Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rock 'n' Bowl: Not all of the pins are at the end of the lane

Stupidity comes in numbers. No wonder most wars are PR disasters.

I went to the Rose Bowl last night for $10 rock 'n' bowl with my wife and sister-in-law and niece and nephew.

At first, it was interesting to witness the trauma of my niece and nephew learning that real bowling wasn't as easy as Wii bowling. My seven old nephew was incensed with reality, that it could be so unfair, so stupid, that it would thwart his unconventional Wii style -- which consists of wheeling his arm like Pete Townshend's pick hand striking a power chord. In the Wii universe, this is successful. In our world, it is not. He wasn't having any of it. The gutter that swallowed every one of his throws quickly turned into something metaphysical and existential, tear-provoking and irreconcilable.

So, we moved to a "bumper" lane, where the gutters are turned 45-degrees, making gutter balls impossible. The bowling purist in me was put off, but seeing the difference it made for the kids, I recognized this as a good move. Interestingly, my nine year old niece seemed only to need the psychological boost of the bumpers' presence, and ultimately didn't need them. She threw a couple of Sports Illustrated strikes, and cleaned up a few nice spares.

As the universal malignity would have it, a truckload of twentynothing louts were situated one lane away from us. They were your typical, banal gaggle of douchebags who travel by the baker's dozen, all mesmerizing themselves with the fire-fly flicker of their cell phone displays in the semi-dark; grunting their inarticulate runic language. There was only one girl among them. No doubt, one of the louts had brought his sister.

So, the douchebags were loud and palming eight-pound bowling balls, flinging them down their lane as though the object of the game was to inflict as much damage as possible to everything except the pins. After one lout guttered his ill-thrown DayGlo pink eight-pounder, he sopranoed "Fuck!" amid the maelstrom of the rock 'n' bowl music.

You're gonna hear profanity in bowling alleys; I've uttered my share. It's a fact of life, just like gutter balls and embarrassing-looking bowling shoes. But this lout had swaggered well into our area, and made himself much more audible to my niece and nephew than was necessary. My sister-in-law shouted over to him to cut it out, we had kids with us. Now, I despise the holding up of a children as social weapons -- "You can't do [X] because of the children! the children!" -- but in this instance, she was right.

It seems the lout in question was brutish and street enough to utter such profanity, but ill-equipped to handle someone calling him on it. He objected to being yelled at. Douchebags have skin thinner than Trojan condoms. He made some attempt to argue with my sister-in-law, so I chimed-in and told the guy to keep it on his side of the lane. He then tried pleading his case to me about the offense of being yelled at. This from a guy who looked like he'd have no problem belting an old lady over the head for her pocket book, or swarming with his friends some defenseless guy downtown. But being told that bellowing "Fuck!" in our hearing was just too much for his selectively sensitive sensibilities.

Even in my youth, I wouldn't have taken the situation any further. I've seen all of Charles Bronson's movies and have relished seeing him belt scumbags in the throat, kick them in the ass and then make them smell his armpit. There's a base, caveman part of me that would love to engage in such activity with the baggy-pantsed douches among us. But I know the difference between movies and real life, and the difference between me and Charles Bronson. The lout, however, was desperate to start some shit, no doubt so "his boys" could all jump in. Lord knows douchebags are less than useless individually. But I'm old, and even less inclined to indulge in the idiotic arts of pugilism.

So, after a moment where the lout's IV drip of testosterone wasn't enough to "force the moment to its crisis", he returned to his circle-jerk buddies and their pitcher of light beer; to their hypnotic cell phone displays as they texted absent douchebags; and the collective miasma of their "get laid" cologne.

That's sociology you won't find in a textbook.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Broken is the New Fixed: The only precaution left to make flying safe is to ban air travel

A guy gets on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. He paid cash for his one-way ticket, had no luggage, and had bomb-making materials secreted in his underwear. He mixes his potion as the plane went into its final approach, luckily botched the concoction, starts a small fire, gets wrestled into submission, and air travel becomes even more cumbersome, unwieldy and inconvenient over night.

On PBS Newshour this evening, the question was asked, "What technology could have detected the bomb-making materials Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab brought on board flight 253?"

