Blood from a stone, all for naught

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I didn’t think it was possible to get a bank to actually give out money.  Let’s face it: banks are in the business of raping their customers, and this is hugely profitable for them.  Like the mega hotels along Las Vegas Boulevard, the towering glass monoliths along Bay street were built by robbing people of their hard-earned cash.  Getting free money out of a bank is like getting blood from a stone, money from a slot machine, or personal information out of Tom. 

Yet yesterday I managed to do the impossible.  I heard a rumour that RBC pays a $100 reward to professional students if they refer another professional student for a line of credit.  Since the average line of credit debt of a medical student is well over $100,000, $100 is really nothing to them if they can get their hands on such juicy debt.  I had already signed up for a line of credit with RBC, but I found a classmate who had signed up before me who was willing to throw me $50 if I got him the $100 referral bonus.  (By the way, he did actually refer me to RBC).  One email to my personal account manager (which is apparently some sort of privilege – most people have to deal with personal financial services representatives – suckas) later and $100 appeared in my classmate’s account.  Yesterday he gave me $50 after class. 

I had enough time to buy a $3 spicy Italian sausage from a street vendor before I had to go play a game of squash (which I lost – I’m moving down the ladder quickly but that’s another story).  Alas, the spicy Italian dog would turn out be the only reward I would get from RBC.  While I was playing Squash, some ignoramus stole my wallet right out of my locked locker at the Hart House gym.  There was no sign of any tampering.  In fact the culprit had taken the time to re-lock my locker after he’d lifted my wallet.  I know you’re all thinking that based on my record, I probably left my wallet somewhere.  You may think I had left it on the bench beneath the locker, or on the street beside the hot dog stand, or anywhere.  But this time it was different.  I knew I had put my wallet on the top shelf of the locker along with my phone and keys.  I had a clear image of it there.

It turns out that my experience is a common occurrence at Hart House.  Apparently people lose their wallets, and nothing else, all the time.  I wish they would have warned me.  The thief takes advantage of their system.  When you enter the locker room, they give you a combination lock that comes attached to a card with the combination written on it.  According to the staff, the guy watches from a distance and memorizes the combination if you make the mistake of leaving it in view.  I must have put the lock (with the combination written out in bold letters right next to it) down on the bench while I put all my stuff in the locker.  I vaguely remember a tall guy pacing around behind me while I was getting changed.  I don’t generally make eye contact with other guys while I’m naked in a change room, so unfortunately I could not provide the campus police with a description.  The guy must have waited until I had gone to play Squash, opened my locker as if it were his own, and fucked off with my wallet.  Losing the money was bad enough, but the prospect of having to get a new birth certificate, driver’s license, credit cards, etc. was the real piss off.

Luckily, by the time I had finished filing my report with the police, someone had turned in my wallet.  It had been found outside by the phone booths.  I sure as hell didn’t leave it there.  The money was gone, but everything else was there.  Well almost everything else.  Also missing was the strawberry flavoured condom I acquired at a drunken room crawl so long ago that it has almost faded from memory.  

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Muddy and Bloody

Today I discovered that there are actually mountain bike trails in Toronto.  Challenging mountain bike trails.  Complete with steep hills, sharp turns, narrow bridges, rocks, roots, logs, low branches, and mud.  At one point my pedal hit a boulder while I was riding down a steep hill.  I went right over the handlebars.  Luckily I only lost a little skin on my knees.  You know it’s a good trail if it bucks you off.  I came off my bike a few times, which was a bit of a shame, because I was riding with one of my classmates and she didn’t seem to be having any problems.  In fact, she was riding circles around me. 

We found these trails in the Don Valley, just minutes from where I live.  The first time I found the Don Valley, I was riding my bike in what appeared to be a completely urban inner-city area.  I would never have know it existed if I hadn’t seen a couple guys riding mountain bikes who were completely covered with mud.  I rode around the area until I found a trail leading into the valley. 

