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In general I like the services provided by Canada Post. With fewer folks using the old mail system, the post office has tried to keep up with things to remain relevant. Ironically this includes using the same technology that is cutting into their business. Sometimes this technology can cut both ways.
Not too long ago I ordered a book online. I had it delivered to my home, understanding that I may not be in when it arrived and I would have to trek to the post office to pick it up. Nonetheless I decided to take my chances; maybe I would be home.
Within a few days I was walking along approaching my building when I spotted the Canada Post truck parked right in front. I dashed the last half block to make sure I got to the carrier before he could leave.
As I entered the lobby I saw that my book was indeed firmly in the grasp of the carrier. He had just placed the “Sorry we missed you, go get your package at the Post Office” card in my mailbox. Phew, said I, that was close. May I have my package please?
At this request I noticed that the carrier, someone I have known for several years and a very nice guy, started to look sheepish and uttered ‘Um … no.’
He explained that the package had already been scanned and therefore entered into the system. I thought this was silly, but figured all I had to do was open my mailbox, retrieve the missed delivery card, present it to the carrier who would then hand over my book.
I proceeded to do this only to have him look me straight in the eye and tell me he could not give me the package. It could now only be obtained at the post office. He was standing not five feet from me, with my package in his hand, but could not give it to me.
Thinking that he may be joking I asked him to un-scan the package. That cannot be done he told me. So let me get this straight, I said, you can’t give me my package, the one you have in your hand, even if I give you the card. He agreed that I had fully grasped the situation.
Still looking for a Just For Laughs camera, I relented and said I would take the card and go to the post office later. He cautioned me not to do that until after midday the next day, as it would take that long for the post office to process it.
Ah technology …
Although we had an easy winter, Mother Nature’s last few kicks at the can left many Montrealers worrying that spring would never arrive. But it did, as it has, to varying degrees, pretty much every year.
Even though the temperature is still on the chilly side, now that the streets and sidewalks are free of snow, ice, salt and slush I no longer have an excuse for not returning to my daily running routine. I used to run every weekday morning regardless of weather and road conditions. I believe this is what they call being young and foolish. Recently after many slips and several near arse over teakettle incidents I determined winter was more suited to power walking than running.
I like the brisk walk, but never get the same sense of accomplishment afterward. For me the raison d’etre of running is to work up a good sweat. Exuding all those toxins (read: yesterday’s beer) and feeling the pounds of winter fat melting off is my goal. Cardiovascular benefits are gravy.
This year I have decided to alter my routine a wee bit, no easy task for someone who lettered in OCD. I have opted to do at least some on my running on a nearby track. No more dodging sidewalk traffic or vehicular traffic for that matter. I am going to run circles. In an effort to ease the boredom of track running I have been listening to my iPhone as I run now that Apple has come out with very good earpods (of course they had to be pods not buds and I have read that in future iPhones the headphone connection will be the same as the Apple charger and not the universal one that allows for any headset to be used). Not something I would do on city streets or sidewalks where concentration is required, but on the track I figured I could safely lose myself in an AccuRadio sixties channel as I chugged along.
With said earpods firmly in place I set off to the sounds of the Dave Clark Five. Shedding winter’s lethargy I basked in the sun as I jogged my way to a fit state. Before I knew it I was working up a sweat with the Beach Boys. But then it all went south. The sound went from crisp and clear to garbled. It sounded as if I had my head underwater, yet I knew I did not. What was happening? Was I having a stroke?
No. I soon realized that perspiration, the goal of this exercise, was seeping into my ear and being trapped there by my earpods, resulting in an underwater sound. Yep, I was being waterboarded by my iPhone. No amount of removal and reinsertion of the earpods could keep up with the flow of moisture and a supply of Q-Tips was not readily available (although you are not supposed to put those things in your ear).
Just when I thought I had things worked out …
I have always had a soft spot for taxi drivers. Blame Harry Chapin. It is a tough way to make an average living. Long hours and, in Quebec, very expensive licenses – their price has soared to roughly $200,000 in Montreal, making its market worth roughly $900-million. Taxis are highly regulated by various agencies.
