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COVID-19, Wine, and Fast Cars

SteCath

Empty Ste. Catherine Street on a Saturday afternoon with COVID-19 advisory signs.

Yesterday in Montreal the sun was out, the wind was down, and it was that day. Every year there is one day, usually a Friday it seems when the first vestiges of spring are fully evident. People flood into the streets of the downtown core on the lunch breaks. Bar and restaurant terraces are packed as Montrealers attempt to throw off the accumulated winter blahs with a good shot of vitamin D.

Every year there is one day, usually a Friday it seems when the first vestiges of spring are fully evident.

Of course this year, in so many ways, is different. Mother Nature did her part, the weather was ideal for terrace-sitting, or strolling along Ste. Catherine Street, or spending time in a park. Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 isolation and social-distancing kept most people away from downtown.

My wife and I went for our daily airing. Usually, we stick to our neighbourhood as requested by health officials. But yesterday we were on a mission. We set off to the SAQ (liquor store) in search of a particular wine. I’m not a wine guy really, give me a cold beer and I’m happy, but my wife enjoys the odd glass of crisp cool white.

olimpico

Montrealers on a terrace in pre-COVID days.

The wine we sought was available at two SAQ outlets downtown, so off we went. It was a pleasant trek on the almost deserted main street. What pedestrians there were seemed serious about employing social-distancing and it was possible to enjoy the day.  Those who drove had their pick of parking spots, something unheard of on a Saturday afternoon in Montreal.

As we ambled home with our vino it seemed for a moment that we were no longer in Montreal, but had somehow magically been transported to Monaco.

Also, there was no line to get into the SAQ (we had passed two outlets that according to their website did not have the wine we were in search of and both had significant line-ups). In we popped and, with a little help from the friendly staff, found the product, paid and were out in under three minutes.

As we ambled home with our vino it seemed for a moment that we were no longer in Montreal, but had somehow magically been transported to Monaco. There was a roar of engines followed by the appearance of two Ferraris, a Lamborghini, and several other high-end sports cars. The near-vacant streets afforded these drivers the opportunity to air-out their vehicles. As we walked along Ste. Catherine, we encountered the cars several times as they wove their way around city blocks.

ruined-gembella-porsche-mirage-gt-carrera-ben-chen

In New York City, supercar collector Ben Chen lost control of his Gemballa Mirage GT, an ultra-rare modified Porsche Carrera GT, the morning of April 7, and smashed it into a parked Toyota Sienna, totaling both vehicles.

These drivers usually bring out their cars for the annual Formula 1 weekend, but, alas, that like so many things has fallen victim to COVID-19 and has been postponed. Mind you, during that weekend, traffic is so dense that the chance to zip around downtown streets does not exist.

Interestingly this phenomenon is not limited to Montreal. I read an article today about similar cars being driven at high speed (I must admit the Montreal drivers were not going all that fast but did make a lot of noise), sometimes with tragic results, through several cities.

I know we are all frustrated with self-isolation, but wrapping a very expensive car around a lamppost seems a bit extreme to me.

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Montreal Grand Prix 2019

Leonard Cohen looks down on the Crescent Street mayhem

The 2019 version of the Canadian Grand Prix arrived with the first summer-like weather and a slew of tourists. An evening stroll through the downtown core was somewhat of a chore with so many people packed into closed streets.

Getting started on Thursday
Maybe next year we can get the other half of this new fountain!

All photos ©DCMontreal 2019

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Montreal: Race Cars and Traffic Cones

This weekend marks the unofficial kick-off of Montreal’s tourist season as the Formula One circus rolls into town. Hundreds of thousands of race fans descend upon the city wearing F1 garb, driving expensive sports cars and spending wads and wads of money. Bring it on!

During an average F1 weekend the traffic situation in Montreal is absurd, but this year promises to be even more ridiculous due to massive sections of downtown being closed for work. Add to this the traditional closing of several streets to accommodate stages and various events and you have a recipe for traffic mayhem.

