092 – OC Transpo Strike Started a Year Ago

200912_09_02 - Mailman

200912_09_03 - Blizzard

200912_09_04 - Crow

200911_22_01 - Wall-E CakeAlign Center

So the OC Transpo strike started a year ago. And looking back at it all, I still have these annoyed feelings about the fact that it happened, and they didn’t really get anywhere, since the reason for it ending was originally on the table as a way to prevent it. And lately, I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with the service. I actually called and made a complaint about an issue, but that doesn’t go far enough. Maybe I’ll write them a letter old-person-style, stamps and all.

That first day of the strike wasn’t unlike today – blizzardy. It felt like the first true day of winter – just in time for the Christmas season too! And only 9 more days until I’m done school for the year. Then a bit longer.

Then what? I do have some ideas, some of which (unfortunately) involve even more school. We’ll see what grows to fruition.

Speaking of school, here’s a sequence I worked on with my teammates for one of our final projects:

200911_26_01 - Gilette Man

200911_26_02 - Gillette Man Hand

200911_26_03 - Gillette Man Photoshop

Dave, our model, is part of an ad campaign for Gillette’s line of hair care products. We got a picture of him holding the bottle. While this was a start, it lacked what experts call “oomph”. To fix this, I took a close-up picture of his hand holding the bottle, and with some Photoshop magic, made his picture come to life. Maybe I’ll showcase all the ads next time.

And yes, I had a Wall-E cake for my birthday.

060 – Ottawa should just get a Monorail, like that other place.

The O-Train is running today. People protested the mayor at the Greenboro stop, where he was PRing it up. In one week, I’ll be able to take buses home, but will still need rides to work and be walking to school. Should be exciting.

OH AND I’M GOING TO DISNEYWORLD!

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

Just thought I would throw that out there. Because I’m excited ^_^

059 – Day 51

The bus strike is over. Fifty-One days. To that, add a week to get bare-bonced service back, and between 4 and 12 weeks before full service is restored… That means that I’ll still need to find rides to work in the early mornings and walking to school.

The one thing thats come from this strike is that I now like walking to school. It’s probably the quiet time where I actually get to listen to music that appeals to me the most. It’s almost a shame that it took me 40 days to realise that I should use this strike as an opportunity to eat less junk and become more fit, if only so that I can walk to school all that much faster – not that I would trade an opportunity to do so for another 50 days sans bus. I’ll keep walking to school (at least once a week) as part of my routine, not that I have much of a choice until local service is restored during rush hour.

I mean really? No local service during rush hour? It’s kinda useless, no?

Funny thing is the whole affair could have been avoided if both sides just agreed to arbitration over their differences – which is exactly what happened.

Also, should I watch Mary Poppins? I don’t ever remember seeing it.

057 – Day 38

There was a Friday in November that I considered to be among the worst days of my life. I had bought $100 worth of presents for Christmas, and brought food to work in my Ratatouille bowl. That night, Prashanta picked me up from work, and we went downtown to eat and then meet up with some friends. While at the restaurant, somehow, someone had broken into the car and stolen the gifts and my backpack, and even the spare change ubiquitous to any car. At the time, I thought I had 6 DS games and my mp3 player in by backpack. All I could think about was how rare The World Ends with You is and that I wouldn’t want to restart it from scratch. Or how many crosswords I had completed in Crosswords DS, or how I was going to give my mp3 player away whenever I break down and boy an iPod touch.

Fortunately, I found my mp3 player while cleaning my room! Suddenly, that day didn’t seem so bad. And the other day, I was cleaning out my locker at work where low and behold I found my DS games, complete in the game case Vivi brought back for me from Japan. I was so excited at that moment, you could have compared it to a kid getting what he or she really wanted for Christmas. Except for maybe the Nintendo64 kid.

But I was still out a $50 bag. And gifts that I had to re-buy. I guess it all worked out, mostly.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Transit Union wants to end the strike. If all goes according to (whoever’s) plan (this is), buses could be back as early as the end of next week. I’m excited at the prospect of progress, this being the first possibility of such in a month, but I can’t help but wonder why now. Why not on day 1 of the strike? Why not before the strike? Why not 2 weeks from now? Are the picket lines getting a bit chilly these days? Are union members starting to suffer from not working for 6 weeks? This comes just as withdrawl dates from classes are here. I know people who are dropping courses just because they aren’t able to get to class. Plus, the city is just now lowering downtown parking rates to help out.

