Saturday, September 20, 2008


On Traveling

Friday, September 19, 2008
Toronto, ON, Canada

Outside the Game:
After work on Friday, I was going to fly up to Toronto out of LaGuardia. Apparently not learning my lesson from last trip, I booked on American Airlines regional service, American Eagle.

After arriving at the airport with no problems, and having a plane at the gate, I wondered what would inevitably go wrong. The answer would be no crew. We were delayed nearly two hours waiting for our crew to arrive from a connecting flight that had been delayed. Presumably to keep us occupied, they made us switch to another gate and then back again. The majority of people on the flight looked to be commuters who were going home to Toronto for the weekend, and it was a full flight. They were taking the news even worse than myself, and their overreactions helped me to keep the situation mildly in perspective.

We were going up on one of those flying buses, but I tend to prefer them for short trips. There is no First Class bullshit or pre-boarding. Everyone just gets on the plane and sits down, so there isn't the inevitable problems that happen on larger planes, like one entitled person blocking the rest of the plane until they stow their three illegal carry-ons.

Once we got a crew, boarded, and then had our requisite wait for a runway slot, the flight itself was quick and uneventful. Upon landing, I was confused by patient and helpful airport staff helping me to get a cab. Just for fun, there was construction going on the highway to delay me some more getting to the hotel.

The Accommodations:
Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
I booked a nice room in a nice hotel as part of my package deal, but my delayed arrival was disorienting.

I stepped out of my cab, and was greeted by the disappointed stares of a throng of 30-something women dressed like retired hookers. Upon checking in, I was told that there was an event happening in the hotel restaurant for an American band. As I was finishing my check-in, the women started going crazy as a strangely familiar-looking, lumbering, lurch-looking individual got out of a limo. Then someone walked by with a stage pass for New Kids on the Block. Yes, the New Kids on the Block were not only doing their reunion tour in Toronto that night, but they were having an event at my hotel. To my eternal shame, I did not blow up the hotel to ensure their demise. History will judge me poorly.

By the time I got to my room, it was past the time for room service, and the restaurant itself was closed due to the NKotB event. I was in the Financial District, so there weren't any nearby restaurants still open. There weren't even any vending machines. I was left to go through the complex machinations to open my minibar and spend $10 on a small Sprite and some pretzels to tide me over until the morning.

On Canada

Rogers Centre
Rogers Centre, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Boston Red Sox vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Rogers Centre
Major League Baseball, American League
Toronto, Ontario Canada
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
As it was an early afternoon game, there wasn't much to do before the game besides getting breakfast, meeting up the local with whom I was seeing the game, and walking down to the stadium.

Afterwards, I got the tour of Toronto, starting down on the waterfront. On the way, we passed lamps with nipples on their tops and what can only be described as the palatial Hockey Hall of Fame building. (Though, disappointingly, it turns out that it had just moved to the current stately old building after running out of space at its last facility.)

On getting to the waterfront, it turned out that the Canadian armed forces were holding a free recruitment drive on one of their ships, a patrol frigate of which they were very proud. That we were in Canada was evidenced by a number of things. The gangway to get onto the ship was the most rickety, take-your-life-into-your-own-hands affair to which I have ever been party. Once on the ship, there was what could only be called minimal security. There were a couple of boxes and doors locked and some rudimentary guide ropes, but on the bridge, for example, everything was not only operational, but turned on. Sitting down at one of the active weapons stations, I felt I was in possession of enough knowledge to activate, arm, and fire one of the weapons if I was feeling particularly brave. Alas, my constitution was not up to the attempt.

We wandered about the waterfront for a while longer before resting on a "wave" bench right on the water. This is another thing that would not pass muster in America as 1) It was artistic, and 2) It was incredibly unsafe. The undulating bench had under a foot clearance in front of the water. Considering that I nearly fell in twice, I can only imagine how many people they fish out of there in a given week. It was, however, a nice place to watch ducks eat moss.

We eventually walked up the Toronto version of Chinatown and had a nice meal at a Chinese noodle house, followed by some desert courtesy of Tim Horton’s.

After dinner, it was more wandering around town, visiting their version of Times Square (a mall with a ton of new digital billboards -- perfect, really), an old Church the city has surrounded (complete with its own maze), and the new City Hall.

The last was of some notice to me, because it struck me how completely wrong some architecture can be. City Hall was arranged so that it was a divided shell of a circle. There are no windows on the outside, only facing inward towards the other side of the circle. Unless you come right up to it, you can't see in. Is that really what you want your city government to project? A building that turns its back to the public and seems only accountable to itself, and takes a good bit of effort to even seen inside at all? It strikes me as the wrong (or, perhaps at least the most truthful) message to convey.

