Monthly Archives: April, 2012

My Iron Lady

(Warning: there’s a lot of cussing in this one.)

Even before Tuesday, I hated taxi cabs in this city.

Being sans-automobile means relying on others for your transportation, be it the kindness of friends, the bus, or … ugh … taxi.

My reasons for not owning a car are purely economic.  I live downtown so about 90% of the places I want to go are accessible by foot. Many of the places in the remaining 10% are accessible by Ottawa’s bus system. It’s not perfect, but for a $3.25 cash fare it’s as good I need for my occasional trips to B’Orleans, Farrhaven, or the Dirty South Keys.

Sometimes the bus schedule is rather inconvenient, like when I’m taking an early morning flight. Its overcrowding was one of the factors that lead to me going on my weight loss journey. Non-Transitway destinations often take far longer than driving directly. One more drink at a friend’s party may mean missing the last run of the bus for the night. That’s when I’ll call a cab.

In almost any city I’ve been to in Canada, the United States, and Europe, the cabbies have been unofficial tour guides. They know the city like the back of their hands and can offer you advice on where are the best places to go. If getting from point A to point B means going through a sketchy part of town, they’ll go around for no extra charge. The unwritten contract, of course, is that you tip accordingly. They want to show you best of their city. It’s their home and they’re proud.

Ottawa has been the exception. I’ve rarely had a cab ride I’ve enjoyed in this city. The best ones take my destination, punch it into their GPS, and follow the shortest route. I show my appreciation with a generous tip.

These seem to be the exception, though. The cabs are filthy. Despite a city bylaw prohibiting smoking in the cabs, I’ve been in a few that smelled like ashtrays and even caught some cabbies smoking in their cabs. This is complicated by the fact that most cabs have cloth seats, not leather, which holds in dirt and odour. I was once in one so dusty, I sneezed the entire trip. Most cabbies in this town only half pay attention to their jobs. They’re continuously yacking on their cell phones, often in their native language, and paying little attention to their customers. The second question I often get after “Where would you like to go today?” is “How do we get there?”

If I knew, I wouldn’t be paying you to get me there. You know your city has a problem when the cabbies, often the first point of contact for visitors, don’t know the city their driving in.

The cabbie for my last trip to my friends on Briston Private thought he heard “Preston St.” and didn’t bother entering it in the GPS until we half way there. Even then, I had to show him the address from the Facebook invite into the party so he could enter it while we were driving.

Even the return driver wanted to take the long way because it had a higher speed limit, and was therefore quicker. Still pissed from the experience of getting there, I asked if he was going to charge us the price of the shorter distance. That, apparently would have been cabbie heresy. Take the short way, jackass. Sure, you can talk to your second-cousin-once-removed. I’m only interested in the ginger sitting next to me.

I wish this story was an isolated incident. It wasn’t the first time a cabbie screwed up going to Briston. Vicky and I were in one that got lost on the way twice last February, and would only knock $3 off the fare. I’d take the bus, but it takes OC Transpo an hour to do what a car can do in 20 minutes.

My general contempt for the cabbies in this city crystallized into full blown Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction righteous fury this week.

At 2:37 pm on Tuesday, I received the following text message from Kalin: “Ummm…. Don’t freak. But I’m en route to hosp. I got hit by a car. Am okay.”

Of course, I immediately freaked the fuck out. When your girlfriend tells you she’s been hit by a car, how do you not freak out?  In the flurry of text messages that followed I learned that she was crossing Wellington St. on a walk light and a taxi cab made a left off of Bank St. and hit her. She bounced off the hood, leaving an arse-sized dent, and landed on her side. If there was any intersection to get struck in in Ottawa, I’m so glad it was this one. It’s right in front of the parliamentary precinct. The RCMP on duty heard the accident and immediately rendered assistance until paramedics and City of Ottawa police arrive. I will be forever grateful to them and the bystanders who stopped to help. There are some good people in this city, after all.

