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.

Remembering Greg Moore

In 1996, I had the opportunity to cover Greg Moore’s first public appearance in an IndyCar, the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsports in North America. I first covered Moore in 1993, when his underfunded family-owned team competed in Indy Lights, the feeder series to the powerful 750 HP big cars; I was in Portland when Moore’s team had to borrow tires from another team to get Greg back in the race. By the time the checkered flag dropped, he had clawed his way back to third.

For the next two seasons we caught up with him regularly in Portland and at the Vancouver Indy. It was apparent he was a special racer with huge potential to make a major mark in his sport.

So when the promoters of the Vancouver race offered a package deal to local media to travel to Homestead, Florida to cover IndyCar “Spring Training,” I lobbied my editor at The Maple Ridge News that we should be there.

This is the story I brought back:

The fastest man from Maple Ridge

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Greg Moore’s Reynard speeds around the banked oval at Homestead, Florida during IndyCar Spring Training.

It’s the second day of Greg Moore’s first IndyCar season, but he’s not going anywhere.

While Paul Tracy, Raul Boesel and Bryan Herta are lapping the 1.51-mile oval track in Homestead, Florida, at more than 190 miles an hour, the fasted man from Maple Ridge is slumped in a chair in front of his team’s garage, his head buried in the collar of a jacket to ward off the unseasonable cold. Something in his Player’s Reynard electrical system is acting up and the team of technicians and mechanics swarming over the car can’t seem to find the problem. The tension is palpable.

But this is what “Spring Training” week at the brand new Homestead Motorsports Complex in the middle of a flat Florida swamp is all about. Most of the world’s fastest drivers are here to shake down their new cars, test new equipment, work out the bugs and crank up the hype machine for the upcoming ’96 PPG IndyCar World Series that begins the first week of March at this very same track.

It’s an especially big week for Moore.

He’s only had six days of seat time in the car he’ll be racing this season. As the new kid on the block, it’s a chance for him to earn some early credibility with the other drivers and with fans. At 20 years-old he’s the youngest driver on the circuit, and he’s the second-youngest by only a month to Al Unser Jr. to ever climb into an Indy racing car.

“It’s nothing new for me to be the kid, because I’ve always been the kid,” says Moore.

Indeed, in Formula 1600 he was the youngest driver by four years. In Indy Lights he was younger than his competitors by six years.

Moore’s ride to car racing’s big league has been almost as fast as some of the cars he drives: a go-kart champion in 1990; rookie-of-the-year in Formula 1600 in 1991; a Formula 2000 champion in 1992; racing Indy Lights before he graduated high school in 1993, breaking all the series’ records and winning the championship in 1995. Climbing into the cockpit of a 750-horsepower Indy car is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“It was pretty hard to imagine we’d ever get to this day,” says Moore’s dad, Ric, who’s also his manager.

It’s been a lot of work. Since being named the driver for the Player/Forsythe Racing team last November, Moore has spent 30 days testing at tracks in Florida, Arizona and California. He had a couple of days of media training in Montreal to prepare for his higher profile. And there’s been an intense conditioning program to get him ready for the rigours of wrestling the powerful Indy car around a track for two or three hours.

“The physical preparation is a little more intense for IndyCar,” says Moore.

That includes a lot of cardio work, training in the gym, on the stair master, rowing, lifting weights, riding his bike.

Moore will also have to prepare himself mentally for longer races – 200 to 500 miles instead of the 75-mile sprints he raced in Indy Lights.

“He’ll have to be 100 per cent focused,” says Ric.

Moore says he’s just honing the intensity he already possesses every race weekend. “I don’t really think I can change that much.”

Moore’s focus is almost legendary on pit row. When his blue, white and gold Reynard sputters and grunts only a few laps into the second day of testing at Homestead, Moore pulls into pit lane with a frustrated twitch.

Technicians remove the carbon fiber rear engine cowling and side pods to try to diagnose the problem. Moore flips up his helmet’s visor and exchanges a few curt hand signals with his chief mechanic, Chris Lovely. But mostly he just stares straight ahead, the fire to be on the track instead of keeping the revs up in the pits burning from his eyes.

When the signal comes to cut the engine, Moore climbs from the car and removes his helmet brusquely. He looks over the shoulder of chief engineer Steve Challis at a clipboard crowded with numbers. Nobody says much.

As the car is pushed behind the wall and back to the garage, Moore strides down pit lane alone. It takes most of the day before technicians pin down the problem. A spare part is salvaged from the back-up car and phone calls are made to the team’s headquarters in Indianapolis to get more parts shipped down overnight.

