Friday, August 31, 2007

Whenever I've boarded a bus at Wilson station, I've seen a sign informing me that the stairs to my right only take me to the upper and lower levels of its bus terminal. There is, as I now know, a third, unused bus terminal at Wilson station that was rendered useless in 1996. Thanks to construction, this north terminal is now under use. A surprisingly long, sterile tunnel connects passengers to the north terminal, which is as ugly, sprawling and cumbersome as every other part of Wilson station. Odds are that just about no one notices this, because no one notices anything about Wilson station or about that part of town.

Traveling on the 96 Wilson bus is as depressing and soul-sucking an experience as anything in the city. The bus travels through some of the poorest, most dangerous and ugliest parts of Toronto. There is an inordinately high concentration of auto body repair shops, massage parlours and dilapidated apartment buildings along Wilson Avenue. An inordinately high number of single black mothers and day labourers board the heavily crowded Wilson bus, which is only marginally better for comfort than a Lahore rickshaw. My intent is not to denigrate the mostly decent people who live along the route, but it is impossible to ignore the sharp disparity between the quasi-shantytown along Wilson Avenue and the gleaming world that is minutes away via an equally gleaming T-1 subway train.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ESPN - 59-year-old makes Div. III college football team - College Football

ESPN - 59-year-old makes Div. III college football team - College Football: "Flynt returned to Sul Ross State this month, 37 years after he left and six years before he goes on Medicare. His comeback peaked Wednesday with the coach saying he's made the Division III team's roster. He could be in action as soon as Sept. 1. Flynt is giving new meaning to being a college senior. After all, he's a grandfather and a card-carrying member of AARP. He's eight years older than his coach and has two kids older than any of his teammates."

On the other hand, there's the story of the spurned punter at the University of Northern Colorado, who most likely tried to kill his replacement, all for the privilege of punting for a team that won a single game last season.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Five kilometres really isn't that far. It's 12.5 laps of a track, or about a 5-minute drive. Assuming you're fit enough to do so, running 5 kilometres as hard as you can is to spend five kilometres on the very edge of your body's limits. From almost the very beginning, you will huff and puff, gasp and rasp and generally feel as though you've been running for your life for as long as you can remember. When done perfectly, you engage in a pleasure as visceral as any.

Really, in this state, five kilometres is a very long way to go. The pace is fast, but really not that fast, meaning that your margin of error is small. This is the pace at which your body uses as much oxygen as it can. A beginning or a middle that's too fast will reduce you to a feeble, quivering mass that shuffles to the finish in humiliation. A beginning or middle that's paced just right, however, primes you for discovering just how long a kilometre, a half kilometre, 200 metres, 100 metres and 50 metres can be.

Grimacing and wildly flailing through the agonizing last kilometre, far more painful than the last kilometre of a marathon, is worth it as long as you don't get passed or pass on. Running five kilometres to the best of your ability neither teaches you life lessons nor does it make you a better person. That said, my seventeen minutes and forty-four seconds today on the cusp of collapse were as dramatic and as triumphant as any physical experience, and that's the reason I paid for the privilege.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's hard to believe that once upon a time, I would have been willing to risk my life to go and see lower Bay station. I was at Bay station Sunday night when I saw that a door leading down to the disused station below was slightly ajar. The door was locked, but there was enough of a gap to look down the stairs and onto the platform with one eye. Lower Bay is remarkably like Upper Bay, except much dirtier and emptier. I have to admit that it still holds a haunting appeal for me, but it's harder to admit that I would have risked my life to go see it by walking through the subway tunnels.

Regardless, there exists in all of us to various extents a fascination with the unusual and the quirky. It is perhaps a response to the perfection in our lives through automation and technological developments. We get what we want when we want and how we want it. I would argue that part of the appeal of camping, for example, is similar to the appeal of Lower Bay: we want to escape the smooth, uneventful precision of daily life for something inconvenient, unpredictable and eventful.