My immediate instinct was to go to the hospital and be with her. I looked at the OC Transpo schedule and it was going to take me an hour to get there and it was only in Alta Vista. Since she couldn’t yet tell me what cab company hit her, there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to call one for fear of inadvertently rewarding the company that just assaulted my girlfriend. Not since I watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center on CNN had I felt so impotent. I remembered she was supposed to go to dinner with her Aunt Mary while I was doing my running clinic and suggested she call her, if only to postpone dinner. Mary and her Uncle Terry rushed to her side and were there far quicker than carless me could get there.

After a couple of hours, she was discharged. A few cuts and bruises, possibly some deep tissue injuries, but nothing broken. She probably won’t be running for a little while, either.  We hope to get her back in form for the Race Weekend 5K. The reasons for this seeming miracle is her history of physical fitness. While cancer may have forced her to the sidelines for the last couple of years, prior to her diagnosis she was involved in dance, volleyball, running, and even surfing. She knows how to fall. Most breaks in such accidents aren’t from the strike but from sticking an arm or leg out to break your fall. She did as she would had her dance partner dropped her and went limp. She’s been pretty stiff the last couple of days, but time and physiotherapy heals all wounds.

Here sense of humour came back quickly. When I asked her the next morning how she felt, she said, “Like I’ve been hit by a car.”

As we sat at my breakfast table the next morning, she recounted what happened as she filled out her police report and what the police told her the cabbie said. He didn’t see her.

Now for the Angry Boyfriend rant:

How the fuck do you not see a 5 foot 9 inch red head? For Christ’s sake, she’s taller than Joan Halloway! She’s glows in the daylight, more or less the dark. So you obviously failed in the basics of “look where you are going” in cabbie school but they gave you a license, anyway.

Before becoming a cabbie, were you Ron White’s mechanic at Sears who missed lug nut day at tire college?

For almost killing my girlfriend, what does this asshole get: a ticket for failing to yield for a pedestrian which carries a meagre $150 fine and a three point deduction from his license. The saving grace is the conviction will invariably cause his cabbie license to be revoked and this guy will be fired.

Oh, wait.

Because the conviction will result in the loss of a job, the cabbie union will likely be sending a lawyer to appeal the ticket. Yes, there’s a cabbie union in Ottawa. Hell, I’ve even protests by a so-called panhandler’s union. That’s why they suck so badly, no fear of termination.

I have nothing against unions, per se. My grandfather, Donald MacEachern, was an active member of the carpenter’s union in Cape Breton and even served as it’s president. My uncle Brian Gardner, was a steelworker at Sydney Steel. The Reads came to from Wiggan, England, a town so awful that George Orwell wrote a book about it. They were going to North Carolina to work the coal mines. When their steamship stopped in Sydney harbour to take on supplies, they discovered BESCO’s mines were recruiting right on the docks. My great-grandfather convinced the family that they didn’t have to go all the way to North Carolina to make a new life for themselves. The price he would pay for this was his brother, who would die in a collapse.

These were people who built my community and my country. They laboured under life-threatening conditions. The unions were originally formed not to make rich men out of the workers, but to fight wage cuts by the employer. They didn’t even campaign to hold wages steady, just to keep the cuts reasonable. A far cry from today’s movement which seems to be about protecting incompetence instead of promoting excellence. The result is, at best, mediocrity.

That’s okay, union man. We’ll be there, too. You will not be getting this cheery look:

This is who your client hit, asshole.

No, the sharpness you feel in between your shoulders will be the daggers glared by this man:

Yeah, I'm looking at you.

You’re just doing your job, you say? That’s okay. So am I.

Ottawa friends, we’ve put up with this horseshit for too long. It’s time to stop accepting mediocrity and demand better. Demand:

  1. The cabbie use the GPS and enter the destination before departing.
  2. They not talk on their cell phones while they are transporting you.
  3. The cab be reasonably clean and not smell like an ashtray.

Is that too much to ask? It’s not like I’m asking the city to amend its bylaws and increase its standards.

Although…

We’re a national capital. We deserve world class service from our cab services and drivers. Most cabs in this city are an embarrassment.

I’m so thankful Kalin is on the mend. Of the many things that could have happened Tuesday, a few cuts, bruises and deep tissue injuries are the best one could hope for.  She made cancer her bitch, now she’s going make one cabbie rue the day he didn’t look where he was going.

