WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA – How Small Towns Celebrate!

Greetings Readers!

I’m back! June was crazy busy with numerous readings and writerly activities – and of course, the Ride to Conquer Cancer. My tenth Ride went very well despite the 30 degree temperature: full details in a future blog.

On July 1st, Canada turned 150 years old. I’m old enough to remember Expo 67 and the celebrations of Canada’s 100th birthday. (See my blog Expo 67 Then and Now.) But nothing is as charmingly and wholeheartedly Canadian as small town Ontario.  In Goderich, where we have our cottage, the party began on June 30th with fireworks at the harbour beach. (Click on each image to enlarge it.)

Sun sets over salt mine
Kids, sparklers & lake freighter taking on salt

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On July 1st, everyone lines up for free hot dogs and soft drinks at The Square (actually an octagon).  After downing your nitrate and sucrose-laden treats, you can escape the official speeches by grabbing an ice cream at Cravings or an Americano at Cait’s, the new hipster café.  Then settle back in your lawn chair, digest and watch the parade!

Historical society float

It begins with the resounding sirens of Goderich’s fire engines, followed by one of many piper bands to celebrate the region’s Scottish ancestry.

Piper band

 

Everyone takes part in the parade: hobbyists, local businesses, churches, charities, old, young, human and animal!

Fincher’s: Best bookstore in Huron County!
Boating safety – very Canadian
Model aircraft – very Flight of the Phoenix

Some Canadian institutions:

Zamboni or what, eh?
Ye old chip wagon

 

 

 

 

 

Goderich has not escaped the decamping of industry to China.  For nearly 100 years all the world’s road graders were manufactured in Goderich. Not any more.

Road graders now only history
21st century industry

 

 

 

 

 

Steadfast parade participants:

The Shriners
Knights of Columbus

 

 

 

 

 

The International Order of the Daughters of the Empire

And my personal favorite: the Lions! Many years ago this venerable lion was self-propelled by a Volkswagen Beetle underneath. Alas, the vehicle is gone and our moth-eaten friend needs mobility assistance.

Old Faithful hits wheelchair stage

 

New lion in vintage car

A breakthrough for Goderich: the first Pride floats in the parade ever! And rainbow flags decorated the lampstands around The Square!

Drag queens in Goderich!
Pride flag in Goderich!

 

 

 

 

 

Any vehicle can be in the parade!

Vintage car
Golf cart

 

 

 

 

 

Mobility scooter
Captain Canada in go cart

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Canadian: even our bikers are polite!

Most enthusiastic Canadians ever! 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD!

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: What’s Under Niagara Falls?

Greetings, Readers!

I’ve been offline for much of January doing what writers do: writing! Finished up two short projects and now I’m re-attacking Danny Bluestone’s next adventure, Windigo Ice.

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13 Claws coming soon!

Lots to look forward to in 2017: the launch of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws; Left Coast Crime in Hawaii; Limestone Expo in Kingston; Word on the Street; and Bouchercon right here in Toronto!

But of course my fingers strayed over to the internet from the time to time and I came across this retro gem though: what happened when engineers stopped Niagara Falls in 1969?

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The American Falls before…
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American Falls after

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid in school, my science teachers were preoccupied with the demise of Niagara Falls. If Something Wasn’t Done, the Falls would deteriorate post-haste into a series of rapids and precious tourist dollars would evaporate. Rock slides in 1931 and 1958 had dumped a sh*tload of rubble at the base of the American Falls.  The Niagara Falls Gazette created a fervour by predicting the Death of the Falls and the cause was taken up by a zealous senator and congressman.

And so on June 12, 1969, the US Corps of Engineers did the unthinkable: they stopped Niagara Falls for the first time in 12,000 years. (Well, not exactly. A half a dozen ice jams have blocked the flow over BOTH sets of falls, most significantly in 1848, but only for a few days each time.)

Once the water dried up, what a desolate and unattractive site it became!

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To dry up The Falls, the US army dumped 27,800 tons of rock upstream across the Niagara River, creating a 600 ft cofferdam that diverted the water away to flow over the (to my mind) far more beautiful Canadian Horseshoe Falls.  Over the next six months, army engineers mechanically bolted faults and drilled holes in the riverbed in hopes of delaying further erosion. 

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As a crime writer, I was curious to know what workers found UNDER the falls once the water dried up. Well, at first, lost coins drew a ton of fortune seekers. Eventually tourists stayed away in droves, because the falls had become, quite frankly, ugly.

Sadly, two bodies were recovered: the first a man, a recent suicide. The other, the skeletal remains of a woman wearing a red and white striped dress and a narrow gold wedding band with the inscription “Forget Me Not”. There’s a story there certainly.

