Friday, August 31, 2007

Broadway Joe + Suzy Kolber = The Greatest Moment in Television History

Theismann - "Joe's just a happy guy"

Macguire - "Ohhh boy is he happy"

I feel bad for Miss Teen South Carolina. I really do. So this is a little trip down memory lane to remind her that things could be worse.

This clip is so good on so many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the hall of famer responds to the question of 'what it means to him now that the team is struggling' by saying that he couldn't care less about the team struggling...

Don't worry Caitlin. No matter how many times you mumble incoherently about maps in South Africa and the rest of the Asian countries, rest assured that you will never be able to top Broadway Joe trying to kiss Suzy Kolber. Not in a million years.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lisa McCallum - Dominating Nashville

By Krissie Rutherford
Oakville Beaver
Arts & Entertainment
Aug 29, 2007

As soon as she graduated from Humber College, Lisa McCallum packed her bags and headed to the birthplace of country music.

After less than two years in Nashville, Tennessee, the Oakville native has signed a writing deal with Roger Murrah's Castle Street Music Inc., a record company that works with country music stars like Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride and Sarah Evans.

"It was overwhelming," McCallum, 24, told The Oakville Beaver of her recent signing.

"They sat down with me and just said they'd like to offer me a writing deal. I was very excited. It kind of didn't feel real, because it was something I'd been trying for a year and a half."

It may have seemed like a long wait, but compared to most artists, McCallum is ahead of the game.

"They say it's a five-year town here. It takes, on average, that long to sign a deal, so I feel really blessed that I made it in such a short time."

McCallum got noticed because of a well-written e-mail that caught the eye of company vice-president Lisa Murrah.

"I just said I was from Canada, and I'd love to come by and play them some of my songs," McCallum said. "I told them I was visiting presently - they make time for you because they think you might have to leave next week.

"It's one of the tricks from around here, say that and you can get yourself in," she added, laughing.

Murrah's Vice-president, Creative, Dan Hodges began meeting with McCallum, and after about three months, they inked a deal.

"Lisa is a tremendous talent, and we're excited that she's decided to become a part of our team," said Murrah's Senior Vice-President, Paul Compton.

Murrah's is an independent company that began 17 years ago and has since built a reputation for producing quality work and artists.

McCallum one day hopes to sign a record deal and sing her own tunes, but for now, she's focused on writing for others.

"I just want to have a lot of cuts on the radio with major country artists," she said. "That's the goal."

In the early stages with Murrah's, she's writing mainly for new artists looking for songs to break into the industry.

"I love it. I just write songs every day, I try to come up with songs every day," she said, noting her inspiration comes from, "Anywhere. It could be from just reading books and movies or just watching people, that kind of thing."

She's also "doing the artist thing" on the side, playing gigs in various venues in Nashville - and hoping she'll get another break in the future.

"My whole plan was to come here, write songs and get a record deal eventually," McCallum said.

"If you want to go for something, just go for it 100 per cent, and you're bound to get it at some point."

McCallum describes her style as new country mixed with a bit of folk. She began writing at age 13, and has been singing her whole life.

A graduate of Humber College's jazz, vocal performance program, she recognizes most kids growing up gravitate towards pop music as opposed to country, but she was drawn to it.

"In high school I just started for some reason watching CMT (Country Music Television) and I just liked it, and I thought I could sing it really well," she said.

The White Oaks Secondary School grad had a musician friend named Victoria Banks who moved to Nashville eight years earlier. She encouraged McCallum to give it a try.

"She kind of guided me," McCallum said. "I had no idea how hard it would be or anything, which is good, because maybe I would have turned around.

"Once I got here, I just knew that I had to stick it out. I feel like it's out of persistence that these things happen, so you just have to keep going for it."
Yep, that's my sis. I think it's pretty obvious that not only was she blessed with all of the talent in the family, but she also landed the good looks too.
I once had my picture in the Oakville Beaver. I was standing there at Trafalgar Village, getting an autograph from Eddie Shack... And that's about the extent of my fame in this world.
To hear why she's dominating Music City, check out:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Alfredo Griffins

Oh yeah. Take a long hard look at that. That is the look of a championship team, if I ever saw one. Well, actually, it's the look of a team that emerged victorious from the consolation round, culminating in a resounding chant of "WE'RE NUMBER 5!!!!" after Skeeter hauled in the final fly ball to the deepest part of Moss Park (better known as "CITY", for its incessant screaming sirens, escaped Section 8's drinking in the stands while oggling the girls on our team, and general bustling community feel reminiscent of Rucker Park circa 1979).

Our fearless leader, coach Cito, pretty well summed up the year in his season ending address:

"There are very few things in this world that bring me more joy than a warm summer's evening of co-ed non-competitive softball, so I wanted to say thanks for a fantastic season. There was certainly our fair share of highlights and lowlights (I'm a little ashamed of yelling at a woman, but if I ever see her again, I may just punch that bitch), but at the end of the day, that title on Monday night 5th place champs wasn't just handed to us. I know my mom is proud. I'm sure yours is too."

I choose to leave my fellow Griffs with the words of the late A. Barltett Giamatti who, for better or worse, was the Commissioner of our fair game for 154 days, and in that brief time managed to banish the great Charlie Hustle for having too much faith in his own team. In any event, the Commissioner, as former President of Yale University, certainly could wax poetic, and on the subject of baseball, perhaps there is no one better:

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

My Monday nights will be empty, and never the same again... until next spring...

