Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Few Things

Winnipeg urban planning: so close! And yet, so far.

My apologies for my sudden disappearance! Those of you who remember my previous work also remember that I'm prone to disappearances, but this one was more of a technologically induced series of exercises in frustration than anything else. Things I Have Learned:

1) Upgrading to Opera 10 (and its persnickety, seemingly arbitrary system of handling cookies) will ruin your every attempt to access Google Accounts, which in my case most notably means my Blogger/Blogspot access. I can get into my account just fine from other browsers, as you can probably tell because you are reading this right now, but I genuinely figured there must be another workaround for this that I was just missing. Then -- quite to my consternation! -- I lost all internet while I was trying to figure it out, meaning I also learned that

2) Sometimes network cables just straight up die from old age. And in arriving at that particular diagnosis, meticulously inspecting every necessary component of my beloved desktop computer along the way, I also concluded that

3) Network cards built right into the motherboard are a manufacturer's way of telling you that you definitely bought the wrong kind of motherboard. ffffffffffffffffff--


So here I am, and my problems aren't exactly solved, but they're at least held at bay long enough for me to move on to other things. So let's burn it up!

Uptown Magazine! Oh, what a relief it is!

Last Thursday saw my most recent column published here, and it's a rip-snorter of a good read if I do say so myself. Politicians, am I right, guys?

Speaking of politicians -- word came down the pike a couple of days back that Premier hopeful Andrew Swan was formally dropping out of the three-man race to become Gary Doer's inevitably less popular replacement. Tom Brodbeck, man of class as always, berated Swan at length for his decision in yesterday's paper, because if there's one thing that nobody likes it's a man who has a reasonable understanding of his comparative chances in a popularity contest and rationally decides to let the matter drop. Brodbeck busted out "lame", "spineless", "gutless", "wimpy", and "quitter" twice in describing Swan and his exit; I'll grant that I'm not particularly fond of the guy myself either, but damn, bro, ease up a little.

Of course, having said all that, I did draw this to amuse myself earlier today--

--and it's funny how I hadn't realized, until I tried to draw him, how much he reminds me of Egon from Ghostbusters. But you can see how I'm opposed to his policies, rather than directly antagonistic and hostile to the man himself, and clearly this unbecoming self-restraint is why Brodbeck gets a daily newspaper column and shmucks like me are relegated to the internet. Man, I gotta start practicing some personal attacks!

But, anyway. Good to be back!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Winnipeg Transit Sucks (But $20 Hockey Tickets are Pretty Cool)

To think that I had returned to the city and forgotten about Winnipeg Transit's reputation. I was once a fool.

Here's the haps: I gave myself a pleasant surprise this morning by getting out of the house quickly enough to catch the early bus to work, a 16 route that goes to within a few blocks of my workplace. Normally I miss that particular run and catch the bus ten minutes later, which is often considerably slower because on Osborne ten minutes can mean the difference between clear sailing and a dense, impenetrable jungle of sleepy motorists.

How lucky for me, then! How fortuitous! The bus flew through its routine, almost unfettered by the concerns of traffic or red lights, and the situation appeared as though I was going to be good and early for work. Perhaps, even early enough to get something to eat for breakfast that isn't in an individually wrapped bar format? Dare I dream?

So I was in my own little reverie, half asleep with tantalizing visions of potential nutrition dancing in my head, when the bus coasted to an unscheduled stop at the southeast corner of Fort and Graham. And the bus driver, without saying a word to anybody -- no explanation, no warning, no communication whatsoever -- grabbed his backpack from the storage space near his seat and just booked it off the bus as fast as he could go.

You might initially assume, as everyone on the bus did, that this would signal a shift change -- but a "shift change" implies that there was supposed to be a driver showing up to relieve this guy. No, nothing of the sort took place; everyone was left to sit on the bus in silence, watching the very important minutes flit away on those goofy LCD displays the buses have now.

