Sunday, December 9, 2018

MY ESCAPES FROM PLANE CRASHES


MY LIFE COULD HAVE BEEN A LOT SHORTER

I was called back from what would have been my first plane trip. Ten minutes later, the pilots died.
Years later, after I had flown four times,  I was in two forced landings within two hours in a Yukon blizzard.
I have been in a plane that caught fire, one that fell thousands of feet in the middle of the night, and one where another plane tried to land on top of us.
As I tell anyone worried about air travel, come fly with me because Fate or Satan have already swung their deadly fists at my planes...and missed.
Yet for some cocky reason, maybe just the insouciance of youth, I actually joined the RCAF Reserve. Now, I try not to dwell on flaming plane wreckage because then the bottle of Mount Gay rum empties.
What just triggered such uncomfortable memories was a full page in the National Post on the death this month of Helen Klaben who with her bush plane pilot survived 49 days after a crash in the Yukon wilderness in February, 1963.
It was an icy story that fascinated Canada as they survived on hot water and toothpaste after a bit of food ran out - the sardines, tuna and fruit that you take on a flight when you don't expect to spend a frozen eternity contemplating white nothingness.
Yet that public infatuation back in 1963 was tempered with the reality that air crashes then, particularly in the North, were a lot more common than they are now, thank heavens.
My log book of escapes began when I got a summer job as a glorified office boy at a famous Malton firm called Sanderson Aircraft which serviced and repaired planes and built wings and tails for the iconic planes of de Havilland.
I had never flown, so our two pilots were determined to introduce me to their passion. They were going to test a Cessna Crane that had just been overhauled and I scrambled in. The office manager ran into the hangar and yelled that I was paid to do the books (I did a terrible job) not to go joyriding.  I slunk back to my desk.
They ran into trouble on takeoff and radioed the tower they would land on the road in front of the giant A.V. Roe plant, the fabled home of the Arrow and the CF-100. High tension lines flipped them over and they burned to death, with only one wedding ring to help with identities.
So there I was at my desk fielding newspaper calls, telling a Tely reporter who only a few years later would be my colleague that I didn't know anything. (Ironically, the plane was owned indirectly by the New York Times.)
Before my last year at Ryerson, determined to be different, I got a summer job as Editor of the Whitehorse Star, which was rather a stupid thing to do when I had limited resources. But I survived with a CN rail pass to Edmonton and CP Air to Whitehorse to live with the publisher, Harry Boyle.
Whitehorse was then a frontier town that didn't have much time for tenderfoots like me. But within days Harry threw me into the middle of the tempestuous federal election of 1957 which, along with a rerun in 1958, ditched the Liberal dynasty and brought a prairie evangelist named John Diefenbaker to spluttering Tory power.
The Yukon MP was a Liberal, Aubrey Simmons, shadowed by the most famous lawyer in the territory, George Van Roggen (such a Grit power he was appointed senator.) The Tory candidate was his law partner (they actually shared a giant "partner's desk.'') Erik Nielsen went on to fame as deputy prime minister and a Conservative covered with thorns and controversies.
The Liberals were hunting for gimmicks to stave off defeat. The brass came up with the idea of having James Sinclair, the fisheries minister, become the first cabinet minister ever to campaign in the territories where all travel was difficult.
Yes, that Sinclair. One of the Liberal stars, past and present, because he was the able charismatic  Rhodes scholar and major cabinet power before the fourth of his five daughters, Margaret, married Pierre Trudeau. If you want to know what he looked like, look at his grandson, Justin.
We loaded ourselves aboard a Beaver, the famous workhorse of the north, and flew off, first to a silver mine and then to Dawson City. One of the most picturesque election rallies I ever covered. Then the next day back to Whitehorse for an evening meeting.
The future senator turned out to have booze in that legal briefcase and there was plenty of amiable talk, including kidding of Sinclair about having to pay for all those weddings.
Then came the snow. And the biggest peaks on the continent disappeared. I was writing a story to telegraph to the Canadian Press in Edmonton and kept scribbling new words for storm as the blizzard became a whiteout.
The pilot, Ron Connelley, said he was under visual flight rules but that didn't matter anyway because he couldn't continue with his instruments, which didn't include radar, without eventually running into a mountain.
We tried calling Whitehorse. Nothing. Connelley got a glimpse of a famous landmark, Lake Laberge, and said that in  lateMay he wasn't sure how good the ice would be.
Someone recited a line from The Cremation of Sam McGee and I ventured that I had just found out that I laid out the Star on an accountant's desk that the poem's creator, Robert Service, had used in the Dawson bank.
