Wednesday, November 3, 2010

50 great things about Toronto

It's been a long while since I posted, and it's been an eventful 5? 6? months. And I'll get around to writing about some of all that stuff eventually. But with all the hand-wringing about the election of boor-elect Rob Ford, it's been a bit of a grim time. (The ever-dropping temperature and shorter days haven't helped.)

However, my friend Ruth from Brooklyn posted an article from the Village Voice on her Facebook page listing 50 things New Yorkers can be euphoric about. Maybe it was also spurred on my similar election news in that country, I don't know, but I thought I'd give it a look since it was a slow day at work. So I thought I'd put my spare time to use and create my own list of 50 Great Things about Toronto - not out of any attempt to compete (since, c'mon, New York's New York), but rather to celebrate at a time when some of us could use a pick-me-up.

50) You’ll never see a bad band at The Dakota Tavern. (Provided you get in.)

49 ) You may love Steam Whistle or hate it, but you do have to love their trucks, and their Roundhouse location.

48) Ward’s Island. Who needs a fake Centreville village when you’ve got a real collection of unique Bohemian cottages that are inhabited year-round?

47) The St. Lawrence Market area: the only housing project anywhere that works.  Probably because no one knows it's a project.

46) The summertime obsession with patios. When summers are as short as they can be here, we have to make the most of them.

45) Okay, so it’s about getting out of Toronto, but cottaging is a major part of the Toronto experience (as long as you know someone who has one). Is there any better holiday than May 2-4?

44) Our love-hate relationship with the TTC. We complain (often with good reason) but then we also proudly wear a pin representing our favourite station.

43) Every time I see Ms. Lube, I smile.

42) You can still run into any one of the Kids In The Hall at any given time. Not only does the show still hold up, but no one ever made Toronto look cooler.

41) We take the fact we have a huge gay village and Pride parade for granted. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a good thing.

40) A significant chunk of the most prime land downtown is occupied by the beautiful U of T campus.

39) Everyone has an opinion on the CNE air show.

38) The smell of chocolate from the Nestle chocolate factory that always wafts through my neighbourhood on warm days. Okay, it’s a personal one, but hey.

37) The Toronto International Film Festival, aka that time when everyone pretends to care about movie stars, when all they really want is free promotional stuff.

36) The Summerhill liquor store.

35) Massey Hall, the remarkable site of two of the best live albums of all time.

34) Canada Goose jackets: the official uniform of winter. Literally, it seems like everyone has one.

33) Trinity Bellwoods Park, where impossibly cool meets impossibly ridiculous in a bucolic setting.

32) It’s not that we have a Nuit Blanche that’s exciting; it’s that everyone is disappointed with it every year, because we expect better.  Nothing wrong with demanding the best.

31) Kensington Market. I mean, that's just a no-brainer.

30) Our love-hate relationship with the Maple Leafs. It's endlessly infuriating, disappointing, mindless--but there's nothing like this city after a Leafs playoff win. (If anyone remembers what that was like.)

29) Canada Day fireworks at Ashbridges Bay. Just remember: stick around for a beer afterwards, because the exiting traffic is insane.

28) High-class poutine wars. Whoever thought that would happen?

27) You’re always on set, with all the filming that goes on here. I even once got pizza from the craft service truck for Good Will Hunting.

26) Admit it: Casa Loma IS pretty cool.

25) The Bloor-Yonge pedestrian scramble. After Sidney Crosby’s goal won Olympic hockey gold for Canada earlier this year, I went out to enjoy the celebrations. Every time the lights would change to the four-way pedestrian scramble, the crowd would run into the middle, jump up and down and cheer, then as the timer ticked down, they’d run back to the corners to allow traffic to continue. Euphoric but polite and orderly: the ultimate Canadian celebration.

24) Before Drake came straight outta Forest Hill, there was Maestro Fresh-Wes. And he’s still around, being positive and all that.

23) Snakes and Lattes. The name alone actually qualifies it, but so does the idea.

22) This guy was in my friend’s band for a while.  Apparently, he does a thing where he balances a lawnmower on his face while people toss cabbages into the whirling blades.

