An Encounter in the Park

I have absolutely no idea why, after so many months of posting nothing, I have suddenly decided to post this – now. As I type this I am sitting at a picnic table in Riverside Park having just witnessed one of those seemingly insignificant acts of nature that are usually only experienced via a National Geographic special on television. One certainly does not expect one’s supper to be interrupted by such an unexpected observation.

WARNING! The paragraphs which follow contain a somewhat graphic description of, shall we say, intimate insect behaviour. No – I cannot leave the description out of the post as the unfolding of the event is what the whole thing is about; without it the entire experience falls flat. Consider yourself warned.

Like I said, I’m in Riverside Park having my supper. Nothing special; just a grilled bacon and tomato Panini (hold the cheese) and a medium double-double decaf from Tim’s across the street. As I’m eating I notice a pair of small silver winged insects (each no more than ½ inch long) on the table beside me. They seem to be engaged in a tug of war having been securely joined at the tips of their abdomens. Facing away from each other, joined at the (ovipositor? meh!) – ass, they each seem to be struggling to pull the other in their preferred direction.

A brief rundown of the aforementioned National Geographic specials in my randomly accessed memory reveals I am quite likely witnessing two insects (of a hitherto unidentified species) mating. My first thought was, “Wow! I wonder how often there have been mating bugs on my dinner table when I didn’t notice?”

What happens next is the graphic part, so brace yourself. One of the insects, making what for all the world appeared to be a Herculean effort, suddenly tore away from the encounter taking a portion of the other insect’s insides with it!  In that moment, the information from the National Geographic program and my grade 9 biology class coalesced in my consciousness and I realized what I had just witness was the culmination of the sex act; the climax, if you will.

Using reproductive organs obviously designed for the task, the female of the species clamped firmly onto the male’s member and tore away from the encounter ripping his gonads out by the roots and taking them with her!

I was stunned. And so apparently was the male bug as he just sat there motionless for what had to have been at least 20 seconds. Finally, he made a stuttering, halting effort to move, eventually flying away, likely to find somewhere to expire.

My second thought, I am somewhat hesitant to admit, was, “Gee pal, I hope it was worth it!”

I know, not my best moment; but if it’s any consolation I did spend the next minutes musing about the whole procreation thing. The need to reproduce; the need to leave a legacy by continuing our bloodline and the lengths we are driven to by hormones, pheromones and endorphins to acquire a mate and do the deed. I came to no startling conclusions, no great philosophical revelations, only a few harrumphs and the odd heavy sigh.

Besides it wasn’t long until my more profound ruminations were displaced by my media addle-pated imagination which conjured up Bruce Willis sitting on the bench beside me, and having just witnessed the very same scene replayed out in my memory, turned to me and said, in the way only Bruce Willis can…

“You know, that’s exactly what my divorce felt like.”

Moment over.

Cue music.

Fade to black.

Another One Rides a Different Bus – part 2

Okay, it’s been a little over a week and I think I can now comment on the changes made to the Guelph Transit system without resorting to knee-jerk epithets and gross indulgences in hyperbole. I’ve taken all the trips I’m likely to take in my day-to-day goings and comings around the city multiple times, and I can now confidently answer the question I declined to answer ten days ago, “How do you like the new bus schedules?”

Simply put: I Don’t!

Why should you care? Well, the vast majority of you probably shouldn’t, but since I intend writing not only to Guelph Transit, but to all of the city councilors and also both Guelph newspapers, this seemed like a good way to kill multiple angry birds with one stone. I’m writing this post and then sending the link to all of the above. But then again, maybe by the time you finish reading this you might care, just a little.


I suppose it would be less annoying if I could somehow see the logic in the changes that have been made; if I could understand why? Based on the promotion, “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us,” it all appears to be about buses coming and going every 15 minutes for part of the day; but personally, I fail to see how that is a great enough advantage over every 20 minutes, all day, to warrant all the other disruptions and inconveniences.

That is of course, unless the goal is not necessarily better service. Let’s look at a few examples from my week on the buses.

Most Overheard Conversation
Passenger: “Hey driver, you went past my stop!”
Driver: “I’m sorry sir but that stop no longer exists. The new one is up here.”
Passenger: “That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
Driver: “I really couldn’t say sir.” [Rips transfer from pad and hands lower portion to passenger] “On the back of this transfer is a phone number you can call to express your complaint and seek some answers.”

