Saturday, November 29, 2008

Toronto Transit City

(For a larger version of the Transit City map, click HERE)

I've been meaning to write about the Toronto Transit City plan for quite some time.

For whatever the reason, I have a sizable fetish for public transportation. I love the idea of paying less than three bucks and being able to travel anywhere in the city without having to worry about traffic, gas prices, parking, or cutting myself off after two drinks because I need to drive home. And maybe it's because I don't rely on public transportation to get to-and-from work every day, but I always find myself engulfed in warm, fuzzy feelings every time I'm riding the streetcar or the subway - it's the feeling of knowing you're doing the right thing.

But with that being said, the Toronto Transit system, as it is currently constituted, is not without considerable shortcomings. It is ridiculous that you can't take the subway to-and-from the airport (in Cleveland... yes, Cleveland... you can take an LRT train from the airport to Jacob's Field for $2). It's a joke that the subway stops running before the bars close (the vomit comet, though highly entertaining, is hardly sufficient for the fifth most populous city in North America). Every streetcar line should be dedicated (yes, even along the Dundas line), and if people don't like the traffic problems that creates, that's just perfect because they shouldn't be driving in the city anyway. It's obvious that the City of Toronto and the TTC clearly have a long, long way to go.

But this Transit City plan goes a long way in addressing many of those issues. The dedicated St. Clair streetcar line is almost complete, and the increase in property value along Corso Italia is already apparent. You can expect the same kind of escalating property values along the rest of these proposed routes.

Here's a rundown of the newly proposed Light Rail Transit lines (for a crash course on LRT, click HERE), courtesy of The City of Toronto website:

(Each of the corridors contained in the Plan is described briefly here, together with the benefits and costs associated with each. The costs are approximate, and include the cost of light rail vehicles and the savings attributable to the smaller bus fleet that would be required. Costs have not been included in this report for light-rail vehicle maintenance facilities which would be required to support new light-rail lines.)

Don Mills Corridor

This 18-kilometre long corridor would stretch along the Don Mills Road corridor from Steeles Avenue to the Don Valley, and then south to a connection with the Bloor-Danforth Subway. The corridor would provide fast and frequent north-south service over a busy transit corridor east of the Yonge Subway and west of the Scarborough RT. Light rail service would connect with the Sheppard Subway and the Sheppard East light rail corridor at Don Mills Station. A northerly extension could be built to provide direct service into York Region. Direct connections would be made to the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line, and through operation between the Don Mills and Eglinton Crosstown lines would be possible, potentially providing more transfer-free journeys for transit customers.

Light rail service would operate in the surface on dedicated rights-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 21.2 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be pproximately $675 million.

Eglinton Crosstown Corridor

This 31-kilometre long corridor would link Kennedy Station in the east with Pearson Airport and the Mississauga Transitway in the west, via a new light rail service that would stretch across Toronto. The corridor would provide a fast and frequent east-west service through the central part of Toronto, as well as important regional connections. The corridor would connect with the existing Bloor-Danforth, Yonge, Scarborough RT and Spadina subways, and with the proposed new Scarborough Malvern, Don Mills, and Jane light rail corridors. In addition to connections to Mississauga in the west, the Eglinton Crosstown corridor could eventually connect with Durham Region in the east, via the Scarborough Malvern and Sheppard East light rail corridors.

Light rail service would operate on the surface in a dedicated right-of-way from Kennedy Station to approximately Laird Drive, then underground to Keele Street, and then again on the surface in a dedicated right of way to Mississauga and Pearson Airport. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 53 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $2.2 billion.

Etobicoke-Finch West Corridor

This 18-kilometre long corridor would link Finch Station with northern Etobicoke. The light rail line would run west from Finch Station on the Yonge Subway along Finch Avenue. The line would end at or near Highway 27, Humber College, and the Humberwood community. The light rail service would replace a busy existing bus route, and would provide fast and frequent east-west service through the northern part of North York and Etobicoke. In addition to Finch Station on the Yonge Subway, the line would connect with Finch West Station on the Spadina Subway extension, and with the Jane light rail corridor. In the future, the Etobicoke-Finch West corridor could be extended farther west to Mississauga, or south to the Woodbine racetrack or Pearson Airport areas to provide important regional connections.

Light rail service would operate entirely in a dedicated surface right-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 25 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $835 million.

Jane Corridor

This 17-kilometre long corridor would stretch along Jane Street from Steeles West Station on the padina Subway to the Bloor-Danforth Subway. The corridor would provide fast and frequent north-south service in the western part of Toronto along a very busy transit corridor. A northerly extension could be built to provide direct service into York Region. A short east-west segment would connect to the St Clair streetcar line at Keele Street. Direct connections would be made to Steeles West Station on the Spadina Subway, the Etobicoke-Finch West light rail line, the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line, the St Clair streetcar line, and the Bloor-Danforth Subway.

Light rail service would operate entirely on the surface in a dedicated right-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 24 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $630 million.

Scarborough Malvern Corridor

This 15-kilometre long corridor would link Kennedy Station with northern Scarborough, Malvern, and the Morningside Heights community. The light rail service would run east from Kennedy Station on Eglinton Avenue, northeast on Kingston Road, and then north on Morningside Drive to the Malvern and Morningside Heights communities. The line would provide new high-quality light rail service along several busy existing transit routes, and would provide direct service to the University of Toronto at Scarborough and Centennial College’s Ellesmere Campus. The Scarborough Malvern light rail line would connect with the Sheppard East light rail line at Morningside Drive and Sheppard Avenue, and light rail service could potentially be through-routed west or east on the Sheppard East corridor, increasing convenience for transit customers.

Light rail service would operate entirely on the surface in a dedicated right-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 14 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $630 million.

This 14-kilometre long corridor would extend rapid transit service east from Don Mills Station to northern Scarborough, Malvern, and, potentially, Durham Region. The light rail line would run east from Don Mills Station on the Sheppard Subway along Sheppard Avenue, replacing two busy existing bus routes, and providing fast and frequent east-west service through the northern part of Scarborough, with potential future regional connections. A key requirement of the selected route is the planned extension of the Scarborough RT to a new terminal at Sheppard Avenue in the Malvern community, which would provide important connections from Sheppard Avenue to Scarborough Centre and to the Bloor-Danforth Subway. At its eastern end, the Sheppard East corridor would connect with the Scarborough Malvern light rail corridor. A direct connection would be possible with GO Transit’s Stouffville line. The Sheppard East corridor could eventually be extended farther east to Durham Region, and light rail service on the Sheppard East Corridor could be through-routed over the Scarborough Malvern Corridor to provide further transit connections.

Light rail service would operate from the underground transfer terminal at Don Mills Station, rising to the surface to operate the rest of the way in a dedicated right-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 17 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $555 million.

Waterfront West Corridor

This 11-kilometre long corridor would link Union Station and Exhibition Place with Parkdale, High Park, and southern Etobicoke. The new light rail line would start from the existing Exhibition streetcar loop, and run west along the Gardiner Expressway/Lakeshore GO Train corridor to the existing Queensway and Lake Shore streetcar tracks, which would be upgraded where necessary to a dedicated surface right-of-way. The light rail service would provide fast and frequent east-west service from southern Etobicoke to Union Station along the waterfront. Eventual extensions could be made west into Mississauga and east from Union Station into the eastern waterfront.

