Canada’s Worst Driver? Too many candidates

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Further in this edition of KTW, you’ll find a story about a search for Kamloops residents who would qualify for the TV reality show Canada’s Worst Driver.

I have oh-so-many people I’d like to register for this show. Too bad providing licence plates isn’t sufficient.

The producers need names, which means I’d have to know these people — and if I did, well, I’d take the time to explain to them some key elements of the vehicles they drive.

For example, I’d have them sit in the driver’s seat and then show them that cute little lever, to the left and just behind the steering wheel, that goes up and down.

Up means the car’s about to turn right. Down means the opposite.

It would be necessary to explain that this lever doesn’t operate on its own. Much like the drivers can’t really read their children’s minds to divine what it is they want done, these pieces of electronics and plastic need some direction (pardon the pun) in order to let the rest of us know the direction.

While we’re at it, this would be a good time to explain to the person in the driver’s seat that the steering wheel is for guiding the vehicle down the road, not to rest your arms on as you try to roll up that rim while driving.

Or apply your mascara.

I’d love to suggest the driver of the dirty brown truck I followed for almost nine minutes a few weeks ago as he forced cars off the road (mine included) as we came off the Halston Bridge toward the Husky Gas Station on the Yellowhead Highway.

This was all in a desperate effort to catch up with some tiny import of a car, which the truck driver did, only to start gesturing wildly and in a threatening manner at the driver of the tiny car, trying to force it off the road.

Sensing road rage, and being a reporter (albeit off-duty returning from piano lessons), I followed this idiot as he swerved at the smaller car, continuing to yell and shake his fist.

And yes, the police were called.

Then there are the people in this town who should have handed in the licence years ago, sometime after they hit their 90th birthday.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

This is not an anti-aging thing, but the reality is that when some of them are out on the street, surrounded by those never-signalling-always-eating-completely distracted other drivers, it’s a scenario that could lead to disaster.

Like the dude in the red sports car who jumps from lane to lane as he soars through Valleyview, once even dropping down into a right-hand turn lane then whipping across the cross-street and re-entering the highway through the access road — just to avoid a red light.

All of these people would be strong contenders for the title awarded by the people behind the worst-driver show.

No sense in even touching the truly crappy driving we all see every day from that one new breed of driver.

You know, the car that almost crosses the white line, then weaves over just a bit to the other side, then starts to slow down so the driver can finally concentrate on the cellphone call being taken.

I just know how much attention that driver is giving to the road.

And there are no polite words to use for those drivers who feel it’s OK to drive along the Trans-Canada Highway and keep those high beams glaring against oncoming traffic.

Consider this the tidied up words I’d like to say to them. “I can’t see the road, you moron! Sure glad you can see it so brightly!”

When I learned to drive, my instructor — a retired bus driver — made it clear to me that the hunk of metal (yes, this was oh-so-many years ago) was not a toy, but something that could hurt people if it wasn’t handled properly.

And he made it clear to me that no matter how good a driver I thought I was, I wasn’t — which meant there would be a lot of over-confident, but truly bad, drivers on the roads with me.

Growing up at racetracks, I also learned early just how much damage a car can cause, even if it just bumps another one. It just takes watching your uncle, one of the top drivers back in the 1960s for the Joie Chitwood Hell Drivers, do a flying T-bone into another car to impress that fact on you.

My cousin, a stock-car driver, hit the wall in a race once and walked away alive.

Yes, I learned at a very young age that driving a car isn’t to be taken lightly and that every time you get into one, you’re level of responsibility to everyone else in your community rises.

But if there’s just one thing you do to change your driving habits today, take a second when you get into the car to introduce yourself to that lane-change lever.

It would be a big step to avoiding becoming one of Canada’s worst drivers.

Many thanks

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Those of you who read KTW may have seen my story in the April 16 edition, the one where I give the truly short and succinct thank-you speech I was unable to give on April 12.

That was the night that, while doing my job and trying very discreetly to return to my seat at Sagebrush Theatre, Doug Sage of the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association pulled a fast one and had a public education award presented to me.

Lack of space in our paper precluded me actually saying what I wanted to, as did the need for the boss to edit my remarks. But here, I'm in control, so here's the whole thing:

Going public with the fact I have bipolar disorder was something I did on my own, without consulting my husband or children. In fact, my beloved said after he had read the column that he might have tried to dissuade me from doing it. After all, once you've waved that red flag, some people want to put you down.

But it was important for me to try to put another face on the image of mental illness. I figure if I can raise five kids, stay married to the most wonderful -- and patient -- man in the universe for all these years, hold down a job, give something back to my community and maintain some semblance of a normal (whatever that is) life, it's gotta be good and might even convince some of those out there that mental illness can actually affect the person next door just as much as the marginalized out there wandering the streets.