Based on the four routes that I will need to travel, it appears that the number of bus stops has been cut by at least a third overall, possibly by as much as half. This does speed up the route but not my door-to-door experience. Saving 5 minutes on the bus trip doesn’t help if I have to take an extra 10 minutes to walk to the bus stop and back.

Limited Industrial Runs

My ride to work in the morning is a little faster I must admit. I arrive at work 10 minutes earlier, which should mean that with the 15 minute peak schedule I could actually catch a later bus than usual, giving me 15 more minutes to get ready, or even 15 minutes more sleep, and still get to work on time. The problem is while the majority of city buses are on the 15 minute peak schedule, the industrial buses are not! They run every half hour.

So, if I take the bus that’s 15 minutes later from my house, I have to wait 15 minutes for the “#21 Hanlon Industrial” bus at the Square, which will actually get me to work 10 minutes late instead of on time. The 15 minute schedule is of no advantage to me whatsoever.

On the other end of my shift is another interesting little quirk. To save money the ‘Industrial’ runs do not run all day. There are three 3-hour periods when there are no industrial buses, simply because there aren’t enough passengers at those times of day. I get that, I really do.

What I don’t get is the timing of the three hour breaks. Our shop is open from 8:30am till 5pm each day. Most days my supervisor is content to be the one to close the shop and let me leave around 4:30 pm. He’s a really decent guy that way. And it’s a good thing too since the last bus before the 3-hour break is at 4:59 pm according to the posted schedule.

Every once in a while however, a couple of times a month, he needs me to close the shop. This means that since we are open till 5pm I likely won’t catch that last bus. So on those occasions I have a 3-hour wait until the next bus drives by the shop, or I have a 3-kilometre hike (according to Google Maps) to get to the closest active bus stop at the corner of Clair & Gosling Gardens.

Have these people never heard of 9-5 jobs? Or does the fact the Guelph Transit office is only open till 4pm mean they figure we all knock off that early? I really don’t understand why the last bus before the break isn’t at 5:30 pm so people who work 9-5 can get home.

My Part-Time Job Situation

Last bus route story, I promise. I have a part-time job as technical director at one of the churches in the south end of the city; an area once commonly known as University Village. Under the old system my ride from home to the church was a little over 40 minutes with 1 transfer down at the square and a brief stop at Stone Rd. Mall. Under the new system I now have 1 transfer at the square, a 2nd transfer at the University, so I can stay on the same route, and that same brief stop at Stone Road Mall, resulting in an average travel time of 50-55 minutes; 10-15 minutes longer depending on the day.

I really don’t understand the need for the transfers at the University, just to stay on the same route! The transfers at the square make sense; I’m changing from one route to another. But at the University, to stay on Route 2A West Loop I have to switch to a different bus because the one I’m on will become 1B. But, even setting that aside with the detour to the UofG my ride is now 10-15 minutes longer to get to the same location. I can live with that I guess, but the route home from there really baffles me.

With the new ‘transfer anywhere’ policy, the best route home should be to take that same route 2A West Loop bus to the west end of the city and then transfer to the #20 Northwest Industrial run and then get off at a stop about a block from home near Willow West Mall. This would be similar to the old system where I took the “Perimeter Bus” to the West End Community Centre, transferred to #23 and got off at that same stop about a block from home.

The problem is, now there is only one little stretch of road that both of these new buses travel along, and there is no mutual bus stop anywhere along that stretch or even near it. In fact, the #20 bus does not and will not stop anywhere along that road. And staying on the 2A takes me nowhere near where I live. This means that going home from church requires going in the other direction on the 2B bus, transferring at the UofG, transferring again downtown and then taking the #11 bus to a stop close to my house.

Here’s the baffling bit. Riding the 2A West Loop bus to that aforementioned non-mutual stretch of road and walking the nearly 2km (Google maps again) to my house is 15-20 minutes faster than riding the other routes around to the stop less than 100 meters from my driveway!

 Does this make sense to anyone?

The Next Bus

Next Bus” is an Internet based service that uses real-time GPS data to predict the arrival times of buses at your selected bus stop. I loved the service! Many people didn’t, though I think that was largely due to not learning how to use it effectively. From my smartphone I would access Next Bus to avoiding waiting too long in the rain, getting to the bus stop mere moments before it arrived. I could even track multiple buses at once, helping me navigate out of the ordinary transfer points that got me to my destination faster. I consider it the best Innovation Guelph Transit ever implemented.

Since the change, however, I can’t trust it. The bus stop near my house only offers predictions for every other bus. The buses at the hour and half-hour register fine, but the extra every-15-minute runs never show on the web page.  And the #21 Hanlon Industrial route has never registered at all. It’s been reading “No Current Prediction Available” since Jan. 1st.

