Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Dining Out

I’m tired of listening to my own cranky voice complaining about things, so I’m going to start today by talking about three things that have impressed me lately: specifically, meals I’ve had in three local restaurants.

There was a time in my life when I dined out regularly — I was living in Prague during a period when new restaurants seemed to be opening daily and their prices were beyond reasonable and I was a pretty crap cook (I’ve improved…somewhat), so I couldn’t afford NOT to eat out.

Dining out frequently made me much more forgiving when it came to bad experiences — like a long wait for food, or a dog getting served before me (frequent occurrence in that dog-crazy city) or a plate heaped with steamed mussels that hadn’t actually opened. (Ordering seafood was always risky in the landlocked Czech Republic; in the case of the mussels, when I pointed out to the waitress that they were all closed, she advised me to pry them open with my butter knife.)

It’s different these days, I eat out much less and so really appreciate good food and good service, which is why I would like to note that I encountered both recently at Talo Cafe Bar in Glace Bay, the Black Spoon Bistro in North Sydney and Flavor on the Water in Sydney. (For the record, I did not visit all three in a single day on some sort of mad CBRM restaurant crawl; the experiences were spread out over a few weeks.)

I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of not one but two Flavor locations (I could walk to Flavor 19, but I’d have to get an early start and pack a lunch, which would kind of defeat the purpose). On the other hand, eating at Talo or the Black Spoon actually requires me to visit two of the other communities in our “Community of Communities” and guess what? It’s really fun to get out of Sydney! Never mind that I always get lost in Glace Bay.

I think the CBRM really punches above its weight in terms of restaurants. There are many others I could mention — and will mention in future posts because accentuating the positive isn’t such a bad way to kick off a Friday.


Tender moment

The tender for construction of the second cruise ship berth in Sydney closed on Port Days (Ports Day? Ports Days? Port’s Day’s? Why is this so hard?). I asked CBRM spokesperson Jillian Moore when we can expect a winner to be announced and she told me in an email:

Our departments are currently in the review process. There is no set date for the announcement at this point – we are expecting within a few weeks but will know more as the review progresses.

Construction of the second berth, according to the RFP for engineering services issued in February 2017, was supposed to have begun in October 2017, so the project is already eight months behind schedule and the CBRM is still in the process of expropriating the land on which the berth is to be built.

As the Spectator reported earlier, comments received from bidders suggest keeping the bids within the $20 million budget for the berth has been difficult. As one contractor said:

 Purchasing oversized tooling and completing drilling operations for up to 178 locations and additional metres adds a very significant cost onto a project which is already extremely budget sensitive [emphasis mine] and may show no tangible advantage…

The CBRM will be on the hook for any cost overruns, with no further help to be expected from either the provincial or federal governments, so the Spectator will be very interested to see what the second berth bids look like…


Another tender moment

Source: Ekistics

Source: Ekistics

The CBRM has issued a request for engineering services for the Sydney Waterfront District-Charlotte Street redesign.

The deadline for submissions in 5 July 2018.

The RFP describes the redesign of Charlotte Street as a “key element” in the $90,000 “Urban Core Plan” for Sydney created by Ekistics in 2017 (and attached to the tender documents). The Spectator wrote about the plan, which carries an estimated $7.5 million price tag, rather enthusiastically when it was announced back in March 2017. To turn the plan into a reality, the winning bidder must:

Develop engineered plans for reconstructing Charlotte Street streetscape, based on the concept outlined in the 2017 study; pavement, pedestrian amenities, lighting, trees, street furniture, underground electrical infrastructure for both building entrances and street lighting.

Accomplishing this will mean creating:

…detailed drawings, including cross sections and specifications for a watermain replacement…The final product should be at a level of detail suitable for inclusion in a tender package.

The Owner’s Engineering Consultant (Engineer) role is to assist the CBRM in successful implementation of the Design, Tendering & Construction of this project. The Engineer will provide expert assistance to the CBRM regarding all phases of the work from conducting detailed design, construction tender review, and providing project management & site inspection throughout the construction phase.

The Ekistics plan called for narrowing Charlotte Street to one traffic lane to allow for widened sidewalks and the retention of parking lanes. The consultant is to conduct a comprehensive traffic flow analysis to determine the practicality of this.

As a pedestrian who frequently walks, sometimes strolls and very occasionally struts down Charlotte Street, I hope it turns out to be practical.



Target audience?

This glossy little Destination Cape Breton brochure turned up in my mailbox recently and I have to admit — it makes the island look like a very attractive tourist destination.

I actually found myself thinking I should stick it in an envelope and send it to a friend of mine in the US whom I’ve been trying to encourage to visit.

And that’s when it struck me: why did I receive this brochure?

I’m not the target audience for Destination Cape Breton literature. My heart is unlikely ever to leave the island because it’s inside my body which lives here. Even were I to be inspired to go whale watching or rent a Harley-Davidson or visit the Highland Village for tea and oatcakes, I wouldn’t be bringing new dollars into the economy, I’d just be spending my own differently.

I always spend the summer in Cape Breton and I have my own list of “unforgettable experiences” to not forget. (None of which, I might add, made the brochure, although “plunge into an ice-cold fresh-water pool before running into the Bras d’Or Lake because it makes the lake seem warmer” is not everybody’s idea of a good time.)

I hope the “Official 2018 Experience Guide” found its way into mailboxes off-island too.



I think the fire that destroyed the main lodge at Baddeck’s Inverary Inn was an unfortunate thing and I’m glad no one was injured, but…did it really merit the entire front page of the Cape Breton Post plus three inside pages? Four pages of coverage?

I’m actually curious as to what other people think, as my own answer to that is an unequivocal “No.”

Am I missing something?


Not-so-hidden Agendas

I promised to write something about the CBRM’s new Council Agenda Policy (I can only imagine how fast your hearts are beating at the thought) but I’m still working on it so look for it in next week’s edition of the Spectator.


Studs Terkel

Source: Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Source: Studs Terkel Radio Archive

I read Studs Terkel’s Working long before I’d ever started working for a living and found it absolutely fascinating. I remember being delighted to learn how telephone operators knew whether you’d deposited the correct amount of change in a payphone. (They could tell by the sounds the coins made. Strange to think that all three elements in that anecdote — telephone operators, payphones and change — are now basically obsolete.)

I knew Terkel through his books, but as Boston-based journalist Christopher Lydon makes clear in the latest episode of his Open Source podcast, Terkel was also a bona fide radio legend:

[Terkel’s] [h]ome base for more than 50 years was his daily radio hour on a privately owned fine-arts station in Chicago, WFMT.  The news of Studs Terkel that we’re happy to share is that 5000 hours of that radio archive are open anew, being digitized and transcribed – an audio event on a par with the opening of King Tut’s tomb.

That’s no exaggeration — the Studs Terkel Radio Archive already contains hundreds of digitized interviews with famous people, like Mohammad Ali, James Baldwin and Lily Tomlin; as well as not-so-famous people, like this 1965 interview with four Chicago-area women about race relations and economic disparity.

The Lydon podcast also contains some great excerpts from interviews yet to be digitized — including those with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Mahalia Jackson. I highly recommend the podcast as an introduction to the archive.