Friday, September 14, 2007

The Girl and the Ghost (Trailer)

No more delaying, here's the preview for my upcoming animated short.

Instant Replay

I ended up absolutely loving the new camera. It takes great pictures, it's easy to use, and I'm so glad I bought it. To my surprise, Mom and I ended up having a blast with its video capabilities.

We laughed til we couldn't breath when we realized that letting it film while the camera hung around Mom's neck as she followed me resulted in the illusion of me walking. I bob up and down and the back of my wheelchair looks like a hiker's backpack. I'm so short among all the walkers, it reminds me of when they would show Gobo's Uncle Traveling Mat on Fraggle Rock. You'll see a bit of that in the video I'm posting.

I whipped up a recap of the trip with the video we shot. You'll see bits of Mom's reaction to the Skywheel, Niagara Falls, Toronto, all that fun stuff. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 4th, 2007 - Birthday on the Road

I really loved the bed at our hotel. Normally hotel beds bother me by the second night, but I slept ridiculously well on this one. Sadly, that great sleep was shorter than I would have liked. I woke up around 8:00 AM so I could be ready for an early check out.

Check me out checking out

We checked out and got on the road before 10:00 AM, starting the long drive from Toronto to Cleveland. It was a work day, so traffic was almost non-existent, especially compared to when we arrived.

It was a bit overcast out, but the road was smooth as we made our way over the enormous bridge spanning the bay in Hamilton. Hayley Sales sang from the CD player and before too long, we were passing the mist of Niagara Falls and approaching the Peace Bridge.

A quick stop at the duty free shop scored us a couple more trinkets for family and some Jackson-Triggs for home.

The border was packed. Lanes upon lanes of vehicles moving at a snail's pace. Mom made a lucky choice in lanes and we blew by the rest in about five minutes. I smiled as Ghosts of You came on the radio just before we crossed back into the States.

The border

The iPod carried us for the next leg of the drive, leading us to the Angola rest stop. We grabbed a quick bite at Denny's, put some gas in the van, and got back on 90 West for the last chunk of the drive.

The road and Superman

We got home around 5:30 PM and started to settle back in. Kris stopped by after work and helped unload the van. A little later, Grandma came over with a birthday cake for me. I had almost forgotten it was birthday at that point, it had been such a long day.

And just like that, the trip was over. I always have a bit of a hard time switching from vacation mode back to home life. The change from constant new experiences to hanging out in the living room tends to bring me down. But it was an amazing adventure and I have projects waiting for me. It's time to get some work done.

Here's to the road, natural (and man made) wonders, good wine, good music, and good friends, both old and new. Until the next adventure.

September 3rd, 2007 - My Day in Toronto

I woke up around 10:30ish to a bright glow. That sounds like such a pleasant way to wake up, except for the fact that the glow wasn't coming from the morning sun, but from my arms.

Looking like a lobster. Call me Zoidberg.

It looks worse than it felt. Unless someone touched it, then it lit me up good.

I used my wake up time to sit on the bed for a while and catch up on some MuchMusic. It doesn't take much viewing time to remind me how limited mainstream music is in the States. First off, Canada's music channel plays music videos. Second, the videos they play have variety in both visual and music style. The artists aren't all cookie cutter versions of each other. In just a few minutes of watching, I saw performers of all shapes and sizes, even one wheelchair-bound singer. Sure, they still showed the big names, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, but they were mixed in with tons of different stuff. It was refreshing to be exposed to some new music.

Shifting to my chair, I was surprised when I looked out from our 30th floor window and saw someone across the street. And higher. It made me wonder how one becomes a skyscraper window washer and if you ever get used to hanging on that little wire so high above the ground.

Washing windows

Up above


We eventually headed for the sidewalks to roam around and see Toronto. Yonge Street was the road we stuck to for most of the day. The buildings blocked out the midday sun (thankfully) as I cruised through the city. Somewhere near, a church bell chimed 1:00.

Rollin' along

Freddie Mercury statue outside the Canon Theatre

Gwen wanted a picture

We stopped at the Eaton Centre and explored for a while. A four story mall, hundreds of stores, each floor with its own food court with everything from Arby's to sushi. It made our mall look like the corner store.

