Monday, August 18, 2008

Adventures in Ottawa

So this weekend I went to Ottawa to visit my sister and brother-in-law and see Wicked, the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West. The plan was to take the 12:20 train up from Toronto to Ottawa and arrive at about 4:30 PM. Things got off to a rocky start though, because the day before I had started feeling sick with a pretty serious and persistent headache and stomach ache.

A slow start

On Friday, I was feeling travel-worthy, but certainly not in top form. Arriving in Ottawa, I decided it was best if I lay low for the day and hope to feel better for Saturday's show. My mom had sent an entire lamb roast for my sister and brother-in-law, so we ate it with some rice and vegetables in a nice and safe meal. We also rented and watched The Illusionist starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, which was a pretty entertaining movie. In some ways the twistiness of the plot seemed gratuitous, and aimed almost exclusively at throwing the viewer off what the actual twist was going to be... but all in all it was not at all bad.

Feeling Wicked

Saturday started off with a nice culinary surprise (as I have discovered is the norm when crashing at my sister's place), as she and my brother-and-law had cooked up some gigantic pancakes by the time I yanked myself off the sofabed. I also felt pretty well, and up for some musical theatre.

Wicked was not quite I expected. I guess I hadn't really done any research into it, though it sounded amusing and popular, generally two favourable indicators. I had kind of expected to have the Wizard of Oz story thrown at me from the Wicked Witch's perspective, but in kind of a more ambiguous and charming way such as for the viewer to come to the conclusion that perhaps she was not quite so wicked.

In fact, Wicked only overlapped with the original Wizard of Oz story near the end, and not always in ways that allowed the two to sync up quite right. But that's okay - after all, Wicked is not exactly a story that falls into Wizard of Oz canon anyways.

Instead of casting light on the charming side of an slightly trouble-making character, however, Wicked casts Elphaba a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West as an almost thoroughly "good" character who, as my sister describes "tries to do good but bad things happen to." It follows her from high school and explains her departure from the good graces of the people of Oz. It has it's fair share of twists but is overall quite a believable dose of revisionist history (except maybe in the case of Dorthy's companions - the tin man, cowardly lion, and scarecrow who do appear in the production, but could hardly be seen actually travelling her in the state they appear here).

The weakness in the musical, ironically, was the music which was not all that remarkable and quite poppish to boot. But the performances themselves were excellent, with the vocal talent of the actors and actresses making it still a very enjoyable experience.

In the end, Wicked proved to be a fun and entertaining production, though not one to be ranked among the greats such as Phantom of the Opera or Les Misèrables. Definitely very watchable.

The Cave

Sunday (today), I was raised bright and early. My sister had made plans for us to go up to Lusk Caverns in Gatineau Park with a friend of her's and his significant other, and the friend had agreed to drive. The idea of exploring a pitch black cave with only a headlamp to guide the way was really exciting, and brought to mind such famous cave moments as Luke Skywalker's confrontation at the cave in Dagobah under Yoda's tutelage... which is an appropriately geeky thing to bring up becaaaaause... my sister's friend had this amazing little TomTom branded GPS which could use celebrity voice packs to spice up your directions. Showing off his Yoda voice pack, we were treated to the diminutive little Jedi master giving us directions such as, "In 500 m right you must bear, then with the transitway you must merge!"

After parking the car, we took a 5 km hike up to the caverns themselves. The cave was a real treat... I really felt like an adventurer. I mean, you can experience lots of neat things through movies and video games that really get your blood pumping, but at the end of the day, you're still staring at a screen. This was real. You have your real hand on a real rock. The real sound of rushing water filling the air - the same water that is washing rapidly past your cold feet. Your eyes are seeing real pitch black around you. I mean, it's quite exhilarating... a real adventure. Of course, the actual danger of the cave was quite manageable... a lot of people there had even brought their kids (which might have been a bit dangerous, actually... perhaps?).

Basically the cave is takes about 15 minutes to walk through. It starts off dry, and moderately lit. It's narrow, and as you get a couple minutes in, your feet get submerged in water. The trickiest part is finding solid footing with each step, as the floor is uneven, and if you trip and crack your leg (or worse, your head)... it could be pretty bad. As we kept going, it got darker and darker until it was black except for the light coming from our lamps. But then we emerged, into the bright of day again. That was halfway.

Following the little stream of water through a little break in the cave, we launched ourselves back into the rocky darkness. This time, things were a bit more interesting. Two noticeably steep (and possibly dangerous) drops in the rocks underfoot were noticeably, marked in particular with two miniature waterfalls. Finding our way down proved more difficult for some of our group than others (though obviously not my sister and my brother-in-law who are hardcore outdoorsy types who had been to this cave before, and other, more genuinely dangerous ones). Then forward still, the ceiling came down, forcing us to duck, and the water level rose to waist high. With darkness all around, it really felt like the cave was starting to close in around you, and then... it was over. The cave opened up to the exit, and we were done.

My only cave exploring adventure ever was a success!