One of the long-term traffic situations that has just been introduced involves work being carried out to redo the entrance to a Metro/Train station. Fortunately this is not downtown, but close enough to cause trouble.

The entrance is just part of the project, the main goal is to build an underground passageway between the transit hub and a large, recently opened, “super” hospital. The hospital, or hospitals, are located about a nine-iron from the Metro station, but currently to get from one to the other requires a circuitous trek.

Needless to say the hospital campus was not built overnight. Did no one, during the planning and construction, think it may have been a good idea to connect these two entities? Montreal is a city that has been the subject of much tourism bumf regarding our Underground City. The city has a labyrinth of subterranean shopping concourses that provide easy, warm, and dry access to what appears to be several million shoe stores, yet it was not deemed important to connect a health campus to public transit.

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Making the Canadian F1 Grand Prix More Montreal

Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Although the race is ten months off, work is now being carried out on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to bring it up to Formula 1 standards. The annual Canadian Grand Prix is an important Montreal event bringing tourists from around the world. Yes, it does tend to be loud, but the noise of the cars is often drowned out by the sound of cash registers.

…to suggest to the powers that be at F1 headquarters several small tweaks that would, I believe, go a long way to having the race reflect Montreal more accurately.

While making major alterations to the track and paddock, I thought it would be the ideal time to suggest to the powers that be at F1 headquarters several small tweaks that would, I believe, go a long way to having the race reflect Montreal more accurately.

I suggest that at various points during the race groups of cyclists be released onto the track. Going, of course, in the wrong direction and, as the drivers weave their way among them, the cyclists will be instructed to swear and make obscene gestures at them.

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In addition to flag-waving marshals, who will be clad in camo pants, F1 tracks also have safety signage indicating, for instance, the braking distance leading to a sharp turn. To make this a Montreal-like experience for the drivers, several of these signs should be located behind tree branches or overgrown hedges making them virtually impossible to see until passing them when it is too late.

As the Grand Prix is run on a Sunday, the teams should be presented with a list of those sections of the track that are closed for the weekend…detours will be indicated by Montreal’s ubiquitous orange cones.

Over the last few years, Montrealers have grown used to the late-weekly reports informing us which streets, highways or bridges will be closed for the weekend. As the Grand Prix is run on a Sunday, the teams should be presented with a list of those sections of the track that are closed for the weekend. Not to worry, detours will be indicated by Montreal’s ubiquitous orange cones.

Formula 1 pit-crews are famous for being able to change four tires and make minor repairs to the cars in the blink of an eye. They are going to need to be even faster. When cars enter the pit lane and arrive at the team garage where they would have once stopped if ever so briefly, they will find BIXI stands or several red-bagged parking meters illustrating that no one, not even the best race car drivers in the world, can find a parking spot in Montreal.

… they will find BIXI stands or several red-bagged parking meters illustrating that no one, not even the best race car drivers in the world, can find a parking spot in Montreal.

Lastly, as the race reaches the three-quarter point, some of the drivers may be getting hungry. This problem is solved by the arrival of several Montreal food trucks along the straightaway. Appropriate given F1 drivers are possibly the only people who can afford the prices charged by these mobile eateries.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Valérie Plante: Not Your Typical Mayor

valerie-plante

When Montrealers elected Valérie Plante as our first female mayor last November there was much excitement. Not just because of her gender, but because she was a new voice. Her predecessor, Denis Coderre, had ruled in a very heavy-handed manner. Making many decisions that would come back to sting him and ultimately lead to his downfall, including the FormulaE race debacle.

Unfortunately for Mayor Coderre the race proved to be a flop and the city took a bath. Even with the fee, Plante was lauded for scrapping the project as promised.

Life was good for Ms. Plante in the immediate aftermath of the election. She canceled the remaining FormulaE races that Coderre had agreed to, which was a campaign promise she made. Of course, there will be a cancellation fee that some estimates put it in the millions of dollars, but Mayor Plante is not worried: “What we know is that whatever the cost to cancel the race, I believe it’s worth it, because at this point, it doesn’t pay off.”

