Tag Archives: The Hammer

You can always go…if you’re allowed to, that is…downtown!

Sometimes it’s a tiny, little bit of an idea that gives birth to a big one, and gives me something to write about.  That happened this morning on the newly relocated In the Neighbourhood radio show on CFMU 93.3.  There was some talk about what cities hold for their younger citizens, what’s out there, how are these kids connecting with their city. The guest told the story of a friend’s 14-year old daughter who went to her first all ages show at a club downtown – This Ain’t Hollywood, I believe – and how her mother was nervous having her head downtown and be there on her own, with friends.  It all turned out well of course, she had a great time, nothing bad happened, happy ending, etc etc.  All good stuff.  And this got me thinking about The Musician and his friends, who are the same age.  He’s in a band, so of course has had a lot more exposure to bars and clubs than most kids his age – even the ones who do head to shows – but the one thing that has always irked him (yes, I said irked because that is the word he used – seriously) is that a lot of his friends have never seen his band perform, because they aren’t allowed to go downtown, or they’re not allowed to go downtown after dark. 

 When he first told me this, my eyes rolled so hard they practically popped out of my head, which is probably not the most mature reaction, I’ll give you that.  But whatever.  Not allowed downtown, not allowed downtown after dark?  What is that, even?  Where do we live exactly, that this is such a problem?  And more importantly, who are these parents that are stopping their kids from experiencing the core of their city, where did THEY come from?  Then I think of the HWDSB and how it’s feeling the need to escape from the core, how THEY seem to be in a big fat hurry to get out of there and…oh…snap!  (wait now, that’s a whole other blog post, folks)

When I was The Musician’s age (it almost always comes back to this, just so you know – it’s part of what having a teenager in the house does to you) I was all over downtown all the time.  It’s all there was in Hamilton in the early 80s.  Lime Ridge Mall existed, but from where I lived (north of Barton St.) that was a big ol’ bus ride – with a transfer and everything.  Downtown was just much more accessible.  And it offered better stuff, to be honest.  Music, for example.  Cheapies, Rave Records, Sam the Record Man – all in the core.  Rock ‘n’ Tees, Klassy T-Shirt for band shirts and accessories.  Movie theatres galore – Tivoli, Century, Odeon, Hyland; Kresge, Woolworth’s and Zellers (yes, there was a Zellers downtown people, I’m not making that up) for cheap makeup and jewellery, birthday presents for your friends.  Right House, Robinson’s and Eaton’s for everything else (mostly when you had to go shopping with your parents).  

I get that Hamilton’s core fell on some hard times, I get that for sure, I witnessed it firsthand.  There was a time that maybe it didn’t have much to offer the teenagers out for a fun time.  But to be afraid of it?  To “not allow” your kids to explore what it might have to offer?  That’s just bananas, come on now.  Especially now with the revitalization of downtown neighbourhoods like James North and the area of King St. from Wellington west to John.  There’s good stuff going on all over the place, good stuff that everyone can enjoy. 

On Sunday The Musician had a friend come over to hang for the day.  Her mom dropped her off around 11 and I asked them what they had planned.  “I think we’re gonna head downtown and wander around for a bit, maybe check out Cheapies, you know, just kind of hang”.  So they walked downtown and a few hours later took the bus back to our place with some candy and a copy of the Stray Cats “Built for Speed’ on vinyl, from Cheapies.  That could have been a page from my diary circa 1983, but it actually happened in the present day. 

I’m not saying that my kid is highly unusual, I’ll be there are kids all over the city doing the same kind of thing on a Sunday afternoon.  But what I really liked was their ability to get to where they were going and get back again without relying on us – there was no can you drive us there and pick us up, it was all them.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but it sure is a great independence builder to be able to do what you want on your own time and at your own speed.  I think for me, that was one of the biggest draws of the core when I was younger – I could get there easily whenever I wanted.  I mentioned before that getting to someplace like Lime Ridge Mall was a big pain because the bus ride took so long.  No one was going to drive me – my dad had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon, thank you very much.  And for something like that, it would never have even occurred to me to ask him for a lift.  Now, most kids are used to being driven everywhere and dropped off and picked up again at a certain time.  And that’s great for some things, but once you get to a certain age, isn’t it better to do it yourself?  Figure out where you’re going and with whom and make it happen?  Or maybe that’s just me. 