We were having so much fun that we ended up riding way farther than we thought.  When we emerged from the valley, we had no idea where we were.  We had gone so far that the CN tower, that familiar homing beacon, was nowhere to be seen.  We had to ask for directions to get back.  We should have been studying, but it was good just to get out.

I am stupid

Instead of kicking the wall, I am using this blog entry as an outlet for my frustration.  I am extremely pissed at myself right now.  I just let a glorious opportunity, presented on a silver platter, slip away.  I just got back from going to a Thai place alone for lunch.  As soon as I walked in the door, I was struck by an attractive strawberry blonde in a green dressed sitting by herself.  She was tall, elegant, and had a magnetic quality about her that kept me riveted to her.  Even after being seated immediately behind her, I couldn’t stop glancing at her and at her reflection in the mirror beside us.  I could have sworn she kept glancing back at me as well.  The entire meal my heart was beating much faster than normal.

She was reading the newspaper waiting for her meal.  She spent about half the time chatting softly on her cell phone.  I had a strong urge to sit down opposite her and ask if she would mind if I joined her for lunch.  I talked myself out of it, thinking that she would think I was some sort of creep.

In the end, she was the one who approached me.  After I paid for my meal, I was walking out of the restaurant past her table when she stopped me and introduced herself.  She told me that I looked so familiar to her.  She was even more attractive when she made eye contact and smiled.  We had a brief conversation about where we could have met before.  It turns out that she just moved to Toronto from Vancouver herself.  We couldn’t figure out where our paths might have crossed.  We may never have actually met before.  But there was electricity in the air in that Thai restaurant today.  She got up to go pay for her meal and we said “goodbye it was nice meeting you.”  All I know is that her name is MacKenzie, she is working for the Toronto film festival at the moment, and she doesn’t normally eat in that restaurant.  Her accent was either English or Australian.  I would have guessed English for sure except for the fact that she sounded a lot like Nenagh (of St. John’s College fame).

As I walked down the street, head spinning and heart pounding from my encounter, I started swearing out loud.  In that moment I was indistinguisible from a street crazy ranting madly to himself.  A mother even pushed her baby carriage away from me.  What is wrong with me?  This is not the first time I’ve spat Opportunity in the face.  Her patience must be running thin.

Thrown backwards

I’ve already started testing Helen the Ninja’s capabilities.  She can do 100 km/h in 3rd gear.  When I accerelate from a dead stop, get the revs really high (over 10,000 rpm), and then up-shift, she shoots forward fast enough to throw me backwards.  Sweet.  When a red light turns green I’m a block away before the car beside me even makes it through the intersection.  Even though she’s only a 250, she has a lot of juice.  She even looks like a 600.  A guy riding a Ducati Superbike even gave me a wave from a few lanes over the other day.  However, it was probably a good thing that there was too much traffic to race…

Out of gas

I went on another trip out to The Bike Yard (which is way north of Toronto, just past Caledon) because the rear-tire that John had ordered for me had arrived.  Given enough time, I could now put new tires on my motorbike, adjust the chain, and replace the brake pads.  I have an good idea of how to do these things because I watched John work on my bike for several hours tonight in his garage, assisting him as if I had scrubbed into an operating room. 

Getting to The Bike Yard was a bit of an adventure because I ran out of gas (for only the third time in my life, believe it or not) on the way there and had to walk to a gas station to fill a jerrycan.  I don’t know why there is a reserve switch on my bike.  It does nothing.  Luckily I stalled about two blocks away from a gas station.  A few minutes before I had been on highway 427 which is a 12 lane freeway and not the best place to stall.  A few minutes later and I would have been out in the middle of nowhere.  You really couldn’t ask for a better spot to learn that the reserve is useless.  John waited for me to get there even though it was after 8 PM when I finally arrived.  At one point he even called me to make sure I was alright.