Who needs Baroness Thatcher when you have Kalin McCluskey in your life?

Allons-y!

Busting Blocks

I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block this week. Ironically, I just finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, the book he started writing about the craft of writing in the late 1990s and only picked up and finished in the earlier part of 2000s when he was working through his own case of writer’s block while he was recovering from the injuries he sustained when he was hit by a van while walking on a country road near his summer home in Maine.

His advice on writer’s block is to keep writing, but move on to something else. He did it with a number of his novels, including The Stand.

It seemed to work for a certain insurance salesman with an interest in naval history. He was 400 pages into his first novel and hadn’t worked on it for ages when news of an accident  with a Russian nuclear submarine off the coast of Newfoundland inspired him to set aside his first novel and start another work. The insurance salesman was Tom Clancy and the novel was the Hunt for Red October. You know, the one they made into a movie with Sean Connery speaking Russian with a Scottish accent.

Yes, again with the Scots.

His advice may work for novelists who can always put one idea aside and explore the next one they have until they either finish the work and get published or give up entirely and re-dedicate themselves to their day jobs. Even though I wrote about taking advice last week, I’m not sure it really applies to bloggers.

Here’s my reasoning: We bloggers tend to serve niche markets. Novels are broadcast. Blogs are narrowcast. For those who have been with me since the beginning, you’ve seen this blog evolve from my rumination on my weight loss journey to a broader focus on living an active, healthy lifestyle. If I take a week or two off, would you miss me? Probably not. As awesome as I think I am, I know there’s competition for your attention. There’s only a couple million lifestyle blogs on WordPress alone. That’s why I retweet the blog daily, to get your attention if you didn’t read it on Friday.

That, and I’m a bit of a stats whore. It’s affirmation in the form of page views.

Oh crap, I’m writing psychobabble. I DO have writer’s block.

Remember, I’m from that transitional generation when therapy was mowing the lawn while crying and teachers sent problem kids to the principal, not the doctor. When my elementary school was renovated, they built a nurse’s station but didn’t have the money to hire a nurse. They were planning to, though.

As an aside, the school district spent Lord knows how much in late 1980s dollars to put a computer lab in my junior high school only to not budget for the actual computer paper. In the two years I went to MacLennan Junior High before moving to New Brunswick, I saw the inside of that room no more than six times.   It would mostly be used as a holding pen for us students who had achieved 85% or more in our courses, thus gaining accreditation without the requirement of writing final exams but with the requirement of attending class until the exam period began. The last week of school was a marathon of Settlers Trail, or whatever that game based on the Donner Party was called

Bloggers can’t really switch topics, either. If I started serializing my latest attempt at writing a novel, a trashy, pulpy mashup of the Anna Chapman case with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, I would just cheapen the brand I’m trying to build with this blog. We can start other blogs, but means finding new readers for that blog and leaves the one with readers fallow. aka problem #1.

Thanks for the advice, Stephen. Really. I’m just going to chug along, though.

Thankfully, running always provides me with something to write about.

Sunday’s 16km LSD run was a gorgeous run along the river and around Lac Leamy. Some of the bridges along that route can be a little wobbly. When there’s a dozen runners crossing them at once, they can be downright bouncy. It was a fun run. There was a public park chalet on the side of the lake opposite the casino which made for a convenient pit stop past the mid-way point of the run. I repeated last week’s new habits of honey and salt in my water bottle and eating my energy chews. I finished the run happy, full of energy. In fact, I met up with Kalin for coffee and did some running around after lunch. I didn’t feel tired until mid-afternoon.

Tuesday was a nice 5k tempo run. My runners asked if we could go on the pathway along the river when we got to the Gatineau side, behind the Museum of Civilization. I obliged. It was pretty cold until we got to the other side of the Portage Bridge with us running into the wind until that point. There was another bouncy bridge along the trail. Every time I run across one of those with my group, the Indiana Jones theme pops in my head.

