Jun 23, 2009

A Warning to Would-be American Express Cardholders

American Express Building - NYC
In the States, American Express seems to be accepted at many locations with minimal fuss, this is what I discovered on a recent Stateside road trip when I picked my life up and moved to Vancouver from Toronto in order to be part of the 2010 Olympics games. It's when I got back to Canada that the fuss began. I was late paying a bill, despite having updated my address with Amex I received no statement. I was getting calls from them at 5AM in Vancouver telling me I was $15 off paying my minimum balance. I tried to change my address on their records again and again. Finally I got my statement and noticed my interest rate had increased from 15.99% to 19.99%, all for a platinum card with NO PERKS. I was livid; because I had miscalculated a payment by $15 they jacked up my interest 4 percent?

They'd done this once to me years ago, raising interest from a semi-acceptable 12.99% to 15.99%. I called to complain today and was told American Express had "raised all cardholders interest rates in order to remain competitive". So we're in the middle of a global recession and they chose to raise their rates to remain competitive? That's how they reward loyal, long-term cardholders? It's a joke. Many places in Canada do not even take the card, and now I see why. They charge storeowners double the rate other credit card companies do, in order to process payments, and they probably bully them too, raising rates whenever they deem it appropriate. My warning? Steer clear of companies like American Express. They don't care about customer service, they only care to take from the poor to give to the rich. If you want a healthy bottom line do your research and find a credit card company that cares. (I've had a BMO Mastercard for nearly 12 years and my interest is still 10.95%.) Better yet, wean yourself off your cards. If you need a little motivation, check out the film Zeitgeist. You'll be appalled at how much the big banks and players in the US economics industry get away with.

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Dec 18, 2007

24 Hours of Tremblant

I'd been daydreaming about a trip to Mont Tremblant and I knew the snow was falling in the Laurentians with a decent base of 120cm already awaiting me. So, when a friend visiting from the UK said he hadn't yet seen Montreal or Quebec we knew it was time to hit the road. Time was limited. We'd have one night and day at Tremblant - 24 hours - before heading to Montreal for a bit of boozing and back to Toronto.

I'd planned a quick stop over in Saint-Adele for a drink before we had to hit the sack, it would be a bit of a treat too, as DJ Champion would be playing in the small French town. The first time I'd seen him was at a surprise party in the village lodge at Blue Mountain and he was incredible. Before that I'd never really seen a DJ conducting things before, but it worked really well for him and his vocalist, as well as his 4-man guitar band. Arriving at the Bourbon Street Bar I was a bit surprised to see the crowd. They were all super cute and having a great time, but all looked like they were ordering drinks for the first time in their lives. We stayed for a couple bottles of red wine - the bar offers pocket-sized bottles instead of the usual glass - and then headed further into the Laurentians to find our lodgings.

I was excited about the place we'd be staying at, the Cap Wyndham Tremblant. It was supposed to be the highest-altitude resort close to Tremblant so we'd have unparalleled views. I'd been given the accomodation tip from a friend at work. For $220 for the night we scored a beautiful 2-bedroom apartment with full kitchen. We may've stayed up later than we should enjoying the comforts of the toasty stone fireplace and spicy red wine.

I awoke to near blizzard conditions the next morning which made me as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. I made coffee and tried to get my friends up. Slowly they rose and the sun broke to reveal a stunning view of Tremblant awash in gold glow. I'll never forget that view. It couldn't have been better if we were right in Tremblant village.

Things were busy when we reached the mountain. A charity event called 24 hours of Tremblant had taken over part of the hill and the village was bursting with the buzz of racers and organizers alike. For us, it just meant longer line-ups to get our stuff together and longer waits at the cafes.

By about noon we were on the hill and ready to get some runs under our belt. Our top man from the UK showed us that sometimes beginners can surprise you, as he and Craig made their speedy way down a southside green run.

When it was time to warm up we took the gondola to the top for a look around and grabbed more mini-bottles of wine. Form the lodge at the mountain top the view was never-ending, it just made me want to get back out on the runs.

The wind was furious. It was enough sometimes to simply turn my torso toward the wind the get some drag, otherwise Craig and I were flying down every run. We were hoping to get in as many as possible. At about 4 the gates begain to close and there were no more rides for us to catch.

We sat side stage and heard David Usher play before taking in the action in the village. There were some fantastic acrobats showing off their trampoline tricks in the main square.

While I was there, I bumped into an old friend who was taking part in the race. 8 people per team race 24hours long, getting in as many runs as possible. Millions are raised from the event for a childrens charity in Quebec. While I've never done anything quite like it Craig and I agreed it would be a great way to start the season next year.

All photos by 416style and videos by sookiyaki.