Light rail service would operate entirely in a dedicated surface right-of-way. Estimated annual ridership in 2021 would be 21 million customer-trips. Order-of-magnitude cost of the corridor would be approximately $540 million.

Some rudimentary calculations by a guy who dropped out of math in the 11th grade show that the cost of these 7 projects would run somewhere in the neighbourhood of $6.065 billion... By no means chump change, but in my estimation, a small price to pay to bring this great city up to the standards of other world class cities (have you seen Moscow's Metro map? Wasn't that supposed to be a communist city until 1991? How the hell do they have a transportation systme like that?).

So how do you raise $6 and a half billion dollars? Push that GST back up a point and earmark that money for infrastructure renewal. Charge tolls to people who drive in the downtown core the way they do in London. Take the absurd $1.50 "service fee" that I'm charged when paying my parking tickets online (isn't the whole point of an internet-based payment option to eliminate the need for "service"?), and use that money to invest in an adequate transportation system so I won't have to drive, park, and subsequently receive the three parking tickets a month that I currently do...

Finding the money... to me, that's the easy part. It's spending it the right way that's the challenge. Let's hope that somebody out there can manage to get it done. Because I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to the day, in the not-too-distant future, where I'll be able to return home from abroad, grab my gear from the baggage claim at Pearson International, and ride the subway back to my home in the greatest city in the world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ringside Announcers Have a Field Day

The guys sitting ringside for HBO are in their wheelhouse here.

- "Indeed, he kissed Vargas behind the ear... which prompted Vargas to knock the living shit out of him..."

- "With a name like Titsworth, he's lucky he didn't feel him up!"


Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.

Of course, this little episode of foreplay is a distant second in the pantheon of homoerotic fighting moments, miles behind Mike Tyson's infamous "I'll fuck you 'till you love me!" offer, and just slightly ahead of every single MMA event ever held.

By the way, the slow motion replay of the sensual kiss on the neck followed by the subsequent haymaker that almost breaks Titsworth's jaw is like a metaphor for my entire college dating career... And by "metaphor" I mean pinpoint re-creation of actual events.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Friday Diversion

A little something to help get you through your last Friday with a moustache. As always, here is some of the best reading I've come across over the past 7 days:

The Hungry Travellers
By Jane Kramer

This is a fantastic little piece taken from The New Yorker's Food Issue (Nov. 24th). It is a story about falling in love with travelling, falling in love with food, and falling in love with the city of Toronto... I guess you could say it's a story about falling in love. Just a beautiful, heartwarming piece of writing. It focuses on Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, and the means by which they have travelled the world, accumulating recepies and stories for their wildly famous cookbooks. This is essential reading for any fan of food or fun, or for anyone who lives in the greatest city in the world.

One of my favourite parts is when Alford is talking about writing his Master's Thesis. When his advisor told him: "Write me a story about the things you know", he did just that. The title of the thesis was: "Bread, Travel, and Drugs".

(Note: you may have to sign up for The New Yorker's digital reader to access this one. It's free, and they won't pester you with emails if you don't want them to. Do yourself a favour. This one is well worth it)

The Grammar of Fun
By Tom Bissel

I officially retired from the world of video games when I became the first out of all of my friends to complete Super Mario Bros 1, deciding to go out on top like an eleven-year-old John Elway. But my buddy DVZ works for Rockstar Games, and this is about as close to his working world as I'll probably ever get. I love the fact that the Epic Games parking lot is filled with Ferarris and Lamborghinis, and that most of the drivers don't look like they're old enough to shave. Also, I didn't think I'd ever read the following sentence in the New Yorker: "In this match, I was simultaneously chainsawed to death by three people, a spectacle that everyone in the room claimed never to have seen before."

From Contemplation to just plain Giddiness... Thank You!
By John Buccigross

I don't think Bucci will be winning a Pulitzer Prize for journalism any time soon, but in his weekly hockey bit for, he brings up a great point that I'd never actually considered before:

Thanks for having it take so long to put on and take off hockey equipment. This gives kids time to do what they don't do enough -- talk to one another. There is no better scene than watching mites and squirts taking off their gear and screaming at one another at Hannah Montana concert levels. This is why hockey players are the wittiest athletes. They've had hours and hours of practice since they were 7.

Having spent as much time in hockey dressing rooms as I have (McCallums are always, without fail, the last ones out of the room), I can unequivocally say that hockey players are the wittiest of all athletes. It must have something with the defense mechanisms developed over years of spending an hour on the ice and then having to get naked in front of a bunch of strangers... You do know that it shrinks, right?

Thanks to Flats via DJ Smitty for the link.

The Best Roti in Toronto
By Tim Shore

One of the best things about living in Toronto is the seemingly endless supply of Roti shops. And I'm a sucker for each and every one of them: East Indian, West Indian, Vegetarian, Jerk... No two are alike, but each is out of this world in it's own right. Personally, I'd highly recommend Vena's for the extra spicy Goat, Okra, and Potato, but then again I'm just a white guy from the mean streets of Oakville, so what do I know... This link will help you find the roti that's right for you.

The Fall of Once-Mighty St. John's
By Seth Davis

This one is only for the hardest of die-hard St. John's fans. Those who remember the glory years of Chris Mullin, Greg "Boo" Harvey, and Malik Sealy. For those who got behind Bootsy Thornton, Lavor Postell, and Erik Barkley, only to have our hearts broken by Ohio State in '99 and Gonzaga in '00. The mighty most certainly have fallen. Where have you gone, sweet Lou Carnesecca?

Thanks to Flats for the depression-inducing link

A pretty CRAZY VIDEO of two dudes base jumping off of the Burj Dubai (Thanks to JD for the link)

And finally, a little something to help you enjoy the last three days of your "vacation from yourself":

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Boozy Call

There's little doubt that everyone out there is familiar with the Booty Call. It's late at night, you've had more than a couple of drinks, you haven't managed to hook up with an eligible bachelorette in your time at the bar, it's past last call and most of your buddies are heading home, but for whatever the reason, you're just not quite ready to shut it down yourself.

The next phone call placed is usually the "booty call". In most cases, there is a loosely defined, unspoken agreement between two members of the opposite (or same) sex whereby one will drunkenly call the other at any time of the night, and provided that the party on the other end of the line isn't already engaged in any elicit sexual activities, an awkward invitation to "hang out" will be extended. defines the Booty Call as:
A late night summons -- often made via telephone -- to arrange clandestine sexual liaisons on an ad hoc basis.

Over the course of the past 5 weeks, for better or worse, I have become all too familiar with the close relation of the booty call: the Boozy Call.

You see, five weeks ago, I essentially became a bachelor. My girlfriend left to go to India for two months, leaving me with a heretofore unprecedented amount of freedom, and an apartment all to myself. In many ways, this freedom has been glorious. And my friends, far moreso than myself, have decided to take full advantage.

I'll allow them to explain. Here is a transcript of the phone messages I received on Saturday, October 18th (officially Sunday, October 19); approximately five hours after my girlfriend had left the country:

Message #1 (2:47 am)
Sean Mccallum, this is Nate Dogg and D-Hibb. We are calling because we heard that you are no longer with a girlfriend and might be lonely at home with a bunch of scotch and whiskey. You might ignore this message, but I'm telling you right now, we're coming to your place and knocking on your door. It's simple. You should call us back and say, "don't come to my house and knock on my door", OR, you can get some ice, get some whiskey and scotch... Get D-Hibb some beer because he doesn't like it, and we will be there shortly. I will call you back in 5 minutes... You should save this message....
(four seconds of unintelligable rustling...)
What the fuck? I almost dropped my phone...