Moore’s race-ready intensity cools a little quicker. For a while he just stews in the plastic chair. He moves to the pit wall when one of his heroes, Paul Tracy, blows up his engine in a cloud of white smoke as he exits turn four.

By early afternoon Moore is loose and smiling again.

One of the consequences of his ascent to the big leagues is the added demands on his time, infringements on his concentration. Media from across North America are anxious to get a clip from the hot new talent of IndyCar racing.

Moore handles each interview with aplomb. He mugs for the camera as his mic is hooked up. He’s careful to mention his sponsors, He smiles politely as the same questions are asked again and again.

“There’s a little more show involved,” says Moore. “Before I didn’t have sponsors, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that.”

Everything is bigger now for Moore. This season he’ll compete in 16 races in four countries. Each race will be seen by an average 75 million TV viewers in 150 countries.
Moore says he’s won’t be along just for the ride; his goal is to win rookie-of-the-year, finish in the top ten point, win a race.

“I think the Player’s team is quite capable of it,” says Moore. “I think it could be Vancouver’s first IndyCar win for a Vancouver driver.”

That’s not just youthful bravado, says Challis who’s worked with Moore for six years. “He has a good work ethic and he’s very smart. He has the potential to be one of the best drivers in the world.”

The stubborn electrical glitch apparently solved, Moore’s car is rolled back out to pit lane late in the afternoon, in time for the day’s final practice session. After an IndyCar official gives the signal to open the track, Moore pops the clutch and thunders into the long Florida sunset.

The Reynard holds together. Moore’s speed increases each time around the banked oval. On the second-last lap of the day, with the sun dipped below the track wall, Moore clocks 192.196 mph. It’s the second-fastest lap of the day.

The next day, Moore breaks 194 mph, the third fastest lap for the whole week.

“Everything goes by a lot quicker now,” says Moore’s dad, Ric.

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.

Losing stories, losing history

Norm Friesen cut hair in New Westminster for 40 years. He likely won’t write a memoir, nor will Hollywood turn his life into a biopic. But the barber who also composed gospel music at the old piano in his one-chair shop on Mackenzie Street is just the kind of character who gives a community its soul and attracts the attention of a journalist looking for an interesting story.

A couple of years after I told Norm’s story in the NewsLeader, in words and photos, the city block that housed his shop was destroyed by a massive fire. Norm’s planned retirement was moved up a few weeks, but he lost every memento of his career. My story and photos were the last record of his life’s work, what the inside of his shop looked like, where he played his piano, the appointment book where he jotted down customers’ names.

When the NewsLeader was in its waning days I thought of Norm often, especially in the context of our responsibility as journalists to document our communities.

But as newspapers strip their resources to the bone, or close altogether, it gets harder and harder to live up to that responsibility. Stories are left untold, photos untaken. All in the name of economy.

In days of yore, before newspapers were bought up by corporations and hedge funds, publishers took their contract as a public service seriously. The ad department extracted dollars from local businesses and in return, the community was provided a daily, or weekly, chronicle of all the important, and not-so-important, news and information.

In the halcyon days of the early 1990s, it was heresy to let a community event go uncovered, to mute the volume on the police scanner. If important events conflicted, shifts were juggled, overtime authorized or freelancers hired to ensure readers wouldn’t miss a thing. And if it was a really big event, extra hands were brought in to give readers the whole story from several angles and nothing was missed. Accepting handout photos was an affront to our journalistic integrity.

But as news holes started shrinking and budgets tightened, that commitment to “be there” waned. Overtime was no longer authorized to put photographers at opposite baselines for the BC High School Basketball Championship or bring in additional help to cover all candidates on election night. More and more events went unreported; it someone provided a free handout photo, no matter the quality or source, that would suffice to at least create the illusion of coverage.

As newsrooms got even smaller, editors and reporters more harried, coverage was further compromised. Whole days were left unstaffed. The police scanners went unheeded because a call meant putting aside the 13 other things that needed to get done. Handout photos and press releases started landing on the front page, that most hallowed ground for every journalist.

The implications of this go far beyond the diminished product and overworked, dispirited journalists. They will be felt for generations to come.

Because for all their current faults, newspapers are still the first record of a community’s history. They’re the in-the-moment chronicle of events, issues and characters of a community. As depleted newsrooms pass over stories that would be too labour-intensive, time-consuming or inconvenient to cover, holes appear in that history.

