Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Greyhound Canada cancelled my Buffalo, NY bus schedule, didn't tell me, cost me money and then refused to pay me back...

We've all had travel nightmare stories. I've been mostly lucky in my life, at least when it comes to the airline industry.

This story is small potatoes next to most airline horror stories we often hear about. But I thought I'd share it in the hopes of warning the public about Greyhound Canada, a company I used to respect but will no longer ride. This consumer complaints website about how Greyhound has screwed over other customers doesn't have a story nearly as bad as ours, so I feel compelled to share here.

My boyfriend and I booked return tickets from Toronto to the Buffalo, NY airport to catch a flight to Florida earlier this month.  We had ordered our Greyhound tickets in advance in June. On August 28th, I proceeded to the Greyhound terminal at Bay and Dundas in Toronto to pick up our tickets for the Sept 1st departure bus ride to Buffalo and the Sept 5th return ride back to Toronto.  The Greyhound employee saw our order number and printed out our tickets just fine.

The thing is - our return schedule back from the Buffalo airport to Toronto on September 5th had been cancelled. She didn't mention that to me. Greyhound had all of my contact information as I purchased the tickets online months earlier. They knew we were supposed to be on that 6:45 pm scheduled bus ride back from the U.S. to our home country. But they didn't bother to tell us. 

Fast forward to September 5th. Our flight back from Florida to Buffalo arrived back 45 minutes early so we wandered fairly tired around the bleak Buffalo airport trying to kill time.  Then after 2 hours, we went back to the bus pick-up/drop-off location just outside the Buffalo airport. The clock approached our supposed 6:45 pm pick-up. But as 6:45 pm came and went, no bus showed up. Had we been waiting in the wrong location? No. What had happened?  We had no idea.

I called the 1-800-661-TRIP phone number and got the automatic voice message system and was put on hold. Of course, this being the U.S., I had no roaming phone plan (as I hadn't used my phone for the entire trip.) I patiently waited for a human being to come on the phone to try to find out what happened to our bus ride. No Greyhound employee ever materialized.

After 10 minutes, I hung up knowing I was accruing roaming charges. I left my boyfriend by the bus stop and rushed into the airport to try to use a public phone. I found one inside but could no longer see the bus stop. There I called every Greyhound phone number I could find and couldn't get a single human being on the phone. I was on hold for almost an hour. My frustration grew into anger, which grew into despair.

By now, it was past 8 pm and I wandered back to the bus stop to rejoin my boyfriend. He then ran off to go to the bathroom inside the airport and try out the Greyhound website on his iPad as my iPhone internet connection wasn't able to get any schedule information from the Greyhound site. So I waited at the bus stop wondering what we would do. Would we have to pay for a flight home to Toronto? Would we have to get a hotel room and somehow figure out how to get home the next day?  We were exhausted and we just wanted to get home.  It was quite unpleasant considering we weren't even in our own country.

Finally my boyfriend returned to say he learned that Greyhound seemed to have 8:45 pm bus rides back from the Buffalo airport to Toronto the next night and all nights that week. Perhaps there would be one that night as well (although that day's schedules were gone from the Greyhound site.) Finally close to 8:45 pm, another Greyhound bus showed up. I explained the situation to the American driver who apologized and agreed to take us on the bus to the Buffalo station even though we had 6:45 pm tickets.

At the Buffalo bus terminal, the driver confirmed that Greyhound had cancelled our 6:45 pm schedule, but had not told us. I was extremely angry.

Then the farce got worse. We had to transfer buses at the Buffalo terminal, and then wait almost another hour for a late Canadian Greyhound driver to show up. The terminal refused to shut the luggage section on the side of the bus, leaving it open for anyone to gawk at.  I demanded they shut it, but the terminal staffer said it was the Greyhound driver's responsibility to shut it.  I kept a watchful eye on it, frequently hopping off the bus to make sure no thieves came along to steal our luggage. Finally, the unapologetic driver showed up without an explanation and took us across the border. Then a thunder storm hit Ontario, making the ride even more distressful.

