Reflecting on 25 years (actually 33)

It was a bit of a bittersweet experience attending my first BCYNA Awards banquet in years on Saturday. I used to eschew these kinds of events because, well, they’re mostly about management patting itself on the back and handing a few tchotchkes to the peons.

But having returned to the biz almost exactly a year ago, I thought it might be fun to throw a little shade at some of those managers who’d tried to excise me a few years back and here I was, getting a Silver Quill certificate for having survived 25 years in community newspapers (actually, I started full time in 1985, but they haven’t figured out a precious metal for 33 years yet). Plus I was also nominated for a couple of awards for photos I’d shot in my resurrection year.

Alas, most of the cohort of reporters and photographers I’d worked alongside and against for so many years have moved on, mostly not by their choice. Familiar faces are becoming fewer and fewer and suddenly I felt like the outlier. There was nobody to share war stories with or mutually rail against the injustices of an industry that’s lost its way.

So as I sat chewing my giant piece of goulash that was presented as our $150 per plate meal, I reflected on being back in the biz, how I got here, and some of the people who helped me get to that table on Saturday night. Like:

Ron Kuzyk, a former steelworker in Hamilton and the one-time weekend photographer at the Burlington Post, who showed me what it takes to get a good sports photo, where to find the human element in a story, how to get across town in five minutes.

Walter Passarella, the chief photographer at Oshawa This Week, who took a chance on a skinny kid just a year out of journalism school with an even skinnier portfolio.

Craig Hodge, who dangled the prospect of work in the lively and competitive community newspaper scene of Metro Vancouver when the economy tanked in Southern Ontario and took a lot of newspaper jobs with it.

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Celebrating my Silver Quill award with another 25-year survivor, and newsroom colleague, Diane Strandberg at Saturday’s BCYNA Awards gala. The photo was taken by my former boss who brought me out to BC in the first place. Shame about the focus 😉

The publisher of the Cape Breton Post, whose boastful story during my job interview with him of how he saved money by acceding an important local story to the wire service sent up a red flag and sent me about as far away from his paper I could get .

All the photographers I worked alongside and against when I got here — Simone Ponne, Doug Shanks, Brian Giebelhaus, Evan Seal, Arlen Redekop, Paul VanPeenan, Greg Kinch, Ward Perin, Marcus Oleniuk, Dave Buzzard, Chung Chow, Chuck Russell, Craig Sleik, Rick Collins, John Gordon, Brian Langdeau, John Van Putten, Steve Ray, Steve Kidd, Rebecca Blissett, Dan Toulgoet, Larry Wright, Colleen Flanagan, Jennifer Gauthier, Mark Patrick. Whenever our assignments crossed we kibbitzed and kvetched, but more importantly we pushed each other to make our papers look great, to create images and tell stories that invited readers to pick our papers up with the assurance their time was being spent with a quality product that could delight, enthrall or challenge them with every turn of the page.

I can’t not mention Richard Dal Monte, my current editor at the Tri-City News, who a year ago figured I’d done enough damage producing digital content for a realtor and brought me back into the newspaper world, for however much longer it lasts. Plus, I could be his instrument of subterfuge to fulfill his evil scheme to bring more cycling stories to the masses (so far so good; am fulfilling my monthly quota).

And, of course, my wife, Katie, a former partner in storytelling who’s had the good sense to get out of this racket because goodness knows, a bank is going to look sideways at a mortgage application when both paycheques are coming from the newspaper industry. For nearly 13 years now, she’s been my sounding board, allowing me to vent my many frustrations, sharing my occasional triumphs and pushing me to stay true to my talents, however difficult it can sometimes be to convince others of their value.

 

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Pistol and Joker

Sometimes I can’t help myself. Here’s a poetic twist on my weekly report of our road hockey activities.

Two players, both alike in their enmity,
On cold, blustery concrete, where we lay our scene,
From feeble defence to a new cast sniper,
Where big rebounds and bad bounces make the score uneven.
From forth the rivalry of these two foes
A pair of players take divergent paths
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their departures bury their teams’ strife
The fearful path of their one-day rivalry,
And the continuous scoring of more goals than one would care for,
Nor the other deserved,
Which, but for Joker’s rage, could not prevent,
Is now the one hour’s battle of our court
To which if teammates with resolve attend
What here shall miss, their toil strives to amend,
In time for the Stanley Stick
Just four weeks hence.
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The score, for sorrow, will not show its digits:
Go hence, to regroup and resolve to better defend;
Some shall backcheck, and some will float
For never was a story of more goals
Than this of Joker, and his nemesis, Pistol.