To be recognized for doing this is way beyond anything I would have anticipated or desired. Indeed, receiving this award was truly humbling, embarrassing and surprising.

And I have to say that, after receiving plenty of awards for my writing, this one is perhaps the most special because, unlike the others, which were given for telling other people's stories, in essence, this one is for telling my story, and that of others like me.

And that's kinda cool.

A skeptic realizes her future is indeed in the cards

It’s so good this province has done away with mandatory retirement — because, apparently, I will live into my mid- to late-90s.

And, since that kind of longevity never figured into my retirement plans, KTW is going to be home for many, many, many more years — news I’m sure will delight my bosses.

My husband and I are going to have a large number of grandchildren, I’m told.

Great. More people to visit in those many years of senior citizenship — and they won’t be able to say no because we’ll be the pater and mater familias, due massive amounts of respect.

All this is predicted by Mrs. Marra, also known as Psychic Marra, a Burnaby woman who claims to be a fifth-generation gypsy and who looks like she just stepped out of central casting.

The hair is long, black, flowing.

There’s the ever-present cigarette, complete with gold holder and, although the air doesn’t reek of it, smoke is definitely noticeable.

The tarot cards are worn, but not so worn that they’ll interfere with seeing the future, apparently.

In a nod to consumerism, there’s a sign proclaiming 90 per cent accuracy and, of course, customer satisfaction.

And into this comes me, a “skepticynic,” as my husband describes me, who for reasons that defy logic, decided it might be kinda cool to find out if there’s any reason to start buying lottery tickets.

“Do you want a palm reading or tarot cards,” Mrs. Marra asked at the West Coast Amusements carnival that came to town last week.

What’s the difference?

“If you have problems in your life, the tarot is better.”

Who doesn’t have issues? I asked her. She smiled what would be described in the movie script as a “meaningful, world-weary smile” and picked up the deck.

My son, who was wondering what his mother had dragged him into this time, just gave that look only a teenager can muster.

She had me shuffle the deck and think about the one question I wanted answered.

“I see you are recovering from a serious illness,” she said.

Good guess. Anyone my age has pretty good odds of having had some sickness at some point in recent years.

Skepticism level is rising.

“You have love in your life.”

The wedding ring may have been a hint, along with the son’s presence.

Skepticism level goes up again.

“You are worrying about your daughter.”

Yup — wait a minute.

Who told you I have a daughter?

“You are worrying about her job. She has lofty goals but always seems to fall short.

She now has my attention.

“Do not worry about her. She will be fine and she will accomplish all her goals before you know it.

“And you have a wedding coming up. You have doubts about this as well. Do not worry. The female [her word] is going to be very good for your son.”

Son? Who told her my middle son is getting married — and yes, I have all those concerns a mother has when a child barely out of his teens announces wedding intentions to someone you’ve only met once.

I told my 21-year-old about this, thinking he’d be delighted to know that happiness had been predicted for him. He sighed that sigh my children make often when I talk to them and asked why I hadn’t found out if he was getting a promotion.

Oops, didn’t think about that. After all, this is my future, not his.

I find myself leaning in now.

“You are having many strange dreams right now.”

OK, Mrs. Marra, you’re back into movie-script mode here — although I am remembering my truly bizarre dreams more often these days.

“You should listen to your dreams. They are telling you something.”

What? That I really will be shipwrecked on an island where the local tribe is run by my weird cat that hisses whenever I come near her. She is apparently an Egyptian spirit caught in a feline body.

But then Mrs. Marra left the script again and took one giant leap into things that have happened in my past that no one knows about.

Nothing dramatic or controversial, just weird stuff that doesn’t happen to everyone and about which I don’t talk because, well, I get tired of the sighs and rolled eyes from the family.

And for several minutes she told me things about my past that she shouldn’t have known.

I’m the one shaking my head now.

“And that question you wanted answered” — she tells me it.

She’s got it right.

“This will happen in the next year.”

She hands me her business card.

“I’m in Burnaby. Come see me if you’re there.”

And I wonder: she can tell me my future, but she doesn’t know if I’ll be coming to Burnaby?

Showers update

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Well, what a surprise. Exactly what Bob Hughes of the AIDS Society of Kamloops (ASK) said would happen actually happened.
And yes, they're all couching in terms like "wait and see," "small steps," "let's find out what's needed," but the reality is that the North Shore Business Improvement Association (NSBIA) finally realized it has no business deciding if ASK can have showers in its facility for the marginalized.
It's fair to wonder if the compromise one-handicapped-shower-for-now is the result of some neanderthal businessperson on Tranquille Road, who threatened a lawsuit if the showers went in.
It's also fair to wonder on what basis such a lawsuit might be launched and why the NSBIA would even give this person credibility -- but the end result is a small toe has made it through that door to social justice.
Baby steps. It's annoying, but it's a reality.