Then we landed, our wheels skidding through drifts and bouncing on patches of broken ice. It was morbidly peaceful when we got out into the gloom, and someone laughed that we all better not pee in the same place. Then a celebratory drink from that briefcase.
After an hour or two of trying to see the shore, or anything, Connelley said it seemed to be clearing. We all climbed in and made a terrible takeoff. It was a bad call. It was worse now over the lake. Connelley said we should vote to see if we should risk another landing, my first clue as to how dangerous he thought the first one was.
We got one burst on the radio to tell Whitehorse airport where we were. Connelley cut short the discussion and vote on whether we should land again by doing exactly that before he said "we run into something."No wonder he became a legend in northern aviation!
We hiked to the nearest shore with me carrying Sinclair's bag because he had been badly injured on a speaking tour in Russia the year before. So I was the only one to fall through, which was a source of great merriment to the shivering party because I only sank to my chest. More proof that the ice was rotten came six days later when the ice went out just after the plane was retrieved.
We hiked five kilometres or so through the snow and mud to the gravel of the Alaska Highway where a car driven by a Whitehorse merchant found us and then took us at dangerous speeds to the election rally while I went to the telegraph office to file a story which made the front page of every newspaper in the country.  (The wire service paid me the grand sum of $15 for my national "scoop.")
That Yukon election campaign continued to make news all the way to Time magazine which managed to screw up six facts in my account. After all, the territorial supreme court controverted, or cancelled, the Yukon result by throwing out 10% of the ballots, including mine. It hasn't happened since in this country which has seen its share of election fraud.
The five of us in the Beaver never got visibly excited about our adventure. Of course it helped that Connelley was experienced and Sinclair was a RCAF veteran. It was just another plane incident as far as Yukoners were concerned. But our forced landings were a major story elsewhere because Canadians love to read about people trapped by snow particularly when they are having a warm spring. The election fraud was just icing on a snow cake.
My other aerial dances with death didn't last as long as that experience which had the added zing of happening on the stage of one of the most famous of all Canadian poems, the one that so many drunks recite when they're feeling good.
Pan Am, once one of the most famous of all airlines, inaugurated a press excursion to publicize the first jet service to South and Central America. I was the only Canadian with an exuberant bunch of high-ranking Americans, including the legendary Bill Mauldin who won two Pulitzers for his World War Two cartoons.
Mauldin turned to me on what turned out to be our last hop between capitals and said he didn't want to alarm me but he was a pilot and he was pretty sure the plane was on fire and he hoped we made it beyond the terrorists underneath us in Guatemala.  I already suspected that because the pilot kept cranking the undercarriage up and down trying to blow out the flames because he had emptied the extinguishers.
So we skidded through the foam of an emergency landing at Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. Then the undercarriage collapsed. Then we all ran up an enormous bar bill.
I remember a flight from the Caribbean to New York where everyone was so overly refreshed that there was no hysteria after the plane fell like we were on a midway ride. Most of us were pinned against the ceiling and some ended up with blood flowing from scalp abrasions. Maybe I don't remember more because I didn't even get bruised....and I made my connection home.
Mary and I joined two couples to fly in a medium-sized twin-engined plane from a private airport in Johannesburg to a safari camp in Botswana. I was in the right-hand co-pilot seat as we taxied out to help balance the load. Then we were cleared for takeoff by the tower at the public airport some kilometres across Jo-burg.
As we lifted off, the shadow of a bush plane fell on the cockpit and our pilot banked hard left to pull out of the path of a plane landing right on top of us, its pilot oblivious to the fact we were underneath.
The tower tried to chastise our pilot as he cursed into the radio, then tried to talk him out of filing an incident report. After all, the air traffic controller said, we hadn't touched. Our pilot insisted, saying that the trouble with the "bloody Boer farmers is they feel they can fly anywhere without filing flight plans or paying attention to anyone else."
He didn't take kindly to my bitter joke that if there had been a crash, he and I would have just been mentioned in passing because the other couples included a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame and the Times reporter who had masterminded the release of the Pentagon papers.
At least it gave us another anecdote to tell that night as we waited for the elephants and lions to gather at the waterhole.
 Or to forget!
 Remembering near misses is best shoved to the back of memory banks and only thought of again for a few moments when there is a newspaper story about someone who once went through 49 days of frozen hell and then lived on for another 45 years to die peacefully in California.