First it was the express bus on the route, the 58, that drove right around and past our idling transport. (Yep, just idlin' away, motor running without a care in the world. Dear environment, fuck you; sincerely, Winnipeg Transit.) There were some murmerings of discontent through the bus at this sight, because the express bus comes about five minutes later, but it's commonly understood that those express buses can be pretty darn fast sometimes. Then most everyone on the bus basically squawked with dismay and vacated the bus as fast as they could, because the later 16 -- the one that comes about ten minutes afterwards, you will note, and the one that does its best glacier impression every time it comes up Osborne -- blew right by our abandoned bus filled with gullible saps like me who honestly believed that Winnipeg Transit can coordinate its employees.

Of course, the east side of Fort and Graham isn't even a real stop, and there was no way to get aboard this later bus. So if you were at Canwest Global Plaza near eight o'clock this morning for that Raise-a-Reader thing, and you saw a devilishly handsome man barrelling across Portage Avenue and into the Exchange District, that was totally me. Sorry I didn't stop to say hi! You can hypothesize from the above what kind of mood I was in at the time. (Would you believe I made it to work on time? I was as surprised as anybody else!)

In conclusion, I wish that Winnipeg Transit were a person so that I could wail on him or her for a while. We can arrange for a sophisticated computer voice synthesizer system to call out the main stops of interest for any visually impaired riders, but we can't have the driver bother to turn and say "sorry, guys, the next driver won't be here for another fifteen minutes"? Really?

Don't even talk to me about "world-class". Anybody who so much as hints at that adjective around me right now is going to eat a left hook to the head. Other Canadian cities enjoy elaborate and convenient transit systems, spanning multiple forms of transportation that intertwine to provide comprehensive coverage of timely transport to any given destination; Winnipeg has buses, and exclusively buses, driven by people who will strand an entire bus worth of people without so much as a word of explanation. I am paying seventy-two dollars and eighty cents a month for this.

Things are not all doom and gloom, however! Remember a couple of years ago when I went busking at the NHL exhibition game and made myself enough money for a few bags of cat food? Well, I missed the exhibition game at the MTS Centre last year (because I was earning a Master's degree in another province, which I think is a pretty good reason), but this year I'll be making the scene -- and this time I actually have tickets to get in!

And so can you! But how, you might wonder? Aren't they sort of expensive, considering that the game will be between the twenty-first and twenty-ninth best teams in a league of thirty? Well, worry not, selfriend! Blind luck compelled me to check the Ticketmaster site for the event today, and sure enough it turns out that there are tickets for $20 in the, shall we say, less desirable areas of the arena. They're up in the 300 level, around the corners that probably have stuff hanging in the way, but there are worse things to blow a twenty and a Thursday evening on.

So I'm going! And so should you, if you aren't doing anything. I'm not holding out a whole lot of hope for the view from these seats -- if they're twenty bucks, they're probably twenty bucks for a reason -- but I'm willing to believe that I'll at least be able to see part of the jumbo screen, and hell, the ambience alone should be a trip.

I'll see you there, sports fans!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lupe Fiasco w/ Grand Analog -- University of Manitoba Max Bell Fieldhouse, Friday, September 19th, 2009

Oh, hey, this was only four days ago! Look how timely I am. (I blame Fight Night Round 4.) Anyway--

They're lucky the headliners came through, because this show was heading straight for disaster territory without them.

Now, let me just note beforehand that I was already setting my standards for the organizational aspects of this show pretty low. It was being put on by UMSU, who I remember well enough from my University of Manitoba days that I wasn't about to put too much stock in their large-scale event planning -- and it cost me literally twice as much for a ticket as it would have if I were still a student there, not that UMSU's choice of Ticketmaster to handle the general admission tickets helped my sense of goodwill any. A $5.50 surcharge on a $35 ticket? For what? For printing the piece of paper it comes on? My little brother, a U of M student himself now, dropped $20 cash at Answers on campus -- no surcharges, no taxes, no administrative fees or convenience fees or handling fees -- and they gave him a strip of paper UMSU had photocopied the information on themselves.

