Friday, February 28, 2014

Re-changing direction

When people complain about the north pretty much the top of the list is the cost of flying here and out. Everything that is expensive about the north – food, building materials, supplies – spring outs from how much it costs to simply move people and things from the south to the north.  If there’s a solution to this problem a great number of smart people have spent a lot of years unsuccessfully trying to figure it out.
That means there’s now an informal social contract between northerners and the airlines. It goes something like this.
1.       We are going to bitch and complain incessantly about how much it costs to fly here and to transport food and be more than a little suspicious that you are somehow finding a way to gouge us silly, although there is ample proof that’s not the case. We’re also probably going to remain loyal to both of you (Canadian North and First Air) even when another airline comes into the market (Hello Air Canada’s doomed attempt a few years ago) for…reasons.
2.       In return, northern airlines will agree to the following.
a.  Offer up seat sales several times a year so that people rarely actually pay the $2,000 return flight to Ottawa, and instead end up paying something closer to $1,300.
b.  Offer up discounts to pretty much every major employer in the city. That includes Government of Nunavut civil servants, teachers, nurses, federal employees, Inuit organizations, etc.
c.  Offer discount fares to beneficiaries.
d.  Give away probably hundreds of plane tickets a year for various charity fundraisers or sports tournaments. I know the curling club routinely gets anywhere from 4-7 tickets per year.
e.  Give us half decent meals on the flights, along with “special coffees”.
f.  Give us 2 pieces of luggage which can hold up to 70 pounds each, so that when we’re coming back north, we can stuff it with extra supplies.
If you break this contract, there will be consequences.
Canadian North decided to test things earlier this year. They broke the social contract and dropped the baggage allowance down to 50 pounds per bag. The reason given is that this brought them more in line with how things are done with other airlines in North America. I believe Canadian also has an agreement with Westjet where you can check your bags straight through to your final destination instead of picking them up in Ottawa and having to check in again. WestJet probably wasn’t enjoying having to deal with these extra heavy bags and not getting some extra money for it.
Let’s say Canadian North’s plan did not fly well. I’m reasonably active on Twitter and to say there were howls of outrage would be an understatement. The other indicator of outrage and frothing-at-the-mouth in Nunavut is Nunatsiaq News comments section. Reaction there was, if anything, even more extreme.
I’m not sure what Canadian North thought would happen with this. That people would hate it, sure. But I guess they must have thought First Air would jump at the chance to lower their baggage allowance and follow suit. The two airlines are practically peas on a pod. When one announces a seat sale, the other matches it…often within minutes.
So when Canadian North lowered baggage allowances, First Air did…nothing. For days, nothing. Then they announced a pretty nice seat sale, just to put the extra screws to Canadian North. So, for a pleasant change of pace, there was actually some competition for customers in the north. I still think most people expected First Air to sweat Canadian for a few weeks and then lower their allowance as well.
But it never happened. I went to the airport to pick up Cathy on Sunday (she was down south for some professional development). Canadian landed first and a trickle of passengers disembarked. First Air landed about 10 minutes later. Easily double, maybe triple, the number of people got off the plane. I imagine that was just a snapshot of what they’d been dealing with since their baggage policy went into effect on February 1.
So on Thursday, in a reversal of policy, Canadian brought back the old baggage limit. I’m always glad to see customers punishing businesses when they do something like this. Pity more people didn’t take this step when US and other Canadian airlines began doing this kind of thing with baggage. Then again, that’s a much more complex issue than what we face here.
The other interesting thing Canadian did yesterday was announce a new weekly flight: Iqaluit-Halifax-St. John’s. There’s a sizeable east coast population in Iqaluit so that news was greeted warmly. Granted, I don’t think it will save much, if any money. But it will save time and be convenient. If it does well, they’ll expand it past its once a week during the summer event. That would be nice. I don’t think you could do it daily, but twice a week, all year round…I think that could be manageable.
I mentioned to friends and family in Newfoundland they can come for a visit now. They pointed out the flight is still over $2,000. So I guess they don't love us quite that much.
People have short memories for this kind of thing, so I imagine Canadian will be forgiven, and offering up the east coast flight will more than soothe some frayed tempers. But it was interesting to watch while it was going on…
Last Five
1. Desire - Ryan Adams
2. So distant - Matt Mays
3. The book I write - Spoon
4. I could say - Lily Allen
5. Up on Cripple Creek - The Band