A unique collaboration

I recently spent an hour or so hanging out at one of our local craft breweries. But I didn’t get drunk. Didn’t even sip a sample. Instead, I photographed their all-hands effort to can two new beers they developed collaboratively with the company doing the canning.

Collaborative creations between competing brewers are nothing new in Metro Vancouver burgeoning craft beer industry. But a joint effort between a brewery and a canner that packages their beer is something special.

So much so, Adam Crandall of Moody Ales in Port Moody and Matt Leslie of West Coast Canning, decided to team up for two beers, with partial proceeds from sales of four-packs of their collaboration going to KidSport Tri-Cities.

Crandall and Leslie decided the onset of the sometimes unpredictable spring weather needed its own beverages that would appeal when the sun is out and when the clouds roll in and rain starts to fall — both of which can happen within the hour.

“We see it all the time,” Moody Ales co-founder Dan Helmer said. “It’s a beautiful day and our patio is packed, it starts raining and no one moves. They just put their jackets on and keep drinking.”

Shorts Weather is a hoppy India session ale with a citrusy punch for when it’s warm, while Still Raining is a dark lager with aromas of chocolate and coffee for when the gloom descends.

On Monday, West Coast Canning brought two of its portable canning lines to the Murray Street brewery to package the new beers.

“We’ve never done something like this before,” Leslie said.

The Mixed Weather four-packs — with two cans of each beer — ship to private liquor stores around the province on March 26.

New West typographer’s press still printing

It’s not often you get to revisit a story you first encountered 14 years prior. Especially if that story re-emerges in a different community where you just so happen to now be plying your craft. I did two takes for this piece; one for my current paper, and a more personal version for the paper that used to be my competition. This is the latter.

The late Jim Rimmer may have been one of New Westminster’s most famous residents. But he didn’t hit a baseball or win the Stanley Cup.

Rimmer was renowned for his typography.

From his stained-glass lit studio behind his home on Ninth Street, Rimmer created fonts that set a standard for typographers around the world. He then cast each letter and character into lead blocks that he could use in his collection of ancient typesetting machines and letter presses to print one-sheets, posters and books that were coveted by collectors.

Rimmer also designed logos that became part of our everyday visual landscape: the flowing script for the band, Heart; Simon Fraser University; a linocut of a cabin in the woods on tins of Murchie’s tea.

When Rimmer passed away on Jan. 8, 2010, he was mourned in the graphic arts and typography world as “a jazz musician with inky fingers.”

I met Rimmer in 2004.

He’d just won some sort of international award which seemed worthy of recognition in the local paper, so I was dispatched with a reporter for an interview and photo shoot.

Walking into his orderly studio was like entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but for typography. The walls were adorned with framed examples of his work, posters he’d designed, broadsides of poems, pages from books. Neatly arranged cabinets contained drawers of the various fonts he’d cast to assemble in the heavy, old typesetter that sat at an angle by a massive, arched stained glass window that bathed the room in a warm, orange glow.

His basement workshop that adjoined the studio was cluttered with all manner of ancient, heavy iron linotype and monotype machines, and letterpresses he’d acquired from print shops that had moved on in technology.

This was the roots of the very pages you’re reading now, the technology to commit those words to ink and paper pretty much unchanged since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century. It was like spending an afternoon when newspapering was a noble and honourable profession, and assembling the day’s newspaper was the toil of craftsmen in dark, noisy press rooms stationed at heavy, clattering cast iron machines.

When I learned Rimmer’s 1914 Colt Armoury (yes, the same company that manufactures guns) letterpress had found a new home and purpose with a graphic artist in Port Moody, I had to reconnect.

Markus Fahrner said he couldn’t believe the good fortune of his find.

While much of Rimmer’s printed works, printers’ dummies, manuscripts and type design work was acquired by the Simon Fraser University library after his passing, the fate of his collection of heavy machinery was less certain.

Fahrner said it’s important to keep the old machines running rather than have them end up as decorative curios in restaurants or antique shops.