Message #2 (2:52 am)
Sean. Natey and D-Hibb again. We're just gonna go get fuelled up. We just left the Underground Garage. We're walking up Spadina... (now singing) 'Take the bus! What bus? The Spadina BUS!!!'... And ahhh... We'll be right back at you, buddy. Honestly. I will be knocking on your door, so you should call this number back, 'cause we will be coming to your house to sample scotch and whiskey... There's people... Asian people riding bicycles past me right now... You should save this message, because it would probably be pretty funny. Anyway, call us back you fuckin (unintelligible). Stop crying in your bed because your girlfriend went to India...

Message #3 (3:11 am)
Could be your second... Might be your third message. We are coming to your house. You dropped her off at the airport, I don't know when. But we are coming in full force, the D-Hibb and the Hutch, we're showing up. The double-H. We're gonna penetrate. We're gonna take your scotch, and rob you blind. Anyway... What time is it? I don't know. You fuckin figure it out. You brought the midget, you figure it out. Call me back.

When they called again five minutes later, I finally answered the phone. Sweet Nate's response:
"Holy Fuck!! D-Hibb, we're LIVE!!!!"

Within two minutes, they were stumbling out of a cab, laughing their asses off, and waking up the unfortunate people who live downstairs from me.

I had succombed to the boozy call. We proceeded to drink at my place until well after the break of day. Like the sober participant on the receiving end of a booty call, I had a blast for those few hours they were here, and then I felt dirty and unwholesome when they left in the morning.

In any event, I naively chalked this chance encounter up to the fact that it was my first night of bachelorhood. But then last night, come about 3:15 am, my phone began ringing again. I recognized the number. I knew what they were after. But I had my pride. I had my dignity. And I was determined not to give it up so easily this time.

(Actually, it had nothing to do with dignity. What it had to do with was the fact that I'd been drinking $55 Delgado-rounds on Wendel Clark night at the Leafs game, and then, against my better judgement, had gotten on a bus to Hamilton for a house party, finishing the night off with a last call of plum brandy shots at my buddy Sully's place in Oakville. Needless to say, the last thing I needed was scotch, whiskey, and DJ Eric Foreman.)

So I did what any self-respecting man would do if put in the same predicament: I turned my phone off, and with my buddy Dunner already passed out on the couch, I turned out the lights and went to bed.

Ten minutes later, I awoke to the incessant ringing of my doorbell (which also rings in my downstairs neighbours' place, for the record). I had no choice but to jump out of bed, disgustedly muttering "what-the-fuck"s and "you-gotta-be-fuckin-kidding-me"s as I ran down the stairs in my gitch. Sure enough, there were my two boozy calls, smiling drunkenly on the front porch.

What could I do? I opened the door, and we drank and laughed until 5:30 in the morning.

Here is the message they left for me before arriving, although I didn't actually listen to it until this morning:

Message #1 (3:15 am)
Nate: (apparently speaking to the cabbie) I know people might tell you it's your job, but it's not your job. Your job is to, once you pick us up, to drive...
Nate: (now addressing me) Sean, it's Nathan and D-Hibb. Guess what? It's that time again. We are coming full fledged. So answer your door. Take down the dirty pictures... But leave Dolly up. We're comin'. And Dunner?... Show the fuck up. Represent Barrie. Peace!
D-Hibb: (addressing Nate) You sure they left Hamilton though? For sure?
Nate: (addressing D-Hibb) Ryan dropped them off at his house...

For the record, I have no idea what kind of dirty pictures they were talking about... And the Dolly reference is a photograph of Dolly Parton that inexplicably sits on the mantle... And I can't believe my brother Ronnie would sell me out like that... And I felt like all hell today, so much so that I had to bail on the Grey Cup party I was supposed to attend.

But you know what? All things considered, I have to say that I'm a big fan of the Boozy Call. And the next time those guys are looking for some late night (drinking) action, chances are they'll dial my number again. And chances are, I'll open the door.

What can I say? I'm weak when it comes to matters of tha drink.


The third installment of the Boozy Call took place this past Saturday night (Dec. 14). It involved a giant light-up Santa Claus, and more South American sugar cane moonshine (96% alcohol) than I'd like to admit. Below you'll find evidence of the wreckage..

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wendel Clark

Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs are raising Wendel Clark's #17 to the rafters at the Air Canada Centre. I for one, will be in attendance, thanks to my buddy Dunner's last minute hookup.

In what was unquestionably the darkest period in the history of one of hockey's most storied franchises, Wendel Clark was the lone beaconing light. He embodied everything that Toronto ever wanted in a hockey player: fearless leadership, an unfathomable toughness, a gritty, scorer's touch, a flair for the dramatic, and a moustache.

In all of the time I spent at Maple Leaf Gardens growing up, he was without question the main reason people continued to pack that grand old building. His open ice hits were the stuff of legends. His fights were little short of epic. He was one of Brophy's Boys. He was everything a hockey player should be.

The most heroic hockey I've ever seen played came courtesy of Wendel Clark during the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals. Early in the series, Wendel had laid a beating on Marty Mcsorley after Marty had caught Dougie Gilmour with his head down coming across the middle. That fight is hands down the most famous in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I'll never forget the front page of The Toronto Sun the next day, showing the extent of the price Mcsorley had paid for the elbow on Gimour with a world class shiner.

But it was Game 6 of the series, in L.A., that put Wendel into the pantheon for me. I stayed up all night watching that game with my dad, and when Wendel buried a hat trick, his third goal sending the game into overtime, I remember thinking that I'd never seen a performance like the one The Captain was delivering. This was our leader, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he was outplaying the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

When Wayne Gretzky eventually broke my heart by tapping home the overtime winner for the Kings, I had tears in my eyes, and through a voice breaking with emotion, I remember telling my dad that it just wasn't fair.

It was the only time in my life that I can remember crying because of one of my teams losing. Wendel had done everything humanly possible to take the Leafs to the Stanley Cup finals, and it still wasn't enough.

Sports has never meant as much to me as it did in the spring of 1993, when Wendel Clark was the best hockey player in the world.

One more note on how much Wendel Clark means to the City of Toronto.

I was out with my buddies Foley and Joe last night. The three of us are rocking fantastic moustaches for Movember. Usually, when you tell someone that you're growing a moustache to raise money for prostate cancer research, the response is pretty ho-hum. "That's great. Good luck with everything. You look like an idiot." Pretty standard stuff.

In any event, we were being drunk and disorderly at a little local pub, and the conversation invariably turned to the honouring of Wendel's #17 tonight. There was some dude with a hard-on for Wendel talking about how he was the best player he'd ever seen, and how if you had a team full of guys with half of Wendel's heart, you'd win the Cup every year... I told this guy that there was a group of us going to the game tonight, and that, in fact, Wendel's honouring was the reason that we were all growing moustaches.

His response?


Two seconds later, some other dude walks over and says, "I'm sorry for interupting, but I just overheard you say that you guys grew those moustaches for Wendel... You guys are my fucking heroes!"

Prostate cancer? Yawn... To show your love for Wendel Clark? Drinks on the house all night long.

Only in Toronto. And you wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friday Diversion

After a month long hiatus, here is a star-studded, predominantly Obamafied version of the Friday Diversion.