Introducing the real faces of mental illness

Normally, I’m delighted to see my boys reading the paper in the morning while they have breakfast.

It shows they’re interested in their world, engaged with it, curious about it — and it is reassuring for a print journalist who is told frequently by others the newspaper business is losing relevance to the next generation.

But that delight wasn’t there this week.

“Three children were killed by their dad?” the youngest asked Wednesday morning.

“Why would he do that?”

Why indeed

If it’s incomprehensible to a 12-year-old, it is certainly unfathomable to the rest of us.

While the judicial system will be oh-so-careful to say the dad of the young innocents who were knifed to death on Sunday is just a suspect, the rest of us know in our hearts what we would declare the verdict.

And, although we all profess to believe in the criminal justice system — perhaps not as fervently as our parents and grandparents did — each one of knows we would welcome a completely different justice system in a case like this.

It’s wrong, it’s not the way we were brought up to think, but it’s a reality that makes us all the more human.

And, of course, the protestations are also coming forward.

He’s not a bad guy. He has a mental illness. He’s not dangerous.

He’s sick.

As someone who lives with a mental illness daily, it’s people like this guy who, quite frankly, give the rest of us a bad name.

So let’s be clear here — we are not talking mental illness in this situation.

To be charitable, we are talking about a severe mental defect.

There’s a completely different category for the Clifford Olsons and Paul Bernardos of the world and they should never be lumped in with those people who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and the other illnesses that play havoc with the normal functions of a person’s brain.

And that’s why, when Doug Sage of the Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association called and asked if KTW would support Kamfest, I didn’t even bother to ask the boss.

The answer was obvious — of course we would.

If there was ever an agency that is essential to the community, it’s the CMHA.

Just a few days ago, I met a woman who used to live in Lillooet.

She told me how, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the only Kamloops agency that ever sent anyone to that community to help those who needed it was the CMHA.

A counsellor came for a day every seven weeks. Even today, this woman remembers and appreciates that fact.

Just a few years ago, Matt McLean called KTW to ask for some coverage of his campaign to get money to keep the CMHA evening program for teens going. He was working there at the time and had planned a march through the downtown to try to get some headlines Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond might read and be inspired to help out.

It took a long time for McLean to see that money come through, but he kept at it, as did the teens who were congregating at the CMHA Clubhouse every night around 5 p.m., because they all knew how important the program was.

It was vital because these teens were worth the fight.

They had issues, but those challenges didn’t define them.

They just made it hard to get through the day.

So, if there must be a poster child for mental illness, let’s make it those determined teens who knew they could do better and were willing to fight to see it happen, rather than a coward now hiding from the law.

And let’s support the work the CMHA does.

It doesn’t come to the community often looking for financial help but, tomorrow night, it’s holding a fundraiser at the Sagebrush Theatre — a night of music, comedy, fun, surprises, awareness and understanding.

It’s a night for families, Sage says, although it’s also a night to show some appreciation for the work he and his staff do every single day.

So, if we must talk about mental illness this week, let’s not let the face of the suspect in Merritt come to mind.

Instead, let’s celebrate all those other people who get up every morning and — whether living with it or helping to heal it — must accept the fact a mental illness is going to be there with them that day.

Tickets for Kamfest are only $20 and there are still a few available.

You can get them from the Kamloops Live box office.

Showering council with criticism it truly deserves

Sunday, April 6, 2008

While the city’s attention has been distracted by the silliness surrounding Coun. Arjun Singh, a truly heinous decision by our local politicians is hidden away from sight.

It involves an oh-so-simple and truly generous offer by Local 7819 of the United Steelworkers to put showers, washers and dryers in the AIDS Society of Kamloops office on Tranquille Road for use by the marginalized.

It was a laudable project, one that needed a tiny favour from city council only — and which has been so badly derailed that, if it weren’t so annoying, it would be laughable.

But it, as well as the Singh resignation from the social planning council, both point to some strange decision-making by Mayor Terry Lake.

Let’s deal with Singh first, because it’s such a tempest in a teapot that, had he not outed himself on his blog, it might not have garnered the headlines it received.

Singh, a first-term councillor, is passionate about his beliefs — and his concerns are many.

Among them are social issues and, as a member of the social planning council, he certainly spoke up about them.


Some might say constantly.

Others might say to the detriment of the other volunteers and agency representatives on that group.

Its chair, Ray Jolicoeur, would say Singh frequently hijacked the meeting.

Singh would say he made some mistakes — “not ones I feel of intent, but ignorance. But big mistakes nonetheless and ones I need to take responsibility for.”

Plans were afoot, following a complaint by Jolicoeur to Lake, for the mayor to remove Singh from the social planning council.

