Friday, October 5, 2012

Ugly Side: Part 3

Calgary Transit

To most, Calgary is a city that's deemed as "rich" by much of the country and world.  Yet, we have a 3rd world transit system. 

For starters, the C Train regularly breaks down.  Follow @calgarytransit on Twitter and you'll see an "issue" at least 3 times a week.   It is impossible to rely on this system to get you places on time.  Previous governments and their pocket book mentality have created a system suitable for a town of 100,000 people, not a major city.   Further to this, the C Train cars are not all air conditioned and the old ones have no air flow at all.  It can (and does) get to 40C in these cars in summer.  Sorry about your suit.  

Now you could always take the bus.  That is of course...if you can get ON the bus.   Take Route 3 for example.  It runs every 5 minutes yet the buses are full.  So full that often times a few of them will drive by before you can get on.  I used to use this bus then realized I was just smarter to walk to work.  Other routes are the same.  Full buses with no space at all.   And if that's not bad enough the drivers turn on the heat when we don't need heat. Do we need heat in a bus with 200 people squished in like sardines?  Often times it's so hot in the buses water vapour drips down the glass.  Again, if you live anywhere in the core, just say no to the bus and walk. It's easier and faster.  Trust me.

Other examples of Calgary Transit stupidity:  When the 10th Ave C Train station was closed down, there was no warning.  When I called Calgary Transit, they told me it was "on the website".   Really?  Do they think I wake up every morning and log into the Calgary Transit website to check the news?  I found out thanks to local media 1 day before it happened.  Clearly other people did too because I walked by the platform the next morning and there was hundreds of confused people wondering what happened. 

Or how about Chinook Station.  This is one of the busiest stations in the city and guess what they are going to do with it?  They're going to close it down while they rebuild it.  25,000 people a day use this station but instead of coming up with a plan, they close it down for apparently 8 months to rebuild it.  The result will be bedlam.  

Or how about expanding the platforms to 4 cars.  This process is going to take something like 3 years.  Oddly, they can build and entire LRT line in less than 3 years (West LRT).  4 car trains would alleviate crowding but they casually set out to change the platforms.  Meanwhile in other parts of the world they can build huge dams, massive skyscrapers & or airports in less than 3 years.   In short it's a fucking joke.  It's another reminder that Calgary Transit doesn't give a shit about YOU the customer. 

I used to be a regular Calgary Transit user.  I then decided I'd just as soon walk to work.  I do.  I spent 90 minutes a day walking to work and home, but it's more pleasant (and sometimes faster than the bus).  No overcrowding, no jerking buses sending you flying.  I also save 94 bucks a month (sans a few bus tickets on rain days). 

Oh and one last thing.  Calgary Transit has no AC on buses.  Needless to say, during summer, it's very sunny and very hot here.  The buses heat up to the point where people pass out.  I've seen men and women dripping with sweat.  It's uncomfortable walking home with business clothes on in 30C, but less so than being on the bus.  At least you get fresh air. 

Ugly side Part 2

The negative side of living in Calgary:  A city with it's head in it's ass. 

Until recently, there was a giant hole in the ground in the Mission.  It was there for 6-8 years.  Truth is, I have no idea how long it's been.   A few blocks away, there are several boarded up houses on 18th Ave.  They've been like that for 5 years.  Same can be found throughout Calgary, especially in the urban areas.  Houses which remain boarded up for years.   You don't have to be born in Detroit to know that a boarded up house doesn't help a neighborhood.  Nor does a big hole in the ground blocking the sidewalk. 

What does the city do?  Well you can complain to the city, but chances are they will do jack shit.  Case in point is John Mar, my own alderman.  Mr Mar has little to say about gaping holes in the ground or boarded up houses.  Yet, when some hippie woman and her kid planted potatoes (to give to the food bank), Mr Mar freaked out and called in bylaw.  The story hit the newspaper.  Now, it was on  a vacant lot (with a absentee landlord) so it was private property but so what.  It's OUR neighborhood, not some asshole absentee landlord.  Yet clearly "Potatogate" was an issue while boarded up crack houses are not. 

