Toronto Through an Immigrant’s Eyes

Toronto loves to advertise its status as a multicultural city. It maybe the most culturally diverse city in the country. Walk down the street and count how many different languages you hear spoken. We welcome our immigrants with open arms. But I’m a born and bred Torontonian and I’ve never really thought about how immigrants see the city and the country. I do now.

My wife is a recent immigrant to Toronto from east Asia. She sees things in ways I can’t, or never thought to.

Here are a couple of brief examples:

Why don’t we have assigned seats in movie theatres?

Honestly never thought about that. It sure would make going to the movies a lot more fun and slightly less stressful. Yes, stressful. Have you ever gone to a movie opening night? You literally have to run into the theatre and quickly sit in the best seats you can find. Almost feels like sheep being herded into an enclosure.

Why can’t I get anything else besides hotdogs on the street?

Why is the hot dog such a staple of Toronto that no other food is permitted to be served on the sidewalk? If we want to be a world class city, then we need world class street food. Every great city in the world offers cheap, tasty street side eats.

Why do so many houses have Canadian flags hanging out front?

I’ve never really thought about this either because I always enjoyed people displaying their national pride. Maybe this is the classic Canadian inferiority complex. I’ve had friends from the U.S. ask me why we have the maple leaf on everything. Even inside the golden arches!

These are great questions and I love that my wife asks them. My problem is how do I answer them?

Categories: Life

Toronto Is NOT a Sports Town

I’ve been a sports fan all my life. I’ve been to every sports facility and watched every Toronto sports team live. And there’s something missing. Atmosphere.

Forget the Leafs, they are an aberration. They can do no wrong. The very fact that they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in almost half a century is proof of that.

Let’s start with the physical facilities themselves. Most of them, if not all, are in dead lifeless areas of Toronto. The Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre are in the middle of nowhere. They’re in no man’s land. Too far south of Dundas and too far north of the lake. Is there anywhere one can go before or after the game? No. Last time I was at the Rogers Centre, my friends and I had to walk for 25 minutes to finally find a restaurant to have dinner. And what area of the city did we walk through? The cold dead skyscrapers and condominiums right down at Lakeshore.

And the Rogers Centre looks more like a hospital than a sports stadium. Concrete everywhere, no warmth at all. And the Air Canada Centre isn’t much better. Don’t forget this is where five of our professional teams play.

Ok so the stadiums and areas they reside in are boring and lifeless. It’s not like we can just pick them up and move them over to Yonge and Dundas. But that’s not the only problem. Sports in Toronto isn’t fun.When you go watch sports in other cities, both Canada and the U.S., you enter a party atmosphere.

Have you ever been to a CFL game in western Canada? Talk about a party! How about an Argo game? Don’t think so. Maybe that’s a bad example. We all know the Argos can’t draw flies. Apparently the NFL is much bigger here than the CFL ever could be. So then why did Rogers just drop the prices for the Bills’ games in Toronto? If you go to Bills’ games in Buffalo, it’s a rocking good time. Not here it isn’t. And here’s the best part: the team is awful, and has been for a very long time. So competitiveness has nothing to do with it.

Let’s shift over to the Blue Jays. I go to several games every year, mostly because I enjoy the game of baseball. But most people who go to the games, show up in the third or fourth inning. Do you know why? It’s too boring! Is watching baseball in New York, Boston, Chicago or many of the other American cities boring? Nope.

My favourite example is NASCAR. Now that’s a real party! And it seems to have little to do with the actual race. Go early, tailgate and then get a ride around the track in a car driven by an actual driver. Are you kidding me? I’ve been to the annual Indy race in Toronto. It’s not even close to what I see happening at a NASCAR race.

Live sports shouldn’t be a television program. Tune in when it starts, tune out when it ends. It should be a more like a party. There should be things to do besides watching the game. Events in the parking lot. Activities on the field of play before and after the game. Places around the stadium to visit and grab a bite to eat. Going down to a game should be an experience. If the game is slow or bad or the home team loses, it shouldn’t dull your experience. But here it does. When I get home after watching my team get trounced, that’s all I can think about. I don’t think about what a great day it was and how much fun I had.

The only Toronto team that actually had an atmosphere was Toronto FC. When they first started playing that was the place to be. There was an atmosphere and it was fun. However, even they seem to have squandered that. It’s rapidly losing its appeal as a fun experience. It looks as if it is doomed to join the ranks of the other professional Toronto teams.