Wednesday was our second to last night of hill repeats. We did 8, but we split them between the Rideau Locks and Fleet St. I know the map is starting to look like what happens when I leave my nephews alone with my road atlas and a crayon. I liked splitting the hills, it gave some of the runners who had trouble with the steeper hills at the locks a chance to run it off a bit before tackling the last four hills. While I like doing the hills for strength training, it is boring as hell. Sure, there’s that runner’s high after it’s done, but while I’m doing it I’m almost as bored as I would be on a treadmill.

Almost. At least it’s outdoors. It was a much nicer night than Tuesday, too.

On the food front, since it’s BBQ season, I had a hankering for a salmon on a cedar plank. I made a lemon-maple-bourbon-chili glaze.  It’s pretty easy. Equal parts lemon juice, maple syrup and bourbon (I used Jim Beam) mixed with as many chili paper flakes as you can handle. Periodically coat salmon while cooking on a cedar plank. If you have never cooked on a cedar plank before, I would not recommend doing this indoors.

My word count is now reading in excess of a thousand words. Not bad for suffering writer’s block.

Allons-y!

Taking Advice

Is it better to give than receive?

If you’re asking about advice, the question very quickly becomes a false dichotomy.

Receiving advice gives you the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of those that have come before. They’ve learned from their mistakes so you don’t have to.

Giving advice means you can provide others with the benefit of your wisdom and genius (assuming you have either). You’ve made a few mistakes, learned from them, now you can spare your friends the pain and humiliation of repeating the mistakes you’ve made.

Of course, it doesn’t actually matter if you don’t actually take your own advice or the advice that has been freely given to you and actually use it.

Case in point: a tale of two Sundays.

My 14K run two Sundays ago was an example of what not to do.  I came prepared. I had my gel blocks. I just didn’t use them.

D’oh!

Or to quote Jack Layton, “hashtag fail!” (See, I’m not a total right wing jerk. Just a partial one)

As I was finishing the second to last interval, I could feel my energy reserves dropping like a stone. I was running on the proverbial fumes. I would now like to apologize to every car I’ve ever owned for routinely driving you for days after the needle hit “E”.

As I wrote last week, I was pretty hangry by the end. Discovering I neglected to pack a few items to change out of my wet clothes on a cold, rainy Sunday did not help either.

What a difference a week made. Easter Sunday we did 16K. It was great run along the pathways on both sides of the Ottawa River. The weather was fantastic. The Gatineau side was nice and hilly, making up for missing the usual Wednesday night hill training. I started taking my gel blocks around kilometre eight. I also added some honey and salt to my water bottle to give me some more sugar. Even if I repeated last week’s mistake and didn’t eat the chews, I would still get some extra energy from the water.

Both worked like a charm. I felt fantastic at the end of the 16k. Desperately in need of a quick boost, but nothing a cup coffee and a date square from Bridgehead couldn’t fix.

I didn’t bring a shake with me for post-run nutrition. It being Easter Sunday, a statutory holiday, the Running Room was officially closed as a store. It was physically open for the run club but the cash registers were closed and the store would be locked up at 11 am sharp. If I got my group back after that, the shake would nicely locked away until Monday. Since the weekly e-mail with the run route didn’t get to my inbox in time and given my track record of detours, this was a very real possibility. As such, I only brought what I needed for the run. No change of clothes. Even winged it on the shorts and didn’t wear my track pants for the walk to the store.

In the end, the route was so simple even I couldn’t get us lost. We were back by about 10:30. As I wrote earlier, felt great, just a little tired and need of a caffeine boost. No time to sit and chat with my running friends, though. I had to scoot home, get cleaned, and get cleaned up for the noon Easter service at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Made it a few minutes late, but found a seat in the choir loft. Fantastic service, but when I got out of mass I was ravenously hungry. I stopped at the first Sunday brunch I came across, Chez Lucien.

Tuesday we had a great session on body mechanics and running. Following the clinic, we ran a nice 5K tempo using the two bridges route. A little chilly with a few sprinkles of rain, but, as we say here in Canada, at least I don’t have to shovel it. I actually like it cool on these short, fast runs for obvious reasons. That said, race day is typically hot and muggy. The more training in the proximate conditions of race day, the better.

