transit providing service on Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue from Finch Station to form York Region Transit.  All former transit agencies had contracted out the operations to invidual contractors and remained so even after amalgamation.  Hence, this is why the Region of York does not directly employ any mechanics or drivers, as these employees are directly employed by the contractors. 

The privatized model for the Region worked well for both the predecessor municipal transit agencies and the York Region Transit until 2008 when ATU 113 Union members (VIVA Drivers) went on strike.  The Region stayed out of this strike and let the union and the employer, Veolia Transportation, negotiate a contract.  The only move the Region of York successfully completed was to seek a court injunction against the ATU 113 from blocking buses entering and existing Finch Station.  This resulted in an agreement betwen ATU 113 and the Region of York over the picketing of Finch Station.  The 2008 Strike only lasted about 3 weeks once the Union members started to notice the public was not on their side  and ridership was substituting other YRT and GO Transit services to bypass the VIVA routes that were out of operation due to the strike.

Fast forward to 2011 when the ATU Locals 113 & 1587 all had expiring contracts during 2011.  The Region continued and continues to stand back yet encouraging the unions and contractors to return to the bargaining table.  The Region even refuses to, like in 2008, to seek a court injunction to limit picketing at Finch Station and other transit terminals by the striking ATU locals.  The Region's and York Region Transit's main line has been: "York Region continues to encourage resolution of the issues between the unions and contractors involved in this dispute." 

The Region of York and York Region Transit (YRT) has yet to say how long the strikes can go on before transit contracts with the respective contractors can be cancelled and retendered due to refusing to contractors inability to provide legally contracted service under the contracts. 

The Companies (Contractors)

Veolia, Miller and First Group are all companies of varying sizes and have varying histories with York Region Transit.  All contractors directly look after the operation of their contracted YRT routes including the employement of drivers, mechanics, cleaners, etc.  The contractors, therefore, control how many employees are hired to operate the routes successfully and not the Region of York.  Miller and First Group started operations for York Region Transit as contractors for the previous municipally run transit agencies while Veolia came along later when the VIVA system was started.

Miller Transit operates the Markham (south-east division of York Region Transit) from it's headquarters and yards on Woodbine Avenue in Markham

First Group took over the contracts vacated by Laidlaw when that company went bankrupt.  First Group also operates school bus routes throughout Canada and the United States under the name "First Student".  This company currently has offices in Newmarket

Veolia meanwhile came later when VIVA rapid transit service was introduced and has since won the contract from the Region of York for the Vaughan (South-West area) that Can-Ar formerly had.  Veolia was also the company that had the 2008 Strike against it by ATU 113.  So it is eyebrow raising that the Region of York would award Veolia the contract for the South-West area to Veolia considering the labour issues of 2008 with the VIVA drivers and ATU 113.  Veolia operates two Region of York owned yards in Newmarket and Vaughan for both VIVA and YRT operations.
Miller & First Groups seem to be drawn into this strike by the ATU Unions themselves.   At no time in York Region Transit or the previous municipal transit agencies has there been a strike or walkout by the workers.  Meanwhile, Veolia has only 1 strike in 2008 by ATU Local 113 workers.  But the strangeness persists that there was no strike for Veolia workers until they switched to the ATU Local 113 led by Bob Kinnear before the 2008 strike.

All three companies had labour contracts end in 2011 by ATU.  First Group  (January 31st) and Miller (March 31st)  had contracts end in 2011 that are publicly viewable by anyone online.  Meanwhile Veolia has had two contracts come up for renewal in 2011 without any contracts being publicly available.  In fact, ATU 113 is not even listed as a local on the main Amalgamated Transit Union local section, so one wonders what this union local and the company has to hide in it's contract.

However,  A Veolia press release says that Veolia's Viva  drivers current negotiations were for a current contract to start on September 5, 2011 and onward. The Region of York reported that a new contract had been reached between Veolia's south west YRT workers, represented by ATU 113 and Veolia in February 2011.  Thus, Veolia has a contract with the South-West workers under one labour contract currently valid while ATU 113 walks the picket lines without a labour contract with Veolia for VIVA services. 

The Unions

Both union locals are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union and seemingly walked out on October 24, 2011 together over labour contract negotiations with Veolia, First Student and Miller Transportation.  The unions were almost joined by GO Transit workers of ATU 1583 on the same day.  But GO Transit workers reached an agreement with GO Transit & Metrolinx on the eve of the strike. As well, the Veolia South-West contract was confirmed in February 2011.

 If both GO Transit and Veolia South-West had joined their counterparts the entire Region of York transit system would have been shut down.  However, luckily enough this scenario did not come to fruition.

The Unions claim the companies mistreat their workers in terms of sick time, pay and other similar issues.  The Union Locals claim their workers currently recieve no sick time and often work while sick otherwise they lose pay.  The locals also point out that their workers receive much less pay ($7.00 less per hour according to Bob Kinnear) than a TTC driver doing a similar job.  As well, there have been noted complaints about split shift scheduling and long hours of driving time with little in the way of breaks.  

Since the strike has started, only ATU Local 113 has returned for session of negotiations with Veolia for one day.  ATU Local 1587 has refused to even talk with Miller and/or First Group to resume negotiations.  This seems a little suspect as it looks like ATU 113 would be attempting to get a deal with Veolia in which ATU Local 1587 might piggy back on with Miller and First Group. 

However, the optics look worse when the 2008 history is taken into account. Back then, VIVA drivers were on strike with ATU Local 113 and in legal trouble with the Region of York when the Region was attempted to get a court injunction to limit picketing.  As well the VIVA drivers did not have much support from the public then due to striking workers interupting transit service at Finch Station and being generally disruptive.  Others  pointed out that VIVA drivers were not really missed either as alternative transit routes were available at the time.  Therefore, it is no wonder why ATU Locals 113 and 1587 wished to go out at the same time to maximize the disruption in transit services to the Region.

The Unions have called upon the Region of York, through rallies and letters to come to the negotiating table as well to help resolve the dispute.  Basically the Unions want the Region to be part of the negotiations claiming it is the Region who sets operating schedules, break time at the end of driving routes and other items. 

The Region of York, via Chairmen & CEO Bill Fisch, has refused to be at the bargaining table pointing out the contracts are negotiated between the contracted companies (i.e. Miller, First Group and Veolia) and the unions (i.e. ATU Locals 113 & 1587).  Rick Leary, General Manager of YRT, rightly points out that the Region does "... tell them how many bus drivers to hire." The Region only sets the route schedules (i.e. depart times and arrive times at differing time points at the beginning, middle points and end). 

