Caribbean Queen, 10 Dundas East

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: I do not have high standards.

The Long Version: This is a tough review to write, because I don't want to reveal just how often I end up getting my lunch from the food-service outlet calling itself "Caribbean Queen". Located in the food court at 10 Dundas East, it combines some of my main crucial elements: sufficient seating, fast service, and a reasonable price.

As for quality, let's not kid ourselves. It's slightly-spicy-but-otherwise-standard beige-brown food court fare that's cooked in batches and kept under heat lamps. It serves its purpose of being palatable and readily available; sometimes that's enough. There are a few decent restaurants in the area, and instead I end up here far more often than I care to admit.

But what really keeps me coming back to the Queen is their level of personal service and attention. It's completely non-existent. I spend my workday talking to people and being friendly, so it's something of a relief to be able to carry out a transaction without needing to smile. I like to think that if I were to collapse in front of them, their first concern would be how much of my order could be scraped out of the styrofoam container and put back under the heat lamps.

I order the same thing every time, and usually appear on the same day of the week – and I'm not saying how often, just that it's the same weekday – at a quiet time when there's usually only one or two people working the front. Elsewhere this would make me 'a regular'; at the Queen they have yet to anticipate my order. It's as if they've never seen me before. I hope that doesn't change, because then I'd need to find somewhere else to go for lunch.

last updated 25 may 2012


Victoria Park Subway Station

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Second time's a charm.

The Long Version: Subway stations on the Bloor-Danforth line are usually a 3:1 ratio of utility to ugly, but for the old Victoria Park station the numbers were reversed. It used an odd layout with an elevated train track and bus bays on the same level; these bays were reached with a pair of up/down staircases after walking through a long interior concourse. The pedestrian options were either an automated turnstile and long narrow hallway that ended in the commuter parking lot, or a strange main exit out of the side of the building, which faced someone else's parking lot. For bonus points, there was an impromptu passenger pick-up and garbage-storage area underneath the subway bridge. Welcome to Scarborough.

But that was years ago: recent renovations have vastly improved the station. Large windows were knocked into the walls on the platform level; sometimes the results are awkward, but it does open up the station to its surroundings. The bus bays have been moved to the ground level, and there's a long glass wall that lets people wait indoors. The station has been designed with contemporary ideas about accessibility and comfort, and it's a profound change.

The station's main entrance now faces the street, with glass replacing the concrete facade. A secure, enclosed and reasonably-priced bike storage area fills most of the void under the bridge, but still allows for an open sidewalk. It's a huge improvement, inside and out.

Not all is perfect with the new layout, of course; if nothing else, the lone transfer-issuing machine is oddly hidden. But after spending half an hour there on a weekday morning, I found myself thinking that it's too bad that the station is tucked a short distance north of the Danforth, which is the main commercial street with a fair bit happening on it. The revitalized station could easily become the gateway to a community that would really benefit from a little more exposure.

Victoria Park station used to be a bunker, squatting in a high-rise community that already had far too many concrete walls. The renovations haven't quite made it into a cathedral, and it's still not actually attractive, but after being used to the oppressiveness of the old station – and all of the others designed in the Stalinist Public Washroom period of TTC architecture – it's an astonishing change. My biggest challenge in taking these photos was having too much light and too many windows. In a subway station. Owned by the TTC. Amazing.

It's been made perfectly clear to everyone in Toronto that the TTC doesn't have any spare money. But I'm glad that they found the cash to revamp Vic Park, and they've done a great job with it – which is quite something for a downtown-dweller to say about his former near-suburb neighbourhood.

last updated 4 dec 2010


A Specific, Detailed Program on The Online Photographer

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: To be determined.
Yeah, but: Running out of ink scares me.

The Long Version: Today Mike Johnston wrote an interesting article on The Online Photographer, lovingly (and perhaps provisionally) titled "A Specific, Detailed Program for Absolutely, Positively Getting Better as a Digital Printmaker". Essentially, the Specific, Detailed Program is a daily exercise that's intended to become a self-guided course in making and examining inkjet photo prints, and should last for months or more.


Becoming a better printmaker is one of my big goals for this year, so this immediately piqued my interest. I'm also 70% of the way through another daily photography project, so I'm already in the habit of being in the habit of an ongoing task. Finding another fifteen or twenty minutes a day seems like an attainable target.

I'm committing to starting this no later than the beginning of June, and running it until at least the beginning of September.

I've decided to keep my prints on letter-size paper, both out of space and cost concerns. Somewhat countering the second point, I'll probably stick with my two favourite "for real" papers, even though they run about seventy-five cents per page. Saving sixty cents per print by putting ink on cheap plastic feels like it won't teach me as much about printing what matters to me.

I'll keep this post updated as the process goes on.

last updated 18 may 2012


Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Avoid the culs-de-sac…s.

The Long Version: Stroll is a book that I've been planning to review for quite some time. Published by my favourite printing house, Coach House Books, and written by Shawn Micallef, of Spacing fame, it's a fascinating and involved look at Toronto's neighbourhoods. Simultaneously detailed and expansive, this 279 page book finds the details that can only be seen at walking pace, and does it without being overly pedestrian.