I would posit: the telephone. Not surprisingly, the CIA failed to circulate report about bombing suspect.

Also, under ordinary circumstances, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would never have even gotten onto that plane bound from Amsterdam to Detroit. He had no passport with him. Witnesses have told the media that the attendant at the boarding area had told Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab that he could not board without a passport. But Abdulmutallab was accompanied by a very helpful person:
A passenger who boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam with attempted plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab says the would-be terrorist had no passport and was aided by a sharp-dressed man who claimed Mutallab was a Sudanese refugee, just one of a plethora of startling inconsistencies surrounding an incident that has led to ramped up security and increased levels of harassment in airports.

Every single fact that has come to light since the attempted bombing on Christmas Day directly indicates that the bomber was deliberately allowed to board the plane and that his attack would have succeeded if not for the alert and brave reactions of the passengers and flight crew.

According to Kurt Haskell, an attorney with the Haskell Law Firm in Taylor, Michigan, “He and his wife were sitting on the ground near their boarding gate in Amsterdam, which is when they saw Mutallab approach the gate with an unidentified man.”
Alex Jones Interviews Eye Witness On Flight 253.

Mutallab's pitiful, impoverished appearance and being accompanied by a well-dressed, middle-aged man who exuded an air of wealth and prestige brought to my mind the similarity to Lee Harvey Oswald and the numerous sightings of him around New Orleans in the summer of 1963 with the wealthy, middle-aged Clay Shaw. Shaw worked for the CIA and was instrumental in "sheep-dipping" Oswald as a communist; setting up elements for the cover story that would come in so handy late in the day of November 22, 1963. Patsies need handlers.

* * *

Dick Cheney and George W. Bush provided reason enough for there to be hatred of the United States for the next few decades; provided America's enemies with recruiting opportunities and material to radicalize the next few generations. For the octillion dollars spent on security, spying on Americans, and repealing citizen and human rights, there are still only "two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers."

And that other arm of the United States government, the mainstream media, is as reliable as the TSA, CIA and Homeland security -- five days after the attempt to blow up flight 253, they are still not reporting about the "well-dressed" Indian man whose efforts and intercession got Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab onto flight 253. Also, there is so far no further word about a strange man "who videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation."

The only good thing that could come out of all of this is some airport security personnel were to upload to the Internet pictures of x-ray scans looking through the clothes of Anne Coulter, America's #1 advocate of racial profiling. I don't want to see those images, but I'd feel better if I simply knew they were on the Web. That is, if air travel isn't simply shut down all together against "those who hate our freedoms" and whose hatred we seem only able to fuel.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dear Stephen King: Build a time machine, go back to 1990 and retire THEN

There was a time when no one was a more ardent fan of Stephen King's fiction than I was. During the first fifteen years of his career as a name-brand author, I couldn't get enough of his work. I even held off reading The Eyes of the Dragon and The Dark Tower series, like a survivalist squirreling away packs of Fig Newtons and RC Cola beneath the cot in a bomb shelter -- I knew King couldn't write forever and I wanted some gems to look forward to.

No artist is without fault or flaw. Some of Stephen King's novels that I enjoyed very much were overwritten and filled with flabby, should've-been-edited-out flourishes. Much as King's critics hammered him for his endless product placements and dated pop culture name-dropping, my focus was always on the stories. And so many of his stories were very entertaining.

King's novel The Dark Half was the first new-release hardcover I ever purchased. I devoured it and wasn't disappointed. It wasn't the greatest of Stephen King stories, but everything I enjoyed about King's style was present in that novel: his ability to sketch in full scenes and characters in a few deft lines; the interesting-genial-stranger narrative voice; his nearly seamless traversing of the boundary separating reality from the fantastic; and a story that was somehow telegraphed throughout the entire book, but somehow managed to present itself as a surprise.