Monday, August 27, 2007


I personally believe that, sometimes when I drink too much, such as, this occasionally happens to me, and I believe in South Africa and everywhere such as in Iraq and the Asian countries this also happens when someone sprinkles a dash of rohypnol into my martini...

I honestly thought that the punch line was the fact that she responded to the question of why 1/5 of Americans couldn't locate the U.S. on a world map by proclaiming that it was because "some people out there in our nation don't have maps". That in itself was YouTube worthy. But what spiralled out of control in the ensuing twenty seconds was one of the most painful things in the world to have to watch. I think the kid from "Little Miss Sunshine" with her pole dancing routine would have had a better chance of dawning the tiara.

And how the hell did A.C. Slater manage to keep his cool in the midst of the most memorable unintentionally comedic moment since Broadway Joe tried to lay one on Suzy Kolber? Insider sources say he had his left hand in his pocket, pinching his nuts to keep from laughing. Handled like a true professional.

I think James Downey put it best when he said:

"What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Diversion - The Green Edition

Hey man, it's the trendy thing to do.

I didn't actually plan it this way, but some of the best stuff I've come across in the past month or so just happens to be dedicated more or less to preservation of our fair planet.

(Actually, the best piece I came across is about a Frenchman who wants to skydive from the stratosphere; a jump from as high as a hot air balloon will take you: a hundred and thirty thousand feet. "Somewhere around sixty-three thousand feet above the earth, our body fluids begin to boil. They do this not because the temperature is so high but because the atmosphere is so thin. Water, kept liquid by air pressure on earth, turns to gas as the pressure drops, bubbling noticably on the tip of the tongue. Physiologists call this altitude Armstrong's Line, after the Army Air Corps doctor who defined it, in the nineteen-thirties, and it may be the greatest barrier to our survival in space...But there are plenty of others...".

On the way up to 130,000 feet, the air pressure would "drop exponentially, until one-tenth of one percent of the atmosphere would remain. As he {the French Skydiver} fell, his body would accelerate almost as if it were in a vacuum". By the time he reached the previous level for the world's highest skydive {103,000 feet}, he'd be going "more than nine hundred miles per hour - one and a half times the speed of sound".

Of course, The New Yorker rarely makes their best articles available online, so you'll have to go out and buy the August 13th edition for yourself to find out why anyone would want to put themselves through something like this, and whether or not this guy has any chance of surviving {he hopes to make the jump this fall in Saskatchewan}. This article on its own is easily worth the $4.50 sticker price. A truly fascinating read.)


But before all of the good stuff, how about something fun... Something like... The Ron Mexico Name Generator! Yes, you too can create your very own alias for those embarrassing moments at the Sexual Health Clinic. If you ever hear of me referring to myself as "Little John Serbia", you may want to think twice about sharing your forty of OEA with me.


I'm not sure if I've linked to this article before, but it is one of the most thought provoking pieces you'll ever come across. It describes how Manhattan is one of the most energy efficient and environmentally responsible places in the world. It will make you proud to be a City Guy, and it will make you re-think the way you see things and the way we live.

Green Manhattan, by David Owen


Everything you need to know about the future, past and present of planet earth with regards to global warming and climate change, all rolled up into one fantastic little powerpoint presentation. Guy Dauncey was the keynote speaker at the Canadian Standards Association's 2007 Annual Conference, and this is his seminar. It will give you an idea of the direction in which our energy economy, by which I very much mean our planet, is heading. But it isn't all doom and gloom, as it offers a number of perfectly attainable and sustainable solutions to the problems we're currently faced with. Edutainment at its absolute best.

If you only have time to read one thing from this list, I highly recommend you read:

The Global Climate Crisis: What are we going to Do? by Guy Dauncey


A great short story about what happens in the event of a death-resurrection in a star; or more commonly known as a Supernova. This is climate change on a galactical scale, with the effects of global warming fast-forwarded at about 1,000,000x on the DVD player. The description of the ever increasing heat on earth is one of the most terrifying things I've ever read. Nightmares.

A Tranquil Star, by Primo Levi


And finally, a piece about bees. Yep, bees. They're very interesting. And we need them. Who knew?

This article gives you an appreciation for just how fragile our planet is, and how every little living thing has a critically indispensable role to play. It's poetic in a way we'll never fully appreciate or understand. I think that in itself is worth preserving, don't you?

Stung, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Perfect Show

To commemorate the end of the Dan Patrick era on ESPN radio, here is the closest the man ever came to pitching a perfect show. That double negative is the Julio Franco bouncer past Manny Lee with two out in the ninth back in '88... absolute heartbreak. But don't worry Danny: just as Stieb's did, your day will someday come.

Early afternoons will never be the same. We'll miss you, D.P.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lord Stanley's Mug

I really don't even know how to begin this entry.

About two minutes after drinking from the most hallowed trophy in all of sports, I turned to my buddy Foley, and through eyes misting over with drunken emotion, I muttered: "I can't believe I just drank from the fucking Stanley Cup..."

And I'm still having a hard time believing it. Because honestly, if you'd asked me five years ago what I were more likely to experience in my lifetime, and offered the two equally impossible options of: summiting Mount Everest or sipping from The Cup; I would have told you that it was probably more likely that I'd climb to the top of the world's most famous peak... and we all knew that was never happening.

I've done some things in my day. But I have to tell you that drinking out of The Stanley Cup; with the names of the greatest players to ever play the game etched into it, and with the knowledge that they too had sipped from that very chalice; was probably the best 5 seconds of my life. And I say that without hyperbole or shame. It's what I'll remember as the lights fade to black.

