Old friends in Southern Ontario

With Cathy at work, and Craig sleeping for the day (he’s currently working nights), there was little that would cause me to rise early.

Well, almost nothing. I had a lunch date to keep.

Rising at a reasonable hour, I showered, shaved, dressed, and headed out for the GO Train (thankfully, within walking distance — though I ended up jogging most of the way there). My ultimate destination that day was the corner of Bloor and Spadina. On the south side, a few blocks west of that corner, I would find New Generation Sushi, where I was planning to meet up with my dear friend Kathryn.

I should emphasize the word “planning”. You see, at that point, planning was all Kathryn and I had done. We hadn’t really *confirmed* anything. I had left a couple of messages with Kathryn, and over the course of the morning, kept calling to see if things were still a “go”. But the cell phone wouldn’t pick up, nor would the land line be answered. Deciding that in the worst-case scenario that I’d still find something to do, I proceeded with the plan as I knew it.

I hopped the University line upon arriving in Toronto and headed to the Spadina station, mistakenly believing that it was part of the Bloor line station as well (meaning it was near Bloor St.). Of course, it wasn’t, and was several blocks to the north. No big deal — it wasn’t that cold, and was worth the wander. Besides, I was almost an hour ahead of schedule, and had a little time to kill.

I’ve gotten really good at killing time. I really need to get “Professional Time Assassin” business cards printed up.

I found the restaurant, but passed it by in favour of seeing what else I could find in my spare time. Almost reaching Bathurst, I spotted a Starbucks on the north side of the road, and suddenly felt the need for a hot chocolate.

I soon found myself sitting in a Starbucks on the corner of Bloor and Albany, the radiant sun pouring into through the south-facing window, warming my back, the hot chocolate heating my soul. Sitting by the window, listening to Jazz playing in the store, watching Toronto pass by in their daily lives, I felt purely decadent. For a powerfully brief moment, I remembered what I liked about being in Toronto.

Kathryn and I finally connected, and confirmed plans to meet up at the restaurant at 13:30. This meant I still had a little time to kill. So I wandered down Bloor St. back to Spadina, crossing over and coming over to the restaurant. I got a seat for two and started to wait. Thankfully, Kathryn is punctual.

You’re probably wondering how it is that I can meet up with Kathryn at 13:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. Doesn’t she have to work? In fact, Kathryn is one of Toronto’s shining stars, and a very busy stage manager. Since leaving school, she’s done 35 shows of one kind or another. Thirty-five. (I don’t think I’ve done that many websites.) Her line of work keeps her busy, but usually at night (during production, that is), meaning her days are somewhat free.

Currently, Kathryn is engaged in a play called “China Doll”, which is about the Chinese tradition of foot-binding, which ended around 1911. The play starts in the early 1900s and goes until 1917. Had I more time, I think I would have very much enjoyed seeing the play.

We talked for about 45 minutes before finally ordering food. Then we walked for another half hour before the food arrived. We ate, chatted a bit, then talked more. Finally paying the bill, we headed out down Bloor St., still talking. We babbled the whole way into Yorkville, and into cups of coffee and hot chocolate. We chatted until we could chat no more — and that was only because Kathryn had to go to work, and I had to go meet up with my friend Ed down at Union Station. So we talked all the way to the Museum subway station.

It had been almost exactly three years (give or take a couple of days) since Kathryn and I had spent a significant amount of time together. There had been a bit of time when Kathryn had attended my sister’s wedding (see [[Cathy and Craig’s Wedding]]), but because of things that had to happen, we had talked only briefly before she’d had to leave for a performance that night. Three years. So needless to say, when Kathryn’s train disappeared into the tunnel as I waited for mine, there was a distinctly hollow feeling — I don’t get to see my close friends often enough.

It had been nearly a year and half since the last time I saw Ed (see [[Star Wars and the Last Episode of The X-Files]]), but he hadn’t changed much. The hair was a bit longer, a little lighter (due to some streaking, so I understand), though he looked a lot more tired than I had remembered. (Given how hard he was working, that wasn’t too surprising.) We met up and headed off for the 17:34 train to Oakville.

Brian was waiting for us when we arrived. I don’t really know for sure, but I think the last time I saw Brian was New Year’s Eve, 1998. Aside from the hairdo, he hadn’t changed, either. The three of us piled into Brian’s sports car, and went off in search of a place to hang out for the evening. We ended up at Sharkey’s.

Sharkey’s has been a mainstay in Oakville for ages. Apparently, it won’t be for much longer, as it is slated for demolition. Oakville needs another block of condominiums. But for now, it still reigns supreme on the shores of the 16 Mile Creek, and in the bar, we set up shop to catch up on old times.