I'm a lifelong resident of Toronto, and one with an above-average interest in local history – I once regretfully turned down a job as a tour guide. So it's with a minor sting of embarrassment that this wonderful book, with its involved and deep enjoyment of the city, was written by an immigrant. Yes, Shawn Micallef is from Windsor. Ontario. That still makes me cringe a bit.

While on the subject of cringing, I could do without the revivals of the words "psychogeographic" and "flâneur". Legitimate terms, apparently, but I'm happy to just walk.

Reading this book has taught me things that I didn't know about the street that I've lived on for a half-decade. Shawn Micallef wields an impressive level of local knowledge, and manages to do it across the entire city. His description of Main and Danforth, an intersection that I passed though regularly for years, insightfully picks out the same problems that I had noticed, and then adds context to them with local history and other subtle observations. It goes without saying that this also gives him excellent credibility when describing the places that I'm yet to visit.

Other times the author's fresh eye leads him to see the streets in ways that I don't. His discussion of Danforth Avenue – The Danforth – between Broadview and Pape is of an area that has gentrified and yuppified (do people still say "yuppie"?) far beyond my experience. But I first spent time on this strip twenty-five years ago, so I tend to see what I remember and regard the new as temporary. I'm sure my next trip there will be a different experience.

Streets, communities, and cities do change. In some cases this can create an inadvertent history lesson; the life of Jarvis Street in particular has fundamentally changed since Stroll's publication, and it's likely to change back again before a revision could be published. So while the content isn't quite 'evergreen', some of it could make for a hardy perennial.

Fortunately Stroll doesn't delve too much into the specific details that are most likely to change rapidly, and the larger-scale stuff is going to be worth knowing about even if the specific form shifts over time. So even two years after its publication, I still find the book both fascinating and relevant.

Stroll is an obvious choice for people like me, being from and/or living in Toronto, and with an interest in its built form and communities. Indeed, the local civic-political interest seems unusually strong these days, thanks to the good governance and tireless city-building of Mayor Nenshi the implosion and de facto abdication of Mayor Ford, so the market for the book could be growing.

What I'm not sure about is if anyone outside of Toronto would find Stroll rewarding. Its writing is entertaining and engaging; I like reading about the bits of the city that I haven't been to, so perhaps others elsewhere could also find it interesting even without the geographic connection. The good news is that Coach House has some full chapters available for free online, making it a no-risk inquiry. Well worth checking out – especially the one about the street I live on.

last updated 11 may 2012


Canon 5D Mark III: The Ultimate DSLR

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: Inconceivable!

The Long Version: It's official. Canon has ceded the high-end SLR market to Nikon. It's not surprising, given the seven-month-and-counting wait for the thrice-delayed 1Dx flagship, and the tepid market response to their modest 5D refresh effort, but I still would never have expected their concession announcement to take the form of a poster in a marketing campaign.

Ultimate: last, furthest or farthest, ending a process or series; being last in a series, process, or progression; final.

It's sad to see the quarter-century EOS legacy end this way, but like I always say: "ah, well." Nikon makes good cameras, and hopefully they'll continue to innovate and push forward even without the major-brand competition. And for those of you with a good investment in Canon lenses, don't worry, it looks like the Rebel line will still continue.

last updated 7 may 2012


KO Burger, 366 Bloor Street West

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It can be variable.

The Long Version: KO Burger is one of those interesting little places that doesn't quite make sense. Originally branded as Wing Shop 366, using the number of their street address – and still serving wings – from the outside they look more like a disreputable place for Bubble Tea. But there seems to be an inverse relationship between maketing slickness and the quality of the burger: McDonalds serves paper products, while KO Burger is really, really good.

It did take me quite a while to make it through the front door of KO burger, but after yet another abysmal experience at the local Lick's, I finally decided to give the independent business a try. That was on February 11, 2012. I know the exact date because it completely changed my burger-buying habits. (And because I wrote a tweet about it.) I wasn't able to bring myself to order a hamburger from anyone else for almost two months. I think the Harvey's near my work still has the "Missing" poster of me posted in the back.

In early April I finally succumbed and had a hamburger somewhere else, but it only because I was 450 kilometers away. Let me tell you, it wasn't the same.

One of the best things about KO Burger is that they use buns from the Cobb's Bakery that's literally right next door. That's about as good as it gets. The french fries ("freedom fries" for my American friends) are good, but like most, they don't travel particularly well. The hamburger patties are exceptional, and include the options for veggie and lamb-burgers as well. I usually go with their 9oz beef patty with back bacon and cheddar, and while tax brings the total to over $10, it's absolutely worth it.

The only way I could see KO Burger being better is if they offered Peameal bacon. That was what won me over at Gateway Storage and Marine, which remains the best burger that I've ever had. In case anyone's keeping score, it's also an even more unlikely-looking place to find great food than KO Burger is. Take that, McDonalds.

last updated 4 may 2012

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