Friday, December 7, 2018

TRAIN WHISTLES HAUNT MY NOSTALGIA


THROUGH THE MISTS OF MEMORY

They say you can't go back. And that's true. Yet it also can be an excursion, as if guided by a Dickens' ghost, into a past where you can sift memories and find nuggets of nostalgia.
I have just tried it twice. It was challenging. As I said at the first test, Runnymede Healthcare Centre's Christmas party, the "good old days" there often weren't.
The good "new" days are here for a modern continuing care hospital that grew out of a century-old elementary school that betrayed every year of its age when I arrived on its board 30 years ago.
Now 95 patients have grown to more than 200, and they're no longer jammed into antique classrooms with one floor for the women and the other for the men.
A remarkable flowering from an ugly brick bulb thanks to an understanding spirit among the patients and an indomitable staff with Connie Dejak as the spark plug.
My first Christmas party there was in a humble bare basement but the food was as usual great and the attitude was damn Queen's Park full speed ahead against the uppity medical establishment that was trying to kill chronic care facilities in order to get more grants for themselves and their buddies.
I played Santa there while hoping as chair of the fund drive for a new facility that the provincial grinches would be as nice as some of the ladies of a certain age who mischievously tugged at my beard only to find a real one underneath.
The plans for what comes next, such as a 200-bed long term care facility to be built next door, are as pleasing as anything to be found in Santa's mythical sack.
 If only the bureaucrats say yes. But nothing happens these days with government without turning into a marathon of a gauntlet like the one Runnymede survived just to stay alive.
The second test of what the "good old days" really were came when I returned to Chesley and its vanished furniture factories and railway station. The tracks that used to service them ran right beside my boyhood home. That CNR line had been its vital link to the world, just as railways then linked most of Ontario's cities and towns when a long trip by car was a major expedition in cost and time.
I joined more than 100 aging survivors of the Chesley and area schools from over half a century ago to celebrate the bittersweet joys of school days. There were even four classmates from my Grade One class in 1941. We all walked around each other like the greetings of strange dogs, squinting at names, searching for clues in faces that had once been as familiar as family.
A warm reunion in a town of 1,800 that has been so mangled by time and supposed progress that even the whistles of yesteryear are silent. In the day, the whistles of the passenger train that came twice a day, and the call-to-work whistles of three factories, divided life into six familiar portions.
David McClure, a retired high school teacher who was one of my Grade One classmates, wrote the other day about how much those trains were part of the living fabric of the town.
He and his brothers would meet the morning passenger  train to collect the Globes for delivery, and the afternoon train for the Owen Sound Sun Times, and the money he made was enough for first year at Western.
There was one magic time, he said, when he was hanging around the freight yard, which was really only several tracks, when the steam locomotive stopped and the engineer invited him aboard. Then the fireman actually let him shovel coal into the boiler.
It was an enchanting time for a boy. Hell, it would have been for a man.
My grandfather, much to my embarrassment, would take me with some pails and a broom into that freight yard in the evening to collect dustings of wheat left behind in the empty boxcars to feed the Leghorns we kept in the backyard.
It was what you did when you were "laid off" from the "big factory" and there was no work for an old man looking after three orphaned grandchildren. He mowed grass all day in the town cemetery to be able to buy a pound of butter.
We lived so close to those tracks that I looked down from my tiny bedroom window one morning to find a locomotive seemingly in our yard. The picture of me standing beside the derailment by James Seigrist made the Sun Times front page. (The first of many for me in newspapers, but still the best. )
All of this is just faded history for too many towns where train service still would be a blessing. Why many communities now hunger just for a regular bus. The countryside is dotted with relics of an another era, from Chesley to Havelock, with rusted rail paraphernalia leaning beside level crossings that have no tracks. A few stations have been turned into restaurants with train decor. Snowmobilers and hikers are the only traffic on many stretches of abandoned right-of-ways that snake between the towns.
Once those tracks were almost as important to a town as a highway. This was captured in a newspaper stunt when the Tely hired a plane to drop yeast for Brown's bakery when a snow storm - huge even by the standards of Ontario's snow belt - isolated the town. We stood in the classrooms and cheered when the big railway plow finally punched its way from civilization through the drifts.
Now the town is cut in two with the main bridge impassable. The flour mill that used the wheat that came by train has been turned improbably into a banquet hall. There are no schools, no factories, no trains, no station ... and the tracks are just ghosts in my memory leading to what might have been.
Yes, in some towns, there really were "good old days!"