At the Game with Oogie:
I met a local Blue Jays fan for the game proper. We sat in the middle tier of seats, not in the largely abandoned upper decks, but not at field level, either. We were right by the first base bag, and they had a great view.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome) was an interesting place. The Rogers family seems to own most of Toronto. They own the stadium, the cable company, some TV stations... it is like Rupert Murdock's wacky Canadian cousin.

The stadium itself is a little odd. It is a dome with artificial turf, and the dimensions of the stadium were certainly on the small side (400 to the center field wall), and the field itself appeared the smallest of all the domed parks I saw so far. With the dome open, as it was for my game, the CN tower looms quasi-majestically overhead.

In the center field wall, the adjoining hotel juts into the complex, with a wall of suites that looks down onto the field. They had to stop taking TV shots of that area during games because the suites became exhibitionist central, which I suppose could have been predicted with a tiny amount of forethought. Underneath the hotel area is a restaurant that apparently went out of business. And so it goes.

The Centre was clearly one of the late 80s domed stadiums that they tried to spruce up however they could. It was a weird combination of luxury bars and suites combined with exposed cement support groins jutting out at random intervals.

The jumbotron had some amusing animations before the game, both playing on the titular bird. One had a Yankee fan getting crapped on by a blue jay to promote an upcoming series. The more amusing was a completely over-dramatic flight of a blue jay whipping up a whirlwind with its wings and then flying through the opposing team's logo, exploding it. And the only thing I could think was, "You know that is a blue jay, right?"

Because this was one of the last series against the Red Sox and significant to their playoff hopes, easily half of the fans in the stadium were Red Sox fans. A group in front of us had t-shirts made up for their trip (as they apparently were in Toronto for all three games). While they made a lot of noise, the locals were surprisingly able to drown them out most of the time, especially when they had something to cheer about. With the exception of one bean-eater who did the "stand up and turn around" agitation, the Americans were well-behaved.

The Hot Dog:
In keeping with the unassuming nature of Canadians, the park dog did not have a special name, but it was a larger and better than average dog.

The Game:
I can never seem to see a proper "pitcher's duel" on these trips. They usually end as a blowout or a slugfest. Again, I was faced with two "aces" squaring off (Halladay vs. Lester), and by the end of the second inning, it looked like I was in for more of the same, as the runs kept adding up. But it was a strange game in that the after the third inning, both pitchers calmed down to some quick innings in the middle of the game.

The Blue Jays stuck it out, however, winning 6-3 and sending half a stadium of Red Sox fans home unhappy.

The Scorecard:
Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, 09-20-08
Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, 09/20/08. Blue Jays win, 6-3.
The scorecard was part of the $5 program. It was not outstanding, but certainly solid, with enough space for the tasks at hand.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Metropolitan again, sadly NKotB-less, however.

As part of my hotel package, I got a discount on their fancy-pants buffet at the restaurant where the NKotB had their event the night before. Not having had a proper meal in about 16 hours, I absolutely destroyed the buffet, but not without incident. The beverages of your choice came with the breakfast buffet, and I ordered some decaffeinated tea. I noticed that there was a lipstick stain on my cup, which I pointed out to the waiter, who reacted as though I had just told him his father had murdered my father. There were apologies both numerous and extravagant. He pulled a cup from a nearby table, for my tea.

The statement that this cup had an even larger lipstick stain had scarcely passed my lips before absolute anarchy exploded onto the scene. The waiter began simultaneously apologizing and damning the overnight washing crew. Within moments, a new cup was at my table that was polished so brightly that I could see my soul in it. While the staff did what could only be called a Level 1 Diagnostic on all the tableware, the Manager came out and apologized to me personally. I think someone may have been fired over it.

On Timeliness

Toronto International Airport
Toronto International Airport
Sunday, September 21st, 2008
Hoboken, NJ

Outside the Game:
I had the foresight to book my flight in the early afternoon, giving me the opportunity to sleep in a little and still get breakfast.

I used my second voucher for breakfast downstairs and once again absolutely destroyed their buffet, and then strolled out to get my cab to the airport. In calling the concierge’s desk the night before to book my ride, I found out that the construction on Friday was a mere appetizer to today, where they shut down the entire highway to do construction. I had to go back streets all the way, so I allotted some extra safety time just in case. My driver had particularly strong feelings on the subject of the construction, but thankfully I napped through most of them.

As was the case with most of my travels home, there were no delays. Avoiding the traffic for the afternoon ballgame, my trip to the airport only took about ten minutes more than via the highway. This gave me ample opportunity to wander around the airport and spend every last cent of my Canadian money before coming home.

In one of these transactions, I found I was three cents short, and asked if I could use three American pennies instead, to which they readily agreed. Now, they were getting screwed about 10% on the deal at the time, and although it was only three cents, I just can't imagine that American airports would be as accommodating, especially when the exchange rate was in our favor. There's probably some larger point to be made, but here we are.

The airbus home left on time and flew without incident.

2008 Stand-Alone Trip