Thursday, January 30, 2014

IDS14 - Interior Design Show

My friend, Rob, gave me a ticket to the Interior Design Show for this past weekend. His hardwood flooring company had a small booth there. I thought they might be there, so I asked if he had any tickets.

I like interior design. In fact, I like all design. From graphic design to product design to architecture, it all interests me.

The show was at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. I took the subway from my condo to Union Station and walked across the Skywalk to get there. Other than the minute or so it took to walk from my place to the subway station I was inside the rest of the time. That was nice. I avoided having to bundle up to keep the cold at bay.

This was probably my second or third time attending the show. There's a lot of high end furniture and appliances and other things there. It's neat to look at and get ideas. But, of course, I'd never be able to afford half of it.

To show my appreciation for the free ticket from Rob's company I did a bit of reconnaissance work for them. There were a couple of new flooring companies they wanted to get the low down on.

Since most of them know each other they sent me to gather info. I pretended to be interested in buying flooring and got some brochures and prices to pass along to Ian and Michael. It was all very clandestine. Especially since one of the companies was exhibiting directly across from them.

I gathered the info then met Michael behind another exhibitor's display and passed it secretly along to him. Just like KGB spies.

I'm not sure if this show was as interesting as the others I've attended. I didn't find I got quite as excited this time.

The free Haagen Dazs strawberry ice cream from the Jenn-Air Home Appliances was yummy. That was the only free sample I took. There were other things like gourmet coffee and stuff that other exhibitors gave away as well. But, I felt kind of funny mooching too much stuff.

Anyway, I spent about 4-1/2 hours there walking around taking pictures and things. All in all, a nice way to spend a frigid January afternoon.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stranded on the 401

I had just started my route on Wednesday morning after loading up my work truck with the day's deliveries. I drive an old GMC Savana 1500 cargo van with over 530,000 kilometres on it. Yes, over 530.000 kilometres... you heard right. It runs. Barely.

Anyway, after driving a short distance north up the Don Valley Parkway, I take the 401 westbound ramp heading towards Mississauga.

It's shortly thereafter I notice a subtle difference in the truck. There are around three instances in near succession where it seems like the power fades just slightly. It was barely noticeable, but it's there. I don't know quite what to make of it.

It was also about that time I noticed the check engine light blinking. It's been on ever since I started driving the van (which has been around two years now), but I'd never seen it blinking before. It was somewhat disconcerting.

I decided, after I make my first stop in Mississauga, I'll contact Sid and let him know. In the meantime I thought it best to drive in the right lane beside the shoulder. Just in case.

Well, that turned out to be a wise, if not potentially lifesaving, decision. Because not long after passing Highway 427 the van lost power. It just faded and died. If I had been in one of the middle lanes who knows what would have happened?

Luckily I was able to pull off onto the shoulder before losing all power. The steering began stiffening at one point, but, luckily, I was able to stop before anything might have happened to the brakes.

Now I was stuck on the shoulder of the 401 express lanes with 18-wheelers thundering by at 120 km/h. Every time a vehicle sped by the van would shake. It was like sitting on a roller coaster. Only on the side of the road. And all the while being at risk of being crushed like a tiny insect at any moment by a passing truck. Greeeaat.

To top it off we were in the midst of the second polar vortex this month. The daytime high was only around -15C. So, now I'm sitting on a rickety roller coaster on the side of the highway filled with ice cubes.

I texted Sid first. Just to let him know what was going on. I waited a minute or two, but got no response. So I figured I'd better call CAA or else I'd be waiting there forever.

Since it had been so cold out over the past few days, CAA had been inundated with calls. I believe they received two to three times as many calls as normal. Most of them for dead batteries (like mine a couple of weeks ago).

I tried their local number first. The phone actually started ringing my first try. I got their automated message saying I was in line waiting for an operator to answer. Then it went dead. So I called back. Again. And again. And again. And again.

I couldn't get through no matter how many times I tried. I got various messages and one or twice I got a busy signal. But, no matter how many times I tried, I got nothing.

It was then I tried their 1-800 number for out of town calls. I got through on the first try. But, again, that was just to their recorded message saying I was in line and my call would be answered in sequence. All the while I'm huddled in the van deathly afraid of a speeding vehicle plowing into the back of me and turning me into instant road kill.

The wait was excruciatingly long. I just checked my phone and the call log says the phone call was over 24 minutes long. I'm sure the majority of it was just waiting for them to answer.