The next indication that Stephen King was capable of poor publishing decisions was confirmed with the release of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. Ask any long-time Stephen King fan what their favorite King novel is and they will tell you, "The Stand." The original release was nothing short of brilliant. Had it not been published by a young writer who, by 1978, had been pigeon-holed as a "horror writer," it would have won The National Book Award for Fiction that year. The story is epic, endlessly engrossing, written with an eye for detail and humanity that would have shocked and amazed Charles Dickens. The novel is enormous, but leaves most readers voracious for more.

The 1990 release of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition was that more. I dove into the novel and didn't look back. Although I enjoyed it, I felt an almost guilty sense of disloyalty to my love for The Stand because, having received more, I realized unequivocally that the originally published, edited version published in 1978 was far superior. The more of the expanded edition was filled with lateral and parallel moreness, but there was absolutely no more depth to the novel. In fact, the increased breadth of the book actually overwhelmed and diluted its original entrancing depth. I was honestly and foolishly shocked to find that more didn't mean better.

On the heels of that jarring realization, I bought King's collection of four novels, Four Past Midnight. After the disappointment of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition, I was looking for confirmation that I could rely upon Stephen King. Four Past Midnight was confirmation, all right, but not the sort I sought. That poor book provided me with one of the first groundshaking indications that Stephen King might be human -- or, at least, that his seemingly boundless talent may have human boundaries on it. Each of the four stories was flat, forced, canned and to varying degrees, stupid.

Needful Things came out next. It was billed as the final story set in King's fictional town of Castle Rock. I duly bought the novel and thought it was absolutely dreadful -- a genuine, unquestionable piece of shit. In every other line, King appeared to be cracking a joke -- filling each paragraph with horrible quicksand soft spots that made the story interminable. The physical descriptions of his characters were absurd caricatures, again, geared more toward forced, misplaced humor than storytelling. I recall one description in particular of an overweight woman that left the reader with the mental of image of a creature that was barely human. Certainly, there are overweight people abundant in real life, and they have every right to appear in novels, but King seemed incapable of describing any of his characters in terms that were not cartoonish, or simply silly or stupid.

I soon ditched Needful Things without even finishing it, moving on to Gerald's Game, an entire novel written from the perspective of a woman handcuffed to the matrimonial bed, whose naked husband lay dead nearby after she'd kicked him soundly and directly in his erect penis. There's only one way to describe Gerald's Game: complete and utter piece of shit; an irredeemable, unreadable piece of shit; should-never-have-been-published piece of shit. I read more of that than I did of Needful Things, and the further I got, the more apparent it became that Gerald's Game was simply one of those ideas/manuscripts that most other writers would have written, and tossed out. But Stephen King, rich man though he is, over-published author though he is, somehow insists on publishing literally everything that comes into his mind. Maybe the childhood poverty he endured scarred him the point where he has to gather in every nickel his once-phenomenal talent drummed up, and every further nickel his established name mints. But Gerald's Game simply had no business being in print.

It did, however, give way to a sort of "sister novel", Dolores Claiborne. I didn't buy that one, but a friend had it and I read some of it. I was told the story was good (the movie was decent), but I couldn't even begin to get into book because of the bizarre way in which Stephen King decided to write the novel. Somewhere in the 1980s, King stopped using apostrophes in slang words in his dialogue. Goin' became Goin, Thinkin' became Thinkin, Go get 'em became Go get em, and so on. Dolores Claiborne is written in the voice of the novel's namesake, an uneducated, backwoods woman from Maine, who omits more "g"s in her dialogue than the entire cast of The Grapes of Wrath combined. As a consequence, the overall typographical and readability effect of this omission is that the narrative is more graffiti than text. I realize the novel is the confession of an uneducated person who is probably not current on the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that could have been easily gotten around by adding to the story that the original handwritten confession had been transcribed by a court stenographer or something.

At that point in his career, I stopped paying attention to Stephen King's output. I figured my interest is his work had been a youthful fancy. But every once in a long while, I would reread a short story in King's short story collection Skeleton Crew and instantly reconnect with my old fondness for his work. I reread the 1978 edition of The Stand and sadly found that I enjoyed it virtually as much as the first time I'd read it. 'Salem's Lot has remained one of my favorite novels since I first read it in 1987. I reread it at least once a year. Its clunks and awkward spots become more apparent with each reading, but so does the genius of Stephen King in his prime. His hungry prime.

