WANDERINGS: The Ride to Conquer Cancer 2016

Greetings readers!

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Toronto Street Art: Ride to Conquer Cancer

Just completed my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 213 km marathon charity bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls via Hamilton. The Ride is the biggest fundraising success story in Canada. This year over 4000 cyclists raised $17+million for the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Centre, which has spear-headed individual cancer therapy.

My friend, Andre and I did the inaugural Ride in 2008 and it had by far the best spirit. People rode everything from carbon fibre racing machines to old clunkers pulled out of the garage. No cops doing traffic: instead we relied on a friendly motor cycle club. Road signs got lost or misplaced. The route was tres hilly, too. I remember falling into bed at 6 pm, completely exhausted after finishing that first day.

Since then, every year never fails to be an adventure due to the vagaries of weather or the misadventures of crazy cyclists. This year was no exception. 

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Start at Ex Day 1

Here you see me and my buddy, Marci, at the start of the Ride in Toronto. (That’s me on the left.) We were worried about the predicted thunderstorms hence the rain gear. Instead we got major crosswinds that threatened to blow us off the road as we struggled up and down a hilly course in 35 degree weather (that’s 85 Fahrenheit). Almost impossible to avoid serious dehydration: I downed 2 litres of Gatorade en route!

We did get our reward at the end of Day 1 though: 15 km of speedy downhill to the McMaster University finish line and two beers each! To be shared with our faithful husbands and support crew.

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Enjoying much-earned beer with road crew, Tim

Day 2 dawned clear and much cooler. The wind was behind us and we pumped our way through 119 km of undulating wine country. Beautiful!

Riding with 4000+ cyclists is hazardous. We saw 3 accidents involving 3-tiered response with wailing ambulances. The compulsory safety video doesn’t sink in for many participants who freewheel down hills at 30 MILES per hour, pass too closely and indulge in forbidden drafting.

Many participants sported road rash or suffered bike breakdowns. Fancy road bikes do not fare well on rough, pot-holed roads. Elite cyclists may despise my faithful hybrid, which is slow on hills, but it’s rugged and has held me up through thousands of kilometres.

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Crossing the finish at Niagara Falls

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Ride. Did I sign up? Sure! And so did Marci. More adventures to be had in defeating this horrible disease!

Wanderings: Street Art and Alleys

My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units.  View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.

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Biological beer can that bleeds?

The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” –  means roadway.  In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs,  giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.

Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.

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Scary urban alley by daylight

Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!

Strange dino-beasts
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Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t believe all you read!
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Viaducts, Street Art and Suicides

I’m training  for my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Up to now, I’ve braved icy roads and braced frigid head winds.  Finally this week decent conditions, so I took my favorite route down the Don Valley trail.

Spring at last!
Spring at last!

The trail meanders between the bucolic waters  of the Don River and the ear-deafening stream of cars along the Don Valley Expressway.  It’s frequented by dog walkers, elderly hikers, birdwatchers, other bike maniacs, a few homeless and the odd city worker doing some nameless, incomprehensible task.

Street artists have been hard at work, too. Crossing under a viaduct, I spot this amazing painting.

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Street Art at base of viaduct

Sadly the viaducts are a favorite of suicides.  The enormous Bloor viaduct sports a remarkable barrier that has proven 100% effective in prevention though cynics point out that it may merely drive unfortunates north to this one.

 Structurally beautiful, the Bloor viaduct barrier was created by Harvard-educated architect, Ellis Kirkland, who originally designed it to be lit up at night.

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Bloor Street Viaduct Wannabe

In a macabre twist of fate, Kirkland became the centre of a downtown drama last month. She stabbed the concierge at her apartment building, fled and was rescued from jumping off a 27th floor balcony at a nearby hotel.  Fortunately, both she and the concierge survived. Read the full and tragically ironic story here.

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

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Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

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Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building fan fits in
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Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Gems from the Cemetery

Greetings, Readers!

Just a short post this week from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. My running buddies and I use it in winter because its curving lanes are cleared before our city streets.

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Eaton Mausoleum

Edward Greenspan, Toronto’s flamboyant defence lawyer, is buried here. He became (in)famous after defending a rogues’ gallery of wife killers, including Peter Demeter and Helmut Buxbaum and sharpish biz types like Garth Drabinsky and Conrad Black. Ironically, he got none of them off. They were all found guilty!

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Edward Greenspan
Greenspan did do his part for society, too. In 1986, he successfully thwarted an attempt by the federal conservatives to restore capital punishment. And he took on controversial cases of self-defence and euthanasia involving ordinary folks.