By the time we got back to Toronto at 12:45 am, I was livid. I marched into the Toronto bus terminal and gave the Greyhound employee behind the counter a piece of my mind. He seemed more concerned with shutting me up than apologizing. I asked how Greyhound could cancel our schedule, leave us stranded in Buffalo and not inform us even though they had my contact information. He wouldn't answer. I asked if he cared how it felt to be on hold for over an hour, incurring roaming charges, to never reach a human being while stranded and worried. No explanation. In sad, but true private sector form, he just offered us a reimbursement for our ride from hell. I asked what about the extra roaming phone charges I incurred. He told me I'd have to take that up with upper management. I did.

After some emailing, Greyhound Canada's Vanessa Noriega informed me that:  

"Greyhound is not liable for additional expenses. Unfortunately, we will not be able to honor your request...We hope you will not let this incident deter you from using our services and will give us another opportunity in the near future to prove we can be the most reliable and economical form of transportation to meet your needs."

To which I replied:

"You are able to honour my request but you won't. I will not be using your services again as I am afraid after I buy a ticket, you're going to cancel the schedule and not inform me, and put me through hell because of it, and when I incur expenses to try to find out what's happened, you won't reimburse me. I will be blogging about this outrage and doing my best to spread the message far and wide and make sure Greyhound loses business because of this. I'm sure in the end you will lose much more than $28.01 CDN. Foolish, stupid private company!"

Dear loyal readers, if you have any admiration or respect for me, or if you simply value good customer service and want to send a message to a company that doesn't, if at all possible, please boycott Greyhound Canada. I'll be doing so from now on.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The reasons I really like John Tory and may still vote for him...

I have always liked John Tory and, as the polls show him as the best candidate to beat Doug Ford, I hope he does.

If this new poll out today (showing a clear but modest lead for Tory over Ford with Olivia Chow trailing in third) is backed up by Nanos and other pollsters, I will be voting for him.

As this Star article makes clear, John Tory has learned from past mistakes to run a textbook smart campaign this year.  He got in early in the race and has been pacing himself well.  He's been articulate.  He's been clear about his priorities.  He's smartly put a creative and much-needed policy on fixing Toronto's gridlock & transportation crisis at the centre of his campaign. I don't agree with everything he stands for, but I'm comfortable with his moderately progressive conservative positions on most issues. He's not a far-right conservative; he's a moderate.

He's also taken on the Fords in a way I've enjoyed immensely.  His attacks on their nonsense have always struck the right balance between outrage and the need for something better.  He does seem to be the breath of fresh air many Torontonians are looking for. 

All of these factors can be seen in Tory's new TV ad campaign. 

There have been many people quibbling about the details of his Smart Track plan, claiming it's not properly financed or that the proposed route of the track won't work. Tory's batted those criticisms aside like a pro and has remained focused. He's convinced me for the most part. Campaign platforms are rarely perfect and will always need to go through the process of legislative and bureaucratic approvals in order to weed out flaws.

I've been disappointed by Olivia Chow's campaign for mayor. As a downtown gay man, I should have been firmly in Olivia's camp long ago. Her policies have been bang on for me. I support her light rail train plan for Scarborough. I support her ambitious plan to build 200 kms of new bike lanes in the city. I am generally more in agreement with her on most issues than John Tory, whose support for the Scarborough subway extension has disappointed me.

Yet the fact that I and many, many other progressive Toronto residents are considering voting for Tory speaks volumes about his character and his message: Tory's found a way to straddle the great divide between conservative and progressive in a way we haven't seen in a generation or two in Ontario. If polls are correct, Tory leads strongly both in downtown Toronto and most of the suburbs. No candidate running to get elected mayor for the first time has ever done that in post-amalgamation Toronto. It's always been downtown versus the suburbs.

Chow suffers from what I call "NDP-itis," which is the mistaken belief that your far-left, NDP priorities and beliefs are so beautifully superior in and of themselves, you only need to merely put them in the window in order for them to receive massive support. Frequently, those Dippers suffering from NDP-itis can't seem to figure out why their precious priorities fall flat with the public. Chow has put her policies and issues in the window and hasn't truly sold them to the public. When she defends her plan or attacks Tory's plan, it grates rather than convinces. Chow hasn't earned the confidence of Toronto voters or inspired us or made us believe our city will be in strong hands going forward with her in the mayor's chair. I worry that Chow will divide the city in the opposite direction than the Fords.