In the meantime I'm sitting there nervously looking at traffic coming from behind in the driver's side mirror. At one point I notice a minivan drifting over the white line dividing the live lane from the shoulder. He's coming on fast so I honk my horn. I'm helpless... what else can I do? Now I don't know if he corrected himself on his own or if he took notice of the horn, but whatever the case, he drove back into his lane. Idiot.

While I was waiting on hold a random tow truck driver pulled up. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. I mention I'm on hold waiting for the CAA operator to pick up. He asks if I want a tow. He can take me to Sid's garage (Stellar Auto) for $200 cash flat rate. Normally it would be $300, he says.

He tells me, CAA will reimburse me for the cost. I'm not sure if I should trust him or not. But, I'm very inclined to take him up on his offer because I don't feel like tempting fate by waiting there much longer.

While waiting in his heated truck (which is parked on the shoulder in front of the van) he presses me by saying in this weather a CAA truck won't come for at least two or three hours. In normal circumstances he'd probably be right. But, I'm sure once they know of my perilous situation they will send a tow truck ASAP.

Finally I get through to the operator and explain what's going on. He tells me since I'm sitting on the shoulder of a highway he'll make me a top priority. He says a tow truck will be there in less than half an hour.

The tow truck driver is still trying to convince me to let him tow me, but I reluctantly decline. I get back out and go sit in my cold van and he drives off. I hope I haven't made a foolish decision.

The CAA driver doesn't take too long. Maybe 20 or 30 minutes I'm guessing. He has one of those flatbed trucks. After about 10 minutes we're all hooked up and ready to go. I'm so happy to be off the highway and safe again.

We drive to a garage called T&S Auto out in Etobicoke. Sid used to do business with them before he relocated his company. I meet him there and we transfer all the towels out of the Savana and cram them into his Honda Odyssey so we can deliver them.

What a way to start the day.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Indie 88 - Giving Great Music a Home

My new favourite radio station - Indie 88 (CIND-FM, 88.1 on your FM dial). I'm not sure exactly how I found out about them. Probably through a friend's share on Facebook. They're great. They're what CFNY (102.1 FM) used to be in the 80's - original and innovative. Of course they have many CFNY influences, namely former on-air personalities such as Dave "Bookie" Bookman, Raina Douris, Loriann Villani and the immortal Alan Cross.

Indie 88 doesn't play a lot of the repetitive, inane garbage you hear on most stations nowadays. They promote a lot of independent, lesser known groups interspersed with classics from REM, Violent Femmes, The Cure and Pixies. As well, they play Canadian bands such as Arcade Fire, The Stills, Said the Whale, Stars, Sam Roberts, Wildlife, Tokyo Police Club, Dear Rouge, Metric and Imaginary Cities. I love Imaginary Cities. And I've never heard them played regularly anywhere else (only once or twice briefly on CBC Radio One.)

So, kudos to Indie 88...  Here's to continuing to carry the torch of independence in contrast to CFNY which has sadly lost its way.

Listen live at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Car Problems Part III - Will it Never End?

It's Sunday morning and I'm waiting for the phone call from Canadian Tire to let me know my car is ready to pick up. The person at the service desk I talked to the day before said it should be ready by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m.

Well, 10:00 or 11:00 has come and gone and no phone call. I wait until around 1:00 p.m. and give them a call. The fellow who answers the phone tells me my car is ready. (Thanks for the phone call to let me know when to pick it up!)

Now I've already missed church in the morning, but I figure if I can walk over to Canadian Tire quick enough I should have enough time to get to the boarding home by around 2:30 p.m. It's our day to volunteer there.

It's a wet, slushy day. Instead of wearing my boots I sacrifice wetness protection for speed and wear my running shoes. I get to Laird and Eglinton pretty quickly. But, no one has bothered to shovel the sidewalks in front of their homes along the way so my feet are quite wet.

I go to the Service Department and plunk down my credit card for the $177.40 bill. The battery is only around $110, but they charge about $50 for installation. Even though I believe it's easy to install I don't want to take a chance of anything going wrong and pay for them to do it.

My car starts easily enough with the new battery. But, I find when I slow down for red lights my car starts to shudder, the idle speed drops to near zero. At first I wonder if it's because there's some humidity in the air and that might be affecting the engine.

It's not long after I realize it's the same problem I had before where my engine just dies whenever I slow down and/or stop. I can't believe this is happening to me. Again. Why? Why, why, why? Every day, another problem.

On my way home I weigh my options. My first stop, though, is the Shell gas station at Eglinton and Bayview. My car has been running on fumes for the past few days. But I was too scared to stop for gas because I worried I wouldn't be able to start it again because of the weak battery.

