I, for one, plan on dancing myself clean of 2017 tonight.

New Year’s Eve. Not that all new years are created even. My 2017 was a trying time. It was a year where things felt stagnant. I’ve never experienced such a strong sense of inertia. I had a lot of dismay around my career and the lack of progress. For the first time in quite a while I actively worried about where I was going with my life. There was a general sensation of “fine but unexciting” which I’m guessing is what adulthood is all about. Towards the end some wheels began turning, which makes me think that 2018 could be a year of meaningful recalibration. A personal state of the nation and mission statement towards living the life I want. 2017: Not a total trash fire, but a necessary pit stop.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Here are some neat things I did in 2017:

  • I turned 30. To celebrate, I visited my friends and family back in New Zealand.
  • I ticked Los Campesinos off my bucket list.
  • I visited Montreal. Twice.
  • Trained for Tough Mudder on my own and saw massive results.
  • Had a Portland vacation/culinary awakening.
  • Saw my most JFL42 shows ever. 33 gigs over ten days.
  • Made a bunch of new friendships and greatly deepened a few existing ones.
  • Conducted my first ever business pitch meeting, despite being terrified to do so.

There was more, of course. It’s impossible to sum up the ebb and flow of an entire year in a bunch of bullet points and still capture its nuance. I mean, I took a bunch of great poops too, but I somehow they didn’t make the list. Speaking of shit, I thought it’d be neat to look back at some of my New Year’s celebrations that weren’t so happy.

The year 2000 had been riddled with hype. The banks were gonna reset, the world would implode and we’d all ride a wave of mutilation into Armageddon. Instead, I developed a rampant and highly contagious skin rash. I had to be doused in anti-bacterial cream and, being 12 years old, had no grand plans in any case. One of my friends and I rented an N64 from the video store. We played Super Smash Bros all day and night until the Willenium approached. We loaded up on V (a popular guarana based NZ energy drink) and went down to the wharf to watch the New Years fireworks. They were all kinds of uninspiring and I was quite dismayed that the world didn’t end.

Somewhere between 2008-2010 we had a house party. I was surrounded by friends and I was in my early 20s. We’d all planned to be… not sober? Unfortunately we spent $60 on duds and spent the entire night anxiously waiting for them to kick in. The evening shat the bed big time and we drank while mourning the times we could’ve had. Oh to be young again.

In 2011 I was in New York with a group of friends. I finally found somewhere that had Four Loko and I grabbed two cans. I drank one and a half cans (or approximately Six Loko), which kicked in quickly. My friend’s teetotaller boyfriend kept plying me with alcohol and I got way too drunk and emotional. I’d broken up with my longtime girlfriend a few months before leaving for the vacation and hadn’t really processed it. I started loudly weeping, but fortunately my friends just laughed at my misfortune and I didn’t harsh their buzz. Then we went to The Katz’ Deli and I almost got kicked out for significantly failing to understand their ticket based order system.

Last year my girlfriend and I were travelling to New Zealand on the 31st of December. We kissed in Los Angeles at Toronto midnight while eating sub-par, overpriced airport sushi. Then I failed to sleep on planes for the next 20 or so hours.

Let’s raise a toast to everyone’s New Year’s plans being better than any of the ones I just mentioned.

See you next year.

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It was gorge-ous, in case you were quarry-ous.

Adventure day! After many days in a row stuck in Toronto, escape was on the docket. Destination: Elora, a little town maybe 90 minutes out of the city. Where do I start? Well, nothing could keep us from repeating the town’s name in a sing song voice à la Master of None.

With no aux capabilities on the stereo, my girlfriend was forced (enabled?) Into bringing out her teenage CD wallet. We zoomed along the 401 highway cranking a Much Dance compilation and Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill. We weren’t merely travelling, but time travelling. It was interesting getting used to a) driving again, b) driving in snow and c) driving again in snow on the other side of the road. I’m not gonna be melodramatic enough to say that everything changed, but some things threw me off a little. First off, right hand turns on a red. I can’t even remember if there was an equivalent rule back in New Zealand, but it felt like stealing bases. A free pass! The left side being the driver’s side was odd. Mostly when reversing. Every time I had to back up I’d instinctively turn to my left and end up facing the door. Then I’d turn to the right, grab the headrest of the right seat and turn my wheels the wrong way.

Elora was small, walkable and cute. A ton of niche stores with the kind of stuff adults buy to make a house look well travelled. First stop was the Elora Brewing House. It was exactly what you’d expect from a brewery, which I mean only as a compliment. Tasty pub style food and a range of beer on tap. I had a chicken sammy with bacon jam, lettuce and tomato. The home made tomato sauce was super flavorful with a strong ginger taste. The hot sauce was potent and I’m bound to feel it again later.