It now seems clear Chow was a great idea on paper that in practice hasn't lived up to the promise. I wanted to vote for her a great deal. Because of the Scarborough subway issue, I still may. But I'm very tempted to vote for the candidate who's run the best campaign and has managed to unite the city behind his candidacy: John Tory.

If the polls continue to show John Tory in the lead with the awful Doug Ford a strong second, I'll be voting for Tory. All other issues are secondary to me. Fixing our city's leadership with someone who's decent is my only real priority this year and John Tory has earned his position as Ford-slayer.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Very happy to support Andray Domise, running for TO city councillor in Ward 2 against Rob Ford

I shot this short video of Andray Domise, who's running for Toronto city councillor in Ward 2 in this municipal election, last night at a meet-and-greet event.   As you can see, he's an articulate, level-headed, decent guy fighting to make his community better. 

His main opponent is, of course, Toronto's notorious mayor Rob Ford, who dropped out of the mayor's race recently due to health issues and back into his old ward, but has yet to campaign.  Before that, Andray was facing Mikey Ford, the 20-year-old nephew of Rob and Doug who changed his last name this spring to cash in on the family name.  Mikey's mother Kathy shared some crack cocaine with Rob Ford earlier this year in her Rexdale basement. 

Clearly, Ward 2 would do better to pick the better candidate in Andray Domise, who grew up in Rexdale and wants to build up his community in a way that Rob Ford has always failed to do.   I hope the voters of Ward 2 turn over a new page on October 27th and elect Andray.   It's time to do better! 

Check out Andray Domise's website here for more information on this great candidate!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Doug Ford flips and flops on Toronto's Pride Parade while out councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam gets homophobic hate mail from Ford Nation

In Tuesday's debate among the three major candidates for Toronto mayor, Doug Ford was asked repeatedly by his opponents during one of the defining moments of the night if he would march in Toronto's Pride parade as mayor.   Both John Tory and Olivia Chow took on Dougie's inability to answer a basic question, as you can see in this Global TV clip (strangely absent from CTV's clips of the debate):

Doug claimed last night he supports equality and Pride.  That was a major flip flop, of course, as Doug has previously attacked the Pride parade, claiming he's attended in the past and viewed dozens of 'buck naked men' at the proceedings.  Of course, Dougie and his brother Rob have also claimed in the past that Pride weekend was an annual Ford family getaway up in private cottage land.  How Dougie ever attended Pride in the past and also went to the cottage at the same time remains a mystery.  I bet you Doug is lying his face off about ever attending Pride. 

One thing that doesn't remain a mystery is why Doug Ford (like his bigot brother Rob Ford) continues to refuse to say he'll march in the Pride parade: because the Fords have been carefully nursing the support of homophobic bigots as part of their Ford Nation for years and they want to keep that support. 

Take a look at a typical Ford Nation supporter's recent hate mail letter sent to out lesbian city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents my Ward 27 and who will be getting my vote on Oct 27th:

Doug Ford is hoping not to lose the support of bigots like this, hence why he can't say he's going to the Pride parade as mayor.   That might piss them off and cause them to forget how to get to the polling stations on voting day.

Dougie, like his brother, is not qualified to be mayor of any city in Ontario, let alone Toronto.  Hence why I continue to be glad his brother will no longer be mayor going forward, and if present trends continue, neither will Doug.

And as for the bigots in Ford Nation, get ready for your comeuppance! Your four years in the sun are about to come to a crashing end!


A friend posted this link to a Twitter essay by @HeerJeet.  It's definitely worth a read: 'How the Fords have normalized racism & homophobia in Toronto'. 

****UPDATE OCT 6, 2014

Doug Ford has flip flopped and now tells Sun Media he'd march in the Pride parade if elected mayor, after originally failing to answer the question.