Friday, November 23, 2018

PUNCHING BULLIES IN THE NOSE


TEACHERS OFTEN ARE THE PROBLEM

I started as the smallest kid in the class so I was bullied.
A few years later, I had grown into one of the largest kids in the class and knocked out the bully who had once cut my cheek open with a sapling whip. We even became friends....but it took time.
Perhaps because of this evolution in my size and strength, I have a contempt for bullies but I also know you just have to stand up for yourself no matter the first bloody noses. Most importantly, you just never let anyone be bullied around you because it can spread like the flu. How can you live with yourself if you don't intervene when human jackals nip at the weak?
It occasionally had me walking a tightrope because it didn't help that I was often the biggest guy in the bar at closing time when pugnacious drunks were looking for victims. Obviously I am really dating myself because I am only 6' 2" and 250, and the newer generations are much larger than we used to be.
As proof, the other 11 on the high school football team, which had been dubbed Weston Ironmen by the sports pages because Coach Mel Thompson made us play 60 minutes without subs, were all smaller than me. And every one of us went on to play in the CFL or the NHL or on university teams.
Today this iron dozen would have to get by on speed rather than brawn, which certainly would have disqualified me.
But back to bullies which only flourish in high school if the teachers and the culture allow their evil flowering.
I went from a peaceful high school of around 250 students in Chesley to a comparative giant of Weston CVS with 1,500 drawn from families of the middle class and factory workers.
Students could be the offspring of doctors and managers and spot welders. They were going on to become dentists and truck drivers and teachers and clerks and Maple Leafs. There was an amiability among the students but I can't say the same for the teachers.
One punched me in the face when I kept insisting it was my cousin Bill Plewes who was talking and not me. Another insisted I had copied every last word in a Latin exam from another students. I then asked why I had got 66 and he had received 75 (which before mark inflation was considered honours.) He threw me out of the class.
(Ironically, I later became good friends with two major education directors who assured me that the two offending teachers were actually good guys and both had become principals.  I assured them on behalf of hundreds of students that we thought they were jerks.)
The tone of a school is set by the dominant teachers whether they be coaches or music directors or principals or advisers to the student council. I'm talking about all the schools I attended right up to Ryerson where I was the student president and the fights I had with the administrators were about  expulsions and drinking and not bullying.
What is said to have happened at St. Mike's would not have been tolerated by the students at any of these schools even if the administration ignored it. But then, back in my school days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the teams from St. Mikes were among the dirtiest teams in high school sports and friends who went there assured me it was a "tough" school. Obviously that culture continued.
I blame the coaches and teachers as well as the parents.
Especially the parents. You have to have a cruel streak running through all your actions if your children think it is O.K. to harass others with fists or broomsticks or soakings. Fortunately, among the many truths in the deserved best seller by Jordan Peterson in his assault on the politically correct ruining universities and democracy, he says that bullying lessens with age.
He writes in his 12 rules that "bullying at the sheer and often terrible intensity of the schoolyard rarely manifests itself in grown-up society."
Perhaps the intensity goes away but there is a pecking order in every family or group or office.  There is always someone who can be picked on. The "pecking" name comes from raising chickens, as I have. In  every flock, every bird knows who it can peck or be pecked by, and the unfortunate hen at the bottom of the order often ends up so bloodied that it dies or is killed first for dinner.
I am not nominating myself for father of the year but revulsion for bullying is among the things I passed on to my three sons along with a love of reading and a suspicion about vegetables.
It can be dangerous. Mark who lives in China has twice come to the aid of hapless men being beaten up and has come out OK, thank heavens, because he is burly and speaks Mandarin which helps with the police.
I was proud to find out years later than my son John Henry had stridently come to the defence of a girl from India - whose father was one of the best eye doctors around - who was being picked on because of her accent. He threatened anyone who didn't leave her alone.
We live across from that school, Sunnylea, and I remember a frantic classmate of Brett's running to our house at recess to say Brett and John Henry were fighting back to back against most of the boys from a higher grade.
Later, the smarmy principal tried false equivalency but I blew her amateur diplomacy sky high when I said that when 10 try to beat up two, it is obvious who is in the wrong and when administrators don't see that, the school board should move them along.
I hear stories all the time about schools being hamfisted in dealing with bullying and evil assaults and fighting, as if the teachers just hope it goes away without them having to notice.
Then one day it ends up on Page 1 and the evening news. So I blame the teachers and the administrators and the student body and the parents for not confronting it when it starts in a small way. And it always starts small, with the push and the taunts and then the slap and then the punch if the kids see they can get away with it. As did that bully who hit me with fists and then the whip until one day I knocked him down ... and out. (Winning takes some getting used to. I apologized for hitting him so hard.)
Bullies have to be confronted or they just keep going... and then they raise more bullies unless the teachers, and maybe even the police, say cut it out.