Now I know that Guelph Transit doesn’t run ‘Next Bus’; but the system requires accurate up to date info from the local bus company and it would seem that Guelph Transit just isn’t providing it any longer.

A Final Thought

I could go on but I won’t. From talking to other passengers around town, most people seem to be facing frustrations much like mine. I’m sure there are a few people out there who like the new routes, but I have yet to meet any of them. Guelph Transit claims they will be tweaking the system to iron out the wrinkles but I question whether that’s going to be enough.

Roberta and I got rid of our car back in 2001. Though partially for financial reasons, the main thing for us was we couldn’t justify maintaining a vehicle when the transit system worked well enough, and riding our bicycles throughout the summer made more sense not just for the environment, but for our own health as well.

After 10 days of riding the new bus system I am starting to suspect that Guelph Transit’s main strategy for saving money going forward is giving me new reasons to go out and buy another car.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t see 15-minute service at peak hours worth the hassle the new system creates. One of the transit workers answering questions downtown yesterday told my wife the old system was rated better than 90% efficient based on a survey of completed transfers downtown. She told her this new system is currently running at 40%. If I understand that correctly, it means that 60% of riders are not getting where they need to be, in order to transfer to the bus they need, to get them where they are going!

Being able to take a bus that doesn’t get you there more often is not an improvement. From my point of view, it seems that not much about this change can be called an improvement by any standard of measurement. I am truly beginning to suspect that improving service was not really the goal. It seems to me that re-jigging the entire system, except for the bus going to the Transit Offices of course, would be a great way to hide the fact that, in reality, service has been severely cut back in order to cut costs. I further suspect that they are hoping that in all the confusion of the new routes, and with the smokescreen of 15 minutes service, no one will notice that we aren’t really getting anywhere faster or more efficiently than before. What we’re really getting is shafted; lesser service to reduce costs while at the same time trying to convince us it’s a step forward.

Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But can anyone give me a better explanation?

Till next time…

Another One Rides a Different Bus

One question I have gotten a lot in the last two days is, “So, how do you like the new bus system?”

After trying to get to the church last night my comment to Roberta when I got home was, “I’m beginning to think that Guelph Transit’s strategy for reducing operating expenses is to give me reasons to buy a car.”

As a staff member at Kortright Presbyterian Church I am disappointed that the bus stop in front of the church is gone and that the shortest route to the church would seem to be a minimum of 10 minutes longer; however, I do realize that there are far more people than me riding the system and some of them may like the changes. We’ll see.

With that in mind, I have decided to withhold detailed comment for a week, by which time I have hopefully gotten a better view has to how the changes affect my various commutes.

In the meantime my Twitter feed with likely provide you with some play-by-play commentary.

A Change of Perspective

My Bus.

My bus ride home. Not my bike though.

With my bike in the shop for a couple of days for a tune-up and new tires I’m riding the bus once again. Now, this is not a new experience, I ride the bus daily about 5 months a year; however, every time I ride the bus during cycling season I’m struck by how different everything looks.

When I’m on my bike my focus is, of course, on the traffic. I’m watching for where the cars are every minute because, for the most part, they aren’t looking for me. With one eye on traffic, the other eye is on the pavement ahead of me watching for potholes, sewer grates, broken glass etc. My Hardcase® tires are tough, but they aren’t impenetrable; they take a hit once in a while. As a result there isn’t a lot of time for taking in the surroundings when I’m rolling through traffic on my way to work.

On the bus however, it’s a different matter. With someone else doing the driving, I’m free to put on my headphones, call up a playlist on my phone and take in the world around me for 40 minutes. (Yeah, it takes that long. Longer than it takes me to cycle actually. But that’s another post. Back to the bus ride…)

This morning I noticed the new porch on the house on the corner where I broke my collarbone when I was 10 years old. I noticed the French announcement of the end of the school year at Paisley Road School where I went as a kid.  I noticed what a great soundtrack for the bus ride Jon Buller’s Hum Along makes. (BTW.. If you’re listening to headphones/ear buds while cycling you are asking to get hit by the traffic you can’t hear. Don’t do it!)  And I noticed that the Universe is continuing to taunt me unmercifully.

