20 Mar 2014


Young man there's no need to feel down
I said young man pick yourself off the ground
I said young man 'cause your in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy
The iconic lyrics, straight from the Village People's queer 1978 disco hit, were top of my mind as I made my way up Rue Stanley in Montréal's center. I was looking for a change. Not in religion or sexual orientation, but in workout venue. With our offices soon moving to a gleaming new downtown tower, the university sports' complex that I have been using for the past five years will be too much of a detour for my evening swims. My annual pass there had come up for renewal, and with it the moment to find another pool.

Searching online and talking to friends soon alerted me to a network of excellent sports facilities dotted across the island, including one in close proximity to our future premises, not to mention my home. How could I have overlooked it for all this time?

It's all in the name - a four-letter acronym that I had associated with, other than a dance move, mainly the basic accommodation facilities I had graduated from with college. Add to that a whiff of missionary zeal, and you'll understand why I'd always turned up my nose at the Y, as it is mostly known these days.

But I was in for a surprise. Montréal's YMCA, which has been a hub of activity ever since it introduced North America to the movement in 1851, really has "many ways to have a good time", as the song puts it.  Its downtown site is a multi-story complex with a 25m pool, various gyms, spinning studios, an exercise room and a running track. Countless classes are offered, from the basic (Yoga) to the exotic (Baladi) and the brutal (Aéro-Kickboxe). Unlike at CEPSUM, the classes are all included with the annual pass, giving me a chance to try Masters' Swimming and, at the insistence of the friend who referred me - something called Bootcamp, a savage combination of strength and endurance exercises which left me sore for longer, and in more places, than the Swiss Army's equivalent ever did.

Bootcamp's militarism betrays the spirit of tolerance and openness the Y displays these days. "Come as you are", runs their latest slogan, and looking at the diversity of members, they definitely mean it. The motto even seems to apply to the instructors - I am not always certain of just how qualified they are. But everybody seems to have a swell time.

While still supposedly striving to strengthen body, mind and soul (the three sides of the triangle in the movement's logo), I am glad to see my new workout facility to focus on the first two - there is a language school as well - and not try to shape the third. And unlike in the time of the Village People, women are just as welcome. Which is just as well, given the quantity of Tonus and Zumba classes.

So I have no excuses - many more sweaty evenings await me in the coming 12 months (forfait annuel ferme, you understand). There is just one move I won't do: Y-M-C-A!
That's when someone came up to me
and said young man take a walk up the street
There's a place there called the Y.M.C.A.
They can start you back on your way.

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6 Mar 2014


„Our flight time today will be fifty-five minutes in the air, one hour and five minutes gate to gate.” So announced the flight attendant, and shortly thereafter we took off into the cold Canadian skies on yet another Rapidair flight.
This is the label Air Canada uses to designate its shuttle-like air service in the triangle between Toronto, Montréal and Ottawa. Given the population density, economic activity and wealth of the triangle, it is an attractive and busy market, with 3 airlines competing with VIA Rail, bus lines and the option of 6h behind the wheel.

Despite all the options, the price tag of a round-trip on Rapidair is such, at $400 to $600, that business travellers make up the majority of the passengers. And these folks value frequency – they want there to be a flight whenever they need one. So Air Canada alone offers 76 flights between Montréal and Toronto every weekday, with hourly service early to late and departures every 30 minutes during peak periods. Together with WestJet and Porter, there are over 200 flights each weekday: Like back in the days of the Berlin air lift, planes come and go continuously. There is even service to the centrally located Billy Bishop airport on an island right in front of Toronto’s downtown, cutting out the long drive from the city’s main Pearson airport.

Recently, work saw me take quite a few Rapidair trips. Bit by bit, that “seasoned air commuter” routine started settling in. I book tickets on increasingly short notice. I cut it close with getting to the airport. I stand-by on earlier flights. I start recognizing the crews. And I have sampled my way through the entire in-flight snack basket. Getting on Rapidair has become almost as normal as getting on the métro - albeit with more tedious security proceedures.

Of course, the mileage junkie in me relishes every opportunity to go travelling, and although they are short, even Rapidair flights earn valuable points. But the travel romantic and the air commuter personae don't get along well. One still wants to get excited and curious, the other sighs at the prospect of yet another hop to Ontario.

Yet there is hope: Sometime soon, the air commuter wil go on another Rapidair to Toronto. But once there, the travel romantic will take over and connect to a flight on an unknown airline, to a far-away and exotic land. It's a compromise made in heaven. For now, however, I have to turn off any electronic devices, fold away my tray table, and fasten my seat belt again: Fifty-five minutes of Rapidair are over.

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