Change

I took the wife to a nice hotel for a change and a rest.  The bell-boy got all my change, and the hotel took the rest.

The reason I originally came here for a job, was that, for 150 years, this area has been known to be in the forefront of industry – insurance companies, breweries, distilleries, and all kinds of manufacturing jobs, often with companies that were on the cutting edge for their time.  While I bemoan the passing of the manufacturing jobs, the region continues to reinvent itself in the service, and technology theaters.

Despite over 80% public disapproval, the mayor and several councillors continue to midwife the birth of an ego/memorial, street railroad.  They want to be remembered as the visionaries who breathed life back into a downtown area which has been moribund for 30 years, although their project may be years too early.

Even though my taxes will go up, it seems to be working.  New, upscale restaurants and clubs are already opening, down the main street, and an old, ex-Sears store has been converted to apartments.  A block below my auto-parts plant, at a major intersection, the main plant and head office of my bankrupt shoe company has been converted to condo lofts.  Yuppie acceptance was so avid, that move-in dates were delayed for over a year, while they built two more stories on the old four-floor building.

Between the two buildings, a new bus/train/LRT station is going in.  Across the corner, a U-Haul office was torn out, and a ten-floor apartment is being built.  On the final corner, the Community College has erected their School of Optometry, and School of Pharmacy, where the chiropractor’s son is studying.

Up the hill behind them, and over the railroad tracks, across from my old workplace, the owner of the strip-mall property has just announced a complete rebuild.  Gone will be our tacky watering-hole bar, and a Tim Horton’s outlet which died after our plant closed, because of poor access and parking.  Built before drive-throughs, it moved two blocks up the street and took over a failed Wendy’s.

Research In Motion, also known as the RIM Corporation, was founded in our sister city to the north, and made BlackBerry Phones, until the company name finally changed to BlackBerry.  When they had almost as much money as Carlos Slim, or Oprah Winfrey, they endowed a think-tank known as CIGI, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, who try to show political entities all over the world, how to run their fiefs cheaper, smoother, fairer.

RIM Corp also created the Perimeter Institute, a collection of mathematicians, cosmologists, theoretical physicists and quantum mechanics experts, guys with really tiny wrenches.  Supported by BlackBerry, they’re busily trying to develop things like FTL space-drives, teleportation systems, and quantum computers.

It’s been visited by the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is bringing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos back to TV.  Steven Hawking has stopped by to bless and anoint it, and is returning this spring.

After RIM/BlackBerry became rich and famous, the two inventive, innovative founders were eased out by the shareholders, and a bean-counter administrator was hired to run it.  Run it he did – almost into the ground.  While it was in its death spiral, he grabbed his $55 million Golden Parachute and bailed out.

The latest CEO seems to be turning it around.  A 3000 unit order by a major US police department is not enough alone to revive it, but is a vote of confidence which may have caused Ford Motors to decide to put BlackBerry technology in their cars.

When they were carving BlackBerry’s tombstone, Panasonic moved into my old auto plant.  Merely a marketing and R&D office at first, they soon made it clear that they were willing to purchase real estate that RIM was selling off and use it to manufacture Panasonic Smartphones locally.

A couple of years ago, Google opened an office in a rehabilitated tannery, a block beyond the new pharmacy school, sharing space with automation and robotics firms.  The area is so promising that they have decided to expand, moving up the street beside Panasonic, into a space where I used to make Jeep parts.

When I started working there, my favorite local radio station played good, solid, baby-boomer Rock and Roll.  Over the years it changed to Soft Rock, and then to Pop, and finally to Bubble-gum, not fit for anyone over 22 to listen to.

A young man at the plant introduced me to his station.  Coming from just at the edge of clear reception, 35/40 miles away, it loudly and proudly called itself The Hawk.  For years it played only Classic Rock!  Sadly, commerce and changing demographics forced it also to change to Soft Rock, and finally Pop, under the inspiring moniker, More Radio.

I don’t think I was exposed to Justin Bieber, but I heard his girlfriend, Selena Gomez, and the entitled and irritating Taylor Swift, who I never, never, ever want to have to listen to again.  One evening recently, the son wanted More information about the ex-Hawk station, so he accessed their website.  He came rushing out of his room and turned the stereo in the living room on.

Apparently, at 5 PM on a Friday evening, without any hoopla, or even a warning announcement, they quietly changed to All-Country, all the time.  I have become my father.  The radios in the house and car have gone silent.  It’s all right though.  If any of you have words of consolation for me, I can’t hear them.  I took a screwdriver and poked my eardrums out.

