Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Blogging is ruining my life!

Someone. Please. Tear. Me. Away. From. This. Computer.

I think I'm addicted to the internet. I blame my job. You see, every morning I have to scan the major media outlets and find out what's making news that day. And if someone somewhere is writing something about the environment, it's my job to stay on top of it.

At first, I just scanned the national newspapers, tv stations and radio stations online. Now, I'm also trolling through blogs to find out who's saying what.

But I'm starting to feel like someone with a drinking problem -- the girl who starts with a glass and ends with the bottle. It starts with a glance at the latest entry in someone's blog and the next thing you know, I've just spent an hour going through their entire site.

Why are blogs so compelling? How can we be captivated by the ramblings of complete strangers? Is it weird that I'm writing this on a blog of my own without a shred of irony? And why are you reading this anyway?

I like blogs. I like blogging. I like their immediate nature and the public discourse they generate. Politics makes my blood boil sometimes and that's why I like reading Paul Wells' blog. It's a small, sometimes gossipy, window into the news behind the news on Parliament Hill. (Would be a better site without his boring jazz references though. What kind of sicko listens to just one musical genre?)

I also feel a kinship with people who are concerned about the future of the world with George W. at the helm of the United States. So I click onto Bill Doskoch's blog because he culls good stuff about U.S. politics and blogging and journalism that generally fits in with my world view.

And because I read an article about him in the Globe and Mail, I've been reading the Accordion Guy's blog too. I've never met this guy but for some strange reason, I find his life interesting. I've also been enjoying On The Fence. I could go on. And on.

So, does all this make me a voyeur? An exhibitionist? Probably a bit of both.

But I'm also a news junkie, a pop culture addict, a voracious reader (of everything, including the cereal box). I'm fascinated by people and the horrible, wonderful, scary, funny, interesting things that they do. And I use the internet to find out what they're up to.

Yeah, it's a machine, it's impersonal, it's screwing up our ability to have face-to-face conversations, blah, blah, blah. But it's real flesh and blood people that are writing and reading this stuff on the other side of the screen.

That said, I'm going to take a break from blogging for a few days. I'm heading up to Muskoka with some friends on Thursday for a nature fix. Sort of. Muskoka's more like Toronto without the skyscrapers and the concrete. But it'll do. I'm looking forward to spending New Year's in a quiet place where I can see the stars and pass out drunk in a snowbank.

Then I'm flying back to Vancouver. Thanks for reading. Or fuelling my addiction. I'll be back in 2005.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Minutes from the real Fab Five's AGM

Way back when I was in high school, I founded the Pink Ladies Club. It was, and still is, a very exclusive club. There are only five members -- myself and my four younger sisters.

In the early years, official club activities consisted of going to 7-11 for slushies and pulling pranks on non-members (like the time we ran a pair of my brother's tighty whities up a flag pole). We set up a donation box in the front hallway of our house, and held secret meetings in the basement.

But the club kind of fizzled out after we got older and left home for university. So we started having an Annual General Meeting during the Christmas break instead. I'd send out the invitations and write up an agenda about a month in advance. I'd also arrange to have a keynote speaker address the club (usually my mom or dad). We talk about lots of things during the meeting (most of which is too R-rated for this G-rated blog).

We held this year's AGM at the Sheraton Hotel on Queen Street last night (much more civilized than the time we rented an unheated yurt in Algonquin Park and froze our asses off in minus 30 degree weather).

Being the oldest, and therefore the most responsible, I cleared everyone's calendars, booked a room, and planned the agenda. We checked in yesterday afternoon. Or I should say, I checked in while everyone else hid in the lobby (the rate was based on a two-person occupancy).

We then went skating across the street at City Hall. I spent most of my time colliding into little kids. I haven't quite mastered the stopping thing. At a rink, I just slam into the boards if I need to stop. But outdoors, there are no boards to slam into. Only little kids.

Citytv was there doing a story about the bitterly cold weather. We tried to get on camera but they didn't think the Annual General Meeting of the Pink Ladies Club was newsworthy. Or at least not as newsworthy as the fact it was cold outside on Dec. 26 in Toronto.

Skating was followed by a swim in the outdoor pool. We even had a long soak in the hot tub despite my horror stories about the vile stuff I pulled out of the hot tub filters when I worked at the Sheraton as a teenage lifeguard. (Thankfully, they had replaced the hot tub since I had left so I didn't have any nasty dead skin, hair, condom flashbacks.)

No one liked my suggestion of sneaking into the staff cafeteria for some curried goat. (The best part about working at the Sheraton was that we got one free meal a day in the staff cafeteria, usually curried goat. I was feeling nostalgic.)

So we ordered pizza instead. Since the phone in our room wasn't working, we missed the pizza guy the first time he came by. He came back with our cold pizza an hour later after I figured out that the phone wasn't working. The people at the front desk turned him away when they couldn't get through to our room. At least we got free room service dessert because of the screw up.

I'm worried I've raised the bar a little too high. Now I'm not sure how we can top our night at the Sheraton next year.

Friday, December 24, 2004

New Year's predictions

Last night, I got together with some friends to make our annual New Year's predictions. We don't make resolutions. We make predictions. It's more fun and less binding.

A little context first.

A long time ago (1997) in a land far, far away (Saint John, New Brunswick), there lived an ink-stained girl who slaved night and day writing stories for a newspaper.

