Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's Like a Whole Other Country

We had a simple task to take care of this morning. We needed to get some papers notarized by an American notary. Back in Texas, we would walk across the street to our neighbor's house to get it done and walk back five minutes later. Easy-peasy!

Greg asked a lawyer at his office where we could find an American notary and was told the only place he knew of was the American Embassy. It was within walking distance and we were able to get an appointment right away. Easy-peasy!

Yeah, well, no so fast! I got to the address five minutes early, jumped in the elevator and couldn't get the darned thing to work. I kept pressing "10" but the light wouldn't stay on and the elevator wouldn't move. Finally, it rose as far as the fifth floor and stayed there. I thought I was stuck.

My phone rang. It was Greg asking me where I was. "I'm stuck in the elevator!" I told him. He said, "You won't believe what they've got going on here. Come back down to the lobby." Hey- thanks for your concern, I thought. Lucky for HIM, the elevator responded when I pressed "L" for lobby.

It turns out we had to check all bags and electronic devices before we could go upstairs. Then we had to wait in line to go through a security screening similar to what we all endure at the airport, followed by a brief interview with a woman who wanted to know why we were there. Finally, we were told to sit and wait until our names were called.

It looked like everyone else in the waiting room was applying for a Visa because we were the only English-speaking Caucasians there. (That's not racist, is it? I don't mean to be.) It seemed odd that we all had to wait together when all we needed was a notary.

An officer called our name and we were told to wait in the hall. When about ten of us were lined up, he told us to follow him to the elevator. He used a special key to get the thing moving. We arrived on 10 and were instructed to line up once again in the hallway. One by one, we went through another security screening: shoes and belts off, paperwork inspected, the whole shebang.

"Go down that hall, make a left and take a seat until your number is called." Yet ANOTHER waiting room containing about thirty people. Our number was called on three separate occasions- once to check our passports ("please return to your seat"), once to pay the cashier FIFTY dollars PER notary stamp, for a total of $200 ("return to your seat") and lastly, to actually sign the documents.

We were pretty pissed. Greg pointed out that we could have driven to Montana (which is about 3 hours away), paid for gas, the notary, had a nice meal and still have change left over from the $200.

Most days living here in Canada feels very much like living in the U.S. But every now and then we're reminded that we're visitors in another country. It's a strange feeling. And frankly, a little scary.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Urbanite

The strangeness of living in a city has worn off and I find myself walking around with that blase expression everyone else had on their faces when I first arrived. I cross the street sometimes even if the light is red because I know the rhythm of the traffic and that it's safe to do so. I know whether it's better to walk outside, hop on the train or take the Plus 15 (the tunnels) depending on the weather and how much time I have. I know where the best coffee shops are. It's official. I'm an urbanite.

This morning I had to go to a lab downtown for some routine tests. I allowed myself 30 minutes to walk there. I left my apartment, took the elevator downstairs to the garbage room and dropped off a bag. I took the elevator back up to the lobby and taped a note for the UPS man by the mailboxes, telling him to call me on my cell phone because our intercom isn't working.

I zipped up my jacket and headed out on to the street. Chilly air hit me in the face, but it wasn't too bad. I was glad I opted for shoes with good traction because there was still snow on the ground, though the sidewalks were pretty much reduced to little puddles of water.

Those two quick errands inside my apartment building took longer than expected, so I decided to take the train to save time. The nearest station is only a block away and within downtown it's free. FREE! We live on the edge of downtown, so there isn't much traffic. Still, I had to wait at the light on our corner to cross up to Seventh Avenue to catch the train.

I found the building easily enough, but the address for the lab indicated it was on the third floor. The elevator doors opened to a quiet medical facility with various offices. A directory pointed the way to the lab with a downward arrow. Naturally, I walked down one flight. All of a sudden I was in the middle of what looked like a mall food court, with people in business suits bustling around, buying coffee and crepes. (Crepes?)

I eventually found the lab (upstairs!), had unspeakable things done to me (ha) and returned to the "food court" to feed my poor, starving body. (I had to fast for 12 hours before they took blood.) There were the usual coffee shops and a Wendy's, but I was curious about those crepes, so I got in line behind a man whose computer bag keep poking me in the leg.

Sadly, it was too late for a breakfast crepe (whatever that is), so I settled for yogurt and fruit. I had to hurry home to catch the UPS man, so off I went, sipping my coffee and clutching the yogurt concoction in my other hand. I wanted to walk it, but holding my hands out in front of me, trying not to spill coffee as I worked my way around people was...well, frankly, it was pissing me off. I headed for the train station.

Every now and then you'll pass a busker on the street or inside the Plus 15 in Calgary and it always breaks my heart a little. There are so many talented, musical people in the world who can't make a living at it. I always hope they have a paying gig at night and are just picking up extra cash on the streets during the day. Just let me believe that.

None-the-less, I like to give them some spare change when I see them. No way could I do that with my hands all full of morning sustenance. I gave this day's musician a weak smile and continued on to the train platform.