“I really admire the craft,” Fahrner said. “I love the way it forces you to slow down.”

In fact, a poster that might take Fahrner a couple of hours to design on a computer can take days to assemble and print on the letterpress.

“It’s slow and precise,” he said.”You suddenly have so much to know about the process, like the way the ambient temperature of the room affects the ink, the type of paper you’re using, how heavy an impression you want to make on the paper.”

The end product, Fahrner said, has a depth and life that can’t be produced digitally.
“There’s an intrinsic love and energy in the things you produce,” he said.

Looking back

When the NewsLeader closed two years ago, I thought I was done. Over the course of 31 years in community journalism, I’d told some good stories, met countless interesting people, had opportunities to document some pretty cool events and moments.
After six months of decompressing and riding my bike, I stepped to the “other side,” creating digital content for a local realtor. It was a chance to use my skills in a different venue, bringing value to a new audience.
The gig lasted 11 months.
No sooner had it ended when an opportunity to return to community journalism presented itself. It took all of one day to realize I still had stories to tell, I thrive in the buzz of a newsroom, I crave the variety and the challenge of weaving something from nothing, putting it out to the world and then doing it all over again.
I went in with no illusions about the precariousness of our industry and the security of my gig. Every time we hear of a paper closing or another cutting further, my blood runs a little cold. A phone call from head office and a closed door meeting could send me back to my Plan B in a heartbeat.
But for as long as it lasts, I’m glad to be back doing what I do best, telling stories with my camera and with words, digging out little nuggets from around town that might surprise or delight our readers, driving from assignment to assignment with one eye out for that elusive wild art that might give the editor another option for front page or plug a hole on page 15.
It’s where I belong. It’s what I love.

Of course, my return to newspapers means another chance to mine my year’s work for some of my favourite photos. In days of yore, I filled an entire edition of the Burnaby and New West NewsLeaders, along with commentary about how a particular photo came to pass, or what I liked about it. I spend more time in the office these days, working the phones, writing stories; the body of work isn’t as deep as I’d like it, but it’s getting there.

FRF @ QCX

The Fraser River Fuggitivi is a road cycling club. But as the weather turns cold and wet, the sleek carbon fibre road bikes are kept inside, out of the elements and off the slicked roads.

Instead, a hardy handful of riders saddles up their winter rides and head to the boggy tracks of the cyclocross circuit.

Sunday, the Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition alighted in New Westminster’s Queen’s Park. Essentially the home race for Fuggitivi.

The view from here. Way back here.

For most of my cycling “career” I’ve been a middle-of-the-pack guy.

On group rides, I can take my share of pulls, then settle in comfortably in the midst of the peloton.

Even my best Strava achievements end up placing me somewhere in the middle of all the riders who have tested that particular segment.

I’m cool with that.

But this year, I have become back-of-the-pack guy. And too often I’ve been The Guy The Rest of The Peloton Has to Wait For.

On Sunday’s annual FRF Fondon’t, I was firmly ensconced as the latter. No matter how hard I tried to hang onto the group as we pedalled the flats through Pitt Meadows, and the rollers of east Maple Ridge to the Stave Lake dam, there would come a moment when I would lose contact and the group just drifted away. I couldn’t hold a wheel if my life depended on it.

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The FRF rolls out on its annual Fondon’t by the dawn’s early light on the hottest day so far of the year.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, I felt bad every time the group paused at the side of the road to give me a chance to catch up.

Occasionally, our patron, or one of the other riders, would drop back to keep me company or give me their wheel; but, inevitably, we’d drift apart again, our peloton disappearing as an ever-shrinking dot on the paved horizon.

It was very dispiriting.

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Apparently I wasn’t the only one hurting from the day’s effort. And heat.

This hasn’t been a good season.

A new job with a bit longer commute and a different schedule, increasing demands for family time and miserable weather until almost July conspired against the miles.

So did the loss of Lapierre.

Because as much as cycling isn’t supposed to be about the bike, when you’ve got one you love to ride, that repays your efforts up hills with speedy, precise descents, that giddy ups when you want to go, you want want to ride it. As much as possible.

Lapierre was that bike for me.

And while the borrowed Cannondale allows me to get out onto the road, it’s not my bike.