The Skinny

The negotiations are between the contractors and the Union Locals and not the Region of York.  The striking workers knew when they accepted the job the would be working for Miller, Veolia or First Group and not the Region of York when they signed their contracts.  If not, the workers should relook at their initial employment contracts and where their pay cheques originate.  I would bet none of the contracts or pay cheques originate from the "Regional Municipality of York" or the like.  Further evidence of the worker's relationship with the region originates from York Region Transit General Manager Rick Leary who noted in a Torontoist.com article:  "We don’t tell them how many bus drivers to hire." What Mr. Leary is saying is the Region doesn't hire or recommending hiring of bus drivers, that is up to the individual contractors to figure out with the Union ATU locals. Therefore, the workers should not expect the Region of York to negotiate or be part of the negotiations with the unions and the contractors.  The workers, after all, signed their employment contracts knowing full well the Region of York was not involved in their employment situation in terms of pay, sick leave or even if they should be hired in the first place. 

Some of the Contractors, mainly in frustration with the ATU Union Locals 113 & 1587,  have released some contract details publicly via their website (i.e. Veolia) or via correspondance that the Region of York has released (i.e. Miller).  No word on contract offers or demands from First Group or any of the ATU Locals has been released as far as I can find similar to the Veolia and Miller formats noted above in a detailed layout released by the individual parties involved (i.e. ATU Locals 113 & 1583 or First Group).

The main reason the companies would release this information is their belief the companies have offerred a fair package to the union respective union local members and yet the local negotiation team has rejected the offer.  At any point, as ATU Local 113 has seen in the 2008 VIVA Strike and the recent YRT South-West strike, workers can demand these offers to be voted upon.  But these demands from the union local membership to vote on the contract offer has yet to become known.

The contractors release of contract proposals seems to be a fair agreement between the Union and the Contractors.  Let's take a look first at Veolia's offer followed by Miller Transit's Offer:

The elements of the proposed contract are as follows:
  • A two year Agreement effective September 5, 2011, to September 4, 2013
  • A wage increase of 3% in year one and 2% in the year two
  • Implementation of a sick day policy effective on the date of ratification. Employees would be entitled to four (4) annual sick days at six hours pay if unable to work the full day.
  • Shift premium for maintenance employees on the night shift of 75 cents/hr.
  • Three (3) weeks of vacation after four (4) years of time in service.
  • Health Insurance premium with 55% paid by Veolia and 45% paid by the employee in Year one and 60% paid by Veolia and 40% paid by the employee in Year two.
  • Annual boot allowance of $120 for maintenance staff and $70 per year for drivers.
A two year contract with 5% increase by the end of the 2nd year and 4 sick days allowed with six hours paid per day?  That seems quite reasonable along with 3 weeks vacation.  Let's remember that that unlike TTC Drivers, VIVA Drivers do not have to ensure fare payment as this duty is the responsibility of YRT/VIVA duly deputised and trained  Special Constables and Fare Inspectors.  As well VIVA/YRT drivers do not have drive in the same traffic conditions as a TTC Streetcar or bus and are quite often not dealing with vehicle capacity issues where YRT/VIVA customers have to be left behind.

Miller has also released recent contract offers via a letter to Region of York Chairman & CEO Bill Fisch:

"Miller has offered a total of 13.5% over a 5 year contract an average of 2.7% per year."

It should be noted that Miller has not released sick days or other contract terms like the Veolia Offer but I would imagine similar clauses as the company and Union Local 1587s previous contract would also be included.  The only issue seems to be the need for sick days on the Miller contract as the currently expired contract makes no mention of Sick days except for personal leave. 

For both Union Locals 113 & 1587 they continue to espouse the average pay difference is $7.00 between TTC and what YRT Drivers make.   Union membership needs to remember that:

a)  Individually the drivers signed their contracts with Miller, Veolia or First Group with the amount of renumeration clearly spelled out in the contracts and union contracts.  These same workers in the past could have easily signed on with the TTC and for whatever reason either chose not do so or were not hired by the TTC.  

b) There are differences in responsbilities between TTC Drivers and YRT Drivers including obtaining fares from passengers (VIVA Drivers do not), traffic issues (York Region has less traffic volume and congestion than downtown Toronto), passenger loads (less over capacity busses on a regular bases for YRT than TTC), number of passengers carried and vehicle types (TTC: Subway, LRT, Streetcar and Buses and YRT regular bus and articulated bus). 

c) As Regional Chairman & CEO Bill Fisch noted the difference in demands for pay increases between ATU Local 1587 and Miller and other agencies is vastly out of range of other transit agencies in Ontario.  Fisch notes that GO Transit had a 3 year contract ratified, ironically, by ATU Local 1587 that saw wage increases of 2% in year one, 2% in year 2 and 2.3% in year three.  As well Fisch included OC Transpo (Ottawa) settlement that saw a wage increase of 2% in a one year contract.  Thus, a 16% wage increase in year one as requested by ATU Local 1587 seems a little ludicurous especially in this economic climate. 

The Unions counter both the Regions claims the Region is not involved in negotiations and the Contractor's offer  with claims that the two sides are too far apart and arbitration.  The Region though is not involved in the negotiations at this time and the Union knows there only negotiation partner is the company's contracted by the Region as they are the employer and not the Region of York.  What the both Union Locals failed to point out is their lack of willingness to negotiate with the company's themselves.  In the Miller letter, dated November 15, 2011, to Regional Chairman Fisch it noted:

"The Union showed little interest in bargaining substantive issues.  Its admitted strategy was to secure strike mandates from GO employees and the three YRT contractors with the intention of creating a major disrupting of service, to inconvenience as many people as possible in order to extract the maximum concessions and to force the Region to the bargaining table....The Union did not even table a financial position until after the 18th session. The union seeks increases of over 20% over a three year contract, with over 16% in the first year."


The above sounds like the Union Locals were both not interested in negotiating a new contract, but wanted both the Region at the negotiating table as well as a massive labour transit strike to put the maximum pressure on the table.  But the Region has rightly stayed out of the negotiation process as they are not legally involved in negotiations.  Further detrimental was the ratification of the GO Transit employees who also did not walk out with their Union brothers and sisters.  What is most notable is the absence of GO Unionized Workers on the picket lines at Finch Station while off duty. 

The Union Local 113 & 1587 have become frustrated with mainly the Region. The Unions have stepped up picketing at Finch Station, Richmond Hill Terminal, Bernard Terminal and the YRT South-West Transit Yard on Calidary road to disrupt existing YRT operations in order to affect transit riders the most via delays which cause dangerous overcrowding conditions on many YRT Routes that continue to operate. 