Inside the Eaton Centre

The Wii Smart Car

Being Labor Day, the last day before the school year starts, the mall was extra crowded and the shoppers actually resembled the traffic on the street. I eventually found the flow and I was set.

While heading to the big HMV store on the next block, the streets were filled with music as there looked to be some sort of festival going on. There was even one of those silver-skinned street performers doing his thing for a bunch of onlookers. There was so much to take in, it was great.

Wandering the HMV store was a music lover's dream. Three floors of music and movies. I could have gotten lost in there for hours and easily spend a fortune. Though I don't have a fortune, I still ended up buying more than I should have.

Back on the street, I was getting a handle on sidewalk strategy. Learning when to pass crowds, the best way to hop the streetcar rails in my chair, I was into it. By the end of our stay, I was loving the crosswalk experience.

I'm easily amused.

We stopped back at the room to take a little breather and drop off my haul.

Jacob's Haul

  • Help! A Day in the Life
  • Peace Songs
  • Hayley Sales Sunseed
  • TMNT
  • Serenity: Collector's Edition
Next destination? The CN Tower.

With dusk approaching, we moved briskly in hopes of arriving before dark. Our walk took us to a major memory spot as we passed the Air Canada Centre, where I met The Corrs in 2004.

We ended up arriving along with the dark after missing the street we needed.


Looking up from the base of the CN Tower was definitely a "wow" moment where you suddenly feel very, very small.

Staring out the elevator's window as we ascended was incredible. Within seconds, the buildings you were just staring up at, you're now staring down at.

I approached one of the many windows in the observation area and had the ultimate "wow" moment. Toronto was now a massive sea of twinkling lights, literally stretching out farther than the eye could see. It was breathtaking.

Imagine my surprise when I looked down and saw a helicopter fly past.

The outdoor observation area was insane because of the force of the wind at that altitude. For an Ohio boy who spends most of his time looking up at everyone, it was quite a sensation to feel the winds at the top of the world.

Back inside was a section of glass floor where you could stand and look down at the street and the Rogers Centre a thousand feet below.

Possibly the most amazing part of it all was that Mom actually came up there. She did great and I hope she enjoyed it.

As we lowered back to street level, the elevator operator told us that we were descending at roughly fifteen miles per hour, the same speed as an open military parachute. For some reason, it was much more bizarre to see the buildings coming up at us than it was to see them shrink below.

Once back on terra firma, we marched back to Yonge Street and stopped in a McDonald's for dinner. The day was fantastic, but non-stop, I found myself in need of some down time and quiet, so I ended up bagging the remainder of my burger and finishing it back in the room.

I unwound by checking email while looking out at the city lights spread out before me. At midnight, Mom snuck up from behind to surprise me with a little foil balloon as it was now my birthday.

We finished up the bottle from Jackson-Triggs and crashed, bringing an end to our last night in Toronto.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 2nd, 2007 - Beach Blanket Burn-o

I was finally able to wake up early as planned, though the night itself was a bumpy one, thanks to a nasty stomach ache. I'm wondering if my dinner at the winery disagreed with me. I was tired and still a bit stomach-achy, but I was up and ready to go, much like my last trip to Toronto.

At just about 11:00 AM, we were packed up, checked out, and on the road to Toronto. In the days before our trip, Chantal mentioned that she was playing 99.9 MIX FM's Beachfest the day after the Jackson-Triggs show and invited us. I checked things out, discussed it with Mom, and we decided to split it up and spend a couple days in Toronto rather than stay in the Niagara area the whole time.

Most of the drive up was smooth, that is until we hit what should have been the last twenty minutes of the drive. That last twenty minutes extended into well over an hour because of the massive amounts of traffic. Beachfest, the air show, and the final weekend of a big fair were all going on at the same time in the same area of town and it seemed like everyone in the city was on their way to one of them.

Traffic in Toronto is an interesting thing to behold. Sure, people can drive crazy around here from time to time, but up there it appears crazy is the default gear in their vehicles. I've never seen so many U-turns and abrupt lane changes in my life. I couldn't help but chuckle in amazement at the power of a hand gesture as a simple wave of a hand out the window would magically stop every car in the next lane to allow said abrupt lane changes.