By Hendrik Hertzberg

If you only have time to read one piece regarding the significance of the nomination of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, read this short piece taken from the November 17th Comment section of The New Yorker. Here's a brilliant excerpt:

Barack Hussein Obama: last week, sixty-five million Americans turned a liability—a moniker so politically inflammatory that the full recitation of it was considered foul play—into a global diplomatic asset, a symbol of the resurgence of America’s ability to astonish and inspire. In the Convention keynote speech that made him instantly famous four years ago, Obama called himself “a skinny kid with a funny name.” Funny? Not really. “Millard Fillmore”—now, that’s funny. The Times contented itself with referring to the candidate’s “unusual name.” Unusual? Unusual would be, say, “Dwight D. Eisenhower.” Ten weeks from now, the President of the United States will be a person whose first name is a Swahili word derived from the Arabic (it means “blessing”), whose middle name is that not only of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad but also of the original target of an ongoing American war, and whose last name rhymes nicely with “Osama.”

That’s not a name, it’s a catastrophe.

Say it loud, and say it proud: Barack Hussein Obama, President-elect of the United States of America.

The Joshua Generation
By David Remnick

A fascinating, lengthy, and detailed account of Barack Obama's political ascension. From his childhood quest for identity in Hawaii (Sometimes, as one reads “Dreams from My Father,” it’s hard to know where the real angst ends and the self-dramatizing of the backward glance begins, but there is little doubt that Obama was at sea, particularly where race was concerned. To ease that pain, to “flatten out the landscape of my heart,” he would do what kids sometimes do: he drank, he smoked grass, and, in his unforgettably offhand formulation, he did “a little blow” when he “could afford it.”) to Grant Park on that glorious November night (“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer”), this piece basically covers it all.

A Slide Show depicting the front pages of newspapers the world over after Obama's victory.

For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics
By Adam Nossiter

An explanation of the obselescence of the Southern state of mind. You can't help but to almost feel sorry for these people who simply don't know any better. They're like the grade school bully when everyone finally realizes they don't have to take his shit anymore.

Thanks to Flats for the link.

Taken from BruceSpringsteen.Net, November 2, 2008

Suffice it to say, at this point, nobody puts it better than The Boss.

Hello Cleveland

It's great to be here today among friends. I'd like to thank Senator Obama and his folks for inviting me. I've been here many times since 1973, but never on a day as glorious as this one. We are at the crossroads.

I've spent 35 years writing about America and its people. What does it mean to be an American? What are our duties, our responsibilities, our reasonable expectations when we live in a free society? I saw myself less as a partisan for any particular political party, than as an advocate for a set of ideas. Economic and social justice, America as a positive influence around the world. Truth, transparency and integrity in government. The right of every American to a job, a living wage, to be educated in a decent school, to a life filled with the dignity of work, promise, and the sanctity of home. These are the things that make a life, that build and define a society. These are the things we think of on the deepest level, when we refer to our freedoms. Today those freedoms have been damaged, and curtailed by eight years of a thoughtless, reckless, and morally adrift administration.

I spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality. For many Americans who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no health care, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities, the distance between that dream and their reality has never been greater or more painful. I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and work. I believe he understands in his heart the cost of that distance in blood and suffering in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president he would work to bring that dream back to life, and into the lives of many of our fellow Americans, who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning.

In my job, I travel around the world, and occasionally play in big stadiums, just like Senator Obama. I continue to find everywhere I go that America remains a repository for people's hopes and desires. That despite the terrible erosion of our standing around the world, for many we remain a house of dreams. One thousand George Bushes and one thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down. That is something only we can do, and we're not going to let that happen.

This administration will be leaving office, dumping in our laps the national tragedies of Katrina, Iraq, and our financial crisis. Our house of dreams has been abused, looted, and left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power, influence or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, hearts and minds. It needs someone with Senator Obama's understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, pragmatism, toughness and faith. But most of all it needs us. You and me. All a nation has that keeps it from coming apart is the social contract between its' citizens. Whatever grace God has deemed to impart to us resides in our connections with one another, in honoring the life, the hopes, the dreams, of the man or woman up the street, or across town. That's where we make our small claim upon heaven. In recent years that contract has been shredded and as we look around today, it is shredding before our eyes. But today we are at the crossroads.

I'm honored to be here on the same stage as Senator Obama. From the beginning, there has been something in Senator Obama that has called upon our better angels, I suspect, because he has had a life where he has so often had to call upon his. We're going to need all the angels we can get on the hard road ahead. Senator Obama helped us rebuild our house big enough for the dreams of all our citizens. For how well we accomplish this task will tell us what it means to be an American in the new century, what's at stake, and what it means to live in a free society. So I don't know about you, but I want my country back, I want my dream back, I want my America back. Now is the time to stand together with Barack Obama and Joe Biden and the millions of Americans that are hungry for a new day, roll up our sleeves and come on up for the rising.

Buy American. I Am.
By Warren Buffet

An argument for why you should jump on American stocks, using one of the all-time Gretzky-isms as an analogy.

Thanks to Flats via DJ Smitty for the link.

The Sports Czar is Fired Up, Ready to Go
By Bill Simmons and his readers

Rarely, if ever, will I offer up a Simmons selection as part of the Friday Diversion (most readers will have plowed through this particular mail bag a week ago), but I felt as though his first answer was so bang on that it warranted re-printing here. I literally don't disagree with a single suggestion. The man has my vote:

Q: I would like to nominate you, Bill Simmons, for a new Sports Czar position in the Obama cabinet. It's a position that's needed in government, no? You're the only one who can save this country from future sports missteps.
-- Travis, Minneapolis

SG: Travis, I accept your nomination even though I lack the legal background, the authority and the connections. With 10 weeks to fine-tune my platform before President Obama officially takes office, here's a rough draft of ideas I'm kicking around. Some of them have already been mentioned in this column; I just wanted to get everything in one place. Feel free to send me any additional suggestions. On the first week of 2009, I will post a complete platform for my bid to become the first Sports Czar.

Creations: A college football playoff system; a uniform boxing organization; a better trophy for the World Series; championship belts for the defending NBA champs that they must bring to every game; a hierarchy of alcoholic beverages for baseball celebrations (cheap beer, then good beer, then cheap champagne, then good champagne); an NBA expansion team in Seattle, effective for the 2010-11 season; a no-exception three-city rotation for the Super Bowl among New Orleans, Miami and San Diego; a full-length indoor basketball court in the White House, with all games involving Obama televised on NBA TV; a purple Masters-type sports coat for the winning March Madness coach (presented to him by last year's coach as Jim Nantz orgasmically looks on); relegation for Major League Baseball (a 30-team league with the bottom two teams forced to move to Triple-A for a year).

Eliminations: The backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke events in the Olympics; baseball managers cannot wear uniforms anymore; no more seat licenses, NIT or Tony Siragusa; no NFL division champ can make the playoffs unless it wins nine games; no more three-man booths except for Van Gundy, Jackson and Breen; the bullpens can't empty during a baseball fight; no NHL ticket can cost more than $75; no tax write-offs for season tickets, but you CAN write off luxury suites; no more sideline reporters unless they agree to dress like Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman"; no more cell-phone calls by spectators during sporting events (you can only text); no more sunglasses in the World Series of Poker.