Unlike many of my friends south of the border, I like regulations. I like big government keeping an eye on things. That is why I am a huge fan of the democratic process; we get the government we deserve.
It seems patently unfair to me that men and women who make their living as taxi drivers, who pay the exorbitant fees, who toe the line regarding vehicle standards, who already face fierce competition should have to deal with amateurs working their turf.
If I bought a whole whack of cheap ground beef and a barbecue and set up business in front of a McDonald’s selling my wares at a discount price I would soon be hauled off by police. Licensed bar owners pay a heavy tax when they buy liquor to sell on their premises. They pay SOCAN fees that allow them to play recorded music without screwing artists. They pony up thousands of dollars for pay-per-view sports events, much more than private citizens. They are highly regulated.
So next time there is a big UFC bout I think I will set up a table outside a sports bar, get a bucket of ice and some plastic cups. I will drop by the liquor store and pick up a few bottles of hooch at the much lower private citizen price, then stop at the grocery store for some cases of beer. I could play some tunes on a portable stereo and sell my goods without the hassle and expense of regulation. Of course I would soon be hustled off.
After the price gouging debacle of last New Year’s Eve I am surprised there are still some who will use Uber at all.
We changed cars a week or so ago. After two Hyundai vehicles we changed manufacturer but not country by getting another Korean car, a Kia Soul. So far we are very pleased. I am especially pleased with the new key fob.
The two Hyundai cars were fine, we only changed to Kia because we liked the Soul and Hyundai does not yet have a similar model. But if there was a problem with the Hyundais it was minor but annoying.
I recall a time when a car had two keys. A square one that got you in and started the car, and a round one that opened the trunk. These keys were only slightly larger than regular house and office keys which allowed them to be put on a ring and carried in a pocket. To protect against loss, you could have as many copies made as you wanted simply by going to your local hardware store and having them cut for a few bucks each.
To open your car door you had to actually insert the key and turn it; no button pressing from afar. A simple procedure unless of course the locks froze. This was a common occurrence the day after a car wash. A cruel winter reality was the need to often wash off accumulated road salt that ate away at cars like termites in a log cabin, only to find the locks frozen the next morning. Of course there were several lock de-icer products, small cans along the lines of butane lighter fillers, the nozzle of which you stuck into the keyhole and squirted the alcohol-based liquid into the lock workings. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. However more often than not it was not put to the test because it was left in the glove compartment, locked inside the car!
If the liquid failed to allow the key to function, there were several home remedies that could be used, including holding your key under a match or lighter to heat it. Inserting a hot key was supposed to melt the ice. It goes without saying that to try this method too soon after injecting the alcohol de-icer could have disastrous results. Hair dryers attached to several extension cords were also popular tools to gain access to a lock-frozen vehicle.
But those days are long gone. No longer do we have a pair of keys, now we have one key on a fob. The fob has several buttons that open and lock the doors, even if frozen, open the trunk and a useful red button that makes your car honk and flash madly so you can find it in a crowded parking lot.
All fine and dandy except for a couple of things. The fob is relatively large, it will not fit on a key ring. Worse, on literally countless occasions I, with fob in pocket, sat down to dinner and inadvertently set off the horn and lights on the car parked outside our building three floors down. While that was annoying, it could be dealt with from the window by pointing the fob and pressing the lock button. More irksome was unknowingly opening the trunk. Family members and neighbors would often tell me they had closed my car trunk yet again as they walked by and noticed it gaping open. Sometimes I hit the jackpot and not only tripped the car finder cacophony, but upon looking out the window to silence it I noticed the trunk wide open. This required me to traipse down three stories and shut the trunk before it filled with snow or thieving hands.
The Kia fob has not yet caused me any trouble. Perhaps it is just a wee bit less sensitive. But I do foresee a problem. On the new fob the key retracts and is released by a button. Something akin to a switch blade. As I tend to carry the fob in my front pants pocket I suspect at some point in the future I will suffer a shot to the choir buttons as the key flips out into position.
In honour of Vimy Ridge Day I am re-posting a couple of World War One related pieces.