And how about parking?   A while back I was standing out front of my condo waiting for a taxi.  I stood watching TWO city parking workers measure to see if a car was too close to the stop sign.  Both of there brought out tape measures, chalk and a long stick to ascertain if the car was.  As I stood there I was reminded of no less than 2 boarded up houses within 2 blocks of where I was.  And I was reminded how the intersection I often walk through has cars who just stop in the middle making it impossible to cross.  Clearly, parking is a high priority in the City of Calgary whereas derelict houses are not. 

Same can be said for the Bylaw Zealots who drive around.  I was helping a buddy fill up a truck after he reno'd his house.  The truck was in the back (big truck for the dump) and bylaw stopped.  They proceeded to lecture us about all the material piled up beside the garage of this house in the alley.   Well duh, that's what the junk truck was for.  He then proceeded to say that just having it there could lead to a ticket.  My response was less than polite & that maybe they should go do something worthwhile with their time as Calgary has a fair share of "serious problems".  

In short, in Calgary, derelict houses are GOOD, parking too close to the stop sign is BAD.  These are the priorities of local city council.   In Calgary, it's all about revenue generation. 

Now the ugly side of things

For the most part I've remained positive on the experiences of "Moving to Calgary".  I believe that finding the good in life simply puts you in a better frame of mind.  Yet, I've had complaints on this blog about how come I never point out the bad side of Calgary.   So I shall

Chapter 1:  If you are a renter

I've rented numerous apartments in my life.  I've had good and bad experiences.  I can say that home ownership brings it's own set of challenges (like making it hard to move if you live next door to a douche).

Renting in Calgary and in Alberta is most likely going to be a bad experience.  Rental costs in Calgary are as high, or higher, than what you would find in the West End of Vancouver.  Often, you will pay outrageous rental costs for buildings that are "sub par" on the best of days.  I know personally of people who have suffered through slum lord type of conditions.  In one case, I went to visit a friend in a building managed by a well known property company.  They had 1 elevator out of service & the other was on "move in".  The result was that everyone had to use the stairs to go up.  That day I just happened to be on crutches due to a previous accident.  7 flights of stairs with a near broken foot.  The person in the building later moved. 

And speaking from personal experience, I once lived in a building in Calgary in an urban area.  The landlord (another well known company) refused to put working locks on the door.  The result was all types of scumbags would come in the building.  Of course nothing says "surprise" like some crack head in your laundry room routing through your wet clothes.   A drug den was later set up behind the place & the company refused to put out any lights.  In fact, it was pitch black back there.  The result was several folks on my floor just vacated their units because they were so afraid.   I also vacated the property & was advised I was in "breach" of my lease.  My response was I had ample evidence of their negligence & told the property manager I would share my findings with every tenant & prospective tenant that came to the building.   I also said they were welcome to sue me (I quote "I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker").   The result was they found a "loophole" to get me out of the building mid lease.  The place was full of bedbugs too but thankfully were not in my unit.  Regardless, I slept on a blow up bed for 5 months for fear my expensive bedding would be ruined. 

Another time, while living in Edmonton, I arrived to find my new apartment still filthy dirty.  I signed off on the apartment as "filthy dirty", took pictures and cleaned it myself.  When I moved out, I left it as I received it (filthy).  The landlord made it clear I would be paying for the cleanup, but a quick trip to the Alberta rental disagreement people (use it) and I received my entire deposit back. 

In fact, this specific landlord (another major company) was unreal.  I met a guy who lived on my floor and was moving out.  He had to leave by noon on the last day of the month BUT was just moving down the hall.  The unit was empty BUT they told him he could not take possession of the unit until the next day.   He was forced to move ALL his furniture down to the truck, sleep in the truck overnight & then move it all back upstairs the next day...3 doors from his original place.  I'm not lying. 

I could go on with horror stories, but expect them.  If you can, buy a house or a'll save you the grief and it'll cost the same anyway.  

What should you do in Alberta if you rent?

1.  Understand that being polite & sensible does not work.  You are required to be an asshole & escalate EVERY issue you have to every single email you can

2.  Threaten to inform the rest of the tenants about your issues.  If there is a clause in the lease that prohibits you from doing this, threaten to stand outside on public property and hand out flyers.  And then do it.  You only need to do it once. 

3.  Document everything.  Take photos & notes of the problems, even problems that aren't affecting you.  List the time, date & where it happened with a photo (with a date).   When I fought the landlord that refused to put locks on the doors (which lead to addicts in the building) I had over 30 pages of complaints with photos & dates.   The result was that the "judge" in the case (it's some type of rental tribunal thing) chastized the landlord & set out a directive to have them fix the issues within a certain time frame.  In short, I won. 