The show was slated to happen on the roof of the University Parkade, but then -- the day before the show, you'll note -- they changed the venue to the Max Bell Fieldhouse. (Not that you would have known this without visiting the UMSU website!) It seems they got greedy and just kept selling tickets, or they got greedy and just wanted a bigger beer garden, or they were just shortsighted to begin with and hadn't thought their idea for a super-loud lights-heavy megashow on an open-air roof near a residential area all the way through -- or some combination of the above, which I am not ruling out. But the overselling part seems set in stone, particularly when they announced they'd hit the Max Bell's capacity of three thousand at seemingly the exact same time as they announced the venue change. (In fact, if you look at their news archive there, the sold-out notice appears to have actually been posted earlier than the venue change notice. What the hell, UMSU.)

But hey, no problem, right? I've been to a few of the SmartPark jazz concerts held in that very fieldhouse, and even though you have to bring your own chair for them they've always been organized reasonably well. Not only does the fieldhouse have several entrances that are perfectly suitable for setting up ticket stations, but some of them are right along the exterior of the building -- perfect for getting people through with a minimum of fuss and keeping wait times as short as possible!

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

So what they decided on instead, get this, this is pretty great -- what they decided to do instead is have one lone solitary ticket station, specifically placed well within the building at the end of a winding path around the building, up a hill, and through the attached hockey arena. (Literally, through; you could actually see the Bisons hockey game, in progress, from the admissions table.) They sold three thousand tickets, they had one entrance with maybe three or four people very slowly taking tickets, and they acted surprised when three thousand people showed up and got upset about waiting in line for up to an hour.

"An hour" is an exaggeration, but only very slightly; my brother and I were in line for fifty-five minutes, and we had the good fortune of getting there before half the crowd showed up. Let me tell you, there's really no better way to spend a Friday evening than standing in a line of three thousand people under a hideous Spirited Energy banner. (Ugh, god, Spirited Energy. There are seriously people who want Andrew Swan running the province? Really?)

Of course, kids these days have no sense of decorum or manners, so the "line" quickly became a source of conflict between people who acknowledge the concept and people who don't. Being unwaveringly self-important is apparently a prerequisite to attending the University of Manitoba, these days, because there was cutting and running to the front and general hooliganry en masse -- my favourite people were the ones who kept their cell phones pressed to their heads as they ran, in an effort to avoid eye contact or interaction with anybody who might make them feel bad about it -- and then, increasingly, the people running by were met with booes and jibes and old-fashioned heckling from the stalwarts (or, depending on your perspective, suckers) still honouring the social order of things. The slings and arrows ranged from whimsical ("Quick, hurry, run! There's no time!") to cutting ("If your dad had stuck around, he would have raised you wrong!") to simplistically profane ("It's a fucken line, buddy! End of the line's fucken that way!" -- and, yes, that's written the way the guy pronounced it), but overall it was the kind of comedically ugly atmosphere that you would expect given the situation.

Ultimately, whether people skipped ahead or not, it wasn't as though anybody really missed anything; UMSU didn't even open the doors until 8:30 anyway, because it was an 8:00 showtime and they are UMSU, and then when people could finally get in they were greeted by one of the most mediocre DJs I've ever encountered.

I'm getting ahead of myself, however. Way, way ahead of myself, because there was still a whole lot of lineup before we actually got into the building. It was fourty-five minutes up the line, almost but not quite within visual range of the door, before we ever saw any security -- and OBO must have ran out of actual security, that night, because they'd instead sent a small crew of the 'before' kids from the old Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads.