Some of it’s good.  Some of it’s….meh.  I’d settle for a lot less, “Plus Ça change,” and a bit more of “la même chose”!  Alas, woe is me!    😉

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The Rewards Of Radio

When I was a child, we had a radio, AM only, an old Stromberg/Carlson with a large crack in the top of its one-piece Bakelite plastic case.  It had a loose connection, and sometimes stuttered or cut out.  A good whack on the top usually got it going again, but obviously someone had been a little too enthusiastic with a thump.  It had a copper wire which ran out a window to a steel stake in the ground, to use the earth as an assistant receiver.  We even paid a “radio licence fee” for several years, for the right to listen to free, open broadcasts.

Since my father was a part-time entertainer, he listened to it a lot, to hear songs he could use in his once-a-week act.  Later, we got a better radio/record player combo, and I heard much Big-Band sounds, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, The Ames Brothers, and soundtracks from musicals.  As the Fifties wore on, Rock-and Roll replaced Swing.  Dad listened to radio less, and I listened to it more.  By the time I got married in 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, we owned a radio which was turned on as soon as someone reached the living-room in the morning, and didn’t get turned off till we watched TV, or went to bed.

I didn’t “listen” to radio, so much as absorb it.  Hear the same song by the same artist a thousand times, and I could soon “Name That Tune” in two notes.  Radio stations began running phone-in contests, to prove to advertisers how many people listened to them.  Finally, my head full of useless trivia became useful.

Actually, the wife was the first one in the family to win something from a radio station.  Pre-Tim Horton’s, a local small doughnut chain offered a dozen high-quality doughnuts to the first person to tell how they were invented….and we were off.  As addicted listeners, we were often able to take a shot at a radio contest.  Sometimes you had to be the correct-number caller, but if we got through, we usually had the right answer.

A brash young DJ came to town, and started on the over-night show.  I often called him at the station, to alleviate his, and my, boredom.  I was the one who called him to show where the mistake in Billy Joel’s song, You’re Only Human, was.  The first Friday night I let my son accompany me on my security job, the young DJ jokingly held a “Guess The DJ’s Lunch” contest, at three in the morning.  My son’s phone-in stab wasn’t even close, but it was amusing enough to get us the chance to meet him in person, for a restaurant breakfast in the morning.  We showed up at a store-opening remote broadcast, and he named us on-air, and described us as “the two-man motorcycle gang.”

The local station was supposed to have run a series of give-aways of tickets for the premier showing of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, Commando, but forgot to schedule it.  On the Friday afternoon, they suddenly revealed on-air that they had 20 four-packs, for the first people who showed up at the station.  My motorcycle zipped me downtown, and parked easily, while I ran upstairs.  The four of us got to see Arnie mash, crash and bash.

 I was mowing the grass in the backyard one afternoon, when I saw the son hanging out the French door, with the phone to his ear with one hand, and waving frantically to me with the other.  The radio station was offering free tickets to the Michael Keaton, Batman movie, to anyone who knew where Bill Cosby went to university.  The son didn’t know, but he immediately dialled, because, as a Cosby and comedy fan, he knew that I knew, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.  I never stopped cutting grass as he won a night out for us.

As interested in music and radio as I am, the son attended a broadcast-arts course at the local community college, just in time to see automation and syndication scuttle his chances for work in the industry.  He doesn’t even remember what the contest was about, but does remember calling the local Pop AM station one day, and winning a VHS tape, and 12-inch action figure (It’s not a doll.  It’s for boys.) of the kids’ movie, “Indian In The Cupboard.”  Not age-specific for him, he turned them over to his appreciative nephew.

I called in and won an evening for four at a newly opened water-park on the edge of town.  That semi-conscious music osmosis came in handy again, although the question wasn’t really that hard.  The guy who won his four-pack the day before I did, said that the song they referred to had the phrase, “Sorry Baby” in it about ten-thousand times, so that’s what he guessed.

After contaminated water killed 7 people in Walkerton, ON, a benefit concert called Watershed was organized to help survivors, and raise awareness.  On the fourth and last year it was held, I managed to win two tickets, and drove the son 75 miles, to roast in a ball park for an all-day show.  There were a total of 11 acts, the third last of which was Teri Clark, a well-known female Canadian Country singer.  She was followed by Joe Cocker, who was older than I was, but pumped out more energy than I ever could.  We wormed our way right up front to see Joe.  The finale act was the great Canadian rock band, The Guess Who, who made an afternoon of sunburn well worthwhile.

As my grumpy-old-dudeness ossifies, I understand why my Dad turned off his radio in his later years.  “They haven’t written a decent song since before Disco!!”  “What’s Disco Grandpa??”  I used to haunt the second-hand record, and then CD stores.  “Have you ever heard of the Greg Kihn Band?”  Now, what little music I listen to is available for download from the net.  Excuse me; I have to turn my hearing aid….ah, Assistors, up.