The last gig The Musician and his band played was their CD release party at This Ain’t Hollywood.  It was all ages, 16+ and I knew he had been talking it up to a lot of his friends, trying to get them out to support the band.  So while I sat at the back with the parents selling tshirts and CDs (yeah, that’s right – merch girl) I watched as the bar started to fill up and was SO excited to see quite a few kids – friends of my boy, and friends of the other guys – streaming in for the show.  At the end of the night, band members and their friends hung around outside, drinking Cokes and waiting for rides home.  For a lot of these kids, this was their first real show at a real bar and without their parents.  And, like the friend of the radio show guest, they all had a fantastic time, made some great memories, and nothing bad happened – downtown.  

I guess I’m basically just saying (in a mere 1100 words, cos I’m brief, yo) don’t tell your kids – or anyone for that matter – that they’re not allowed to go downtown.  It’s a hollow, vague threat, and gives the impression that it’s a bad scary place.  Which it isn’t.  Really overall, just don’t be afraid of your city, people.  Get to know it, explore it, find the different neighbourhoods and areas that make it special, and learn about them.  Learn about them with your kids, and that might make all the difference.  Let’s work towards creating the next generation of Hamiltonians who embrace all the areas of their city, who walk around and enjoy the differences, the people and the neighbourhoods.  Let’s try to raise the kind of people who don’t just pass through areas like the downtown core on their way to someplace else, someplace they’ve determined to be better…or safer.  I think we owe it to Hamilton – the past, present and future Hamilton – to try.

Traffic flow, served two ways

I’m going to give it to you straight, not going to lie.  When it first happened, when the changes were initially made, I was skeptical.  In truth, I was ticked off.  It was, I knew, going to be brutally inconvenient, a waste of time, and probably what was going to happen after ALL OF THAT hassle was that it was all going to be changed BACK to the way it was, after those in charge realized the error of their ways.  Oh yes, I was smug back then, thinking I knew best and all.

I am speaking of course, about the changes to James and John streets in Hamilton.  For years – decades, really – they had been one way streets.  James ran north/south and John ran south/north.  It’s just the way things were.  Hamilton is known for its one way streets, and I don’t know how many times over the years I have had to try to defend this fact to visitors, tourists, and yes, even my husband.  The Genealogist is a transplant.  He grew up in a small northerly town with a 3-way stop intersection.  One 3-way stop intersection.  He has told me the story of searching for student accommodation with a friend, where they would have an address, and then have to drive blocks and blocks out of their way in order to find said address – because 9 times out of 10 the address they needed was on the wrong side of the block they had turned down, and wouldn’t you know they couldn’t just pull a u-turn and go back the way they came because they were on a one way street.  And I guess I feel their pain, as well as the pain of every other newcomer to the city, because it IS inconvenient and it IS a pain to have to navigate one way streets when you aren’t sure exactly where you are going.

I say that I feel their pain, but that empathetic pain feeling is pretty recent in the heart of the UIG.  There was a time when I would do that eye rolling thing and tell people “Well, that’s the way it is, and once you get used to it, it’s easy!”  Which I suppose is born-and-raised-Hamiltonian code for “Don’t be such a baby, get a map and/or a clue and figure it out”.  *ahem* (the current UIG is a much more tolerant individual overall now, in case you were planning to stop reading right there.  I get even nicer, I promise!)

It’s been about 10 years (give or take) since the city switched John and James and made them both two way streets.  As I said, I was ticked off.  I may have mentioned along the way in this blog that I fear change, and for this big change in particular, I was rather fearful.  And annoyed, as I also said.  Fearful because I would drive east on Barton St., heading home from my parents’ house, and I would turn up James St….into oncoming traffic.  Crap!  Move over quickly and continue on.  This happened multiple times before I got smart, and in fact one time I made it all the way to Cannon St. before I even noticed I was driving south in the northbound lane.  (obviously there was no oncoming traffic this time)  That is how ingrained one way streets can be when they’ve been that way your whole life.

