Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Driving

I love driving. I mean, I really do love driving. I once drove from my home, an hour north from Toronto all the way to New Brunswick in a day. I had stops along the way, but I had done it in one full day. That’s about 1,500 Km/900 miles, give or take. I can also negotiate my way through traffic in Montreal. If you’re familiar with Montreal, then you would know what a feat that is. The other side of it is that I also love country drives as much as anyone else who loves driving.

Driving
Driving

For Freedom Friday I would like to talk about my driving experiences, what I’ve enjoyed and perhaps, if I have time, talk a bit about what I would have wanted to do over.

The thing I most enjoy about driving is the freedom. Sitting behind a steering wheel and going somewhere really excites me. When no one else is in the car, I crank the tunes, open the windows and allow the wind to carry me where I want to go.

Sunset driving
Sunset driving

Night driving has to be my favorite part. I have one of those cars that sport a blue dashboard. In the evening, it makes me feel as if I’m part of a Star Wars movie. The middle scene in Attack of the Clones when Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi follow an assassin through the planetary cityscape comes to mind. The other reason I enjoy night driving is because driving through a town, a city or in the country, in my opinion, is much more beautiful at night than during the day. The lights make the journey something to behold. Whenever there’s an opportunity to pick up my kids from their activities, I’ll jump into the car without a problem. I love riding through town at night—especially during Christmas. The lights warm my spirit and renders my soul satisfied. That’s code for saying I always have a smile on my face whenever taking the car through town.

Anyway, enough about night driving. I told you it was my favorite.

The other part I enjoy about hopping behind the wheel of my car is the long trips to various places. Depending on the traffic, the trip to Niagara Falls from my home is a highlight. With attractions on either side of Clifton Hill, the main street where all the museums and activities take place, I can’t say enough how awesome a time it is going through there and experiencing the joy of adventure. Yes, it does feel like an adventure, but how many places can actually do that, besides Las Vegas, which is a place I’d like to visit one day?

Lastly, I would have to say that I also enjoy a country drive as well. I live out in the country, so, in that respect, I have to like it—otherwise, what would I be doing living here? Right? The relaxed pace, the farms and small towns is a regular occurrence as is the sight of cows, horses and other farm animals grazing in the fields. The other aspect about a country drive is the leisurely pace everyone drives getting somewhere. I can say the experience is relaxing and eases the mind into hibernation. Not good though if it’s at night, since you don’t want to fall asleep while taking a jaunt without the light standards paving the way to your ultimate destination.

And so that’s why I love driving. Some folks don’t enjoy it, but I’m one who looks forward to it.

Now, I’m just wondering if there is anyone else like me who loves driving.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Do you like driving? What road trips have  you taken that made the drive special?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

My Childhood

When I was twelve, I looked forward to Friday nights. I lived in Toronto’s Little Italy where our neighborhood featured markets, shops and cafés specializing in Italian goods and cuisine. Our neighborhood also had a theater featuring movies shipped directly from the old country. It was there my dad would take me every Friday night to enjoy some one on one time away from the family. I believe it is also there my fondness for films emerged.

Movie theater
Movie theater

For today’s Freedom Friday, allow me the liberty to tell you about this part of my life.

Before the age of ten, I grew up in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city. The school I went to was once voted the worst school in all of Toronto by a group of concerned citizens. My family eventually moved out of there and took up residence in Little Italy. It was a great place to live, school nearby, lots of places to play, and I had plenty of friends.

My dad made it a habit to build traditions in our family as a means to bond us to certain times of the year. Saturday nights were big at our house. It was Hockey Night in Canada night and should there have been a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, God forbid, it would have been the most epic night of the week.

The other big night was Friday night. My favorite. My mom would make something quick for us to eat—typically a soup, a plate of sandwich meats and bread, or simply a bowl of pasta—so that we could leave as soon as we finished eating. The theater was down the street from us and it took about fifteen minutes to walk there.

My mom always made sure I brought a sweater; even if it was during the hot summer months. She always said it would get cold in the theater. She was right. I still remember that to this day where I sometimes bring a sweater with me to the theater—yes, even in the sweltering months of summer.

I loved the walk there with my dad. We talked about silly things a nosey kid like me liked talking about. A thing like where we would sit when we got there was a hot topic. I wanted to sit to the side and he wanted to sit in the middle. So imagine where we sat. Nowadays, I love the middle. It’s the best seat in the theater.

The Spaghetti Western
The Spaghetti Western

Once we arrived, we’d check the movie posters. If any of them were a spaghetti western, I’d be jumping on the spot with excitement. It wasn’t hard for him to figure out which one we’d see.

From there, the other events are a blur. I remember the popcorn he’d buy me, the seats we sat in and the waiting in anticipation. Sometimes the theater would have a cartoon showing before the movie, which made the evening even more exciting.

