Thursday, September 29, 2011

Night Two: Ottawa

We drove further north. The geese flew south. We all have places to be.

A 19-year-old that I met before he was 19 came to say hi to me at work today. We caught up and I told him about my trip to Peru and upcoming Swiss adventure.  "How do I get your life?" he asked. "You have to be willing to be poor," I told him.

What I really should have said, sometime between his recollection of his grad trip to Punta Cana and his 19th birthday party the night before was, "How do I get your life?"

But at the same time, I wouldn't trade anything I've got--the good or the bad--to be 19 again. Because at 19, I'm not sure I had the strength and resilience to survive the curveballs that life has thrown at me this last month.

(That, and I really hated living in the university residence.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Night One: Kingston

"Have the courage to write badly." 

Right now, I need to feel courageous. So this seems like a good place to start.

I'm exhausted in a way that no amount of sleep could possibly resolve. And tonight, I'm suddenly alone.

I don't know if I've ever stayed in a hotel alone before. Hostels? Sure. Hotel rooms? Yes. But all alone, in a hotel with no co-worker/friend/relative in the next room over? I'm not too sure.

And yet, it feels suspiciously familiar, like I've done it a dozen times before. I'm here on business, the first night of a four-night journey. (It sounds so official, doesn't it? "Here on business." I wish I had the wardrobe to match that statement. I could leave or take the actual lifestyle, though.) Kingston today, Ottawa tomorrow, Montréal on Saturday, unemployment on Sunday.

Life is rough lately. But all it needs is time. And a little bit of courage I suppose, even if it's just the courage to write badly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

All my friends are journalists.

Even if you're struggling as a freelancer, there's one surefire way to ensure your name appears in print on a regular basis; only befriend journalists.

Two years ago in the Globe & Mail:

Earlier this year in the Toronto Star:

And the latest one, from today's Globe & Mail, made my day:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things I Love Right Now

I'm feeling bad about all the hate in yesterday's post, so I figured I'd make up for it by talking about some of the things I love right now:

Yoga Jeans

Why the love? As far as I can tell, there are two main advantages to losing 10 lbs:

1. You have a legitimate reason to invest in a whole new fall wardrobe.
2. You lost 10 lbs.

I like tailored clothing, so pieces that have served me well over the last five years suddenly need to be replaced (or taken in). I'm not complaining. The most recent addition my wardrobe is Yoga Jeans, which are not only amazingly comfortable and reasonably priced--they're also 100 per cent Canadian made. 

Why should you care? This fall, forget the crap that H&M shills and considering investing in some Canadian-designed clothing. In addition to Yoga Jeans, I'm also a big fan of Birds of North America's Fall collection. 

Other fall favourites: the vintage jewellery that recently came my way. Thanks Katherine!


Why the love? Now, to get started, I am in no way getting compensated to write this (nor am I in any way reflecting the opinions of AutoShare in this blog). I am writing this because I actually LOVE AutoShare.

No, seriously.

I LOVE AutoShare.

I keep telling people that AutoShare changed my life and they seem to think I'm exaggerating.

I'm not.

(My love is maybe a little bit out of control. If AutoShare was a boy, I wouldn't just be passing him notes in class--I'd be full-out leaving animal hearts in his locker.)

Brock and I with one of AutoShare's Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) at Open Roof Festival.

I don't need a car because there's one parked directly my building that I can access anytime. If it's cold out and I don't want to drag my groceries home through the snow, I can rent a car for less than the cost of a cab. If I need to get to a TTC-inaccessible meeting, I take the subway to the closest AutoShare location and then drive the rest of the way. If I want to go touring wineries in Niagara, I don't have to trek all the way downtown to go to the Budget rental office during their ridiculous hours. Amazing.

As if that wasn't enough reason to love them, AutoShare recently introduced electric cars. While I'm admittedly skeptical about the sustainability of electric vehicles, it makes perfect sense in the AutoShare fleet. And well, it's just kind of neat.

Why should you care? Because right now, if you're 29 or under, you can sign up for free. (You do have to pay a $29 application fee, though.) Oh and did I mention that you build your insurance history as you drive with AutoShare? Again, amazing.