Thursday, November 15, 2018

THANK HEAVENS WE LOST AMAZON


STOP BRIBING BUSINESS AND SPORTS

My wallet starts whimpering every time politicians start throwing blandishments and billions at big business and filthy rich entrepreneurs to come to our town or please, please, please, don't move out.
It generally turns out bad for the taxpayers - whether it's the Olympics or Amazon or car makers or the big leagues....
If fabulously rich Amazon had come to the Greater Toronto Area rather than to two now-victimized cities in the U.S., it would have been wonderful for tech people aching to start making $150,000 a year (at least), the real estate market and the service industry.
It was supposed to be so wonderful that "lucky" American cities pay fortunes for the privilege of housing the commercial behemoth that is threatening to devour most of its competition in North America? And then there were hundreds of communities whose politicians just ached to land the commercial behemoth.
Those who think it would be great are the ones who daydream about the economic benefits for them.
They talk of the great economic ripple effect. FOR THEM! But for those of us who wouldn't benefit directly, the ripple becomes a tsunami of problems.
For example, if you thought it was tough to buy or rent a home in Toronto now at a reasonable cost, it would have become so bad if Amazon had set up shop here that commuters would have hungered for just two hour commutes.
The brutal reality of our urban life is that this city (and the region of the Greater Toronto Area)  is already bursting at the seams and has enormous problems in transit, transportation and infrastructure. We can't even fix potholes,  and weeds grow in our parks.
It sounds like heresy but municipal growth is not high on my agenda of wants. Civic boosterism sounds great during a City Hall debate but I would just as soon live in a city that doesn't have construction on every corner. Improving what we have should be the goal, not bribing growth.
So paying a corporate giant to come to town because of all its benefits -  and minimizing all the extra costs - is not an obvious win for a good urban life, an enormous fact not lost on critics ranging from the New York Times editorial board and insightful editorial cartoonists and TV commentators to anyone trying to live near the Amazon headquarters now.
Why is it that our governments insist on throwing our taxes at fatcat promoters, industrialists and entrepreneurs because they promise seductively it will  stimulate the economy and create jobs?
The immediate impact is to drive up our taxes while the company fattens its bottom line.
Just look at all the horror stories that just keep happening in Canada decade after decade after decade.
They range from the billions that Bombardier has sucked out of English Canada to keep Quebec happy  (and then Bombardier gave away the technology) to the simpler recent boondoggle that even a stupid bureaucrat should know is wrong - buying hundreds of expensive cars just so that the leaders of a few countries can meet here for a few scripted days.
But I have wandered off topic when there are so many easy targets over the years.  Such as:
....Taxpayers paid $628 million for SkyDome before it was sold for a pittance of $25 million to a cable company
.... Consider the waste of billions on Olympics and Expos
...  Why we couldn't even build BMO Field at the Ex without being hosed because the user, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, turned a profit on the deal and taxpayers were on the hook for $63 million.
... Must be something about politicians and the Ex because neighbouring Ontario Place cost $30 million, which was six times the original estimate, and then declined into closure after annual losses of millions.
.... I really don't want to waste our time dealing with all the grants to companies like Chrysler just to keep some plants open.
No wonder there is hatred, stirred well with rebellion, in many voters for most of their politicians, the desire that "none of the above" be printed at the end of every ballot to show the disdain that so many feel for what passes for democracy today.
No wonder what passes for modern populism flourishes in North America because of waste by bureaucrats and politicians who spend billions as if they were nickels.
I am surprised that the revolt against the sports establishment pushing for another winter Olympics in Calgary was not even larger. Is there actually a thinking adult anywhere who truly believes that such sport spectaculars break even?
What we really need is not more political promises but fewer candidates in our election campaigns giving us the latest version of the "bread and circuses" approach that kept the mob from storming the Forum in ancient Rome.
We need a tough approach when the CEO comes cap in hand to beg for just a few hundred million and in exchange says he or she will provide a few hundred jobs for maybe a decade.
Let's just stop the corporate welfare!
Let the billionaires build their own playpens for sport!
Tell the Amazons of the world, with treasuries swollen from our billions, that if they really want to come to our town, they can pay their way fully like we have to do.
And if they want to come on the cheap, then find another sucker city. Thank heavens this time they did!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