After the film, and having found our way outside, the fresh air that hit my face was incredible. I can never forget the sensation of walking back home with gunslingers on my mind. My dad always got a kick from seeing me excited talking about the best parts of the film. How can I forget such a memorable evening?

I suppose I should have given this article a title like, “My Dad,” or “Movie Night,” but in actuality, calling it anything else other than “My Childhood” wouldn’t have made sense to me. Although it’s a snippet in time, I think you get a good idea of what my early life was like reading this.

I was an ordinary kid with my whole life ahead of me. Isn’t that the way childhood should be?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Do you have fond memories of your childhood you’d like to share?

Posted in Monday Mayhem

Toronto Zombie Walk

Founded in 2003, Toronto’s Zombie Walk has drawn the attention of thousands throughout the years to participate in one of the most elaborate cosplays ever. This year, however, the organizers face a challenge. Unless a generous benefactor makes an appearance, a financial shortfall may shut the doors to future events permanently.

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
Since I live an hour north of the city, I thought I’d highlight Toronto’s annual walk for my Monday Mayhem series in hopes of encouraging local readers to support this awesome event.

According to news sources, rising costs to shut down streets, insurance and policing has left organizers scrambling for donors. As of this writing, a fundraising campaign has yielded less than half of the $7,000 needed to keep the project going. Should organizers not meet target amounts, they will need to dip into next year’s reserves in order not to cancel the event.

Another obstacle organizers face is the popularity of zombies in mainstream culture that has grown exponentially for a number of years. Founders of the walk, Thea Faulds and her husband Adam Pearson, first hosted the event to a small group at Trinity Bellwoods Park. Recently, though, the crowds have grown to a massive 12,000+ attendees featuring people in full zombie garb stomping the city streets to invade Nathan Phillips Square.

Although the party is free to the public as a pre-Halloween bash, cleanup is not. With thousands of people dragging their way to the downtown core, logistics behind garbage collection efforts is astronomical.

On the positive side, the event attracts the attention of zombie fans all over the world, making Toronto a delightful tourist destination during the October offseason. Organizer, Stefania Zanini says to The Toronto Star, “It’s a family, free, inclusive event that accepts everyone. All you have to do is come in costume.”

Igor Baranov (right) [Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
Igor Baranov (right) [Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
One of those supporters is Igor Baranov, avid photographer and one of my longtime friends. Not only does he have an eye for the perfect photo, but he’s also captured the essence of the event through his wonderful imagery. Much of his work oftentimes demands him to interact with his subjects who are more than willing to pose for the camera.

Here is as sampling of his work and what the Toronto Zombie Walk is all about:

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]
If you find yourself in the Toronto Area next month (October 25, 2014), you may want to check out the walk to see firsthand what the zombie craze looks like in action. Perfect timing as well, since The Walking Dead will have also returned to AMC. What better way is there to celebrate the show than to dress up and have fun with a horde of undead?

[Thank you Igor Baranov for granting JackFlacco.com the use of your 2013 Toronto Zombie Walk photography for this post.]

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

Have you participated in a zombie walk/run/event? What did you like about it the most?

Posted in Monday Mayhem

Are We Ready?

A virus can start as innocent as a cough. It can progress to chills and a fever. But unless someone identifies it as fatal, the public may treat it as a simple case of the sniffles.

Are we ready?

SARS
SARS

If we’ve learned anything from past outbreaks, we would know we’re never quite ready for what would come next when a contagion strikes. Having lived through the SARS epidemic when it hit Toronto in 2003, I saw firsthand what unpreparedness and paranoia could do to a city.

Let’s talk a bit about this for Monday Mayhem.

At the time, I was taking the train in and out of the city. My commute was an hour one way. During the course of the ride, people would come and go, and not a day would go by that the front page didn’t feature the latest SARS mortality rates. The public was on edge. During my rides, a noticeable silence had hit commuters. Many were afraid to speak, as they didn’t want anyone to think they were possible carriers. Who knew if the virus was airborne?

Some riders wore masks, while others sat in different places. The ends of the train, where the single seats rested next to the doors, became gold. They were away from everyone, and the doors would make for a quick exit—just in case. When people boarded, those seats became the first ones to fill.

And if you had coughed, the dirty looks would have carried until the following week where you either had decided to transfer to another car or find yourself another train.

In Canada, SARS had 251 cases with 44 being fatal. That is an 18% fatality rate, the highest in the world. China had 5328 cases, but their fatality rate was an astounding 6.6% (Source: WHO).

Are we ready?

