Aliant Helpfulness

Earlier in the week my office’s net connection went off the air. Some investigation with the help of the on-call tech support person at Aliant revealed that the Newbridge DSL device needed to be rebooted; thankfully, our friend Lida was still staying at the World HQ, so I was able to get her to do this.

Last night around midnight the same thing happened again. But Lida’s on her way back to New Hampshire, which created a problem. I called the Aliant support desk, got routed to the on-call pager, and about 35 seconds later got a call back from a very helpful woman named Heather.

Heather took the details of my situation, didn’t think I was insane, and promised to follow up. About 45 minutes later, Heather called back to tell me that she was able to have a tech remotely reset the Newbridge device and that everything was back in action.

This is a Good Customer Service. Thank-you.

UPS Madness, Amtrak Fun

My friend Stephen ended up mysteriously in the USA with no identification, which made the prospect of getting back into Canada somewhat daunting. (You may ask “how did he get into the US in the first place?” the answer to which is that he did have ID on the way in, but left it on the dash of his travelmates’ VW Fox and they took off north back into Canada).

After consulting various customs and immigration websites for both countries, it became apparent that crossing the border with no ID just wasn’t going to work, so Stephen managed to contact aforementioned Fox owners and arranged for them to FedEx his ID to him in New Hampshire.

Except that they didn’t FedEx it, they sent it via UPS. I think UPS stands for “Useless Poor Service” because the envelope sent Tuesday afternoon and due in Dublin, NH on Wednesday morning was actually “temporarily left” in Pennsylvania, and therefore not able to reach New Hampshire until Thursday morning. To make matters worse, when we checked in on Thursday morning with UPS, they told us that they’d goofed again and the envelope was in Brattleboro, Vermont.

You would think this was a Good Thing as, in fact, our plans for today were to drive Stephen to Brattleboro so that he could catch the train north to Montreal and home. But, alas, Brattleboro is not a “UPS location,” it’s only some sort of mystical UPS weigh station, so packages that are stuck there are not able to be retrieved. Some back and forth with UPS revealed that at some point the envelope would pop out in Keene, NH where we could retrieve it. Unfortunately the best estimate of when this would happen was “sometime today.”

So we rearranged our schedule and planned a stop in Keene on the way to Vermont.

Except that when I arrived in Dublin to check in this morning what should I find but Stephen’s envelope, delivered at 9:00 a.m. Which means that as I was being told it was lost in Vermont it was, in fact, deliver in New Hampshire.

So UPS is bad at both trucking and tracking, and has lost my business and, no doubt, Stephen’s.

The residual ill-feeling in our hearts towards Brattleboro as a result of this debacle — through no fault of Brattleboro’s, of course — prompted Stephen to rearrange his travel plans entirely.

So this evening we drove down to Boston where we deposited Stephen at South Station at 9:05 p.m. for a train to Toronto. Except Amtrak doesn’t go from Boston to Toronto, so Stephen is taking a train to New York City that arrives at 1:00 a.m., then enjoying New York until 7:00 a.m. at which points he catches a 12 hour train to Toronto.

This may, on the surface, appear to be an insane way to travel. And it does have insane components, indeed. But the combination of exoticness, non-sensicalness, and thrift (the entire journey is only $93US) is what makes it appealing in a way that perhaps only Stephen and I can properly understand.

So as I type this note in my comfortable discounted Swissotel room in downtown Boston, Stephen is on an Acela Regional steaming south.

Tip: if you want to hear an interactive voice response system that’s world class and extremely functional, dial 1-800-USA-RAIL from anywhere in North America. It’s a work ot art.

Tri-state Travel Wonders

We’ve spent the past week circling around the the confluence of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.

On Sunday night we went to the last night of the 2002 season for the Northfield Drive-in, which is located exactly on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border between Hinsdale, NH and Northfield, MA. It was their annual Labour Day quadruple feature (Monsters Inc., Signs, Mr. Deeds and Reign of Fire: we stayed for the first three). It’s a wonderful drive-in, and possibly the one I’ve attended that best matches my memories of a “classic” drive-in from my youth: a large kids playground out front, lots of families with lawn chairs (some with barbeques who came early for dinner) and a genuine cross-section of people from goth teens to huge families. Their projection building and canteen were in an interesting location, much closer to the screen than most and sunk down almost underground. Best canteen server I’ve ever received, anywhere.