And I owe it all to Huskerdu. I don't even know how to thank you. Somehow, I don't think there are enough Red Bull-and-Vodkas in all of the Madison Avenue Pub.

But before all of the lifelong-dream-fulfilling, there was considerable preamble, as you might well expect. Ronnie, Flats, Dinner, Nagai and I piled into two rides just after five o'clock and hooked up at the Port Hope service centre for a convoy that consisted of erotic text messaging ("are you hard?", "are you wearing panties?", and "yes, but they're no longer dry" being the obvious highlights) and one of life's great piss stops, to go along with Flats' polishing of a dozen or so Silver Bullets in the passenger seat of Dinner's car. We pulled into our Nation's Capital just after 10pm and checked into the Quality Inn, fully understanding that the meaning of the word "Quality" was about to be compromised.

Flats had a bottle of duty free Grey Goose (he and Nagai had played 18 holes earlier that morning in Buffalo; Dinner had also played 18 {and shot a 72}; I had slept until 1:30 in the afternoon) that we proceeded to obliterate in about 45 minutes, with an assist going to Sully, fresh off a drive in from the 'Boro; before heading out into the Ottawa night. As we stepped into the elevator and looked at one another, each dressed to the nines in "go-to" garb, the phrase "Murderer's Row" was getting tossed around like Valtrex at the Mexico Estate.

By the time we arrived at the bar (it may or may not have been called "Nine"), we were feeling absolutely no pain. Husker and the rest of the Natty Light poolies were representing hard, and what little I remember of the night consisted of introducing my shit-faced self by using both my first and last name to equally shit-faced people I'd been trash-talking for four years via that wonderful combination of Fantasy Football and the internet. The Vaughn boys. The Farquhar brothers. Lawson. City Guys C-note, MLSE McGlynn, and of course the legendary Chubbs were all in attendance, and along with the rest of the 416 poolies, the group of us were celebrating the largest NLFL summit meeting in history by drinking enough alcohol to kill a small Indonesian village. An old lady friend of Dinner's also showed up only to have her dreams shattered by the news that Mike Foley had been recently engaged. There really are a lot of broken hearts out there.

By last call, most of the Almonte contingent had stretched Chubbs shirt to the point that it resembled something that an early-80's-Molly-Ringwold would proudly sport, and after ripping it off completely, they put him up on their shoulders and crowd-surfed him around the bar. I could have sworn I was at a stop somwhere along the Dookie Tour. And apparently the good people of Ottawa have taken to the notion that "Oaf's a Joke".

Brianna, our old friend from home, invited us back to a house party up the street, and we obviously took her up on it. We walked in there like we owned the place, and my only regret of the night is that I didn't strap on one of the helmets sitting on the pile of bicycles littering the front hallway: it would have made a hell of an entrance. As it was, we helped ourselves to any beverages we could find, and quickly made friends. It turns out nobody knew who was hosting the party. I vaguely remember having a lengthy conversation concerning chest hair with a girl, a gay man, and another equally bewhiskered male (all present were in favour of the Neanderthal look, for the record), and the feeling that there was an 8th grade vibe in the living room. We ended up at the Elgin Street Diner for what was unquestionably the best poutine I've ever had, before stumbling back to the room just before 5.

Nothing like a quiet night before the big day.

We awoke the next morning waaaaay too early. I have no idea how someone was conscious at 9:30, but they decided to turn on the TV, and in a Lion's Den of a hotel room with six dudes, it was enough to rouse us all. Foley stepped off his red eye flight and came directly to the "Quality" (he was smart enough to secure his own room - there's a reason he's a big shot), and we headed to Cora's for a breakfast accented by the feeling of general discomfort and fruit smoothies we vowed to never speak of. In order to cure our ridiculous hangovers we headed straight for the liquor store and bought ourselves some liquid provisions, hanging around the hotel room with the curtains drawn and watching the PGA Championship on the tube. Really taking in the sights, I know.

At three o'clock we piled into the Sully Van and cruised into Almonte, stopping for a great pic at the town sign which will soon surely read: "The home of James Naismith and Kent Huskins". It's really only a matter of time. We pulled into the Mill of Kintail about three minutes ahead of Husker and Mikey White Gloves, and stood around in absolute awe as Mikey handed Husky the cup. I'm telling you, that trophy turns everyone into a little kid. We had the champ pose for a few hoisting pics, and then he just set it down on the picnic table where it sat for the rest of the day. Everyone had their turn posing with it, and after the tubs full of beer showed up, the event quickly became a great little party. And it was funny because after awhile people kind of forgot The Cup was there, so you could go and sit with it by yourself for awhile, reading the names and taking it all in. Fantastic.

The volunteers from the Almonte Civitan club did a beautiful job dishing out the burgers and beer, and Husky did his best to accomodate everyone, despite the fact that he probably just wanted to have a few beers and play with the walkie talkies. Just a class act in every regard. In fact, if my high school English teacher had been present for the barbecue, he might have said that Kent Huskins handled the entire afternoon with aplomb... but of course, I would never say that.

In any event, the Silver Bullets were going down with aplomb, and just as the sun was beginning to set, we boarded a cheese wagon for the trip to Grace O'Malley's, making a pit stop at "Naismith's", a tiny sports bar in town that had no idea what they were in for when Husker strolled in with The Cup. By the time we got back on the bus, Mikey White Gloves was pretty well shitting himself, knowing that he would have to be separated from the Holy Grail as it sat in a seat next to Husker, Mikey White Gloves trailing close behind in his Buick.

