Uncommon Grocer, Rest in Peace

Our only Big News from Lida, who was staying in our house while we were away south, was that the Uncommon Grocer had closed. We’d included it on a list we made for Lida of places to buy good food.

For the uninitiated, the Uncommon Grocer was a small grocery store, initially located on University Avenue in the middle of the stripdrech, and recently moved downtown about a block from us.

The store was perhaps best known for its defiance of the “can ban,” selling fruit spritzers in cans, and the subsquent charges and court case surrounding this (they lost).

The Uncommon Grocer was a weird mix of some of the same “health food” you’d find at places like the Root Cellar, along with some “gourmet” items, some very good soup and sandwiches at the lunch hour, and a scatterling of books and baskets and kitchen items. It was run by a very nice woman named Barb, who obviously put most of her heart and soul into starting the place and keeping it going.

From the outside looking in, it always seemed as though the store never quite hit its mark. It didn’t know whether it was a health food store, a gourmet foods store, a deli, or a kitchen supply store. It was some of all of those, but not a a compelling enough stand out at one in particular to allow people to hang their hat on the concept.

That said, I’m very sad to see it go. It was a breath of fresh air on the downtown food shopping scape, and with some time to mature it could have grown into something even better. I talked to someone over the weekend who was there when the end came, and it sounds horrible: the owner and staff were given 5 minutes to vacate the premises before it was closed and locked up.

Let’s hope that the market that it was managing to grab little parts of doesn’t disperse entirely; for we “downtown livers,” a good food store is important to the health of the neighbourhood. And best wishes to Barb in her future endeavours; it was great while it lasted.

Public Spaces and Secret Bunkers

When my brother Steve was in Pusan, South Korea back in the late 1990s, I paid him a visit. One of the things from that visit that stayed with me is the different notion of “public space” in Korea.

Many Koreans have very small apartments or houses, and so they seek places outside the home to socialize and wile away the hours. One example of this is the ad hoc bars — called soju tents — that spring up every night on the streets of suburbia. In these tents, the men of the neighbourhood gather, drink sujo, and eat snacks cooked in the knock-down kitchens set up in the tents. Another example is the proliferation of very comfortable coffee houses throughout the cities, places you can happily go and spend 5 or 6 hours doing, well, whatever while you’re drinking coffee.

We don’t really have analagous public spaces here in Charlottetown. There are coffee shops — Beanz, GrabbaJabba, and the ubiquitous Tim Hortons — but with the exception of Tims they keep anemic hours, and are never open when you really want to get out of the house (at, say, 11:30 p.m.). And if you’re at Tim Hortons at 11:30 at night you’re widely considered to be worthy of scorn are at least derision. There are bars, but because of our bizarro liquor laws, they aren’t really bars, more restaurants posing as bars. And if you don’t smoke, even that option is out.

Not being a bona fide Islander, I’ve always had my suspicions that people born here, or at least people who have been here more than 13 years (which, Catherine Hennessey says, is the qualifying period of Islander status consideration) have secret bunkers where they gather to make secret Islander plans. I’d welcome any true Islanders in the readership who are willing to break ranks with the fold to confirm or deny this fact.

Beware of Digital North America

In mid-July I signed up for Island Tel Mobility’s Digital North America plan because I was tired of getting $350 cell phone bills every time I got back from a trip to the USA. For $79, the Digital North America plan gets you 200 minutes of calling anywhere in North America.

Imagine my surprise upon returning from our latest trip to find a cell phone bill for $340.87 waiting for me. I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with Island Tel this morning, and they tracked the problem back to a misconfiguration of my account in their database: I was being billed for all of my “free” long distance.

The result? They had overcharged me by $225.95.

This isn’t the first time this has happened; a similar problem showed up on the August bill and, indeed, I don’t think I’ve had a completely correct Island Tel Mobility bill all year as they were regularly charging me daily roaming fees in the spring even though these fees were theoretically removed last year.

So, a word to the wise: don’t blindly pay what you’re billed from Island Tel Moblity. Look carefelly to see that it’s right!

Even in the Quietest Moments...

Having been in iBook country for the last three weeks on the road, I decided to just keep on Mac’ing when I got home. So I shut off my PC and moved it to one side of the desk, plugged the ergo-keyboard into the iBook, and I’ve been using it as my primary work machine all week long.

The most noticeable benefit of this move? It’s quiet in here! My PC is not a particularly noisy one, but it has a fan and a hard disk and together they sound not unlike a colony of bees. While not particularly annoying or noticeable in the foreground, I’ve come to realize that the cumulative effect of living in the PC noise-o-sphere for hours at a time is brain-numbing.

My iBook has no fan, and it has a very quiet hard disk, and so essentially, but for the sound of typing, my office is quiet. It is a wonderful silence, and my productivity has increased and my anxiety decreased considerably.

Ob-tangent: I believe I actually uttered the phrase “we are so there!” when Dave told me that Supertramp was planning an eastern Canadian tour. Dave and I, by coincidence, share a love of Supertramp from our youth. The only concert I’ve ever been to that could properly be called a Concert was at Exhibition Stadium for the Famous Last Words tour. It was awesome (!).

Alas, Supertramp was not in the cards for me this time, as Johnny and Jodi had the gall to get married the weekend the band swung through. Oh well. It was a wonderful wedding, and I’m sure they’ll have another farewell tour. Supertramp, I mean.