Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rules / Signs

A few gems from recent travels. I'll hopefully keep adding to these as I go along.

Dress codes:

Syracuse NY
i.e.: This ain't no filthy blue-collar tavern you mashers! (but what about tube tops?)

Syracuse NY
i.e.: no urban males under 30?


Sure - just get all 'eco' on people to make them obey. That'll work.

i.e.: NO FUN. (who knew drinking boxes could kill?)

I thought this was fantastic. Your car could just be towed to some big ol' random field somewhere in upstate NY. Then I saw a Fields Auto Towing Service tow-truck and figured they had a pound somewhere. Dang.


Winnipeg's Bridge Drive In (I think I'll have me a rasp(whoa!)berry coalada)


Concerned Citizens:


Queen Street, Toronto

Can someone please explain these to me?

The Franglais: (Montreal style)

"Edited" signs like this old one below from Ave. du Parc and St. Viateur are not too hard to find in Montreal. Since bill 101 was introduced in 1977, signage laws in Montreal dictate that all business signs must be either entirely in French, or if another language is included, it must be no larger than half the size of the French. In other words, French must be visually dominant. Fair enough. But if replacing your original sign isn't an option, a little typographic doctoring can do the trick, even if it renders what's left grammatically incorrect. What was once Italian Mercerie (also known as 'haberdashery'), is now just a backwards, mashed-up repetition of the French. Fantastique.


Queen Street West, Toronto

Posted in the window of a vacant property on Saint-Laurent blvd. in Montreal, in clear and bold defiance of Bill 101!
Hmm... anything?

More on La Loi 101 :

CBC article Oct. 22/09

archives de Radio Canada

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Your opinion is important to us.

Over the past several months, CBC Radio One's Montreal morning program Daybreak has developed a rather irritating obsession with listener feedback. Comment has replaced content, as seemingly every news item or topic of discussion is framed by the constant prompt to call, email, text, or tweet one's opinion on the matter. "Matter" being the operative word here, as most of what comes in doesn't, and the result is continual interruption of the program's flow as air time is given to random, insubstantial comments on a host of moot points.

The apex of Daybreak's feedback loop came one morning when a listener wrote in to complain about the irrelevance of a certain 'news' story (something about a local couple's complicated divorce), which prompted host Nancy Wood to turn it back to the general listenership and ask: "Well, what do you think? Is this story relevant?" At that point I let out a stifled scream and switched the dial to CBC's French sister station, Radio Canada Première chaine, whose morning program, I might add, makes Daybreak sound like this. Seriously.

I can understand the impulse behind this desire to democratize news coverage - greater accessibility and involvement of the listenership in theory creates greater loyalty and better ratings. That's great, and there is, of course, room for feedback and listener input on the radio, (a stellar example being CBC radio's Cross Country Checkup on Sunday afternoons at 4pm). But proper context has to exist for it to be of actual relevance, rather than a shallow, free-for-all for the sake of "giving voice" and "being heard" about things that, in the end, are neither insightful, informative, or offer intelligent debate. A perfect example of this is cbc.ca (I hate to excessively pick on the Morthership, but she's the one I watch, read, and listen to most) where people can post responses to news items. Depending on the story, you can fairly confidently bet yer bottom dollar that these will deteriorate into a total nut-bar showcase. Racism, prejudice, and loud and proud red-necks are alive and well in this fair nation.

I can only hope Daybreak's bandwagon reflex/genuflect to the Twitterites and the cult of the iPhone is temporary, and that they'll realize that the 'average Joe' opinion is a poor substitute for intelligent, in-depth journalism. Until then, I'll be over at Radio 2.

Listen to a very good discussion about listener feedback on the Q podcast for Monday February 23, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Wheel Club

I've been meaning to post about this place for a loooong time, and a recent visit (after a 6-year gap) has provided just the right impetus.

Discretely located on Cavendish blvd. just south of Sherbrooke St. West, in NDG, The Wheel is a private club which graciously opens its doors to curious, country-lovin' non-members every Monday evening for its weekly Hillbilly night. Doors at 8, Fun 'til 1. And getting there at 8 is a must if you want to snag a table. This place is packed with old timers, twenty-somethings and everyone in-between who come through these doors in search of a unique, authentic experience that helps you forget you're in a modern mega-city and it's -20 outside.

Part '70s rec-room, part Legion, with wood-paneling and checkered tablecloths galore, The Wheel Club is tucked away in the basement of an otherwise unremarkable building, and is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Created over 40 years ago by local old-time country music legend Bob Fuller, Hillbilly night gives musicians and music fans - amateur or not - a place to converge and enjoy the experience of playing music, talking and dancing together in a place that feels like their own.

The Wheel has a house band, backed by Fuller on upright bass, that will cover all manner of old-time country music - bluegrass, honky tonk, hillbilly, etc. - but with one caveat: the cut-off date is 1965. (After that, things started getting a bit glamorous*). Note the absence of a drum-kit, in true keeping with the purist's preference for a bass-driven rhythm section.

Monday night is also open mic night, and anyone with a song to sign is welcome behind the wagon wheels to give it a whirl. Many local players on Montreal's alt-country music scene cut their teeth at the Wheel. It's a safe and welcoming place to get a feel for playing in front of an audience that doesn't seem to mind if you sing a bit flat until you work the kinks out. This is no place for show-offs.

Any feelings we may have had of crashing someone else's party were quickly dispelled by the friendly atmosphere, despite being among the very few first-timers there. Even the hipsters sitting at the table next to us, to their credit and with fiddle in hand, were obviously there to play some music. I was envious of their ability to mingle through the crowd of regulars, knowing several by name, and of having a place to regularly come to that feels like a small-town home away from home. That's a rather precious thing in a sometimes alienating city.

One highlight is the snack bar, where you can buy a basket of munchies, including cheezies, chips, popcorn, and pretzels, to go with your draft beer. I remember a combination Dad's cookies/popcorn basket on my first visit in 2003. I also like the personal-sized pitchers. Perfect for the ladies.

Another bonus is the raffle. We didn't stick around late enough to take part this time (I think the draw is at 12:30), but last time, tickets were sold at about 10:30, and at the time of the draw, a couple briefcases were brought out to the front of the stage area. Inside were the prizes: your choice among dozens of mix-tapes of old-time country music from Bob Fuller's massive collection of 45s. It doesn't get much homier than that.

If getting there from my north-end neighborhood wasn't such a pain in the butt (count on at least one-hour travel time by multiple modes of transit), I'd be there way more often (they have a Sunday dart league! /sigh). Friends with cars are good, but then you have to draw straws over who stays sober. At any rate, folks in NDG have a good thing going. Here's hoping it'll stay around long after the old timers get a bit too long in the tooth to shake a leg.

For a more in-depth look at The Wheel Club, see Craig Morrison's site, Montreal's Roots Music Scene

The Wheel Club
3373 Cavendish Blvd.
Directions here.

*Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, image from The Porter Wagoner Show, c. 1967