Why do I say that? Well, my doctor tells me part of the solution for my GI issues is to lay off the coffee! I know, it’s a painful change, but I must admit the pain in my gut has all but disappeared since I stopped drinking my favorite organic suspension. And what does the Universe do in response to this difficult transition in my life? It opens a new Planet Bean® right on my way to work!!  – (Thou know’st, the first time that we smell the air we wawl and cry. King Lear Act 4, scene 6) I’m truly convinced that from time to time the Universe does indeed have it in for me.

I noticed a lot of other things too; people, buildings, situations that would have otherwise stayed out of my line of sight had I been riding my bicycle. It was refreshing to look at the world I passed through every day from a different perspective.  Oh, and I noticed one more thing as well;  my opportunity to gain this new perspective was totally due to the fact I was no longer in control.

You see, when I’m riding I’m in the driver’s seat. I have things to do, details to manage; my focus is entirely on the destination, the route and the obstacles. But on the bus, those details are no longer my concern. Someone else is sweating the route, the traffic and the potholes affording me the opportunity to look around and enjoy the ride. And as this all unfolded around me I realized – you can’t gain a new perspective while your attention is focused on doing what you’ve always done.

I found myself wondering how many areas our lives is letting go of the reins a part of gaining a new perspective. Does a parent gain new insights into how their child thinks and functions when they step back and let the hockey coach do the interacting? Will letting a co-worker head the task force give an office manager a chance to see the bigger picture? How much more could we learn about who we are and what we do if we allowed others to take the lead?

I had a similar experience at Guelph Little Theatre this past month. Instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty of picking out all the sounds and music etc. for the One Acts Festival my role this time was more of a mentoring one. A very talented young woman named Amanda was in the trenches; my job was to familiarize her with the systems we employ and then let her do the job, stepping in only when she entered unfamiliar territory. I’ll admit it was hard to keep my hands out of things because doing the work is what I really enjoy. But that would have taught Amanda next to nothing. So I forced myself to step back and let her take the reins, stepping in only when she encountered something for which she had no experience.

The result was a chance to get a renewed perspective on how sound fits into the bigger picture. There were no new startling revelations, but there was a chance to reaquaint myself with aspects of the job that often get taken for granted and as a result sometimes get overlooked or short-changed. I was grateful for the experience and consider it one of the more rewarding things I’ve done at GLT.

I think the same holds true for our spiritual lives as well. Consider Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Many of us are so tied up in trying to manage the details of our lives we never yield control long enough to look at things from God’s perspective. We ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”, but is that really what we need to be asking? Is it possible that what we need to do is let go of the handlebars, let God drive and look at the world from the back of the bus? As long as we are focusing on trying to figure out what to do, our minds are too occupied to be able to gain any other perspective, especially God’s.

A good example is what I’ve been going through at my home church these past few months. Many of us prayed that the introduction of a new minister would be an opportunity for God to do something new at KPC. We coined the term Kortright 3.0 and looked forward to a new chapter in the life of the church. When Alex first showed up not much changed as he was still getting the lay of the land, but recently he has started to steer us in new directions. They are not great changes but they are different in many ways from what we are used to. And a predictable-but strange none the less-thing happened. We resisted!

Well, some of us anyway. Even though we had been praying for God to do something new, some of us still felt our skin crawl when the changes began to take place. It seems that we are resistant to change even when we ask for it! Why?

I think I know why.  Though some of us probably won’t admit it, the reason is because we aren’t really resisting the idea of change; what we are resisting is loss of control. We don’t want to let go because we aren’t all that comfortable letting someone else drive. But if we are to embrace what God is doing in our lives we need to let go and let someone else, namely Him, drive. Once we do then we can sit back, look at the situation without the burden of command, and gain a new perspective on things and eventually learn to enjoy the ride.

And when the time comes that God’s perspective has becomes ours, we’ll probably find He’s content to let us take the wheel once again.

Until next time… Shalom.

One Down – Thirty-four to Go!

Well, it’s started; the radiation regimen that is.

Today I went down for the first in a series of 35 radiation treatments and, as advertised, it was a very simple and, at this point anyway, painless process.  Well, not entirely painless. The bed they have you lie down on is pretty hard but that’s because a softer surface would allow too much movement and when they are trying to aim a beam of radiation (high energy x-rays I believe) as accurately as possible-movement results in more serious consequences than just a blurry picture.