Brian and Ed were roommates of mine at the University of Waterloo, living in the Columbia Lake Townhouses. We shared the four-room unit with my roommate from first year, Roger. (Roger is currently living in Prague, so unfortunately was unable to attend the reunion.) The four of us had spent an almost bizarre eight months living under the same roof. It had been together that we’d witnessed the Blue Jays winning their first World Series, and the Montreal Canadiens winning their last Stanley Cup. And numerous other events, including the Penny Fight, broken shower floors and back doors, watching the “ducks”, scaring the hell out of each other, The Neutral Zone, and chemical warfare.

Brian and Ed have had the luxury of seeing each other quite a lot over the last few years. So needless to say, I felt like a bit of an outsider. But it’s not too bad … they made sure I felt completely included in the massive string of insults and personal attacks, all good-natured, of course. This was how we’d conducted ourselves in university, which more and more felt like it was only months ago, not years.

Things have changed over the years, though. We all got engaged, though only Brian, Ed, and Roger got married. I supposedly had enough sense to back out of my engagement before it was too late. Brian is now separated, as is Roger. We joked quite a lot about the “Columbia Lake Curse”, and kept looking at Ed to see if he was next in line (for the record, he gave no indication that he was).

Although it was a time I would have gladly continued until the bar closed, both Brian and Ed have to work tomorrow. Such is the sadness of being on vacation — you can’t always do what you want to do. But plans are sort of in the works for later this year, as I might be coming out for a camping trip with the guys. It’s been far too long since the last time I camped.

They dropped me off at Cathy’s, and I bid them both a good night. I was brought forward into the present, leaving the past of university behind. But it won’t be the only time on this vacation…

Buying my first new car

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but I seem to have a penchant for buying expensive things. Last year, I bought a house. This year, I bought my first new car.

For those of you now saying: “He bought a Mini”, you would be correct. There are a few of you out there who said I should have bought the Cooper S (the sport version). A little too expensive for me right now — maybe in a couple of years, I’ll trade in the one I have. A few of you might frown on my little green bag. Of my favourite deterrents, one even called it a “girl car”. Personally, I always thought that was a VW Cabriolet. Call it what you will, this is the only street legal go-kart I know of.

Not even a week ago, I was in the general vicinity of the Mini dealership, and thought I’d drop in to have a chat with Michael, the Mini salesperson who had been fielding my seemingly endless questions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in that night. Another salesperson, also named Michael, chatted me up. We talked about the Mini, and a little about the one I wanted. Michael — the one I had been talking with before — had indicated there were a few on-site that might match my needs. Michael — the one I was talking to at the time — had some additional ideals.

My criteria were pretty simple: I wanted a cool, distinctive car that had no practical purpose. Yeah, I know, “mid-life crisis”. Frankly, if I’m having a mid-life crisis now, I need help. A lot of it. I think the reality is that I’m, well, boring. Yes, I’ll admit it. Dull. Blah. Without any sense of edge. Predictable, even. (Don’t believe me, check out the comments a few people wrote about me in a survey I sent out a couple years back. See [[Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Geoff Sowrey]] for details.)

When Stuart had first shown me a picture of the new Mini a couple years ago, I about freaked. It was perhaps the coolest thing on four wheels I had ever seen. For the last couple of years, I’ve been following the launch of the Mini worldwide, and especially in Canada. For a while, I’ve lamented living in Calgary — we were one of the last major cities in Canada to get a Mini dealership. (Saskatoon got one before us. Yes, Saskatoon.) Anyway, about as soon as one opened here, I started looking.

At Christmas, Critical Mass gave me a bonus (why, I’m not really sure — I’m not sure if I really earned it). While I’m not at liberty to say how much, it was enough to make me seriously give thought to buying a new car. I guess I need not elaborate on what direction this took me.

Anyway, back to the second Michael. He showed me a model he had sitting in the showroom. It was a demo unit purchased by Mini Canada (Corporate Office) for one of their executives. When they were done with it, the Calgary office purchased it for resale. At a discount. And so began what ended up being a three-day bargaining session. Mini would come to me with a price, and I would turn it around, looking for incentive. It wasn’t easy — unlike other dealerships, Mini has the luxury of waiting for the next person to snap up a waiting vehicle. As it stands, I was the first of about five people interesting in purchasing that car.

It’s British Racing green. (Dark green, for those of you unfamiliar with the colour.) White roof and mirrors. White alloy wheels. Beige leather interior. And really, really, really comfy. So what was the catch?

Manual transmission.

The interesting part is that I actually went out looking for manual. Why? Two reasons. One, it’s more fuel-efficient than the automatic (a general rule). In fact, the manual transmission Mini Cooper is one of the EPA’s Top 10 most fuel efficient cars. Secondly, it’s because I didn’t really want to get the automatic. It’s a CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission. Basically, no gears. While an uber-cool idea, I was a little paranoid of what would happen if it broke — how much would it cost to fix? Manuals are less expensive.