4.  Just as important, mail your local MLA and the mayor.  Advise them of how SICK and TIRED you are of dealing with this type of treatment.  Once you've said that remind them that this type of issue does not make folks want to move here.  I'm a senior professional & I can find work in pretty much any city.  Why would I move to Calgary if I had to rent (and most people rent the first year or two).   I would simply stay put or go elsewhere.  In my own case, I did (Vancouver). 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ah, the Alberta election

Some time ago I wrote a post about how Ed Stelmach didn't have much of a future & it was likely the Wildrose Party would crush him.   Well I was right about Eddie boy, but wrong about the Wildrose Party. 

I admit to being interested in the Wildrose Party when they first surfaced in the Alberta electoral landscape.  The party was, at the time, essentially Danielle Smith.   She was articulate & the party had some ideas I thought were pretty good.   Ideals like allowing tax deductions for volunteered time & asking how come the tax write off for political donations was higher than those for your typical charity.  Later, Ms Smith then publicly stated she was not interested in using attack ads in any future election campaigns. 

Generally I hate pretty much all politicians.  While they may have grand ideas, in the long term they become like the Borg on Star Trek.  Ideas are formulated not for the benefit of the electorate, but for the benefit of the party (and to keep them in power).   Ms Smith and her party did just that.

Just a day after Alison Redford won the leadership of the PC's, the WR immediately released an attack ad.  The ad's focused on her party prior to her being in power & implied she was part of that.  It ignored that the PC Party was generally "top down" & decisions were mostly made by leaders.  I found the advertisements ridiculous because it assumed she would change nothing now that she COULD change it.

When the election writ was dropped, the PC's had a good lead.  That lead was eroded thanks to some of their past surfacing & because of some bungling by the newbie Redford.  The WR made gains but I firmly believed they would not win.  I'd written this controversial opinion in a newspaper stating that WR would never win a majority and that the media did not understand Alberta.  Truth is, I really came to understand Alberta when I lived in Edmonton.  It became clear that the "deep south" of Alberta IS Wildrose Country.  Calgary is not.  Calgary is too young & too cosmopolitan to vote in the WR even if the stereotype is different.  Once you head north, they too are PC supporters.  Central and North Alberta is oil country & oil types did not like the WR policy of land rights for land owners.  It would have created a mess for those in the energy industry.  And what of Edmonton?  While Edmonton is a gritty, blue collar & practical city, it's also somewhat left wing (in the Alberta sense).  Hey, it's home to the lone seat of the Federal NDP party in Old Strathcona.

The true colours of the WR Party came out during the election.  Comments made by a candidate about gays living in a lake of fire didn't go over so well.  Nor did comments about whites being able to speak for everyone.  Noted is that both of those candidates had their asses handed to them in the election.

And while such comments are abominable & disgusting, the real colours of the WR shone through AFTER the election.   After the crushing defeat, Danielle Smith said she might need to "re-investigate" some of her parties policies.  So you lost because of your policy so now your policy will be to change to whatever gets you in office?   I believe it was Ghandi that said all politics must have principle.  Clearly, that quote escaped Ms Smith & the WR party. 

Finally, this last election was another reminder to those in Alberta & across the country.  Alberta IS changing.  Just as Calgary voted in a mayor who is brown & a Muslim, Alberta voted in a leader who is center right & progressive.  These two elections pointed out what some of us living out here already knew.  It's not 1980 in Calgary anymore, it's 2012.  Things change & thankfully for the better. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Go West Young Man: Vancouver

Ah Vancouver.  A city that cast a spell over me from the minute I drove into it.  I could go on endlessly about how awesome it is but this is a blog about Calgary.  I will write about Vancouver & my experiences, but it will not be the focal point of this blog. 

If you've never experienced Vancouver, you should.  I can completely understand why it's considered by so many to be one of the best places to live in North America.  By the time I'd parked my car at the hotel I was staying at I had it set in concrete that I would be moving there sometime in my future.  

I was there for 4 days.  I did not want to leave.  Thankfully, I had to return many many times in the last few years..