TORONTO'S MENACING PEDESTRIANS


THEY CAN'T WALK AND TALK

Just an easy drive down a street near my home but then a yuppie couple tried to lope through the stop sign and gave me an haughty glare when I didn't brake.
They wore the latest gear, which showed off her slim long legs, of course. She was towing a dog on a leash and he was pushing a baby carriage streamlined for 10 km/h. They were a postcard couple celebrating the idiocy of suburban life when you ignore who has the right-of-way when galloping along by foot or bike.
Earlier, I was driving east of Stephen Dr. on The Queensway where a traffic light delays all the traffic from the important Humber River crossing and the giant Food Terminal just so motorists can access the plaza jammed between the road and the transportation corridors.
(Plaza owners have more clout at City Hall than motorists on major roads, so we have to wait so they can accommodate shoppers.)
A flashing and screeching ambulance was zigzagging through the normal jam when it had to brake so quickly I visualized the patient shooting off the gurney. Why? Because some guy with a parka hood wrapped around his numbskull decided to run across against the red in front of the ambulance.
Unfortunately, all my anecdotes here are just from one week and aren't that unusual.
I was asking a cousin who is a retired Toronto fire captain about all the louts who interfere with the passage of emergency vehicles like fire engines, ignoring the lights and sirens, and he agreed it was far too common. He blamed air conditioning and stereos for all the drivers who just don't hear the sirens. (But then there are some jerks on foot who must ignore the sirens. And those who skulk down side streets at night dressed like robbers as if they want to be hit for the law suit money.)
I had crossed College at University on the way to TGH when a young woman yakking on her cell  walked into me. Her wingman was also on her phone. She kept talking and trying to push through me, ignoring my cane. When I bellowed into the one free ear, she looked up, grunted an apology and walked around me, continuing to talk as she then crossed eight lanes. Of  course the light changed long before she made it.
This column is not triggered by the unfortunate peak of pedestrian accidents on that recent cold and rainy day. Toronto is blessed by not having more such days because I find that a routine car trip around most side streets in this city is like playing dice with the Devil because of pedestrians who just don't seem to give a damn.
It certainly culminated this Halloween when there were so many hunting packs of kids in my neighbours, with parents and flashlights riding herd as if they were on a cattle drive, that I wished I had hibernated. There were a lot of lighted cell phones I threaded down the street.
What's the sense of worrying about proper X-walk use and blatant jaywalking if too many other  pedestrians concentrate only on their cells as they cross the busiest intersections. You can be monitoring  the other traffic when you want to make a simple turn only to find some pedestrian on a phone jumps off the curb without looking and starts striding across as if they were ambling down a beach.
Believe me, when it comes to this topic, the shoe really has been on the other foot. After all my experiences, no wonder I became a godfather of the RIDE program and a director of the Ontario Safety League, Ontario's oldest safety organization.
As a pedestrian, I was hit and thrown up on the hood of a car by a man making a right turn just blocks from my home. He still hasn't seen me.
 I was either the first, or one of the first, X-walk accidents in Toronto. On the first morning they were legal, I braked hard on the Danforth when a woman ran into the X-walk and I was rammed from behind in my beloved collectors' Austin Healey.
I have been hit twice by cyclists when leaving downtown Toronto restaurants and then as a cyclist crashed into a ditch by a dump truck.
There are municipalities who are considering or have banned cell phone use by pedestrians at intersections. Toronto should too. Surely extreme cases are as dangerous as jay walking or X-walk breaches.
There is agreement that the war against distracted driving is a great safety idea.
Why not a legal war against distracted walking? It doesn't matter that the result is not as dangerous as a car crashing into you. It's more than just an annoyance, as I can assure you when considering the bruise on my leg from my latest encounter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