My great-grandfather, Ernest Henry Blackwell, was born in Sussex, England. As a young boy his family emigrated to Canada where he would spend the rest of his days. He met and married my great-grandmother, Annie Ellis, whose family had also made the move across the pond. They had five children: three sons and two daughters.
His eldest child, George Ernest Blackwell, was my grandfather. I have recounted some of his life in earlier posts, particularly his World War One experiences. Only recently did it come to my attention that Ernest Blackwell, like his son George, also attested to serve overseas.
I suspect that since wars have existed there have been those who gave lied to get out of going to fight in them. The Hawkeye Pierce character played by Alan Alda on the television version of M*A*S*H, summed it up best when he pointed out that when the authorities came to get him to go to Korea he was “hiding under the front porch trying to puncture my eardrum with an ice pick”.
Conversely during the first world war many young men lied about their age in an attempt to actually join up. The cut-off point was supposed to be 18 years of age, but those in charge seemed to look the other way when a fine fit 16 or 17 year-old lad presented himself for duty. Then there’s the case of my great-grandfather who tried to turn the clock backward, not forward, so he could join the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and go overseas to fight.
In August of 1914 his son, my grandfather George Blackwell volunteered to join the CEF in Montreal. He had opted to stay in Montreal when the rest of his family moved to Hamilton, Ontario some years before. He was accepted and spent the next four years or so in the trenches of France and Belgium. He also managed to meet and marry my grandmother, a strong woman who, no doubt on occasion over the next sixty years or so, made him long for those trenches.
In 1915 his father, Ernest Henry Blackwell, my great-grandfather, decided he could help out. So on November 19th, 1915 he went down to the local recruiting office and, well, lied through his teeth about his age, stating he was born in 1872, thereby making him 43. In fact he was born in 1865, and was a mere eleven days shy of his 50th birthday.
This was not all that uncommon, according to http://www.warmuseum.ca, “Most Canadian soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 45, as per regulations, but thousands served who were younger or older, lying about their birth date to enlist. The oldest recorded member of the CEF was 80, while the youngest was ten. The average age of the Canadian soldier was 26.”
The need for men being what it was, and he being fit enough to pass the very cursory medical examination, on May 19, 1916, after some training in Canada, he left for England, arriving on May 30. His training continued in England and on March 18, 1917 he was taken on strength with the Canadian Machine Gun Depot at Crowborough. His son was also attached to this group; I wonder if they met. All was going along swimmingly, but not for long.
During his time in England he was training. It was during this physically taxing process that his Achilles heel came to be exposed: arteriosclerosis and a heart murmur. He couldn’t run or exert himself without collapsing. Not the kind of soldier one wanted in the trenches. Once it was determined he had lied about his age, he spent a year as a batman or personal servant to a commissioned officer, before being shipped back to Canada.
On June 5, 1917 he arrived at Canadian Discharge Depot, Buxton, which was used expressly for the married men and those returning on compassionate grounds. Alas my great grandfather’s overseas venture was ending. On June 9, 1917 he departed Liverpool for Canada.
But he re-attested and indeed served by keeping the home-fires burning as it were.
I find it interesting that on one medical assessment signs of “senility” are mentioned, considering he would live to be a ripe old age and would augment his salary as a dry goods clerk by composing crossword puzzles for newspapers. Did they just figure he was mad for trying to fool people?
With countless media reports and background pieces regarding the centenary of the start of World War One this year, I have on numerous occasions found myself thinking about a story that has been in our family for, well, about a hundred years. In early August of 1914 my maternal grandfather, like thousands of other young men, decided to answer the call and volunteer to go overseas and fight for King and country.
He had two very good friends, brothers Randolphe, a warehouse clerk, and James Piché, who was a millwright. They didn’t live on the island of Montreal as did my grandfather, but off the western tip. However their family home was a farm just north of Montreal in the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, in what was then called Saint-Canut. This area is now part of a larger community called Mirabel. How my grandfather came to befriend these brothers is unknown. Regardless, one day in August of 1914 the three of them made their way to the Black Watch armoury recruiting center on Bleury Street in downtown Montreal and volunteered to join the 13th Battalion. Although the civic number on the building has changed to a four-digit version, the armoury is still there and very active.