This event was intended to bring spectators to the city, something along the lines of the annual Formula1 race that pumps millions of dollars into the city’s economy each June. Unfortunately for Mayor Coderre the race proved to be a flop and the city took a bath. Even with the fee, Plante was lauded for scrapping the project as promised.

She did not fare quite as well however when she increased taxes beyond the cost of living, which she promised not to do. But she is hardly the first and will no doubt not be the last politician to fiddle and fudge when it comes to taxes.

If she gets her way one of four main east-west conduits in the downtown core will be reduced to one (yep one) lane for traffic while the sidewalks will be doubled in width. 

But an odd notion has started to cross the minds of many Montrealers: based on some recent ideas and proposals, Mayor Valérie Plante seems to have something against downtown Montreal. A bit of an axe to grind for some reason. Not a typical position for a mayor.

Aside from acting in a Coderre-like manner by deciding unilaterally, i.e. without any public consultation, to stop through traffic over Mont-Royal, traffic that may well be on the way to downtown restaurants and bars, she now wants to revamp St. Catherine Street, one of the main commercial roads in the city, turning downtown into a mall.

parking-meter-e1389821657550

If she gets her way one of four main east-west conduits in the downtown core will be reduced to one (yep one) lane for traffic while the sidewalks will be doubled in width. The mayor has floated this trial balloon in the latest salvo against downtown. St. Catherine Street is already suffering, evident by the many empty storefronts that seem to appear every day. How can making it more difficult to get to these businesses possibly do anything but hurt them?

… that people who are paying for a vehicle are loath to pay again for public transit. If you make public transit free, then you may be talking.

The mayor claims public transit is the key. Get more folks on the buses and Metros. I agree that Montreal has a pretty good transit system, but I think I speak for many with whom I have brought up the topic when I say that people who are paying for a vehicle are loath to pay again for public transit. If you make public transit free, then you may be talking.

I use public transit because my wife takes the car to work. She could use the bus and subway, but it would take over 90 minutes each way. Not a feasible option. When we travel downtown we use the car; rather than paying for the numerous expenses and then leave it sitting at home only to pay bus fare, we drive.

Many frustrated potential patrons are forced to take their business out of the downtown area to the parking-friendly suburbs. 

I would humbly suggest to the mayor that an increased number of parking spots, even if metered, is the realistic way to go. Trying to find a spot on a Saturday evening so we can spend our hard-earned cash in a downtown restaurant has proven difficult, although several streets are for reasons not apparent deemed no parking while other have meters that are covered in red bags denoting no service. Many frustrated potential patrons are forced to take their business out of the downtown area to the parking-friendly suburbs. The pipe dream of public transit will only face the possibility of becoming real once the fare has been eradicated. No one wants to double dip – paying car fees and transit fares.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Sports Look Faster In Person – Usually

Ernesto Escobedo serves to Nikoloz Basilashvili

I am a fan of sports. But not being a fan of crowds I tend to limit myself to television coverage. Recently we were given a pair of “Prestige Passes” to attend the Rogers Cup ATP event in Montreal.

Settling in I was pleased that there were several empty seats to my right, affording me plenty of room and no claustrophobic feelings at all.

With a sunny day forecast, free parking provided and fifth-row seats how could I say no. So off we went to Parc Jarry in the city’s northern section, a place I had not been to since I worked on the Pope’s visit in 1984. The new tennis facility which integrates the original home of the Montreal Expos is lovely.

We took our seats in the fifth row to watch a match pitting American Ernesto Escobedo against Nikoloz Basilashvili of the Georgia. Settling in I was pleased that there were several empty seats to my right, affording me plenty of room and no claustrophobic feelings at all.

In person, one understands just how fast hockey players skate and shoot the puck. The speed of a fastball is clearly evident from box seats.

I have attended hockey games, football games, baseball games, Formula 1 races, even a few soccer matches.  What always strikes me, particularly in the case of F1 races, is how television coverage does not do justice to the speed of the event. In person, one understands just how fast hockey players skate and shoot the puck. The speed of a fastball is clearly evident from box seats. A football running-back’s dart down the field and the physical contact of the game are impressive, to say the least.