What happened next was simply magical, as Husker, without any warning, poured a beer into The Cup and tipped it to Flats... and we sat there front and centre, watching as every guy on that bus turned into a little kid, having a lifelong dream fulfilled. I can't adequately describe how incredible an experience it was.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting there with Husker tipping The Cup into my face, drinking deeply from what will forever be remembered as the greatest beer I've ever experienced. I really didn't ever think the first beer my dad ever gave me could be topped (Coco's, Grand Bend, Coor's Extra Gold, age 16), but I have to tell you that this one probably did. Sorry Dad. It was a Labatt's Blue. It was cold and frothy. And it was glorious.

I mean, look at that. That is the face of a man who has just undergone a religious experience. I have no other means of describing it.

The rest of the night could have consisted of someone repeatedly kicking me in the nuts until sunrise and it still would have gone down as one of the five best nights of my life.

We arrived at Gracie's and Mikey White Gloves jumped out of his Buick so fast that he very well may have left it running in the middle of the street. He wanted to make sure The Cup was in good hands, and as Husker stepped off the bus, he decided that it very obviously was (despite the fact that Almonte's favourite son almost dropped it in the paparazzi-like barage of camera flash). We piled into the bar for $3 everything, and what ensued in the aftermath can only be described in degrees of Gong Show. And this was a show to the tenth degree. Way too many shots. Way too many Coronas. Way too many Calzone's from a pizzeria in Potsdam, NY.

As C-Note put it: "The 416 crew was unreal in their VIP area better known as the shirt stain zone!". Flats took some time away from working on his '83 Corvette with Frankie to score himself a sweet "STAFF" T-shirt and a beautiful baby, while the rest of us ripped it up on the dance floor and looked on in fascinated horror as the Almonte crew stripped down to their skivvies and engaged in some kind of ancient pagan fertility ritual.

We eventually ended up back at the hotel, and to absolutely nobody's surprise, found ourself out on the street less than an hour later. Apparently when the manager comes up to the 14th floor to tell you to keep it down, Sully isn't necessarily the most qualified negotiator to send to the table. Calming discretion never was his strong suit. We tried sending Murph out to smooth things over, Peel badge in hand, but he came back into the room about fifteen seconds later, informing us that it was time to pack our bags.

At what point does it become embarrassing for a 29-year old to be thrown out of a hotel? I'd say about six years ago. The fact that the hotel manager challenged Sully to a fist fight out in the street was almost comedic by that point... And Nagai's new lucky number can be nothing but 14.

Luckily for us, my good friend Emily was in attendance, and her mom lives about ten minutes from the "Quality". So we spent what little remained of the night there. Emily's mom is a judge, and she was waaaaaay too understanding: she actually welcomed us into her home, when what we really deserved at that point was a bench looking out onto the Rideau Canal. So we very obviously owe her a debt of serious gratitude.

But maybe not the same debt as we owe Husker. In all honesty, it will go down as one of the great nights of our collective lives. I remember after drinking from The Cup, I stood up on that rollicking school bus, with beer still dripping from my face and the knowledge that my life would probably never be the same. I put my hand on the shoulder of the man who had just allowed me to sip from The Stanley Cup, and could only muster "Thank You....". I was utterly speechless.

As I am now.


And for an incomplete history of some of the other places The Cup has ventured (including Mess's infamous jaunt with the Mug to Scores), check out this piece by Patrick Hruby.

Monday, August 6, 2007

On The Rock - 11 Days in Newfoundland

So I finished work three Fridays ago and decided it would be a good idea to drive to Newfoundland. I thought I'd adequately prepared myself fo just how long a drive it was going to be. But obviously I was wrong.

We left the City at about 7 o'clock Friday night, and we were booked for the Ferry in North Sydney, NS at 5:30 Sunday afternoon. 2,100 km in less than 2 days? Not a problem, despite the fact that both my mom and Foley's mom declared that there wasn't a hope in hell of us making it on time.

We drove Friday night until close to midnight, stopping for the night in Lancaster, Ontario, at a place called the Glengarry Campground. Nothing to report. We set up the tent and went to bed, waking up the next morning at 8, hitting the road hard and only stopping once, in Beaumont, Quebec for a large Poutine. Fascinating adventure so far, I know. The next thing we knew, we were cruising through New Brunswick alongside the Saint John River whose setting reminded me entirely of that stretch of Highway 15 alongside the Susquehanna River in central PA... except, you know, without all of the rundown porn shops. We stopped off for dinner in Fredericton, NB, a cute little capital where we ate and watched the sun set from the banks of the river before immediately jumping back into the car and driving until just after midnight again, stopping in Amherst, NS. If you're still waiting for this trip to begin, you're not alone. Had it not been for Sirius Satellite radio... and Sandra's supply of witty banter, or course... it's safe to say that I would have killed myself by this point.

We arrived in North Sydney around 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, having made such ridiculously good time that we even allowed ourselves the luxury of taking the scenic route Sunday morning (that's right, Mrs. Foley - just tell me something can't be done and watch what happens), a little detour that took us through the town of Tatamagouche and alongside the Northumberland Strait, with PEI in full view all the while. Of course, we pulled into the ferry docks only to learn that our ride had been delayed for two hours, which meant that it was time to chow down on the greatest food product ever invented (the East Coast Donair), and to call an impromptu parking line rehab assignment for the Griffins currently listed on the 15-day DL. And in case you're wondering, The Alfredo Griffins are my co-ed, non-competitive softball team... And yes, you read those words correctly: "co-ed", "non-competitive", and "softball". When my seamstress screwed up the hem line on my pink dress I had a breakdown and decided that I could still consider myself a man even after joining such a league. The fact that I now live for Monday nights (GAME NIGHT!) is an issue my therapist will have to sort out for me somewhere down the line. My vagina hurts. Let's just move on.