21) Alleyways in the Annex.

20) Not only is the Toronto Public Library system amassing a collection of local indie bands’ CDs for circulation, they also host live shows.  Which is way cooler than, well, most libraries.

19) In most places, the Exhibition grounds would be full of people all the time. Here, they’re ignored most of the time – which at least lets you explore them more easily.

18) So many ravines, putting you into a wilderness just steps from an office tower.

17) Whenever two strangers accidently brush each other, both say "sorry" without thinking.

16) No one bats an eyelash at the name “Stroumboulopoulos”. In fact, a lot of people even know how to spell it.

15) Riverdale Farm. A real farm, downtown!

14) This must be the best city anywhere to watch the World Cup, because every team is the home team.

13) Not always the best clientele, but the Imperial Pub is a treasured relic.

12) College, Dundas, King and even Dupont all have their moments, but Bloor and Queen streets seem to take you through 40 towns countries each.  Both also offer you the opportunity to say "Oh, I just got this at the Hudson's Bay Company" like some 18th-century voyageur.

11) I consider it a badge of honour that Dan Burke owes me $50 for a gig. One day, there needs to be a movie about him.

10) The fluegelhorn-playing bartender at the Communist’s Daughter. Not because he is a bartender who can play fluegelhorn. I mean because he does both at once.

9) The Wilco-themed sandwich shop, which I’m hoping starts a trend that culminates in a “Sonic Youth Hostel.”

8) Porter. All of it: the pointless ferry ride, the downtown island setting, the stewardess’ hats, the free drinks – but especially the stem ginger cookies.

7) You can live here without having to work two or three jobs. Okay, not everyone is well off, of course, but compared to other major cities, this one’s quite affordable.

6) Fact: “I Melt With You” by Modern English has been played at the Dance Cave every night for 30 years. Unconfirmed: Pajama Man has been there just as long.

5) Trash Palace. In fact, pretty much anything Stacey Case does.

4) Everyone in Toronto has a good story about The Blackout. Still the best night ever.

3) There are tons of good-looking people here. If you’re reading this, you’re one of them. Aww.

2) There really IS a Degrassi Street.

1) If you can’t see the CN Tower, you’re not in Toronto. You can use it to pick up over-the-air HD signals. You can use it to navigate your way around the city. And, if you’re like me, the moment you see it from the window of a car/plane/whatever, you know you’re home.

That's my supremely un-definitive list. I'll know I'll think of more things in the coming days, and I know not everyone will agree with all of it.  But hey, I thought of these fifty things in about an hour - the fact it was that easy to think of fifty things should really count as the 51st thing on my list.

Monday, March 1, 2010

G Turns To D

Chances are that most of you reading this were re-directed here by Ed’s announcement on the Beth In Battle Mode MySpace blog that we’re calling it a day. It seems like a good opportunity to just provide a few personal thoughts about the run we’ve had, and share a few memories. And give you a hint of what’s coming up!

Funnily enough, I never intended to join Beth In Battle Mode; I had just wrapped up my old band The Gardens Faithful and asked Ed and Dave if they needed an organ player for a few songs at an upcoming show. I played the second half of the second BIBM show ever, and we had so much fun that we kept doing it. For their part, I’m not sure they ever thought that it would last as long as it did. We were a band without a plan, which is how we ended up with our unique “garage-prog-disco” sound; we didn’t set out to be any kind of band, we just played what made us happy. In fact, we’d often go with whatever made us laugh the most.

Over five years, we definitely laughed a lot. We played some memorable shows: cramming into the Embassy with a future-star-studded lineup including Born Ruffians and The Rural Alberta Advantage; a joyous 16th birthday party in Whitby; being bolstered onstage by a passing soul singer in Guelph; and pretty much all of shows we played at Rancho Relaxo and C’est What. Our first album was bizarrely popular in bootleg form in Russia and Greece; our second album was, I felt, unfairly dismissed. And we just did a three-track EP that I think is some of our best work.