Well, no, that's not entirely true; they did have two big intimidating guys who worked exclusively on stage duty. But the rough-and-tumble, take-no-shit types they'd assigned to deal with the public? There was one kind of pudgy guy along the outdoor line who I guess could survive a barfight, and then everyone else in black and orange that night was about as authoritative as my little sister's Shih Tzu. The unarmed, fourty-something 5'4'' woman working the door, the loud but ineffectual college kids insisting that girls go through the left door and boys go through the right door (haha what), the scrawny almost-children conducting the patdown searches inside the hockey arena -- the lot of them are incredibly lucky that the cheesed-off mob of three thousand were behaving themselves, because honestly the lot of them would have been torn apart like bananas in a blender if anything had broken out. I could have carried any two of these security people on my shoulders. I was, as you may have gleamed from the above, not entirely impressed by the security detail on duty. (Not that I'm blaming this on UMSU; I'm sure they did what they could in contacting a reputable agency, and it isn't their fault that OBO sent a full garden of stringbeans.)

But if I wasn't impressed with security, I really wasn't impressed with the opening DJ. (Bam! Segue!) He said his name was DJ Peace, or DJ Quiche, or something that sounded like that; I couldn't make it out, and really it was just as well because I don't think I would ever need to seek him out for anything. His entire repertoire was to play thirty seconds of a (seemingly randomly selected) #1 hip-hop hit, blurt out "AYY WHO HERE REMEMBER THIS SONG WHO HERE REMEMBER DIS HANDS UP IF YOU LOVE [artist]" and then ruin it by singing the last two or three words of every second line before jumping to the next song with little to no transition.

If you were to mute his prerecorded music and listen exclusively to his mic feed, this is what his rendition of Biggie's "Juicy" would sound like:





And then he cuts the music entirely and blurts out "BLOW UP LIKE THE WORLD TRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADE" and you want to hit him. So DJ Cease, or Sneeze, or Sneech, or whatever was annoying as hell, and for reasons I might never understand they let him just keep going and going and going. I don't know if he got more time than Grand Analog, but his set seemed like forever. If you are the DJ in question and you are reading this right now, I'm sure you're a great guy, but oh my god you seriously need to switch up your schtick some.

The venue itself, such as it was, wasn't too great either. The ventilation system was severely lacking -- for a crowd of three thousand, I mean, I'm sure its ceiling fans work fine for the building's normal use by a smattering of athletes -- and I didn't check out the very crowded beer garden, because I drove to the concert, but it ain't getting good press elsewhere. So organizationally the whole thing was really a trainwreck, but it was the names on the tickets that finally did make the experience worthwhile.

(What also made the experience worthwhile? The crowd booing, bitterly and unceasingly, when one of the UMSU Vice-Presidents came up to emcee. So good! Ah, I love it when entire groups of people mass as one just to be spiteful.)

Bless their hearts, Grand Analog worked their asses off. (As they always do, of course.) The crowd was pretty sluggish about getting into them, but screw those hipsters, this set was great. I picked up their new album once I got back into town, and this was my first time hearing the cuts from it live; rest assured, they hold up very well.

Then Lupe finally hit the stage at 11:00 or so, and the place finally popped huge like it had been waiting to do for hours. And it was awesome -- mostly a hit parade, granted, but that was what the crowd came for. The only real diversion was his new material, which he introed by rambling bizarrely about lasers for a while. LASERS is, apparently, the name of his upcoming third album; he announced that it was an abbreviation of "Love Always Shines Every Time, Remember the Smile" -- or something like that, but I remember that whatever he said would actually work out to something like LASETRES. He kind of rambled and spaced out for a bit about how lasers, man, the thing about lasers is that they always shine. One guy in front of me in the crowd turned to his buddies and made this classic >:\ face during the whole thing, which honestly was kind of hard to argue against.