The annoying factor crept in slowly.  I would be sitting on a bus that was trying to turn left into Gore Park – against the traffic coming UP John Street – and we would often sit in that middle section of the intersection for 2 or 3 lights before traffic had thinned enough to turn.  Oh boo hoo, UIG big deal, right?  Well, when you’re trying to make a bus connection, sometimes those 2 minutes can make all the difference.  So, agreed, not an earth shattering reason to be anti-two way street, just an annoyance.  And a bit of fear there too, as I witnessed the occasional driver throw caution to the wind and just make the turn, hoping that the traffic heading south would get the hint.

So there was all of that.

And what is the story with Hamilton’s one way streets anyway?  My dad explained to me one time that it had to do with easing the flow of traffic to and from the steel companies.  Heading to work from the west end?  Take Main St. with its sweet, sweet synchronized traffic light system, and you can be there in minutes!  Heading home that way at the end of the day?  Do the exact same thing in reverse on King St.  I have no idea if that’s the exact reason, but it seemed to make some sense, particularly when this steel town was booming.  If the majority of the traffic at certain times of the day is going in the same direction to the same location?  Then why not expedite it?  Why not be able to streak through the downtown core without congestion to get to your destination?  Why not?

I think, if you take a hard look at Hamilton’s downtown core and its decline since the 1970s you’ll get a really good idea of “why not”.

So here’s what I was missing in my sad attempts to justify the existence of one way streets:  if you turn the main streets that bring people into your city into expressways, these same people are going to leave your city as quickly as they arrived in it.

That realization was pretty humbling, I fully admit it.  And maybe because I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve shopped downtown all my life, I was oblivious to the fact that all that traffic zipping through the core just wasn’t stopping or slowing down to check things out.  I was hearing all the “oh there’s nowhere to park” or “it’s so expensive to park!” or “downtown is so empty” complaints, but I wasn’t really hearing them, you know?  Because hey, it’s all still good for me to either willingly pay for parking or take transit and get what I need in the core.  What I couldn’t ignore was the emptying of the downtown area.  Did it start with the demise of Eaton’s?  Did it start when a brand new Eaton’s opened up at Lime Ridge Mall, where the parking lot is massive and free?  I have a feeling it started much earlier than that.

I don’t think one way streets are the ONLY thing that caused Hamilton’s downtown decline, I don’t think any one thing can possibly be entirely responsible.  But I do believe that converting our one ways to two can have a positive effect on the neighbourhoods they run through.

Nowhere is this more evident than James St., probably the most up and coming area in the city.  Is its growth popularity due entirely to the switch from one way?  Again, probably not, there are a lot of issues at work that help create a developing neighbourhood.  But there’s no doubt that it has been a contributing factor.

So, here I am, a reformed one way street advocate preaching the importance of the two way street.  I used to think one way streets defined Hamilton.  Sure it was quirky to have so many – especially so many of the major arteries – but wasn’t that a good thing?  Wasn’t it something to be known for?  And if people don’t like it, they don’t have to come, right?  No.  I was wrong.  Two way streets are where it’s at, and I look forward to the day when King and Main both run east/west.  Will people finally get out of their vehicles and look around?  They might.  And if they do, they’ll get to see what Hamiltonians have always been able to see – that there’s some pretty amazing stuff if you slow down and take a look.

Now, let’s talk about that Sherman Cut with the upward bound and downward bound time restrictions, because THAT is probably the most confusing thing about this city, hands down.  Can I get a witness?

Walls come tumbling down

Demolition of the former Federal Building

I snapped this photo on my way to work this morning.  There was a lot of dust. 