On Tuesday we passed through the same eye of the same needle on our way to North Adams, Massachusetts, which is the unlikely home of MassMOCA — the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. North Adams is an otherwise decaying mill town (think Bangor, Maine) in far-western Massachusetts that has been somewhat revitalized by the founding of a funky art museum in the shell of the abandoned factory buildings in its downtown core. The spaces are huge, and so offer themselves well to the exhibition of huge pieces of art. I’m not an “art guy,” at least in the goatee sense, but I was awed and impressed. Well worth a day trip from the Boston area if you’re in New England.

By virtue of our tri-state follies, we’ve been in Brattleboro, VT twice this week (and I’m on my way there after I post this, as my friend Stephen is taking the train north from Brattleboro to Montreal this evening). Brattleboro is a weird, weird town. If you’re travelling from the east, it’s the gateway to Vermont, and it certainly plays that role well, especially if you consider the liberal food-loving part of the Vermont gestalt.

Our first meal was at an Indian restaurant. Not a great meal, and the service was severe. But nice to have dal and currie in the middle of our travels. Our second meal, two days later, was at an all-organic Asian-inspired restaurant run by the same people who used to run Latacarata in Peterborough, New Hampshire. All organic means all-organic, from the meat to the vegetables to the wine. I had the “Zen Meal” from the menu, a $16 set of entrees served in a Japanese bento box; there were snow peas served with sesame seeds, some tasty dumplings, rice with seasoning, several variations of tofu, and a very clean tasting squash soup. The service was delightful — even with Oliver having an infant nervous breakdown freakout through much of the meal — and the meal ranks high on my lifelist.

Before we left Brattleboro we stopped by the Brattleboro Cooperative grocery store, which is a cooperative in the “locally, cooperatively owned and run” sense, not the “owned by a pretend cooperative based in Halifax” sense that we are used to in Charlottetown these days. It was, quite simply, the grocery store of grocery stores, and almost enough to make us think of picking up and moving to Brattleboro. Another place worthy of a stop if you’re in the area, if only to get ideas for your home community.

Tomorrow I’m off to Quincy, Mass and Nashua, NH for a server relocation, Saturday’s our last day on the lake and Sunday we begin our trek home to the Island.

David Bierk, 1944-2002

In the late 1980s I had a small office on George St. in Peterborough, Ontario above Kelsey’s Nutrition Centre.

I shared the office with an 80 year old sculptor who smoked very pungent cigars and only came in to work once or twice a month. Our shared space was filled with cragly nudes and vats of clay, and at the back of the room was a small washroom, the only one on the floor.

At the front of the building on our floor was a huge open well-lit space that was the studio of painter David Bierk. I knew David by reputation — he was one of the founders of Artspace, an artist-run centre in the city, and several friends of mine had works of his in their homes. David pretty much kept to himself, as did I, and we only really saw each other when he came back to get water from the washroom we shared.

My strongest impression from those times was from David’s stereo: Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat had just come out, and David listened to it. And listened to it. Over and over and over and over. He must have loved it. Oddly, this didn’t bother me, and I love the album myself to this day.

David Bierk died this week of cancer. I heard the news from my friend (and former Peterborough resident) Ann, and only knew that David had been ill at all just this morning from my friend Stephen, who lives in Peterborough and was on the crew that worked on the studio that replaced that floor on George Street for David — another large space just down the street.

May he rest in peace.

Drool Flood

As he has almost every other time we’ve flown, Oliver’s developed a wee cold in the days after our flight from Seattle to Manchester. The result is a flood of drool, but otherwise few other ill effects.

We are settling in to New England lakeside life nicely, finding places to buy bread and milk, discovering where the coffee and ice cream are good and so on. And, of course, negotiating the proper balance between Quality Family Time and Quality Work Time.

We found a “Type II” PFD for Oliver today (at Wal-Mart — $7.50) that claims to keep the infant head out of the water. Tomorrow we’ll try it out. Lifejackets and PFDs here in the USA all have a very helpful Coast Guard brochure attached to them, when aided us greatly in choosing the right one for Oliver; we would do well to emulate this in Canada.

It’s the middle of the off-year election season here in New Hampshire and, with the Governorship up in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the television is full of attack ads, counter attack ads, “we promise not to attack” ads and so on. Every street corner is festooned with placards, talk radio is full of politics, and the papers are full of opinion page opinions on school taxes, income taxes and property taxes.

Tomorrow we’re off to northern New Hampshire to rendezvous with my old friend Stephen Southall who is being dumped in Littleton by his burly athletic buddies in transit from Newfoundland to Peterborough, Ontario. Maximum Fun will ensure, I’m sure.