Replacing the rear tire turned into a bigger job than John had bargained for.  It was tricky to get all the components lined up, especially the rear brakes.  To make things even more interesting, a system of violent thunder storms moved in.  At one point there was so much electricity in the air from the lightning that John got a big shock from touching my bike with a wrench.  The thunder was so loud that I literally jumped.  At that point John invited me into his house and his wife Sue made us a cup of tea while we waited out the storm.  By the time I left it was after 11 PM.  It may have taken a lot of time, but at least I learned a lot about my bike.  John, despite struggling with my rear brakes for a couple of hours, only charged me $45 for the job.  Best of all Helen is now certified so I can finally register her.

I got hit by another storm on the way back.  It’s really hard to see in heavy rain at night.  My legs and ass got absolutely soaked too.  It was enough of a discomfort that I decided to add fair-weather rider to the list that already includes golfer, runner, and beach-goer.  It is supposed to me nice tomorrow.  I wonder where I’ll cruise?

Certification Gong-Show

Every time a vehicle of any type changes ownership in Ontario it needs to pass a safety inspection before it can be registered.  To certify a car you can take it to a reputable corporation like Canadian Tire.  The service may be crappy, but the people in the shop get paid the same whether they are busy or not, so there is no incentive for them to find phantom problems.  In fact, the opposite may even be true; they may turn a blind eye as long it is barely passable.  However, there are only a select few places that will certify a motorcycle.  Today I discovered that motorcycle certification in Ontario is largely a scam.  My first experience was with a Ducati/Lamborghini dealership http://www.revcycles.com/ chosen for its close proximity to where I live.  I took my bike in on my lunch break.  They told me they could certify it in about an hour.  I wandered around the showroom; filled half with Ducati motorcycles and half with Lamborghinis.  My God, the Ducati supebikes make my heart pound.  They’re gorgeous.  The Lambs aren’t too shabby either.  

I was about to head out for lunch, when the service representative, Robert, flagged me down.  Apparently they had found problems with my Ninja that absolutely had to be fixed before they could certify it.  Robert told me the front and rear tires needed to be replaced.   He also walked me over to a Ducati that happened to be there and pushed down on the handle bars.  He made me note how little bounce there was.  My little Ninja had quite a bit more  bounce.  He said that I needed a fork tune up and fork oil change.  He also said I should get a regular oil change.  I figured the rear tire would need replacing (after all I’m not averse to having a good piece of rubber between me and the road), but the rest seemed excessive to me.  The front tire looked just fine to me.  A fork tune-up for $350?  Give me a break.  My Ninja 250 ZZR, as much as it pains me to admit it, was not in the same league as a Ducati.  No fork oil change would change that.  The labour was $86/hour, and the total estimate came to just under $800.  I just about choked.  Did I buy a lemon of a bike?

I told them not to do the regular oil change, which knocked $150 off the price.  $150 for an oil change?  Unreal.  Thinking I was stuck and feeling awful about it, I asked them to do the work and get it certified.  Luckily Robert called me back a little while later and told me they couldn’t do the work because they couldn’t order the tires for my bike.  He waived the $50 safety inspection fee, saying they had only looked at if for a few minutes, which was true.  This was good of them.  I would soon learn that not all dealerships are as kind.