We boarded the boat and took off somewhere around 8pm. I'm not sure if you've ever taken a six hour ferry boat ride to Newfoundland, but let's just say it isn't exactly the Circle Line Sightseeing tour of NYC. Because, really, you're out in the middle of the ocean and, well, there's really nothing but ocean to see. And after that sun sets, well, there really isn't much left to do except to hit up the bar... which we most certainly did. You can't beat an ice cold Black Horse Beer while bouncing around in the Cabot Strait, and with the one-man-band up on stage singing old Newfie ballads after two days of seemingly endless imprisonment in the ol' VW, life was pretty fantastic. By the time the band finished up around 11pm, we figured it was time for some shut eye, and found a couple of seats; much like the kind of seats you find in an airplane; and settled in for a few winks. I should mention at this point that these seats were separated from the bar area by the kind of divider you'd expect to find between cubicles at a telemarketing outfit; which is to say that they were room dividers in name alone. This fact is relevant because at about midnight, the one-man-band decided that it was time for his second set, and for the next two and a half hours, we were treated to an endless barage of Tell My Ma When I Go Home and Barrett's Privateers (I wish I was in Sherbrooke NOW), all at a sleep-annihilating volume, and all to little or no fanfare whatsoever. Everytime this guy would finish one of his tunes, there would be one guy in the back clapping unenthusiastically, while the rest of the drunken Newfs continued on with their conversations, which to the untrained ear trying to sleep in an airplane seat sounded a lot like: "Fuck ye fuckin bastard! How do ye fuckin mean ye never fuckin fished for cod - Jesus H CHRIST!!!" and "I's only fuckin tellin ye cause I FUCKIN LOVE YE LIKE A BROTHER!!!" These conversations were also taking place at the loudest volume possible while children were running up and down the aisles at 1 o'clock in the morning, presumably taking it all in.

I had a pretty good feeling that I was gonna get along just fine with the Newfs.

We arrived in Port-aux-Basques at about 2:30 in the morning and drove for about 15 minutes before coming across the J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park. There was nobody at the gate, so we just picked a site (that's another great thing about Newfoundland. Pretty much everywhere you go, you're on the honour system. Of course, we made sure we paid the park the next morning, not wanting to mess with the good karma, but you could just as easily camp for free every night) We got out of the car and breathed in that beautiful crisp clean Newfoundland air and looked up into the most amazingly starlit sky these eyes have ever seen, complete with an endless array of shooting stars, making the three day drive seem all worthwhile. I slept like a baby that night, even though Sandra was under the impression that there existed a very real possibility of us being attacked by a pack of vicious, man-eating moose.

The next morning saw us swimming in a pretty sweet little waterfall (the requisite fat-guy-flex was a no-brainer) and then driving to Gros Morne National Park, stopping at the Irving Gas Station Restaurant for breakfast (honest to God, Irving; who I'd never heard of prior to this trip; is like a pre-Valdez Exxon on the East Coast: all good vibes and world domination, with a trucker's delight breakfast special that quite possibly the best basic breakfast going), Cornerbrook to score a free map from the Tourism girl, and then Deer Lake for some groceries. It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and we pulled into an empty parking lot, and my thinking was, "sweet, we're the first ones here" a la Clark Griswold (minus the nut-huggers, but with the same "Chariots of Fire" playing in my head). But instead of being closed for 2 weeks to clean and repair America's favourite family fun park, the Foodland was closed because it was "Deer Lake Day". I have no idea what "Deer Lake Day" encompasses, but it must be pretty damn impressive because the entire town was shut down, leaving us with no option but to buy all of our sustenance from what basically amounted to a convenience store and souvenir shop in Rocky Harbour. It dawned on me that they didn't have the same kind of farming as Ontario does when I asked the girl at the register if they had any corn on the cob and she said 'of course', before leading me to the canned vegetable aisle. I had no idea corn on the cob came in the canned variety. I guess you learn something new every day.

Anyway, Gros Morne Park is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and the pictures we took don't even come close to doing it justice. It's just one of those places you need to see for yourself. Honestly, when you're driving along the winding mountain roads, with the lakes and bays and countless waterfalls everywhere you look, you feel like you're driving in a car commercial... you know, if they made car commercials for '99 VW Golfs. In an effort to conserve fuel, I made sure I put big red into neutral every time we were cruising down a mountain, which is pretty wild when you hit 130 with all of the turns and oncoming traffic and moose (6 / square km) with the propensity for stumbling obliviously into the middle of the road. (By the way: the most dangerous animal in Newfoundland? Oh yeah. It's the moose. Try not to hit it with your car. Especially if you're in a VW).

And this nearly happened to us. We were driving down this ridiculously bumpy dirt road that led to the Lomond campground, luckily going no more than 20 km/hr at dusk, and this dumb fuck just walks out onto the road in front of us. We were in absolute awe. I stopped the car, and it lifted its head and stared at us for a good ten seconds before jumping over this bridge into the creek. It was one of the most surreal things I've ever seen.

