Sunday, October 2, 2011

Indolence is Bliss

  I haven't posted for a while and part of the reason is my prolonged absence from my regular life rhythms because of our extended trip to Toronto. I was reminded why road-trips are so celebrated:  the singular and very specific objective of 'getting there' is at the end of the trip.  That leaves skads of time  between the start of the trip and 'getting there' without any pressing tasks.  True, the trip itself used to be more of an adventure.  In our travel dense twenties, light on baggage and guided by the beacon of our Lonely Planet, we sought less beaten paths and the stuff of good stories.  And now, the glow of our beacon has shifted to the the glint of sunlight on the pages of our hotel discount coupon books. Sure, a lot has changed but there is still ample time to do nothing.  And I had a great time doing nothing during our road trip.  Just driving and talking or driving and being silent.  Nothing to do but get there. Indolence is bliss.  And I wanted to extend that bliss after we arrived at our destination.  But there were too many distractions and fresh from my new home I couldn't help but compare it to my old home.  
So here I am: back in the new home and  presenting to you the expected: 'Here vs. There' entry  but - I hope - in a fresh format.  A few vignettes will tell the tale of where my indolence lead.  Nothing to do but make observations and package them into a little collection I like to call (and you will too) 
'So What?'


Citizens of Pedestria unite against what appears to be a conspiracy against you here in Florida! Six lane highways erroneously named 'Street' and 'Road' and even 'Avenue' when they should be called Local Interstate 'Rapido'.  I knew I signed up for this when I moved here but didn't realize how long it had been since I visited Pedestria myself until I went away 'up North' to Toronto.  It was when I finally uncoiled my pretzel like driver's body and used my gross motor skills; when I blinked rapidly trying to focus my eyes on the specimen photographed above (barely recognizable at first glance) that I saw what I had become: an ex-Pedestriate!  People here in south-west Florida simply don't walk anywhere.  A more empirical indication of this is that, during our 4 week stay in Toronto, we filled up with gas only once.  When I'm in Florida and in my car - and that is constantly, my friends - my eyes are rapidly moving between speedometer, rear-view mirror, road ahead and the fuel gauge trying to stay ahead of that needle sliding fast along the crescent shaped display.  I inevitably lose the race and consider my defeat as I stand sheepishly at the gas pump for the third time in a week!

  How is such an extreme car culture formed? Well, for starters the one time we fill the tank in Toronto costs 75% of what three fill-ups cost here.  Ahh the smell of economies of scale.  So, for starters, it costs less to drive here in the south.  Despite the fact that Torontonians appear to be more in love with their cars than most city dwellers,  it would be too expensive for every  resident to sit behind a wheel for much of the day (commutes to Brampton or Pickering notwithstanding).  

Also, it takes 20 minutes to get just about anywhere down here.  Going to the grocery store?  That takes about 20 minutes.  ..the library?  Oh, about 20 minutes.  How about the gym?  Yup  - 20 minutes. In the bright lights of the big city, 20 minutes gets you about 2 miles (depending on traffic, red lights, construction, detours, closures,  etc.) In fact, deciding on what mode of transport to use on any given day in Toronto takes a whole strategic planning session.  I am not going far so I could walk.... I need to carry lots of stuff  with me, however, for my presentation to the partners before heading to hockey practice, so maybe I should take the car......  It's like the arctic tundra out there so maybe I should take public transit.......  Hmm...what will cost me more - gas and parking or the transit fare?  Before you know it, the sun has set, you've missed your presentation, been cut from the hockey team team and are standing in your front hall sweating in your goose down jacket and toque (look it up, non-Canucks).  Virtually, none of the above conditions exist here in Florida: everywhere is - that's right - 20 minutes away;  no one plays sports requiring 100 extra pounds of gear; there are no Siberian weather conditions;  you never pay for parking and there is no public transport system anyway.  It's no wonder everyone is revving up their engines.  Besides, walking is akin to willingly stepping into a pool of razor blades.  My friend, Lisa astutely pointed out recently that people come here from everywhere bringing to the local roads a plethora of driving styles.  We end up with Germans used to their G-force speeds on their Autobahns, Quebecers tediously waiting at red lights to turn right, 'back East'-ers used to a more, um, assertive style of taking to the road and so on...

Moreover, people have conversations out the backs of their cars. Serious issues of economic relevence or social justice reduced to a few words and exclamation marks on a bumber sticker:  

I make no comment here about what side of these issues one may be on.  I only wonder why it would be important for some random person behind you at a traffic light to know what your opinion is.  I can speculate that bumper sticker monologues take the place of actual dialogue and that people prefer expletives over the steering wheel to actual conversation with a  human!  Having said that, I had a discussion with a woman who had as many markers of where she belonged on the political spectrum as the NRA Tea Party Pro-Lifer except that she was on the other end of it. 'PROUD TO BE A DEMOCRAT' one sticker proclaimed.  Another 'BP OIL SPILL: MORE PROOF OF WHY REGULATIONS AREN'T SOCIALIST, BUT COMMON SENSE'.  She told me that she had been  forced off the road once and that on the shoulder, the offending driver got out of his car and said to her 'With those bumper stickers, I wish I had my gun with me right now'  !!!.  Yet she persists in wearing her opinions on her car despite death threats.  I guess the thrill of these car-boot conversations and the  possibility of road rage - ironically enough - keeps people feeling connected in an increasingly disengaged world.  And so it is thus that people are forced into their cars more often, for longer periods of time and for greater distances: 20 minute drives, cheap gas, unsafe walking conditions and the promise of sparkling conversation over a cup of coffee ....and a windshield.