Then there is tennis.

This was my second professional tennis match. The first was many years ago and featured Gabriela Sabatini. On both occasions, I came away thinking how slow the game is in person. With the exception of the delivery of services, or serves, which are tremendously fast. Tennis looks better on TV to this armchair athlete.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Montreal’s Diabolical Detours

Traffic_Cones

Montreal city hall recently announced that next year the city will host a Formula E race. This class of racing features electric cars, hence the E, and will be run on a road course instead of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The city has earmarked several million dollars for repairs to the roads that will be used, but the actual route is a deep dark secret. Regardless, much-needed improvements to Montreal roads is never a bad thing. Then again …

Like a guy struggling in quicksand in an old western movie, each step plunges you deeper instead of providing an escape.

On a trip to a medical appointment earlier this week the thought came to my mind that what I was experiencing was nothing short of cruel yet sadly not unusual. Like an excerpt from a Kafka book, there seemed no way out. Like a guy struggling in quicksand in an old western movie, each step plunges you deeper instead of providing an escape.

I’m referring to Montreal’s ”system” of detours. As I understand it, a detour is a marked route used to move traffic around a work site or road closure. It is intended to provide ease of movement. So let me put this as succinctly as I can: a detour that sends motorists to an alternate route that is also restricted by construction is not a detour, it’s diabolical.

But that is precisely what happens on many occasions due to the large number of work sites, they infringe upon possible alternative routes. I understand that even with our less cold global warming altered winters most road work must be done during the summer. But is there no planning to ease the gridlock? I wonder if somewhere there is a group of traffic planners laughing heartily as they watch video screens showing irate drivers as they come to understand that they have been detoured right into yet another construction site, complete with its own set of detours.

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

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Montreal Grand Prix Signage Help for Tourists

GP15

Should you be considering visiting my fair city this weekend to take in the Formula One Grand Prix, as many are if hotel and restaurant reservations indicate, I am suggesting to Mayor Coderre the following sign. Rather than infuriate visitors with thousands of roadwork detour signs and road closures notices, on top of our potholed streets, let’s put the signs below on all streets that are:

A) Not currently under construction/repair;
B) Not likely to soon be under construction/repair;
C) Essentially pothole free;and
D) Free of exposed streetcar tracks.

NoWork

No Road 2

Unfortunately I suspect the only place worthy of the signs is the short strip of Notre Dame that runs right in front of City Hall! So if you do visit, assume all roads are under construction, or in need of same!

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

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Dear McDonald’s Canada: Line-Ups and Closed Cashes

… a store should never have a line up AND closed check-outs

Dear McDonald’s Canada,

I’ve got a bone to pick with you, and yes I do realize that may be an alien concept to you given nothing you sell, not even your spareribs, has bones. But this isn’t about food quality or even nutrition. The fact is, and I open myself up to criticism with this admission, I enjoy your food. I’m not saying I want to eat it everyday, but the occasional Trio does serve nicely as my lunch.

No, my gripe is of an organizational nature, call it management for lack of a better term. Picture this: It’s Grand Prix weekend in Montreal, there are 62 bazillion tourists in town, in addition the temperature and humidity are on the rise. Last evening I fancied a milkshake; you make fine milkshakes, not quite Dairy Queen fine, but then have you ever had a DQ burger? I rest my case. Go with your strength.

So last night at your Place Alexis Nihon store in Montreal I popped-in and took my place at the back of one of two very long lines – did I mention it was Grand Prix weekend? After inching closer during a significant wait, I was near enough to overhear a woman four spots ahead of me place her order for an ice-cream cone, only to be told that the ice-cream machine was not functioning. The woman was irate; not merely at being denied her cone, but because she had to wait in line for so long, only to be disappointed. She suggested in future a sign, hand-written, simple and free to produce, should be placed on the counter so that those looking for a cold treat will not waste their time in line.