Nov 30, 2007

Wasaga Strip Suffers Major Fire

Every summer I spend a couple weekends up at Wasaga Beach near Collingwood. The beaches are fanastic, both warm and shallow owing to the ebb and flow of sandbars that stretch along this freshwater beach, dubbed the longest in the world. The main beach is way too crowded usually so I linger further down to catch some sun and make a stop at the infamous Wasaga strip before I go home. Wandering along these tacky shops that overflow onto the sidewalk had become a tradition for me. I'd pick up a couple bikinis, maybe a pair of sunglasses or a summer dress and a few cheap tank tops too. This summer I had a camera in hand and spent a bit more time exploring the strip and the area around it. It's getting ugly on the main drag, I thought, as construction crews toiled away at gaudy mirrored buildings I knew would become hotspots for muscled men showing off their summer pecs. It seems the kind of place these men with their flashy cars would love. Moving away from all the loud cars assaulting my senses I found the old strip, a beautiful and charming pedestrian area that seemed time had forgotten. There were peeling buildings in bright colours and blow up toys for kids and even a vacant art deco building that may have once been a theatre. This old Wasaga strip no longer attracted the attention of passersby, business along it appeared to be struggling, but to me it was magic. I could see the potential of these historic buildings to bring a different crowd to Wasaga. People who wanted to enjoy a sidewalk cafe or a market while admiring the beauty of the architecture to be found there. I suppose that's what I would want.

News this morning breaks me out of my reverie. A fire's blasted through the strip, destroying 75% of the buildings and homes along the Nottawasaga Bay. It's devastating. I hope that councillors and businesses in the area pay respect to Wasaga's past by re-building and chosing to re-live some of its former charm. My feeling though is that they'll continue to build and approve the unfortunate style of architecture they currently are on the beachside and also continue to appeal to the riffraff that have given this sweet little town a bit of a bad name.

Nov 22, 2007

Japan's Winter Wonderland

As the first fresh snow falls around my treetop house in Toronto I start to think I've gone to heaven. It's beautiful and signifies to me something more than just the onset of the cold season. It's adventure in rolling hills and beautiful valleys. It's time to snowboard!

When I pick up a hot coffee at the local lunchbox I gravitate toward an issue of New York Times' Travel magazine with a stunning cover.

It's Japan in winter, where historic spaces meet Eastern-influenced haute-couture, and it's gorgeous. It's also striking how much the art direction seems to be pulled from my favourite art pieces, Hasui's iconic woodblock prints. While it's no easy task finding the old-world Japanese charm that's reflected here, this layout brought me there, to this fantasy world I'd dreamt of, if only for a moment.

Oct 12, 2007

Snowboard Show Starts the Season

blue mountain
If you're one of those people who, all winter long, talk of nothing but the crappy weather there might be something you can do to turn that frown upside down: snowboarding. All summer long while everyone talks about how beautiful it is I'm secretly wishing snow would fall, and keep falling.

Finally the wait is almost up. This weekend's Toronto Ski, Snowboard and Travel Show marks the unofficial start to the season. From today at 3PM through to Sunday at the Automotive Building, Exhibition Place, you can find all the snowgear you'll ever need and plan any winter getaways too. Gear is usually last year's stock and priced to fly. It's not just boards and bindings, great deals can be found on sporty winter jackets and "underwear" too.

All that's left to consider is where to board when the flakes start falling. Mount St. Louis Moonstone offers great beginner "discovery" packages which include a lesson, rentals and lift all for under $55, but if you're serious about the white stuff Blue Mountain's selling a 5x7 - all nights and weekdays lift pass - for $164 until October 22nd. Last year I waited too long and had to pay double - still worth every penny. This time, I'll pick up my pass at the snowboard show. They'll take my picture and I'll be done with it - no hour long lines when I'm busting to get on the hill.

Admission to the show is $15.

Aug 15, 2007

Who Doesn't Love A Little S'Mac?

I've been eating mac and cheese since I was a key kid and, as Gridskipper's Chris Mohney puts it best, I expect to be gumming it down well into my dotage. The best place for the chewy cheese in Toronto is, hands down, Freshwood Grill on Roncesvalles. Made with four cheeses, fun spiral pasta and a bit of tomoto and basil, I guarantee you'll come crawling back for it on your carb-carving days. At $10 bucks a pop this ain't kid's play though.

Scanning through Gawker today I came across a link to Mr. Mohney's piece on the Best Mac and cheese in the big Cheese - NYC. I was thrilled to learn about S'Mac in Manhattans' East Village. The people who created this divine orange eatery (pictured above) must truly have macaroni madness.

I used to make fun of a co-worker who'd spend his long weekend's visiting the last few St.Hubert's in Ontario, but now I'm geeking out at the thought of taking a trip just to get my hands on a little NYC S'Mac.