When On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I would have none of it. I recall my wife pointing it out to me once in Costco, and I scoffed saying I'd never read another piece of shit by Stephen King. Later, I learned she had already bought me the book for Christmas. I laughed at myself when I opened the gift, and even cracked the book open to have a look rather than simply trade it in at the local used bookstore. And somehow, the old Stephen King emerged in that strange, wonderful book. I had always found stories of King's poor years very inspiring, and pored over descriptions of him working on his early stories and novels on a manual typewriter on a child's desk that rested on his knees. Then I got into his nuts-and-bolts advice about writing and was astounded by how useful it was. I started implementing the advice in my own work immediately and actually started to sell some stories to magazines. The most interesting part about reading all that good advice was why Stephen King would not use it in his own work.

Much as I enjoyed On Writing, it didn't bring me back into the fold. I was no longer a Stephen King fan. Although I hadn't yet read The Eyes of the Dragon or The Dark Tower series, I gave up on them. At the same time, I began to see Stephen King novels reviewed on arts shows on television. Strangely, the writer who was once despised by mainstream critics was now receiving praise. I recall on CBC's On the Arts, King's novel Bag of Bones receiving a rave review. I heard about him publishing in The New Yorker. And then came the National Book Award 2003: "Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters" and the O. Henry Award 1996 for "The Man in the Black Suit."

Around 2000 I listened to the audio book edition of Bag of Bones, read by Stephen King himself. I was astonished -- it was an abject, unequivocal piece of shit. The characters were caricatures, the dialogue was terrible, canned, contrived. The story was forced and contorted and ridiculous. It was also grossly overwritten; paragraphs and paragraphs of description that covered territory the old Stephen King could cover in a few fine-tuned sentences.

Sometime after that, out of sheer morbid curiosity, I tried the audio book of Dreamcatcher. It was worse than Bag of Bones. It was the work of a fool. It was the hatchet work of a hack. Surely, no outside reader saw the manuscript, and certainly no editor gave a look beyond the author's name on the cover page. All it needed to say was "Stephen King" and it was doubtless rushed to the printer without a single sober, critical eye ever seeing it. There's just no way any credible, serious, responsible person saw the manuscript. They never would have allowed it into print. It paled in professionalism even to the very dismal Gerald's Game. It was garage-sale-novel-writing: King rounding up every stray, unused, unusable piece of shit idea in his head thrown into a single manuscript and set on the front lawn for some idiot to purchase.

And so I parted company with the work of Stephen King. I still admire the man, and have a great fondness and nostalgia for the works he created during the first 15 years of his professional career. Whenever I've seen him interviewed, I've always been impressed by his wit and insight. He'd be a hell of a guy to sit with at a BBQ or in the stands at a ball game. He appears to be an extremely gifted and interesting conversationalist. I just don't care much for his book anymore.

Two days ago I received Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome, for Christmas. From the moment it was announced and the plot was known, media commentators have pointed out the weird similarity between its story and that of The Simpsons Movie, in which Springfield is suddenly enclosed within a transparent, impenetrable dome. Even stranger, Stephen King -- master of all things pop culture -- has floated the improbable story that he wrote the novel having no idea about The Simpsons Movie. That's impossible. It's just impossible. This from the author mentions every fleeting one-hit-wonder and every passing fad in his novels, whose work -- at times -- is painfully and needlessly dated by these references. There is simply no way Stephen King didn't know about The Simpsons Movie.

That aside, I'm reading the novel. Enough time has gone by that I can do so with a clear eye and with a few more defenses against the inevitable disappointment. To his credit, King has so far -- in the first 100 pages of his 1,000-page novel -- done a good job of containing the frustrated comedian in his narrative voice. There are even a few decent turns of phrase. There are also some really embarrassing moments of dialogue, particularly between a doctor attending a tween skateboarder. It's as though Stephen King either watched a bunch of episodes of Saved By the Bell or simply looked up contemporary youth idiom on Wikipedia because it couldn't be more awkward, embarrassing and ridiculous. The doctor thinking he'd impress the kid by saying something was "radical." Holy shit, I actually physically cringed when I read that.