Restructures: The NHL will disband eight teams, move a few more to Canada and form 11-team conferences in the United States and Canada; Fox's No. 1 team for baseball broadcasts will be selected in a vote by the users of; the Nets and Bobcats will merge and move to Vegas next season (and become the Las Vegas Dice); the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets will switch nicknames; Gus Johnson will be promoted to CBS' lead play-by-play guy for March Madness and the Final Four; Buffalo residents can purchase the Bills in a public trust (like how Sconnies own the Packers); all "live" sporting events will be shown live again and not on a brief tape delay, and if anyone out there can't handle hearing an occasional F-bomb, then don't watch live sporting events; a three-game exhibition season for the NFL with two regular-season bye weeks (not one); the entry fee for the WSOP will be raised to $25,000; two rounds for the Home Run Derby and that's it; H-O-R-S-E for NBA All-Star Weekend; ESPN Classic's budget is tripled; the Olympics and World Cup will happen every three years (not four).

New rules: No pregame show will be allowed to have more than four people (except for NBC's "Football Night in America," which will shift to a "Hollywood Squares" format); if you purchase a player's jersey and that player is traded within 12 months, you can return the jersey and buy a new one for half price; incoming college freshman recruits don't have to honor an NCAA scholarship if their sleaze-bag coach ditched them after he signed them; all professional owners either have to sell their team before they turn 80 or before they start looking like a sea monster; a forced agreement where the NFL Network is carried by all cable systems; baseball fans get to vote on the entrance music for their closers; golfers have to carry their own bags for the PGA Championship; the "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" will replace the Australian Open as tennis' fourth major (with the top six male and female tennis players competing against MTV cast members); no more 20/20 flashes on sports radio shows (we move to a 30/30 flash); the U.S. Olympic basketball team cannot have anyone over 25 years old; David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game" must be re-released; Chris Rose will be liberated from "The Best Damn Sports Show" and given a better show; Tropicana Field is immediately blown up; Isiah Thomas will replace Donna Orender as the commissioner of the WNBA, effective immediately.

Read My Lip
By Dave McGinn

Everything you ever needed to know about why you should grow a moustache. I'm telling you, after reading this piece, I was walking around the greatest city in the world with an entirely new swagger. Big, tough looking dudes were getting out of my way on the sidewalk. Young punks were opening the door for me at the supermarket. And I'll be damned if all the little girls' souls didn't grow just the least bit weak every time this man-child gave them a double-shot.

Women may not like mustaches, but the 'stache's ability to transform a man is undeniable. I wasn't the only one who noticed this transformation. When my friend Jen mentioned that her boyfriend had recently begun wearing a mustache, I asked if she had noticed any changes in his behaviour. "Yeah," she said. "He's kind of being a jerk."

Thanks to Llibs for the link.

Tribute to the Moustache
By Jill Kitchener

My friend Jill put together a fanstisc little slide show for Reuters in order to help celebrate Movember. You'll notice that just about everyone in this slide show is completely bad-ass. Especially Nick Cave.

A Better Brew
By Burkhard Bilger

From the annals of drinking comes this wildly entertaining look into the world of craft breweries in general and "extreme beers" in particular. This article has it all: drunken elephants trampling villages and electrocuting themselves, catapulting cases of industrial beer (read: Coors Light) into gargantuan toilet sculptures, giant barrels made from Palo Santo, and beer racism (the idea that the darker a beer is, the more impurities it has - wholly untrue... and entirely racist!).

I'm telling you, if you're reading this article on a Friday afternoon in your office, it will be almost impossible not to nip out to the nearest brew pub for a couple pints of the kinds of beers you were previously too afraid to sample. The descriptions of what some of Dogfish Head's beers taste like are simply out of this world. For example, the Palo Santo Marron:

There were hints of tobacco and molasses in it, black cherries and dark chocolate, all interlaced with the wood's spicy resin. It tasted like some ancient elixir that the Inca might have made.

I love the idea of beer being a liquid time capsule (ie, Dogfish's Midas Touch), and the notion that beer can be a valuable substitute for vegetables. But I think my favourite part of the article comes from the closing lines, where Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish, expresses a sentiment I've long felt myself:

“Remember what Patrick was saying that day in his office, about how alcohol affects the brain?” he said. I nodded. McGovern had shown us a paper illustrated with scans of animals’ brains. Alcohol’s emotional effect is unusually complex, he had said. It starts out as a stimulant and only later, when you’ve had a lot, becomes a depressant. Calagione laughed. “Does it work that way for you?” he said. “Because it doesn’t for me. I never get around to the depressant part.”

Thanks to Richie for the heads up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Best of Peru

What's the only way to sum up the past two-and-a-half whirlwind weeks south of the equator? With a "best of" piece, of course.

Best Random American Music Moment:

After walking for three hours across the entire city of Iquitos, eventually winding up at the literal end of the road in the poorest part of any town I have ever been in, I decided to hop on the crosstown bus back to the Plaza de Armas downtown. Of course, I was the only white guy on the bus. In fact, I was probably the only white guy who had ever been on that bus. But that didn't stop the bus driver from cranking the radio full tilt, and as the station played a seemingly endless array of crackling Peruvian Raggaeton classics, suddenly out of nowhere came an opening riff that instantly brought a smile to my face and roped me into singing along, Gringo stereotypes be damned. It was Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream".

It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down. I had the radio on. I was drivin'...

Best Random American Music Moment, Courtesy of a Peruvian Rock Band:

On my last night in Iquitos, I stumbled into this fantastic little Rock and Roll club called "Tambo". Again, I was the only Gringo in the place. When the soccer-mullet-sporting quintet took a short break to hack darts and slug beers, the lead singer asked me where I was from. When I told him Canada, he gave me a wink. They opened their second set with a note-perfect version of Queen's "Under Pressure", the lead singer giving me a fist pump salute as he kicked into it. I have no idea whether he thought Queen was Canadian, or that my moustache was a tribute to the late, great Freddie Mercury. Whatever the case, the gesture was greatly appreciated.

Best Late Night Snack:

There's a side street in Iquitos called Napo, and late at night, one of the restaurants provides an open air snack stand where they sell something called "French Fry Salad". And yes, it is as good and as healthy as it sounds. A giant mound of french fries, mayonaise, mustard, ketchup, some green sauce that I couldn't name if my life depended on it... Let me tell you: at 1:30 in the morning, it definitely does the trick.

(For the record, this particular late night snack remains a distant second behind the crouton-and-grated-cheese salad that my buddy Flats and I invented one night many moons ago in Bala, ON. Personally, I love the fact that when you're drunk enough, any two items mixed together automaticly result a concoction worthy of the "salad" designation, regardless of the nutritional value of said contents.)

Best "Stump the Shaman" Moment:

When it came to Q&A during my ayahuasca workshop, the questions were, almost without exception, of a profound and highly spiritual nature. Origins of the universe. Higher spiritual self. Battling inner demons... The kinds of things people were looking for answers to when they came to the workshop in the first place.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that I caught everyone more than just a little offguard when, just before the beginning of one of our ceremonies, with everybody huddled together in the dark and trembling at the prospect of what their iminent journey into the spiritual realm of the subconscious might bring, I asked our Shaman: "If you were a wrestler, what would your entrance music into this ayahuasca ceremony be?"