We checked out a couple of the boutiques around town. The Mermaid Emporium had heaps of inexpensive and nice looking jewelry. Not merely that, but an extensive collection of custom door knockers, handles and coat hooks. Have you ever had a hankering for hanging your coats on a line of dog butts? If not, we wouldn’t connect on any wavelength and I question why you’re reading this. My girlfriend and our travelling buddy bought a couple of things and we set out to see what else the town held. We looked into a bunch of windows, then settled on a cringeworthy looking gift store. It had more than the usual complement of Live Laugh Love placards and some eerily targeted divorce wine glasses. I guess there’s a market for everything.

The gorge and quarry, two local attractions we’d been keen to check out, were in opposite directions. People had suggested the quarry would likely resemble a large hole filled with snow, so the gorge sounded slightly more promising. In the summer it offered zipline routes, but covered in snow there were instead just empty tracks. We walked through them, playing in the snow like witless children. We stood on the zipline platform and witnessed the beautiful vista of the frozen gorge. We followed the track to a walkable over-bridge and saw an even better view, lit by the pink hues of fading sunlight. The cliffs were steep, indebted and chipped away through time. A small river ran through the mostly icy depths, opening up as it ran past the bridge. We messed around in the snow a bit more until frostbite threatened to claim our appendages. We hopped back in the car back towards home, content with a fun day out. So fun, in fact, that I forgot how much I wanted a fish sandwich until we were too far to turn around. Well, well, well, Elora, I guess you haven’t seen the last of me!

Beats Jabber-walking any day.

Today is a good day. It may have started with me getting distracted by a gif of a Komodo dragon swallowing a monkey whole and going the wrong direction on the subway, but things will get even better than that impossible high. I get to drive today!

Moreover, I get to drive in the snow. The last time I did that I was in control of a fuckoff-sized RV rig. This time I get to be in a svelte Honda accord. It has snow tires and everything. I’ll get to discover the many menaces of winter car ownership (for a day). This will involve shovelling the carport to enable parking and leaving. I’ll have to brush off the snow before departing for our journey. The tank will have to be kept at over half-full to prevent it from freezing. I’ll do that towel on the windscreen trick. I’ll switch up following times from the 3-4 second rule to the 8-10 second rule. I’ll slow the fuck down and accelerate/brake gradually. I’ll watch my turns and try not to come to a complete stop if I can help it. I’ll try to gain momentum at the top of a hill rather than accelerate hard as I’m driving up it. In short, I’ll drive like I’m piloting the Stair Car.

Note: Watch for Hop Ons.

The other day a friend messaged asking if my girlfriend and I wanted to take a short day trip. Instantly and without thinking, I said yes. Here’s the thing, moving to Canada I resolved to travel as much as possible. Then I arrived in Toronto and had no money. Travelling a bunch when I could only just make rent seemed non-plausible. Eventually I got back to full time work, but I had to build my savings back up. Eventually I had enough cash to see the sights, but figured since I wasn’t stuck in the arse end of the world I’d do better to check out other countries. Canada kept getting left by the wayside.

You know what? I’ve been driving for years, but renting a car is expensive. I can’t afford to own a car in Toronto, so going on impromptu day trips feels outside the realm of possibility. So when my friend asked if we wanted to go on a day trip I thought fuck it and resolved to go whatever it took. Spontaneity and all that. I chatted with friends at a party about where we should go and a friend chimed in “oh, you can take my car.” Everything came together. It was such a generous offer that I couldn’t say no. Even better is that it’s an old reliable machine. I’d feel petrified to drive something new and flashy, like I was inside a vehicle made of eggshells. She’s adamant that, while she doesn’t expect us to trash her car, if anything happens it’s not the end of the world. Amazing, right?

No, I’m not planning on trashing the car.

It’s crazy how much opportunity having a car opens up. My head is swimming with ideas like could we do a Costco run? What about IKEA? Imagine loading groceries instead of carrying bags. The joy of riding or going for joyrides in general is heightened, but I’m likely just gonna use it for the drive tomorrow and that’s it.

O frabjous day! Car-llooh! Car-llay!

Are French adolescents poutine-agers?

Frankly, I’m surprised I can still move. Since arriving in Montreal I’ve done nothing but consume. Endlessly. Each leg of my journey has been spent wandering in the direction of something else to eat or drink. It’s been marvellous.

Tired and hungover, I dove headfirst into my leftover poutine. Straight umami, it was everything greasy and fatty that my body craved. I’d known it was the right choice the previous night, but suddenly the act of taking half back in a doggy bag carried new weight (as I’m sure I will after several days of living large). Reinvigorated, I set out to explore the plateau.

