Lambs into Lions

You should take note as you unpack your summer clothes that it may not yet be time to put away the woolies. As reported on this blog on May 30, 2001:

Get this: May 1, 2001 was the warmest May 1 on record in Montreal (about 28 C). Today, May 30, 2001, is the coldest May 30 on record! Specifically, today had the “lowest high on record” (the high was about 10 C). Grrrrrrr!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. I’m just sayin’.

CBC Radio News in Decline

Let me begin this small rant by stating that I’ve been a hardcore fan of CBC Radio since before most of you were born. It’s not just the lack of advertising (which can make listening to commercial radio — especially in the morning — downright torturous) that makes me a fan. It’s the high standard of journalistic integrity that I’ve come to know and respect over the years.

Some of that has been in decline recently. Specifically, I’m talking about the quality of news reporting from the local (Montreal) station. Most of it remains quite good, but on a pretty regular basis I find myself shaking the radio and yelling “stop saying that!”

I should have taken notes, because there’s nothing worse than a rant lacking in specifics. I do, however, have one example; something I’ve been hearing on the local CBC Radio news all day today.

As you may know, the price of gas is going up tomorrow due to the imposition of a new tax. The revenue from the new tax will be directed toward public transit costs. That sounds like a great idea to me. The amount of the new tax is 1.5 cents per litre of gas.

It drives me crazy that the CBC Radio reports I’ve been hearing all day start thusly:

Drivers in the Montreal area will want to fill up their tanks before tomorrow…

Grrr! There are two reasons why this news story should not begin like that:

Editorializing. News reports should not tell people what they should do or should want to do. They can say that so-and-s0 says you should do something, but the news reader (and by extension, the writers, editors, and the entire corporation) should not be telling people what to do. That’s basic journalism 101. You could argue that they’re just trying to be “light” and “accessible” or whatever, but that’s what the crappy news departments of commercial radio stations do. It’s not what CBC Radio, with it’s high standards, is supposed to do.

It’s stupid! Do the math; the average small- to mid-size car has a 40 litre gas tank. The price of gas is going up by one-and-a-half cents per litre. Thus, your exercise in racing off to the pumps to beat the increase will save you about sixty cents. Sixty cents! And that’s only if your tank is empty. Even if you have a huge car with a big tank, you’re still only going to save a dollar or two.

Rushing to fill your tank before a 1.5 cent price increase is a dumb idea, and an even dumber way to lead a news story. Any decent news editor would snip that opening line right off the bat, for both of those reasons.

So that’s today’s rant. I wish this was an isolated event, but as I said, I’m hearing this kind of bad news reporting fairly often these days.

Where is the editor? This is the kind of thing that is supposed to separate “real” journalism from Joe Blogger and Jane Podcaster. Professionalism! How about we add another half-cent to the price of gas and funnel it into improving the news department at CBC Radio Montreal!

Geographical Mistakes of Mountain Equipment Co-op

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), the venerable Canadian mountaineering and outdoorsy retail cooperative that I’ve been a member of for almost 25 years, keeps making mistakes. The mistakes are in where they decide to put their retail stores — at least when it comes to Montreal.

The first Montreal area MEC store opened in 2003, way up at Marché Central on Boulevard L’Acadie. To people from the ROC (Rest Of Canada), “Marché Central” probably sounds pretty central, and from the perspective of a map it sort of is if you were to erroneously consider Laval to be part of Montreal. But ask any youthful and outdoorsy Montrealers if they’ve ever been to Marché Central and you’ll get either a blank look or a grimace.

Marché Central, I’ll have you know, is a huge sprawl of big-box retail outlets in the donut-hole central wasteland of Montreal between Ahuntsic and Ville Saint-Laurent. Nobody goes there except for car-oriented suburbanites from Laval, Town of Mount Royal (where I can guarantee there are very few youthful outdoorsy types), or the West Island. Don’t believe me? Check it out in Street View:

Urban paradise!

This is particularly sad considering the outstanding “green” quality of the building, which should set a standard for the building of retail space. Unfortunately, the Marché Central is nowhere near a Metro station, and while there are buses to Marché Central, they’re not the known and mythical buses lines like the 80, the 105, or the 29. In other words, getting there for the average non-car owning person is a bothersome task, so why would they go there when stores like La Cordée and Atmosphere are located right downtown?

Despite the location, the MEC store in Marché Central seems to have stayed in business, although I rarely see any MEC branded gear being worn by people around town (and we know that 90% of all mountain gear sold never leaves the city).

Contrast this with the Quebec City store. It’s located right in the middle of the pedestrian-friendly and newly revitalized urban neighbourhood of Saint-Roch. Thousands of people walk by the store every day, and lots of them go in. People from Quebec City are sporty by nature, owing to the close proximity of beautiful mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests, and the ease of getting to them due to that city’s lack of traffic jams. So what do you see when you walk around Quebec City? Every second person is wearing a MEC jacket or shoes, and eight out of ten have a shoulder bag with the MEC stamp on it. (The Pod Sling Pack seems to be particularly popular.)