The drive down was actually rather nice and not just because of the sunny weather.  The Canadian Cancer Society volunteer, Dave (not his real name) is a retired gentleman who has been doing this sort of thing for 8 years. Three times a week (occasionally four if he feels up to it) he drives people with one cancer or another to a variety of medical appointments in Southern Ontario. So far the furthest he has gone is London in one direction and Mississauga in the other.  He refuses to go to Toronto; the traffic there is more than he can handle.  He got started when he mentioned to a friend that he found retirement extremely boring and needed something to do. His friend was already a volunteer and suggested Dave join him.  As I mentioned, that was eight years ago. The friend can no longer drive, but Dave is still going strong.

The depth of Dave’s experience showed best when we hit downtown Hamilton.  Rather than taking the expressway up, for lack of a better term, the back side of the mountain, Dave sped along one back street after another, winding his way through a maze of tree-lined, one way streets miraculously avoiding heavy traffic and arrived at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in a mere 40 minutes.  This was the best time in which I have ever made the trip and it does go to show that if you do something often enough you get very good at it.

At the Centre things went very smoothly.  After a brief wait a charming woman named Kristy led me to a small comfortable room and made sure, first of all, that I was actually Dennis Gray.  When I was there for my orientation they took my picture; she had a copy of it with her and took the time to compare it to me.  Since five days growth of beard hadn’t changed me enough to make me unrecognizable she moved on to the next step.

She  made sure I fully understood what was about to happen, what the side effects of the treatments would be, the recommended ways to deal with them, and what I was going to do with each return trip.  All questions were answered in a pleasant, unhurried manner and repeated in the same manner when needed. It was a very comfortable experience. (See last few Paragraphs of previous post.)

Then after she showed me around a little I changed into a traditional hospital gown (only needed to strip from the waist up which was nice). Then there followed but a brief wait until it was time for me to go in to Machine 10B for my treatment. I had arrived a little early, thanks to Dave so I had time to get in a little reading. Love my Sony eReader.

When the time came Kristy escorted me to Machine 10b and introduced me to the other two treatment technologists. Since I didn’t see much of them (my glasses were off by this point) I can’t seem to remember their names; at least that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  But they were all very nice and made me as comfortable as they could on the aforementioned hard bed designed more to keep me immobile than comfortable.  Two quick low-energy x-rays to make sure I was lined up right and then it began.

From the patient’s point of view nothing could be simpler, or more uneventful.  For the next 20 minutes I laid flat on my back, staring straight up at the lights on the ceiling while servo-motors rotated the linear accelerator around me and made slight positional adjustments to the bed I was lying on until I was properly positioned for each of the 9 individual firings. Each firing lasts 20 seconds and is noticeable only by means of a very low volume buzz coming from the direction of the large circular head of the machine.

When the procedure was over (painless this time as I mentioned) I changed back into my shirt and jacket and rejoined Dave in the main lobby. After a quick stop at Tim’s for a double-double we were on our way back to Guelph.

I thanked Dave for his efforts on my behalf when I got home around 5:30, but somehow it hardly seemed adequate. I’ve been thinking about him and his ilk, volunteering the way they do. He picked me up at work, drove me down, waited for me for over an hour, drove me back to the work shop-because in my slight anxiety I forgot my keys, and then drove me home. In all about a three hour slice out of his day.  And this he has done 3 three times a week for the last eight years. They say Guelph is the volunteer capital of Canada. People like Dave are the reason why.  Thanks again Dave.

Speaking of driving; a number of you out there have expressed a willingness, dare I say even a desire, to drive me down for one of my appointments. Well, though it looks like the Cancer Society may have things well in hand, I too would greatly enjoy a chance to spend some time driving with you and getting to know you a little better in the process.  With that end in mind the link below will take you to an online version of my schedule of appointments.

Follow the link and let me know which one (1) appointment for which you positively know you are available to drive me down and drive me home. Keep in mind that each Wednesday they will be giving me an update of my schedule and when they do it’s possible some changes may take place. With new patients coming in all the time occasionally some juggling must take place, so please check back once a week or so.

Trinty Prayer Shawl

The Prayer Shawl knitted for me by the ladies of Trinity United Church in Guelph

Well, that’s it for this time around. Oh! Except to say thanks once again to my good friend and theatre pal Beth Freeth, her mother, and the folks at Trinity United Church in Guelph, who knitted and prayed over the lovely prayer shawl in the picture at left.  They do this for people who are brought to their attention. They knit the shawls and then pray over them so that the folks who receive them will have a continuing reminder of the warmth of God’s love and the prayers that are going up on their behalf. It’s a marvelous gesture and I will treasure it always.

Gratitude as well to all of you who are praying for me and offering help in other tangible ways. (Great pot roast Margaret!)  I love you all and think of you often.

Till next time.