One interesting thing I've noticed reading this novel: the longer Stephen King writes, the more novels he produces, it seems that his confidence in his ability to describe scenes has diminished. Everything -- and I mean everything -- is over described. It's either that King doesn't trust his ability to be brief and on target, or, worse, that he believes his readers are idiots who need mundane points driven home with all subtlety and artfulness cast aside.

And there was this hunk of lazy writing that any first year writing student would be embarrassed to have appear in their weekly creative writing package:
Regarding character Dodee Sanders: "And when it came to brainpower . . . jeez, what could you say? Her father -- Andy Sanders, The Mill's First Selectman -- would never be a Mensa candidate, but Dodee made him look like Albert Einstein."
Terrible. Yeah, it's one example, but this kind of lazy writing appears through the 100 pages I've read so far, to varying degrees. King's in such a hurry to finish writing one book so it came be packaged and sold, and he can get on to the next bit of product. And this from a guy who is supposed to be retired.

Stephen King seems like a nice guy and I believe much of his best work has taken horribly undeserved drubbings from critics in years previous. From the "afterword"s I've read in many of his books, he hasn't been able to live with this too easily. The money his work brings in certainly hasn't been a consolation for the critical bed-panning of his work. Now that King is honestly writing crap, his work now receives reasonably decent reviews. And he continues churning out the sausage. I guess he believes in the philosophy articulated by Mike Love to Brian Wilson back in the 1960s when Wilson embarked on his aborted masterpiece, Smile: "Don't fuck with the formula." Spoken like a true artist. And it seems that the Stephen King Doorstop Factory will also continue with its own formula un-fucked-with. Which is an honest and wretched shame, because there was a time when Stephen King really could write.

For what it's worth, here's my appraisal of Stephen King's work, divided into three categories. He's written more books than are listed here. I only comment on novels of his that I've actually read or attempted to read:

The Good Books
  • Carrie
  • 'Salem's Lot
  • Night Shift
  • The Stand
  • Dead Zone
  • Firestarter
  • Cujo
  • Different Seasons
  • Christine
  • Pet Sematary
  • Thinner
  • Skeleton Crew
  • The Bachman Books
  • It
  • Misery
  • The Dark Half
  • On Writing

The Sloppy Books
  • The Shining
  • Cycle of the Werewolf
  • The Talisman
  • The Tommyknockers
  • Four Past Midnight
  • Dolores Claiborne
  • The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes
  • Under the Dome

The Garbage Books
  • Gerald's Game
  • Needful Things
  • Hearts in Atlantis
  • Dreamcatcher
  • Bag of Bones
  • Blaze

Monday, December 21, 2009


My father worked for a dairy in the 1950s. The vehicle in which he made his deliveries was an electric truck. From what he's told me, the electric truck kept up with traffic, and held its charge long enough for him to make his day's rounds. Although the cars in those days were different than today's ultra-modern gas guzzlers, the municipal speed limit in those days was still 30/mph as it is today. That truck carried my dad safely and effectively everywhere he needed to go in his modest pursuit of a livelihood.

That was well over 50 years ago. There are still no viable electric cars on the consumer market. At the same time, the bloated, arrogant, uninnovative North American auto industry has never been in worse shape. Had our auto engineers not spent the last four or more decades perfecting "built-in obsolescence," maybe they would not have been reduced to becoming executive suite beggars. Yes, absolutely, our cars are much safer these days -- no question. But have you also noticed that they break down so soon after their warranties run out? Now that takes real engineering!

The fact that a species as self-destructive and counter-intuitive as the human race has existed so long is nearly enough to force a belief within me in a supreme being; in an intelligent designer who is also a Swiftian satirist with an insatiable taste for the macabre.

So, the climate talks in Copenhagen were a debacle from first to last, and nothing worth anything came out of them. Considering this counter-intuitive species sent the most self-interested and corrupt of its line into these talks, I can't say I'm shocked. The United States placed demands upon its landlord, China, to little effect. Developing nations mutinied when they felt their grievances weren't being taken seriously by the developed nations, and thus were cast as ungrateful recipients of our e- and other types of waste.