A few months ago I heard that MEC would open another store in the Montreal area. Guess where? On Tachereau (aka “Trashereau”) Boulevard in Greenfield Park! Most Montrealers probably don’t know this (because most Montrealers never go to the South Shore), but “Trashereau” Boulevard is probably the worst stretch of suburban retail blight in all of Quebec. South Shore residents go there often because it’s fairly handy, but it’s an awful place and I for one hate myself on a weekly basis for allowing its geographical convenience to trump my distaste for the area. (I live on the South Shore, in Longueuil.)

Seriously. Have you got a couple of minutes? Take a Street View stroll along this boulevard for a few blocks and tell me what you think.

Boulevard Trashereau!

The new store has just opened up. To encourage Montrealers to go there, MEC bought all of the advertising space in a tunnel in the Berri/UQAM Metro station. It’s the tunnel that leads to the yellow line — the one that goes to the South Shore. Hey MEC, you’re throwing your money away. If Marché Central is hard to get to by public transit, then “Trashereau” Boulevard is like going to the moon.

Not only do you have to change from the STM to the South Shore RTL system, you have to pay an extra $3.50 (each way) to use the buses over there and most importantly you have to figure out which departure gate to use and you’ll likely sit around for 30 minutes waiting for the bus. News Flash! The entire RTL system is set up for one purpose: to funnel suburbanites into the Montreal Metro system. All buses go from the outer reaches into the Terminus Longueuil, like the spokes of a wheel to a hub. It works well for people like me who live here (Longueuil) and work in Montreal because we use it on a daily basis and we learn what buses to take and when. But take a neophyte from Montreal and stick them in the Terminus Longueuil and say “find ye to Tashereau Boulevard” and you’re in for a heck of a spectacle.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t object to MEC opening on the South Shore. In fact it’s a great idea because there are thousands of sporty people living over here. But couldn’t they open in a better location, such as Place Longueuil (walking distance from the Terminus Longueuil and a pretty easy bike ride from Montreal or anywhere on the South Shore) or even the dreaded Dix30? (There are express buses from the Terminus Longueuil to the Dix30, and once you’re there you can stroll and shop leisurely in many outlets and have lunch or a drink without worrying about needing to take a bus or a car to get from place to place.) Why “Trashereau?”

MEC has thoughtfully provided directions on their Web site for the new store, including bus numbers, but I’m willing to bet that most Montrealers won’t bother. They’ll keep on going to the easy-to-get-to outfitters in town. As it stands I’ve never been to the Marché Central store but I’ve been to the Quebec City store plenty of times (and I don’t even live in Quebec City, but whenever I’m there I inevitably walk past the MEC store because it’s right there, in the middle of town). It remains to be seen if I’ll visit the Greenfield Park store. Considering there’s a Valmont Fruiterie nearby that I visit two or three times a month, the odds are good. But if Valmont (or a similar store) opens nearer to my house, I’ll be glad to never go near “Trashereau” Boulevard again.

Mayflies

Every year in late spring, the mayflies swarm out of the St. Lawrence river and cover the city of Montreal in a blanket of fluttering wings. It lasts for a few days and then they are gone. Fortunately, mayflies don’t bite or sting. Their only annoyance comes from their sheer numbers and their absolute stupidity. All they do is show up and flutter, flutter, flutter, tirelessly and endlessly. They cover our cars and busses, they darken our windows, and they circle round and round your head until you think you’re going to lose your mind.

Last Friday evening I was holding court at Verses Sky, the terrace on the roof of the Hotel Nelligan in old Montreal. Everything was fine until about 7:30 PM, and then, as if someone flipped a switch, mayfly season opened.

Did I mention they’re stupid? They seemed fixated on the Carlsberg umbrellas. Every Carlsberg umbrella had a cloud of mayflies incessantly spinning in circles over its apex. It went on and on. Half an hour later it was still going on, except there were more of them.

wtf??

WTF???

By 8:15 it was out of control. Every umbrella had its own swarm, four times bigger than you see in these pictures, plus a handful of random un-umbrellaed tables had swirling balls of mayflies just above face level. People were smoking furiously in futile attempts to shoo them away, but they kept at it. There was no purpose to it; they’re not like mosquitos on the hunt for blood, or moths stupidly drawn to flame. No, they just picked random tables and went to town with their infinite and useless swirling.

We left. Even though our table was unbothered by the mayflies, their unending and futile flapping (not unlike SEO and social network marketing types on Twitter) was driving me nuts. So too was the lack of beer on tap (bottles only? WTF?); an inconvenience I was willing to put up with for the sake of the view. But with the sun setting and the mayflies threatening to smother us, off we went.

But that’s no reason to avoid Verses Sky. By the time you read this, mayfly season will likely be over.