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Two years later

So, an anniversary of sorts today. Two years ago today I went to the gym for the "first" time. I put the quotes in there because I have been to the gym before in Iqaluit, but it never stuck. Three (months) and out is how it usually went.

But it stuck this time. I'm sure I've written at length and tediousness about my decisions to lose weight and get in better shape, so I won't subject everyone to it again. But it was two years ago that I walked through the doors of the gym and resolved to do the following:

1. Lose 80 pounds.
2. Keep going to the gym at least four times a week.
3. Eat healthier, eat less.

So, how'd I do?

1. Never really came close to losing 80 pounds. At my best I lost 67.2 pounds and I manage to do that in about 10 months. That meant I dropped from 250 pounds down to 182.8. Which is pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself. But most of 2013 was spent holding around 185 and not getting any lower. Then, as much as out of boredom and frustration as anything else, we had a bad few months in the fall, so I bounced up a bit more. I'm currently hovering around 192 pounds. I'm trying to get back down to around 185, which I think is a good weight for me. I am desperately trying to never go above 200 pounds again.

People will tell you that weight doesn't really matter, it's taking care of yourself - exercise and diet - are the important things. And they're right. Trying to get to 170 pounds was a pure arbitrary number that I drew out of a memory of standing on the scales at my (then) girlfriend's house. It's the last time I remember standing on a scale from my time at MUN. So figured that was a good number to shoot for.

Cathy thought it was unrealistic. Cathy, as is the case in most things, was right. I've actually been under 170 pounds twice in my adult life, but as both of those occasions involved me being stupid (soccer injury that earned me 15 stitches in my mouth, unable to figure out food in Korea) I thought it would be best not to aim for those goals.

And really, it was pure bullheaded stubbornness that got that much weight off. I didn't follow a diet plan, I didn't start Weight Watchers, I didn't go in with a tailored exercise regime. Just pure force of will, a little luck, and a lot of stubbornness. What worked for me probably wouldn't work for others. But I'm glad I got away with it.

2. When I went to the gym today, I checked. It said that in the past two years I've been to the gym 368 times. I think that's lowballing slightly and it wouldn't surprise me if there were times they forgot to sign me in. Divide that by 104 weeks and you get a total of 3.54 times a week of going to the gym. And again, there have been many weeks where I simply wasn't in the territory to go to the gym or I was sick (although that seems to happen less these days, which is nice).

So I'm ok with that number. And I go for at least an hour each time. 30 minutes on the elliptical (I can't do the treadmill. It kills my left knee) and 30 minutes or so of lifting weights. The intensity level is also much better. I used to do 15 minutes at level 8 on a wussy elliptical and it would kill me. I could do about 10 sets of lifting 80 pounds and that was it.

Now I can do 30 minutes on Level 20 of the elliptical and burn over 600 calories (hit my personal best of 602 calories today, which made me happy). I can now also do three sets of 10 on the weights at 170 pounds, which also makes me happy. And that's on a few of the things I do there. But you've got to keep pushing these things...

3. I eat better, but still not as good as I could. Cathy and I simply aren't great cooks. I think we could both eat fantastic if someone else would just cook for us. We're both adequate cooks, but the fact that we both try to beat the other to the punch at lunch time by asking the other what they want for supper (the first person asked has to pick. Much swearing normally results).

We're better than what we once were, when we would routinely be eating pizza, nachos and macaroni and cheese (all in one week, mind...), and hell, I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast, which is nothing short of astonishing. But yeah, I can do better.

