Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cheap Hotels are Fun

Hello Reader,
Got a hotel with character?

Recently we were tossing back some drinks, and, between other stories, people liked hearing me talk about “cheap hotels I have known, in cities right here in Alberta.” To me, here on the great plains, a town is a “city” if it has a liberal arts college or a public transit system.

Come to think of it, I did once stay in a cheap hotel right here in my home town. I wasn’t exactly a student myself, while I was volunteering with our university student newspaper, the Gauntlet, but I was an eager reporter. We were hosting a Canadian University Press conference for student journalists of western Canada. Turns out the Bowness Hotel was the cheapest conference hotel our business manager could find. When you came in out of the wind, into the hall next to the door into the bar, you faced a prominent sign: No helmets or colours. Surely to keep rival biker gangs from smashing each other with their lids. 

I was sure the sign meant biker colours, not street gangs wearing bandanas. As a volunteer active journalist, I would have known if we had those neighbourhood gangs like on TV. My editor and I were mystified, the next year, when a young survivor of a bear attack, who wore a bandana as a head scarf to cover up his scars, was denied admission to a bar. (For wearing “colours,” like in Los Angeles.)

As for my typical student hijinks, I remember, that weekend, how two of us climbing onto the roof and changing the lettering on a sign. Meanwhile, other students were angry at a big sign in the hallway with a long detailed list of fines for an exotic dancer, fines for every little thing, such being late for waiting to go on stage. The manager tried to tell us they were “low lifes" who needed such fines, but we were not convinced. As things turned out, years later I was to live with a dancer: She was not a low life; she helped me until I got back on my feet. (A lady in my Toastmasters club was once a dancer, too) 

Visiting Lethbridge, I wanted to fork out the big bucks, I swear. Because the longest railway bridge in the British Commonwealth goes along the Oldman River coulee (canyon) right past two big side-by-side high-rise hotels. How could I resist a chance to see the train come in, during a rosy dawn, through my window? But when I got to the lobby of the closest high rise, I found the place was full of people in nice Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, all wearing big name tags. Hoping against hope, I tried next door. Nope. I didn’t bother to ask which religion, I just cursed all churches equally. By the way, my strongest curse, here in the prairie bible belt, between gritted teeth is, “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy.” 

Being a good Boy Scout, I just happened to “Be Prepared” with a list of hotels and motels from the tourist information centre from as I came up the scenic cliff drive into the city—(Note: The centre’s been removed) Luckily the hotel desk manager slid the telephone across the counter to me: Because I didn’t have enough payphone quarters to go down the list. So I phoned and phoned, and finally I found a place across town along the equivalent of Calgary’s Macleod Trail— the Mayor McGrath Trail. 

It’s queer: Unlike Calgary’s trail, in Lethbridge you can calibrate your speedometer by their multi-lane commercial road: Everybody obeys the speed limit. How refreshing. But to get there, as I was to driving through downtown, I noticed—“Hey! A hotel!” One too cheap to be included on my tourist map! But with ample parking, from past glory days, no doubt for patrons of the hotel bar: My cheap one in Edmonton had a huge bar too, but no parking lot. So I drove around the block and headed on in. 

The hotel manager gave me a tour. “As you can see, a sink in every room, toilets down the hall… and here Charlie’s taking a bath.” Charlie and the manager exchanged hello’s, and Charlie welcomed me. Such a friendly place. The bathtub room had just the one tub. Some showers were down the hall too. 

In times to come I would always stay there, and the manager got to know me, enough to remember to have my bill waiting for me in the cold dawn. Maybe I was memorable because I was the only one who would check out so early in the morning. How early? The bar hadn’t even opened yet. The place would always feel like a ghost town when I left, at a time when the only ladies on the street were earnest fresh scrubbed women without makeup. There was another hotel further up the block, but that one only rented by the month. 

It was so nice to experience the city, just like a real Lethbridge-er would. One evening downtown, around midnight, I noticed some youth standing around a street corner. Fleeting thought: “I don’t get it. Surely they’ve missed the last bus home.” Then I lifted my eyes: In just a few blocks the bungalows started. I remembered what writer David Gerrold retorted when I mentioned “downtown” in the university town of Missoula, Montana. “Missoula doesn’t have a downtown.” It all looks so different when you come from a giant-sized city. 

That Lethbridge hotel, the Alec Arms, has since become a government men’s hostel, so now I can’t stay there. Drat.

Sean Crawford
Keeping myself amused,
stuck in a fuselage,
Somewhere over the arctic,
Autumn of 2017

~Should I do a Part Two?
~Here's a link to David Gerrold's website
Defensive note:
~Yes, I know Red Deer has a college too, and should therefore be included. Well, I’ve also left out two more: Bordertown and the Capital. To reduce length. Those prairie cities can be left for a Part Two, someday.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fonts and Chickens

“I’m not so smart. I just capitalize the first letter of every sentence so that I seem that way.” :)
Danial Godwin on his blog New Perspectives.

Hello Reader,
Got fonts for good UI, user interface?

I  once felt a deep anger, back when the World Wide Web first appeared. Do you remember? 