Loose Button's Luxe Box

Why the love? I have to admit, this is a really peculiar thing for me to love, given that I've maybe set foot in Sephora once in my life and that I've been using the same brand of mascara since 1998. I have zero to no interest in high-end beauty products. And who pays for samples when the whole point of samples is that they're free? So, it's weird, I know.

But who doesn't love getting a ribbon-wrapped surprise parcel in the mail every month? That and I totally would have paid $12 (the cost of a one-month Luxe Box subscription) just for the bottle of Moroccan Oil that was in this month's box.

Why should you care? You actually totally shouldn't for all of the above reasons. But if you do, sign up using this link and I can get a month free. (And we all know how much I like free things.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hate Mail: Dear Limo and Cab Tours and Transportation

Hate mail. This time, with pictures. (Boring post, I know. But because they don't have a profile on TripAdvisor, I just want to make sure my hate for LL&C Wine Tours shows up on Google searches from here on out. So ignore the hate and enjoy the pictures.)

Dear LL&C Tours and Transportation and Living Social:

On Saturday, September 17, 2011, I attended a wine tour hosted by Lincoln, Limo and Cab Transportation and Tours, which I purchased through Living Social. I am writing to issue an official complaint. It was hands-down the worst tour experience I’ve ever had and along with the rest of my party (whose voucher numbers are at the bottom of this letter) I’m seeking a full refund and compensation for expenses caused when LL&C failed to pick up my group.

Here are the events that transpired:

On Saturday morning, at 10:00 am, we called LL&C to confirm the pick-up time in Niagara Falls. We were told that it would be 12:15 pm at Niagara Falls Casino.

Upon arrival at Niagara Falls Casino at 11:30 pm, we again called LL&C to reconfirm the tour time and pickup location. We were again told 12:15pm and confirmed that the pickup location was in the same spot at where the coach buses board on the south side of the building. We paid for parking for the day ($10) and headed to the bus pickup area.

We arrived at the bus area at 11:40 am, more than 30 minutes before the pick-up time. While there, we met another group of women who were also on our tour. They had also called to confirm the pickup time and had been told that the bus would be arriving in 10 minutes. We spent the next 30 minutes waiting, watching bus after bus drop people off. Not a single bus arrived to pick passengers up.

By 12:25, when the bus had still not arrived we became concerned. The other group of women called the tour company again, only to be told that we had “missed the bus” and had to make our way to the winery ourselves. They also indicated that they had picked up people 20 minutes earlier and that we must have been late.

It was clear at this point that we were being lied to.

(They said that they send out confirmation emails prior to tours, however NO ONE that we spoke with on the bus had received any such confirmation email. We were also frustrated that the accused us of missing the bus when both groups of women had called to confirm more than once that morning.)

After driving to meet the group at Caroline Cellars in our AutoShare rental vehicle ($5.00 for the cost of driving there), we arrived to the winery to only be informed that we needed to drive to Pond View to meet the group. After verbalizing our frustration to the "tour guide" (orphan quotes intended) we agreed to board the bus to make the most of our day.

Although we knew it was impossible that we had “missed” the bus, we asked other tour attendees if they had stopped at Falls View Casino to pick up passengers. “We didn’t stop there,” said one woman. We drove straight through.” She then proceeded to say, “Whoosh!” and make a rapid motion with her hand to emphasize the fact that the bus DID NOT stop at Niagara Falls Casino to pick up ANY passengers.
Finally, we met a third group of women who had not been picked up from their pick-up location. They were compensated for their cab to the winery, but were also understandably irate.

It was clear that the tour operators were flat-out lying to paying customers.

We hoped the day would improve, but it did not. The following is our account of the tour itself:

This was by far the worst value for money group buy deal I have ever purchased, as well as the worst tour I’ve ever been on.

On our tour, the tour guide did not interact at all with the guests (except to argue with us about “missing the bus”). Nothing ran on time. As an example of a typical stop, at the last winery we were instructed to meet back on the bus at 4:00. By 4:30, the entire tour group had boarded the bus with the exception of the tour guide and the bus driver. Around 4:35, while the entire group waited (and joked about “honking the horn”) I spotted our “tour guide” outside smoking.