Experts soon realized the enormous cost of removing all the rubble from the base of the Falls. On November 24, 1969, the workers dispatched the coffer dam in front of 2500+ spectators, restoring the flow of water, the Falls’ beauty – and collective sanity all at once.

For more details about this engineering oddity, follow this link.

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Santarchy 2016!!

Greetings Readers!

20161222_073127Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.

After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!

Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th.  Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!

 

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Ed at the Imperial Pub
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Naughty elf!
Naughty Mrs. Clauses
Naughty Mrs. Clauses
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First stop: The Black Bull

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudolph always a fav with kidx
Rudolph always a fav with kids

This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to  give out candy canes and treats to kids.

Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.

Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check.  First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!

Some great costumes below.

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Tinsel & a string of lights make a Christmas tree!
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No Santa beard? This handy bag got our friend a lot of positive attention!
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Real antlers! Hairstyle and crown remain this partyer’s secret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.

Happy Holidays, folks.  As a special treat, I leave you with one of my big favs, Cats vs Christmas trees!!

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Your tree – I eated it!

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Santarchy Rules!

Every year on a Saturday mid-December 100+ Santas storm through Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and head down Queen Street west. Flagrant rebels in search of BEER! This is a world-wide movement from Hanoi to Helsinki to Tokyo to London and beyond. Read about Santacon here.

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100+ rampaging Santas!

Ed and I have been part of this rampaging mob for several Christmases now, thanks to our friend Eric. (Read more about Eric and his Grand Guignol clowning in my most popular blog ever, Charlie the Lonely Sentinel. Charlie’s a stuffed dog BTW.)

We’re polite rebels with several rules of decorum, including being nice to kids and obeying police officers and security guards. After all, we’re Canadian! A Santa suit is a must, but one’s imagination may run wild from racy to saucy Mrs. Claus. We’ve even had a Thor Santa! (Sorry, ladies, no photo). And we are led by Old St. Nick in resplendent bishop’s robe and staff.

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Racy Santa
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Saucy Santa

Typically, we meet up at the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East then march through the Eaton Centre, giving out candy canes to kids. Then on to Nathan Philip Square for a rampage through the skaters. Group photo at the war memorial on University Avenue then on to The Rex to be refused admission. (Hey, it’s tradition!) The Black Bull though is usually our first and favorite watering hole.

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Getting tired as evening wears on

We wend our way down Queen Street, invading the pubs that will let us in. (To be fair, they’ve been pre-warned.) The Academy of Spherical Arts is a fav as well as the late, great Hideout.  This is a way to get in to clubs who would never otherwise let you in because you’re obviously middle class and O-L-D. We’ve even witnessed Fetish Night. (Great material for crime fiction, but who would believe me?)

By 2 am, Ed and I are ready for food (poutine anyone?) and home. Many times the subway has gone sleepy-bye for the night so we’ve relied on the notorious Zoo Bus of our youth. The Yonge St. night bus is a whole quantum level more surreal  and never fails to disappoint. 

Interested? The info isn’t up on the website yet but word is that if you come to the Imperial Pub at 6 pm, Sat Dec 17th, you may find something to your advantage…

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – LAST EXCERPT!

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AMDUR’S CAT

This light-hearted story is my personal favorite. Tiddles is based on one of our beloved cats and he lives again in this story. Some of the antics at the Ministry of Health were inspired by a certain notorious Toronto mayor – and I leave to you, dear reader, to decide which ones are true and which are pure fantasy!

 Published in Thirteen, An Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, Carrick Publishing, 2013.

            On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

            Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion came to life.

            Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

            He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

            With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

            The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

            Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

            He saw me!

            Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

            Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras that ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

            By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

            He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

  She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

            “No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

            “How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

            “Drink?” he echoed.

            “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

     “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

            “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

            Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

            “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

            “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

            That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

            “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

            “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

            “What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

            “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

            “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

            “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

            She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

             Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

     No sign of the lion.

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 5

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INCOMPETENCE KILLS

 Ever get fed up with people who really don’t know how to do their jobs? That’s what led to this flash fiction story.

 Published in Excerpt Flight Deck 1: Starship Goodwords, Carrick Publishing, 2012.

 

Competence is a commodity in low supply. Amazing that the world functions at all really. But incompetence does have an upside: it creates such temping opportunities for predators.

Like me.

You’d never give me a second glance. In appearance, I’m pale and bland. The only remarkable thing about me is a black spot under my thumbnail. If you bothered to get to know me better, you’d recognize it as a sign of my true nature.

Inconspicuous and invidious.

How trusting you people are. The coffee cup unattended in the food court, the step too close to the subway platform.

Innocent and inattentive.