After filling up I had to think about step number 2. I returned to my condo and parked on level 1 and got out of my car to debate my options. The only solution I could come up with was to take my car straight to the dealership (Courtesy Chevrolet) right away and leave it there.

I checked an old receipt at home and saw that they were closed Sundays. Greaaat. Today was the only day I could go. I would just leave the car in their service lot with a note on the windshield. I also left them a phone message stating the problem.

I took the TTC home. I hope I don't have to rely on it too much over the next few days. My parents offered to let me stay over at their place and said they would drop me off at work in the morning which is helpful. They live close by. I just have to round up all my stuff and bring it over there tonight.

All these problems with my car make me want to drive it to a cliff and push it over. Sigh.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dead Battery - Part II

After the dead battery debacle at my sister's place I decided I would go to Canadian Tire to replace the battery on Saturday when the weather warmed up. I didn't want to take a chance in going out when it was too cold and getting stuck again.

I checked the prices and availability of batteries that would fit my car on Canadian Tire's website. They had some starting at around $110 at the Laird and Eglinton location which was closest to me. I was planning to go there and buy one and have them install it. I figured it would be relatively simple to install and shouldn't cost much more.

I went down to my car which was in the parking garage early Saturday afternoon. Maybe around 1:00 p.m. To my disappointment my car wouldn't start. Again.

Instead of calling CAA to make an appointment I thought I'd try doing it online because I thought it might be faster. Well, it probably wasn't. I had to input so much information that it actually took a fair amount of time.

I typed in my location, my year, make and model of car. Instead of requesting a boost I thought I'd purchase a battery from them. My father had done that in the past and was charged about $150 in total. Even though I thought it would cost more to go with CAA I figured it would be easiest. Just have them come and change the battery and get it over with.

After I had entered all the relevant information I was notified that my wait would be 300 minutes (or 5 hours). Nothing left to do but wait. Thankfully Naomi and Markus decided to have lunch at Echo and invited me along. I actually had had a hankering for sushi and was looking to go. So that would help me kill the time.

Lunch was good. I didn't overeat like I sometimes do. I believe I got back shortly after 3:00. To my surprise the CAA driver called to say he was at my condo not long after. We went down to my car and he proceeded to assess the battery. I'm not sure what he was doing.

He confirmed I needed a new one, which I already new. He told me it would be $155 for the battery and to have it installed which was fine with me. He then checked the back of his truck which had quite a few different batteries then discovered he didn't have one that would fit my car. So, after all that, he gave me a boost and I drove over to Canadian Tire.

But, of course, now it was late in the day and as I feared Canadian Tire wouldn't be able to work on my car today and I would have to return next morning. On top of that I found the battery was $110 which was the same price as stated online. But, to have it installed would cost around $50 more. I believe the total price (I'm assuming after tax) would be $177. More than CAA and more trouble.

You would have figured that since I told them my year, make and model CAA would have sent someone with a battery that would have actually fit my car. I'm not too happy about that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Deep Freeze = Dead Battery

Okay, I have to admit it... it probably was my fault. I probably should have replaced my car battery sooner, but I didn't. My car wasn't starting cleanly, but it was still starting. That was until the recent deep freeze we had here in Toronto.

The first sign of trouble was when I was leaving work on Thursday. My car had been sitting outside in the cold all day. The engine barely turned over. I thought to myself, should I head home (to my warm condo garage) or should I go over to my sister's place for dinner like I promised my mother. I made the wrong decision and went over to my sister's house.

The temperature that evening dropped even more. After hanging out at my sister's for a few hours I decided to leave. My car had other ideas.

I called my parents who live nearby and my dad came over with the jumper cables to try and give my car a boost. If the battery was dead I was sure it would work.

We had to rearrange my car on the driveway so it would be face to face with my father's car which we were going to use to charge mine. I put mine in neutral and pushed it a few feet so my father could pass by and turn his car around.

After we were both positioned properly we hooked the booster cables up and I cranked the ignition. Nothing. It was the same as before. It was like we didn't even hook the cables up. I was dumbfounded. What could it be?

We struggled mightily to push my car out onto the street so my dad could leave to go home. It was freezing cold out and really slippery. Hard to get traction with your boots. It made pushing that much harder.

I called CAA next. It was about 10:00 p.m. by now. According to the news they had been inundated with calls due to the weather. I was put on hold for a long time.

When I finally got through I told the operator the problem. I mentioned it was probably the battery, but I thought it also could be something else. So I requested a tow truck instead of the guy who just comes to charge batteries.