The girl was me and my first day of work was terrifying. I didn't know anyone, didn't know the city, didn't even realize New Brunswick wasn't an island. My hands shook a little less when I looked around the newsroom and realized half the staff of the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal were in their 20s.

After filing my first story about a kid who claimed he was the victim of a drive-by shooting (he wasn't), Marni, Dan and Laura (the aforementioned 20-somethings) invited me out for a drink.

We quickly became inseparable. On Dec. 31, 1997, we were hanging out at Laura's apartment where I suggested we should make some New Year's resolutions. Someone, I think it was Marni, said we should make New Year's predictions for each other instead.

And so, a tradition was born. Every year since 1997, the four of us have gotten together to make our annual New Year's predictions. I left New Brunswick in 2000 and Dan, Laura and Marni all got jobs in Toronto. So we still end up in the same city for the holidays and make a point of getting together to make our New Year's predictions.

It almost never became a tradition, though. The first prediction they made for me in 1997 was that things wouldn't work out with a certain photographer I thought I was falling in love with. I was so angry that I almost walked out the door. But a strange thing happened. They were right. Things didn't work out with the photographer. And, in time, I was okay with that.

Our predictions are brutally honest and sometimes harsh. Like the time Marni predicted Laura and her boyfriend Craig would break up. Well, they didn't. And there were some hard feelings for a little while.

Or the time I had my heart set on teaching English in Japan for a year or two. Someone predicted that was never going to happen. I was pissed. But, once again, they were right. By 2003, I was getting tired of always having their negative predictions come true. So I demanded only good predictions.

Instead of predicting good things, they said David Suzuki and I would get into a fight and I'd get fired in 2004. Thankfully, that never happened.

Last night, the four of us got together to make our New Year's predictions once again. Here's what they predicted for me for 2005.

- I will get in trouble with the law
- I will date a police officer
- I will date a 22-year-old, possibly a police cadet
- I will hang out with a bad crowd and start doing heroin
- I will not get a new job

I have a prediction of my own. I predict that 2005 is the year that my friends' crappy predictions don't come true.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Drinks at the "Tango Hotel"

I am officially uncool. While this may have been painfully obvious to others for a very long time, it is news to me.

I just found out at dinner tonight. After we'd finished eating our curried chicken and rice, my sister Jane stood up and said, "Who wants to go for some after dinner drinks at the Tango Hotel?"

"The Tango Hotel? Where's that?" I asked, thinking it was some new trendy hot spot on Queen Street West.

To my surprise, this was met with loud laughter. I didn't realize I had said something funny, so I repeated my question.

"No. Seriously. Where's the Tango Hotel? I've never heard of it."

More laughter. Louder this time. My dad tried to give me a hint.

"Think about it," he said. "TH. What does TH stand for?"

Really confused now, I blurted out, "The Old Sod?"

Even louder laughter. TH? What could TH possibly stand for? Somewhere you can get drinks. But where? It was a brain twister.

"Hello? You're the one who was going on all night about how lubricated your brain was so figure it out," said Jane.

It's true. I spent a good part of dinner telling my family about my "brain lubrication" theory. Basically, when you use your brain a lot, it becomes well lubricated, and when something is well lubricated, it just works a lot better and the thoughts and ideas slide around all over the place.

Eventually, they got tired of making fun of me. My dad explained that Tango Hotel is cop code for Tim Hortons. Get it? TH? Tango, hotel (radio call speak). Tim Hortons? Turns out, I was the only one in my family who wasn't hip to this little saying.

It's one of the things my mom has learned on the job as head of the Mobile Crisis Response Team at St. Michael's Hospital. She wears a bullet proof vest and goes out on emergency calls with the police whenever they have to deal with mentally ill people (the result of a high-profile coroner's inquest after Toronto police shot and killed a guy with schizophrenia who refused to drop a hammer he had raised when confronted by police in 1997). Her job is to get the police to stop shooting mentally ill people.

She's out there during hostage takings and stabbings and all kinds of crazy shit that goes down in Toronto. But she comes home and tells us about the cop code for Tim Hortons instead. The excitement I miss while living in Vancouver. Sigh.

On an unrelated note, I watched Global News today and was amazed at the "Oh my God it's going to snow tonight!!!!!" newscast. They spent 15 minutes of the front end of the newscast talking about: 1) how it's going to snow tonight, 2) how people at the Toronto airport sure were hoping to get on their flights before the snowstorm, 3) how it sure is fun to take the train, 4) how to drive properly in icy, snowy conditions.

Holy crap, people. You'd think it had never snowed in Toronto before. Was it a slow news day or is this how all local news stations operate? I vaguely remember writing my share of "Oh my God it's going to snow" stories when I was a journalist. I was earnest enough to think it was something that really mattered.

I'm becoming so cynical. And it's two days before Christmas. Okay. I'll stop now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Caffeine withdrawal + family overdose = massive headache

Today is the first day in about five? seven? eight? years that I have not started the morning with some sort of caffeinated beverage. And now I have a massive caffeine withdrawal headache because of it.

I'm not intentionally trying to cut back on tea or coffee. I just kind of lost track of time and then when I realized I hadn't had my daily caffeine hit, it was too late in the afternoon. So I skipped it altogether. I'd rather have a headache and be able to sleep, than have a latte at 5 p.m. and be wired until 4 a.m.