Aug 3, 2007

Sink, Swim or Float

I found this photo on flickr and had to take a closer look. This small capsule floating down a B.C. river is someone's home. Built of PVC with catamaran base his home winds downstream like the water. In a world full of overstimulation the idea of floating downstream seems simply amazing.

Aug 2, 2007

Roppongi Nights

I spent a night with a bunch of friends exploring Tokyo nightlife. We ended up at some little restaurant in Roppongi at 5 in the morning and had to find some way to amuse ourselves - besides karaoke - until they brought the ramen noodles to our table.

Feb 19, 2007

Fast & Furious: Collingwood Drift

When the snow falls in Collingwood there's more to do than just snowboarding and skiing. We took my Nissan Pathfinder for a spin to make this video we call Fast & Furious: Collingwood Drift. Please don't try drifting yourself if you don't know what you're doing, watch the video instead.

Jan 10, 2007

Blue Mountain Boarding is Back!

Just days after the closure of Blue Mountain in Collingwood made the front page of Toronto's major papers, it appears trails have reopened and the snow report is looking up. It's great news for skiers and snowboarders patiently waiting to hit the slopes in Ontario again. Only two trails are open for now, Smart Alec and Tranquility, both which feed into the Village at central base, but snowmaking is happening on several others.

The week before Christmas I got in one day of boarding - on a base of only about 25cm - but it looks like, after the snow last night, there's already a little more powder to play with. This season I rented a chalet with friends and paid full price for a season pass so I've been anxious to see the snow start falling. It might have been delayed but I think it's here to stay.

Nov 26, 2006

The Weather in Sydney: Sydney 2000

It's a windy, greyish day in Sydney, Australia, and there’s nothing even Juan Antonio Samaranch, Nike*TM, McDonald's*TM or Bill Gates could do to make it a sunnier day here, not even take out a contract with someone who can, even though they’re the ones inevitably pulling the strings around here.

This weather may be foreshadowing the events that will take place in the next two weeks, the 2000 Olympic Games. Will the world emerge a better place after these "green" games? Are people beginning to understand what's important here? Judging from the pale, bloated, smug faces I see, sporting their badges of authority, I think not. But it's hard not to be a cynic after coming into this world from the other planet I've been on for the past three months.

Don't get me wrong. Sydney is going off, and I love it. There are tons of things to do, both expensive and for free too. (My email comes to you courtesy of IBM's Surf Shack in Darling Harbour.)

Last night was like New Years', beautiful and exhilarating. Fireworks danced from Sydney's AMP tower across the shining evening sky (courtesy of the full moon) and there were enough lasers to make Hans Solo feel emasculated. Every cool Aussie band, besides "too-good for us" Kylie, was playing in the park. And all you had to do was subject yourself to the efforts of a million sweating copywriters and hungry CEO's shoving their latest buzzwords and advertorials in your face. Nike*TM has covered entire skyscrapers in their effort to get us to notice them. Why not just ditch the sweatshops? I retract that. (Can I be sued for libel?)

I found refuge at the gym. Nice to see the suits detoxing themselves from a day's work. As if there weren't enough buff bods in Sydney already, now there are the athletes and wanna-be athletes, juicin’ up on Gatorade*TM and strutting their stuff.

But, that's what I love about Sydney, she's never been self-conscious. Though, it did seem that way when I arrived a couple days ago. I felt sorry for her. She was like a star that had made up her Cover-Girl*TM face and put her best Nine West*TM foot forward, yet, there was no crowd to appreciate her talent. Well, the crowd was just a little late. They're here now, and she's dancing and spinning at a dizzying pace. I just hope she doesn't fall flat on her face. We've seen it all before, and it's just a sad (albeit funny) thing to see, and where does it get us in the end? What did Atlanta in ’96 do to make the world a better place? Do we remember the shining stars or were their faces hidden in Coca Cola's*TM red glare?

Like all the athletes, I'm here following a dream too. This morning I came to the harbor. Past all the massive cruise ships, housing their network stars and casting their shadow over the struggling Rainbow Warrior, I walked, to the Sydney Media Center (SMC) in the hopes of displaying my talent. I didn't do any pirouettes, I just told them, flat out, what I wanted and now I'm hoping for my chance to shine. The SMC is set up as a collaborative effort to disseminate information to all journalists, accredited and non-accredited, and it’s free. At the end of the day I think that's what it's all about: freedom, freedom of information and freedom of choice.
Mind you, it's about respect and responsibility too.

So if Australia's Green and Gold can get both things right, I know the clouds will disappear, so both you, and I, will be filled with some more positive energy, courtesy of The Sun (no registered Trade-Mark).

;) Sus*TM