Are Torontonians too full of themselves to make games into events? Sounds like it to me. We arrive late, eat our overpriced sushi and chat about anything and everything besides the game. Then go home and forget all about it. It’s too bad. We can do so much better.

Categories: Sports

Is Sports a Business Just Like Any Other?

Recently it was rumored that Steve Nash could be coming to the Toronto Raptors. It didn’t happen for many reasons. And this lead to a firestorm of rage against him. The talk radio stations, television sports channels and newspapers were awash with hatred for him. Some say he never seriously wanted to come to Toronto but just used the Raptors to increase the demand for his services and subsequently contract offers from other teams. Was this a clever business move? Absolutely. But, this brings up a very good question: is sports a business just like any other?

Yes and no. And no I’m not sitting on the fence here. Both are correct. Let’s start with yes.

You’re in sports to make a buck, or several million. As an owner you have customers, employees and maybe even shareholders. And you want to be the best. As an employee, read player, you have management, ownership and fellow employees. If you perform your duties well, you may be in line for a promotion and a raise. If you don’t, the business might not keep you on past your contract expiration date. Sound familiar?

It is however, a very different business. In every other business I can think of, as a business owner you don’t want competition. The less competition there is, the more market share you can have. Competition is great for customers and horrible for producers. Not so in sports. If you’re the only team in a league, how long do you think that league will last? There are many other industries in Ontario alone where there is only one producer that does very well. Can’t think of one? Go buy a bottle of spirits and think it over.

In sports, competition in the form of rivalries is good. If you are the best and you continually crush all opponents, no one cares. But, if you are very good yet still have to work hard to win, people watch. Look at the best rivalries in sports: Canada vs. Russia, Montreal vs. Toronto, N.Y. vs. Boston. We watch because the chance of losing is close to equal to the chance of winning. If there was little or no chance of losing, would it still be as fun to watch? Is Canada vs. Kazakhstan an exciting game to watch.  I think not. Losing, in moderation of course, is actually good for sports, unlike any other business.

The other big difference is emotion. If your team doesn’t get the player it wants, fans get angry or sad, and maybe even threaten to stop watching or attending games. Have you ever heard of this in any other business? When was the last time someone called into a radio talk show to verbalize their disappointment with a company for not hiring the manager they wanted? There might be an article in the financial section of the newspaper about it. But that’s it. There’s no emotion.

So in the end sports is, and isn‘t, a business like any other. Did that clear things up for you?

Categories: Life

Is Print on the Slippery Slope Towards Death?

The doomsdayers in the publishing industry would have you believe in the near future print will be dead. I wholeheartedly disagree! Print is certainly not dead and will never fully die.

The eBook industry is on the rise. (see previous post) And yes it has and will continue to eat into the market for printed materials. Some point to the market for printed newspapers as a bellwether of print in general. But newspapers are a very different medium from books. There is no sentimental value to a printed newspaper.  Newspapers are not handed down from generation to generation. Nobody goes to newspaper readings. And people don’t stand for hours in line to have their newspaper signed. But of course you know all of this already.

The older generation especially, see printed books as something akin to chicken noodle soup. It’s good ‘ole home cookin’! It’s an emotional thing. We are not emotionally attached to eBooks. Not yet at least. They very well could be in the future.  But not yet.

So if print isn’t going to die out totally, where is it going? It’s going to become a niche market. It will go the way of the record. When eBooks gain the majority of market share, which they are slowly doing, the printed book will be pushed right off the shelf. Pun intended!

Printed books will become harder and harder to find. You’ll have to go to specialty shops. Even then only some books will actually be printed. And then, 20 or so years later, they’ll become ‘retro’. The younger generation will want them because they will become cool. And printed books and materials will see a short revival. Specialty shops will pop up everywhere. Experts will start telling everyone that true readers prefer printed material to electronic. Finally, after all this, only us old guys, by then I’ll be very old, will care that printed text even existed. How many mp3 loving kids today even know how to play a record?

But this is all way down the line. Right now, printed materials are the norm, and will be for the foreseeable future. Just watch out! The end is nigh…well not too nigh.

Categories: Publishing/Printing

The Rise of eBooks: Not a Tsunami, but the Tide Is Coming in

Where is the tsunami of eBooks and eBook readership we were all promised when the technology was first introduced? Simply put: it’s not coming. But the tide is coming in. The doomsdayers told us this was the death of the printed book. Soon everyone was going to read their books electronically and print shops would go under faster than you can spell Gutenberg. So, why were all the talking heads wrong?