The Region will need to respond to the Union's increased picketing lines affecting YRT operations.  As previously noted, the Region of York started legal action in the 2008 VIVA Driver Strike to prevent ATU Local 113 members from picketing Finch Station and other key transit notes.  The question arises as the ATU Local 113 and 1587 start disrupting YRT services with picketing is when will the Region start the legal process to stop the picketing practices? This causes addtional questions to surface like how will the ATU Union locals respond to the court injunction? Will police from Toronto and York Region respectively enforce the court injunction?  On these question only time will tell. 

The Unions also have some issues to sort out themselves.  Both Union Locals have spent more time and energy in publicly communicating and picketing the Region of York who is not even at the bargaining table than the respective contractor.  I find it really strange that the unions have spent more time picketing at the Region of York's Newmarket Headquarters and Region of York Transit Terminals than employer offices and maintenance facilities with the exception of Veolia's contracted yard in Vaughan on Calidari Road where existing routes during the strike are operating out of.  The Union Locals therefore seem to be only interested concentrating their efforts in taking their frustrations out on the general public (i.e. the YRT passengers) and those not involved at the negotiating table (i.e. the Region of York) than the contractors (i.e Miller, Veolia and First Group).

 A more tactful response for the Union Locals would be to picket the huge Miller Operations Yard on Woodbine Avenue in Markham, First Group in Newmarket and the Veolia Yards in Newmarket and Vaughan. This would disrupt the contractor's own operations causing the contractors financial hardship instead of the general public trying to get to work and their political representatives. 

The only way for this entire labour dispute to come to a resolution is if one of the following happens:

1. The Union Locals and their respective contractors have successful negotations or, failing these negotaitions some arbitration.  The arbitration would take into account the contract stipulations with Region of York and the company's ability to renumerate the ATU Local employees.

2. The Region of York voids the contract with the contractors over failure to provide service as contracted. 

Right now this entire situation is in the ATU Union Local 113 and 1573's hands.  Union Local Leaders Bob Kinnear and Ray Doyle can continue posturing about wanting the Region to come to the table or these same men can return to the negotiating table with the contractors.  The latter option is what the employees signed up for when signing the contracts, to be employees of Miller, Veolia or First Group and not the Region of York or the TTC.  Kinnear and Doyle should respectfully go back to the negotiation table and talk honestly with the contractors to reach a deal.  Failing that the Union Locals may find that the Region of York may act, and I would be the ATU Union Locals 113 and 1587 will not like the action whether it be a result of a court action or a voiding of the contract with the contractors.  Actions resulting in legal action or resulting in unemployment are never a good thing for the union members.  Hopefully Kinnear and Doyle realise this before it is too late.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shrinking Wendy's

Wendy's on UrbanspoonI was at the International Centre last week for a tradeshow and decided to skip the overly expensive food served at the convention centre ($9.00 for luke warm Pizza Pizza slice of pizza, a bag a chips and a bottle of Pepsi? FORGET IT!)

So I headed over to the nearby Wendy's we saw coming off the nearby highway with a coworker.  The Wendy's (3650 Derry Road East, Mississauga) had nobody in line despite it being noon on a weekday.

The Order: 1 1/4 Pound Hamburger, Fries and Medium Pepsi.

 Overall the taste of the food was the way old Dave would have like it.  The fries hadn't changed in taste, the burger was still delicious.  

The packaging was a little different.  The burger was wrapped in a paper wrapping and placed in half cardboard packaging advertising one Wendy's recent specials. 

The fries though were also very different in their new packaging.  They shrank in size compared to just a year ago.  Now quantity of fries is even less than the medium fries at McDonald's.  Meanwhile the price, as noted in a previous posting, is still the same. 

It seems Wendy's is now cutting back on packaging sizing instead of increasing the price of their products.  What ever happenned to Wendy's of old with Dave commercialing himself at the grill promising good tasting food and quality service and price.  Things just aren't the same. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Find me on Twitter!

I just cracked and started a Twitter Account.  I have found that there are lots of deals out there if you follow companies, people and other unmentionable things on Twitter. 
What am I going to be doing on Twitter?  What am I going to be doing with Twitter?  I have no idea yet, I can barely keep up with blogging here on a regular basis.  But with 140 Characters limit?  Who knows!

Follow me to find out what adventures I have with this new to me social medium!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not So Crabby about Crabby Joe's Tap & Grill

Crabby Joe's Tap & Grill on UrbanspoonThis past Tuesday my coworkers and I headed on over to Crabby Joe's Tap & Grill (125 Pederson Drive, Aurora) for Wing night.  There were twelve of us arriving. 

We attempted to make a reservation, but the restaurant does not allow for reservations on wing nights.  But we were promised probably success if we came before 6 P.M. as there is usually tables together.

A couple of minutes of the waitresses to push some tables together and we were escorted to our table in the back.  This is where the first issue happenned.  There really was only space for twelve people in a spot for barely 10 people normally.  We quickly resolved the issue by adding another table.

A waitress stopped by and took our drink order.  The drinks quickly came to the table with some assistance of the waitresses' coworkers.  The food orders were then taken with Chicken wings all around and pitchers of beer, coke and Water all around.

My Order: 1 Pound of Parmesan wings with a pitcher of Molson Canadian.

The orders of food came in with just as much promptness as the drinks which is pretty quick!

But here is where the wheels fall off.  My Parmesan wings were fairly dry.  Not like the much more tastier Parmesan wings offered at All Star Wings.  Also, there were no carrot sticks or celery that normally come with chicken wings.  But at least at the price was right at 39 cents per wing.

For wing night it was also dissapointing. There were only about 9 different kinds of wings served.  True this place isn't just a Chicken Wing specialty restaurant like All Star or Wild Wing.  But considering this is wing night it seems they might want to break out a few more flavours.

Overall, Crabby Joe's Tap & Grill is a mediocre pub at best.  There are plenty of pubs in the area to choose from that have better atmosphere rather than a pub with average restaurant looks.  Thus, I like the restaurant in terms of service.  However, the food wasn't totally bad but not great either.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sears Sheysters at Promenade

This past weekend Sears Canada advertised 40% off all Women's, Men's and Kids boots before 11 A.M. on Saturday and 30% off after 11 A.M.   Of course there was a caveat that any boots already on sale with the end pricing in "97 cents" were not included in this promotion. My wife and I headed over to Sears at Promenade Mall to check out the deals for a possible new set of boots for my winter travels.