However, there’s a reason why most bands feature people in their early 20’s. It’s an advantage to have a lame job you can ditch at any time, a willingness to couch surf after playing in front of 6 people in Hamilton, and no mortgage payments to make. For us, we all have other priorities at this point – especially Ed, a new father as of two weeks ago. That’s why we’re calling it a day as a regular, working musical entity.

We may play the occasional one-off show sometime down the line. We may not. At very least, I’m positive the three of us will play music together again, even if it’s just for ourselves in a rehearsal space. Because don’t think for a second that the band is going on the shelf due to any kind of personal or musical conflicts; I will miss the band, but I won’t miss Ed and Dave – because we’ll still be hanging out. They are two of the funniest, smartest, trustworthy and just plain best friends a guy could ever have. I wish all musicians could be so lucky.

So, what’s next? Well, obviously our farewell show on April 9th is going to be a whale of a time. I’m also playing with a band called All Night Long, and we’ll be opening for the reunited Thrush Hermit on March 26th. And, I’m finally getting around to doing some solo stuff the way I planned to before Beth In Battle Mode led me happily astray. So as one chapter closes, another begins. Now, if I could just remember to blog more often…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You're never gonna believe this.

I was going to write a blog post about how I was too busy to write a blog post, but then I got too busy to write even THAT blog post.

Don't worry, I'll have something new soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

You can't beat a Coleco

I’ve always been better at marginal sports, and I use the term “sports” fairly lightly. I was a fair soccer player, but lacked the requisite tolerance for pain that hockey and baseball required. I didn’t even attempt to play rugby during my stint at private school, opting for cricket instead (though that was because I thought, “When am I ever going to get a chance to play cricket again?”) Ultimately, though, my sporting highlight reel would feature things like kickball, bowling, and that time I beat Lee Sheppard in a hotly contested game of Whack-A-Mole at a party on Dovercourt Rd.

It would also feature lots of table hockey. From grade 5 to grade 7, I played table hockey for hours every day with my best friend Andrew Treash. We created our own league, the THL, which featured a whole host of teams (including, presciently, a team based in Phoenix, ten years before the Coyotes), 60-minute games, and its own magazine which I wrote and illustrated. Andrew won the vast majority of the games, with his lightning speed and stellar goaltending, and we’d do play-by-play onto Maxell cassette tapes. I’m pretty sure I still have most of all that stuff: the teams, the tapes, the magazines. After all, it’s one of the main things I remember about my childhood.

In my first year of university, my roommate Andrew Jones brought in his table hockey board, perhaps thinking he could gain some kind of domestic upper-hand. Fat chance. I repeatedly trounced him in a series of best-of-7 “championships”. The last one was called the “Andrew Jones Tries To Gain Some Respect Cup” – which I swept in four games. My later roommate Dennis often met a similar fate. Poor guys; little did they know they were facing a future two-time Toronto table hockey champion.

Yes, for you lovers of subcultures, there IS a competitive table hockey circuit. And an intense one too, full of decades-old rivalries, hours of practicing, and even guys who study video. There are debates over which style of board is best: the 70’s/80’s Coleco model, or the modern Stiga boards from Sweden? The competition takes place in GTA basements, in Knights of Columbus halls in Peterborough, I even played in a tournament held in the offices of the Hamilton Spectator. The men who play – and they’re almost all men in their 30s or 40s, sometimes with their sons, dogs and the occasional wife – are Tim Hortons drinkers and easy laughers. Apart from the few truly competitive ones, they’re out have a beer and re-live their own afterschool games. But the best of the best? You'd better believe they can make a miniature puck zip faster than you can blink. They may not be professionals, but they're definitely pros.

Since my two wins at the Toronto Classic tournament in 2000 and 2001, my skills have rusted like the board I grew up playing. But recently, I’ve been eager to dig up a few boards and host a regular table hockey night. I even just picked up a vintage 1960 Eagle Toys board (pictured above). It needs a little work, but I’m hoping to have it up and running soon. Here’s hoping I can even get Andrew Treash, who now lives in the area and played in the last Toronto Classic with me, to come over for a game or two. We might never have made the NHL, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still compete for the Stanley Cup.