Thursday, December 15, 2011

Left Turns, Crosswalks and Traffic Lights

Driving a motor vehicle can be daunting for some - I've seen (okay, seen commercial advertising for) Canada's Worst Driver.  I've always realized that, but I never knew following basic rules - the same rules that one is required to know in order to obtain that coveted driver's license - was such a difficult task.

Saint John has the worst drivers, hands down, I've ever witnessed.  I've almost been killed, many times over, using a crosswalk.  When a driver spies someone entering such clearly marked entities or even sees a pedestrian on a sidewalk, they are visibly confused.  I've seen a little girl waiting at a crosswalk with nobody stopping to let her cross.  On my street alone there is a blind, elderly neighbour that can only get across by having her friend/guide hurry her when there is a lull in the traffic.  The pedestrian situation in this city is abysmal and because of that, a future entry will address this, complete with advise for those in cars and on foot.

When speaking to Saint Johners about this, I usually get a chuckle and a comment something akin to, "Yeah, the drivers here are definitely a different breed."  No kidding, a deadly and ignorant monster putting lives in danger unnecessarily.  A breed that needs to be extinct.

On Hilyard Street there are three intersections for left turns after entering from Chesley.  These lanes are clearly marked with a left arrow, but drivers motor through that turning lane each and every day.  At St. Patrick and Union heading north drivers frequently make left hand turns despite clear signage.  Stop signs and red lights seem to be only suggestions.

There may be an obvious answer as to why these blatant infractions continue:  I have never seen anyone pulled over by a member of the police department.  I have never witnessed a police presence watching for violations anywhere in the city.  I have never seen a speed trap.  Does the city take in any money from traffic violations?

I have come across a new phenomenon, one I have never witnessed anywhere or have heard of as a problem anywhere:  making traffic lights viewable from the windshield of the lead car at a stop light.  There are numerous locations in Saint John where you cannot see the traffic signals if you stop at the designated spot on a red light.  I just cannot fathom why this would be a problem.

With the helter skelter street layout, the poor condition of the roads with constant construction, the city's apparent inability to clear snow in winter, and many other factors, I understand that this is not an easy city in which to drive, but at least make an effort to recognize problems and attempt to solve them.  Put in a phone call to the police and/or another city official when something inexcusable occurs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Not everyone takes advantage of their public library, especially in this electronic age of abundant reference, but I have always tried to make use of the free services offered by this institution.  Did I say "free?"  I did, and I like "free" very much.  Now, how does the library system in New Brunswick stack up with those I have used elsewhere?

The only real reference point I have to compare the New Brunswick Public Library Service to are the Halifax Public Libraries.  The first thing to note is that in New Brunswick the libraries are provincial (then broken into regions) while Halifax services only the municipality.  There are fourteen branches for Halifax compared to 70 branches in New Brunswick and ten in the Fundy region, where I reside.

The Saint John main branch is particularly gorgeous, at least from the outside beyond the semi-stocked shelves.  It is located inside Market Square, an upscale uptown mall that also houses the New Brunswick Museum.  There is an unusual penchant to place the libraries in shopping malls here.

Everyone knows about books at the library, right?  Anyway, today's libraries also sport music CDs, movies, computer/Internet time, and much more.  If a movie has been released to DVD, I was able to get it in Halifax.  If the library didn't have the latest CD by Tori Amos, I could request that they purchase it and I would be first on the list to enjoy it.  I often wondered how Blockbuster was able to stay in business when the Halifax library had 66 copies of The King's Speech in its system.  Oh, wait, they filed for bankruptcy protection.  Did I mention "free?"

The available material, or lack thereof, in my new home has been a big adjustment.  I think they may be adjusting to me too.  The librarian at my branch already seems to know my name, as all I have to do is appear at the counter and she goes to the shelf to see what's there for me.  That's not a bad thing, but I have to admit I preferred going to my spot under the T's amidst the many shelving units of requested material on hold in Halifax.

Then I was able to check myself out.  This option exists at the Saint John main branch, but not at mine.  Come to think of it, I've never actually seen anyone use the self-serve machine at the main branch.  Does anyone borrow things here?  It's "free."

Having a smaller, less developed entity doesn't go without some advantages.  I was deer-in-the-headlights surprised to learn that the due date for borrowed material - remember that grade school librarian that made school life miserable and wreaked havoc on your pristine relationship with your teacher if you forgot to get a book back on time? - is really just a suggestion.  You don't get fined when you're a little late.  I'm not lying.  I haven't had to nerve to test just how far this envelope can be pushed.

Today I returned three items.  Upon arriving home and sitting down to work I received a phone call - private caller.  It was my librarian informing me that the Lady Gaga "Born This Way" CD (oh, the shame) wasn't in its case and I should check my CD player, which was exactly where it was hiding.  This definitely beats being informed that you owe $40.25 in fines on top of the purchase price when this little stunt plays out in Halifax.