The city better use this oppotunity to do what they can to get buses back on the roads. And then both sides will have to work hard at earning everyone else’s trust – and even respect. I’d say it’s pretty likely that we’ll get some ads like this favourite of mine:

056 – Day 36

200901_11_01 - Bucattini DS

200901_14_01 - Cold Trek

200901_14_03 - Bus Stop

200901_14_04 - There's a Path Here, Somewhere

It’s been cold walking to school, today in particular. Lauren Stone of Live 885 warned me at 6:45 this morning that it was -39C with the Windchill. Skin can freeze with 10 minutes of exposure at that temperature. As I snuggled the warmth of my bed, I wondered if it was really worth it to walk to school, a trek that could freeze my skin five times over. “Damned bus strike.” Reluctantly, I pulled myself out of bed and spent the next half hour deciding exactly how to dress. Before stepping out the door, I had the following:

I learned this morning that I have as much experience wearing scarves effectively as I do tying a Windsor knot, possibly because I never wear the darned things (both ties and scarves). Despite this, the scarf was instrumental in keeping me warm for my 50-minute journey.

All that preparation made me late leaving the house, effectively making me late for class. I was also slowed down by my inability to think ahead. Wind usually blows snow around, even though it wasn’t snowing, the path that I described in an earlier post was partially snowed-in in some places. The one time I don’t bring my snowshoes…

In other news, I’m really starting to like Clive Doucet. He’s a city councillor for the Capital ward, central Ottawa. He speaks his mind, and usually his mind is on the people whom he represents. He thinks the 15ish million saved from the bus strike so far, and what they’ll continue to save, should be funnelled back into making OC Transpo free for as long as possible once service resumes. This is probably the most brilliant thing the city can do to gain as many riders as possible. I’d also like to have $40 put in my pocket for the unused December pass I have at home (they cost just over $60 for students… a reasonable request considering I was only able to use it for a third of a month), but I’d settle for $20 February passes. $30 even. At least, this strike better not last beyond the confines of January!

I recently bought Nintendo’s Personal Trainer: Cooking game – and I use the word “game” loosely. It’s more of an interactive cookbook. I finally used it to make bucatini with tomato and pancetta, even though I substituted bucatini with linguine, pancetta with a mix of bacon and pepperoni, and romano cheese with medium cheddar. The result was actually pretty good. Many gamers complain about DLC (downloadable content) and how it can increase the overall cost of a game if you aren’t too careful. I bought Cooking for $20, and spent another $20 gathering the necessary ingredients! And that was for one recipe. How’s that for hidden game costs?! I use the word “hidden” loosely as well, even though there’s no label on the front of the box saying you have to buy food to get the best use out of the software.

I bet I could sue Nintendo for that one. I’ll keep my receipts!

055 – Day 30

Over the years, my wallet and my bus pass have developed a great relationship where they stick together. This help me, since I always know where my bus pass is (unless of course, I don’t know where my wallet is, which happens on occasion). It also helps my wallet and bus pass, since the two of them can talk and cuddle in my pocket.

I’ve only recently decided to split the two up, if only to protect the pass from accidental loss or cold-related fracturing. Plus people make fun of me when they see it! Turns out that my leaving it behind wasn’t premature – Transit workers voted to reject the city’s offer. I’ve had an inkling since the beginning that this strike would last a while, but I’m really starting to get scared at how long it may be before all is well.

To add to my troubles, my laptop needs to be sent away for servicing. Supposedly, my laptop has a fan, and that fan is not spinning at the speed that it’s supposed to be. As a result, my computer can become a makeshift hotplate when needed – and it just turns off sporadically. I’ve already been in the middle of videos or trying to burn disks or in the middle of fun conversations when it has just turned off without as much as a cough. I would hate to be in the middle of an assignment, or online quiz, or presentation.

On a somewhat related note, I must say that I’m impressed with the phone support that I’ve had to deal with of late – with Dell and with TD – the former in dealing with my computer issue, and the latter with a work-related issue. Top notch, helpful bunches of oats those guys are. Perhaps that isn’t exciting as some of the hellish stories you can read about incompetent, rude, unhelpful joes servicing you needs from who knows where, but it’s still very important to praise the good guys when they help.