This used to be the Federal Building – you can see the Coat of Arms of Canada in the top left corner – until a big new shiny one went up a couple of years ago, right around the corner.  And I get that it’s progress and it’s difficult to run the government offices from an outdated building and everything, but it makes me sad because it really was a lovely old building.
 
My city?  Not so good in the saving-the-lovely-old-buildings department, I’m afraid.  I just wish it could have been used for something, you know?  There are some lovely sculptures there which are going to be saved.  But it’s a shame that it had to come down at all. 
 
Condos, I think  Go figure.

Sanity – delivered right to your door

I like to shop.  I realize this is not earth-shattering by any stretch, but there it is.  I like shopping.  When I was in high school, the downtown of my city was booming, and there were loads of shops to visit weekly.  By the time I got to university, not so much.  A lot of the stores had moved out of the downtown area and up and over to the bigger malls and plazas in the suburbs and other large, flat areas where giant parking lots could be created and people could park for free and get everything all in one place.  And I’m not going to lie, I shopped in those malls and I continue to shop in those malls, but unlike a lot of people in our city, I also continued to bring a good amount of business to our sadly depressed downtown core.

Case in point.  My mum and I used to do a Friday night shopping thing.  I think it started around the time I got married – because even though we chatted on the phone practically every day, it was nice to go pick her up, see my dad, have a chat at the house, and then head out to shop.  It was good together time.  Often we didn’t need anything specific, it was just nice to go look around and spend the evening out. 

Sometimes we would head to big suburban mall, but most of the time we went to the tiny downtown mall where Eaton’s was the flagship store.  Canadians know Eaton’s very, very well.  To my mind, this was the greatest department store in the history of department stores.  I have been to big department stores in the UK and in the US and in my opinion, Eaton’s outdid them all.  Granted, I have never been to NYC and the killer stores there, so perhaps I am blowing smoke but whatever; until I experience the likes of Bloomindale’s and all that, I stand by my view that Eaton’s was the best of the best.

Sadly, the Eaton family fucked up royally and the stores no longer exist.  And really, once the store left the downtown area of my city, except for a few big stores, it was game over for anyone trying to continue in the retail area.  Without a big anchor store, the mall kind of dried up.  And that’s sad, but it is by no means unusual in North America. 

Thankfully, things are starting to pick up in our downtown, as people begin to think more about urban renewal and try to move away from the big box stores whenever possible.  Obviously not everyone is going to do it, but my family and I are definitely among the ones who value the urban shopping centre, and will continue to help it keep on keeping on.

So this long-winded introduction was really to set the scene for the big reveal!  Because while I love to shop and I love the shopping districts of cities, I have learned to loathe the mall.  Now, the mall is often a necessity, I understand, and I do frequent the mall, but I really hate it.  I hate the crowds and I hate the noise and I especially hated – when I went on Sunday to buy underwear – the kids trick-or-treating.  I mean, wtf?  Is this a thing?  And I know that the next time I go back it will be like Christmas threw up and my ass will snap shut and it will be too hot and I will become stabbier than usual.

This is why I am vowing – hear me vow! – to do as much of my holiday shopping online from the comfort of my own home.  I order lots of stuff online already, and it’s time to take it to the next level.  My goal is to avoid the mall – any mall – for the entire holiday season.  And this doesn’t mean that I will cop out and send The Genealogist to the mall for me.  This means a full-on avoidance.  If it can’t be ordered online or purchased from a stand-alone shop or boutique, it’s not going to be purchased.  It might be tough but I think I can do it. 

So.  Did you hear that, Threadless, Etsy and Amazon?  It’s on.

And speaking of Threadless, look at what arrived at my door yesterday.  Just in time to start the party season, awwww yeah!

OMG! Tiger!

This post is not about Tiger Woods, I just want to get that out there first, ok?  I’m not going to apologize for that either, because it’s not anyone’s business but mine.  Just like, I don’t know, Tiger Woods’ life is not anyone’s business but his.  And his family’s.  Sooo why does he need to apologize to anyone other than them?  And really, fuck the way he’s been treated, it’s appalling.  And I also hope he wins the Masters and then flips the bird to the whole world for the shit he’s been put through. 