Is it me or does time go by unnaturally quickly in Toronto? Everything's always in motion here. I kind of like the energy though. It's a nice change from Vancouver. Whenever I'm in Toronto, something's always happening from the minute I wake up until, well, now.

Like today. Woke up around 11 a.m., had breakfast, read the Toronto Star, drove my sisters to my dad's office so that they could help him shred some documents. Then I drove my dad to the local pool and drove myself to the far-away pool for a swim. I wanted to test out the facilities at the Etobicoke Olympium because that's where Nationals are being held in 2005. Plus, I love driving. I don't know if I should admit that. It might be a firing offense. But driving is so exhilarating. I'd probably feel differently if I actually owned a car and drove all the time.

Anyway, got yelled at during public swim because I was swimming in circles (I thought that's what you were supposed to do at public swim). The lady and her son sharing my lane wanted us to split the lane so that they could float on their backs while I swam 100s.

"You swim on your side. You stay out of our side," she yelled at me in broken English. God I hate public swim.

Let's see. What else? Drove back to my dad's office. Had lunch. Picked up my sisters who were surfing the internet instead of shredding documents. Drove them home, where we spent a couple of hours sitting on the couch. At one point, my 17-year-old sister, who was doing an ab workout on the floor, was trying to explain what tea-bagging was to my 29-year-old sister. It went downhill from there.

After dinner, headed out to the King Street MEC to buy some last minute gifts, which I can't really talk about here as receivers of said gifts may be reading this blog. Then some more couch time with my sisters. Blogging and then bed.

As for tomorrow, rewind and replay. Someone hit the pause button. Please.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Air Canada horror show

I love flying. Well, no, that's not exactly true. I love the idea of flying, but I hate the harsh reality of it.

I swear, the next time I hear Celine Dion singing "you and I were meant to fly," I'm going to throw my slipper at the TV (I know, I know. Kind of lame but I don't want to hurt the TV while protesting one commercial).

Has that woman been anywhere near an actual Air Canada flight lately? I'm guessing "no" because if she has, I strongly suspect the lyrics to her little song would go something like, "You and I were meant to fly in private Lear jets because flying economy class on Air Canada really sucks."

Had my own private Air Canada horror show today. Flew from Vancouver to Toronto. Didn't want to fly Air Canada but dammit they had the cheapest fare by about $200.

So I arrived at the Vancouver airport a good hour and a half before my flight. Thought it was a little inefficient that they only had two people working at the check-in desk seeing as how it's four days away from Christmas and all. Hmm...must have blown the budget on getting Celine Dion to sing her crappy song and forgot to save a little bling for some decent customer service.

Despite the fact that I was super early, the ticket agent informed me that there were no window or aisle seats left, only middle seats. Oh god. Not the dreaded middle seat. I was going to be stuck in a middle seat, probably between some guy wearing too much cologne and a teenage girl blabbing on her cell phone about last night's episode of Laguna Beach.

Actually, I ended up in the middle seat between a quiet, book-reading married guy on my right and a chatty, although very hungover and somewhat smelly, frat boy on my left. So not as bad as I imagined.

What was worse than I imagined was the baby two rows over. The kid cried on and off for four hours straight. Even though I was impressed by his lung capacity, I can't even describe how awful this was. He sounded like a squealing pig. But worse, like a squealing pig who escaped from a barn only to be caught in a leg trap in the woods. It was so bad, I had to listen to the enRoute "radio station" just to block out the noise.

I could go on. But I think I'm getting post-traumatic stress disorder by reliving my experience. Anyway, I'm here. In Toronto, where it's minus 20 with the wind chill. My sister Jane arrives in a couple of hours from Boston so we're going to head back out to the airport to pick her up. She's flying American Airlines, so hopefully she'll have had a better flight than me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Brief adventures in internet dating

Two weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before – I posted a personal ad on Lava Life.

Internet dating has come a long way since its infancy when it was considered a last resort for desperate losers with no social skills. Now everyone is logging on, hanging out and hooking up.

My cousin met her future husband on-line, and many of my gay friends are skipping the bar scene and heading straight to gaydar instead.

I figured, what the hell? I’ll try anything once. So on a dark Sunday night, I logged on, uploaded a picture of myself, wrote a few clever lines, and sat back and waited for Mr. Right to magically appear in my in-box.

Almost immediately, the men started rolling in. Some seemed nice. A few seemed not so nice. Many were over 50. One was a dead-ringer for Fabio.

As I clicked through each of their profiles, it became clear I was going to have to meet them face-to-face to get a sense of who they really were.

And then it hit me. I suddenly realized I don’t want to go out on lots of dates with lots of guys. It’s like an endless string of job interviews. No, it’s worse than a job interview. Every weekend, I’d be telling some guy my life story, over and over again.

So after two short weeks in cyber space, I deleted my profile from Lava Life. All of my best relationships have happened by accident. Usually, I was friends with a guy. There’d be no attraction and we’d get to know each other on a platonic level. Then one day, I’d suddenly realize I was hanging out with the most amazing guy I’d ever met and then blamo! we’d start dating.

My brief adventures in internet dating also reminded me that I like my life just the way it is. If the right guy comes along, that’s great. But I’m in no rush to go out and find him. I’m just going to let it happen by accident.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

In search of Vancouver's 'nightlife'

My friend Carl and I decided to go out dancing on Thursday night. The last time we went out together on a Thursday night, we ended up at a gay bar with the entire dance floor to ourselves. You could practically hear the crickets chirping.