Now, city and transit unions, please help me to get buses back. Or pay for driving lessons and car insurance.

054 – Day 26

Thursday. Thursday is the day we find out how much longer this transit strike of ours will last. There’s a small part of me that is crossing his even littler fingers in hopes that the wonderful drivers, maintenance staff, and others will vote (thanks to some federal intervention), to have their say on the city’s most recent offer, in favour of the offer. this means buses, after multiple inspections and revving up, will be back within one and a half weeks from now. The bigger part of me, ever sceptical, knows that the vote will ruin any chances of getting back to travel normalcy and that buses won’t be back on the streets until the better part of January – at the earliest. A little Transit Union-run website has this lovely message for its members:

BREAKING NEWS – January 4th, 2009
Forced Second Vote On City’s Latest Offer Details Known

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The vote ordered by Minister of Labour Rona Ambrose and conducted by Canada Industrial Relations Board will be held on:

Thursday, January 8th, 2009
6:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Civic Centre – Lansdowne Park on Bank Street
FREE PARKING AT LANSDOWNE PARK

Please be sure to bring photo identification with you as well as OC Transpo identification on the vote as the Board officers may require it.

Please be sure to vote to reject this offer and show the City our solidarity.

Your future, your families future and your Union’s future depends on this vote.

Please, vote NO.

I have to wonder why this whole process is being drawn out, not unlike a kid looking to hear stories, tell stories, get water, and inspect for monster activity every nook and cranny to avoid going to bed. Any decent person would expect that both sides of any work stoppage, especially one that cripples a city, would work long and hard to resolve their differences. Instead of picturing a bunch of balding, middle-aged men sitting at an uncomfortable table in a windowless, cigarette smoke-filled room into all hours of the morning, I see text messages bouncing back and forth from one blackberry to another:

MaireLaire613: wanna go bak 2 werk?
ACorn279: R U GONNA WIN UR NEXT ELECTION?
MaireLaire613: i’ll txt u after my ski trip.
ACorn279: CAN I COME? I JUST WAXED MY SKIS!
MaireLaure613: r u gonna win ur next election? lolz
OCMercy: burn!

Winter break is over and classes are starting. I imagine many students have worked hard at making exams when the strike started, then relegated their time to becoming hermits, just staying at home whenever possible (or a friend with a fancy car comes along). The weather for my walk to school tomorrow morning: cloudy with sunny breaks, and a high of ohmygosh I still need to walk a hour to get to school! And I shouldn’t even be complaining all that much, because at least I can get to my classes in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort. All the walking I’ll be doing this week will render my Wii Fit useless.

And it’s -3C, for the record, feeling like -9C. Where’s my scarf?

053 – Day Eight

200405_11_04 - Less Old Skool Bus

Just after writing my last blog, I thought about what I would say to the mayor if I bumped into him on the street. What better place to get inspiration that his Web site? There, he blogged about day seven of the strike, not unlike I did. Only, while my post talks of how I’m surviving not having buses, his post was deeply soaked in the unfortunateness of this whole situation, how reasonable he is being, and how his new plan is all about improving safety. After reading a few of his posts, I decided to write him a letter. And after the letter wouldn’t send through the site, I just faxed it to him (yay for that nifty feature I never use on my printer). My letter was strong in its neutrality:

Faced with this transit strike, many people have flocked to Web sites and Facebook groups looking to get around town. I am sure there are some great success stories proving that Ottawa is a great place with great people. We have heard extreme stories in the news of how people cannot get around, are missing appointments, and how businesses are starting to feel the impact of Ottawa-sans-bus.

This past week has been a wonderful experiment. It has shown that for how much ordinary commuters like myself complain about the buses, routes, drivers, and the like, we ultimately need the system and can accept its flaws in the face of the alternative. It is easy to take it all for granted, and commuters and non-commuters alike have really seen this past week how much everyone depends on having OC Transpo. In a lot of ways, they really do carry the community of which they are part.