But of course, this being Doug Ford, he can't reach out to the LGBT community without slapping us at the same time.  In the same breath, Ford said, "Do I approve of the nudity, of older men with potbellies walking around the street buck naked? No, I don’t approve of that,” he said.

That's not leadership, DoFo.  That's too little, too late.  John Tory and Olivia Chow have been marching in the Pride parade for years, if not decades.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

John Tory's Pride comments show his thinking hasn't evolved much since 2007 religious schools debacle

I have previously been quite open to voting for him, especially since he emerged as the main challenger to the incumbent buffoon Rob Ford.  

But now that RoFo has dropped out due to illness, Dougie Ford has stepped in to take his place and, to date, has proven a weak replacement.  Polls show him running third behind frontrunner Tory and second place nominee Olivia Chow.  It’s clear DoFo is going to milk his brother’s cancer diagnosis for as many votes as he can get, which may win him most of Rob Ford’s supporters, but probably few others. 

So I’m feeling much less pressure to vote strategically and instead vote for the Toronto I want, which I have to admit is not reflected in John Tory’s platform. 

I hate the misguided, vote-buying, new debt-inducing, property-tax-raising plan to build a three-stop Scarborough subway extension instead of the better, fully funded light rail train option with its seven stops which will serve people who actually need rapid transit in Scarborough.   This subway plan is the result of buffoon Rob Ford’s thinking and it’s galling that a bare majority of council (24 to 20) approved it last year. 

The only reason it happened was mostly due to flip flopper Karen Stintz who flipped again on the issue in a bid to bolster her now defunct mayoral ambitions.   It’s sad that John Tory buys into the misguided plan too.   It seems to me this is only because Tory fears standing up to the same transit-hating voters in Scarborough who will never use the new subway, but still demand it be built so they too can “feel” as important as downtown. 

Tory’s weak cycling policy sort of announced over the last week (months after Olivia Chow released her better cycling plan) has done little to convince me he’ll be much different than the Fords on that issue either.   After earlier questioning the urgently needed east-west separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide (now still just pilot projects), Tory now says he wants to build more bike lanes “in sensible locations.”  He refuses to outline how many kilometres of new bike lanes or where he’ll build them until after the election.  My experience with “sensible locations” means bike lanes that tend to completely disappear when they’re slightly inconvenient for cars.  I was also shocked to read that Tory had never cycled in Toronto before a recent 2-hour bike ride with cycling advocate Jared Kolb. 

This is hugely important to me as a cyclist who commutes daily on the very dangerous streets of downtown Toronto.  

The latest disappointment happened this past weekend when Tory showed he hasn’t learned much from his 2007 debacle as provincial PC leader. 

In 2007, Tory waded into the religious schools funding issue by pledging to extend Ontario public funding to all religious schools in addition to Catholic ones.  This was clearly a sop both to the right-wingers in his party and also to Jewish voters.  But it was a gross miscalculation on Tory’s part, as the majority of Ontarians then and now want less religion in public schools, not more.   The issue derailed Tory’s 2007 provincial campaign, leading to his massive defeat. 

Please don’t get me wrong: I have no affinity for QAIA or its strange obsession with alleged Israeli injustices (why don’t the organizers of QAIA spend as much time protesting human rights injustices by Egypt or Syria or Saudi Arabia or North Korea?)  Israel is not an apartheid state so to call your group “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” is to misinform an important debate.

However, I don’t think the solution is to ban the group and write them all off as anti-Semites (especially since many members of QAIA are Jewish themselves).   If the group is promoting a misleading or exaggerated message, then combat that misinformation with the truth, I say.  Pride Toronto struggled greatly with how to deal with QAIA in 2012 and managed to draft up a mediation process to address it.  

But the pledge here chosen by Tory is again to pander to win votes and do so in a way that undermines good public policy.   

As a result of all of these issues, I am on the cusp of fully endorsing Olivia Chow for mayor.  I fully support Chow’s public transit proposals for the city, as well as her cycling policy.  She is an inclusive person whose positions are inspired by genuine conviction instead of calculated vote optimization.   It’s lucky that Chow’s campaign is finally coming alive, with her appearing feistier at recent debates.   I hope that continues.  This is make-or-break time for Chow and if she doesn’t bring it over the next month, her political career is over. 