I kid you not when I say that this literally had him stumped for three days. It wasn't until our final ceremony that he was able to unequivocally say that it would definitely be AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock". I was thinking something more along the lines of Guns and Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" (You know where you ARE?... You're in the JUNGLE baby... You gonna DIE!!!!"). Unmistakable opening riff. Timeless classic. And, you know... We were in the jungle... And most of us were convinced we actually were going to die... What could possibly be a better way to cut the tension?

In any event, there isn't any power at the retreat, so no final decision be made yet. But I'm still sticking with the G&R classic for the made-for-TV-movie.

Best Beer in Peru:

Cusquena. I'm telling you, Peruvian hangovers are a thing of the past. Crisp, clean taste. No additives or preservatives. And comes in a handy 640ml bottle. And one of those big bottles generally goes for less than $2.

Best Seinfeld Moment:

Ummm... I can't actually put this one into print. But let's just say that the parallels to "The Contest" were almost overwhelming. Feel free to ask me about this one in person. Preferably over a couple of beverages.

Best Place to Swim:

Along the only road out of Iquitos (it ends about 100 kms up river in a town called Nauta), there is a bridge over the Rio Itaya. Two days earlier, it had rained in a torrential downpour for 12 consecutive hours, and when we went to the local beach, the water line was about 15 feet above where it customarily is. That didn't stop us from jumping into the Pirahna-infested waters and getting a little exercise. Even though the water was that murky milk-chocolate-fondue-brown (a result of the sediment and the way the leaves dye the water, I would later learn), it was by far one of the most refreshing dips I'd ever taken. This is a shot of my boy Spanish Albert, hanging on to a tree in the current.

Best Name for an Acoustic Guitar Duo:

I saw a pair of guitar players at a fantastic little bar in Iquitos (the Cafe-Teatro Amauta). They were playing chilled out Peruvian acoustic hits, interspersed by the occasional American pop hit (my favourite was a cover of REM's "Using My Relations"). In any event, I bought them a large Pilsen, and on one of their breaks they joined me at the bar. In my broken Spanish I told them that they were pretty good, and inquired as to their handle: "Los Dos? We are ANTHRAX!".

Anthrax! For a duo of acoustic ballad singers! Probably the most misleading moniker this side of "Cumquat".

Best Way To Get Black-Out Drunk for $1:

At the same bar (Cafe-Teatro Amauta), they sell a drink called "siete raices" (literally translated as "seven roots"). It is made with aguardiente (Peruvian moonshine) and the bark of 7 different trees. It costs 3 soles ($1 CDN), comes in a four ounce glass, and will basically blind you if consumed in it's entirety. Needless to say, it would have been rude not to order one. I'm pretty sure that glass is still sitting on the bar, three-quarters full.

Best Disregard for the Local Building Code:

They say that a picture says a thousand words.

If that's the case, I'm pretty sure that this one would include some of the following: "What the fuck happened to the wall in my bedroom?"

Best Canadian Reference Point:

While listening to ANTHRAX serenading the bar with a version of Queen's "I Want to Break Free", one of the singers asked me where I was from. When I told him "Canada", he responded with: "Canada? Avril Lavigne, yes?"

Kill me.

Best Homebrew Moment:

After waking up at 7 in the morning on our second day at the ayahuasca workshop, we spent the morning washing the ayahuasca vine (amazingly, the inside of the ayahuasca vine looks identical to the double helix found in the structure of our DNA), pounding it into smaller pieces, washing the rest of the plants and barks that would go into the concoction (there were a total of 17 different barks, vines, and leaves in our ayahuasca), and the putting the contents into giant cauldrons over an open fire in order to reduce them to a concentrated brew.

Later on in the afternoon, I wandered over to the fire to see what was happening, and one of the Shamans asked if I wanted to help him mix the brews. I'm not exactly sure why, but having a hand in creating the most powerful thing I would ever ingest just struck a chord with me. It was hands down one of the highlights of my trip.

Best Place to be a Big Shot:

Barranco. Lima, Peru.

On my last night in town, I decided I was going to play the role of big shot. I had all of these Peruvian Soles that I needed to get rid of, so I decided that the drinks would be on me. A few of the local chicos and chicas decided to take me out to a local bar where I would basically be the only white dude, and where I could completely embarass myself by attempting to salsa dance. I of course made a complete ass of myself, but the Jarras of Cusquena kept coming, so no one was really complaining.

I was completely off my ass, buying drinks for everyone. Beers and shots at the hostel. Pitchers at the bar. Drinks at an after hours place you needed to know a secret knock to get into. Literally, if I had a conversation with you Saturday night, you did not buy a single drink. I felt like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. It was probably one of the best nights of my life.

The next morning I woke up with a screaming hangover, took a header off the tile wall in the freezing cold shower, somehow managed to pick up the pieces, and then went through my pockets to assess the damage.

After buying drinks all night, I had spent a total of $60.

And that included my accomodations.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I fucking love this place.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movember Midway

How do you keep Peruvian teenaged girls from accosting you in the streets? You can start by showing them this photograph:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially two weeks into the greatest celebration of masculinity the world has ever known. And seeing as I'm not at home to rank the team's 'staches myself, here to break down The Free Moustache Rides duster-hierarchy is my brother Ronnie, making his blogging debut (photographic evidence has been provided where applicable). Nice work Ronnie.

OK... Sean, you may be disappointed in your little brother.... after all of 6 days I officially bailed for Movember… however, in an effort to give you an update and rank the Mo’s that I have seen thusfar, here ya go:

Tied for 1.) Sheen: Shenboro clearly gets the nod for #1 for the fact that he is representing his stash independently in Peru and most people there probably think he is Uncle Pete. Nothing like a first impression in a foreign country. The handle bars are a nice touch - No one else has conquered the handle bars north of the border. You may have the advantage in growing them since you are not going to work every day, however none of those details matter in Movember. I can only imagine you tripping out on whatever potion you drank in the jungle while having that stash…..

Tied for 1.) D-Hib: He also gets awarded #1 for putting the most effort into the contest. He has grown one of the most bushy, well-groomed stash’s I have ever seen. He has died it so it stands out from the colour of his hair and has even gone as far as getting his barber to trim it up. He gets reduced points for starting the contest about 2 weeks early, but even with the deductions, he is still tied for #1. D-Hib, you will never get props from me again, so enjoy it.

2.) Rosco: Mr Friedman is deserving of #2 because he now officially looks like someone who should be running a blue chip company making high level decisions. Rosco, I am sure that after the first few days when people in your office thought you were being a bum and not shaving, they now treat you with the utmost respect. If they are not calling you sir by now, they should be.

3.) LOU-Ren: Skeeter, I didn’t think you could get any uglier, but you actually pulled it off…. Just kidding big guy (not really)! Skeeter gets points for the unique “Ginger-Bap” colour of his stash and also is in the top 3 because for actually being able to grow a full thick bushel of hair, unlike some others who are further down the list. But Skeeter gets most of his points based on the fact that Jessica said that his stash looks better than Little Buddies!

4.) Little Buddy: Cavan’s stash is definitely a work in progress. We have to give him some leeway based on the age gap between him and the rest of the field, however it is still a pretty bad stash. When Cavan and I were hard at work yesterday afternoon having a 4 hour lunch at a local pub, I think he had some cheese from the nachos stuck in his MO for about half an hour, so that lets us know that even though it is almost transparent, that it actually exists.