This time, we decided to go to a straight bar in the hopes of finding Vancouver’s elusive Thursday night hot spot. The first place we hit seemed promising. But once we got past the metal detector, and the haze from the smoke machine cleared, we realized we were the only people in the club.

So we chugged our watered-down drinks and hailed a cab to ‘80s night in Gastown. Unfortunately, our cab driver didn’t know how to navigate the 10 blocks or so from Granville Street to Gastown and started driving the wrong way through red lights at about 90 km an hour. I squeezed my eyes shut while Carl, who also didn’t really know how to get to Gastown, tried to give directions.

After a few wrong turns, we eventually made it to Gastown but were forced to wait in line outside the club in the pouring rain. This gave me time to hatch a plan on how we both could get free drinks all night. All I had to do was make eye contact, smile, and start a conversation with random guys. When they asked if I’d like a drink, I’d say yes and then ask for one for my friend (without disclosing the fact that my friend was an eccentric Quebecois male).

Once inside, I put the plan into action. Despite the fact there were hundreds of potential drink buyers in the room, my attempts at subtle flirtation were getting us nowhere. Carl claimed no guys were approaching me because I was hanging around him, which was barely true considering he spent half the night in the bathroom or at the bar.

As we made our way onto the crowded dance floor, a girl with long brown hair and a mesh tank top caught my eye – mainly because every time I turned around, she was kissing a different guy.

"That is how you get a guy to buy you a drink," Carl said.

The closest I got to any action was in the women’s washroom. I had exited the stall but was blocked at the sink by three girls crowded around the only mirror. They had pulled down their tops and were comparing their breasts. As I squeezed my way under three pairs of bare boobs to wash my hands, I overheard one of them complain about how small her breasts were. To which her friend replied, "At least yours are real. Mine are so fake."

Next time I go out with Carl, I’m going to suggest we do it on a Friday night. I’m starting to think there’s a reason no one goes out on Thursday nights in Vancouver.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

So this is what drowning feels like...

A bunch of us from the English Bay Swim Club traveled a few kilometres west this morning to compete at the UBC Masters Swim Meet.

I love swim meets. Where else can you legitimately check out guys parading around in their speedos all day? When I was in high school, my friend Erin and I used the swim meets as an opportunity to pick up cute guys from other schools. Even though we never won any trophies or mustered up the courage to talk to those guys, we had lots of fun. Not much has changed since then.

But today, my attention was focused more on swimming, and less on guys. It was a bit of a scientific experiment. I wanted to see how I would do after cutting way back on my swimming this year.

I did the bare minimum in preparation for this meet. I’ve been swimming about four times a week since October. I’ve also been consuming a lot of alcohol and staying out way too late.

I figured I would either do horrible at the swim meet or do really well after having built up my endurance for Ironman. I was curious to see if lots of running and biking over the summer would translate into faster times in the pool. So it was a bit of a surprise to have smashed all of my personal records.

To be honest, it really hurt. My arms felt like lead, my lungs were burning and my legs didn’t seem to have any power. Plus, I always get so nervous when I’m up on the blocks that I feel like throwing up or passing out.

Here are my results:
  1. 400 metres freestyle: 5:31.39, 1st place
  2. 200 metres freestyle: 2:32.64, 1st place
  3. 100 metres freestyle: 1:08.46, 1st place
  4. 50 metres freestyle: 31.27, 1st place
  5. 200 metres freestyle relay: 2:02.89, 2nd place

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Scottish lad, some shagging and the Yukon

This is an excerpt from a story that appeared in the Vancouver Province last week. It’s about a guy from Scotland who is looking for a Canadian girl to travel with him to the Yukon for a free nine-day trip. He had originally planned to go with his fiancee until he caught her shagging his best friend.

Dumped Scottish lad seeks love in Yukon
The Vancouver Province
Sun 07 Nov 2004

When Steve Morris's bird -- er, girlfriend -- flew the coop, the newly single Scotsman decided to go ahead with plans for his first trip to the Great White North. And now he's looking for a Canadian woman to share his trek to a luxury inn near Whitehorse.

"My ex-fiance and I were going to Whitehorse for a very romantic nine days -- building log fires, snowmobiles, snow fights, you name it," Morris told the Sunday Province from Manchester, England, where he is working. "But -- if you'll pardon the expression -- I caught her shagging the best mate, so now I'm single and looking for a woman to accompany me.

"The shagging thing kind of put a damper on our relationship, I'm afraid."
Figuring he's already paid for the vacation -- in more ways than one -- Morris decided to contact The Province, hoping we could find him a winter-lovin' woman.

"I don't want this to come across as a sob story," he said. "I paid for it, I might as well bloody enjoy it."

Morris is scheduled to fly to Vancouver on Jan. 5 and then jet to the Yukon capital the next day, returning on Jan. 14. He has booked an inn and plans to cover all the trip's costs. Morris said he's planning to emigrate to Canada and figures Vancouver would be the best place for him to settle.

Morris invites any would-be travel pals to e-mail him at steve@exodus-international.com.

So that’s exactly what I did. I emailed him. Here’s a copy of the message I sent him.

From: Sarah Marchildon
To: Steve Morris
Subject: Whitehorse trip

Hi Steve,

I read about you in the Vancouver Province. Sorry to hear you caught your fiancée shagging your best friend. That sucks. But your story is hilarious. The very idea that you're looking for someone to accompany you on your trip to Whitehorse takes a lot of balls. You seem like a pretty interesting guy. We need more people like you in Vancouver.