The only reason I could vote for Tory now is to simply stop Doug Ford, should DoFo somehow manage to improve his standings in the polls.  But if the race becomes a choice between Tory and Chow with DoFo a distant third, I’ll be voting for Olivia Chow.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's time to take the hint, Rob Anders...

Rob Anders - the longtime Conservative MP, homophobe, social conservative dork, with a penchant for falling asleep in Parliament (see pic on the right) or veterans' committee meetings, the idiot who somehow imagined Tom Mulcair sped up Jack Layton's death by cancer, and believed that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist - has lost another Conservative nomination, this time in the rural Alberta riding of Bow River.  

Anders, of course, lost the Conservative nomination in his longstanding riding of Calgary-Signal Hill back in April.  He thought he'd show those red liberal socialist Tories in Calgary by taking refuge amongst his true blue Conservative peeps in the new riding, I guess.  But to no avail.

Rob, please take the hint.  Even the blue Conservatives in your own party don't want you in the House of Commons anymore.   If Stephen Harper doesn't soon appoint you to the Senate (which is probably a strong possibility considering the quality of other appointments Harper has made to the upper chamber), it's time to start knocking on the doors of sleazy lobbying firms looking to gain access, or better yet join some prestigious conservative think tank. 

Best of luck to you in your future endeavours! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

TIFF '14: Benedict Cumberbatch's 'The Imitation Game' wins People's Choice Award

Due to vacations and work, I took it easy on TIFF this year, seeing only four movies.

But I'm happy to say that one of those four films was Morten Tyldum's excellent 'The Imitation Game,' (pictured) which today won the People's Choice Award at the festival.  

Considering previous TIFF People's Choice winners include Oscar Best Picture winners like '12 Years a Slave,' 'The King's Speech,' and 'Slumdog Millionaire,' this bodes well for 'Imitation Game's' Oscar chances.  

And what a great result that would be for a film that chronicles the life and work of mostly unknown Alan Turing, a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and marathon and ultra distance runner, who led efforts to successfully crack the Enigma code during World War II.  Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.  Turing's pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles.

The film focuses mostly on those fascinating efforts, but does so while shining a light on a character, Turing, whose introverted/anti-social nature might usually have deemed him an unsuitable lead character for a feature film.  The fact that the audience overwhelmingly sympathizes with Turing is due mostly to the great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.

As Variety puts it in their mostly positive review, "His Turing is a marvel to watch, comically aloof when confronted with as mundane a task as ordering lunch, but seething with the mad intensity of a zealot whenever anything risks impeding his work, and finally heartbreaking in his inability to cope with the cruel realities of the world outside Bletchley Park."

The film flashes back and forth between events around 1952 when Turing was arrested for gross indecency (something I committed last week, by the standards of Turing's time), to Turing's war efforts between 1939 and 1945, and Turing's youth where the shy, bullied lad briefly found platonic first love with a schoolmate named Christopher, whom he would later name his Enigma-breaking super-computer after.

By the end, the audience is left with a strong sense of sadness at the life of a mostly misunderstood and tormented man who, despite hiding most of his life from people, still contributed so greatly to his own time and all the decades since.  His work building the Christopher computer, capable of deciphering through millions of possibilities to break the German Enigma code, clearly formed the basis for the modern computer.   For him to die so young (age 41) makes obvious the profound loss and tragedy of this genius's life. 

Check out 'The Imitation Game' when you can! 

I also saw and quite loved 'The Theory of Everything' about the early life of another genius of our time, Stephen Hawking.   It was as impressive as 'The Imitation Game,' although perhaps not as tragic and poignant.  Star Eddie Redmayne was simply perfect as Stephen Hawking.  No doubt, Redmayne and Cumberbatch have great chances of landing Best Actor Oscar nods early next year.

The final two films I saw at TIFF this year were Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini,' starring Willem Dafoe as the infamous Italian director/writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, which was interesting but not overly focused, and the stunning 'Love in the Time of Civil War,' by Quebec director Rodrigue Jean.