Go West Young Man: Fraser River Valley

In the summer of 2010 I headed into the Fraser River Valley for the first time since I was a kid.  Rihanna was playing on Beat 94.5 Vancouver.  The first thing I noticed was how green everything was.  The sides of mountains were covered with ferns & plants of all types.  Water seemed to flow everywhere and the sky was heavily overcast.  To the right of me there was a very large river (Fraser River). 

It was at that very moment I knew THIS was home.  This was where I was supposed to live & this would be where I WOULD live. 

You enter the Lower Mainland just as you pass Hope, BC.  The road levels out & while you're still surrounded by mountains, the Trans Canada is quite flat.  You officially leave the mountains when you enter Chilliwack, a BC city of about 100,000 people.  While I love nature & I love the mountains, there was always a feeling of relief coming into Chilliwack.  It seemed to mark the end of a long journey & the rebirth of civilization.  No more was CBC Radio the only choice on your car radio (not that CBC is bad, I happen to like some of it). 

The Lower Mainland is endless miles of farms growing all types of produce.  It's also a pretty rainy area too.  Personally I found it refreshing after several years of bone dry Alberta summers & brown grass & gardens.  The Lower Mainland just feels alive.   You pass Abbotsford, Langley & in some cases you are only a few kilometers to the US border.  This my friends is "weed country" lol. 

Once you reach Surrey, BC, that's when Metro Vancouver really begins.  The traffic gets very heavy and seemed to be perpetually congested at the Port Mann Bridge.  Once over the Port Mann Bridge, you need to learn to drive like you're from Vancouver

What's that like?  Well for starters, folks in BC are environmentally friendly types & as such they have a permanent HOV lane.  Don't drive in this lane unless you have a full car or you're operating a city bus.  The city surrounds you, and if this is your first trip, you need to pay close attention to what you're doing.  The road changes quickly.  The Government of BC also takes a dim view of anyone using a cell phone while driving. 

When you reach East Hastings you exit the highway and head into downtown.  I'll go more into details about East Hastings & the neighborhoods of Vancouver as time passes. This blog is about Calgary and ostensibly the focus should be on life in Calgary, not Vancouver. 

Go West Young Man: The Coquihalla

After leaving Merritt, BC, you drive up.  And up. And up. And up.  You're now driving into the Cascade Mountain range.  The Cascades are the final mountain range to cross before you enter the Fraser River Valley.

Unlike Rogers and Kicking Horse Pass, the road through the Coquihalla is 4 lanes.  It's a well maintained highway with good lighting, good pavement & roadside bathrooms & points of interest.  At this point you're about 300 kms away from Vancouver but it doesn't feel that way lol. 

Don't let the 4 lane highway & scenery of this area fool you.  This is wild rugged country.  This is also the first mountain range that all that moist Pacific air meets.  The result?  It snows like a motherfucker in the Coquihalla.   In the winter of 2011-12, snow pack was nearly 1000 cms.  The first thing I noticed was how the road signs were very high up on poles.  The second I noticed that even though it was summer..there was still snowbanks 6 to 10 feet high.   The Coquihalla also has some of the steepest hills I've ever seen.  If you are traveling west, one of these hills is named "Hells Gate".   I put my car in neutral and let it coast down the hill.  Half the way down I was up past 160 km per hour.  This is a steep hill.  On the east bound side, trucks crawl up this hill, lucky to get over 20 km per hour.  Even a car with a good sized motor is challenged by this.   There are numerous chain up areas if you happen to be driving a truck.  You HAVE to chain up.  It's the law & the first time you go through this area in a snow storm, you'll understand why. 

I drove through this area many times during bad weather.  The weather changes extremely quickly and can get very nasty.  Trucks regularly get stuck going up the hill & block the lanes causing everyone to slow down.  The result is that YOU probably get stuck & it takes forever to get your car going again.  If the road is not clear you're heading up a steep grade, trying to push snow out of your way.  If the "chain up lights" are on and you are not a good winter driver, stop your car and go back.  If you happen to be a fan of snow, well enjoy.  There is lots of it.  On several occasions I left the Lower Mainland in a T shirt only to find myself in a ass kicking blizzard in the Coq. 

This is also an area with high avalanche risks.  A few times I was driving back from Vancouver & the conditions were perfect for an avalanche.  I actually got to witness a few small avalanches happen while I was driving.   The picture above is that of the Great Bear Snowshed.  The lack of trees is because the snow wiped everything out.