Sarah Marchildon

And here's his reply:

From: Steve Morris
To: Sarah Marchildon
Subject: Re: Whitehorse trip

Thanks for that :) Glad to know I'm in demand somewhere. LOL.

That's it. That's all he wrote. So what I want to know is if he's so damn desperate, why didn't he invite me to go on this Whitehorse trip with him? Holy crap. I can't even get a desperate Scottish guy to ask me out.

I suppose it doesn't really matter. If he had asked me to go to Whitehorse with him, I would have turned him down. Going on a "romantic" vacation to the Yukon in the middle of winter with a complete stranger who is probably a little bitter about the whole "caught my girlfriend shagging my best mate" thing doesn't really appeal to me. But he could have at least asked.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Dodge ball...it's baaaack!

Adult dodge ball leagues are hot. I know this to be true because two separate articles in the Toronto Star and National Post told me so this week.

This is shocking and disturbing news. I thought dodge ball went the way of the death penalty, deemed to be cruel and unusual punishment.

But, no, it seems adults in Toronto are willingly subjecting themselves to being whipped by hard red balls. For fun.

I couldn't wrap my mind around this so decided to conduct an informal poll around the lunch table at work. Half of the people I talked to were deeply, emotionally scarred by dodge ball. The other half were blasé, some even claimed to have liked dodge ball as a kid.

I'm not sure which camp I fit into. As a kid, I sucked at team sports but did well in individual sports (such as running or swimming). Although gym was one of my favourite "subjects" in high school, dodge ball filled me with a sense of dread.

I figured my sister Hilary would have strong opinions about dodge ball, seeing as how she is a 17-year-old high school student in Toronto. So I gave her a call this afternoon.

Hilary informed me she stopped taking gym after Grade 10 because she wanted to concentrate on more important courses (her words, not mine). But she is one of those strange people who actually like dodge ball.

"It's good for some shits and giggles," she said.

Me: "Shits and giggles?"

Hilary: "Yeah. Shits and giggles."

Me: "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Hilary: "Um...you know. It's fun."

I don't know anything about shits and giggles. But I have my own theories about the dodge ball resurgence. Perhaps the adults who are now playing dodge ball are over-compensating for a childhood spent cowering in fear of the mighty red ball.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Vancouver men

Last night, I invited my friends Tamara and Jenny over for dinner, wine and gossip. Tamara whipped up a hearty chicken stew, Jenny brought a tasty Greek salad and I made hot apple crisp.

We sat around the table and tucked into the delicious feast spread before us. As the evening wore on, the German wine loosened our tongues and turned the conversation away from work towards, well, more x-rated material.

But our most heated discussion centered on one topic – Vancouver men.

"The men here aren’t men, they’re boys," moaned Tamara.

Vancouver men are generally a passive, asexual, wimpy and unstylish lot. The only good men in this city are either gay or have already been snapped up by some lucky girl. This is Vancouver’s dirty little secret. They don’t tell you this when you move here.

Oh sure, from a distance it seems like the land of milk and honey. When the David Suzuki Foundation flew me out from New Brunswick for a job interview in 2000, I was dizzy from the sight of all the healthy, attractive, young guys jogging around the seawall, reading books at Chapters and parading up and down Robson Street dressed in Prada.

Almost five years later, not one of those guys has asked me out. Although many guys in Vancouver have asked me out, not one of them was actually from Vancouver. There was Octavian from Romania, Phil from Denver, Steve from Toronto, Andrew from Ontario and James from England. Not one single Vancouver boy in the group.

I can say with absolute certainty that it’s not me, it’s them. The fact that I swim on a gay swim team and live in the West End has nothing to do with my abysmal track record. I have lived in Toronto, Ottawa, London, Saint John and Fredericton. If they think you’re remotely attractive or interesting, guys in those cities will crawl over broken glass to approach you.

Every year, I go back to Toronto for two weeks at Christmas. And every year, I get hit on more times in those two weeks than I have all year in Vancouver. It’s depressing.

I am not alone. My friend Jenny moved back to Vancouver in June after two years working in Bosnia and Macedonia for the UN. This is a girl who attended the University of Victoria in the politically correct 1990s. For four years, she was surrounded by fleece-wearing, grunge-listening, beer-drinking, guitar-playing, pajama-bottom-wearing men.

So when she arrived in Bosnia, she was shocked at how "male" the men were. They opened doors for her, protected her as she crossed the street, and respected their wives and daughters.

"It’s chivalry to the extreme," she said. "The men were burly, hairy and angry. They drank a lot and smoked a lot."

Upon her return to Vancouver, the first thing she noticed was how badly the guys here were dressed and how disinterested they seemed in the opposite sex.

I’m not saying I want a man to drag me around by the hair but I do want someone with a strong personality, a backbone, confidence, ambition and a sense of humour. Maybe on a subconscious level, I’m looking for someone like my father. Someone who is decisive, takes control, is dependable through and through, and makes his wife and his children the center of his universe. Even better, he never takes himself seriously. My mom always says she married my dad for his sense of humor. But she met him in Toronto, not Vancouver.

