Saturday, September 24, 2011

How I almost got strip-searched in Canada (and why it would totally have been worth it, anyway)

Thing o' beauty, isn't it? (image borrowed... or
outright stolen... from  A Good Beer Blog)
 Post payday weekend at my house often means a trip to CJ's in Potsdam to try out another craft brew selection. While they may not have the gigantic selection of stores in more metro areas, the variety of local and micro brews makes it well worth braving the occasional group of hipster douchebags from the local college.

When I got there last night, I was thinking IPA.  There were a couple black IPAs I had wanted to try out, and was examining bottles when my wandering eyes saw a familiar logo.

Could it be? It was! A 1.9 pint of Hobgoblin from Wychwood Breweries. I looked over to the left, and to my delight, found an entire 6-pack (and a half: one of the nice things about CJ's is that you can mix and match to try out new brews). Granted, the import was a bit pricier than one of the local brews... but you know, I don't actually indulge all that often, and by golly, it was the Hobgoblin. 

Sure, I COULD have just taken
this picture myself. But I didn't.
A little smokey, with notes of chocolate and toffee, this is a deep ruby ale that pours with a thick, creamy head.  It's also as smooth -- and heavy -- as Guinness. A pint will fill you, but you won't notice it until you get there. 

It's also an excellent accompaniment for various meat dishes like Bangers and Mash - which is how I was first introduced to the brew.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I actually discovered this beer as a happy accident, after a long, drawn out ordeal, and a last minute decision.

Going to Canada

When my friend Randy (that he and I share the same name will become important to this story) told me he was flying from Colorado to Upstate New York to umpire a Little League Tournament in Cooperstown, we immediately made plans to meet. 

Fellow political bloggers at the time (we've both since begun our road to recovery, and are one another's sponsors in Politics Anonymous), we'd never actually met in person.  And, though he was something of a world traveller (he'd been everywhere from Italy to Japan as part of his job - and again, this is kind of important), he'd never actually been to Canada.  As a resident of Northern New York, and working at a radio station serving a market that spans both Northern New York and Eastern Ontario, Parts of Canada's Seaway are practically my backyard; but I'd never gotten the chance to just tour around and appreciate the area. Plus, we both kind of wanted a Cuban cigar.

The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge
Go here.

After several calls, the cigar thing was kind of turning into a bust, but we decided to cross over anyway. I had my passport card; Randy had his stamped-up passport, and we were good to go.  We crossed the bridge in the late afternoon, and it was then, as we waited in line for Customs, that I started piecing together our predicament. 

"Y'know," I said, "I've never actually been pulled into Canadian Customs before."

"Is anyone?" Actually, it was a valid question.

"We're about to be,"

It had occurred to me that we were two guys, about 20 years apart in age, with almost the same first name. In fact, our names are slightly different in spelling (my "Randall" has two 'l's to his one). It wasn't much, I thought, but taken as a part of the whole picture, it could be an issue.  On top of that, he was, as I mentioned previously, from Colorado, and had a passport full of fun and interesting stamps.  Stamps from places like Malaysia. 

Plus, I was wearing a shirt
similar to this one.
 Sure enough, it didn't take many questions before the guard at the window nicely asked us to pull the car over and come inside. FYI: as much as I will always champion honesty as the best policy, the correct answer to "how do you know each other" is apparently NOT "the internet."

At least we could honestly tell them we weren't coming to meet anyone. I'm also extremely happy we had presence of mind to say, when asked, that we were coming over to hang out and hit a bar with decent beer, and NOT to that we wanted to get Cuban cigars.

Fortunately, since Canada customs almost never brings people in (they rarely need to: by the time you leave the booth, they already know whether you've ever committed a crime, the last time you were in Canada, and how long it's been since you've had sex), we didn't have to wait long before being called to the desk. While officials ran our passports through an alphabet of national and international agencies (and possibly our parents), we were treated to live entertainment in the form of an impromptu Q&A session to determine our continued presence in the country.

"You met on the internet?"
"On a website for political activists."
"Where are you from?"

"New York"

"Have you always lived there?"
"Crap! Neither have I!"

The interview was over. We waited.

This waiting has interesting effects on people. I knew darn well I didn't have anything on me that would be illegal or get me in any kind of trouble. Yet, I still had to stop myself from checking. At least in front of the guy. I'm pretty sure I checked my pockets when he turned his head, though.