In any event, the Lomond campground was one of the most secluded I've ever been in. Again, the honesty policy was in full effect, although this was the double-bonus honesty policy because you're supposed to sign yourself up and then drop your money into this box with a quarter-inch thick bicycle lock on it that could have probably been busted open with a pair of nail clippers. But again, the trust and the karma. We spent the night drinking a few Quidi Vidi beers, smoking... ahhh... Newfie tobacco... and getting schooled in frisbee by a thirteen year old girl from New Jersey who's high school apparently invented Ultimate Frisbee. Good times all around.

We woke up the next morning and set out to hike the Green Gardens trail, believing it to be a decent warm up for the Gros Morne Mountain hike. Warm up. Wow.

Let me tell you something. I am out of shape. Desperately.

This was one of the most beautiful walks I've ever been on. It had everything. Crystal clear rivers for swimming. Mountains for viewing the vista. The ocean crashing majestically into the rocks below. Breathtaking beaches. Wild sheep grazing on the plain overlooking the Atlantic... But by the end of it I wanted to kill myself. Seriously. I was absolutely exhausted.

It probably didn't help that Sandra didn't have her hiking boots, or that we ran out of water about halfway through (leading to the inevitable "female moment" about half an hour from the end). But really, I think 14 kilometres worth of trudging up and down the mountainside is about enough for me. I'm fat now. And getting old. I need a gondola ride to take me back to my car or I'm not interested.

We stopped in to a picture perfect little town called Woody Point for a fantastic seafood dinner at a place called "The Old Loft Restaurant". Probably the best squid I've ever had, not to mention the melt-in-your-mouth Cod, all while overlooking Bonne Bay. Thanks to my parents for the recommendation via Mike Foley Sr.

After going to bed while it was still daylight outside, we woke up the next morning and determined that there was no way in hell we were climbing Gros Morne Mountain that day (even though I felt surprisingly limber; you might even say that with all of that excercise and fresh air, and the fact that I went to bed at 8:30 after consumer zero adult beverages, I actually felt, gasp, GOOD?). Instead, we decided to drive up to the most northern part of the island to see North America's only known Viking settlement. I won't lie to you; the main reason we were going up to St. Anthony was to go to this Viking feast where you got to eat like a Viking (moose stew, cod tongues, etc., using only your bare hands), but of course, as we would later learn, the Viking feast wasn't happening on this particular Wednesday. But we were determined to drive the Viking trail, so off we set.

You know that scene in Trainspotting where Renton needs a toilet, and they give him the worst toilet in Scotland? Well, in this instance we needed a road to St. Anthony. And they pretty well gave us the worst road in Newfoundland. Between the lunar-crater-sized pot holes, the families of ducks trying to cross the highway, the Newfie drivers pulling blindly out onto the road, and the moose playing dodge-the-VW all afternoon, I'm actually astonished we made it to L'Anse aux Meadows alive. But it was totally worth the death-defying drive. Seriously, if you're ever in Newfoundland, make the drive to L'Anse aux Meadows. The terrain is unlike any in Newfoundland, with pristine lakes and tiny bogs and the greenest green outside of the Emerald Isle. It really was amazing.

(One more highlight from the drive up. Actually, this might go down as one of the great highlights of my life. We stopped off at this ridiculous rock formation {The Arches} just outside of Gros Morne Park, where a bunch of kids had made those little Inukshuk rock sculptures. Anyway, their sculptures were pretty weak, and despite my urge to use them for target practice, my more mature, artistic instinct took over and I created this. Pretty impressive, I know. But what is even more impressive than the sculpture itself is the fact that, as we were leaving, this guy and his girlfriend were making their way down to the Arches and when this dude saw my work of art, he basically proclaimed that it was the greatest thing he'd ever seen, and began posing for multiple pictures with it, assuming that it was some ancient Native marker that had been standing there for eons. Fantastic comedy. I tried to get Sandra to take a picture of the couple posing for pictures with my sculpture, but she would have none of it. Sadly, when it's all said and done, this could wind up being the high point of my existence)

In any event, we got to the Viking settlement about 45 minutes before it closed; not nearly enough time to go through it thoroughly, but the perfect amount of time in which to save the $12 entry fee because the guy let us go in for nothing, knowing that we wouldn't have enough time to get our money's worth. This would never happen in Ontario. Have I stressed how great the Newfie people are yet? In due time. Anyway, this was a special place for me because not only was it home to the first Viking settlement in North America, but it was also home to the first Green Roof in North America. Poor Sandra had to sit there while I talked to these two lovely Viking women about the ways in which their ancestors constructed their roofing system (sod over logs), what they used for a membrane (tree bark), what kind of an R-value they were able to achieve (stellar), and how they managed to keep the walls from soaking up all of the moisture (weep holes). I'm telling you, these Vikings thought of everything.

And aside from all of the learning we were doing (the Vikings only stayed for a couple of years, building a blacksmith shop and producing enough metal to make about 300 nails - presumably to fix their ship), we also got to try on all of the props and pose for pictures. Trying to choose between battle-axe and spear, and fox-hide and bear-pelt was a tough one, but I think my sense for fashion won out in the end.

That night, after a Jiggs dinner, we took a beatiful hike along Lacey's Train and watched the sun set over the ocean. And yes, if I had a notepad on my I would have written a poem. Instead, we settled for a couple of Black Horse beers and a boatload of romance. With a view of L'Anse aux Meadows and a picture perfect sunset, this was easily one of the great highlights of this trip. We ended up camping at the Viking RV park and getting completely eaten alive by bugs, giving further insight as to why the 10th Century Norsemen left after so short a period of time.