Building castles in the sand

We make the 5 km hike back to the car, and got our lunch out of the trunk. There was oodles of edible goodness prepared mostly by my sister. We sat ourselves at a nearby beach (which was quite popular) and ate our food, then ventured down to the water.

After several minutes, my brother-in-law and I abandoned the water due to the chilling temperatures. However, as we waited for the sun to dry us off, he started building a sand castle. He asked if I wanted to help, so I jumped into the process as well. I have to admit, I felt a bit childish sitting there digging at the sand with a stick, but it was pretty fun. We built a pretty elaborate castle ("for the least amount of work") with several towers, a keep, and impressively tall, smooth, crenellated walls on four sides. My brother-in-law explained to me that the purpose was to make the kids around sufficiently jealous as to want to destroy our castle once we walked away, and get punished by a nearby parent... a devious plan, though with some undeniable appeal. Sure enough the minute we called a halt to our construction, some kid walked up with a sand pail in the hopes of throwing water into the middle of our castle (apparently thinking that with four walls it should be a swimming pool rather than a castle), only to be restrained by his Mommy... mission accomplished.

One last adventure...

Well, after we got back to my sister and brother-in-law's apartment and thanked her friend for driving, there wasn't much time left before I had to catch my train back to Toronto. I packed up my belongings, and we high-tailed it to a Japanese restaurant nearby. Apparently, it was a challenge to pick a restaurant because in Ottawa, as populous a city as it is, most of the restaurants are closed on Sunday. In principle, I certainly respected this... but I found it most peculiar!

We got to the restaurant around 5:10 PM-ish. My train is at 6:15 PM. We all order the same dish - Tempura Udon. We figure noodles are fast and if we all order the same thing, it should come even faster. There is nobody else in the restaurant. Clock is ticking... 5:30 PM, food arrives. We call a cab for 5:45 PM outside our restaurant. We start eating. 5:35 PM, waitress comes to ask if everything is going okay. Scarfing udon, we ask for the bill. 5:45 PM, my sister goes out to look for the cab. 5:50 PM, I finish all I can eat in a hurry and we join my sister outside. No cab. We call the cab company: "It'll be there momentarily." 5:55 PM, we start thinking about going to the cab stop at a nearby hotel, call the cab company again. The cab company has no idea where our cab is, and has to locate our driver. He arrives at 6:03 PM. My train is at 6:15...

Sister: "What happened to the other guy?"

Heavily-accented driver: "Other guy? No I am the guy they called first."

He gets mad at us because he said he came and we weren't there, he waited, honked his horn, and left. My sister asked him if he came where we were standing, because she was there the whole time. "Yes, I came, I waited, I honked... didn't you hear me honk?"

Sister: "That's impossible, I was standing there the whole time."

Driver: "No I was there."

Sister: "Well... were you invisible?" (That part almost made me laugh)

Apparently, the guy came four minutes after we called (5:34 PM), except we had asked for the cab at 5:45 PM. Of course now, we didn't get into the cab until 6:03 PM. Train is in 10 minutes. The guy races me to the train station and we get there at 6:10 PM! I run to my train just as they are making the last call. 60 seconds later my train is moving... He shoots, he scores!

Damn, that was intense...

The thing I find about cabs in Canada (other than their really high prices) is that they have a really bad attidude about picking people up. Usually they are fine once you start driving... but maaaan... picking people up is ridiculous.

Tie-in: Kingston Cabs

I spent four years living in Kingston, which is a total cab city (because transit sucks). Every student uses the cab system. I once had a cab driver tell me that Kingston is the best city in Canada to be a cab driver in terms of how much you make (better than Toronto). When I told drivers to come at a certain time, if I was 30 seconds late... they were gone. I wait for 5-10 minutes and call the dispatch.

Andy: "Hello, I asked for a cab at 2:15; it's 2:25 now and it's not here."

Dispatch: "Let me check... it came and left already. You were late."

Andy: "That's impossible, I was down here no later than 2:16."

Dispatch: "Look, your cab was there at 2:00. He waited until 2:15."

Andy: "But I didn't ask for a cab at 2:00, I asked for it at 2:15."

Dispatch: "Look, it was there, you were late. I can send you another."

Andy: ...

It's almost like because they know everyone has to use the cab, they think they can rule the world. I mean the whole point of asking for a cab at a certain time is because you have already budgeted the time. Should the cab wait? Damn right it should wait. Should it get there at the right time? Absolutely. Should it be there even if you show up 2 minutes late? Of course! 2 minutes is nothing... I doubt our watches are even set with that close of a standard deviation.

But what pissed me off in Kingston even more is that sometimes cabs arrive late too. It's like... if you come late can I just not pay you? No? Then how come when you come early, you can just drive off early... This makes no sense.

So in conclusion... cabs are stupid. Buses are better, but in the end most people will just drive their own stupid car until we all explode from pollution. The end.

1 comment:

sandlot said...

Things I got out from skimming this post:

1) you went to ottawa

2) you take cabs everywhere in kingston - which is ridiculous, since everything is in walking distance.

3) You might explode from pollution. Combustible much? I am combustible too.. but only from your lovin'. What?!