While touring wineries, I looked at brochures for similar companies in the area that also offer a tour of one winery, with tastings at three additional wineries. The average price for these tours was $50 to $75 for a four-hour tour, but included lunch. (Some passengers on our bus were provided with a snack, while others were not.) The bus was also overcrowded and not the small passenger bus featured on the website—there were nearly 50 passengers on the tour. (In 2009, I toured the exact same four wineries with a small group of nine people for $75. )

Based on my experience with LL&C, I will never again purchase anything from Living Social and will discourage my peers from doing the same.

I am seeking the following compensation:

• Reimbursement for the cost of the tour from Living Social for all three members of my party ($150)
• Parking in Niagara Falls ($10)
• The cost of the AutoShare rental to drive from Niagara Falls Casino to Caroline Cellars and then back to Pond View (20 kilometers at $0.25/kilometer = $5.00)

I expect that you will reply to this complaint in a timely manner.



Monday, September 12, 2011

A politically-minded dog

An incomplete list of things my dog is terrified of--some legit, some not so much:
  • large trucks 
  • mini-vans
  • construction vehicles
  • lawn mowers
  • old women pushing granny carts (but strollers are okay)
  • full bags of garbage sitting by the front door
  • Dufferin Street (yes, the entire street)
  • curb-side garbage and recycling bins, occasionally including those that are permanently installed
  • any box on the street full of random stuff with a sign reading "free stuff"
  • children on scooters (but bicycles are okay)
  • TTC buses passing by (but not subways or streetcars--and he's totally fine to ride all of the above)
  • pylons
Added to the list today:
  • election lawn signs (but strangely, only those for NDP candidates) 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

I can write.

Screenshots from an article that I'm working on:

I wish I was smarter than this.

I'm not.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The First Tattoo

Despite the language and cultural barriers, I guess you could say that Helka was the first person I ever felt a “connection” with. We came from completely different places, but we were kindred spirits in a way that only teenage girls can be. Hours would be lost together, lounging around her house discussing politics, art, music and current events. And even when I accidentally made out with Jason H. (who she had a long-standing flirtation with) behind the mall, she was forgiving. But above all else, we had fun together.

It was something that we had talked about from the beginning—about how before she left Canada and as soon as I turned 18, we'd get matching tattoos.

At the end of the school year, I found our ride to Edmonton. I didn’t know Kyle that well, but he had a car. And at first, he was enthusiastic about the idea. I suppose it was very punk rock of him (or something like that) to escort the Finnish exchange student and the school freak to the city just to get tattoos.

But as the trip grew closer, Kyle quickly realized that we actually planned to follow through. On the day of, his reluctance to take us on the six-hour journey was obvious. “I don’t want my mom to find out,” he worried.

There was a sense of urgency, though. Helka was trying to extend her stay in Canada, but without approval from the exchange agency she'd be leaving in just over a week. In order to convince Kyle, I sweetened the deal by offering him something that only an 18-year-old boy could appreciate the true value of—two 7-11 dollars and a fully stamped Subway sub club card. (Okay, and I’m sure it also didn’t hurt that we were occasional make-out buddies at the time.)

With that, it was a done deal. We piled into his car—me in a ‘70s rainbow belly shirt, Helka with her red hair piled in a loose ponytail, Kyle with an anxious look on his face and pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas in the CD player.

I don't remember the drive there. All I remember is arriving in the city and being completely overwhelmed; there were more than two lanes of traffic and we had no clue where were going. It was a classic case of small town kids trying to navigate the "big" city. 

In due time, we found my brother's apartment and Andrew agreed to drive us to Whyte Avenue. It was late, but we managed to score the last two appointments of the day at Divine. "Just so you know, I don't approve of this," Andrew told us in obligatory older-brother fashion.

I went first. The tattoo artist had a lazy eye. While one eye was looking down at my hip, the other eye was vacantly staring up towards me. “Are you sure you girls don’t want something bigger?” he prompted. “I feel bad doing so little.”

But no, it was enough. We took pictures that day--each of us grinning into the camera, thrilled as the black pigment settled into our skin. It didn't feel like the end of an era. It felt like the start of something new.

That night, as we drove north towards Cold Lake, we sang along to Sublime. "Yes," I thought, satisfied with the burning ink on my left hip. "Love is what I've got."