Hearing that the strike will be at least another week certainly makes me, and I imagine everyone else, sigh and take a moment before having to continue planning how to get to and from the most essential of activities. We start to see first-hand the benefits of compromise. There has been a whole lot of “I’ll go out of my way to drive you to X if you don’t mind arriving 20 minutes early.” and “you can be 10 minutes late, but then you’ll have to do task Y.” For a week, that has worked for many of us. It will for yet another.

Each of us have made sacrifices, whether it was spending more time in traffic, giving up shifts at work, paying more for parking, changing daily schedules, staying in instead of going out, etc. In that spirit, I ask you the City and the transit’s Union to seek out each other’s needs and reach an agreement. Take initiative. Work together to end this dispute so that life in the city and everyone, whether they use OC Transpo services daily or have never stepped foot on a bus, can get back to normal.

In the end, there are no heroes or villains, no offenders or victims, just people. There are you, me, and over million others. It does not matter who is wrong or who is right, just that differences get settled and everyone pushes forward.

Thank you for your time and enjoy the holidays

I wonder if there’s a more innovative way than a fax machine to send a message. If there were, I might be more persuasive in my words.

As we walk into week two of this strike, I’m going to have to get more creative with my getting from place to place. OC Transpo’s Web site has some suggestions:

  • Park & Ride for Carpooling: Not relevant, since I’d have to walk to the nearest park & ride. I may as well spend my energy walking to where I want to be.
  • Carpooling & Ridematching: Ridematching might be something to look into, though I do wonder how reliable it truly is. I kinda carpooled on my way to work today. It was nice.
  • O-Train: Why do they list this as an alternative when it clearly states that service is also disrupted?
  • Taxis: at about 16¢ per 93 metres and a starting price of $3.40, it could get expensive, fast.
  • Para Transpo: Not all that applicable to me, since I dont’ have a short-term or permanent disability.
  • Teleworking: It’s not easy to manage and sell at retail from my own bedroom.
  • Biking: This was an option before the strike started. I guess they took it down when they realised that it was winter, and only the hardcorest of hardcore bikers get out.

I guess I’ll have to be more creative than whoever made up that list.

I’ve also always wondered how many councillors and municipal government types have any real interest in public transit. Looking beyond the strike, I see a light rail platform that’s stuck between Middle-of-nowhere and Not-quite-relevant, with Carleton in the middle. It has been there for close for 7 years, and I don’t see it ging anywhere fast because nobody seems really interested in connecting all corners of the city in a quick, convenient, environmentally gentle (potentially, anyway) way. Whenever it comes time to try to save money the city eliminates and reduces service on some routes rather than trying to plan new routes that would improve efficiency and generate more riders. I truly believe that Ottawa’s bus ridership would jump if it were easier and faster to get to more places. It’s that bump that’s need to make such improvements to the system possible. The city’s transportation people and OC Transpo’s powers that be should be made up of people who are genuinely interested in taking transit to the next level – for the city, commuters, and yes, even drivers.

Note: Eigth days without buses means I have wasted an average of about $16 on my transit pass.

052 – Day Five, Six, Seven

200812_15_01 - The Blah Part of Winter
200812_15_02 - Driveway Cum Pond

200812_15_03 - Nanaimo & Okanagan

200812_15_04 - I'll Take My Chances

200812_15_05 - Bayshore Station

Day five was fun. I arrived at work an hour and a half early (when rides are offered, you don’t really want to push your luck). This allowed me the opportunity to sit down and have breakfast with a coworker. Subway breakfasts have become boring ever since they stopped actually preparing eggs and stopped carrying round 4″ buns; they’re microwave-ready egg patties leave me with an underwhelming ‘meh’. I learned that there was freezing rain going on, so thankfully another coworker offered me a ride home.

On Day Six of this wondrous OC Transpo bus strike, I did the inevitable: I walked to work. With a car, there are half a dozen different routes to take to get there, and two buses (that take the same basic route). That said, there’s no convenient way to actually walk there, not without having to overshoot and circle back, or walking from point A to point B to point C to the Destination. It’s all very awkward, and a lot of it has to do with how poorly planned out the mall and its immediate surroundings were. I opted to use a bunch of side streets that looked via Google Earth to be the best path to take. Had it not been winter, I’m sure there are other shortcuts that could have been explored, but snow limits one’s ability to explore. As does time, and the need to actually have energy to function for the following eight hours.