Much inching forward and several F16 fly-bys later, we finally made it to a parking lot for Beachfest.

Liam Titcomb was playing when we made it within viewing range of the stage. I liked the sound, but the sun was pretty intense, so Mom and I decided to head back by the van and hang in the shade for a little bit.

The Beachfest crowd

As we sat looking out toward the ridiculously busy street, we were both amazed at the massive number of people whizzing past on bicycles and rollerblades. They actually seemed to outnumber automobiles at a couple points. Such a difference from around here, where most bicyclists I see are either senior citizens or kids too young to drive.

I also noticed quite a few wheelchairs, which either means the city's very wheelchair friendly or the bookies there mean business.

Before too long, Chantal arrived and we ended up walking in with her. We got seated right up near the stage and she went off to get ready. Performing at that point was Hayley Sales, who had a nice sound. Sort of a blending of Anna Nalick and old school Jewel.

Hayley Sales

Chantal hit the stage a little after 3:00 PM and put on a short, but sweet set including another performance of Halfway Around the World.

Chantal peeking out from behind the piano

It was a very strange sensation, being on a beach in Toronto and watching Chantal play as a giant C17 lumbers by overhead. If I was there by myself, I might wonder if that odd mishmash of elements was just a result the sun getting to me.

The sun actually get to me, not in the form of oddly juxtaposed visions, but the form of a nasty sunburn. Even the help of an umbrella and several retreats to shady spots could save my pale Irish skin from the brutal sun. At least I enjoyed myself, I can tolerate the itch for a few days.

Hiding in the shade at the side of the stage between acts, I couldn't believe the volume of the audience as high-pitched screams began to fill the air. Had they suddenly realized they were but feet away from the Bullcrank animator? Sadly, nope.

The screams were for the next act, Kalan Porter. It appeared Mom and I were the only members of the vast crowd who had no idea who that was. A quick Googling later on revealed him to be the second winner of Canadian Idol.

Still in my shady spot, I spent some time chatting with Kevin and Adam as best I could over the noise of everything going on around us.

Hot, tired, and just needing a little break, we decided to take off and find our hotel. We walked out with Chantal and said our see-you-laters as she hurried off to catch her flight home.

The journey to the hotel consisted of more slow traffic, lane changing hand signals, and overall craziness as we made our way into downtown Toronto. We only got slightly lost once, thanks to no identifying signs on or around the hotel, but we eventually found the Suites at 1 King West.

Check in got off to a bumpy start when we were told they couldn't park our van on site because it's too large and we would have to pay cash and use an independent lot about a block away. Mom stuck to her guns and the valet was very helpful in finding a way to keep the van at the hotel.

We finally made it into the hotel lobby, which almost had a metropolitan lounge/club type feel to it. While waiting for an elevator to take us to our room on the 30th floor, I smiled to myself as I heard Wonderful start playing in the lobby.

The room was definitely somewhat smaller than the pictures online led me to believe, but it was still nice. It even had a washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave, stove, and refrigerator right there in the room, not to mention a cool view.

The room

The view from the work desk

The view from the sitting area

Playing with the zoom

We chilled for a little bit, then went down and asked the concierge if there was anywhere within walking distance to eat for a reasonable price. He recommended a place called the Richtree Market Restaurant. A short walk down Yonge Street led us there, but finding an entrance proved to be a little tricky.

The inside was like no restaurant I've ever seen. The whole place was set up like a giant outdoor market, but indoors. When you arrive, they hand you a credit card. Each stand had a different type of food and there were tons of stands. When you get your food from a stand, they swipe your card. Once you're done eating, you give them your card and they tell you what you owe, then you pay as you normally would.

The food was good, but I'll admit the setting made much more of an impression. I think I had a little case of culture shock in there. It was strange as I sat there and heard a different language coming from each table surrounding ours.

Me & Mom at our table

The brilliantly named bar, The Irish Embassy

Yonge Street

Filled up and still processing everything, we headed back up Yonge Street. As I passed the lady whose sad saxophone sounds echoed into the Toronto night, we exchanged smiles.