The first reason is that the technology was slow to adapt. The first eBook readers just weren’t very good. They were slow to catch on. That, however, has changed and it is illustrated by the current eBook stats.

If you don’t believe me, simply look to our recent past when it comes to new technologies. The original Ipod was a flop. It didn’t take off until Apple spent a big chunk of change on their marketing campaign. Now, you’re hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have an Ipod or some kind of mp3 playing device.

The second reason is supply. Publishers have been slow to warm to the eBook. The main reason being the profit margins are much smaller than for printed books.  Some believe the lack of printing should create higher profit margins for publishers, but the truth is printing is but a small cost for the publishing industry. The real cost is the R&D.

The final reason is simply that printed books are so entrenched in our society that it is and will continue to be hard to uproot them. They are everywhere, from education to entertainment. And the new technology, eBooks, is not vastly superior to the old, print. But it will be very soon.

I’m not going to bore you by quoting a bunch of stats, but if you do look them up you will see that purchases of eBooks and eBook readers are on the rise. And the demographic stats are the most interesting but also the most logical. It’s the younger generation and their younger parents who are purchasing eBook readers.

And here is the best part for the publishing industry. All of this actually increases readership! EBooks make reading more accessible and fun for the younger generation. A generation who is used to acquiring all their information from a screen, not paper. Paper is not exciting for them, a screen is. The tide is coming, slowly but surely. Now if only we could get eating vegetables on a screen…

Categories: Publishing/Printing

Cash is Courteous

Can paying for your items at the cash register have moral connotations? Yes it can. I’ll explain.

The debit machine has become the most common way to pay. I admit, I do occasionally forget to pick up cash when I go out and the debit/credit card machines at the register are a saviour. I don’t, however, believe it should be the norm. But it is.

Now I’m sure many of you, if not all, are asking why is cash better. It’s very simple actually: cash is courteous.

I was buying a bottle of water to have with my lunch one afternoon. This store, like many these days, has its own VIP card. So it went like this. The cashier asks the first customer if she has the VIP card. She answers yes and the cashier proceeds to swipe the card. Then the total comes and the customer fishes around for her bank card.  She gives it to the cashier and now has to play with the machine for a while. She has to OK the purchase amount, choose her bank account type, punch in her PIN, wait for the approval notice, get her card back and finally take her purchases and leave. This was just the first customer. I had to wait for three more people to go through the exact same process. It took me over 10 minutes to buy a 99 cent bottle of water.

None of these people were buying $112 worth of groceries at the grocery store. That would be understandable. I personally don’t like carrying around big wads of cash. And seeing a person with an entire cart worth of things pulling up to the cash register, one doesn’t realistically expect to be out in under a minute. But I do expect to be out in under a minute when I’m only buying a bottle of water at the corner store. And this was not a large supermarket. Most people who go to this kind of store purchase maybe 4 or 5 things.

I don’t blame the store for this atrocity. They are simply doing what any good retailer should and does do. They are giving the customers what they want. I blame the customers. There is really no excuse not to carry cash on you. There are bank machines everywhere. This is simply discourtesy. These customers don’t care about those behind them in line. The person at the front of the line becomes a dictator of sorts, deciding how long the rest of us are going to wait.

If you care at all about your fellow customers, you will carry cash. And it doesn’t really take that long to do so. It takes about the same amount of time to get some cash from a bank machine as it does to do the whole debit-card-at-the-register process, once. And the best part is, you don’t hold up the rest of us when you do it.

If you care at all about the customers in line behind you, carry cash. If not, continue to use your card to purchase a box of cookies and a bottle of pop. Don’t worry, I’ve got nothing better to do with the next 10 minutes of my life.

Categories: Pet Peeves

The Beginning of the End

Well, I thought it was about time I to expose the world to my particular brand of thought. In my short time on this Earth, I’ve experienced a lot and seen even more. From time to time, I’ll post on any number of subjects from publishing to teaching to traveling and of course my own pet peeves. This is my canvas but any and all are welcome to read and comment.

I won’t be pulling any punches here. Everything is fair game and the gloves are off. I hope you enjoy and if not then you know where the virtual door is…

Categories: Uncategorized