Jean's film about Montreal junkie hustlers who gravitate between hot sex and searching for their next hit, was a bit long but still hammered home the point of these sad, downward-spiraling lives.  As the lead, sexy and oft-naked Alexandre Landry (pictured above) holds nothing back and, despite looking often a bit grubby, still manages to be mesmerizing.   No wonder he was named by TIFF as one of four 'Rising Stars' this year.

There wasn't much love in this time of civil war, but that seems to be Jean's point in one of the better films I've seen on the subject.   This one deserves a wide, international release across the whole gay market, if you ask me. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rob and Doug Ford pull a switcheroo in Toronto's mayor race, giving Doug Ford a $1.3 million advantage....

Big news today in Toronto with Rob Ford dropping out of the mayor's race due to health issues.  Now his brother Doug Ford is stepping in to run for Toronto mayor in Rob's place, because the family considers the mayor's chair to be Ford family property, I guess.

And Rob Ford, sick in the hospital awaiting a tumour diagnosis, is running for his old seat of Ward 2.  His 22-year-old nephew Mikey Ford has dropped out of the Ward 2 race to instead run for school trustee.

Yes this family seems to feel they are entitled to public office.  We'll see if the voters agree.

Here's my assessment of the situation.

This is bad news for Olivia Chow, who might've benefited had Rob Ford been forced to remove himself from the race without being replaced by his brother.   Then it would've been a choice between Chow and Tory, and progressive folks like myself would've had the luxury of choosing between them.

But now with Doug Ford on the ballot, the "AnybodyButFord" dynamic of this race continues.  I'm still just as determined to keep Doug Ford out of the mayor's chair as I was removing Rob Ford.  Both are cut from the same cloth.

Doug has less folksy charm and less political experience than Rob, two major parts of Rob's enduring appeal to Ford Nation types.  I would guess, considering the circumstances, that most of Ford Nation will continue to back Doug Ford in this race.  But no doubt, some might feel less inclined to do so.

Furthermore, the Rob Ford haters will, by and large, continue to oppose Doug Ford's candidacy for mayor.  So I don't think Dougie is going to win much support from elsewhere that Rob couldn't win.

But now that Doug Ford is a new candidate for mayor, he now apparently has the right to spend the maximum of $1.3 million to support himself between now and October 27th.   Money spent this year by his brother's campaign doesn't count against Dougie's new spending tally.

That's morally wrong since money spent this year to bolster the Ford brand is going to benefit Dougie.

I'm not too worried about that, though.   I don't think any amount of money will change many people's minds about the Fords now, but nevertheless this switcheroo today does raise important questions about spending fairness.  But no doubt, the Tory and Chow campaigns have been saving up the bulk of their own resources for this very late campaign period for advertising, so whatever extra cash Doug can spend may not make a real difference.  He still has to raise that money.

I'm only annoyed that since Rob Ford is running in Ward 2, this means the jerk could still be around to spread his poison a bit more and perhaps launch a comeback in the future (should, of course, he survive his current cancer scare.)

Not a great day for decent people in Toronto.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The awful Sam Sotiropoulos

A good friend of mine commented on this Global TV interview with idiot/homophobic Toronto school trustee Sam Sotiropoulos and said it all: "Kudos to the Global TV reporter here who doggedly attempted to engage demented school board trustee Sam Sotiropoulos on his inane comments about transgender people. His weird smirky "we're done here" glare near the end is the funniest/creepiest thing since Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS." 

I couldn't agree more: 

Why do such losers get elected in Toronto suburbs and elsewhere for school board trustee?  Probably because most trustee elections usually are won and lost simply based on whose names voters vaguely recognize.   

But I'm hoping Sotiropoulos' shameful pontificating against LGBT people and Pride parades this year and against transgendered people recently gets punished this October.  Come on, Scarborough-Agincourt voters, does this man in this Global TV interview really speak for you?  

There is luckily one very strong candidate running against the bigot Sotiropoulos next month and she's gaining momentum: Manna Wong.  I may have to donate some money to her campaign.