Monday, January 25, 2010

Winnipeg: Like Silent Hill, But Harder to Navigate

Okay. Winnipeg, atmospherically, is a strange and frightening town; we've previously established that it's basically Silent Hill. I would like to think that this much is common knowledge by now, but I believe I'll take this opportunity to really hammer at the point for a while.

Today was quite a miserable day for weather in and around Winnipeg, you see. You might have already
heard something along those lines today. But Winnipeggers are a notoriously tough, if stubborn and somewhat foolhardy, bunch -- which is why the Royal Canadian Mounted Police eventually had to step in and politely request that we geniuses of high standing please stop trying to drive on the god damn highways before we get ourselves killed.

Now, let me tie that back together. Do you remember the early scenes of the original Silent Hill, when the story begins with a car crash and then the viewer's initial introduction to the town is comprised entirely of frighteningly poor visibility and completely unusable roads?

The Province of Manitoba helpfully maintains a Road and Traveller Information Map online, which will let you check the highway conditions and plan a safe route ahead of time for your long-distance travels. Yellow diamonds on the map indicate "Caution", red triangles indicate "Travel Not Advised" -- which, considering the usual expectations around here, is a threat to be taken seriously -- and red circles indicate "Closed", because somebody didn't pick up on the Travel Not Advised part.

So here was what the government highway conditions looked like this afternoon.

Welcome to Winnipeg. I don't know how you got in here, but you're definitely not getting back out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Keeping Current is Always a Challenge

I know, I know. It's tough, right? You don't want to be the jerk who takes down his Christmas lights too early, but you really don't want to be the jerk who leaves them up right through to next Christmas. Managing your message is a tricky business no matter who you are, and the problem is only magnified when you represent a large organization and depend on keeping its communications timely, relevant, and free of outsider manipulation.

So with that in mind, let's play a little game! I have five pictures here that were taken along my daily commute in the past couple of weeks; all of them are displays that were established long before Christmas, and all of them survived into at least the third week of January. So, if you feel like playing along at home, I want you to guess which of these five very public images was the first to be updated!

Are you ready? Then, let's have a look at our contestants!

#1 -- the promotional sign outside Pantages Playhouse:

#2 -- the festive facade of our noble City Hall, complete with lights in the trees:

#3 -- the bizarre, disquietingly creepy Santa Claus in the window of the Osborne Village Motor Hotel:

#4 -- The long-defaced bus shelter advertisment at the northwest corner of Main and McDermot:

And, #5 -- the now quite embarrassingly outdated billboard at Osborne at Cooper.

Answers in, everybody!

So which of these organizations has successfully controlled their communications strategies and cleaned up their public image for the new year?

Believe it or not, our first-place winner for this round is... the Osborne Village Motor Hotel! Yes, that strange and sort of frightening Santa was the first to go, removed from the front window around Friday the 15th and replaced with signs promoting their Readymix Thursdays at Ozzy's.

Second place goes to the Pantages Playhouse, who changed their 'PEACE' sign (not to be confused with a peace-sign) this past Tuesday night to reflect the venue's upcoming concert listings. This was a bit of a relief, as for all we knew that otherwise-empty sign was their way of announcing they were closing forever. Hey, stranger things have happened in this city!

And third place? As it turns out, third place goes to... nobody. As of just yesterday, all three of the remaining displays above remain intact. I'm not necessarily blaming HBC for their defaced billboard, even though it is going on its second full month of elaborate obfuscation by now, because the company isn't (and shouldn't be) directly responsible for the maintenance of ground-level transit facilities. But those other two, oh man.

I'm not going to lie: that "McNally Robinson Polo Park NOW OPEN!" sign makes me laugh a little and shake my head every time I go by it, given that McNally Robinson Polo Park Now Closed. And the idea that our main office of civic administration leaves the Christmas lights up at least a month after Christmas just strikes me as being quintessential Winnipeg, right there. One Great City!

Nevertheless -- Season's Greetings, readers! I'm off to the Joe Pug concert tonight, and then I'll see if I can't dig up some hilarious Manitoba artifacts for our Homecoming friends.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Time-Sensitive Information: Go Score Some Tunes

As I've mentioned previously, I'm a fully accredited and (at least temporarily) gainfully employed capital-L Librarian, and Librarians as a group have this indefatigable compulsion to spread information around. It's like, see this information? Have some of it. Sharing is caring!

(This is one of the many reasons why the profession as a whole gets uppity every time people open up the copyright laws for revision -- but then the Prime Minister killed every bill in the country and took off for a couple months, so I guess everyone gets a bit of a break on that one.)