Tamara has found her Vancouver man. Konrad is a transplant from Poland. He’s everything that Vancouver men are not. He’s goofy and silly with a quiet confidence. He’s a rugged outdoors guy who has climbed hundreds of mountains, but unlike Vancouver guys, doesn’t feel he has to brag about it. He has a great job and lots of ambition.

"European men are just more manly," said Tamara, who has also dated a Norwegian lumberjack and a German fighter pilot.

I’m not saying all Vancouver guys are wimps. In fact, I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong. Make eye contact with us. Talk to us at the grocery store, Starbucks or a bar. Be assertive. Hold the door open once and a while. Ditch the fleece and stop wearing socks with sandals. Compliment us. Ask us out. And to all the Vancouver women out there, you’re welcome.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Ben Mulroney: Call me

Why can’t Canada come up with a decent reality TV show? American networks have the Bachelor, the Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model and the Amazing Race. And the best we can come up with is “Making the Cut?”

Making the Cut is a CBC reality show about a bunch of wannabe hockey players trying to make a hockey team. Or something like that. I haven’t actually seen the show. But the commercials promoting it look pretty lame. People (and by “people,” I really mean me) do not want to watch a bunch of average Joes playing hockey. We want bitchy catfights, drunken hot tub parties and self-centered drama queens.

Here’s my question: If CTV turned American Idol into Canadian Idol, why can’t they use the same formula to create the Canadian Bachelorette? The ratings would go through the roof.

In fact, I’ll volunteer to be Canada’s first Bachelorette. Casa Loma could serve as my bachelorette pad. Ben Mulroney would be perfect as the host, helping me whittle 25 guys down to one.

I think I would make a great Bachelorette. I’m fun, cute, smart, athletic and totally photogenic. And I’m classy -- the producers of Blind Date rejected me for their show because I told them I wouldn’t get naked in the hot tub. Ben, if you’re reading this, call me. Let’s talk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Greatest Canadian?

So the CBC has come up with the brilliant idea to search for the "Greatest Canadian." I tuned in to the show on Sunday night, hoping to be inspired. Instead, I watched in disbelief as DON CHERRY made the top 10! Let me repeat a key point...this is supposed to be a list of the greatest Canadians of all time. In history. Ever. So why is DON CHERRY on the list?!?

Here's the kicker: He's on the list because Canadians (tens of thousands of them) voted for him! For the life of me, I don't understand why. Don Cherry is an abrasive, obnoxious, offensive hockey commentator. How on earth does that make him a great Canadian? Not just a great Canadian, but one of the greatest! Ever!

And while I'm on the subject, why is there not one single woman in the top 10 list? Surely Nelly McLung, Roberta Bondar, Margaret Atwood (just to name a few) deserve the honour more than cantankerous Don Cherry!

I haven't completely lost faith in my fellow Canadians. At least Terry Fox and David Suzuki made the top 10 list too.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Ironman Canada

My report from Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C.

Swim: 3.8 km

Bike: 180 km

Run: 42 km

Sunday August 29, 2004, 3:30 a.m. I am jolted awake by the alarm clock, set at full volume. This is it! Race morning. Everything I have worked for over the past six months comes down to this day.

I wake up feeling groggy. I didn't fall asleep until 2 a.m. due to nerves. I am excited and scared at the same time. I am nervous about the mass swim start (2,100 people all diving into the lake at the same time). I am worried about how my sore foot will feel on the bike. I am humbled at the thought of trying to run 26 miles.

But I am excited to think that I am actually going to attempt to do an Ironman and that I might even finish.

Knowing it will be a long day, I try to eat as much as my nervous stomach will allow me. I down two Carnation Instant Breakfasts, one banana and a few sips of Gatorade. A quick check of the Weather Network shows it will be sunny and 27 degrees today. Perfect weather conditions!

I head out of the hotel around 4:30 a.m. to walk down Lakeshore Drive towards the start line. It is quiet and dark. I am among the first people to arrive and quickly get body marked. There are no line-ups. I say hi to Louis, who is volunteering at the body marking station. It is still dark and I have to wait until the sun rises before I can pump my tires because I am unable to read the tire pressure gage.

I walk around the transition zone as people I know start trickling in. Everyone seems calm and relaxed. I don't really have anything to do so I just sit down and wait for the sun to rise and hope some cute guy will try to pick me up. Alas, the cutest guys seem to be the ones who are most focussed and not interested in chatting me up. When dawn finally breaks, I go over to my bike, pump the tires, put the bottles on, load up the cliff bars. Ready to go. I squeeze into my wetsuit and head over to the lake for a quick warm-up.

Not much is going through my head at this point. I try to have a Zen attitude. I'm going to just let the day unfold one stroke at a time, one pedal at a time and one step at a time. I want to cross that finish line so badly.

Down at the beach, I jump in for a quick five-minute warm-up swim and then make my way as far left in the water as possible. I position myself right at the very front of the line with the elite athletes. The guy beside me tells me to have a great race. At 7 a.m., the cannon goes off with a loud boom.

As the water isn't very deep, I have to walk for about a minute before diving in to swim. I swim wide to the left and before I know it, I am all alone swimming about 25 feet away from the pack on my right side and nothing but open water on my left. There is no one around to kick me in the head or grab onto me. I settle into a long, smooth stroke and just swim easy all the way to the finish line. At one point, I remember thinking to myself that the swim seemed to be taking forever but I told myself not to go faster as I needed energy for the long bike and run ahead.