But man, there's only so much will power to get you through a day. I really believe that. And I spend so much of it just making sure I keep going to the gym, and keep moving (really need to do that FitBit review one of these days), that the food does suffer a bit.

Still, one of the most important changes is accepting that this is going to be the rest of my life doing this. This is never going to be "well, I did this for two years so I can stop now." Noooooo. My little lapse this past fall shows how quick the weight will fly back on if my diligence slips.

So anyway, I'm pretty happy with my results, two years later. Certainly better than being 250 pounds and on my way to my first heart attack. And given my family history, that's exactly what I was on my way towards.

Last Five
1. Dark angel (live) - Blue Rodeo*
2. The vanishing breed - Robbie Robertson
3. One flight down - Norah Jones
4. My heart is broken - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
5. Come as you are - Nirvana

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


It's a story I've told many times, and probably more than once on this blog, but once upon a time, there was a relatively naive university student who joined the campus student newspaper. He quite liked it, but about six months in, the paper decided to put out their annual Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual supplement right around Valentine's Day.

The lad had only recently met a few out of the closet gay people, who seemed pretty cool and he was evolving nicely from the knee-jerk "huh huh faggots" mindset that way too many Newfoundland high school students had at that time. It's not that he was a bad person, just ignorant. But he'd had his mind changed, in a good way. So why not put out a supplement that might reach other people and change their minds? And along the way provide some information on safe sex that might help some young GLB people be safer?

To say the supplement was not greeted...warmly, would be an understatement. Engineering students threw bundles of papers into the garbage. Students tried to force their way into the campus office to confront staff and shouted profanities. A petition was launched to shut the paper down (it received almost 2,000 signatures). It was one of the lead stories on CBC News that evening. The university's president spoke to the local daily and stated that our actions could result in higher tuition fees for students, which while complete bullshit, certainly made the paper more popular.

And all that, all of that, was just a fraction of the crap that gay people in the province had to endure in Newfoundland and Labrador at that time. That naive lad grew up in a big ass hurry, especially manning the phones, where he was routinely cursed on and told he was an embarrassment to his family (his folks, to their credit, asked if he was all right. He said yup. They said no more about the controversy, but were supportive of staying with the paper and fighting).

That was 23 years ago (Christ I'm getting old) and even the crap that I went through, which was nothing compared to what friends went through, is even less than what GLBQ people have to endure in Russia right now. That's why I was astonished, and pleased as hell, when the City of St. John's took the lead in Canada in flying the Pride Flag the day of the Opening Ceremonies to the Winter Olympics. I never thought I would see the day, but I'm glad I did.

I was also pleased to see other cities across Canada follow St. John's lead. And while I was watching all of this unfold online on Friday, a simple question went out on Twitter to local Iqaluitmuit..."Hey, do you think we could do something similar here in town?"

And so went the cry...and very quickly things happened. A Pride Flag was found (honestly wasn't sure there was one in town) and donated by a very good friend of mine. A city councillor on Twitter said he would be happy to bring to the City Council building and get them to hoist it up the flag pole.

And then, at 2 pm on Monday, this happened...

If you read as much news as I do, there are days you have your faith in humanity shaken quite a bit. I read a story today about a city in Florida banning homeless people from having blankets to keep warm at night. So there's that.

But then you have moments where you get to see the Pride Flag hoisted in Iqaluit and watch a good friend get pretty misty about that happening. People cheered and the world didn't end. In fact, it probably just got a tiny bit better.

Totally worth not being able to have proper sensation in my hands for an hour after taking these photos.

And yes, things suck in Russia for GLBQ people. But 23 years ago I watched a university campus lose its mind over a gay safe sex supplement. So who knows what will happen in Russia in the future. We can only hope that in a few years, hoisting a Pride flag in St. Petersburg gets the same kind of reaction it got in Iqaluit on Monday.

Last Five
1. Anger is beauty - Hawksley Workman*
2. No son of mine - Genesis
3. Here, there and everywhere - The Beatles
4. No future shock - TV on the Radio
5. Constructive summer - The Hold Steady