Hey, what do you know?  Maybe this post is about Tiger Woods after all!

Except that…well, it’s not.  Because OMG you guys!  There is a tiger in my city!  Roaming free and on the town!  In the downtown core!  Large and in charge!

So earlier this week – or maybe it was towards the end of last week – posters started appearing everywhere warning against approaching  any wild animals in the city, which seems like a no brainer, but whatever.  Hamilton is a largely industrialized city, but we do have the Niagara escarpment which runs all around us, and there are still a lot of forested areas, green spaces, etc. so it’s not uncommon to see deer and other wildlife in residential areas, especially those that are close to the escarpment.  In some areas coyotes are sometimes seen, as well as the usual wildlife suspects like skunks, raccoons, possums and rabbits, so when I saw the posters, my mind immediately went to packs of wild dogs, roving bands of rabid raccoons or something like that.  I have to say that tiger didn’t even register.  So yeah.  Wow.  Tiger.

What’s curious to me is that this tiger has been sighted in various places around the city since February, and yet no one I know had any idea.  I guess until recently there was no actual proof (because come on, when someone is all “dude, I totally just saw a tiger at the hotel downtown!” there’s a good chance that no one is going to believe them anyway) but when is local media ever concerned with things like “getting the whole story” or “not jumping to any conclusions until we have all the evidence”?  Never, that’s when.  Usually they are all over that shit, unconfirmed sources and panic-inducing dramatics and all.  So what gives?  Hoax much?  Maybe?

I guess it’s good that the word is out there now, and I’m sure eventually the papers and the TV station will pick up on it and blast us with tiger sighting stories, the area man’s take on the situation, and how to prevent a tiger attack or what to do if you’ve spotted the tiger.  And I’m extra glad I know about it because it was apparently seen strolling around the golf course which is very close to my house, which is maybe just a little too close for comfort. 

And right now, I am fighting the urge to say that if the tiger is on the golf course, just fuck off and leave him alone, stay out of his life and business, and put away your judgements and just freaking let him play. 

I said I was fighting the urge.  I didn’t say I was fighting it well.

ETA:  I am still trying to find out if this is a hoax, because it really screams hoax, doesn’t it?  I couldn’t watch the video from work (stupid work interwebs rules) but now that I’ve seen it, it’s pretty clearly not legit.  And maybe the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have something to do with it.

Hamilton’s Heart for Haiti

I am pretty stoked to be attending this shindig on Sunday night.  Lots of homegrown Hamilton talent – The Arkells, Tom Wilson, Melissa McLelland and more.  So great.  The Genealogist and The Musician and I will be in attendance, along with The Musician’s good friend.  This will be her very first concert, which is a pretty cool thing in and of itself.

I watched the big ticket relief concerts – most of the Canadian one and the US one – and they were good.  Other than Ben Mulroney, no one seemed to be too full of themselves from what I could tell, and it was all done without a lot of glitz and over-the-top-ness, which can often take away from what’s important. 

[An aside:  maybe it’s because I am cynical by nature, but I do have a hard time when actors get up, and in subdued, earnest tones and with great concern on their faces, make their plea for help.  Because, you know, they’re actors.  It’s what they do.  But in spite of that, I was mostly impressed. ]

During the shows, The Genealogist and I had a discussion about other recent disasters and tried to remember what sorts of outpourings there were for, say, the Tsunami,  or Hurricane Katrina.  We couldn’t remember, and he even asked for input on Facebook.  He was told that there in fact WAS a concert for victims of Katrina.  No other details, just that of course there was.  No one who responded mentioned the Tsunami.  A quick search pulled up a bunch of links to benefit concerts and other events that happened for the Tsunami victims, as well as for Katrina, so they did happen, which is great, of course.