It was a great swim. I felt like I had the whole lake to myself! I exited the swim in a time of 1:06. Not bad considering I probably swam an extra 300 metres just to be out by myself on the far left side. From the calm, quiet of the swim, I entered the chaos of the transition zone. It seemed like everyone was racing to get out on the bike.

A volunteer grabbed me and told me to lay on the ground so they could pull off my wetsuit. But as soon as she started yanking at it, my hamstrings seized up. She was having a hard time getting the wetsuit down past my wide hips. I told herto stop because I was cramping. So I just stood up and took it off bymyself. Then it was over to the change tent to get dressed for the ride. Or I should say, get dressed by a volunteer. She helped me take off my bathing suit and put on my shorts. Talk about personal service! I had so much stuff in my bag. I had brought all my winter gear in case the weather was nasty.But I managed to find everything and stuffed my gels, pump and Advil into my back pocket. I put on some sunscreen and then headed out to get my bike.

The start of the bike ride was very exciting. There were thousands of people lined up and down Lakeshore Drive and Main Street cheering like crazy. I saw my mom, my sister and my friend Delacey yelling like mad. As I rode up Main Street, I got teary eyed. It was very emotionally overwhelming to have so many people out there screaming. I don't really remember much about the ride itself. It seemed to go by so fast. I took it easy the whole time. I read somewhere that if you feel at any point that you are "working" on the bike, you're going too hard.

My dad, who was following the race as it unfolded live on the internet, later told me that I finished the swim in the top 25 % but then 800 people passed me on the bike. Ha, ha! I lost count after about 50 people passed me. At one point on the ride, I saw a guy standing off on the side of the road peeing. A few minutes later he rode up beside me and asked why I didn't say hi while he was peeing. It was my friend Don Smith! On the bike, I just settled into a comfortable pace. Ate four cliff bars. Had one bottle of Accelerade. Lots of water. Some Gatorade. A little bit of gel. Enjoyed the scenery. It seemed almost too easy!

I made the mistake of looking down at my speedometer during one of the descents and saw that I was going 63 km/hour. That freaked me out a little so I just decided not to look at the speedometer while I was going downhill. I did get a little annoyed on the bike at the people who were not riding on the far right side. It was very hard to pass people without getting hit by a car because they were so far out. We were told that if we passed someone on the right side, we would get disqualified.

I was thinking that I liked riding alone so much better because there weren't all these annoying people around. I prefer solitude. After the race, someone was saying it must have been very, very mentally tough for the guy who won because he was out in front, alone all day. I thought that sounded like paradise.

Going up Richter Pass, John Chan finally caught up to me. I was surprised it took him so long to catch me and I told him so. He said he was feeling awful and had already made four stops at the Porta Potty. And then he flew past me. The ride was over before I knew it. I had ridden 180 km in 6:44. A very good time for me! Especially considering I didn't actually start riding seriously until this year. Once again, a volunteer helped me take off my clothes and get into my run gear.

I felt very good at the start of the marathon. I saw a bunch of people as I headed out. Pascal ran along beside me for a bit. Jos was taking pictures and yelling out encouragement. On a sad note, I saw John Chan turn back and quit the race. He had called it a day as he was feeling too sick to continue.

My plan was to run from aid station to aid station (26 buffet tables) and walk through the aid stations. Each aid station was spaced about a mile apart. I think I was running too fast at the beginning because it was taking me 10 minutes to run to each aid station. At the time, I felt strong enough to hold that pace over 26 miles. How naive!! Things started to unravel around mile 10 when my stomach bloated and my whole mid-section became very tender. I was very uncomfortable and in pain. Luckily I had put some Tums in my special needs bag at the halfway point (thanks for the tip, Don B.). Idrank Pepsi at every aid station just to give me some energy. What I didn'tknow was that the real pain was still to come.

At the 13 mile mark (halfway), I ate the Tums. My stomach did start to feel somewhat better. But my legs were another story! It was here that I realized a marathon is a bloody long way to run and that holding a 10 minute mile pace over the beginning was a stupid thing to do. I don't even really know how to describe how my legs felt. It hurt to run. No, it was worse than that. And mentally I was starting to fall apart too. It was too far, too much, too hard. So I walked. A lot. Walking felt better but that competitive side of me took over. I didn't want to walk to the finish line. I wanted to give it everything I could and know that I couldn't have done anything more.

So I started running again. Well, it was probably more of a shuffle than a run.At mile 19, I hit the wall. I didn't want to go one more step. I just wanted it to be over. I was in so much pain. My legs hurt, my stomach was doing flip flops, my head hurt. Just when I was feeling my lowest, Don B. cycled by and told me how great I was doing and how strong I looked. I think I laughed. I told him to tell me a story because I needed the distraction. So he talked to me for a while and this made me feel better.

After Don left, Delacey cycled by and we chatted for a while too. I was so happy to see her! It took my mind off the agony I was feeling. At this point, I think I was running for about five minutes and walking for three minutes. At mile 23, it dawned on me that I was going to finish this race, even if I had to walk. I got really emotional and started to sob but that made it really hard to breathe so I had to force myself to stop crying. It was the most emotional moment of the race. Even more than crossing the finish line.

I drank some Pepsi and just headed for that finish line. The cheering crowds were amazing. The finish line was a bit of a blur. I remember saying hi to people I knew along Lakeshore Drive. When I crossed the line in a time of 13:21, I felt really happy. A volunteer wrapped me in a tinfoil blanket. Big mistake!!! My blood pressure suddenly skyrocketed and everything started spinning. I felt like a Christmas turkey roasting in the oven. For some reason, it didn't occur to me to take the blanket off.