The next day it was back down the peninsula to take a tour of the Fjords of Gros Morne. We didn't have the boat tour booked because, let's face it, we were in Newfoundland and just about everywhere we went was completely empty. Everywhere except for the tour of Western Brook Pond apparently, because after the 2 mile hike to get to the boat, we were informed that the tour was sold out. We somehow managed to get in on standby, and spent the next two hours gawking at the power of ice, gravity, and time. Amazing what the combination can achieve.

After the Fjords, we drove halfway across the province and ended up at a fanstastic little campground called Woolfrey's Pond, just outside of Lewisport. It was about 9 o'clock when we pulled in, and we realized that we didn't have any firewood. When I asked the kid at the gate whether or not they sold any, he said that they didn't, and that there was nowhere in town he could think of that did. But he implored me to follow him back behind the shed because they had some old wood back there. When he learned that we were planning on cooking over the fire (and by cooking of course, I mean roasting hot dogs), he told me that the wood behind the shed wouldn't do because it was either painted or pressure treated. So what does he do? Calls Serle, the municipal park manager, telling him "come down for a minute". So Serle drives up in his pickup and the kid tells him about my need for wood. I already feel bad for having the kid leave his post, and I really don't need wood all that badly, so I try telling them not to worry about it, but Serle's buddy in the truck overhears the conversation and jumps out of the truck, saying "Oh jeez. I know Billy over in town has some wood. Give him a call."

I try telling them it really isn't necessary, but they won't hear of it. So they get Billy on the phone, only to learn that Billy's all out of wood. I try thanking them for their time, but Billy gives them Fred's number, telling them that Fred has some wood and he'll be happy to drive it over. The next thing you know, they're calling Fred, and when Fred doesn't pick up, I figure the saga is over, and I can let these guys get back to their lives. But Serle tells me: "I have a chainsaw in the back of my truck here. We'll go see what we can't cut down for you." Honest to God. I told them that they were really going to waaaaaay too much trouble, that it wouldn't be a problem for us to do the dogs on the Hibachi, but they were determined to get me some fire wood. It turns out Serle had a stash of kindling under his chainsaw in the bed of his truck, and he even gave me a few pieces of his secret stash of birch bark to get it all started. All of this for a stranger paying $12 a night to stay in their campground. I can't think of anywhere else in the world that people would go to such lengths to ensure some city guy gets to have his campfire. Greatest people in the world, those Newfs.

The next day we took a drive up to Twillingate, stopping for lunch at a dockside stand for Lobster and poutine... and yes, I defy you to try to find a better combo than that. Fantastic. Twillingate is billed as "The Iceberg Capital of the World", and the place didn't disappoint, as we stumbled upon this beauty out on the water. It was Friday by this point, and after a week of sleeping in the tent, we decided that it was time for a little city action, trucking it all the way down to St. John's, pulling into town sometime after 10pm. We spent the night with Sandra's two sisters and Steve, Sandra's sister's boyfriend, at a bar that was hosting some high school's 25-year class reunion. The highlight was the fact that Sandra's 17-year old sister had two Strongbow's and ended up puking through her braces later that night. Good times.

The next day Sandra and her older sister got into a massive fight because they're girls, which meant that Sandra and I spent the next two nights in a hostel because they literally couldn't be in the same house together. Good times. The hostel was a total buzz, with crooked funhouse floors which were perfect for stumbling back across at all hours of the morning. We spent the next couple of days wandering around St. John's, which is a really beautiful city except for the fact that it doesn't have any kind of a sewage treatment plant. Honest to God. I thought people were just fucking with me, but it turns out that all of the city's raw sewage gets dumped directly into the harbour. We walked down to the water and the stench was almost overwhelming. There are four "bubbles" located along the harbour where shit literally gets pumped into the water. You can identify these "bubbles" by the swarming of seagulls and the non-dissolving domers dancing like jellyfish. I was in complete disbelief, wondering how the oldest city in North America couldn't have gotten around to getting its shit together. It's hard to believe that a famous Canadian city can be so ass-backwards.

In any event, with the world's biggest toilet as our backdrop, we spent the next five days with Sandra and her sister, who finally kissed and made up. We spent Saturday night at an awesome little bar on Water Street called "The Victory", and Sunday night on George Street, which can best be described as "Bourbon Street East". Making matters about a thousand times better was the fact that the George Street Festival was in full swing Sunday night, headlined by Max Webster's own Kim Mitchell. Let me tell you, with the exception of a beaver playing hockey on an iceberg while eating a maple-syrup-soaked-back-bacon sandwhich while funnelling a stubby of Labatt's, there is nothing more Canadian than seeing Kim Mitchell do "Patio Lanterns" on George Street in July. As I have reiterated in the days since the experience: I can now die a happy man. The only disappointing thing was the fact that Kim has shaved his signature, picture perfect skullet.

Even though this clip isn't from the same show, this is pretty much the same version as he did in St. John's. And let the record show that Q107's afternoon drive guy was absolutely on top of his game, doing his rock and roll duty and reaffirming the ancient Chinese proverb which states that when you go for a soda, nobody hurts and nobody cries (This has to go down as the best video of all-time. You can't even argue the point. In fact, now that I think of it, this video deserves its own entry). When he brought "St. John's FINEST!", in the form of any ready, willing and able girls up on stage for the finale, he cemented his place in my heart as the ultimate Canadian wild party rocker. That's the hold he's got on me.