Getting out of line I approached the Group Leader at the cash to get confirmation that I was also out of luck in my quest for a milkshake, which she provided. It was at this point that it struck me. Why were there merely two extensive lines, yet four closed cashes? I pointed out that it seemed ridiculous to have two very long lines and only two people taking orders, while four cashes sat idle. She politely, I think, asked me what she could do about that, open those cashes? At which I shook my head and walked away.

I think we all understand that “Fast” Food no longer exists at McDonald’s. Not too long ago a customer placed their order and by the time they had paid for it, it was on the tray and ready to go. The only people asked to step aside and wait were those with a special request. Now everyone has to step aside and wait in cramped conditions, ideal for pick-pockets.

So McDonald’s Canada, while I look forward to enjoying your products in the future, I do hope I can look forward to better customer care and store conditions. I would suggest that the old retail shoppers axiom, that a store should never have a line up AND closed check-outs, needs to be applied to your stores, particularly during very busy events.

Thanks.

Me DCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Five Ways To Condense Montreal’s Summer Events

As I write this we are still in the midst of a very ugly provincial election campaign that has seen more mud slung than a Spring Break Wet T-shirt/Mud Wrestling contest.

In years when the Winter Olympics are held, the NHL suspends league play for the two-week period of the games to allow players from NHL teams who have been selected to represent their countries the opportunity to play. But the NHL schedule remains at 82 games so there is a need to do some serious condensing to fit them all in, lest the playoffs run through until July, and frankly even the most avid hockey fan needs a bit of down-time. This results in teams having some weeks during which they play four games, a wee bit taxing on the body.

With Montreal apparently in the icy grips of a never-ending winter, our summer is looking like an NHL Olympic year schedule that will have to be condensed as well. To that end I have some suggestions for a shortened Montreal summer.

Fi Montreal

1) Combine the Tour de l’Île with the Formula One Grand Prix

The traffic snarls caused by thousands of tourists converging on the city for the Grand Prix each June are epic. While the street closures to accommodate the annual bicycle event give motorists nightmares. Let’s run the two events together on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. To give it a real Montreal feel the cyclists should go against the flow of traffic – there being no sidewalks for them to use –  and, when sworn at, give drivers the finger.

Montreal

2a) Festivals will have to overlap – take one

Montreal is known as a city of festivals, so we could combine the Jazz, Francofolies and Blues Fests into one event that features a variety of sad songs in at least two languages.

2b) Festivals will have to overlap – take two

We can also merge the Comedy Festival – Just For Laughs, with the Film Festival and have a festival of nothing but funny movies.

Montreal

3) Close all streets for construction

Another, albeit less enjoyable, event is the annual construction carnival. With all these other festivals running concurrently and the usual summer road work still much needed, we may as well just close all the streets in the downtown area. Those who often lobby for a huge pedestrian mall will be pleased. Motorists will be peeved, but they’re going to be anyway!

4) Back to school sales and construction holiday

Before leaving on their annual vacation period during the last two weeks in July, construction workers will be able to take advantage of back to school sales.

Canada day

5) Canada Day and St. Jean Baptiste celebrations combined

As I write this we are still in the midst of a very ugly provincial election campaign that has seen more mud slung than a Spring Break Wet T-shirt/Mud Wrestling contest. Depending on the outcome, we may be looking at the possibility of combining the provincial holiday, St. Jean Baptiste (Fête nationale) with Canada Day. Those thinking the parade may degenerate into a reenactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham should consider that with a little luck maybe we can throw in a Stanley Cup Parade as well, which always makes everyone happy!

So these are just a few suggestions to facilitate the cramming of all Montreal’s summer events into a weather-shortened season. Even if the warm weather, assuming it ever arrives, should last into November in an attempt by Mother Nature to even things up, it’s just not the same; that feeling of  “down-time” doesn’t linger past Labor Day, regardless of the weather. So we have to make the most of whatever comes our way in June, July and August. Now bring it on!

 

Me DCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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