The late Jeff Chapman, creator of the website and zine that got me interested in anomalous spaces, wrote that "humans are naturally curious creatures. We can't help but want to see the world around us; we're designed to explore and to play, and these instincts haven't disappeared just because most of us now live in large cities where parking lots have replaced common areas, malls have replaced city squares and the only public spaces that remain are a few grudgingly conceded parkettes." Chapman's interest lay predominantly in urban exploration, and in exploring the inner workings of our cities. I don't entirely share his interest, but he does help to explain my interest in speed bumps and potholes like Lower Bay.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chinatown is wasted on the Chinese. I stood at the northwest corner of Dundas and Spadina, the heart of Chinatown, waiting to meet Siqi, who by all measures is nowhere near as lethargic as his blog may indicate. Chinatown on a sweltering, humid night is as much a part of life in Toronto as anything. The streetcars trundle up and down on Spadina day and night, and cars squeeze by in between the streetcar right-of-way and the towers of rotting garbage on the sidewalk. People squeeze by in between towers of rotting fruit and those of fresh fruit, mysterious herbs and unidentifiable trinkets.

The reason Chinatown is wasted on the Chinese is that those of the Chinese persuasion can, presumably, make sense out of the literal fish market that is Spadina between Sullivan and College. The rest of us, however, are treated to a bewildering neighbourhood in the heart of Toronto. Tiny peasant women sell bras and impossibly cheap mangoes, smoking children sell knockoff movies and generally whatever else they can get their hands on. Meanwhile, strung-out junkies stagger past in coveralls, making their way to that mysterious place where Chinatown's crazies congregate. Their crazies have to be crazier than our crazies, I imagine, our crazies being the garden-variety crazies you see all over town. For that reason alone in Chinatown, it's worse to be in the know than out of it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A superb left-handed batter recently achieved something that many predict will never be done again. Tom Glavine, who is batting .244 this year, won his 300th game last night in his 21st big-league season. Roughly ten years ago, it was said that no one might win 300 games again. Now, after Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Glavine have reached 300 wins, the claim is being repeated once more.

However, it's puzzling to say that no one will win 300 games ever again. Virtually nothing has changed about pitching since Maddux, Clemens and Glavine began their careers over 20 years ago. The five-man rotation makes victories harder to come by for pitchers, and we may never see another 30-game winner, but the trio of Clemens, Maddux and Glavine all pitched in 3-man rotations. As long as excellent pitchers keep coming about, we will see 300-game winners.

The most likely candidate is Randy Johnson and while he is from the crop of great '80s pitchers (just look at his hair), the 43-year old Johnson didn't become a succesful starter until the age of 26. By the age of 26, Clemens had 78 wins, Maddux 75, Glavine 53 and Johnson 10. The aging Johnson is hardly a lock to reach 300, given his age (43), distance from 300 (16) and injuries (back).

After Johnson, the durable Andy Pettitte is a good candidate, having started at least 30 games in 10 of his 12 seasons, and won 10 games in 11 of them. He's 35 years old and has just 193 wins, but if he pitches for another 7-8 years, he could reach 300.

The best prospects are the crop of great pitchers from the turn of the century. Tim Hudson has 131 wins at 31, Barry Zito 110 at 29 and the burly Mark Buehrle has 106 and 28. My heart also wants me to mention Roy Halladay, who has an unimpressive 106 wins at the age of 30, but it's worth noting that his first decent season came at the age of 25. In the four full seasons that Halladay has played, he has averaged 17 wins. Halladay is not only as durable as any pitcher, he's also a winner: his winning percentage of .669 ranks 13th all-time.

On the other hand, the best pitchers, the ones that are most likely to win, aren't always the winningest. The most dominant pitcher that I have ever seen is Pedro Martinez, whose career sits in jeopardy at the age of 35. The three-time Cy Young winner has a career ERA of 2.81, easily the best among active pitchers (next is Maddux's 3.10).