President Barak Obama certainly made it sound like wonderful things came out of Copenhagen, but it must be remembered that he could make leprosy sound like incremental weight loss.

What is it that people don't get about climate change? There are any number of people we hear about in the media -- politicians, often -- who don't even believe that it's occurring, though a preponderance of scientists around the world say that, Oh yes, it fucking well is.

Personally, I don't care about ice that's melting in a region of the world I'll never visit. I am, however, sick of breathing pollution. I'm also sick of paying for gasoline. (No doubt, the day we actually do have viable electric cars on the consumer market, our power plants will be run on gasoline.)

Why can't we get back to calling climate change what it really is? It's pollution. Nobody can say that pollution doesn't exist.

I'm also sick of the specious reasoning that says reducing pollution would hurt our economy. Again, let's call this what it really is: A few of Dick Cheney's friends might make a billion or two dollars less this year, and thus not pay off their mortgages on Neptune, Uranus and Saturn as quickly as they'd hoped. Yeah, Dick Cheney's old news, but he remains a useful thumbnail sketch of unalloyed evil.

Creating solar panels for the consumer housing market wouldn't help the economy? Geothermal heating would be a loss-leader? There's nothing to be gained by simply using rain barrels at one's house, and saving a little on the water bill? And given the sustained outcry for electric cars, I suppose that electric vehicles also wouldn't make any money. Actually, that last one might actually occur if the homunculus Detroit executives are involved. Those stupid motherfuckers could lose money dealing cocaine.

So, the talks in Brokenhagen failed. Everyone except President Obama knows it. North America has shipped hundreds of thousands of jobs to China in the past 20 years, and now turns around and thinks it can dictate terms to its landlord. Reducing pollution is deemed not economically feasible; or, at least, not profitable enough for our greedhead potentates to be interested. And my father got to use technology in the 1950s that is unavailable to me today.

This is Swiftian satire on a global scale.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Thirsty Traveler: article from Dec. issue of The Drive Magazine

There is a great Canadian ambassador who goes by the moniker "The Thirsty Traveler." Since 2002, when the show first aired on The Food Network, Thirsty Traveler, Kevin Brauch, has been a welcomed guest around the world on his adventurous and entertaining search for the finest spirits, wines, beers and food at every destination.

A Toronto native, Kevin Brauch is widely acknowledged as having "the best damn job in the world!" The "Thirsty Traveler" concept was born in a pitch Brauch made to Food Network producers at the Banff Mountain Film Festival back when the Food Network was celebrating its tenth anniversary. At that time, the network was looking at ways to diversify within its genre, and Brauch came forward with the perfect idea -- a man traveling the world, bringing the stories of famous and obscure libations, alike, to an audience that was doing more of its own traveling each year.

The show was originally called The Epicurean Traveler, with an emphasis on exotic food. But Brauch had a different vision, focusing on the nourishment that came in pint and wine glasses, whisky tumblers and snifters. The first episode had Brauch jump into the arena with both feet, going to Scotland in search of the Whisky Trail.

In a recent chat with The Drive Magazine, Brauch described the birth pangs of The Epicurean Traveler growing into The Thirsty Traveler. "After a long day of filming in Scotland, with tiredness, hunger and thirst setting in, there was some debate with producers about what I wanted to contribute to the show. It was getting near sundown and I was standing in a field of barley, anxious to wrap and get to the pub." The bone of contention revolved around Brauch and his crew believing the show should have a casual and humorous feel, while producers envisioned a more serious approach to the locales and drinks presented. Amid the fraying nerves, Brauch suddenly threw himself backward into the dense growth of barley, shouting, "It's the barley!" speaking about what makes scottish whisky so unique and revered. In that moment -- which his talented and dedicated cameraman, Brad, caught without flaw -- Brauch defined the tone and style of The Thirsty Traveler. "After that," he says, "the whole team seemed to 'get it.'"