We were sadly disapointed. Even though it was only 8 A.M. on Saturday,  there was only one style of boots available that was not priced at 97 cents and it was the most pathetic Sorel type of boot ever seen.  We nosed around the mens shoe section double checking to make sure we did not miss anything.  The store filled their small Men's shoe section with runners and fancy shoes for the workplace.  Sears finished it with two pairs of boots at regular price that neither interested me or nor did they have my size.

We wandered over to the much larger Women's shoe section where a store employee was assisting another customer with her purchase. We inquired as to if there were any other Men's boots in the back for the sale that had yet to be brought out as we had viewed some styles online that were interested in purchasing.  We were about to get an answer when the customer let out a loud shriek and a centipede emerged from her boot. She grabbed a shoe from nearby and lowered the resident population at Sears by one. 

The employee returned her attention to us and said there was nothing else in stock.  She said to try online as they are different type of store than us. 

I thought to myself, no kidding the online is a different type of store than Promenade Mall Sears.  Promenade Mall Sears has only two styles of boots in stock for a flyer promising across the line savings.  The Sears.ca s website meanwhile does have a variety of boots in decent quantities.  But I was expecting Sears.ca to have a much wider selection than the regular bricks and mortar store due to Sears.ca being in a no name warehouse in who knows where.  But I also expected the Promenade Sears location to have at least 10 styles of boots to choose from rather than the lest than impressive five in which three styles were on sale.  That is after all what the Upper Canada Mall Sears location in Newmarket had two years ago when I last went boot shopping.  Is it too much to ask to have a decent selection of boots for at a duly advertised boot sale?  I think not.

Sears Promenade sure did pull one over on me.  What Sheysters.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Armed With a Burger at King Henry's Arms

king Henry's Arms on UrbanspoonToday my wife and I visited King Henry's Arms (9301 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) for a little lunch.  I was looking to sink my teeth into a quality ground beef burger and McDonald's (also nearby) just simply wouldn't do. 

We arrived at 12:30 P.M. and the place was lively for a Sunday lunch with quite a few patrons waiting for the afternoon NFL Football game to start. 

My wife and I were welcomed by the bartender who said we could sit anywhere we want.  She arrived in two minutes to wipe down the table and drop off the menues. 

We reviewed them and the bartender returned to take our drink and food orders.

The Order: 1 King's Breakfast (Eggs Scrambled with Whole Wheat Toast), 1 Arms Burger with Fries and Pepsi.

The food came within ten minutes of ordering.  The Arms Burger was as expected. Decent pub burger made of ground beef served with golden fries.  The fries were luke warm at best but still potato tasty and not overcooked hard. 

The breakfast that my wife had was mediocre at best.  Sure her plate was full but this is not your big breakfast that you would receive at other places.  Do not visit King Henry's expecting a great breakfast feast, the King's Breakfast is more for those who want a simple breakfast while others have moved onto lunch.  The breakfast food itself could be a little better in quality.  The bacon was rock hard and not very warm it all.  It seemed the bacon had been sitting in a tray by itself waiting to be served to unsuspecting customers.  The homefries were also a little to be desired in the warmth department.  

The service itself on a Sunday can be a little problematic with only the bartender serving customers without the aide of kitchen runner or a waitress on the floor.  The pub needs at least a floor waitress when getting geared up for Sunday afternoon football as I noticed there were at least twenty people at the establishment.  This would perhaps speed the food service up a bit which would reduce the amount of heat lost while the food waits to be served to customers.

It should be noted the washrooms have recently been renovated in the previous six months and have improved over the previous incarnations.  The Men's washroom itself has recently been remodeled with new taps and tiling which leaves it with a fresher look.  But this is a regular pub washroom though with nothing really special in it except the basics.

Overall King Henry's Arms is decent place to have a lunch time meal of a burger and fries as well as other pub fare washed down with a pint.

"It's All Fair in the Agreement"

In my Posting on the lack of an Aurora Museum posted back in March of this year, "Young & Progressive" commented:

"Congratulations on a great blog...however, just an FYI...the Centre just finished a month long exhibit of Heritage artifacts...the artifacts don't sit in boxes, they are rotated out for show. It's all fair in the agreement. I agree with you that the space can be shared."

From the above comment there are two main issues I wish to draw to light the issues with the current arrangement with the comittee that operates the Aurora Cultural Centre.  Before I go any further I totally agree with what  Aurora Councillor Eveyln Buck posted recently on her blog especially when she noted:

"I have made it clear, numerous times, the board and staff at the Culture Centre did not create the original problem."

And I would love to add to the blog posting this line: "The current staff at the Cultural Centre do put on great events for the general public, but there seems to be a missing piece of the original intentions of the renovations to Church Street School."

Let's rewind a little to the original agreement made between the Town of Aurora and the Aurora Historical Society.  Back then it was to renovate the Church Street School into an Aurora Heritage Centre using funds raised by the Aurora Historical Society.  The dream was to ensure the historical artifacts were housed in the proper climate controlled environments yet acessible to those that wished to study and enjoy them.  Hence why there currently is a climate controlled room on the second floor of the current Cultural Centre as well as an extensive HVAC system installed that visitors enjoy today.  However, somewhere during the renovations the wheels fell off and the Town of Aurora was asked to take over the project by the Aurora Historical Society.

Chris Watts on his blog gave the perfect explanation of what happened next once the Town of Aurora took over the project.  The Town approached the federal government for assistance to obtain a grant to assist in finishing the renovations started by the Historical Society. Chris obviously did a little digging and came up with this Town of Aurora By-Law from 2008:

"...the town's bylaw # 5014-08.F:

Whereas Council has endorsed the grant application to the Minister of Canadian Heritage for funding under the program entitled "Cultural Spaces Canada" to receive funding for Capital Project No. 72059 - Aurora Heritage Centre, toward upgrades to the Aurora Heritage Centre;
And whereas the Minister of Canadian Heritage is providing financial assistance under the Cultural Spaces Canada - Grant Program in support of Capital Project No. 72059 - Aurora Heritage Centre, in the amount of $750,000.

Under the heading "Purpose of Conribution" [sic] it reads :

The Minister agrees to enter into this Contribution Agreement in order to grant financial assistance to the Recipient soley for the purpose of implementing the Project described in Annex A of this agreement entitled: "Aurora Heritage Centre".

So the federal government has provided a grant to the Town of Aurora to upgrades to the "Aurora Heritage Centre".  I believe as well there was a Trillium Grant made to the Historical Society or the Town of Aurora as well for these purposes.  So obviously there are written agreements out there with federal and provincial departments/agencies that show the money was granted for historical/heritage purposes and, it seems, the original intentions were to incorporate at museum into the new Aurora Heritage Centre. As a citizen of Aurora at the time, it was my expecatation as well as others in the Aurora blogosphere, that Church Street school would at least host a museum as well. 

