Friday, May 16, 2008

The Tire Experiment

It all began last Sunday, when the tires went out.

My buddy made sure it was garbage day Monday, but by the end of the day the trucks had come and gone, but the four tires remained, stacked on our lawn. Apparently they don't take tires.

What to do?

While we pondered and made phone calls, we watched from our front room/ office at the reactions of passersby to our sculpture of rubber. We live on the corner of Lyon and Gilmour in Ottawa and, in addition to The Beer Store Parade, plenty of interesting folk stroll, rush, and chat past our window everyday.

On Tuesday morning, we noticed a small boy -- maybe four (at least taller than four tires) -- stop and stare down the recess created by the four tires. He stood there awhile, and eventually his father came to look. We saw them nod in agreement, and we *thought about* running out and telling them they were free for the taking. But then they were gone, and we were left with our curiosity.
When it got the better of us and we went to check things out for ourselves, we saw that someone had put a slice of pizza down there. Just a few bites gone.
Were they coming back?
You don't usually see largely-uneaten pizza on the street. Were they looking for a garbage can and thought this the next best thing?
Does Ottawa need more garbage cans?

Later that day, our landlord came to mow the lawn. Tires moved to sidewalk (no boulevards on Lyon). Following this development, we garnered a few nasty looks from our neighbours in adjoining townhomes, and we remembered just how ugly tires are.

On Wednesday, the tires had been moved again. This time into two stacks of two. I believe this was done on behalf of the local squirrels, who had now broken the pizza slice in two with their nibbles.

The status of the tires remains unchanged Thursday, but for some glances ... and increasing guilt on our part. Ottawa sure is beautiful this time of year, what with the blossoming, lush trees, the multi-coloured tulips and the flurry of folks enjoying the warm, sunny weather.
Whose tires are those??

On Friday morning, I looked out the front window with glee: two tires gone!
"Should we put a sign out? 'Take the rest?" my roommate asked. Hmmm ... we wondered. Is there a resale or recycling value for tires? Hopefully...

Just then, a guy on a bike dressed in a reflective vest stopped in front of our house. Wouldn't you know it, he draped one tire on each of his handles and rode away, barely wobbling. Gone are the tires!

As a final chapter, and a nod to our neighbours, the next-door dog owners came by and, pooper-scoop style, bent down and picked up the pizza remains so their beautiful huskies would not be tempted to mow down gone-bad people food.

This whole experiment made me realize my love for a few things: our neighbourhood, Ottawa in the springtime, freelance writing that lets me stay at home and watch the outside world while I work, and the way spontaneous intentions of others can remove guilt and solve problems.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


worn |wôrn|

damaged and shabby as a result of much use : a worn, frayed denim jacket

Thanks to my friendly neighbour who came by Saturday to remind about Ladyfest on Saturday, I made it out to 'Not your grandma's craft sale' at the Jack Purcell centre in Ottawa. A first time for me, and despite the fact that I was feeling a little grubby, cheap, and irritable, I had a great time! I can only imagine my impression should I have woken on the right side of the bed.

My 'nose for news' has recently taken on new meanings, as I inhale with glee favourite glossies and train passengers -- somehow guessing my interest -- offer me magazines they've found. Likewise at LadyFest, I immediately found myself at the magazine stand. Or, at least, Serah-marie with her publication, Worn Fashion Journal.

Worn really struck me. It is indie yet polished, smooth and well-designed, with lots of content and visuals. The publication aims to bring 'a political, environmental, historical and cultural context to fashion,' and in my browsing I found articles on galleries, textiles, and the influence of music on fashion. Basically, it seemed, if it's high-end now, it could have started in the pages of Worn. Not to say it's a place for newbies aiming to hit the big-time (their writer's guidelines demand opinions and list the following words as 'Banned, unless there is a very good reason: Discourse
For example
this article
No, Worn seemed to me like the beginnings of culture. Though it looked much better, it reminded me of mold. Looks like a dot on the cultural radar, but can be brewed into a fine cheese we're all vying for -- once the marketers have stepped in to direct.