We get on with it

The check came back. We were deemed harmless. We went on our way. After that was pretty uneventful. We drove through downtown Prescott, ON, continued up King Street, left Prescott, went through various towns with "welcome" signs informing you that, if you fail to change the battery on your smoke detector, you are sure to die a fiery, suffocating death. Evidently this is a real problem, and if I may, I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that Canadians consider not only batteries, but also to stop building their houses out of match heads and gasoline. At some point, we landed in Brockville.

This is what it looks like. Find it as fast as you can.
 For various reasons, largely having to do with my not knowing my way around and unwillingness to look at a map, the cigar thing was indeed a bust, so we parked and walked downtown Brockville looking for a place to eat. My companion had his heart set on fish and chips, and I was determined to find good beer. What we found was an English Style Pub called The Georgian Dragon. Fish and Chips? Why, yes.  Yes there was.

A tiny little place with a mostly brick interior and friendly staff, The Georgian Dragon ("The Dragon?" I should ask the locals what they call it for short. Or is it too cool to shorten?) is the perfect place for a quiet drink and excellent food.

And yes, the food is excellent. My friend got his fish, and I asked the waiter what he recommended. He said Bangers and Mash, and I took him up on it.  For drinks, my friend asked for and received something local: a pale ale, I believe. I asked for something dark.

While you can google pics of
Bangers and Mash, they're made
a little different everywhere... and
nothing on Google does them justice.
 "You want the Hobgoblin," the waiter said.

And yes. Yes, I did.

I've visited many restaurants, pubs, taverns and bars. I've found something to enjoy about each of them. But for the overall atmosphere, the ambiance, the food (my Heavens, the fricking food!), and the beer selection, The Georgian Dragon may well be my new favorite place.  The fact that they also introduced me to a new favorite beer doesn't hurt either.

Sad, when it comes right down to it, that I haven't been back since. But I'm looking for an excuse. So, you know, if you're ever in the area, and need somebody to show you around...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You are not a beautiful snowflake...

This has been bugging me a lot lately -- probably because I so often find myself having to deal with it.  "It" is the issue of incompetence.  Now, before you start rolling your eyes and thinking I think I'm better than anyone else ("just the ones I'm better than," as a certain Captain would say), hear me out.  What I'm talking about here is willful incompetence.  Or, more passively, the simple lack of enough give-a-damn to do one's job correctly.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as wonderful and unique human beings (and we are), the cold truth is that, whether you're an actor, an astronaut, or even a fry cook, your identity -- and your reputation -- is tied up in the work you do.  If I suck at my job, my reputation suffers.  I'm not saying I don't make mistakes.  I'm saying that, when I do, it's a lot of ground to try to regain in the eyes of those who noticed.

To your parents and your girlfriend, you may be Timmy or Johnny or Bill.  To the rest of the people with whom you come into contact, though, you're just another idiot who can't make a latte.

Or, you could be "the very helpful person at (insert business here), who smiled and seemed to know what s/he was talking about/doing."

I experience a lot of this willful incompetence at my real job.  From third-party agencies who simply stopped trying decades ago to vendors who are simply unwilling to take the extra few seconds to do a job right the first time, it's easy to wonder when things in our industry started to go so wrong.  I'm not saying I'm a shining example of self-motivation by any standard, but compared to some of these individuals, I'm Henry freakin' Ford.

See, to me, having a job in this economy is enough motivation to try as hard as I can to do my job well.  That I'd someday like to get paid more for the work I do is motivation enough to push myself and try to excel.  I guess I have a hard time understanding the mental processes of somebody -- let alone entire companies of people -- who would happily stamp their name on third-rate crap and send it off to a client... not just once, but several times a week.

Are you not in the least concerned that, as both a client and a peer (as I also do similar work as part of my job), you've done nothing but reveal yourself to me as somebody with whom, had I the choice, I would never -- ever -- do business?  Are you not worried at all about your reputation in the industry that puts food on your table?

I've made mention before of what a big fan I am of trying to excel.  Mediocrity makes me angry, because it is almost always avoidable.  But sometimes, it's not even about excellence.  It would just be nice, sometimes, to know that people still have at least a little pride in their work.

By the way, as this is also a writing and publishing blog, this will all be tied in.  At some point this week, I'll be doing a post on self-publishing, and shopping publishers.  Keep this post in mind until then.