5.) Foley: L squared I B S… I am sorry… I tried to get you higher up the list based on the fact that you and your company have raised about a million bucks for Movember, but the fact remains that your mustache blows! Foley does have some admirers of his stash though, the one person that has actually noticed he has pubic hair growing from his upper lip is his own mother… that’s right, when he was recently in the 905 Marge made comment on his stash… good on ya Foley!

6.) Dinner: The Goon of the OTHL actually does have some dirt growing above his lip. When I saw him at the bar after this week’s game I did notice a weird substance up there, but then when I thought of it, I realized it must be a rash caused by eating too many pink tacos.

Tied for 7.) Dan VZ / Santos / Browner / Dunner: You boys are tied for 7th until we see proof that you are MO’s. Santos, even if you are growing a stash, don’t expect to be in the top 5 until you give me a real trade offer in Fantasy hockey. DVZ, I have seen you grow some beauties in my day, so I am looking forward to seeing your progress to date. Browner, you typically have the most facial hair out of anyone I know, except for Dan’s Dad, Franklin Van Zant, so I expect big things out of you too.

Tied for 8.) Nate / Flats / Ronnie: You 2 Irishmen are in last with me. Flats, when I saw you in our drunken state last week, it was obvious that a mustache was not in the “Frat Boy” dress code, so you had opted out. Nate…. Forgive me if you are growing a stash. I did see you at BBall this week….. I don’t believe you had a stash, but it may have just been overshadowed by the Euro twins - Rosco and D-Hib!

So there you have it. The official rankings, courtesy of Ronnie. Clearly, Browner needs to move up the rankings in light of his handlebars. And I have no doubt the DVZ's will eventually put all of ours to shame. Dunner is sending a pic tonight so we'll see where he gets slotted as well. As for D-Hibb dying his duster... That quite frankly is the greatest thing I have ever heard. Simply outstanding.

For those of you who have yet to donate (and judging by the totals we currently have, that includes just about everyone), you can do so by clicking on this link:

You can donate by using your credit card or paypal account. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. And it's to raise money for prostate cancer research. And maybe if our team raises enough money, I'll volunteer to go for a prostate exam and then blog about it... Maybe.

Come on. Have mercy on me. I'm walking around Peru looking like a sexual predator.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The universal reaction I received upon telling people that I was going to the Amazon to engage in an ayahuasca ceremony was: "So, you're going to Peru to do drugs".

I wished I could have refuted it at the time, but the truth is, I didn't know what ayahuasca was. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to see what it was all about. I knew that some people traveled deep into the jungle because they had problems they needed to address. Deeply repressed feelings of inadequacy. Sexual abuse. Depression. Anxiety. Me? I just wanted to take a peek behind the curtain. But I had no idea what I was getting into.

Ayahuasca as Medicine

The first thing they teach you flies in the face of everyone's initial reaction: that ayahuasca is not a drug, but in fact a medicine. And this is reflected in the rules of everyday living at the workshop. No drugs are permitted at camp (anyone concealing any banned substances will be expelled from the workshop). No alchohol (I haven't had a sip of beer in 11 days). No sugars, sweets, or fruits. No pork. No music. No sexual contact, including kissing or holding hands. No masturbating. No caffeine. Fasting from 2pm onwards on ceremony days.

When the head shaman was going through these rules with us on the first day, he said that he could make no guarantees of anything, but if we were to strictly adhere to these rules, he could guarantee that we would live. Anything beyond that, and we were on our own.

This is a place of healing. It is a place of spiritual discovery. If you were under the impression that this was going to be a psychedellic party scene, you were sadly mistaken. Think of Burning Man, only the exact opposite.

The first few hours in camp feel a lot like what celebrity rehab must feel like. You're all kind of looking around at one another, wondering just exactly who everyone is, trying to imagine what they're here for, and trying to figure out exactly where you fit in. Everyone is eventually introduced, and you begin to understand some of what has brought everyone together. There are many repeat visitors. One lady from Alaska was here for her seventh tour. My good buddy from Martha's Vineyard was here for the fourth time (he said that he broke the "no sex for 30 days after leaving camp" rule, and had been doing everything in his power to fix himself ever since. Ayahuasca was the only thing that could straighten him out). As for me, I was the first "walk-on" in the history of the tour (I had shown up the day before, looking for some ayahuasca shamanism). They couldn't believe that I would just... show up for something like this. What can I say? That's how I roll. They loved it.

The head Shaman told us the story of how he became a Shaman, and that tale is a novel unto itself. Some of the most amazing things I have ever heard. Spirits giving direction. Thinking you're going absolutely insane. Bushes transformed into living entities and screaming obscenities at you... A guy from Oakland told me that he learned more in his first two hours of ayahuasca than he'd learned in his entire life up to that point.

We fasted on the first night and drank a mixture of treebark and camphor that was supposed to give you vivid dreams of learning and healing. All I can tell you is that the dreams I had at night during my stay were among the most vivid of my life.

I don't claim for a second to know the entire history or chemical makeup of Ayahuasca, but here are a few pieces that might shed a little more light on the subject: (Ayahuasca: The Vine of the Souls, The Medicine of Love, by Ross Heaven; An Introduction to Ayahuasca, by Robin C. Flynn). All I know is that we woke up at 7am on our second day and actually made our batch of ayahuasca ourselves.

The best way to describe what Ayahuasca is, is to say that it's basically a tea made from a variety of different plants, vines, and tree barks (we used 17 different plant species in all, including: the ayahuasca vine, chacruna leaves, capirona bark, remo caspi bark, uchu sanango...), brought to a highly concentrated mixture through hours of reduction through boiling. All the while, the Shamans were blowing mapacho smoke (mapacho is a natural tobacco - the cigars are fantastic) into the mixture as a means of blessing the spirits in the ayahuasca. People were encouraged to write a list of the things they wished to purge through ayahuasca, and to drop those lists into the fire. Someone had a list that was six single-spaced pages long. It almost made me feel guilty for having had such a loving family and a happy upbringing.

The First Ceremony

There is no way to adequately describe an ayahuasca ceremony.

While tripping out at one point during my fourth ceremony, I found myself wondering aloud what it would be like if I could just switch places with one of my friends, even for just a minute, and to get their reaction to having been dropped smack dab in the middle of this scene. What would they possibly think? It is unlike anything I've ever been a part of.

To begin, we are all in a ceremonial house. It is this magnificient wood and thatch roof structure that our Shaman; having absolutely no experience with building anything in his life; was directed to build by following the advice of the spirits (my reaction to hearing this was probably much the same as yours: "Get the fuck outta here..."). All of the guests are scattered throughout the ceremonial house, some laying on mats, some sitting in chairs. Soon, the Shamans and their apprentices enter, and the house is blessed to ensure that we are not attacked by witchcraft or dark spirits during the ceremony. After that, the Shamans sing Icaros (songs sung by the shamans which deliver spiritual energy) to bless the sacred medicine. Then each of the guest comes up and drinks a cup of ayahuasca.

There are no words to describe just how vile the taste of ayahuasca is. Putrid does not do it justice. (I'm actually dry-heaving as I write this) And it gets worse every time you drink it, as you begin to more fully understand what it does to your insides. The lady on her seventh visit began vomitting almost immediately. I eventually made my way up to the Shaman and as he handed me my cup (approximately 4 ounces, though on the first night it was filled only halfway), I said "let's rock and roll" (cocky bitch), and slammed it back.