Instead, the admittedly outspoken and often controversial councillor went public with the concerns about him, resigned, apologized, took his public flogging and now is in some kind of purgatory — a councillor without a subcommittee on which to serve.

If only Lake had been that decisive when it came time to simply pick up the rubber stamp, say thank you to the Steelworkers and give the go-ahead for the showers to be built.

All the union representatives wanted for their $49,000 investment in the project was to have the permit costs waived so they could get to work quickly. Councillors Pat Wallace and Joe Leong agreed, moving that the city take the $400 permits would cost from the city’s contingency fund to cover those costs.

It was going to be great, ASK executive director Bob Hughes said at the time. Plans were for at least four showers, a couple of them handicap-accessible, a new sink, washing machine and dryer — a facility that would help not only many of ASK’s clients, but the ever-growing number of street people populating Kamloops these days.

The goal was to have the project complete and open by now.

The presentation was made to city council on Jan. 29 by Richard Boyce — co-chair of last year’s United Way campaign and an employee at Highland Valley Copper, a major donor to myriad charitable projects in the region.

Questions were asked and Wallace and Leong put forward their motion.

Then Lake got involved.

He talked council into adding to the motion a requirement for consultation on the plans with the North Shore Business Improvement Association — the same group that threw a major hissy-fit a couple of years ago when ASK took over the outreach program for sex-trade workers.

The NSBIA board discussed it — and killed it.

At best, discussion now centres around maybe agreeing to one handicap-accessible shower — and that’s a big maybe.

ASK representatives who expressed gratitude and delight when the project was announced didn’t want to talk about it now — or even acknowledge there is a problem.

That’s not surprising — one tends not to bite the hand that feeds him, even if contains only crumbs.

Which brings us back to Singh.

If he was mayor, he would have immediately seen the value of showers for street people. He may have discussed it too loudly and too much, but he wouldn’t have derailed it.

Perhaps Lake should read some thoughts of William Temple, who once said: “Good intentions are at least, the seed of good actions; and every one ought to sow them, and leave it to the soil and the seasons whether he or any other gather the fruit.”

Drop by TRU and have a spot of tear — for Sue

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I NEVER GOT TO KNOW SUE Lachowicz as well as I would have liked. We’d see each other a couple of times a year, always at the fund-raisers our mutual friend, Kathy Roberts, holds to raise money to help local people dealing with breast cancer — of which she was one.
The last time I saw Sue was at Kathy’s fall version, where she strode around the room, giving out bear hugs to friends, showing off the outfit she was wearing — one that stood out even in an event that is centred around fashion — and finally taking the stage to tell the 300 gathered that what they had heard was true.
Her cancer had not only returned, but her doctors had told her she likely didn’t have much time left.
But before she left the stage, she promised to do everything she could to be at the next fundraiser, which takes place Sunday at the Grand Hall at Thompson Rivers University.
But this time, Sue won’t be there.
All we’ll have is the memory of a truly amazing, strong, determined woman who weathered so much in her short life and, if she ever complained about it, few knew.
Last September, just two days after her 51st birthday, Sue was the guest speaker at the annual Pink Ribbon Ball.
She spoke of being diagnosed with breast cancer, the same disease that took both her birth mother and her twin sister.
She talked about how ugly the disease is, as are its treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.
She spoke of how, on that very day, just like every day before and since, six women in British Columbia had been diagnosed with the disease.
But this amazing woman also talked of the gifts she had received because of the disease.
Sue had decided the disease would never control her.
She couldn’t control it, but she wasn’t going to give in to it, either.
“I had the power,” she told a completely captivated audience.
“I could make a choice about my attitude. And so I made the decision to live.
“I made the decision to try to continue to live my life in as normal fashion as I could.”
And so a cruise she and her husband had planned went ahead, even though by the time departure came around, the disease had taken its toll on her physically.
It just didn’t beat Sue’s spirit.
She wore the most special dress she had ever bought, an extravagance she could have said no to, if she’d let the disease do the talking.
But Sue didn’t do that.
She started a blog, writing about her life, her goals, her ups, her downs — and through it, Sue made friends from around the world.
On Sunday, many of Sue’s friends will attend the fashion show and fundraiser.
They’ll laugh at the skits — this year’s theme takes a broad swipe at the reality of menopause — and they’ll marvel at the fashions.
They’ll spend a lot of money on tickets for the many door prizes.
They’ll sip white wine — and more than a few will make a silent toast to their silenced friend.
And they’ll notice, when Kathy calls all the cancer survivors in attendance to come up to the stage, that their friend isn’t there.
There might still be some tickets left for anyone who’s interested.
They’re only $20 — and for that, you’ll get a lot.
But more importantly, you’ll be giving so much more.
You’ll be standing up for those who can’t anymore — for the 500 women each year in B.C. who die from breast cancer.
Including the incredible, unforgettable Sue.