The show took off from there. In the first season, alone, episodes were taped in Japan, Greece, Jamaica, Ireland and even Newfoundland, where the finer points of the province's famous drink, "Screech," were discussed. The show is now seen in more than 75 countries. It is also shown on Air Canada airlines, as well as the Food Network, Fine Living, Discovery Asia, BBC Food, CTV and E! Canada. The Thirsty Traveler recently reached its 60th-episode milestone.

In the Season 3, The Thirsty Traveler came to Windsor for an episode about Canadian whisky at Hiram Walker & Sons. Brauch was hosted by Canadian Club brand ambassadors, Dan Tullio and Tish Harcus. "I had a blast," Brauch says. "Being with Dan and Tish was like hanging out with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé," referring to the legendary entertainment couple known for their singing, but also for their comedic banter.

Hiram Walker distillery on Riverside Drive may be just another part of the landscape to most Windsor residents, but it's worth noting that Canadian Club is actually older than Canada. It's also had some very famous -- even infamous -- fans of its product. Not the least of which have been Queen Victoria, England's longest reigning monarch, Don Draper in the AMC TV show Madmen, James Bond, and, of course, Al Capone.

"The fact that Canadian Club is located in Windsor is what's made Canadian whisky," Brauch says. He's not only current on how drinks are brewed, blended or distilled, but he knows his history, too. "The proximity to the U.S. certainly didn't hurt, but even with its ready-made customers during Prohibition, C.C. was always about quality." Part of the region's colorful history is the fact that legendary mobster, Al Capone, smuggled thousands of cases of Canadian Club into Detroit.

As for Canadian Club's high status among whisky drinkers, Brauch says, "Canadian Club is a very easy and enjoyable way to get into Canadian whisky. It's so clean and smooth because it's distilled very well." He also spoke very highly of the distillery's tour.

So, how does a person get "the best damn job in the world"? Thomas Edison's equation of "one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration" seems to apply. Brauch entered the food and beverage industry as kitchen help, washing dishes, and basically doing every unpleasant behind-the-scenes chore that keeps all bars and restaurants going.

"I worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory," Brauch recalls, "and places like O'Toole's. One day, a bartender couldn't make it to work, so I was brought out to fill in for him. I immediately loved tending bar."

Harnessing his years of bartending and extensive mixological experiments, Brauch merged that experience with his love of writing and performing. After narrowly missing out on becoming an MTV VJ in the 1990s, Kevin became involved with no less than five award-winning children's television programs at TVOntario and CBC. His early on-air experience included a stint as "Revvin' Kevin" at Toronto's 102.1 FM and co-hosting Canadian Gardening Television on Life Network and HGTV Canada.

And so was the apprenticeship of this jet-setting Jedi knight of the pub, wine cellar and windowed cocktail lounge.

Aside from an undying thirst for adventure and fine food and drink, Brauch brings to the show a unique sense of humor and folksy interview style. He also brings a piece of his past: the silver tankard shown in the opening credits of The Thirsty Traveler. The tankard was a gift from a friend for standing up in a wedding. It is so identifiable that Brauch was once offered $7,000 for it -- an offer he did not accept.

When asked if he's approached by fans while filming on location, Brauch says that he is recognized by viewers. "But I'm not really asked for autographs," he says. "People just want to buy The Thirsty Traveler a drink and take pictures." And Kevin is cool with that.

But with a job that calls for imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, and rich or heavy food, how does Brauch remain fit and keep his wits about him while on location? "I try to run every morning, though it often turns out to be more of a walk," Brauch says. "Also, my standard M.O. is to drink 'one-for-one' -- one glass of water with lemon or lime in between each drink. That keeps me hydrated."

Beyond the picturesque locations, "the best damn job in the world" is not all that we see on TV. "I've traveled the world through terrorism, SARS, and avian flu, which can make for some stressful days," Brauch says.

When asked if he had ever worried about his safety in a particular part of the world, Brauch recalls filming in Northern Ireland. He's quick to say, "Belfast is beautiful, and the North of Ireland is much safer than what people in Canada usually think." But he describes retiring to a "local" in a small town outside of Port Rush, one evening, after filming at a famous nightclub called Kelly's. In the local, Brauch and his crew encountered the scourge of any drinking establishment: the drunken lout. "There was just this drunk guy who kept calling us Americans. When we said 'No, we're Canadian,' he said, 'Same thing.' When I jokingly suggested that he might be Scottish, things started to get dicey." Ultimately, there was no altercation, though diplomatic help from the barman was needed to see Brauch and his team to safety.

