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.

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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.

Circle of Journalism

Journalists wear their profession.

Everything we do passes through the prism of a storyteller. When we watch the news, one ear is on the craft of the writing, one eye honed to the visuals. When something cool or extraordinary happens, we want to immediately be there to pass the story on.

So while you may take the journalist out of the newsroom, you can never take the newsroom out of the journalist.

This week, I officially return to a newsroom to tell stories again.

When my newspaper, the Burnaby/New Westminster NewsLeader, closed in Oct., 2015, I thought I was walking out of a newsroom for the last time. And I was fine with that. I’d cobbled together an admirable career for just over 30 years. I’d seen and experienced a lot of interesting things. I had had a front-row seat to some incredible happenings. I met amazing people. I learned a lot about building and connecting communities. I got paid to be curious, find out stuff.

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One of my early photos after landing in the West in 1991. I have no idea what was going on here, but it seems someone was so upset with something at New Westminster City Hall, they decided to strip down.

But with the newspaper industry in its death throes, sucking morale and enthusiasm from depleted newsrooms everywhere, I accepted I’d have to find other avenues to tell stories.

After some time away to decompress and reorient myself to a new path, I did just that. I learned some new skills, explored new topics for new audiences.

But in conversations, I still called myself a journalist, I still referred to the newspaper business as “our industry” when lamenting its sorrowful state.

This is my tribe. For better or for worse.

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The Banana Republic vest-of-many pockets. The button-up denim shirt. The Ray-Bans. The Canon A-1. It had to be the 1990s.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I was presented an opportunity to pull some shifts for the Tri-City News. While I’d visited newsrooms on social calls to old colleagues, or to discuss freelance projects with editors, this was the first time I’d sat at an actual desk to log in to write a story, download photos from the camera, in more than 18 months.

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Office hi-jinks circa 1991.
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My new editor, doing his best upside-down-reporter schtick back in 1991.

It felt like I’d never been away. It felt right. It felt like home.

And I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Because my first official day at the News came 26 years almost to the exact day I landed there after being encouraged to head west by the paper’s former chief photographer Craig Hodge.

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On my first shift at the News 26 years ago, colleague Greg Kinch took me for lunch at The Lunch Doctor. So it’s only fitting that this week I went again.

A lot has changed over that time. But a lot hasn’t. Not the least of which is the drive and determination of a small newsroom to keep the citizens of three growing communities informed, share their stories, help out when there’s need, call out when it’s required.

It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

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Covering a football game at Centennial secondary school in 1991.
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A couple more blasts from the past I dug up from the archive. Left, the NAIA track and field championships in Abbotsford. Right, riding shotgun with hydro line workers high above Barnet Highway; I don’t imagine we’d get this kind of photo op these days.