But this was a minor, passing curiosity, and it didn't kill the crowd very much if at all -- and then he busted out "Kick, Push" and everything was all right with the world. The >:\ guy and his buddies, who had spent the entirety of the show thus far acting completely unimpressed and too cool for the room, marked out like you wouldn't believe for this one -- singing along, doing the hand motions for the "and coast" part, the whole nine yards. And you know what? So did I. It was great.

Every artist or band has their one big crowd-pleaser, of course, and you know which one I'm talking about in this case; "Superstar" was one of my Ten Best Songs of 2007You Haven't Heard -- is it seriously almost 2010 right now? Jesus Christ. Anyway, it lurked under the radar in 2007, it broke out huge in 2008, and now it is 2009 and a packed fieldhouse of three thousand grouchy, poorly organized spectators can sing it almost note-perfectly on command if prompted. Music is great like that.

So what was my personal highlight of the whole show? Better than standing in line and helping people boo cheaters, better than seeing "Kick, Push" performed live, and even better than the UMSU rep getting serenaded soundly as the sacrificial lamb for her organization, had to be the bodysurfers -- and I say this for one bodysurfer in particular, a comely young woman who made the mistake of wearing a skirt. Nice as her legs were, though, that wasn't the entertainment of it; no, the greatest part of the whole concert was one section of the crowd throwing her, a good extra few feet into the air, and then the rest of the crowd completely failing to catch her. There was a sudden heft, a flash of legs and fabric above the mob, and then she completely ceased to exist. Vaudeville lives!

Good lord, this post is like two thousand words long. Can you tell that I just recently got out of academia? Many thanks to you if you read this far! I'll try and keep things short and choppy in the future.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

James Howard Returns

When I say "Slurpees", you say "Murder"!


Oh wow that went poorly. Well, never mind that for now! We're all pretty rusty, so we can get back into form later.

James Howard is back in town! I had announced this previously to the four or five of you who followed my sporadic sidestory blog, but I'm sure everyone else will be quite surprised to learn that -- yes! -- I just recently completed my Master's of Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario, and have since returned to my beloved wasteland hometown of Winnipeg.

And why wouldn't you be surprised? Why, I graduated a full term ahead of my original expectations! I had initially expected to take sixteen months, or four graduate terms, to work through the program and earn my MLIS. But when I got there and learned that a fair percentage of their students do complete the entire Master's program in three terms, I figured I'd give it a shot and see if I couldn't save myself a term's worth of tuition and living expenses.

Go figure, the one-year Master's is possible; insanely grueling, and in most circumstances a dramatically unfeasible idea, but possible. And you out there in readerland know how much I love a challenge (new readers, let me assure you, I love a challenge very much), so I hunkered down and I went for it and evidently I was just crazy enough to pull it off.

And here I am! The rest of the big surprise is that I did, indeed, return to Winnipeg -- not exactly something you hear every day from a newly accredited professional under the age of thirty -- and landed some temporary employment almost immediately in a burst of fortuitous timing and blind luck. So what do you know, I'm currently serving a three-month term position as the Librarian and Coordinator of the John and Bonnie Buhler Library, in the downtown Princess Street Campus of Red River College. Surprise!

I never did get the hang of wearing a tie, and you can see how it completely throws off my OctoCamo, but otherwise I'd say I look pretty good as a professional. The job is awesome so far, but so am I, so I like to think that's how it balances out.

(Ha ha ha ha I have no concept of humility whatsoever. If somebody asked about it, I would guess that it's the measure of relative moisture in the atmosphere! I don't even know!)

Of course, temporary term work being what it is, I have no guarantee that I'll find any more employment once this well runs dry, and so my return to this particular blog (the very specifically Winnipeggian one) may end up sort of short-lived. But, hey! At least I know where I'm going to be until the end of the year, and as long as I'm back in town -- with my fancy-schmancy education and my grown-up job -- I may as well kick out the jams and get back to what made me famous

largely ignored

get back to what made me the deadly sexy writing machine I am today.

Let's do some writing! James Howard returns! Actual content to follow!