Ebola
Ebola

In recent weeks, the Ebola virus has once again resurfaced. Between 1976 and 2012, 2328 reported cases affected regions as far as Juba, Sudan and Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2014 alone, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have had 759 confirmed cases so far (Source: WHO).

What makes this outbreak so different is its reach. No longer limited to remote areas, it is now surfacing in populated areas where air travel is common. The CDC says the incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and lack of appetite.

The virus works by suppressing the body’s natural ability to clot thereby liquefying organs.

I can only hope we are ready.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What precautions have you taken to prevent the spread of germs in your household?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Love It or List It

Having recently upgraded our bathroom fixtures in our home, my wife and I have come to appreciate a home improvement show here in Canada called Love It or List It. The show details a completion between a home designer and a real estate agent in the Greater Toronto Area. I’ll talk more about that later. The brilliance of the show is in asking the simple question: If you had a choice with improving your home or buying another, which would you choose? Would you love it or list it?

Real Estate Agent vs. Designer
Real Estate Agent vs. Designer

Living north about an hour from Toronto, gives my family the opportunity to enjoy quiet small town living, but at the same time, about five minutes away, we have all the retail chains and big box stores to shop at when we need to replenish our cupboards. That’s why taking a trip to Home Depot makes for a rather uneventful moment, considering they’re down the street from us.

Getting back to Love It or List It, the show is a gentlemen’s competition between a home designer (Hilary Farr) and a real estate agent (David Visentin). The typical set up consists of family members who have either grown bored of their current home and want to move or they want to live through a renovation nightmare while they consider if they’ve made the right decision asking the producers of the show for help. In all cases, one of the members of the family wants to move while the other half wants to stay.

Once called into the fray, both designer and agent have budgets to work with and a list of must-haves. During the course of the show, as the construction crew demolishes the family’s current home and prepares it for much-needed changes according to the designer’s plans, the real estate agent shows the family home listings within their budget, but not necessarily in their neighborhood.

Hilary and David
Hilary and David

The competition is over after the family views their current home’s renovations and has to decide if the improvements merit sticking around a little longer. If the owners decide it’s time for a change, they will choose from among the listings the real estate agent presented.

It really is a fun show with lots of drama and funny moments. Something always goes wrong in the renovation that delays the timeline, pushes costs through the roof (pun intended) or makes the owners pull their hair out in frustration. Things like tree roots clogging the sewer line, termites, leaky roof, foundation leaks in the basement, mold in the walls, stairs not meeting code, improper furnace venting that may cause carbon monoxide poisoning, sagging ceiling due to a leaky pipe, carpenter ants, bad grading on the outside walls of the home, and rewiring nightmares will make any homeowner’s head spin.

Throughout it all, my wife and I’ll watch the show to garner new ideas of things we could do with our own home. The best part is seeing how other people decorate their homes, which in turn, inspires us to follow the same approach.

I hope you enjoyed this Freedom Friday peek into my family’s viewing habits. There’s more to what I watch than zombies.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What do you like about home improvement shows? What has inspired you with your home decorating ideas?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

The Ice Storm of 2013

Almost three weeks ago, Toronto and the surrounding vicinity had its power cut from under its feet. Living an hour north from the greater metropolitan, we came out of the disaster unscathed. Other than a few felled trees, we had a virtual behemoth of ice blanketing the area. But we retained our power. That in itself is miraculous. And why wouldn’t Freedom Friday describe the event as anything but?

Our neighborhood one morning
Our neighborhood one morning

I awoke to the sound of silence. Unusual, I thought. The neighbor’s dog should have been out barking in the backyard. A car or two should have been traveling on our street to work. I wouldn’t have known what to make of it until I hopped from my bed and peeked through the blinds to discover everything coated in ice. I felt I was living a real-life scene from the movie The Day After Tomorrow where New York City fell under a sub-arctic weather mass.

My first instinct to call my parents proved unproductive. Their phone gave me a busy signal, which meant one of two things—they were talking with my sister about the storm or they’d lost power and weren’t home. Sure enough, my sister had called to let me know my folks were over at her place after having lost power. The region had shut down and no sign of any visible progress would be forthcoming for the next seventy-two hours.

Meanwhile, I had my own dilemma. Even though we hadn’t lost electricity, we had a driveway covered in a foot of ice. It looked like a literal skating rink out there. When I dared make the trek outside, the five steps from our home mocked me with the words, “treacherous”, “lethal”, and “deadly”. The steps were non-existent, replaced by a hill that wasn’t there the night before. I negotiated the anomaly without compromising my safety.

The first inkling of trouble.
The first inkling of trouble.
Deserted street
Deserted street
Our front lawn
Our front lawn

Once at the bottom, I slid to the edge of our driveway. Had I known then what I know now, I would have never slept. Instead, I would have chosen to stay up all night to ensure the bottom of the driveway remained clear. Well, that didn’t work as expected. I stared at the mound to the mouth of the driveway and measured it to be three feet, more or less. That’s three feet of solid ice. I knew I was in trouble.