"For all of the flying I do," Brauch continued, "the worst turbulence I ever experienced was on a flight to Kelowna." He laughs. "You know, I've been to Asia and the middle east -- all over -- and I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm going down on my way to Kelowna?'" The plane landed safely, and The Thirsty Traveler lived to drink another day.

"There were some security concerns, too, when we were in Russia," Brauch explains. "None of us were personally in danger, but there was concern about our cameras and equipment being stolen. So, we traveled with this guy who I took to calling 'Barney Ruble.' He had a duffel bag with him at all times, and while in the bar car of a train, I asked him what he had in there. He didn't speak English, but he understood my hand gestures and unzipped the bag. Inside, there were about half a dozen handguns."

So, with 60 completed episodes under his belt, where would Kevin Brauch like to take the show that he hasn't seen yet? "India," he replies without hesitation. For all of the exotic drinks he's enjoyed during that time, what are some his favorites? "I'm primarily a beer guy, though, one of the real gifts the show has given me is a growing appreciation for wine. I also love tequila and Jägermeister."

At the moment, Brauch is on a break from the show. In his "spare time," he traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, to the four-day Art of the Cocktail -- an epicurean event connected to the Victoria Film Festival. He was invited to give a lecture on "Our Palettes." Given the success of The Thirsty Traveler, and Kevin Brauch's dedication to on-the-ground research, there is no question that he is an expert on the subject.

To read more about The Thirsty Traveler's adventures, check out

Monday, December 07, 2009

Canadian commerce and the "Fuck You!" economy

We Plebeians should count ourselves lucky that we are even allowed by our overlords to exist. Having a bank account, mortgage, or credit card is a privilege, not a right. Our landlords and overseers, ombudsmen and masters are only looking out for our best interests; we -- the Rabble, the Great Unwashed, the Masses -- being but simple biped cattle who know only how to shop, copulate and watch hockey. We need someone to look after us. Make safe our souls.

And so I should have been moved to give thanks to one of my overlords today when he denied my request for service -- because he, and one of his underlings, just intuitively knew better than I did. But I gave not thanks.

In detail:

Today I called TDCanadaTrust to have my EasyWeb banking password reset. After giving two pieces of information and personal data to the operator, I was informed that I would, in fact, have to go into my local branch to do this. Why? The EasyWeb page clearly said the phone number I dialed was for password resets.

As it turned out, TDCanadaTrust customers are not only serviced by dedicated citizens of Mumbai and other locales in India, but also by the best of Canadian psychics minimum wage can buy.

The Feudal Lord supervisor who came on the line to answer my complaints explained that if any operator has the least inkling that something isn't right -- if their spider sense tingles; if their tarot cards twitch or astrological sign throbs even a tad; if their lunch gurgles dyspeptically in their digestive tract -- that operator can and should pull the plug on helping the customer over the phone. TDCanadaTrust operators use their intuition to winnow out frauds. Based upon this minimum wage slave's gut feeling, I now have to go to my local branch.

There is no more humble and altruistic master than TDCanadaTrust, so I was to take this news with a glad heart. The Masters of the Universe were looking out for my well-being.

And yet, somehow, I could not help feeling rankled. In fact, I felt a distinct pang of ingratitude. Truth be told, I was irked, miffed, PO'd, put off and more than a little discommoded by these tidings from my master. But then I remembered myself, and thanked His Dutifulness for bearing with me, with my frailty of heart and mind, for continuing to look after my meagre funds. I asked if my burble of doubt and disquietude would go on my permanent record. He would not answer that specifically, but I am sure whatever he decides will be in my best interest.

After all, this is Canada where monopolies rule the day, where a person such as myself may one day find himself commercially excommunicated. Lords Bell, Cogeco, Rogers, CIBC, TDCanadaTrust, et al, will only tolerate so much grumbling before they decide we are unworthy to be their customers.