The first ceremony was about as chilled out as you could dream. The lights are turned out and you find yourself leaning back onto your mat, and letting the sweet sounds of the icaros (some of the most beautiful and melodic songs you have ever heard, sung a capella, in quadraphonic, and en Espanol by the four Shamans) and their accompanying chacapa shaking (leaf tambourines, for lack of a better description) take you away.

I puked pretty violently about an hour in (as is expected), and spent the rest of the time giggling away at the juxtaposition of these beautiful icaros interspersed with the sounds of people purging uncontrollably. I didn't have any real colourful visions, per se, but I could see each and every person I knew and loved and was sending out vibes to each and every one of them. I was also keeping the beat of the chacapas with my feet to the point that they were actually sore the next day. Oh yeah, and a spent a great deal of time on the toilet... umm... purging from the bottom. Apparently, that is also expected.

All in all, my first ayahuasca ceremony was nothing short of a pleasant experience. When it was all over, the head Shaman ran back to his cabin and made a phone call (he has a satellite phone in the event of an emergency), and when he returned, we learned that Barrack Obama had been elected President of the United States. A resounding cheer filled the ceremonial house (I don't think a lot of Republicans are into travelling to the Amazon to drink hallucinagenic medicines), and we were assured that there did exist a hope for this world. It also provided an interesting answer to one of those "Where were you when..." questions, as I will forever be able to answer that I was in the jungle, experiencing my first Ayahuasca ceremony the night Barack Obama was electred president. That's pretty tough to beat.

Medicinal Benefits of Ayahuasca

Native Amazonian peoples have considered ayahuasca a cure-all for countless ailments for aeons. And their logic and track record is difficult to argue with. Gather a bunch of medicinal plants; plants that have been deemed "healers" through centuries of Shamanistic trial and error experience; mix them together into one vile tasting concoction, follow a strict diet of healthy living, and let the medicine do its work.

The purging that takes place one of you consumed ayahuasca is also difficult to argue with. I was thinking to myself that drinking ayahuasca is the great equalizer. You can look the Shaman directly in the eye, tell him "let's rock and roll", and then half an hour later you'll be writhing on the floor, believing that you've been poisoned and that coming here was the worst decision you've ever made, and fully expecting to die in this Godforsaken place.

It's the medicine doing it's work. It is literally taking all of the bad stuff in your body - all of the booze remaining from that Halloween gong show; all of the refined sugar that you've been poisoning your body with while pounding back Inca Kolas since arriving; that fantastic bit of local cuisine(Cecina {fried dried pork} and Tacacho {deep fried pork fried in a ball of plantains}) you had for dinner Sunday night even though you were explicitly told to stay away from pork - and it is drawing it out, only to be expunged through purging.

You read stories about ayahuasca curing people of sicknesses and diseases that Western medicine has no cure for. It´s one thing to read these stories; it´s quite another to hear them first hand.

One of the guys at the workshop had suffered from a hideous skin disorder for year. It had started in his foot, and had eventually spread to the entirety of his body. His skin was literally oozing an indescribably foul black liquid, and doctors had absolutely no diagnosis or cure (apparently the doctors said it was a severe case of Eczema). All of his hair fell out. There were days that this guy could not get out of bed for the pain. He had given up all hope. It was only a matter of time before he would be dead.

As a last gasp effort, he came to Peru to see if ayahuasca could help. In his first ceremony, the Shaman saw some bad energy in his foot and literally sucked the talisman of some evil witchcraft from out of his foot. This guy believes he had stepped on it while at a rave in Africa, and that the effects had been spreading ever since. After having had the talisman removed, this guy believed himself to be cured. But soon thereafter, the skin disorder began getting worse. He came back to Iquitos, and has been here for the past 18 months, drinking ayahuasca as often as possible, purging for hours at a time everything from his body that the ayahuasca will remove.

When I met him on that first day in camp, I could see no traces of any kind of skin disorder. He´s hoping to be home by next summer.

Vine of the Soul

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a psychedelic tryptamine that occurs naturally both in plants and animals; and yes, we humans are animals. DMT is the drug that allows us access to other channels. As humans, the three occurances in which the most DMT enters the brain are birth, death, and when drinking ayahuasca.

It is no coincidence, then, that we feel like we are dying while experiencing the effects of ayahuasca, or that we oftentimes feel like we´ve been reborn as we begin to come out of it.

As was explained in my previous entry (Crawling From the Ashes), I saw my entire life flash before my eyes during my fourth ayahuasca ceremony. Let me tell you that this isn´t necessarily the most pleasant experience one can have. But there has to be a value to this. To know what it feels like to die? How can this not give you a greater appreciation for the life you have? For the life that you still have the opportunity of living? I truly feel that it is impossible to put a price on this. Ask any man, on the verge of death, what he would pay for just one more healthy, happy day; a day in which to do all the things he never got to do, to say all of the things he never got to say, to hug all of the people he loves but didn´t get the chance to hug nearly enough in his time in this life... He will surely tell you that he would gladly give every last one of his worldly possessions for just one more chance to do these things.

I made a habit of taking one of those digital camera self-portrait photographs before and after every ayahuasca ceremony I participated in. I wanted to see if there was a discernable difference in my appearance after having gone through each ceremony. The first three before and after photos look strikingly similar: I am happy before, and thrilled afterwards for having survived. The first three ceremonies were largely enjoyable experiences. I was given a glimpse into the meaning of life, I was afforded some ridiculously impressive psychedelic visions of shapes and colours... I was even able to articulate some profoundly accurate revelations (as the ayahuasca was beginning to take hold of me during the second ceremony in a way far beyond what it had in the first, I turned to the guy from Venice Beach laying beside me and in the understatement of the century boldly proclaimed: ¨Dude, this shit is no joke¨). But that fourth ceremony was something altogether different. In the after photo, I look unequivocally terrified. I appear as though I have looked into the eyes of my maker.

In many ways, I had.

They say that ayahuasca makes you more yourself; that it takes away all of the bad stuff, and leaves only the good. Strangely enough, I feel more myself today.

The Doors of Perception

In "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", William Blake wrote: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

More than anything else, Ayahuasca obliterates the structures that govern the life that we know. Everything you have ever known comes unglued in those moments, the doors of perception are cleansed, and we are able to see, all at once, the infinite.

When faced with the infinite, life seems awfully small indeed.

Much of Shamanism is about communing with spirits: plant spirits, animal spirits, good spirits, evil spirits, light spirits, dark spirits... you name it. I didn't necessarily see any of these spirits during any of my ayahuasca ceremonies (although I could swear I heard the plants laughing at me as I stumbled my way back to my cabin after my fifth and final ceremony); but that isn't to say that this wasn't a spiritual experience for me. Quite the contrary, in fact. Because as our master Shaman so eloquently put it: "There is nothing more spiritual than life". And these ayahuasca ceremonies showed me more of life than I ever believed possible. But ayahuasca isn't really about belief; it's about experience.

And there's a happiness that comes over you when you finally experience the beauty of life. And for me, the beauty of life came in finally understanding that all living things are one and the same. That we're all made up of the same things, and that we all need and desire the same things. We're all living on this same rock spinning around and around in this space we can't even begin to fathom, breathing the same air and drinking the same water. We're all in this thing together. And we all need to be loved.

Life is a finite thing. In the grand scheme of things, it is over almost at the very instant it begins. It's the way things have always been, for all living things. But here's the thing: life is beautiful, not in spite of the fact that all living things are one and the same, but because of it.

It took an annihilation of everything I ever knew to finally see that.