Everything about this place was new to me and I liked that.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

September 1st, 2007 - Twilight in the Vineyard

Months back, when I got my tickets to see Chantal Kreviazuk open for Five For Fighting, I got word of another concert via her message board, Elements. Apparently she would be playing at the Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake on September 1st.

A Chantal concert at the home of my favorite wine just three days before my birthday? How could I pass that up? Honestly. Tickets were pricier than I'd normally even consider, but they did include dinner and wine, plus I knew the experience itself would be a great one.

Mom decided she'd buy the tickets as my birthday gift. I was ready to buy them and insisted, but she's nearly impossible to sway once her mind has been made up.

Anyway, back to the story.

Yet again, the whole "waking up early" plan completely fell apart as I ended up sleeping until noon. Anyone else seeing a pattern here?

I gave my mind some time to catch up with my body and wake up and then we headed for Jackson-Triggs. We wanted to go early so we would have plenty of time to explore the winery and say hello to Chantal before the show.

The vineyard is only a couple minutes away from our hotel, so Mom and I became suspicious as our short drive down Regional Road 55 continued to grow longer. We began to wonder if had somehow passed it up, despite our actively looking for it. Our suspicions were confirmed when we pulled into a gas station and the attendant told us we had gone too far.

We headed back and arrived in less than a minute. It turns out that the sign with the winery's name on it had been eclipsed by a large trolley-looking bus on its way out of the driveway. Both of us had noticed the bus on our first trip down the road, but the thought of the sign being hidden by it had crossed neither of our minds.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lovely employee of the winery named Nadia, who ended up kindly helping us out several times over the course of the day.

Me + Grapes = Happy

We took a walk over towards the amphitheater to take a look. As we walked, we met Kathy, a new friend of mine from Elements, and her husband, Sandy. When we reached the top of the amphitheater, we found Kevin, Karen, and Adam were already down on stage doing an early soundcheck.

The amphitheater from afar

After watching the band and chatting for a while with Kathy and Sandy, Mom and I decided to retreat from the sun for a while and wander around inside the main building.

We peeked at the shop and walked through the tasting area and eventually heard music coming from the amphitheater again, so we went back to see Chantal had arrived and joined the band.

We watched as they went through a few songs and fine-tuned everything for the show. I was very intrigued when they started playing an unfamiliar, but beautiful song.

They started letting ticket-holders for the dinner into the amphitheater around 5:30. Inside, I met Elements members Terrence, Deb, and Russell.

The food setup was all inside of a tent. After you went through the line and got your food and wine, you find yourself an empty wine barrel to stand at and use as a table. As Mom and I roamed the tent in search of a barrel, the Elements folks invited us to join them at theirs.

Overall, the food selection wasn't really up my alley, but the bratwurst I had was tasty. The company was great, I enjoyed getting to know everyone and listening to their travel stories and such.

One big happy barrel.

Hanging with Kathy & Sandy

A little after 7:00, Mom and I made our way back to the main building, where we were set to meet up with Chantal. We were helped again by Nadia and also Colin. They led me to a nice modern looking room with a massive window overlooking the vineyard where we all just chatted while waiting for Chantal.

The view from the room

A few minutes passed and Chantal came in, all ready for the show and looking lovely. Time was a bit tight, so we didn't have too much time to visit, but the time we did have was fantastic. She left for the stage and we left for our seats, it was going to be an excellent show.

Just before the show

Our seats were in the center of the back row, but our view was incredible. The layout of the amphitheater was perfect for this show. It was like Blossom here in Ohio, but with a maximum capacity of 500. Enormous stone slabs were laid into the sculpted hillside to separate the seating areas as the slope descended toward the stage. There were no seats on the hillside itself, so guests either had to buy a chair from Jackson-Triggs or bring their own. I always bring my own.

As dusk settled in, Chantal, Karen, Adam, and the recently married Kevin took the stage and went right into Mad About You.