On August 6, 1914 then Prime Minister of Canada The Right Honourable Sir Robert Borden announced that Canada would send troops overseas to fight. The Black Watch began accepting recruits the next day. Once signed on, men received daily training at the armoury in various aspects of combat until they left for Valcartier, Quebec on August 24, from whence they would sail for England.
Having signed up, and while waiting to go to Valcartier for yet more training before embarkation, one day my grandfather and his pals visited the Piché family farm. While there, so the story goes, Monsieur Prospere Piché, father to Randolphe and James, planted three trees – one for each of them. I suspect there was talk of strong roots at home to ensure their safe return and the like.
On August 24th the battalion left Montreal and headed off to Valcartier. Following a brief stay they then set sail and arrived in England in October of 1914 and continued training on Salisbury Plain. It was in February of 1915 that they saw their first action upon arrival in France.
Fast forward a mere seven months from the call for recruits, and just weeks after their arrival at the front, to April 24 of 1915 and we have the death of Randolphe. Sadly this would be followed by James’ death just weeks later, sometime between the 20th and 23rd of May. Two brothers killed in action within a month.
According to a newspaper piece from June 4, 1915, just days after Mrs. Piché received word of her second son’s death she received a letter from him in which he outlines the heroic circumstances of his brother’ tragic end.
My grandfather managed to survive the war, although he did lose the sight in one eye from a gun shot wound and suffered from emphysema due to being gassed (no doubt exacerbated by years of smoking).
Now about those trees. If this was a Hollywood screenplay instead of a blog post no doubt I’d be writing that two of the three trees had been struck by lightning, or died suddenly and mysteriously for no apparent reason at just about the same time the sad news was arriving at the Piché home. However the truth is that whatever became of those trees is unknown, not nearly as romantic as a Hollywood ending I’m afraid. Perhaps they are all still going strong, or maybe they were among the many trees that were hacked down to make way for Mirabel Airport.
I often wonder what those men who managed to survive the “War to end all wars”, my grandfather among them, felt when twenty-odd years later they watched their sons go off to the battlefields of Europe once again. Frustration? Anger? Waste?
The following appeared in the Montreal Gazette today.
Another very successful baseball weekend has taken place in Montreal. One that, upon reflection, speaks volumes about how the city has evolved. Over one hundred thousand fans ponied up to watch two games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. The nostalgia was thicker than pine tar, as heroes of yesteryear, former Expos stars, returned to the site of their salad days, and ours.
These weekends are bittersweet, not only for Expos fans, but for all Montrealers. Baseball fans once again get an opportunity to reminisce and experience a major league game, albeit just an exhibition between two out-of-town teams. While all Montrealers are faced with the harsh question: is this what we have become?
Each year the popular Kraft Hockeyville competition selects a winning community – a small town, not one with an NHL team – from the many entries. The sponsor gives the winner cash for local arena upgrades and the next season the town gets to host a televised preseason NHL game. North Saanich, British Columbia is the current Hockeyville. Has Montreal become the baseball version of Hockeyville?
The city of EXPO 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics now, once a year, plays host to exhibition baseball games, in which teams from other cities compete. Have we morphed from the once proud city that welcomed the world to major events into a town of bean counters? At least we still have the annual Formula 1 visit and of course the International Jazz Festival to exercise our once renowned world hosting skills. While I applaud Mayor Denis Coderre’s unbridled enthusiasm for baseball and his plan to pump money into amateur baseball, I cannot help but think that somewhere Jean Drapeau must be shaking his no doubt haloed-head in sadness and disbelief.
I would love to see Major League Baseball back in Montreal. I have never doubted that this is a baseball city. I can recall with a warm heart the magic of the early eighties version of the Expos. A time when the much-less-than ideal Olympic Stadium was packed to the rafters (I can verify this, having sat one row from the top on several occasions). The success of the team on the field vastly outweighed the venue’s inadequacies.
I do not know if these weekends play any role in determining Montreal’s baseball future. I do know that Major League Baseball belongs in Montreal. Not as a once a year exhibition featuring other cities’ teams, but as the once and future home of the Expos.