I needed to get on the right train, the one that takes the tracks straight to the end, a block away from my building. If I get on the wrong one, it'll curve around a corner and head over the river. (Been there, done that.) The correct train arrived, full of empty seats, so I smugly walked on, leaving the rest of the poor, cold bastards waiting on the platform for their own correct train.

(You know what? I didn't really cop an attitude, but I couldn't stop my fingers from typing that. I thought it sounded funny. Haha!)

We arrived at the end of the line and an announcement was made that we all had to get off. We dutifully did. The train would sit for about five minutes as it filled with new passengers and then finally, it would head in the opposite direction.

Two crosswalks later and I was back in front of my building. The whole outing took about two hours. I was pleased about that. That unpleasant chore was behind me and I picked up "restaurant food" along the way. (Yes, in my world yogurt and coffee is restaurant food. ha!) Not a bad morning.

P.S. I missed the UPS guy. :(

Monday, April 18, 2011

10 Worst Cities for Spring Allergies

Here are the cities at the top of AAFA’s Spring Allergy Capitals list for 2011:

  1. Knoxville, Tenn.
  2. Louisville, Ky.
  3. Charlotte, N.C.
  4. Jackson, Miss.
  5. Chattanooga, Tenn.
  6. Birmingham, Ala.
  7. Dayton, Ohio
  8. Richmond, Va.
  9. McAllen, Texas
  10. Madison, Wis

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stephen Colbert: "Please Don't Blog This"

The Internet is all a-buzz about Stephen Colbert’s latest act of brilliance: a performance of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on the Jimmy Fallon show. It began as a challenge when Colbert’s BFFSM (Best Friends For Six Months), Jimmy Fallon, announced that if $26,000 was raised for by Friday, Colbert would be on his show to sing what Fallon called, “one of the most important songs of our time.”

According to Wikipedia, “ ‘Friday’ is a song written by Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson, and performed by Rebecca Black, a 13-year-old American singer. The official video became a viral hit due to criticism of the song's lyrics, the use of Auto-Tune on Black's vocals, and the content of the video.”

In short, the song sucks. Here’s a sample of the ridiculously bad lyrics:

“Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today i-is Friday, Friday (Partyin’)
We-we-we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today

Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes after … wards
I don’t want this weekend to end”

Colbert’s rendition begins on a dark stage, a single spotlight on him. He’s wearing a tux and crooning the lyrics as if it were a ballad. But then the lights come up, the tempo changes and Fallon’s house band, The Roots, plays behind Colbert as he bounces to the beat. Absurdity mounts to a fever-pitch when "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks bursts through a giant calendar, singing and playing harmonica.

The Colbert version of “Friday” is much more fun, fun, fun than the original video. In fact- dare I say? - I kind of like the song now. All it took was some clever mockery. Colbert has shown us once again his comedic genius.

The thing is, I have a hunch the only thing Colbert cared about was raising money for his charity. There’s a very sweet side of him the public rarely sees.

Last year, on April 28, I went to an event in Manhattan celebrating the 50th anniversary of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, where Colbert was a featured reader. It was held at Symphony Space and hosted by Thalia Book Club. A panel of Mockingbird experts sat on stage, took turns reading from the book and had a discussion about the impact the book had on their lives. Colbert seemed on odd addition to the group, but we were curious to see what he might add to the evening.

Colbert was late due to the taping of some little show of his (The Colbert Report) but when he arrived, he took a seat in one of the folding chairs on stage and was asked to tell the audience the role Mockingbird played in his life.

“I was assigned the book to read in the eighth grade, so naturally, I didn’t read it for the first time until I was 23.” Colbert went on to say that the book had such an impact that he rereads it every year or so. In fact, his copy is in such bad shape it’s held together with a rubber band.

When asked to read from the book, he went to the podium and remarked “I cannot read any part of the book aloud without crying, so please don’t blog this.” (I waited a year, that’s not bad!) He didn’t choke up; he read a passage from chapter 22 clearly and reverently.

After some discussion, the event came to a close and all the participants wandered off stage. While waiting for my mom to return from the restroom, I was lightly bumped in the shoulder by someone working their way through the crowd. With only minor interest, I looked up and saw that it was Stephen Colbert. He was talking to three people next to me.

I heard him make his goodbyes and decided on the spot that I needed his autograph for my son. (I thought it would make me some points.) “Excuse me,” I said as he turned towards me. “Can I have your autograph?” He said “sure” and as I fumbled for paper I realized all I had was a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I opened to the first page and handed him a pen.

His hand hovered over the book. Finally he smiled and said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t sign the book.” I nodded in understanding and he was gone. That was impressive. Frankly, I felt like an ass for asking in the first place.

I’ll close with some random facts you may not know about Stephen Colbert: 1. He’s more handsome in person than he is on TV. (He has beautiful skin.) 2. He can be very humble. During a Q&A segment that night, he was asked about his show. He apologetically replied that the evening wasn’t about him and that he didn’t want to talk about that. 3. He’s a Taylor Hicks fan. No, I didn’t find that out that night, but it is a random fact you didn’t know, right?

Note: We watched The Colbert Report that night and he was wearing the same clothes he had on at our event. cool.