"At least" being the operative words.  Historically the building has held a museum as well as been a home for the local area Scout Shop, Big Brothers, the Pine Tree Potters and other community organizations.  These organizations and the museum had lived in harmony for many years in the town owned building. So why would the Aurora Museum not continue to share the space?  Perhaps with the movement of the community groups out of the building into new homes elsewhere another shared space would occurr.  Thus the next step of the evolution of the Church Street School  would be once the renovations were completed.  

Once the renovations were completed an agreement was created between the Town of Aurora and the a volunteer board for cultural programming to be offered.  This is the same agreement that "Young & Progressive" has noted in his/her comment noted above.  This is the same agreement in a recent auditor's report to the Town of Aurora Council and referenced in The Auroran edition of October 11, 2011 on page 7.  The auditors found the Cultural Centre to be in complete compliance with the agreement between the council of the day and the Cultural Centre committee.

The main issue that obviously needs to be resolved and seems to keep getting bogged down in details and personalities is the missing Musuem component of the original intention of the Church Street School building for which federal, provincial and municipal to the town council as well as the private donor funding via the Aurora Historical Society was provided.

Some, like "Young & Progressive" have pointed out that the artifacts of the Aurora Historical Society do make their rounds at shows at the Cultural Centre from time to time.  I did note that in the original posting in March 2011 and Anna has noted on her blog recently some artifacts have shown up at the Aurora Public Library.  However, this overlooks the original intentions many had of the renovations to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Lester B. Pearson's former school building in the dream of a state of the art museum operating in a historic building. 

A state of the art museum was the original dream of the Aurora Historical Society, the private donors, and the Town Council of the day.  Even the original Aurora Council Motion moved by Councillor Ron Wallace and seconded by Councillor Evelyn Buck to start the process for a "Heritage & Cultural Centre" to be created at Church Street School.  It is duly noted and appreciated by many including myself and the recent auditor's report that the Cultural aspect of this motion has been adhered to quite well.  But there seems to be a musuem missing from the original intent of the motion.  It is one thing to show the artifacts in random showings around town in displays.  But it is quite another to have a modern state of the art musuem available as promised in the original agreement between the Town of Aurora, the federal government and the province.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No Promenading at Swiss Chalet

Swiss Chalet Rotisserie & Grill on UrbanspoonToday for lunch I headed over to Swiss Chalet (7700 Bathurst Street, Vaughan) to have lunch with coworkers, a table of 20.

When we arrived the place was empty except for a lone elderly lady having a nice quiet lunch by herself. 

We were seated almost immediately after some table shuffling and assigned us two waitresses to our group who took our drink orders pretty quickly.  Once the drinks were delivered to our table, the food order was taken.

My Order: Quarter Chicken Dark Meat with Steamed Vegetables with a multigrain roll.

The food showed up fifteen minutes later which with this large number of orders was impressive.  But things started to slide from there. 

My order showed up with scant amount of vegetables and a white roll instead of the aformentioned multigrain role.  The vegetables tasted fairly bland and seemed to have been oversteamed at times.  The chicken was dry to the taste and was not the usual delicious chicken one comes to expect from Swiss Chalet.  As well other orders at our table also seemed misdone.

The two servers tried to serve a chicken salad wrap and demanding to know which person ordered it when no one in the party had ordered that item from the menu.  As well the server was not very careful in refilling the water glasses.  She spilled water at least twice on each table. 

The person sitting next to me had to wait ten minutes longer than everyone else even though he ordered a simple Quarter Chicken Dark Meat with a Multigrain roll and Fries.  One would have thought that Swiss Chalet, serving chicken for decades, would be able to serve a simple chicken dinner at the same time as everyone else.  Apparently this was not the case at this location.  

Billing, obviously with the large group, took a while as each person was billed individually. 

Overall the servers seemed ill at ease with their responsibilities despite only twenty people coming in to an empty restaurant.  This despite reservations being made so the restaurant could be prepared for such a large group of people.

Monday, October 10, 2011

McDonald's Poor Service

McDonald's on UrbanspoonOn this Thanksgiving Monday Morning we decided to head to McDonald's (9301 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) for a little morning breakfast.  We had preplanned our tactics to get the most out of our money while playing McDonald's Monopoly promotion.

The last time the Egg McMuffin sandwich had Monopoly pieces.  Normally without my wife I do not order the Egg portion of the sandwich as I really don't care for eggs.  But this time I ordered it and my wife was able to enjoy a double Egg McMuffin sandwich.  But sadly, the Egg McMuffin sandwich did not come with Monopoly pieces.  McDonald's had changed it to the Buttermilk biscuits only.

The Order: Two Egg McMuffin Combos.  One with Medium Coffee and the second with a Medium Earl Grey Tea.

I ordered followed by four other people behind us. We waited watching the clock on the order screen tick away.  The server taking the cash was the only person behind the counter except for the person serving the food at the drive thru which is less than ten feet away. The in store cashier just took the orders one after another lining up the trays across the counter.  The drive thru attendant stacked and reshuffled her drinking cups over and over again no cars in the drive thru in site.  The entire time I waited for my order the drive thru window never opened.  Still the order screen ticked away.  Our food sat ready to be picked up.  The order screen continued to tick away and started to flash after two minutes had elapsed.  The food was so close I wanted to hop over the counter and serve myself...the order screen continued flashing as it slowly passed four minutes and thirty seconds.  "Next customer please..." the cashier said.  I interrupted her

"Could we get our food?"

"I'm supposed to have a runner who should be here shortly."

"Your order screen has just passed four minutes and thirty seconds."

She finally relented and gradually dropped off our meal and started working on the others. 

I sat down fuming.  This was the third time in three weeks that at this particular McDonald's there had been a disconnect in service.  The cashier was eager to take your order and your cash.  But refused to hand over the food that was duly ordered and paid for without a little prodding. 

On a previous visit the order taker took my order and the next person's order.  Then with nobody in line she stared right through us to see if anyone else was coming in the door. Meanwhile the order screen ticked away.  It wasn't until I said something that she moved to at least pour my coffee.  

Not sure what happenned at this McDonald's that the people behind the counter cannot multitask to ensure the customer moves quickly from ordering to getting their food.

It was a normal McDonald's food order.  A greasy hash brown and Sausage McMuffin washed down with their excellent coffee. 