The atmosphere was great, the wine was flowing freely in the audience and on the stage, leaving everyone in a relaxed, happy mood and putting Chantal into an extra chatty mood. Her mother-in-law was in attendance that night, as was Canadian morning TV personality Seamus O'Reagan. Kathy and Sandy described him to me as Canada's Matt Lauer before they scooted over to snap a photo with him.

Thr temperature dropped and the stars twinkled to life above us as the melodies of Ghosts of You, Wayne, and In This Life soared across the countryside.

Now curled up under a couple blankets, my ears perked up as Chantal began talking about the first song she's written for her next album. Seconds later, we became the first audience to hear Halfway Around the World, the beautiful song we heard a snippet of earlier at soundcheck. That song alone has me eagerly awaiting the arrival of that album.

In a surprise turn of events, we were treated to a rare performance of Green Apples after a soon to be married audience member shouted out a request. Chantal explained that she doesn't play the song often because it was written about an ex, but she obliged and after all these years, I got to hear one of my favorite songs played live for the first time.

Yet another pleasant surprise was when she played a cover of the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses for the Elements crowd. I've heard her version of it in the past, but on that night and in that setting, it was more beautiful than ever.

Adam was the target for much harassment throughout the evening, as it turned out to be his birthday. He was brought up to join Chantal at the piano, where she announced his special day to the audience as well as his virginity. That fit the laid back nature of the evening perfectly and got a great laugh. We then all joined in and sang Happy Birthday.

Later on, the teasing continued when Adam misinterpreted a doodle on the setlist and started playing the wrong song. This prompted Chantal to hop up behind the drums with him to poke fun and guide him. She then returned to the piano and he started playing a different, but still incorrect song.

As the show went on, Chantal's chattiness increased and she told about here recent experience with the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? where her heritage was traced back over several generations. Her tale went on (much like this blog entry is) for probably around ten to fifteen minutes and took a humorous turn when Kevin and Karen decided to harass her for her lengthy story by leaving the stage. Adam hung around for several minutes before joining the others, his timing and execution was hilarious.

Karen Graves and Kevin Fox

Tea time

For the encore, they returned to play songs including Feels Like Home, Before You, and finally All I Can Do. At the end, Chantal shouted out her thanks to the winery, the audience, her friends from Elements, and much to our surprise, "Jacob and his Mom."

Moments later, it was her turn to be surprised as winery co-founder Allan Jackson announced that ten percent of the night's profits would be going to War Child Canada.

With that, the show was over, but the experience wasn't.

We made our way back to the main building, where it was announced Chantal would be signing autographs. Mom and I grabbed a bottle of Gew├╝rztraminer to enjoy at the hotel and went in search of our barrel bunch. Upon finding them, Kathy ran up to me, said "Happy Early Birthday", and gave me a setlist they snagged. Closer inspection showed it to be Adam's setlist, the source of amusement earlier in the evening.

Aren't friends grand?

Deb, Terrence, Kathy, Sandy, Russell, and lil ol' me

We all hung out in the chilly open-air corridor, chit chatting and reminiscing about the show while fellow concert-goers said their hellos to Chantal and got their CDs signed.

As the line dwindled, we all went over and joined it, myself pulling up the rear. I did my best to fight my jaw's desire to chatter in the night air as I told Chantal how much I loved the show.

When Kevin appeared, I seemed to catch him off guard when I asked him to sign my copy of his CD. He couldn't believe I was able to find it since apparently his website hasn't been updated in years. eBay saves the day.

Chantal signed my setlist and joined the Elements gang for a group photo, which sadly turned out a bit blurry.

As she got up to leave, I thanked her and we said our goodnights and see-you-tomorrows. Mom and I then headed towards the parking lot with our new friends, where we said our nice-to-meet-yous, thank-yous, and we'll-have-to-meet-up-agains, followed by drive-safelys and another round of goodnights before parting ways.

We navigated the long, dark country roads back to hotel and arrived shortly after midnight. The quiet and the dark were perfect for reflecting on the day and how a concert I expected to be great turned out to be a purely magical experience. I was fully aware I had just witnessed a very special show.

No time was wasted in getting to bed. Both because I needed to warm up and I had to be up early for our Sunday drive to Toronto.