Surely, I thought, my snow thrower would rescue me from days of attempting to find the bottom of my driveway. I didn’t know what I was doing. I revved the engine, aimed for the ice and—nothing happened. The machine threw its hands in the air not even recognizing the ice and laughed at me. Okay, so maybe my optimism got the best of me.

Plants  frozen solid
Plants frozen solid
More plants  frozen solid
More plants frozen solid

Next, I put away the snow thrower and went to Plan B: I lined my pockets with cash and waited at the foot of the driveway on the mound of ice that held my weight without a problem. As the cars passed by my street, I held my breath. I hoped upon hope for relief. I didn’t know if it would come, but I kept my wits about me and remained confident.

Half-an-hour later, reinforcements came in the form of a plow. With a pocket full of cash, I felt confident we’d win. And win we did. We managed to get the whole driveway plowed for a $20 bill. Imagine my relief.

A leaf frozen in place
A leaf frozen in place
Branch covered in ice
Branch covered in ice

Well, that was one problem out of the way. It didn’t help my stair problem. What to do with all the ice that had made my steps a ski slope? Unfortunately, folks, this I had to take care of myself utilizing a spade fork to break up the ice. Three hours later, I’d cleared the steps.

Now, this is all very well and fine, but it doesn’t compare to the satisfaction of digging out our neighbor across the street from this mess. But that’s another story.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Did you experience the ice storm of 2013? What did you have to do to dig yourself out of its clutches?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Bully

Growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Toronto does something to a kid. It made me never give up on my dreams, and it dared me to go beyond what I believed I could do. For Freedom Friday let me tell you about my experience with an epidemic plaguing the schools in today’s enlightened age.

Bullying in our schools.
Bullying in our schools.

If you learn anything from this post, learn one thing—kids don’t change. As we grow older, we think kids are getting worse when in fact we’re the ones noticing their behavior. Once we have kids of our own, our awareness of the evil surrounding us multiplies astronomically.

Kids don’t change. We change.

Someone may ask, why the surge of bullying in the schools? Bullying has existed long before you and I were born. Anyone remember Nazi Germany? But we hear more of it. Well, there are more people on this planet. Also, the internet makes bullying an instant news item with kids recording this stuff on their cell phones and posting it on YouTube.

It’s not the kids.

Bullying in the schoolyard.
Bullying in the schoolyard.

When I went to school in the 1970s, I had my own dilemma of sorts. At eight years old, a group of kids had determined in their little minds that I would suffice as their daily punching bag. Every afternoon I’d attempt to avoid the pack, escaping school by the side exit or waiting until everyone was gone so I could run home. Sometimes I’d make it. But sometimes, I’d get home covered in bruises.

I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t want to get in trouble. Most of the times I’d cover my injuries with long sleeves or pants. Once in a while I’d get home and my mother would notice. I’d lie and tell her I fell or something ridiculous like I ran into a baseball during gym class.

They were none the wiser for a long time.

That is, until I came home one day with the biggest shiner this side of the school district. Boy, oh boy, was my dad ever upset. He wanted to know the names of the culprits. He wanted to go down there and beat the crap out of them himself. My mom was calling the school to set up a meeting with the principal. In the meantime, all I wanted was for the whole thing to go away. I’m telling you, folks, my parents were proactive people.

Bullying on the playground.
Bullying on the playground.

I begged them not to get involved. I promised I’d handle it on my own. Well, my dad, being the practical man he was, gave me a piece of advice I’ve remembered to this day.

He said, “Hit back.”

I said, “I can’t.”

“They won’t expect it. If you don’t, they’ll keep hounding you.”

“I can’t.”

“Hit back and they’ll leave you alone. I promise.”

Somehow, those words, “I promise” made all the difference.

The next day after school, they came for me. I ran and they caught me on the sidewalk, surrounding me like the little zombies they were. Pushing and shoving. All I remember is decking the biggest guy square on the jaw. I don’t think I drew blood, but like my dad said, they left me, never to bother me again.

Would I recommend the same solution for today’s bullied? No, I’d recommend for those bullied to go to their parents. If not the parents, the guardians. Should that prove to be difficult, the school guidance counselor or principal. Failing that, the police. Whoever it is, they have to reach out to someone to get help. This is not a struggle for kids to go through alone.

There is no room for bullies in the schools or anywhere else.

Below is a list of helplines for your region:

USA: StopBullying.gov
Canada: Stop a Bully
UK: National Bullying Helpline

Have you had to deal with bullying? What would be your solution in today’s world?