A brilliant and witty speaker, he was a popular MC at many annual banquets of the Crime Writers of Canada. His epitaph reads appropriately:

“The Defence Rests”

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Greenspan’s resting place

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas, Baby Part duh!

Vegas, Baby, where even the dragons wear rhinestones!20160107_142920

 

 

It’s Chinese New Year and the casinos are set to retrieve some of the $$$ lost to off-shore manufacturing. Everywhere are displays of dragons or monkeys since 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

Gambling is a popular pastime in China. As a student at UBC, Vancouver, I remember hearing the clatter of mah-jong parlours in the not-so-hidden upstairs rooms of popular restaurants and seeing whole families picnicking at the race track. (So what if my friend and I were betting on the same Exacto.)

One day till we storm through the exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  so I end up doing  another 20,000 Fitbit steps through this R-rated  Disneyland.

T-rex, real or pretend?
T-rex, real or pretend?

First stop, the Cosmopolitan, a newer addition on The Strip. The décor is big, bold eye candy like the silvered T-rex head above. The décor materials aren’t cheap: the two-storey chandelier bar is cloaked in real crystal, though it looks like plastic. The overall effect to my mind is vintage “Scarface”, the cult classic gangster movie starring Al Pacino.

The Chandelier Bar
The Chandelier Bar

 

My favorite casino after The Venetian has to be Paris.  Boulevard cafes crowd round the casino tables in a perpetual dusky twilight, the French signs are pure “Pepe le Pew” and the pastries look French but taste American. Even the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe outside are spotlessly sanitized.  Love it!   

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Eiffel Tower

 

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Arc de Triomphe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellagio’s and Caesar’s Palace are the high end with a string of shops outdoing Rodeo Drive.  Caesar’s was the first casino to feature Disneyland animatronics and fantasy boulevards where blue skies turned into glowing sunsets and starry nights.  Once Caesar’s ruled the strip, but now crowds shun it and it’s in bankruptcy protection. I find it hard to understand why. The food and atmosphere are still great. I sip a nostalgic Americano beside the oversized Trevi fountain.

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Bellagio’s fab Venetian glass ceiling
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Nostalgia by the Trevi fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Vegas is almost gone. Darwin is in overdrive: billion dollar behemoths crushing under smaller places, like the Imperial Palace and the Hilton, their identities obliterated by white paint to lure in time share buyers. The veteran burlesque shows like Jubilee are hanging in, but for how long?

Vegas has a sleazy, dark side. The homeless camp out on the pedestrian skyways. A van circles constantly with in-your-face T&A ads promising girls delivered to your room. And elderly Hispanic women snap hookers’ business cards in your face as you plough through the crowds.

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The A-list mingles with the B-team on the Strip, but the B-team can still be fun. My personal fav is Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood, which features, I kid you not,  a zombie burlesque and Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre, starring trained cats and dogs. Popovich is for children of all ages and I adored it!

And if you think cats can’t do tricks, watch this video!

 

 

 

Wanderings: Worthington’s Bronze Dog

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My friends and I regularly run through Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Why, you may ask? Well, traffic is light, the roads are paved and in good repair. The hundreds of species of trees provide shade in summer and in winter, its hardworking staff plow and sand the roads way before Toronto’s regular streets.

I first saw Mt. Pleasant Cemetery walking across the ravine bridge on St. Clair Avenue West.  New to Toronto, my curiosity was piqued by what appeared to be small Greek temples set in distant greenery. These mythical structures proved to be the mausoleums of worthies such as the Eaton family, tombs that wouldn’t be out of place in a vampire movie. 

Our futures can indeed prove strange. I had no idea then that I would end up living next to the cemetery, nor that my friends and I would run and bike through it almost daily.  For the record all you bikers and hikers, once around the cemetery is about 7 kilometres.

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Timothy Eaton Memorial

Mt. Pleasant was established in 1873 on a 200-acre farm outside the city limits.  Initially, only Roman Catholics or Anglicans were allowed to be buried here, but times fortunately have changed. Its 168,000 permanent residents now reflect Canada’s multi-cultural heritage in nationalities and faiths.

Which brings me to the resting place in the photo above.  My running buddy and I spotted the little brass dog that guards the grave of Peter Worthington, founder of the right-leaning Toronto Sun newspaper and well-known journalist. What people may not know is that he was an eye witness to the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963, as depicted in this world famous photo below.

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A far sunnier and uplifting fact is that Peter Worthington was a strong believer in animal welfare and a long-time supporter of the Toronto Humane Society. We like to think that the little brass dog was once his pet who now stands by him forever.