Lucky for you that I’ve learned to, shall we say, engineer my violent tendencies…

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – 4TH EXCERPT

glowgrass

CHRISTMAS IN ALICE

Our visit to Alice Springs in Australia led to this story. Although the resort hotel is fictional, the Henley Boat Races on Old Todd are indeed real. In this story, Margaret, a Canadian married to an Australian, flies to Alice Springs to help an old university friend implicated in a fatal accident.

Published in Blood on the Holly, A Christmas Anthology, Caro Soles ed., Baskerville Books, 2007.

 

Outside the rain had stopped, but even under the dull overcast, the desert heat seared her skin. Enormous ghost gum trees edged the hotel driveway. Margaret followed their chalk-white trunks out to the main road, fragments of their brittle bark crunching under her sandals. Immediately the flies sprang upon her, invading her mouth and nostrils.

Beating them off, she hurried down the main road, the incongruous roar of a river filling her ears. She spotted the bridge over Old Todd a short distance away, just as Constable Owen had said.

A rickety metal barrier prevented her from crossing over, but from where she stood on the road, she had a clear view. A foaming brown torrent sluiced under the bridge. Branches and debris tore past. Black oaks leaned like charred match sticks into the flood. No one could survive a fall into those waters, not even a giant like Constable Owen.

Several police officers were searching along the far bank close to the raging river. She recognized Owen who looked up and waved to her. Margaret half-raised her hand in reply. The flies settled on her again. She turned and walked swiftly back to the hotel.  

“Cheer up,” Imogen said, when Margaret returned. ”Grab some tucker from the breakfast buffet. Christmas present from me to you. Do you good.”

Perhaps coffee would help, Margaret thought and thanked her. She joined the crush of guests charging the buffet tables set up in the dining room, but her appetite was gone. She filled two bowls of fruit salad, one for herself, one for Eileen, and found a table.

Alone in the crowd, she pulled the digital camera from her purse and switched it on. An image of Uluru in the rain popped up on the screen, the rock’s blood red surface laced with streams of water. She flicked through dozens of photos of gaudily dressed tourists who were hugging koalas, brandishing gift store souvenirs or raiding dinner buffets. A cheerful, heavy-set woman centred in a lot of them. Eileen appeared only once, standing next to the white Christmas tree in the lobby, her narrow face barred with shadow.

The last image was black.

“Fine little camera, that.” Imogen had appeared at her table. “Lots of you Americans like it.”

Margaret slipped it back into her purse.

“Can I ask you something?” Imogen took the chair opposite her. “Have the police found Phyllis?”

Margaret shook her head.

“It’s stupid to hope, I know.” The girl’s face crumpled. “I should have stopped them. Eileen couldn’t possibly have meant the Henley Boat Races. I mean, that’s stupid. But Phyllis was so keen. She wanted to see every last thing in her guidebook. She was such a lot of fun, such a nice lady. Everybody liked her.”

Everybody liked her. That’s what they’d said about Laura, too.

“Her son gave her the trip,” Imogen went on. “He’s flying in tomorrow. He’ll never feel the same about Christmas now, will he?”

**

Back in the room, Eileen was sitting up in bed, hands splayed on the sheets. She snatched the bowl of fruit salad from Margaret and stared into it. “Why do they always put in cantaloupe?” she grumbled.

“Eileen, we need to talk,” Margaret said, setting her purse down on the writing desk. “About Phyllis Redding.” She watched Eileen chew the pieces of woody melon. “Her son will want to know what happened to his mother.”

Eileen lifted a bony shoulder. “Nothing happened to her.”

“Don’t be like that.”

Eileen shoved more salad into her mouth.

“If you say nothing, people will think the worst. No one can blame you for an accident.”

“Don’t treat me like an idiot.” Eileen’s bowl tipped over, the dregs of syrup staining the sheet.

“I want to help, but I can’t if you continue this way.”

“OK, fine.” Eileen was getting loud. “We were on the bridge. She walked down into the dark.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess she wanted to take a closer look at the river.”

Margaret sat down. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Why should I? She never listened. All she did was talk. Talk, talk, talk. Everything was always so wonderful, like fucking Disneyland.”

For an instant something primal flashed into Eileen’s face, the way it had in graduate school when she smashed the glass tubes of her failed experiments into the sink, one after the other.

**

GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES

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Revenge, guide dogs, cats big and small, beleaguered ladies of a certain age and a cop with a tarnished heart, meet them all here in Glow Grass and Other Tales.

The characters in the seven stories and two novellas fight for justice even when their sense of justice is warped.  The tales include winners of The Bony Pete and Golden Horseshoe awards as well as the finalists for the 2015 Derringer and 2016 Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award.

The cyberlaunch for Glow Grass is scheduled for late November.  The print launch takes place at Sleuth of Baker Street on Sunday, November 6th.

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