If there’s been but one redemptive quality to my weekend of excess, it’s that I haven’t bothered with public transportation. Knowing that I was here so briefly, I’d resolved myself to checking out The Plateau and The Mile End in depth. They’re my kind of neighbourhoods and they’re also handily in walking distance from the Air BnB. By walking distance, I mean under 4km. So I’ve walked. I probably walked at least 7-8km yesterday. I don’t think it’s offset all of my indulgences, but was that ever the point?

Anyway, let’s get to the indulgences! First up, I went to Dispatch coffee to write. My girlfriend and I loved it last time we were here. It’s the kind of cafe where they have three people behind the counter, all engaged in a production line of making the best possible coffee. The kind of place that measures each shot. Pedantic perfectionism, or at least the kind of stuff I love to expect from any decent place.

Perked up, I walked St-Laurent towards the Mile End. A friend had given a handy guide to good places in each area of the city and I was keen to follow their obvious sage advice. I knew I couldn’t do a Montreal trip without stopping in at St Viateur bagels. I was hoping they’d do some kind of bagel sandwich thing loaded up with toppings, but it was literally just a bunch of people bagging bagels for a constant line of customers. I ordered an “everything” bagel and like a true madman, took a bite sans toppings. It was fantastic. Dense without being too airy or chewy. There was a natural sweetness to the bagel that came through eating it plain. New York bagels can suck it. Definitely stopping back there to grab a bunch before I leave.

Truly though, I’d had my heat set on some manner of sandwich. My friend’s list came through and suggested a local Portugese churrasco-(rie?) called Serranos. An innoccuous little spot, the guy behind the counter asked if I wanted light or dark meat, then proceeded to cut up a wing with a pair of meat scissors. He pulled out the bones, lathered up the sandwich up with mayo and hot sauce and loaded up with veggies. It was warm, delicious and satisfying. I was having a great bread day.

One of the interesting things that’d been listed in my friend’s suggestions was this jean outlet called Jeans Jeans Jeans. It was a little off the beaten track, but walking in I saw how they’d justified all three “jeans”s. Racks on racks on racks, walls full of jeans. All cuts and colours, high end brands reduced and cheaper stuff too. Winter coats, leather jackets, belts and graphic tees. It was all high quality stuff at decent prices. I had something super specific in mind and couldn’t find what I wanted at the price I wanted, so I only came away with a nice new belt. I was sorely tempted by a pair of glow in the dark jeans, but couldn’t justify spending $100 or so on novelty pants, even if they were very nicely made.

On my day of bread, I figured why not double down on yeast? One of my fellow rideshare passengers had suggested a cosy little bar that was only a kilometre or so away. I stopped in and tried a rhubarb stout. It was tart and intriguing, conducive to collapsing onto the table and loading up on wifi. I still had hours to kill before meeting up with my conference friends. What was I to do?

The answer obviously was to seek out more baked goods. The Plateau has a cluster of renown bakeries. Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann in particular is a Montreal institution. The Kouign Amann is obviously their specialty, but I tried that last time I was here. Instead I grabbed a little pecan tartlet. The pastry was rich and buttery, with a satisfying crunch. I often stay away from French cuisine because it’s so laden with fat, but goddamn they do get baking right.

The next hour or two were spent wandering, then ferrying gear back from the hotel to the Air BnB. More walking, but frankly that was kind of welcome. I got to crash on the couch watching Adventure Time for a bit, charging my phone and taking a breather. Time passed and the conference ended. I headed back out to grab dinner with everyone.

We ended up at a quiet upstairs section of this larger bar. They brewed all their beer in house and there was a tiny kitchen attached to the bar. I ordered a dark lager and a rabbit burger. I hadn’t tried rabbit in years and was curious. It was fantastic (I guess you could say I was lapin’ it up). A little tougher than standard burger meats, they’d compensated by slathering the bun with a gorgeous home made dijonnaise, grilled corgettes and stacked it on a bed of alfalfa sprouts. I loved it, but my friend sitting opposite ordered French Onion soup and I got food envy. I ordered one. The broth was thin but flavourful. Caramelised onions clustered around the bottom and it was filled with large soaked croutons. The whole soup was covered with a blanket of cheese, which mixed decadently with the rest of the soup. Sublime. I was fat and happy.

Geez, writing it all out like that, it does seem like a lot. Then again, what else are holidays for? Escapism takes many forms and if I need to escape into the depths of my stomach, that sounds like quite the trip to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go and find something for breakfast.