But what does it tell us when these events that were so horribly tragic, so devastating, with thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives lost fade into near oblivion when the next horribly tragedy strikes?  Are our collective memories that short?  They seem to be – mine certainly seems to be, as illustrated that I couldn’t remember much in the way of details.  But the truth is, it’s hard to remember – the events themselves, sure we know places and dates.  But even the dates are hard to recall after awhile, aren’t they?  Was it 2004 or 2005 for the Tsunami?  Unless you were directly affected, you might not remember exactly. 

The images out of Haiti are horrible, of course.  People are trying to give money, supplies, whatever they can, of course.  The devastation is absolute.  Eventually, aid will trickle and the images in our media will slow down and then ultimately stop altogether.  In December of 2010, the year-end lists will come out and the earthquake in Haiti will be included, and there will be a retrospective and survivors will be interviewed and reconstruction progress will be gauged…and then?  I really don’t want to think about the next catastrophe, the one that replaces Haiti on our collective radar.  But it’s going to happen. 

I just don’t want it to be too soon.

Age is just a number…a really, really sucky number

HVTWH8HESWNZ

I went and left you a whole 10 days with just the ladybits post didn’t I?  Which wasn’t even really a real post or anything.  Sorry about that, and I’d like to say, like other real bloggers do, that I was extremely busy, that life was just out of control and I just did not have a second to blog.  But it’s actually that I am just lazy, and while some post ideas were percolating in the noggin, I just didn’t write them down because…meh.  So I’m back, hopefully with a coherent thought that doesn’t involve genitalia.  Except that it, um, might…

So the UIG had a birthday on Saturday, friends.  That’s right, I need to update my bio as I am now a 43-year old woman – the woman part is the same.  43 just seems like such a non-number, you know?  40 is the big one, of course.  41, well now you’re into your forties and it’s still kinda new and fresh, then there’s 42 which is a nice round number and also has Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy relevance, and knowing that kind of gives you cred, right?  But 43?  I don’t know, man.  I’m kind of over it already, and I’ve only had it for a couple of days.  Already looking forward to 44, because now there’s a number! 

Seriously, who does that?  Not normal people, that’s for sure.

Anyway, to celebrate the day I went out for a superb meal with my awesome friends.  We did it up right at a swanky wine bar, all elegance and mood lighting, candles and soft jazz playing.  Lots of swish well-to-do looking couples, highly professional wait staff and artistically inspired food.  And then?  Then we followed it up with a trip to my favourite Hamilton bar for a night of  loud, raunchy and crazy cowboy music, because that, my friends, is actually how we roll.

If you ever have the chance to see White Cowbell Oklahoma live?  Please, for the love of god, run – don’t walk – to get your tickets.  The show was so over-the-top, so ridiculously theatrical, it was unbelievable.  But while the tunes are beyond dirty and raunchy, and the stage banter the same, there is a whole lot of talent among the band members, that makes it all ok.  At least it did for me.  When you have a guy whose sole purpose is to play cowbell, and not just play it, but to set it on fire, and use a grinder on it to shoot sparks up to the ceiling and out into the audience, and then later that same guy brings a mothereffing chainsaw up on stage and carves up a giant stuffed yeti, then proceeds to blow the stuffing – which is now everywhere – around and on everyone with a leaf blower done up to look, um, phallic?  That is a show, people.  A bona fide musical event.  And yes, I undertand that much of their image is problematic, and this is not a band I plan to introduce to my children any time soon, because come on, this is adult entertainment, and I’d prefer that the boys not go around singing “Put the south in your mouth pretty baby….” just yet. 

But damn, it was a fun night.  The other two bands on the bill were good too, Hamlton’s very own The Barettas – who I had heard but had never seen live, and they did not disappoint – and The Vanishers, who were completely new to me, and they describe their genre as “throat-punching country rock/rockabilly”.  And throat-punching they are, and all the way from Burlington even.  Definitely would see both those bands again.

So we heard some kickass music and had some cocktails, and I rolled in around 2am, like I’m 23 instead of 43, but whatever.  Celebrating my birthday with some of my best friends in the whole world, plus a couple of hundred raunchy cowboy music fans?  Hell, yes.  Can’t wait ’til next year.