Sunday, January 18, 2009

Margin Notes: Cold, Missions, Delays

A duck sat on the ice covering the Humber River near Dundas Street in Toronto, Ontario on 9-January-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Yes, it's been quite cold around here. On Wednesday, the arctic air moved in, and highs didn't exceed -10 C and lows didn't exceed -18 C again until today; the wind chill was -30 C or below twice when I woke up this week. It's pretty bad when it's so cold outside that even in a properly-heated apartment moisturizer is required because the air is so dry. On Saturday, I talked to people that were driving one block to avoid having to walk outside--I'm sure people out in the prairies, where -20 C would have been an improvement on their high temperatures for much of the week, are laughing at us right now.

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No laughing matter was the power outage that affected 22,000 households in Toronto at the height of the cold weather late Thursday, with some customers out of power for a full day. A sprinkler malfunction at a Hydro One substation near Bloor and Dufferin is being blamed for the outage. Interestingly, in this week's Bloor West Villager newspaper, Hydro One ran an advertisement essentially apologizing for how long they had taken to restore power following the storm on 28-December-2008. "We regret the inconvenience the storm-related outages caused our customers. We thank them for their patience and resilience." I wonder what they will say next week?

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One thing I'm really looking forward to in the next week is the end of retrospectives on the George W. Bush presidency. The only thing I found amusing in any of the coverage this week was Republican strategist Ed Rollins making what may have been a Freudian slip in referring to the famous 2003 sign on an aircraft carrier, referring to it as the "Mission Impossible" sign instead of "Mission Accomplished." Clearly, that's what the sign should have said.

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An appropriate GO Transit car to see this week was the one with the Maple Leafs wrap ad, noted at Willowbrook Yard in Toronto on 17-January-2009

A moving sign caught my eye this week. While out watching trains in the cold, GO Transit commuter equipment passed in front of me including the car decorated with a wrap ad for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a white environment with the next snow storm already approaching on the horizon, seeing a car advertising hockey seemed entirely appropriate.

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Commuter trains were about the only form of transportation I used on my winter vacation trip this year that operated on time, other than local city buses. Not one of my airline flights went off as scheduled, but clearly the worst was my return trip to Toronto. I've been relatively kind to US Airways in the past on this blog, but they've made my do-not-fly list now (along with United and Alaska). For my red-eye flight from Seattle to Philadelphia while Seattle was receiving yet another snow shower on 4-January-2009, we could not leave Seattle because US Airways didn't have de-icing equipment available. We had to wait until Southwest Airlines was done with their flights for the day, then their contractor's equipment was "borrowed" and literally sat next to our plane for about half an hour before they found someone to operate it and de-ice our wings. The flight finally took off nearly three hours late, and one of the few things the airline did right the whole experience is that they had a new boarding pass waiting for me upon arrival since I had missed my connecting flight. The only problem is that the flight was soon canceled, and no further flights were available until the next day. The only thing I could get a phone agent to do was book me on a United itinerary via Washington DC--the only airline actually worse than US Airways that could have been accessed. Amazingly, those flights actually got me to Toronto close to their schedules, but my checked luggage that I had paid an extra $15 for did not arrive for another two days because United failed to transfer it in Washington DC. What really amazed me is that the only airline employee that smiled at me the entire trip was one flight attendant on the Washington-Toronto flight. That's it. Both US Airways and United need some serious help, and Air Canada needs to join a different alliance.

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