Last week, the Vancouver Sun and Province laid off 54 people; 29 of them are journalists. Two are  librarians; they’re the caretakers of the papers’ archives. With them gone, who takes on that responsibility? Who will gather all the stories and photos and ensure they’re preserved and archived so future generations can access them, learn a little about the community’s evolution?

Anyone who’s ever tried to find something in an electronic database knows their fallibility. The database is only as good as the data that is put into it, and a vague or incorrect search term might yield nothing.

Without champions to ensure their integrity and continuity, it’s easy to let an archive slip, allow information to disappear forever, create gaps in a community’s story.

When the NewsLeader closed, the money guys who made that decision paid no mind to our archive of 26 years of community stories and photos. The old bound copies of the paper were destined for the garbage bin, as were the binders of cd’s and dvd’s containing our digital photo archive. The electronic archive, our websites, was simply turned off. Eventually some stories did reappear on the server of the surviving papers, but they’re sporadic; vast swaths of history have just disappeared.

Only a determined effort by one of our reporters saved our archive; the bound copies and digital photos were donated to the Burnaby and New Westminster archives, where they’ll be sorted and catalogued, a huge project because we didn’t have librarians to keep them well organized.

A Vancouver councilor, Geoff Meggs, has launched a similar initiative to preserve the archives of the Sun and Province. He recognizes that a company that jettisons the keepers of its archive has no commitment to protect the community’s “history on the run,” has no interest in keeping its part of the contract with the community it’s supposed to “serve.”

To see an example of the importance of a newspaper’s archives in action, check out the exhibition Vancouver in the Seventies, at the Museum of Vancouver until July 16; it’s comprised of 400 photos from the Vancouver Sun’s archive. Most of those images were routine assignments, likely forgotten by the photographer as soon as they handed their prints to an editor; but 40 years later they’re a remarkable record of the city’s coming of age. As the museum’s blurb says, “They capture the beauty of everyday events and chronicle the drama of pivotal moments that continue to shape the city.” You have to wonder if they’d be able to mount a similar exhibition in 2047 of Vancouver in the Twenty-tens.

Man on a mission

“Ride,” she said, as the sun broke through the clouds. “You need to go for a ride.”

Of course, Princess of Pavement was right.

It’s been a dismal winter of ceaseless cold and snow and ice and rain. And it’s put me in a sullen state.

Last year at this time, I’d already put 1,300 kms into my legs. This year, it’s a third of that.

It hasn’t helped that the wintry weather also cost us nine weeks of road hockey.

There’s no doubt the lack of activity has softened my belly. And the diminished endorphins have soured my mood.

So when the morning rain turned to sunshine, Princess of Pavement prodded me. She knows the frustration of inactivity as injuries and school commitments have kept her from her beloved running for more than a year. She’s only just getting back to it, heading out for measured 5 kms when she has the opportunity; her smile lights her way.

But while the sun was out, an icy wind blasted up the river. We’re in the back half of March and we’ve ventured into double-digit temperatures maybe a half dozen times. Last year, the cherry trees were already in full pink bloom.

It was slow going into the stiff headwind. My ears chilled even under the flaps of my winter Castelli cap. I harboured no great ambition for the ride, other than 90 minutes of turning the pedals in fresh air; but it was so much warmer at home in the condo.

But at the turnaround, when the head wind became my booster, my mood lightened, my face warmed. My heavy legs suddenly became powerful pistons. I was a jet engine, rocketing along the flats at 35-40 kph with barely any effort.

It had taken an hour to get to the turnaround; it took only 30 minutes to get back home. Grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished.

This was originally published in my cycling blog, The Big Ring.

Stealing rides

Facebook is taunting me.

My feed is pocked with reminders of last winter, when the weather was mild, the roads clean and riding opportunities seemed endless; in the first two months I already had 1,000 km in my legs.

This year has been all about stealing rides.

Sure, there’s the whole job thing; earning a paycheque again does have a way of curtailing long midweek days in the saddle, turning the pedals.

But mostly it’s been the weather.

This has been a winter unlike most.

It’s snowed, a lot. So much in fact, even our weekly road hockey game was put on ice for two months.

It’s been cold. Thaws have been few and far between. And when they did happen, they were quickly followed by more snow and extended stretches of freezing temperatures, icing the roads and bike routes all over again.

So when the clouds do part, the temperatures moderate, and the roads are dry, it’s time to pull on the tights, layer up and steal a ride. Even if it’s just for 90 minutes or so. Before Environment Canada issues the next “weather advisory.”

Spring can’t come fast enough. The way things are going this year, it likely won’t…