I didn't win the million dollars from the McDonald's Monopoly promotion.  But at least I won a free muffin and cheeseburger from this visit.  I did not return to the counter for my muffin on this visit though.  I figured it would take five minutes just to have someone to retrieve it.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Good Food at Alice Fazooli's

Alice Fazooli's on UrbanspoonRecently in the mail I received a buy $50.00 or more in food and receive $25.00 off to Alice Fazooli's (155 York Boulevard, Richmond Hill).  My wife and I headed out for a Saturday lunch. 

We arrived shortly after 1:00 P.M. to find the place virtually deserted except for a few occupied tables.  Really it looked like a few drops of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool.  But a least there was no wait for seating.

After being seated, our waitress stopped by and took our drink order. We stared at the menu trying to figure out how to ensure our order was at least fifty bucks so we could best use our coupon. Eventually we placed our order that came in at a magical $55.00.  Enough to be filling yet economical to ensure the coupon was used correctly.

The Order:  Alice's Homemade Meatballs sprinkled with Parmesan Cheese,  Fettuccini Di Mare and Steak with Beans and roasted Mushrooms in a Red Wine Sauce.

The waitress quickly returned with some rolls and olive oil. The olive oil was well done and made the rolls taste perfect.  The rolls themselves though do have hold their own and seamed freshly baked that day, but it was hard to tell since they were not warm as in fresh out of the oven. 

Alice's Homemade Meatballs arrived first as an appetizer.  There were two large metaballs doused in a delicious tomato sauce which our server sprinkled parmesan cheese on.  The meetballs were delicious and we soon found the asiago cheese in the middle. 

Another five minutes passed and our food arrived. 

I dug into the steak to find it succulant yet tasty with the red wine sauce.  The beans were the typical steamed vegetables that were nothing really to write home about.  The mushrooms were great when integrated in with the sauce from the steak. 

My wife enjoyed the muscles and shrimp in her Fettucini as well as the sauce and noodles.  She was full yet sated after devouring her meal.

Overall Alice Fazooli's was a great lunch spot with great food.  Based on the layout of the restaurant, the place is usually hopping on weekend nights as it seemed to hold over a hundred people. But the price is a little pricey for a weekly visiting.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Guest Post: What I'm Thankful For by My Wife

On this Thanksfiving weekend my wife provides my first ever guest post for which I'm Thankful for. -- Michael

I am Thankful for....

10.      A husband who ...
a.       Shares in the chores such as drying the dishes and making lunches for the workdays.
b.      Reminds me of the positive characteristics and traits about myself that I don’t always see.
c.       Encourages me to try new activities that I otherwise would not venture to attempt.
9. Having the motivation to exercise on a regular basis to maintain a healthy body.

8. The opportunity to live, work and study in New York City for 3 years.

7. Our neighbourhood basset hounds, Daffy and Dumpy, who puts a smile on our faces with their personalities and antics.

"Dumpy The Neighbourhood Hound"

6. That I had the opportunity to study French full time for 1 year.

5. The Richmond Hill Public Library and the accessibility that it provides to good reading materials.

4. Bus rides where all the connections work out and I am able to get to my destination 5-10 minutes earlier.

3. Living in a day and age where information is accessible through the Internet.

2. The invention of pumpkin pie.

1. That I have things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mary Brown's Not the Best Legs in Town

Mary Brown's on UrbanspoonRecently I visited Mary Brown's (2 Henderson Drive, Aurora, Ontario) for some fried chicken for lunch. 

The Order: Six Piece meal with Potato Wedges, cole slaw and a can of Pepsi.

I waited about five minutes for my order to be prepared which was adequate.  I grabbed my bag and returned to my workplace to eat. 

At work, unwrapping my order I noticed there was only one box, which I assumed was the chicken and a smaller container of Cole Slaw.  I wondered where my potato wedges were, I paid for it gosh darn it!  They didn't seem to be in my bag to go. 

I opened what I figured to be the chicken box only to find potato wedges.  But there was the aroma of fried chicken tickeling my nose.  I dug into the box a little further to find the chicken.  They had buried the chicken in with potato wedges which, even my coworkers agreed, was a little weird. 

The food itself was decent.  The potato wedges was tasty with a potatoey taste.  The wedges themselves competed with ketchup for my taste buds.  The chicken though was unremarkable.  The chicken tasted like anything you would receive at a reputable KFC.  The cole slaw was barely a thimble full worth in quantity.  I felt skimped on the slaw!

So overall, nothing really special about Mary Brown's except for the potato wedges.  So I may return for a side of potato wedges for snacking purposes, but with a bill for over ten bucks for mediocre chicken with potato wedges, a lunch place it is not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Inexpensive Day in Toronto

On the Labour Day Monday in Toronto my wife and I headed down to Toronto's waterfront for a little sightseeing of the military variety.  We took the subway down from Finch Station using a TTC Day Pass ($10.00 for two adults and two children on weekends). 

First we stopped off at Coronation Park which is near the Canadian National Exhibition to watch the air show which we thought started at 12:30 and ended at 4:00 P.M. as it was advertised on their website at the time.   We waited from 12:30 until 1:00 and only saw a brief glimpse of the Airplane/Helicopter from the U.S. Army.  At 1:00 P.M. we threw in the towel and started walking eastward as we had another stop we wanted to see.  We started working our way around the condos on the waterfront when a couple of military planes took off.  We admired them as they dissappeared in the distance.

The CNE should get together with the air show and have tighter start and end times for the planes taking off.  Having air show fans sitting for hours on end while the planes come and go every fifteen minutes doesn't seem that impressive to me.  As well this spread out air show keeps patrons who are on the CNE grounds from taking part in rides and travelling very far from the waterfront to spend money because they are worried about missing something.   Anyway, we missed most of the airshow except what we could see from our travels by foot to the foot of Yonge Street. 

Our second stop was the visiting HMCS Montreal and the HMCS Summerside. 

The HMCS Montreal

The HMCS Summerside (left) and the HMCS Shawinigan (right)

The best part about visiting the HMCS Montreal and Summerside?  It was all FREE!  So watch out next year to see which of the naval vessels of the Canadian Navy will be in port.  For more pictures of the HMCS Montreal and the HMCS Summerside check the Toronto albumn of my pictures.

For the entire afternoon for two adults cost us $10.00 Day pass for the TTC plus a lunch at Tim Hortons resulted in an afternoon of fun and frolic.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

YRT's Problems with Presto

After much delay and marketing, on July 18th York Region Transit (YRT) rolled out the Presto Card payment system. There were free Presto Card campaigns where the card issuance fee was waived at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal, Finch Station and Newmarket Terminal.
From travelings on Yonge Street there has not been that many passengers using the card.  Since the roll out, I have only seen one person use their Presto Card to pay a fare.   But, YRT has only rolled out the Presto Card to those that regularly use tickets.  Hopefully once all the kinks are worked out YRT will roll them out to the monthly pass holders to use.   But this will take a while as there are several issues that need to be ironed out.