I had horrible experience at Cycle World http://www.cycleworld.ca/westhome.aspx later that afternoon.  I told them I wanted to get it certified (big mistake).  They dicked around with it for a few minutes before telling me that it needed two new tires, a new chain, rear brake-pads, and new steering column ball bearings.  WTF?  The mechanic explained to me that there was a distinct “notching” when he turned my steering wheel with the bike mounted on the centre-stand.  I asked him to demonstrate for me.  I tried it myself.  I couldn’t feel any goddam “notches”.  What the hell was he talking about?  I wanted an explanation, because the estimate was $250 for this little procedure alone.  The total estimate was almost $900.  He just started to get irritated with me, saying it was a safety concern.  I didn’t like the vibe I was getting.  My read on the situation was that they were trying to screw me.  I soon discovered I was right about that last.  I said no thanks, I don’t want any work done here.  They informed me that I owed them $80 for the “safety inspection”.  I couldn’t believe it – they had done nothing but poke around at my bike for about 5 minutes.  I got into a bit of an altercation with the manager, Shane, but to no avail.  I owed them $80 as far as he was concerned.  If I did the rest of the work at Cycle World, he would waive the certification fee, but otherwise I was on the hook.  They had me by the balls because they had the keys to my bike.  I’ve never experienced having to pay $80 for nothing other than a basic estimate of what would prove to be made-up repairs.  I felt like I had been robbed.  They say in poker never to throw good money after bad.  I decided to cut my losses.  I paid the $80 so I wouldn’t have to pay another $820 to get my bike certified.

I was at a loss.  I drove my Ninja back home wondering if I had been too hasty in my purchase.  She felt so good to ride that I soon forgave her, regardless of whatever faults she might have.  When I got home I came across a website for a place called “The Bike Yard“.  I left a message asking if they could do a safety on my Ninja.  A fellow named John called back around 6 PM and told me he could.  It turned out The Bike Yard was open until 8 PM.  Without even asking, John told me that I wouldn’t have to pay for the certification (which turned out to only be $45 there) unless the bike passed.

I didn’t realize that The Bike Yard was way north of Toronto on Airport road.  The drive would take almost 2 hours because of heavy traffic leaving the city core.  However, the drive turned out to be well worth it in many ways.  For starters, once I was outside the city, the drive along Airport road near Caledon had great scenery (trees, farms, hills) and there wasn’t much traffic so I could open Helen up a bit.  But best of all I found a motorcycle guy I could trust.  John worked out of his home.  “The Bike Yard” was the outlet for what was obviously his life-long passion: motorbikes.  There were parts everywhere.  He was a friendly guy who loved everything to do with riding.  We ended up chatting until after 9 PM about motorbikes and places to ride.  He told me all I needed was a new rear tire and some front brake pads to pass the safety.  All-in it will cost me less than $200.  No phantom ball-bearings or fork tune-ups.  I’m glad the guys at Cycle World so blatantly robbed me because if they had hadn’t been so greedy (maybe only gone for $500) then I might not have discovered The Bike Yard or met a mechanic who’s in the business simply because he loves motorbikes.   Imagine that.

Edit: Another fantastic motorcycle shop that I’ve since found is T.O. Cycle

Helen the Ninja

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I am proud to announce a new addition to my family: Helen the Ninja.  She is fast, light, nimble, and a I would argue a real looker.  I picked her up in Orilia, Ontario today, which is a 2 hour drive north of where I live.  Driving her home was the most fun I’d had on a vehicle since I rented the Harley Heritage Softail Classic (Shelley II).  However, this bike is the complete antithesis of the Heritage Softail.  I don’t have to fight to keep her on the road going around sharp turns at speed.  She accelerates faster.  She is so much easier to manoeuvre in small spaces like parking lots.  She makes a lot of noise, but it is a completely different sound than a Harley.  Harleys make a deep roaring sound.  Helen the Ninja sounds like an angry bee trying in vain to get through a pane of glass.  She loves high revs.  In fact, she loves cruising at 8,000-10,000 RPM.  She hates it when you shift gears before you really gun the engine.  On the whole she’s a hell of a lot of fun.  She may not  be a Ducati or a Triumph, but she has spunk. 

I got a good deal on her because she’s been dropped once on her left side, an incident which cracked the fairing in three places.  She’s also been run off the road and ditched, so the right fairing is scrathed too.  Yeah she’s been around the block and some would say she’s damaged goods.  After all she’s been dropped and ditched.  But Helen is a fiesty creature and a little TLC will have her mint in no time.