SCREWING UP ROAD REPAIRS


TIME TO FIRE TRAFFIC ENGINEERS

I think it's time for the election survivors of an inept city council to come clean on an unfunny practical joke.
 Or was it just a plot to so massacre the replacement for the east-bound York/Bay/Yonge ramps from the Gardiner that the voters would seek revenge on the anti-car councillors to whom the Gardiner is the Great Evil?
Now the Gardiner, one of the great work horse roads of North America, has always been hated by those politicians and planners who believe we should just walk or TTC or bike to move around this urban behemoth.
For years they cheated on the incredible amount of  traffic it carried, trying to lower the stats even as they ignored that the waterfront had grown around the Gardiner like coral around a sunken ship and prying the super road  out of the skyscraper woods would be as difficult and costly as it would be silly.
Yet the Gardiner has outlasted most enemies because it is one of the vital arteries of the city and blasting it out of downtown would cause cardiac arrest to thousands if not a congealed core.
Which brings me to the current mess which you and I have plenty of time to contemplate as we try to manoeuvre to make simple turns into the core of a city that is vital enough, fortunately, to survive even this looney bin of a City Hall.
I don't feel like repeating at length the obvious reality which was true even when I was enduring urban geography lectures at U of T  in the age of the dinosaurs.
Most people and all goods move around this city by vehicles and will continue to do so even if the transit is vastly improved and ridiculous bike lanes don't strangle major streets.
I live near the Royal York subway station, the renovation of which is another municipal embarrassment, and try to TTC as much as possible to avoid $20 parking and the molasses movement of traffic. But Mary uses a walker and like many older people with medical appointments finds the car superior to the complications of Wheel Trans or the gauntlet of regular transit.
So I have had to negotiate through this stupid replacement for the downtown ramps. According to what I can decipher out of the Y B Y internet site for this project, the contractor will be back. We just got the first stage in January, which is like saying we just got the first act of a horror movie.
My son Mark, who spends half his time in China where he has worked for almost a decade, returns to sit in the car as I curse my way through any drive which lasts more than five minutes. He is used to road and transit construction in most modern Chinese cities taking a fraction of a time. They built a new subway line in Dalien, his lovely home city, in the time it takes for one council debate on new routes.
Of course, I apologize to him as we muddle through traffic, it is easier there in a dictatorship with tens of millions of workers. But, he replies, it looks suspicious to him when we try to drive around Etobicoke or to the Kawarthas when the same roads and bridges are under construction year after year after year.
I admit that the lackadaisical timing is suspect. It certainly drives up the cost for taxpayers along with our tempers. Unfortunately, not that new! When I was a kid reporter covering politics, some construction contracts came with a whiff of scandal about the cost, the politics of the company owners, and indeed, the necessity.
And then we often come to another stalling point in our drive where the road has been under repair for years and we both heartily agree that something stinks to high heaven about how we build in Ontario.
Repairs to our infrastructure have boils deeper than our potholes!
So I look forward to the mayoral media conference where John Tory says that it is rather obvious now that what is being done to the Gardiner downtown is a terrible mistake and it's back to the drawing board for our traffic engineers after a few have been fired and planners told to start acting like they live in a real city and not one just in their dreams.
And while Tory's at it, he should chat with his colleagues who sit on the board supposedly supervising the police force (stop this semantic nonsense it should be called a service) to order that either the chief and his deputies improve the dire quality of traffic policing in this city or face review.
Present policing procedure in this city favours paid-duty work for every cop even as every year it sticks more and more organizations like the CNE with higher policing costs.
When you consider the taxes we pay for municipal services. TTC and policing, it is obvious that either our councillors can't manage a doghouse or we are being played for suckers.
 The quality goes down as quickly as the costs go up, thanks to union and gutless management. No wonder there was a foul mood during the last municipal and provincial elections, oceans of unhappiness with what we've been getting.
If you know anyone who really is satisfied, she or he is bound to be making more than $100,000 annually that is paid in one form or another by you and me. And they don't even feed us before they screw us.
Something to ponder as you contemplate your next attempt to drive around T.O. without dreaming of just getting to hell out of town, and staying there, that is if the light ever changes.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