I also had to think about where to take my car if it needed to be towed. The closest mechanic I know is by Victoria Park and Eglinton, close to where I work. It's the place my boss takes the work delivery vehicles to get serviced.

But, I know many places can't do diagnostics on my particular vehicle if that's what it needs. If that were the case I would need to get towed to Courtesy Chevrolet on the Queensway near Sherway Gardens. It's much further, by they're the only place that has the particular software to do an engine check for my car.

Anyway the CAA operator told me I could expect the tow truck driver to come by by 1:30 a.m. (at the latest I assumed).

Next I called my parents. I asked my dad if I could borrow the car in case I did need the tow to the mechanic's. I would need a way to get back home late at night. I said to leave the car key by the door and I would pick them up if needed. Then I settled down with a book at my sister's place for the wait.

Well, 1:30 a.m. came and went. So did 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. I knew they were busy and that they were prioritizing calls for people who were stuck outside in the bitter cold first. I guess they knew I was waiting inside so I was probably bumped down on the list.

Now I was bunked on the narrow sofa in my sister's living room. I had put the book away long ago and was trying to catch some Zzzz's. I had put my cell phone which was at hand ready for the call on the coffee table and decided I should try to get some sleep. I thought they had forgotten about me and decided I would call them back in the morning. It would be better then because the garage would actually be open and I wouldn't have to leave my car there and come back again. And public transit would be running if I needed to get back home.

To my surprise I got a call at around 5:15 a.m. (I'm guessing... I was still a bit groggy when I answered). I believe it was an automated message from CAA saying they were sorry about the delay and that the tow truck driver would be around in 45. I was to be ready for his arrival at that time with my CAA membership card.

I think the driver arrived about 6:00 a.m. He hooked up his booster cables and I tried the engine. Again, nothing. I was so disappointed. But, I wasn't totally unprepared for that result. After a less than restful night I thought it would be a few more hours before I'd be able to return home to sleep.

The driver told me to go wait inside my sister's place for 10 minutes. He wanted to give the battery some more time to recharge. So I went inside fully expecting to come out 10 minutes later and drive to the mechanic's.

When I reemerged 10 minutes later I was totally shocked to see exhaust fumes coming out of the back of my car. The tow truck driver had managed to resurrect it. I was so happy.

I gave him a wave as he drove off and, after a minute or two of letting my car warm up, I left for home as well.

Next stop Canadian Tire for a new battery.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 - Year In Review

2013 was an interesting year. Work was kind of rough. At least for my boss, Sid. First off, his son, Joseph, found another job. Then one of his two delivery vans was stolen. We had to make do for over a month with only one van until he replaced it.

Then we were having problems with our wet towel raw material supplier. That led to us losing one of our big wet towel clients. Sid's 3 week holiday to China in November became a problem for Peter who was just hired. He didn't get enough training and things pretty much fell apart.

As for local news... for me the big three news items were the Rob Ford circus, the summer floods and the December ice storm.

I have to admit I was a Rob Ford supporter. But his neverending antics started to turn me off. Even after his admission of taking crack cocaine I still supported him. But things just got more and more weird. His constant rants to local media topped off by his lewd remarks regarding a staffer as well as the refusal of just about every council member to recognize his authority as mayor did it for me. I'm not sure if I can support him in the future.

The floods after record rainfalls was another big news item here in Toronto. The lower Don Valley Parkway was flooded on two occasions stranding a number of unwary motorists who dared venture into the muddy waters. A GO Train heading north out of downtown even got stuck in the rising water. The stranded passengers had to be rescued by boat.

Of course many homes were flooded by the rain too, my parents' included. In our case it may have been a blessing in disguise. It forced me to clean all my junk out of their basement and either toss it or sell it. We had it renovated and updated adding a second bathroom. It looks much better than before.

Lastly we had the worse ice storm in local history. Freezing rains just before Christmas brought down tree limbs and the power lines beneath them. Nearly 300,000 customers in Toronto lost power from anywhere from a day to nearly a week and a half.

My parents were one of the lucky customers. They only lost power for about 12 hours. My sister had it a bit worse. She probably lost power for 2-3 days. I know a few others who lost it for longer. Personally, I was very fortunate. I never lost power at all.

Still it was weird driving around certain areas of the city in the pitch black at night. On top of that you had to deal with the numerous intersections which had no traffic lights. Also, side streets were littered with fallen branches, some huge. I had to clear my parents' deck of maple branches which had fallen from their neighbour's tree the morning after the rainfall.

Thankfully we were able to celebrate Christmas dinner at my parents' home unlike many others who were struggling to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures.

Here's hoping 2014 will be less chaotic.