It’s quirks aren’t my quirks. Its rewards are few and far between.

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This is always a reward worth riding for.

Lapierre’s replacement is on order. But a two week window has stretched to a four-week wait, and the season, like the peloton, is pulling away.

As with Lapierre, I’m buying this bike pretty much sight unseen and unridden, but with a great deal of research into her pedigree. I’m confident it’s a good choice for me. I’m hopeful it will be my ticket to ride back to the middle of the pack. Where I belong.

Breaking up is hard to do

My heart is cracked.

So is Lapierre.

For the second time in less than a year, the future of my beloved bike is in doubt and emails have been dispatched in hopes a carbon repair lifeline will keep us together. On the road.

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Lapierre in a happier time, enjoying a respite and the view at the bottom of Indian River Road.

Last Sunday, I hit a divot in the pavement, a sort of smoothed pothole. I heard a loud snap and thought it was just the handlebar twisting in the stem clamp from the jarring impact; it’s happened before. But a few days later, as Lapierre was being tended by Velofix for a late spring tune-up, the wrench noticed a jagged crack at the back of the headset, about the length of a loonie.

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The crack that could become me and Lapierre.

My heart sank. Cracks in carbon are usually fatal, as repair is difficult and technicians with the skill and knowledge to make those repairs are few and far between. Fortunately, we have one, Robert Mulder, nearby.

He weaved his carbon magic on Lapierre last September when her chain stay was punctured by a flailing spoke. The repair is virtually seamless and I haven’t given it a second thought, even when screaming down descents.

But a repair to the headset might be more problematic, as that part of the bike absorbs so much impact from the road. I’ve sent photos to Mulder, and I await his assessment.

In the meantime, I’ve steeled myself for bad news.

Cyclists form a special bond with their bikes. After all, we’re attached at a pretty intimate part of our anatomy. Over the miles of road and gravel and dirt we spend together, we get to know every nuance of how the bike rolls, reacts and sounds. We learn its limits and when it can give just a little more. As we tend to its mechanical needs, we become familiar with every curve and junction, every nook and cranny, every scratch, every nick.

So when that bond is in peril, the prospect of breaking up can be hard.

Sure, some will say, but there’s plenty of bikes in the shops; this is your chance to have some fun, play the field, maybe find your true bike.

But, as I’ve discovered in these past days of researching new rides that could steal my ardour, Lapierre is still in my head, and my heart. Every frameset is measured against the lithe lines of Lapierre, every paint job compared to her French mélange of flash and panache, every dimension is doubted for its ability to match her fit and form.

Of course, the easiest thing would be to just find a new Lapierre, still lithe and sexy but with new technology and engineering. But it seems Lapierre has abandoned the North American market.

So I’m left wanting. And hoping.

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I can only hope this isn’t our last ride together, Lapierre on the roof of my car on a rainy day after the crack was discovered…

The spring of our discontent (a cyclist’s lament)

Now is the spring of our discontent
Made ever more miserable by this lack of sun
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our rides
In the deep chasm of the puddles buried.
Now are our brows bowed with discouraged furrows;
Our soggy bibs hung up for monuments;
Our muddy cleats march to gloomy forecasts.
Grim-visaged trainer rides hath smoothed our wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting carbon steeds
To fright the souls of fearful pelotons,
We caper sullenly in garages and basements
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped in previous seasons,
Nor made to be pleased by my reflections;
I, that am rudely lacking of sinew and muscle
To strut at the end of ambling pace lines;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of physique by dissembling weather,
Deformed, unfit, sent before my time
Into this breathing world with scarcely half the mileage,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
My Garmin barks as it forgets about me;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of rain and cold,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to chase my shadow in the sun
And slim down on my own deformity;
And therefore, since I cannot ride whenever,
To pine for days of warm, pleasant weather,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle sloth of these cloudy, cold days.
Rides have I planned, long and languid,
By optimistic ambitions, routes and schemes,
To set my legs spinning and Lapierre
In delightful rhythm with each other:
And if the Weather Man be as true and just
As I am discouraged, cowering and cold,
This day of better weather should closely follow,
About a time, before spring becomes summer,
As cyclists wish for roads dry and bare of puddles,
Of days of shorts and cold beers.
Ride, thoughts, down to my soul; where
Is the sun?

This was previously published on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.