Back when a friend owned a book called The Mac is not a Typewriter I felt hot frustration at struggling to understand my computer’s word processing features. That feeling has faded. Meanwhile, my anger at the creators of the WWW dimly remains: Those nerds! They neglected to have each new paragraph indent. 

At the time, a new practice of not indenting, while not used for personal letters, had become normal for business correspondence, since it saved the secretaries from having to pound their typewriter space bar three times. But if you opened any real book or magazine, you could easily imagine how unattractive this practice would be to read for any length of time. What were the nerds thinking?

Did they think the Net was to be used only for short business memorandums, by folks with no attention span, by folks who—God knows why— preferred skimming to reading? For folks who don’t value a page being user friendly? I simmered and boiled: “Do they expect us all to be computer nerds?”  And no, I can’t merely do the “space bar thing” to indent, because my Word Processing function translates differently on different devices. (I’ve given up on trying to type an ampersand to show “and.”)

Another thing: The only reason our computers offer us a choice of different fonts was explained by Apple C.E.O. Steve Jobs, during his commence address at California’s Stanford University. He explained that back in his university days he had taken a calligraphy class, and so he introduced various fonts to Apple computers. And then, he said, the other computer companies had to follow Apple’s lead! —Whew, close call!

I remember, as a child in first grade, our class being led up a long staircase to the “old school” (built immediately postwar) for the first time. There we were to read a new-to-us softcover textbook the teacher was putting up on an overhead projector: The adventures of Dick and Jane. She explained to us the funny “g’s” were the same as the normal plain “g’s” we were accustomed to for our hardcover book about John and Janet. This was my first introduction to different fonts, for different purposes. 

I think the two important font words for you to know are “serif” and “sans serif.” Serif is good, like that funny g. Serif letter lines, such as the italics on this (Times New Roman) page, vary in width. You will recall from French, and from Shakespeare, (sans teeth, sans eyes) that sans means “without.” Sans serif, then, is like writing with a stick in the sand. Sans serif is O.K. for big sand writing, brief reading, and headlines, but not for long-term real reading. Serif fonts are much easier on the eyes.

How queer: Just as there’s two main typefaces, just so are there two main types of people: The types who don’t care about fonts, and the types like Steve Jobs who care very much. Hence books will often expend a page at the back solely to explain the font: Somebody at the publishing house cares. I respect that.

As for respect, there was a man who greatly admired his wife Alice. She died. He wrote a thin loving book about her. That man was Calvin Trillin, a writer for The New Yorker magazine. He wrote About Alice.

At the back of that book is the usual page headlined ABOUT THE TYPE

“This book was set in Walbaum, a typeface designed in 1810, by German punch cutter J.E. Walbaum. Walbaum’s type is more French that German in appearance. Like Bodoni, it is a classical typeface, yet its openness and slight irregularities give it a human, romantic quality.”

For a book about dear Alice, I am sure a romantic typeface was picked with care.

As for caring, I care about this blog for posting my essays. One of my joys in life is putting two subjects in the headline, separated by “and,” then writing about each, and then subtly showing how they are connected. My original inspiration for this was the old essay by Hugh MacLennan, The Shadow of Captain Bligh, that starts out with him in an easy chair hearing pretty classical music, while reading about the ugly Mutiny on the Bounty, and then suddenly realizing that both things, pretty and ugly, were going on at the same time in history. His essay braids these two topics, then MacLennan explicitly connects them at the end to suggest why we don’t have classical composers today.

My second topic is a guest fiction I think you’ll like, where the writer challenged herself to stick to 50 words. 

I call it fiction because it may have been written “in character,” or as the “real” Cindy on a cloudy day, or as showing the “everyday” Cindy. You can’t tell, and I won’t tell. You may know Cindy’s name from her comments on my blog; I know her personally as a fellow fiction writer here in Alberta. For the font I chose Helvetica, because it resembles chicken tracks.

I Don’t Give a Shit About No Chicken!
Cindy Webb Morris

The label read “humanely treated”. 
I had no wish to harm a chicken. 
But a boy’s body on a beach and a group of girls captured for sex left me with little sympathy for the chicken. 
When humans treat humans humanely and children range free, maybe I’ll change my mind.

Sean Crawford

~As regards the “user interface” of “page” users, researchers using “(geographically) split ads” for mailing coupons have shown that people respond better (mail more coupons) to ads where the paragraphs are indented. …And they especially like when you can drop a big starting letter, like in a medieval manuscript.

~Needless to say, kids are taught by their English teachers to have only one topic in their essay, with a topic sentence placed right up front, but that is because kids are kids: They need the discipline. …Later, as adults, there may be time to learn about a delayed topic sentence, inductive writing where the thesis comes last, and terms like braided and montage essays.

~I have to wonder about people who skim as a “lifestyle choice”: Do they even read the liner notes that come with their music albums? 

~If people can’t slow down to “get into” the lyrics for a song, does that mean they can’t bear to read a poem? Is that why people so seldom put — “wow, look what I found!” — a poem onto the Internet?

~My fellow writer, Rudyard Kipling, saw poetry as being such a natural part of life, that when he wrote a short story he just naturally tacked on a poem for his readers too.
I’m trying to imagine how some rich, brainy computer nerds could go years without a single poem…It does not compute.