My next test of the system will be to make a suggestion for purchase.  They foolishly gave me the email address where this could be done.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canadian Health Care - New Brunswick Style

I like doctors.  I like the appointments and most of the things that go with them, especially knowing that you are taking care of your body.  There are no mulligans when it comes to your health.  For the first time in my life I find myself without a general practitioner.  I have been in Saint John since January and on the list for a family doctor for the same length of time, but I remain homeless in this respect.  I won't even mention that I am supposed to be under a doctor's regular care and am supposed to get a referral to a specialist.  Oops.

I'm not complaining because Holly is in an even worse predicament having been here longer, but has had to go through the red tape of trying to explain having lived a number of years in a country with a reputation for its evil-doing and deceitfulness when it comes to the rampant theft of free Canadian health care - the United States.  And, as will happen, she needed minor, but necessary health care recently.  Thankfully she received a letter in the mail this very morning with her Medicare number telling her her card will arrive shortly.

Thus began our adventure.  Armed with her newly born Medicare number, she phoned for an appointment at a local medical clinic - a responsible alternative to making the trip to the emergency room.  The only way to get an appointment at this clinic is to phone at the daily given hour for a slot later the same day.  At said hour she began the process:  dial, busy signal, hang-up, redial, repeat.  It's like trying to win the grand first-caller-through prize at a radio station.  Finally, a long wait on hold, then the receptionist.  She can see a doctor!  Wait.  First, like those dreaded skill-testing questions, you have to prove yourself worthy over the phone of the privilege of seeing the doctor.  This took two of these phone calls and a story just short of crocodile tears to accomplish.  Still, we had an appointment in two hours time.

Arriving fifteen minutes early at the clinic, we were greeted by a good sized line with many savoury characters in need of medical care.  After using up that fifteen minutes we got to the receptionist's window where a middle-aged lady decked out in thick makeup, smooth leather, a skirt that flowed to just below the crack of her ass and high heels looked up.  Holly handed her the paper the province of New Brunswick had sent, as it had all of her information, including the words, "Presentation of this letter entitles the individual(s) named to medical/hospital services as per established Act and Regulations set forth for New Brunswick Medicare."

"We don't take those," said the receptionist/club lady.

We asked her to read the phrase above.  "Nope, it's against the clinic's policy.  You will have to pay, and we only accept cash, if you need to see the doctor."

Holly handed the nice lady the money and received her change and waited for her receipt which she would need to get reimbursed from the government.

This was when I overheard the raspy smoker voice of the fine gentleman I had been trying to ignore four people behind us pipe up and say, "This ain't a bank.  Take your fuckin' time putting your money away why don'tcha."

I looked at him.  "You gotta a fuckin' problem buddy?"

I allowed myself to be caught up in the welfare drama and replied, "No, I'm going to be your problem in a minute."  Rather witty I thought.  Anyway, the civilized part of me clicked and I ignored whatever spewed next.

After receiving the receipt we were shown to the room to await the doctor.  I noticed a sign on the wall that stated that it was not permitted to give the doctor more than one complaint per visit.  In a few moments he arrived in his baggy jeans and untucked shirt, stepping inside the room and closing the door, first glancing at his clipboard, then Holly, ready to hear the reason she was here.  Three minutes later, after a twenty second examination of her eye and a "you have two heads" look after being told she hasn't a family doctor as of yet, he was writing a prescription and reaching for the door.

We left the exam room and entered the waiting room where I gave my new friend a cheerful "thank for contributing negatively to an already miserable situation" wave and we left to have the prescription filled by a pharmacist who seemed entirely put out and confused that Holly would want to talk to her about a medication she had never taken before.

We then trudged home, feeling dirty on top of the full weight of what our wonderful health care system has become.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Captains of Hospitality - Saint John and Transit

Reliable public transportation is essential for any city.  It is much more defining than many imagine.  Transit systems affect everyone.  When it operates smoothly it's something that's easily taken for granted, but when things are awry, it becomes a cat in an exotic bird sanctuary.

Saint John is a city that is reliant on buses, whether or not those inhabiting the many satellite communities that make up much of the blind affluence care to admit it.  The regular Saint John Transit buses are obvious, but there is also Acadian Lines, school buses, the trolley buses, the many tour buses, and those horrible Pepto-Bismol pink double deckers.  I know because they all assault our home regularly.

The first time I visited Saint John, just over a year ago to the day, I utilized the accommodations at University New Brunswick at Saint John and took the city bus to the convention I was attending each day.  Doing this allowed me to rid myself of my preconceived notions that Saint John was the same as Halifax, Montreal, Boston, Toronto and other North American cities with which I was familiar by allowing me to become intimately acquainted with areas outside of the uptown core, which has been transformed and dressed up like a six year old pageant girl for the tourists.

Of note are the plastic wrap-around bus stop signs that adorn some utility poles (if there is a piece left that hasn't been stripped by the harsh weather), the 'phantom stops' that sport no pole or apparent marker of any sort, the antiquated buses that make up the city's fleet, the high fares, the smell of depression, motley drivers flirting with younger female passengers, and the many unkempt riders that dominate the scene inside these vessels.