Wednesday’s hill training was fun. After missing last week’s hills, I took the less experienced runners in my group back to tho the Fleet St. hill to get our 7 repeats in. If you click the link, the GPS data looks like the kind of scribblings my nephews would do if I left them unattended with crayons and my road atlas. Another nice cool night. I made sure to have the stronger runners who finished first cheer on the ones who were finishing last.

I’ve gone from keeping things pretty steady on hills to charging them like I was an extra in Braveheart.  You can thank the cross training for that. The workouts at Greco have a tendency to slightly favour the lower body. No complaints here. For a couple of weeks, I was rather stiff for the Thursday morning Extreme Lean exercises. Despite increasing the number of hills, that didn’t seem to be the case this week at all. I got right into the circuit, starting with the burpees with the upside down bosu ball.

Looking forward to my first half marathon. RunOttawa released a 3D model of the route.

Looks fun. We’ve been cannibalizing the route for weeks into smaller routes to give the groups an idea of what they’re in for.

Food wise, been eating a lot of leftovers this week. Last week’s prime rib was transformed on the weekend into a huge stir fry that I could portion out for the rest of the week.

With Kalin away visiting her familyfor Easter weekend, it was just Vicky and I for Sunday dinner. For a change of scenery, we did it at her place. We made this lamb with fennel substituting caraway, sweet potatoes roasted with basil, eggplant, asparagus and sautéd kale. We split the leftovers and I will be having the last of my portion for lunch today.

Monday was pretty much a cheat day. Vicky and I caught a movie, Hunger Games, and I had popcorn (which apparently is loaded with antioxidants and is considered a great snack until you put butter on it. Whoops.) Kalin came back from New Brunswick with a bounty of the best New Brunswick and the Maritimes have to offer. Dinner was the other Greco, donairs, chased down with a growler of Best Bitter from Picaroons. She also brought me back a four pack of their Timber Hog Stout and some hot lamb and hot beef samosas from Samosa Delight at the Boyce Farmer’s Market.  I definitely kicked it extra hard on the fitness front this week to make up for it. We even had extra burpees this morning at Greco Lean and Fit because it was someone’s birthday, 36 in all.

Allons-y!

Painting pictures with words

Thanks for all the feedback and response on last week’s extended rant against the current state of the fast food industry. It felt really great to get that off my chest. Since I’m currently not working, I’ve been at my apartment with the television on while I’m doing other things (like writing this blog, looking for jobs to apply for, etc.) more than I would otherwise. As such, I’m seeing the same ads again and again and again …

You get the point.

After three months of seeing men portrayed as scruffy, fat slobs, I felt like an entire industry was insulting me. It wasn’t like I was ever going to order a Double Down, I didn’t eat that the first time it came to Canada when I was still fat, but it was the blatant pandering to our obesity epidemic.

And you wonder why obesity is contagious despite not being caused by a virus? The obese are now in the majority, let’s not encourage them to buy the healthier option, but instead let’s create menu options to get them even fatter.  If the zombie apocalypse happens, these guys will start serving brains. At least they’l stop cheating on their wives with their secretaries:

I suppose they figured they could never get away with what the alcohol industry does routinely and portray their products as a pathway to desirability. The irony is the average night’s consumption of their product contains the same amount of calories as the fast food burger, which was likely consumed before, during, or after alcohol consumption.

I guess this must be how women feel when portrayed in popular culture as Louboutin and sex-crazed bimbos. At least they get portrayed as objects of desire instead of unkempt, overweight underachievers in a permanent state of arrested development.

Besides, most of the “bimbo” ads are targeted at men’s wallets, not women’s. Even the wallet as target is questionable. Kate Upton for Carl’s Jr., anyone?

Though politics and academia have been more vocation as of late, at heart I’m an idea man.  You’ve probably guessed from following this blog, that I like to write. Writing is my creative outlet. Some create images with paint, some with moving pictures, but I do it with words.

Advertising and marketing is basically crafting an idea regarding a product that makes . When I see crappy, pandering ads it’s not because the product suck (although it probably does), it’s because the company hired a lazy, creative  ad guy who spends more time dreaming that he was Don Draper than actually being Don Draper.