Problem: I’d only ever driven manual once before (see [[Long Weekend in Kelowna, Penticton]]). I know the principle. It’s just the practice. Which I need.

Now I have one other problem: Where to park it. I can’t leave the car parked on the road (the city doesn’t really like that). Naturally, I should park it in my garage. That’s what I tried to figure out on Saturday — clean it out, and prepare it for a car. But very early on, I realized I was going to have a major problem: The garage door.

One of the previous owners (I’m not sure which) decided to sabotage the garage door and remove all the gizmos that let you open and close the door. The door itself is nailed in place. Opening and closing it at present requires two people and a hammer. Not exactly convenient. Closer inspection made me believe that I wasn’t going to solve my problem with a screwdriver and a mallet. No, I needed a new door.

Off to Revy, where after a few minutes, I happened upon a gentleman by the name of Gerald, who got me the details. Luckily, I have a standard-sized door for my somewhat unstandard garage. It wasn’t exactly cheap to purchase the door, but I opted also for installation and removal of the old door. I’ve learned from many people that you simple do not try to install a garage door unless you know what you’re doing. And aside from the fact that it would take two cars to carry something as large as a garage door, I have no idea what to do with it anyway.

Returning door-less (it comes some time this week), I proceeded to clean out the garage. I succeeded only with the returnable recyclables (we get money back for the containers for which we pay deposits). That pretty much left me incapable of walking, mostly as a result of my first week at the gym. I finished the following day, though not without injury — I now have a terribly sore throat.

I hate being sick.

Tonight, I signed away what little life I have left after the house, and picked up my new car. This was a good thing, since I was barely able to concentrate on sqwat all day. It took about an hour and a half, including all the financial work, and the walkaround. Yes, a walkaround. You don’t just drive away from a BMW dealership — you get the full meal deal. Which is good, because there were a few little things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

I picked up Tamara from home, and we went for a drive. First, to the office to pick up proof of earnings, which I had mistakenly forgot at the office. After faxing that in, we went in search of a Shopper’s Drug Mart. I needed throat lozenges, very badly. Then it was to Dairy Queen for a quick celebration, and back to the house. As I sit here typing, I can hear the car calling to me.

“Drive me!” it coos.

But I need to go to bed — I have to be up early to go to the gym. I must resist its lures. All I can do it wait with baited breath for the weekend, when I can drive free of the city … and practice my hill starts without backing into anyone. Maybe I’ll get Therese and Stuart to teach me.

This time next year, I’ll have to refrain from anything too expensive. Right now, I’m thinking of a Snickers bar.

Starting exercise at the YMCA

A little exercise never killed anyone … but there’s always a first time.

This morning, I made my first visit to a gym in about seven years. I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not some lame New Year’s resolution that I’ve finally got around to. I’ve actually been wanting to do this for over a year and a half, but found every excuse I could to avoid it. Now I have a vested interest in fitness, and made an effort to give myself no option.

On Saturday, I dropped by the YMCA in Eau Claire, forked over the fee, and got myself a membership. I then went out for a new pair of shoes that I knew I was going to need. This morning, I woke at 5:30, grabbed my bag, and headed out to see what new definitions of pain I could discover.

Actually, I wasn’t quite that negative. I had a fairly ambitious goal: An hour workout without passing out, heaving up, or needing the assistance of emergency medical sevices.

Laugh if you will, but to say my mind and body are at odds when it comes to exercise is like saying Israel and Palestine are bosom buddies.

Body: I need exercise! Get me in shape, Mind!
Mind: I hate exercise. It’s so monotonous.
Body: Either you get me exercise, or I’ll start craving things you won’t like.
Mind: Ha! Go on. I’m not scared of you. You have no power over me.
Body: One word: Tequila.
Mind: Is 6:00 okay for you?

Of course, once things get underway, there’s a sight reversal…

Body: SWEET JESUS! What were you thinking?!
Mind: Hey, don’t blame this one me! You’re the one who wanted this, pal!
Body: Yeah, okay, but 10 kilometres of rowing, 20 kilometres of biking *uphill*, and then a 15-minute endurance swim? That’s just mean!
Mind: Stop being such a baby, it’s not that bad. It’s just mind over matter.
Body: But I don’t have a mind — that’s you!
Mind: Not my problem…

One of them is gonna kill me. It’s just a matter of time…

The Eau Claire YMCA is about 15 years old. The shape that it’s kept in, you’d swear no more than a third of that. The facilities are huge — they have to be for the number of people who come through there — and immaculately kept. The equipment is in great shape (although the footstraps on the rowing machine kept coming loose), the place is spotless, the air temperature about perfect, and the water in the pool is devine (except the near-lethal levels of chlorine).