On one of my first 'dates' with my fiancee, Holly, we waited at an uptown bus stop one evening and she regaled me with stories of adventures on the bus warning me, to my mockery, that the drivers very often don't bother to stop.  As if on cue, the bus rounded the corner and left the two of us, along with another older gentleman, gawking in disbelief.  We hightailed it to King's Square where we found another bus waiting and Holly told the captain of the ship about our misadventure and ordered this driver to radio ahead to demand that the other driver wait for us at a transfer point.  I thought, "Right, as if this would ever happen," and lo and behold it did.  I'm convinced it was my intimidating stare while looking over her shoulder that made these events transpire.

To make things even more difficult for an already pedestrian-challenged city (expect much more on this subject!), many bus stops are located at intersections.  While speaking to Saint John Transit's Assistant General Manager on the telephone, who seems to be convinced their new GPS tracking system is the magic step in solving these problems, I was able to look out of my office window and convey my concern that the pole for the bus stop sign I was viewing shared said pole with a crosswalk sign and that both myself and Holly have had close calls with vehicles (including a City of Saint John pickup truck that had to actually steer into a snow bank while sliding to avoid colliding with her) attempting to pass buses stopped, often without buses using proper turn signal indicators.

Breath out.  Sigh.  Remain positive.

I'm actually trying to have hope for my adopted city, but I feel like Saint Johners have no desire to remove their blinders and tell officials to get their acts together.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Three Rs

Last night was my favourite night of the week - garbage night.  There's something freeing about things you no longer need being voluntarily and willingly removed from your life.  I misspoke a little with my opening line, as Saint John only collects every second week, allowing me this guiltless pleasure only bi-weekly.

We love to recycle too.  We make a point of reducing, reusing, and recycling.  If something is unnecessarily over packaged, we don't buy it.  If we have something we no longer use that is perfectly fine for someone else, it goes to Kijiji or freecycle.  While Kijiji gets used on a fairly regular basis in this city, it's disappointing that the local freecycle site isn't used a lot.

Now, I've been a strong advocate of recycling for a long time and it has become second nature, which is why I was surprised to learn about the Saint John recycling system.  The city provides you with assorted dumpsters in various locations around the city and you bring your recycling to them.  My initial response to this was, "What?"

Recycling is something that, in theory, saves the city money as materials that would normally wind up in a landfill are recycled and sold for profit.  It would make sense to make such a service convenient and even mandatory.  As it stands, you can't force people to recycle because those who don't own vehicles can't simply walk it to the curb for pickup.

We are happy not to be contributing to the carbon emission problem by owning a vehicle.  With systems such as this pathetic recycling system and unreliable public transit options (oh, there will be more on this subject in the near future) it becomes very difficult not to own a car.  Approximately every eight weeks or so we rent a car and incorporate a getaway weekend with shopping for large items that can't be taken home on a bus and getting rid of the accumulated recycling.  And it's fun.  I can't imagine what we would do if I didn't drive though.  We certainly wouldn't be able to recycle as much.

I'll mention here that there is a redemption system in place for bottled items such as pop (blech!), juice or water where you are charged ten cents at the grocery store when you purchase them and you receive five cents back when you bring them to a redemption centre.  We are fine with this to offset the costs of producing and disposing of these convenient items, but those said centres are not anywhere handy.

What can be taken away from this post is that Saint John likes to pretend they are a full-fledged city with everything that should be offered, but it is strictly a half-assed attempt instead of an efficient operation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This Ain't Kansas... or Halifax

Moving 413 km from the familiar confines of Halifax, NS to Saint John, NB to be with my fiancĂ©e sounded like a great idea - and it is the most fantastic thing to have ever happened to me.  That being said, this city has provided a number of surprises that I have not expected, at least not in the magnitude experienced.  The intention of this blog is to highlight some of the differences and, perhaps, vent and maybe even get motivated to initiate change when possible.

Saint John is a tremendously historical city that has always been one of the major centres of Atlantic Canada.  It is Canada's oldest incorporated city; home of Canada's first public museum, first chartered bank, oldest public high school, first YWCA, first Miss Canada, first public playground; first quarantine station in North America; the world's first foghorn (oh, there'll be more on this subject); the world's first police union; and there is actually more.

The name of the city is most commonly spelled "Saint John," as opposed to the abbreviated "St. John."  Both are acceptable, but in order to further remove themselves from being mistaken for the similar St. John's, Newfoundland "Saint John" is what you'll see most often and be prepared to have your head chewed off should you shorten it.  I'm one of those that actually prefers to see the unabbreviated name myself.  I bring this up because I noticed as I am writing this that the "location" this site has is the "St. John, NB" spelling.  Haven't they received enough nasty emails to warrant a change?  Am I sounding petty enough to dismiss yet?

According to the 2006 census, Saint John has a population of 68,043 and the metro area numbers 129,364.  That ranks it as the third largest city in Atlantic Canada, behind Halifax and St. John's.  Moncton, NB is pretty much the same size with lower city numbers, but higher metro numbers.

Okay, I'm aware this is boring, but two particular stats - being one of Atlantic Canada's largest cities and the fact that it is only 413 kms away by car (that is 257 miles for the metric system impaired) from Halifax - made me believe living in Saint John would be more or less the same as living in Halifax.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.