We were so stoked after the transcendental performance that we ventured off into the George Street night for Sandra's birthday, stopping into the Fat Cat Blues Bar where Sandra sat down at the bar next to a girl she went to college with (Dana Parsons, who's song we heard on the radio later that week), and I sat down next to a pair of Jameson reps... This could only end badly. They bought Sandra and I each a triple Jameson on the rocks, and over the course of the night, we kept bumping into them at bar after bar along George Street, and each time they'd buy us the same triple. Ridiculous. Sandra did a killer karaoke version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" at a bar called Karaoke Kops, and the old man running the Karaoke night bought her a drink and gave her a birthday pin to go along with the shots of screech I bought... Ugh. We ended up at a bar called Lottie's for double white Russians with the Jameson people before stumbling back to the funhouse-floored hostel. I couldn't move the next day.

Hungover beyond belief, Sandra, her little sister (JLT) and I went off to do a drive around the Irish Loop. It started out beautifully, but by the time we got down to St. Vincent to go whale watching, the fog had rolled in to the point where I couldn't even see the yellow line in the middle of the road. But we looked anyway. It was a miserable failure.

We spent Tuesday and Wednesday hanging around St. John's, waiting for the tropical storm to hit and cancel the Royal St. John's Regatta - the annual oldest sporting event in North America, and the reason we were hanging around the city for as long as we did. When they went ahead and cancelled the Regatta, I fulfilled a life's dream of mine by setting foot in a town called "Dildo", which is an only slightly less humourous name than "Come By Chance", but worth the two hour drive nonetheless.

Amazingly, despite the fact that everything on the East Coast of the province had been cancelled due to the massive flooding an ensuing state of emergency; and despite the fact that we'd taken a drive that afternoon and witnessed the damage first hand; it didn't occur to me to check on the status of our ferry until about 10 o'clock that night. So it really should have come as no surprise when we learned that our ferry had been re-routed, and that we would have to wake up at 5:30 in the next morning in order to drive the entire length of the province so we could catch the ferry from Port-aux-Basques at 8pm. But we were somehow able to make the ferry in time, despite the fact that we got a flat tire 28 kms past Grand Falls, which meant that not only did I have to have somebody help me take the tire off (I'll say it was because we needed a sledge hammer to get the bolts off, but we all know it's because I have absolutely no idea of what the hell I'm doing), but that we also had to backtrack for forty-five minutes, driving 60 km/hour along the Trans-Canada Highway as those once-friendly Newfs flew past, giving me the finger at every opportunity.

Sandra and I slept the entire ferry ride back, waking up as we pulled into Nova Scotia, and driving until sunrise. We drove the next day through New Brunswick and most of Maine in an electric storm and ensuing hail-filled downpour that seemed worse than the one that shut down St. John's two days earlier. The highlight for me was stopping in a town called Skowhegan and coming across the Empire Grill completely by chance. For those of you who don't know, I am a pretty big Richard Russo fan, and this particular Diner was the setting for the HBO movie starring Paul Newman, Ed Harris, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, based on Russo's brilliant novel, Empire Falls. Amazing what you can stumble upon if you keep your head up.

We got home Saturday night at about 11 o'clock, having put approximately 8,500 kms on my car, but grateful for every last mile of it. Thanks to Jessica and Steve for taking us in. Thanks to my mom and dad, and to Foley for all of the recommendations.


Just a few more quick notes about Newfoundland.

I love how every little cove is considered a town. You'll come around a turn on the TCH, and there'll be this tiny village with no more than a dozen dwellings, and yet these twelve or so houses are a town. And this is to say nothing of how great the names for these little towns are. Heart's Desire, Heart's Content, and Heart's Delight, to name a few. Maybe we'd all be happier if we lived in towns with names like those.

I think Newfoundland is becoming more popular as a tourist destination because there seemed to be a good number of people touring the place, most of whom had massive RVs (when I mentioned this observation to my dad, he said: "That's it. I'm not telling anyone about Newfoundland anymore." I think he's afraid of the island jumping the shark). But the thing about all of these people travelling to Newfoundland is that they are all... from another age demographic, you could say? We were the youngest people we saw travelling, which I guess is a reflection of the fact that most of the young people get the hell out of there as soon as possible (Waiting for the ferry to take us to The Rock, there was a man with a T-shirt which read: "Old Guys Rule". When I commented on it, he said "You know why old guys rule? It's because all the young guys left the island!"). But I think more young people should go east. It's a hell of a place. One of the most beautiful I've ever been, and with some of the best people. And you can't beat the seafood. Or the Toutons.

And finally, I'm not sure whether you want to call this a Newfie proverb, but we came across this great sign while driving the Irish Loop, and it read: "Happiness is a choice you make, that requires effort at times". I guess it's a principle that I've always tried to live by, but I don't think I ever knew how to properly articulate it.

What do you know? I guess those Newfie's really are smarter than we give them credit for.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

You Are HERE, Pt. II

Just about the last words you want to come across on the Marine Atlantic website when you're booked onto the Ferry scheduled to sail from Argentia to North Sydney on Thursday, August 2nd at 9:00 a.m.:

Marine Atlantic Inc. wishes to inform its passengers that due to the closure of the road in Dunville and the State of Emergency declared by the Town of Placentia the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood which was enroute to Argentia has been diverted to Port aux Basques. The vessel is expected to arrive in Port aux Basques at approximately 9:00 p.m. this evening. The scheduled sailing from Argentia to North Sydney for Thursday, August 2nd at 9:00 a.m. has been cancelled. Customers are asked to contact reservations at 1-800-341-7981 to rebook their passage.

You Are HERE

Ahhhhhh... Nothing beats St. John's in early August...