Globalization has assured that we can eat strawberries in the middle of a snowstorm, chomp Big Macs by the Fontana Trevi and dispose of our Starbucks cups before entering the Taj Mahal.  And yet, despite the ugliness and cultural depletion that all this threatens, it has not touched every corner of the globe (wait, globes don't have corners!)  The milk marketing board of Canada has defied all the ostensible 'freedoms' created by globalization and transnationalism!  It has protected the Canadian Dairy industry farmers, workers, and distributors! It has kept me from my favourite yogurt!

FAGE brand yogurt is the most beautiful yogurt I have ever tasted. The word FAGE (pronounced Fa-yeh) is the imperative of 'Eat' in Greek "Eat!'  and believe me, I would love to.  Made using the original method of this company based in Greece, its exported products may be even better than the yogurt which is made from milk from actual Greek cows.  Last year, they ran an also beautiful - if slightly esoteric - TV ad with flowy images and a voice over by Willem Dafoe.  This stuff tastes so good, it appears to have a higher percentage of milk fat than milk fat itself and yet has none (or 1% or 2%).  It has a balanced tartness that doesn't make you pucker like some watery Balkan style or stirred yogurts do.  There is no gelatin or starch charged with suspending and stabilizing  particles pretending 'smoothness'.  It is available in Greece (obviously) the UK, France, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Germany, the US.....but not in Canada.  The Canadian Milk marketing board has done such a good job of protecting the Canadian Dairy industry, they have protected us out of this gem.  In order to be able to fix prices of milk, eggs, cheese etc., the marketing board had to meet World Trade Organizaton (WTO) and General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade (GATT) requirements and those agreements included import restrictions.  As a result, while in Canada I got to buy Canadian products (OK, yay)  for 300% the price I pay here (not YAY) and no FAGE yogurt (definitely not YAY).  I got used to enjoying this  trove of tasty probiotics in Florida and missed it terribly when in Toronto.  It became my mission (along with  making trivial observations to put in this blog) to find out why.  My research led me to a moment of harsh comparison between a true market economy and a market oriented economy.  OK, we'll keep our health care, you keep your cheap cell phones.  But let's get going on a trans-border yogurt stimulus plan.


Always a popular fulcrum around which to plot one's anchors of comparison is that of music.  Music, more than bumper stickers, hair styles or college majors is the G.P.S. for the cultural perspectives of individuals and communities alike.  It's not surprising that in the largest city (Toronto) in a country with a strong songwriter tradition (Canada) that new and indie music is born and thrives consistently.  On any given day, a band you love or would consider loving is playing somewhere.  Here, try to find a decent radio station and you get on the fast track to settle-city.  There's good music here only it's buried.  And, honestly, my shovel is not hip enough to dig that deep. Besides the Latino stations on which some great classics and newer reggaeton and Latin hip-hop tunes can be heard, I listen to a basic, general, inoffensive FM station.  Their claim that they 'play anything' is substantiated.  Really.  Their playlists are eclectic (I'm talking any of several Nirvana tunes followed by that Pina Colada song from the 70s!) but just not very big.  I would say that about 70% of the time I get in my car (and you know how often that is) and turn the radio on, 'Rock Star' is playing.  They sure do love their Nickelback here.  Ever notice how when cultural paradigms are removed from their geographic birthplace, they take on an unexpected grandeur?  Like how Chinese food - so revered here in North America -  in Hong Kong is just food.  And African safaris for all their exotic glamour-travel appeal in Africa are just Sunday afternoon walks in the park.  Well, I know I haven't recorded any albums recently or ever.  I don't believe, however, that that strips me of the right to say that Nickelback are something of a national embarrassment as far as I'm concerned. But here, they are worshipped to the tune of 2nd biggest grossing foreign act in the U.S. behind the Beatles!! Legend (and Google) has it that the band got their name from the phrase Mike Kroeger used at the job he had at Starbucks -  before the band made it big -  when returning change to customers as in 'Here's your nickel back, Sir'. 

What's even more peculiar about this hourly ode to Nickelback on the radio is that the song they have chosen to overplay is one that they have to censor about 50% of.  The song is about the quest for stardom and the glittery, disposable life of a rockstar.  In the line 'the girls come easy and the drugs come cheap', on this radio station, the girls still come easy but - as it turns out - it's the bleep that come cheap.  So, groupie promiscuity and essentially prostitution are OK, but the drugs (that by the way will come up in the next commercial break disguised as Celebrex or Lipitor) are a big problem!

Do I want my Nickelback?  You can keep the whole dollar!

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