So yes, I hurt. Not a lot, mind you — I didn’t do weights. That’s tomorrow morning. Mostly, it’s my head. Muscles are beginning to remember that they hold this 20-odd pound of meat in place, and they’re not really enjoying the extra workout. My inner thighs hurt, but it’s not from muscles — my skin has the approximate texture of a cheese grater thanks to the near-desert climbe, and the aforementioned chlorine.

And then there’s my hands, or more specifically, the skin just under where the finger attaches to the palm. All the callouses I’d built up when I was with the CBC have apparently worn off. I noticed this when I was showering afterwards — that burning sensation on my skin couldn’t be due to anything but inflammed skin. Sure enough — blisters. Big ones. I guess you got to start somewhere.

My morning went from one workout at the gym, to another workout at the dentist. This was my regular six-month checkup. I hoped it would go much better than my visit this time last year (see [[Going to the Dentist, Getting my first Cavity]]). For the most part, I was right. First exercise in futility: x-rays. Captain Choke struck again, and x-rays were delayed for another visit. Onto scaling and polishing. Snooze. Then it was inspection.

This is the part I’m beginning to hate. Everytime I get an inspection, the dentist finds something wrong. I’m not sure if my mouth is just falling apart, or if previous dentists were morons. Either way, as he was probing my teeth, he muttered something about “D5, inclusion”, which in dentese apparently means my tooth has gone “soft”. In other words: return visit on Thursday for correction.

I just hope it doesn’t mean drilling.

Chinese New Year 4700, Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion

The year 4700 on the Chinese calendar got off to a very sombre start.

Today is Chinese New Year’s day. Today, I had many things I wanted to do. Most of them were summarily forgotten when, barely a few minutes out of bed, Tamara announced: “The space shuttle blew up.” I took pause. I was barely awake enough to know that this was bad, but not awake enough for it to truly have effect.

I marched downstairs and turned on CNN. The coverage wasn’t as intense as September 11th (see [[Reaction to September 11, 2001 (9/11)]]). CNN was skipping commercials, in favour of coverage. They flipped around constantly, talking with reporters from all over America, periodically talking with an official or former engineer. CBC had entirely different coverage, actually bringing in Roberta Bondar to talk with their anchor. A press conference with the Canadian Space Agency featured Marc Garneau.

There wasn’t the oppressive feeling of loss or shock. Perhaps we’ve just become too immune. Then an interesting fact came to light — it was 17 years and four days since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, 73 seconds into the 25th shuttle mission.

Just after noon, I was doing my duty as a student crossing guard, curbing the flow of traffic so students could return to school after lunch. As usual, one girl — a few grades behind me — came up to deliver her daily torture. For some reason, we didn’t much like each other. She was a little caustic, and I had a superiority complex. Yet we each recognized this, and turned it into a game. On that day, however, she instead told me the truth: The shuttle had exploded.

At first, I hadn’t believed her. The shuttle couldn’t explode. It was the space shuttle! It was NASA! That sort of thing just doesn’t happen. (This was long before I’d learned of the Apollo 1 fire, or saw video of NASA’s early rocket failures.) My faith in the American space programme was unfaltering. I expected there to be regular flights into space by the time I was 20. For the shuttle to explode just seemed too fantastic.

The truth sank in before I returned to school after lunch. Most of my friends didn’t go home for lunch, and didn’t know. They seemed as doubtful as I had been. Barely a few minutes into class, the principal called an assembly in the gym. It was true. The shuttle had exploded barely a minute off the launchpad. I don’t remember the rest of the afternoon. But I watched the entire 6:00pm CityTV news broadcast, which had been almost entirely devoted to the shuttle disaster (only five minutes were granted to other news).

Seventeen years later, the reaction was different. People seemed shocked, yes, but more were accepting of the dangers of spaceflight. It seems that while people do become complacent about regular shuttle launches, they seem to all know that eventually, something will go wrong. When Tamara had told me the shuttle exploded, I assumed it was a launch. Breaking up on reentry was something I had not considered.

I eventually did run a few errands. But in the back of my mind the entire time was what sort of things could I expect to see. Thoughts of what I’d seen on September 11th still haunt me. I saw and heard nothing. It was almost like it hadn’t happened. In fact, if Calgary had been upset by the disaster, it was already well on the way to recovery. Chinese New Year went ahead without pause. It was business as usual.

Still, everyone seemed to talk about the loss of Columbia, even if it wasn’t the first thing on their minds. We still went to Chinese New Year dinner. We still went about our lives. But the thought is still there. I don’t know if in 17 years, I’ll remember where I was today.

But I will remember what happened.