Yorkregion.com is reporting several customer complaints that YRT seems to be unreasonably attempting to resolve.  The first has the been the distribution of the card.  Kevin Ball says it best about this experience:

"All in all, it has been only a frustrating and disappointing experience,” he said. “I was dumbfounded that any system could be run this poorly.” -Yorkregion.com article.

Kevin had issues finding the card distribution in the first place.  He lives in Newmarket and attended the Newmarket Terminal where he was told he could obtain it.  The card was not there.  He was told the York Region Transit Office in Richmond Hill has the card.  A couple of issues here for Mr. Ball, the Richmond Hill Transit Office is only open between 8:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Now let's ask a very poignant question, what might the average transit user be doing between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 during a regular weekday?  Working full time or attempting to navigate the transit system just like Kevin Ball!  Mr. Ball even tried the local GO Train stations, sure they have the cards but they are only open in the mornings for a couple of hours to sell GO Fares.  In the end Mr. Ball returned his card after having the Presto system reject his card and being unable to refill the card.  To further aggravate the situation, Mr. Ball was unable to get a live operator on the phone when calling Presto itself and e-mailing  about the issues.

Next up is Jo-anne Brown who ordered the Presto card online and had it delivered for her teenage daughter.  Ms. Brown then inquired with York Region Transit as to how to ensure only student fares were deducted as her daughter fits into that fare category.  The rocket scientists at YRT said the only way to do this is to come down to the Richmond Hill YRT Office to have the card set correctly.  And the hours again on that office: 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday.  Ms. Brown was also told the Newmarket Terminal would be able to do this as well.  But, the Newmarket Terminal, like Mr. Ball above found out, did not do this.  She visited the Richmond Hill Transit office during her work hours to get the card activated.  But that was not all to finish activating the student card: "Ms Brown had to tap the card within seven days to complete activation, but was told that, since she didn’t want to actually board a bus, she could have the fare refunded by pushing the cancel button. There was no cancel button, however, and instead she had $2.75 deducted,..." Ms. Brown has since turned the Presto card into an very expensive, yet, decorative coaster for her coffee table.

Two weeks ago on CBC Radio's Metro Morning with Matt Galloway, a freelance reporter reported that he tapped his Presto Card at Finch Station and boarded a northbound VIVA Blue bus. YRT's Transit Enforcement was on the VIVA bus checking fares.  They tapped the reporter's card and the reader said he hadn't paid.  The reporter embarrassingly disembarked the bus with the transit enforcement team and tapped the Presto Machine he used and it showed he paid.  In the meantime, the VIVA Blue bus pulled out without the reporter on the bus for which he duly paid his fare and he was made to look like a fare evading scofflaw when in fact the reporter had fully paid his fare and was entitled to board the bus.  There was no word of an apology from York Region Transit or Presto in this case. The next guest on CBC's Metro Morning was the head of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig, who did not offer an apology but pointed out Presto was a new system and there were technical glitches being worked out across the system.

So with this in mind the Yorkregion.com reporter followed up with the head of York Region Transit, Richard Leary.  Mr. Leary however stayed on YRT's carefully written script just like a seasoned politician in a political campaign in response to the Yorkregion.com reporter's questioning.  Unfortunately the Mr. Leary's published comments in the article only make him seem totally out of touch with what has gone on in YRT's failed attempt at rolling out Presto: 

YRT general manager Rick Leary said the rollout has gone better than expected and the transit service has registered only eight complaints.

Really?  Then why was the Presto roll out delayed from March 2011, as written in a staff report to the Region of York's transportation comittee, to July 2011.  According to my sources at YRT there were significant technical issues that needed to be worked out and that is why there was a delay.  From Mr. Ball's and Ms. Brown's experiences and Mr. McQuaig's own admissions, it appears that there are still technical issues to be worked out.  Thus, Mr. Leary's contention that the "rollout has gone better than expected" is simply not true. 

“It’s been nearly seamless because everyone else has gone first.”

No things have not been "seamless" for York Region Transit.  If the system roll out was "seamless" the Presto program would have been rolled out as promised by Regional Transportation staff of March 2011 instead of July 2011.  "Seamless" also does not mean having distribution network issues requiring people to have to take off work to visit the transit office during work hours.  "Seamless" also does not mean Presto card fare payment issues where users are accused of not paying their fares properly (CBC Reporter) or not being able to use the duly payed for card itself (Mr. Brown).

As for the issues raised by Mr. Brown and Ms Ball, he conceded the distribution network is not fully in place, but said it will change in 2012 as the system expands. Right now, the focus is on education and attracting riders who typically use a cash fare or 10-ticket packages. By the middle of next year, YRT hope to also sell monthly passes via Presto.

"Education and attracting riders"? The only thing the Presto experience so far has shown is YRT can not handle a roll out of a new fare system that is properly tested and easy for the customer to use.  Presto has had technical issues as Bruce McQuaig, the head of Metrolinx pointed out on CBC Radio. So if there were so many technical issues, why was the Presto system not delayed by YRT and a proper explanation in staff report presented to the Region's Transportation committee. This report would have said there had been issues in other jurisdictions that need to be ironed out and, thus, a one year delay would save the Region and it's transit customers time, money and frustration.  But then again, Mr. Leary would not be able to contend that the roll out has been "seamless" and would be forced to admit the failure of Presto.

“What we have is working very well,” Mr. Leary said.   

Really?  After reading and hearing about the issue of Presto, I don't think this statement by Mr. Leary is believable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Decent Wimpy's Diner with a Big Burger with It

Wimpy's Diner on Urbanspoon Friday night my wife and I headed down to Wimpy's Diner (8123 Yonge Street, Markham) for a burger and some greasy breakfast food.  We had been to the Aurora location before and liked the burgers and food.  Now we thought we would try a sister location of this Toronto area chain.  

 We originally came to Wimpy's looking for a new breakfast greasy spoon restaurant.  Last weekend we visited Three Coins in downtown Richmond Hill to find the big breakfast portions had shrunken a little. So we turned to Wimpy's to see if they could fulfill the role of being the tastly local greasy spoon breakfast location.

We entered and immediately noticed this location looked slightly smaller than the Aurora location.  There were only two tables open when we arrived, but while we ate our meal there seemed to be a steady stream coming into the restaurant to replace those that had just vacated. 