I told the volunteer I needed to sit down. But as soon as I did, I became really nauseated and dizzy. He saw that I didn't look very good and he got a medical person to come over. I tried to stand up but I almost fainted. Then they called the paramedics and put me on a stretcher and rushed me over to the medical tent. They were worried I was going into shock. They put me on a bed in the medical tent. At that point, I asked if I could take the space blanket off. As soon as I did, I instantly felt better.

The most gorgeous doctor I have ever seen came over to find out how I was doing. He had bright blue eyes, broad shoulders and a gentle bedside manner. Obviously I wasn'tfeeling that bad because I had the energy to imagine myself married to this handsome doctor and living in a big house in the Okanagan. Then I saw his wedding ring. Oh well.

They made me stay in the medical tent for about 1/2 hour and drink Gatorade (which I hope to never drink again!). The world famous Sister Madonna Buder came over to talk to me. That was a highlight of the race! She had broken her arm and was volunteering. I tried to have a conversation with the guy inthe bed next to me but it was hard to talk because of the girl loudly vomiting into a bucket across from us. Although I didn't feel that great immediately following the race, I was onCloud Nine the next day.

I think you have to do the race to understand how special Ironman Canada really is. The crowds and the volunteers are incredible. You really feel like the whole town is cheering you on. The scenery along the ride and run is among the most beautiful anywhere in the world. It was a magical experience. I actually had to force myself NOT to sign up again for next year (I really, really wanted to!!). It's amazing to think that not too long ago, I wouldn't have thought I would be capable of doing something as challenging as an Ironman. I think that the mind and human will is a really powerful thing.

The Ironman is much more than a race. It can teach you that if you change your beliefs about your limits, your limits themselves change. You can do anything you set your mind to. I left Penticton feeling enlightened, empowered and inspired.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

About the Hollywood North Report

Who am I?
Sarah Marchildon, lover of the absurd.

What's my day job?
Communications specialist, media strategist and occasional freelance writer. Currently working as an associate programme officer at the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, Germany. In 2010, I was awarded an all-expenses-paid scholarship to do a master's degree at Kyoto University in Japan. In April 2012, I graduated from the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, with a master's in environmental management focusing on environmental communication.

What's my bio?
I graduated from Carleton University with a degree in journalism. I worked as a general news reporter with the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal for three years. Part of my job included knocking on people's doors asking for pictures of their recently deceased/murdered/decapitated mother/father/brother/son/daughter/friend for the newspaper. I loved writing but I hated the death beat. So I decided to give up a career in journalism and work for a cause I believed in. I worked for the David Suzuki Foundation for eight years, including a year-long sabbatical teaching English in rural Japan. I left the Suzuki Foundation in September to attend Kyoto University. I'm now temporarily based in Bonn. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll get a job serving George Stroumboulopoulos coffee.

Where am I from?
I was born and raised in Toronto but I've lived and worked in Ottawa, London, Saint John, Fredericton, Vancouver, Kochi, Kyoto and Bonn. After living in Japan, I moved back to Vancouver before moving back to Japan again. I'm in Germany, for now, but I'm not really sure where I'll end up.

Why do I blog?
When I moved to Vancouver, I had no friends and no social life. I would spend my Friday nights holed up in an Internet cafe writing e-mail dispatches back home to friends and family.

I called these weekly dispatches the Hollywood North Report. The name pays homage to both Vancouver's booming film industry and a karaoke bar close to my heart. It seemed like a good fit. Plus, I was paying for Internet access by the minute, and I didn't have a lot of time to come up with a more original title. So the Hollywood North Report was born.

I filled those e-mails with random observations about the oddities of Vancouver life and all of the weird and wonderful people who live here. I also had a weekly "friend count." Sadly, it remained at zero for a long time.

That all changed when I joined the English Bay Swim Club and was elected social coordinator of more than 100 gay men. Suddenly, I was no longer spending lonely Friday nights filing the Hollywood North Report. I had real friends!

I got into backcountry camping, triathlons and open-water swimming. One thing led to another, and I signed up for an Ironman. I managed to finish the Ironman but swore never to do it ever again.

After I quit the triathlon scene, I had a lot of extra time on my hands. I decided to resurrect the Hollywood North Report in blog form to make it easier for friends and family to read. I've always liked writing and storytelling and blogging is a natural extension of that. I've been blogging in this space since 2004.

What's my favourite thing to write about?
I especially love writing about things that strike me as odd or absurd. For example, the public transit system in Vancouver is a comedy gold-mine.

What is the best part of blogging?
Hands down the response I get to my posts. It can be as simple as a thoughtful comment or as elaborate as complete strangers sending me free stuff. I once wrote about how jealous I was that Ontario had juice-box sized wine and jokingly begged someone to send me some. One of my Toronto readers actually sent me a case of the stuff.

Another time I wrote about how I couldn't find Grape-Nuts anywhere in Vancouver. The next day, one of my readers delivered 10 boxes to my office.

But the craziest response was when I wrote about how I had a non-sexual crush on Claire Martin (the CBC meteorologist) and she put my blog post on her weather forecast where the map of Canada should have been. It was awesome. I have the best blog readers in the world!