Turns out making bacon is not how you win the game. My childhood was a lie!

Bonjour tout le monde.

Turns out I didn’t get moidered en route (that’s French for “on the way”. I’m all fancy and French now). My fellow travel pals were friendly, though the front seat passenger didn’t talk much. She kept sipping from a mysterious pink thermos. I think it’s reasonable to assume it was straight peppermint schnapps. The driver was a nice guy, though I was more than mildly concerned about the massive crack cutting a right angle through his front windscreen. My fellow backseat bud was this chipper French Canadian dude who’d just returned from a couple of months travelling abroad. We chatted for most of the journey about all matter of ephemera. Sweet guy. The journey was mostly uneventful, aside from running into a massive two hour delay caused by construction on the highway, but after seven hours in a car, I was too stoked to be in Montreal to care.

My friend wasn’t getting out of Pycon until 6.30pm, so I had time to kill. The guy from the backseat was hungry and had spent the trip whetting my appetite for gorgeously excessive poutine. I asked him to lead the way. He was a chef by trade, so I asked him what it was that really stuck out about this particular place La Poule Mouillée. He said it was a Portugese joint across from the most popular poutinerie in Montreal: La Banquise. Banquise has been an institution for years, but Poule Mouillée had perfected their production process, taking care to spice at every point. The fries were crunchy, the gravy was rich, fatty and spicy, the chicken was cooked over a rotisserie, the curds were squeaky and it was all topped with sliced chorizo. Everything he said was true. The composite parts tasted fantastic on their own, but combined became something greater. It was by far the best poutine I’ve ever eaten. The portion was so massive that I got a doggy bag (and handily had half left for a hungover breakfast. He asked for my number so we could keep in touch back in Toronto and we parted ways. I was off to explore Montreal!

It’s funny, but after having been to Montreal a few times now I’ve got vague bearings on the place. I kind of know where things are, but it’s not till I walk the streets that it really comes back to me. In a rare form of smart thinking, I downloaded the Montreal map for offline use. It’s been a godsend. I don’t have internet here and with an offline map you can still search things up. Very handy. Before I left, my friend gave me a large list of recommendations. The map’s helping me snipe them off one by one. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ll see much more than the Plateau and Mile End while I’m here, but honestly that doesn’t seem like a big issue. There’s a ton to see here.

I met up with my friend, dropped off my stuff in the hotel room and grabbed dinner (well, he did. After that 5pm half-portion of poutine I wasn’t gonna be eating for the rest of the night). We had a pretty handy and honest conversation about work progression that I think I really needed. Spirits lifted, we headed to the nearest depanneur to seek out our treasured trash juice: Four Loko. Unlike conservative Ontario, the Four Loko in Montreal is 11.9% rather than a feeble 8%. It’s deviance in a can. We bought two (or approximately eight Montreal Loko (a single Montreal Loko is 3.9% more potent of the equivalent serving of Toronto Loko)) and went off to meet some of my friends. They’d rented an Air BnB and said it was really flash. It exceeded expectations by several kilometres. Three large bedrooms (one with its own walk in closet), all with plush memory foam queen beds. A long lounge/kitchen with art hung everywhere. Very tastefully designed and decorated. The bathroom looked like it belonged in a high class hotel. The place was insane and apparently $250 or so per night. Split between six people, it was crazy affordable. Cosy and full of cheer, we drank.

Everyone was super friendly and I had a riot of a time. With just the right amount of Loko and some delicious unibroue beers, I was in the mood to party. Someone pulled out Pass the Pigs (a game I hadn’t played since I was a kid. I also don’t know if I ever really knew the rules) and I slaughtered everyone. After four rounds I think I had 99 points, the next closest was about 60 or so. It was ridiculous. Everyone was some shade of programming geek and one of my other friends was unexpectedly there too. It was awesome seeing my one friend get on so well with the others and it sounds like they’ll keep hanging out back in Toronto. Things went really late and since they ended up having an entirely spare queen bed, I crashed at the Air BnB and left my friend the hotel room to himself. It’s 1pm and I think my body has finally worked off the poutine. Sounds like it’s time to put it back to work and grab some lunch.

Au revoir!

Time for a getaway. My tréat.

Welp, I decided to bite the bullet and take a vacation of sorts. Call it a holdover from living in a country that was a day’s travel from almost anywhere else, but if I have time off work I feel guilty spending it at home. There’s so much world to explore out there and it’s considerably closer than a day away. In fact, one of the most appealing things about coming to live in Toronto was its proximity to other big, exciting cities. Boston, Chicago and New York are a mere hour’s flight from home. It’s silly that I don’t take more advantage of it.