Of course I asked about contributing, and Serah-marie seemed interested, though we soon nodded appreciatively at each other about the business end of it all. No, she can't pay contributors. Hopefully soon, they all say. In any case, I enjoyed flipping and chatting, and told her that I liked the look of it, and would keep my eyes peeled for Worn around town.

But I'd barely passed a rack of shapeless T-shirt dresses (who looks good in those?) when my mind snapped to something I'd read in Worn. It was about Astria Suparak, a curator in Syracuse, NY. As part of her profile, she'd noted clothing exchanges as a source of inspiration. It was, in fact, the #1 item on her list.

I've been trying to pitch this story for a couple years now. Clothing exchanges as fashion inspiration, yes, but these events also serve as excellent 'social lubricants' (more on that later), and fit into the green movement better than recycled fleece. And yet, as of yet, no bites. The green movement is gaining ground, reaching a new 'tipping point,' they say, though there's hope yet for that angle. But still...

In my research for pitches to these stories, I often do some mad Googling, offering the search engine any combination of the words/ ideas Clothing + Exchange. The movement is growing, and I find myself excited about more hits, which is why I returned to Serah-marie's booth and took down Astria Suparak's name. More fuel for future pitches! This way I can 'prove' clothing exchanges not only happen, but have a special place in the world of fashion.

Alas, my discovery was bittersweet. As I walked away (Serah-Marie kindly let me take down the name without buying a copy) I realized something about freelancing and this whole 'trend identification' thing. Freelancing for magazines requires long lead times; you have to think months ahead and hope/ plan for an issue or idea to remain relevant. But it's not so much the logistics as it is the mindset of editors that was bothering me last Saturday.

Why is it that something must be written elsewhere, have a Google presence, or an NGO-affiliation in order to be valid?
and how long can something original and sincere, like a clothing exchange, maintain a Google presence without becoming tired, old news? After I write the article of my dreams, will the clothing exchange be 'damaged and shabby as a result of much use'?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Shades of accessibility

Now, I complain often about Greyhound. Their prices are inflated, their service -- both on the phone and at the station -- is pathetic, and they've left me stranded on more than one occasion. But today I met someone whose experiences with long-distance public transportation has been truly appalling.

I met Isabella outside the restroom stalls on the Amtrak. There are a few seats for strollers and wheelchairs so, while waiting to use the steel closets of stench known as train washrooms (not even the door worked on this one!), I chatted it up with Isabella.

Isabella has to come to Uttica, New York every few weeks for some sort of post-operation check-up. Isabella relies on a wheelchair to get around, and a wheelchair lift to get into buses and taxis. Greyhound has these lifts, but requires 48 hours to arrange for one to meet her at the gate. Anyone who has ever tried to speak with someone on the phone from Greyhound knows that 48 hours -- involving a special request and a return call, no less -- is a tall order. And sure enough, though she'd been trying for days, she only spoke with someone on the day before her trip.

For Isabella, this meant that she was left 'hoping' someone in Montreal would be able to go against standard operating procedures and make magic happen, ie. attach a device to a bus and help a lady get home. She was prepared to wait till midnight, when she thought they might have more time. But she didn't feel like waiting all night at the Montreal bus station (and last time she tried that at the VIA station they took her passport information and told her Never Again!)
These nights are especially long because hotels aren't really an option. Most can't accommodate a wheelchair, so she ends up sitting in her chair all night.

The whole situation brought me down, and got me thinking about those bus signs for accessibility. You know the ones that depict concert staff talking to the friend of a blind man, asking if he wants to sit at the front? Or suggesting restaurants make menu type large and legible?

I'm looking for a link to this ad campaign, which I think is fabulous and articulates our skewed view of disability, but all I find are McGuinty promises to make Ontario more accessible. Can anyone help me out?