Just remember, wannabes, it doesn’t take a BBA or MBA to come up with an idea. Most of the creative people I know in the marketing profession hold degrees in humanities and fine arts, if any formal education at all.

I just can’t believe these assclowns have jobs despite the declining sales of the products they shill. Apparently an ad firm is harder to fire than a bureaucrat.

Enough venting, more running.

But first, a little public service announcement. For those of us in the Ottawa area, Bridgehead is running it’s Sole Responsibility programme again this year. You can click the link for more information. It’s a great way for us runners to pay forward our good fortune by donating our used running shoes.

As I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, I attended Kalin’s 5K clinic on Friday for their “Bring-a-Buddy” night. It was a relatively quick run, 3 intervals of 7 and 1. I think being there helped nudge her out of her comfort zone. Within in a few blocks, we went from back of the pack to near the front. If not for a couple of guys determined to sprint the last 500 m, she would have been the first one back to the store. On Sunday, she and Vicky, herself making a return to the Sunday morning runs, ran together and were even faster than the two of us on Friday. They outpaced the entire group to the point where they ran further than the range of their instructor’s voice and missed their walk breaks.

I only keep awesome people as friends and the women in my life are no exception.

My Sunday’s run lived up to the name of the day, April Fools’ Day.  The prank was that it was actually spring, but you wouldn’t know it from what was thrown at us. It was a great run, but over the course of the morning we ran through every kind of weather except sun and even a modicum of warmth. At several points, we had heavy flurries. There were rain showers. The nicest part of the morning was when it was just cold and windy.

Like last week, I loaded the route into MapMyRun.com and sent it to my iPhone. Thankfully, I didn’t need it really need it. I only went to the phone twice, once after we had crossed the locks by Carleton, to make determine if I should go left or right at a fork in the pathways, and the other to turn the volume down since the computer voice was bugging the runners (and me , too). Since I used it proactively, I didn’t get my group lost. No extra kilometre this week.

Of the three items I mentioned in last weeks post – hydration, nutrition, and bathroom breaks – all three were important last Sunday. I was well prepared on both hydration and nutrition, but failed to act on nutrition. I brought along a pack of Clif Shots Bloks energy chews, but didn’t actually use them. Around the 12k mark, I could feel the emptiness in my stomach. I knew I had enough energy to finish the run and there was my protein smoothie waiting for me at the store. By the time I got back to the store, I was beyond hungry and it was affecting my mood. It was pretty close to hangry (hungry + angry = hangry). Digging into my pack to find I had forgotten to include certain items to change into. I arrived at Bridgehead in the midst of a caloric deficit in wet clothes.

Thankfully there were two things there to cheer me up: Kalin and coffee. We haven’t been dating that long, but Kalin has learned one thing about me: I’m not a morning person. Until I have that morning coffee or the post-workout endorphins kick in, I’m pretty grumpy. For some reason, I haven’t scared her off yet.

Joanne gave me a few tips to help prevent this from happening again. One is so simple, I should I have thought of it myself: honey in my water. It will give me a natural caloric boost while hydrating me. Can’t bonk on my pace group. That would not be good.

Tuesday’s tempo run was a quick run in the opposite direction of the route we took the previous Tuesday. Not sure if it was any easier on the runners. Last week had us do the double hill by the Rideau Locks near the end, but we still had a kilometre left so we could take a bit of a break and slowly jog the rest to get the heart rates steady. The opposite way has a series of small hills in rapid succession, with not much room on the plateaus to have a quick walk break before hitting the next one.

I actually missed Wednesday’s hill runs. I had a job interview. I made up for it with my Greco Extreme Lean workout the next morning, and worked the legs extra hard.

Apparently, it rained outdoors on Wednesday while I was absent. The grounds of Parliament were soaked when I left.  My group, though, tackled the double hill by the Rideau locks 6 times with gusto. They’re a great group, always pushing themselves to go a little faster and farther.

In the right conditions, a run in the rain can be truly relaxing, like a jog through a shower.

I still prefer sunny day runs, though.

Allons-y!

And Happy Easter!