Big American cities aren’t the only things that’re close by either. It’s easy to forget when you’re nestled in the extensive boundaries of the GTA, but there are a bunch of places not too far from Toronto. Cottage Country is only a couple of hours away. I’ve been meaning to check out Ottawa for some time. Also who can forget that we’re a hop, skip, jump and a small car ride away from one of the natural wonders of the world: Niagara Falls. So why do I keep going back to Montréal?

Montréal has an allure I find hard to resist. It’s effortlessly cool, incredibly pretty and unflinchingly debaucherous. The fact that most denizens speak French makes it feel like you’re in a different country (I’m sure that was the point). That’s an adventure in itself, considering how abysmal my French is. Then there’s the food. A fascinating combination of haute cuisine and lowbrow fare. I can’t think of a better way to describe my tastes. I can get decent coffee, fancy brunches and buy 11% Four Loko from a depanneur. Paradise.

Why this weekend? There’s a Python programming conference (coding, but not of the genetic kind) going on and I’ve got a bunch of friends attending. Hell, I think one of them might be helping to organise the whole thing. When I suggested that I could come to Montréal for the weekend they immediately offered lodgings. I’m crashing with a friend in his hotel room tonight and tomorrow a bunch of friends have space in their Air BnB. I’m pretty lucky and can’t wait to see them. They’ll all be busy during the day, so I’ll use the time to explore the city. Maybe I’ll check in with my family who live there. Then once they’re finished we can all hang out and get messy. Oddly enough, one of the things I’m most excited about is introduce my hotel friend to the others. I think they’ll click immediately.

Now all that’s standing between me and a weekend of urban exploration is getting there. Canada has this rideshare system called Kangaride. You basically book a seat in a stranger’s car. It’s costing me $80 total for a return trip, which seems pretty reasonable. I’ll also acknowledge that it’s a total roulette spin. I could be trapped in a car full of blood obsessed cultists or Big Bang Theory fanatics. It could also be a really enjoyable, fulfilling experience spending time with friendly strangers. The last time my girlfriend and I used the service we had a fantastic time having all manner of discussions with lovely talkative and intelligent passengers. So let’s spin that wheel. What’s the worst that could happen?

If you never hear from me again, tell my girlfriend I loved Her. The Spike Jonze film, that is.

What’s left to leave?

Sooo, impromptu borderline mandatory holiday. I’ve got seven days of leave remaining (notice how I skirted over saying “leave left”? I didn’t really. I just deleted it once I typed it. Then I thought I’d be all ironic pointing out how dumb that’d be. Then I lost all manner of credibility by explaining exactly what happened and how ironically unironic this whole uninspired mess was. This is why most of the time I just hit the backspace key a bunch of times and move on. Speaking of which, how about we move on?) and only five days I’m allowed to transfer to next year. Thus I have the next two Mondays off. I would’ve chosen more opportune days and planned things out, but with two people leaving the team, I’m gonna have to shoulder a ton of extra work. Considering we need to do the majority of our work in advance, if I didn’t take a holiday RIGHT NOW, it’d be more work to take the holiday than it’d be worth.

I certainly didn’t need to have any more excuses to hate my job right now, so let’s table that for some other time. Relentless negativity feels cliché in a world that seems to be fuelled by it.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this holiday coming together. It’s short notice and I don’t have a car. People are too busy for last minute excursions and I wouldn’t expect anyone to just drop their shit and go. A friend actually offered her car for Monday if I want it which is lovely, but the point isn’t just to get away. I’m looking to share experiences with people. If she wanted to go on an adventure I’d be all for it. I’m tired of travelling alone. I want to do dumb shit with friends. I want to check out small towns. Go to diners, local bars, thrift shops. Adopt my bullshit elitist big city persona and laugh with someone about how quaint and adorable everything is. Imagine an alternate existence where I grew up in a small town and getting drunk at the dilapidated skate park was the highlight of my week. Think about how it felt to have dreams of getting out of that podunk town and just drive until I saw the lights.

Then I could marvel to myself that everything worked out in reality. That this timeline is the one where I got out. That I live dwarfed by cityscapes and feel comfort in my own insignificance. Where opportunity is around every corner and all I need to do is ask around. Where it’s possible to be cynically optimistic, because even if things seem shit now they could all turn on a dime.

That had I stayed home things would’ve stayed fine but unexciting. That eventually I’ll learn to push myself and make it happen. That I will find a breaking point because I have to. Because otherwise I’ll spend the rest of my life telling myself stories of what it’d be like to escape and find myself. Because otherwise I’ll never really feel at home.

For these next two weekends, however, I’m on vacation. So fuck “home”.