BAN BOTTLED WATER


BAN WOULD SAVE EVERYONE

Canadians are blessed with so much fresh water flowing around us and from the tap that it is baffling and embarrassing that we spend billions on bottled water that then clogs garbage with empties.
I have to admit that my wife and related offshoots buy and guzzle bottled water despite my unveiled antagonism.
I also admit the purchase cost is a pittance. It's the principle that counts with me, and the garbage left behind. It's such a stupid idea to throw away even small change on bottled water which is often only our tap water run through filters by giant corporations and then marketed using computer-generated nonsense names.
Now there are municipalities around the world which have toyed with bans and have stopped providing bottled water at civic functions. They should go all the way and not just dip a toe into the issue.
My boyhood was spent in a town in the Bruce Peninsula which we boasted was famous for its deep artesian wells flowing with the sweet necessity of life. There was even a small brewery that boasted of its water before it was swallowed by a giant that concentrated more on distribution than taste.
When I returned to T.O, the populace would have giggled at the idea of buying bottled water. Then came preening bottled water from exotic locations and grumbling from activists about fluoridation (an important health improvement despite the silly poison claims.)
I remember only two major stories about southern Ontario drinking water (although the north had major problems on reserves) which meant that what came out of our taps here has never really been an issue.
We had the awful scandal about lengthy water pollution that ruined people in Walkerton (ironically the capital of the Bruce) and official mutterings from a radicalized city health department where a lefty listing himself as a doctor (his doctorate was in African studies) warned pregnant women and others that it would be best not to use Toronto tap water.
His warning didn't fill Toronto's councillors with alarm but it sort of roosted there ticking. Then I pointed out as a columnist in a private conversation with the head politician over the water supply that he as a chemical engineer and the engineers involved with the pumping stations from the lake were leaving themselves vulnerable to professional challenges of their credentials if the issue turned from a tickle to a flood.
Which led Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey, who apparently went on to work in baseball and publishing, to lead the charge to spend $135,000 on a major scientific study of the quality and safety of Toronto tap water compared to various bottled waters which were then mostly imported.
The results put to rest for all time any health claims that Toronto tap water was bad for you. In fact, in taste and quality it was rated superior to every bottled water sold in the city including the effete Perrier.
(Which reminds me of the chap who looked after all the drinking water for Expo '67 VIPs. This included the water that all the kings and PMs brought from their homelands so they wouldn't get tourist tummy. He showed me some of the giant bottles which actually had little "things" floating in them.)
But back to my recommendation that the new city council ban all bottled water from our store shelves on the grounds that city tap water costs less, may occasionally be safer,  and is environmentally friendly because it doesn't jam our landfills and suck zillions of litres out of our ground water supply.
It would be so simple to do. It would save us money and hassle. Among the minor benefits would be that I would no longer have to lug the unused bottles of water home when I close the cottage for the winter. It hurts my back even as I fume about the fact it's just a dumb fad.