I also defiantly walked past a “do not walk here” sign on the transitway and walked straight through the station, in the middle of the road. It’s not like there are any buses around to be delayed or hit me, right?

What worked for me was that the temperature was not only above zero, but edging toward double digits. Winter boots kept my feet (mostly) dry as all that snow we’ve been up to started going the way snow does when its warm. Had it been colder, or windy, it might have been hell. Luckily, all I really had to deal with was the splashing caused by vehicles thanks to the watery state of the roads. One driveway I saw during my journey was less a driveway and more a pond.

You also notice in the winter that most of these side streets don’t actually have sidewalks.

Today, I went to pay for my winter semester. The credit card company is probably happy now that I owe them money. I feigned happiness to the woman at the Registrar’s office that I would be getting lots of reward points, kicking myself slightly for not going with the not-so-free credit card plan that rewards me more points for every dollar I spend.

My little cousin drove me, since she had an appointment at the school. It’s moments like that where you realise that the little girl you perceive is actually almost 18, is driving by herself, and is planning to move into a house with a bunch of friends. We talked about drinking and driving and drugs and boyfriends. Very surreal.

Her appointment turns out would last the whole evening, so I walked home rather than wait an hour for a friend to pick me up. I might have waited had I remembered that they day before, snow was melting left, right, and centre, while today it was comfortably below zero. The whole bike path was ice. Yay for winter boot traction!

One week later, I must admit that with a bit of luck and wonderful people patiently dealing with my frequent requests for rides, the bus strike hasn’t been too bad. Sure, I still have some Christmas shopping to do that I haven’t done, and I haven’t had the freedom to go and do things, but I’m still getting to school and work as needed. The two head cheeses behind this kerfuffle still aren’t bending to meet one another at some reasonable medium. Last I heard, there’s talk of possibly talking again “before Christmas”. Here’s to another week of getting around how I have been: one day at a time.

051 – Day 3, 4

I went to Cornwall (city south of Ottawa, on the Ontario-New York border) to make sure a window was installed at my friend’s house. Aside from a brief visit to Niagara falls in the early 90s, this is the closest I have ever been to the US. It took about an hour and a half to get there, and all I could think was “in an hour and a half, I could almost get from home to Carleton University, and back by bus and O-Train”. Or not, since it was the third day of the strike.

While there, my friend’s dad and I begun work on a project that we have. A while back, I may have hinted at something cool I was working on. My friend’s dad writes lots of articles about Nepal. What I had done for his birthday was edit and compile a number of them and make them into a book, using Blurb software. The end result was very good. We’ve decided to use it as a starting point to refine the book and make it sellable. We worked a bit on it, changing a few things here and there. We would have worked more, but the house was cold, so we headed back home. When we got back, I made arrangements to get to work the next day.

200811_19_04 - Insight into Nepal
The Book

Luckily Prashanta and Prabin agreed to take me to work, though we did arrive a little bit late. The one thing I love about going to work every day is that you get to see the changes that occur. Because I hadn’t been there in almost three days, there was a lot to take in: things get moved, things are gone, there are new things, someone changes his or her hair. I don’t know what it would be like to be gone for a week. Or more! Someday, I’ll have to take a trip somewhere and find out. I left work early just because there wasn’t a whole lot to do. It’s proving pretty rough being at retail in a prime holiday shopping season when inventory levels are low. It really becomes a box of chocolates when you throw in a transit strike and weather that can change on a dime.

Fortunately, Prashanta was able to pick me up when I was done. I’m kinda looking forward to the time when I actually walk from home to work, or vice versa. I just want to complain about having had to walk all that. Of course, I think I would want to wear a sandwich board telling those who pass me about my wonderful love for the City and the transit union. I also can’t wait for the Internet to evolve to the point where sarcasm is clearly shown as it is when spoken.

I did play a bit of Metroid Prime with a 12-year old. I absolutely love that game – up until the last region, Phazon Mines. Tallon, Magmoor, and Phendrana are all spectacular levels with so much to discover. I could play that first half of the game over and over and still enjoy the story, the art style, the enemies and bosses… it’s that last part of the game that ruined it for me. Replaying that 6-year old game (!!!!) really stirred my desire to continue playing Metroid Prime 3 for Wii. I’ll get to playing games when I have the time.

200812_13_01 - Windshield View

200812_13_02 - Driving