Of course, it would be kind of pointless to throw information around without expecting anybody to want to catch it. But I'm reasonably certain that at least some of my readers might be interested in this knowledge, so take note:

The Winnipeg Folk Festival Store in the Exchange District is having a sale this week, ending on Saturday. I would have told you about it sooner, but I really only found out about it a day late myself by chancing to walk past it.

When I say 'sale', though, I mean sale. This isn't your lame-ass big box kind of promotion where they generously take five per cent off the regular price because they've already opened the box. Peep these:

Half-off remaining 2009 stock, excluding drink containers? CDs are ninety-nine cents? Used vinyl is ten for a buck? You have to understand, deals like this are essentially my catnip. So I've already purchased twenty CDs and thirty LPs from them, for a total retail price of twenty-three bucks plus tax, and I couldn't have been more pleased with myself. (This is a good time for another caveat, though: don't buy more at once than you can reasonably expect to carry. Especially if you're taking public transit.)

There's some good stuff out there -- and I'll probably be featuring a few of my newfound items on this blog at various intervals, as part of my Homecoming 2010 shenanigans -- so have a look-see, especially if you happen to already be passing through the area. Ten records for a dollar, son, come on. This isn't rocket science.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Serve and Protect But Mostly to Squabble, or: Mixed-Martial Artful Dodgers

So the news broke on Sunday that a guy got stabbed for his beer over the weekend. In another news story that took the city completely by surprise, the sun rose this morning.

I don't mean to belittle what I'm sure was a very traumatic experience for the victim, but on the other hand I really can't pretend to be surprised when this is the fourth beer-robbery stabbing in the past four months. And those are just the reported cases; I would suggest that a significant section of our city population feels, justifiably or not, that involving the authorities does not tend to improve a situation. (It doesn't help matters much when the police occasionally have to resort to begging to try and get anywhere with outstanding beer robberies. October 2008, huh? That's, uh, that's encouraging.)

Here's the main thing I want to see out of this story, though. I am on the edge of my seat, literally, at all times, because I seriously can't wait for somebody -- anybody -- to explain to me how this would have been prevented if the police had a helicopter and/or paid workout time.

Let me pick your brains for a second on this one. When McCaskill was making his big presentation to the media to try and curry public favour, and when those two police officers gave that city council report to seal the funding deal, did any of them remember to mention that a helicopter can be shot down by a single gunman? Because, well, that kind of sounds like something you'd want to know about first.

Yes, it turns out that real life is a lot like Grand Theft Auto, where aiming for the fuel tank is a surprisingly effective way to knock a whirlybird out of the sky -- and if local crooks have already taken lessons from Grand Theft Auto, as I've previously posited, then I'd give this helicopter about thirty-six hours of flight time before it's lying in a back lane somewhere.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Peg at Two-Two and the Voted Game, or: Love Me, Love My Illinois Avenue

Every workday so far this month, at my workplace, I have had the strangely satisfying privilege of writing out the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day on a whiteboard strategically positioned near the south entrance. This past Wednesday being the thirteenth of the month, its Word was "triskaidekaphobia" -- the fear of the number thirteen, a totally legitimate word that I am not making up in the slightest.

(If you were wondering -- the fear of Friday the 13ths is "paraskevidekatriaphobia". That wouldn't have made as much sense on a Wednesday, though.)

But if we as a city -- Winnipeg as a hypothetical single-entity conglomerate of the hearts and minds of its citizens -- if Winnipeg was worried about the number thirteen, it had its priorities out of order. The real number we need to watch out for is twenty-two; judging by the news this past couple of days, our civic self-esteem could be in for a rough ride with that one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Don't Call It a Comeback (It's a "Homecoming")

To You and Yours This New Year from James Howard,
Self-Professed Unknown Underground Indie Sensation:

Happy Two Thousand and Ten, everyone!

Well, I'd say that was a reasonably satisfying couple of weeks off. How were your holidays? Good, good. But, back to work! It's been a good couple of weeks since you folks have heard from me, so I figured that I was obligated to check in and confirm that I'm alive. (This is more often than I usually check in with friends or family members, so consider it a privilege.)

I would go on about my personal resolutions or my end-of-year blog plans or whatever, but by now it's the tenth of the month and nobody gives a crap. So instead rest assured that I'm just going to keep doing what I do, only changing plans in those occasional instances when my snarling, fearsome expansionism rears its dirty head. Life ain't easy as a small fish in a small pond!

It's going to be another big year, so let's get down to business.