There were two harried waitresses on the floor.  One looked experienced while the other seemed a little dazed at times at what to do next.  We were greated by the experienced one and told to choose between the front table and a table further in the back. We selected the front table and reviewed the menus. 

The Order: Wimpy's Famous Burger combo with fries and a Coke. Wimpy's Five Star Combo (breakfast combo).

Unfortunately we could not find the "Wimpy's Big Breakfast" and had to settle for the smaller brakfast combo on the menu.  As an aside, this is a little puzzling as today I review Wimpy's website the big breakfast is still listed there.  So is the breakfast being discontinued or just not offered at the Thornhill location.

The food came within ten minutes of ordering.  My wife's big breakfast came first and sat on our table for about two minutes until my burger was topped and brought to the table.  No big deal really about the small gap between the food plates, I have experienced worse.

The breakfast seemed to dissapear courtesy of my wife. But again the portions just were not there like the big breakfast portions provided previously at the Aurora location.  The breakfast food itself was nothing really special or to write home about. The sausages, which I had one, was a little dry and not really bursting with flavour.  The home fries were decent and well matched with a little ketchup but also stood on their own if need be. 

The burger combo itself was the usual oversized steak like patty that Wimpy's is famous for.  The burger comes with whatever toppings you wish and was, as usual, well cooked and delicious.  The fries were well done as well taste wise.  However, quantity wise it was stretch to have them cover the rest of the plate the burger did not.  

Wimpy's is a decent spot for their burger and fries.  The demise of the big breakfast is a little cocerning though and may lose some of their loyal customers.  Overall this greasy spoon needs to watch that they do not merely become like their competitors by lowering the portion sizes and starting to do away with the large hearty breakfasts.  This is how Wimpy's will retain their customers, by offering their customers old fashioned large portioned heartwarming greasy spoon breakfasts while also grilling up their famous steak like burgers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In the Blogosphere Recently...

Lately, I have been mentioned in the local Aurora blogosphere a couple of times in August.  The topics of Town of Aurora history and politics are where I am being quoted as both a helper and a well reasoned opinionator of local Aurora issues. 

First the interesting historical part.  Growing up in Aurora I have been around many of the long time Aurora residents who know of days gone by, an avid reader of local newspapers and the book Ă€urora: A History in Pictures (now out of print but can be found at the Aurora Library).   As well, lately I follow several Aurora based blogs including Anna`s Living in Aurora.  One entry that caught my eye was Anna`s recounting of her purchasing the aformentioned Aurora: A History in Pictures only to find an old photograph stuck inside the book.  She wondered about the photo in the book.  Chris Watts' weighed in pointing out that David Heard who regularly attends the Aurora Farmer`s Market may help as he has done quite a bit of historical Aurora research for his gig overseeing A Step in Time  which provides walking tours of historical Aurora as well as pointing out that the man in the photo was possibly a relation to the former Knowles Butcher shop that used to be on Wellington Street in Aurora.

I responded two times.  At first I was thinking of the name "Knowles Crescent" and thought it could be the person the street was named after.  As well, I suggested a few locals who are into history in Aurora who could shed some light on the topic. After clicking the ``submit`` button a thought popped into mind.  I leafed through my copy of Aurora: a History in Pictures and stopped on the photo of old Wells Street School.  There was the man in the photo, J.H. Knowles the principal.  The principal`s face matched the man in the photo perfectly.  I suggested to Anna, in another comment on her blog posting that she contact Bob McRoberts as I remember somehow he was a relation to J.H. Knowles (i.e. a man in the photo) and may be able to shed some light on it. 

In a follow up posting, Anna, thanked myself, Chris Watts and Bob McRoberts for getting the photo returned to it`s rightful place, J.H. Knowles' descendants, Bob McRoberts himself.    I`m glad I could help Anna both experience Aurora history in real life but also help her learn who some of Aurora`s builders were.  As an added bonus, and to drive her crazy a little more about the "Knowles" name in Aurorora, I noted this evening that there are 52 mentions of the Knowles family name in the listings of the Aurora Members of Council on the Town of Aurora history.

Meanwhile, over on Chris Watts' blog I happen to be mentioned two times.  The first was on my blog`s posting on the ongoing debate about some playground equipment at Confederation Park. Chris uses several excerpts from my posting (Note: I`m honoured Chris quoted my posting) to both question the municipalities` communications department and take my side of the issue that the climber needs to stay and parent`s supervising need to shape up and watch their children better. 

Chris Watts` other posting about the arrival of his 2011 edition of the local phone book on his front stoop.  Chris linked to my posting when I attempted to auction off the local edition of Goldbook. Chris ruminates about the usefulness of the printed phone book in the age of the internet before coming to the conclusion that "Phonebooks need to be flushed from our wasteful society once and for all."                       

It has been a very busy couple of weeks in the blogosphere for me lately indeed!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Wobbelling like a Domino at Domino's

Domino's Pizza on UrbanspoonSunday evening my wife and I decided to have a nice pizza and a movie night in.  We thought for a change we would try our local Domino's Pizza (9251 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill). 

We attempted to go online to pick out our pizza and search for deals.  But the Dominos Canada website kept asking us for our local address information and finding our local Domino's Pizza.  The whole idea behind the website was to get to the customer to order online as that was the only way I was lead to seeing the menu.  I can understand choosing the local Domino's location for pricing and product availability issues for the menu, but really must I put in my home address information to even see the menu and/or your specials?   It was a little frustrating and we almost decided to order from another place. But I stuck through it and found a pizza we thought we would try. 

The Order: 1 Medium Deluxe Feast Pizza (toppings: meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms and green pepper).

I placed the order over the phone and was told the pizza would be ready in 15 to 20 minutes.  Fifteen minutes later I walked through the front door for pick-up.  The pizza was just coming out of the oven as the attendent reached for the pizza flipper to put it in the box and cut.  Two minutes later I was paid and out of the store.

I got home five minutes later and we dug in.  The pizza was perfectly sauced and cheesed like any other pizza would be from a chain pizzeria, so no complaints there.  The only real issue were the toppings. The mushrooms and meatballs did not want to be eaten at all as they slid off the pizza slices repeatedly either into the box or onto the floor.  There has to be a better way to keep these type of toppings from sliding off. 

Otherwise the pizza dissappeared pretty quickly as it was finely done and for just over ten dollars a decent price.  Will I go back? Likely but there are other pizzas places out there waiting to be tried, thus Domino's really didn't hook me in as a guarenteed customer.

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