Saturday, August 27, 2011

Living in Interesting Times

Was it Confucius who cursed "may you live in interesting times"? Because we just might be experiencing that curse.

The scenario: alternator shot on our van, with no parts or service until next week, and a weekend hurricane breathing down our necks.

Interesting times, indeed!

On Thursday afternoon, we spent the afternoon on a beach in Dennisport, on the southern shore of Cape Cod. The sun was shining, it was hot, but a strong wind was blowing in from the south and cooled us. Looking out to sea, with Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard beyond the horizon, we could see cloud cover obscuring the sky. Facing the warm water on the beach, the sand blasted our skin—sunglasses were mandatory for protecting our eyes. Sand got everywhere, but we didn't care. This was probably going to be our last day at the beach, so we were going to enjoy every minute of it.

When we were hungry for dinner, we piled into the beach to head back to the cottage, where we would shower, change, and then head out to dinner. The van had been facing out to the sea, and with the salt spray and sand, I wished I could stick the van in a shower to clean the windshield.

The trouble started when I started the engine. Like most vehicles, lots of lights come on when you turn the ignition, but they go out as the van warms up. Except some lights didn't go out: the battery light and every door ajar light—even though all doors were securely closed. Also, the engine made a strange noise, as though a belt was rubbing.

I didn't want to stay where we were, so we headed back towards the cottage, which was only about five minutes away. Throughout the trip, the lights went out and came back on. The sound went away as we exited the beach parking lot and didn't come back. The van operated as I expected it to, except for the lights. We made it to the cottage without incident.

At the cottage, we contacted the nearest AAA office to find a service centre, only at that hour, nothing seemed open. And so we cleaned up and then walked to the main street—a couple of blocks away, and had dinner at a crummy Mexican pizza place. I wrote a scathing review on Urbanspoon.

We walked back to the cottage as the rain started. Was this the start of Hurricane Irene, and were we going to be stranded in Cape Cod? Only tomorrow would tell.

This morning, the storm had passed. The sky was cloudless, the wind calm. The calm before the storm.

We really were stupid about the van. Because the heavy rain of the night before, we rose around 9:00, made a leisurely breakfast, and checked out what things we would do after we fixed the van. By the time we actually pulled out of the cottage, it was noon. And instead of driving directly to the service station, we stopped at a grocery store to get supplies. And then we went to the service station.

Rick was very nice. Even though his station was busy, he took the time to determine the problem. It didn't take long: it was the alternator. The battery was strong, but the voltage didn't budge at all when we started up the van. The challenge then lay in finding a part that would work with our Canadian van. Rick called all of his distributors, without success. The soonest he could get an alternator in and install it was Tuesday, next week.

We needed to check out of the cottage by 10:00 the next morning. So time was not on our side. Rick said that even if he had an alternator, there was no way that he could install it today. And because he wasn't open on the weekend, he wasn't much help. He wished us luck and asked us to call later, once we knew what we were going to do. He would be available to help in whatever way he could.

And so we returned to the cottage, stressed. We were in a crisis. The girls were worried, but Lori and I remained outwardly calm. We had been in tighter jams before and had gotten ourselves out of it.

We hit the Internet. We searched for dealerships in the area. The closest place that we found was a dealership in Weymouth, an hour-and-a-half away, almost in Boston. We had them hold the alternator. It was 3:30 and they closed at 5. Someone would be on hand until 6.

I called Rick to ask his opinion: if I drove to get the part, would our van make it? He said that it may make the journey there, but it wouldn't make it back, especially if it started to get dark and we turned on the lights. I said that if I found a way to get the part, would be know of someone who could install it on Saturday. He paused, and then said that he would. Even though he wasn't open on Saturday, he would be at the shop at 8:00.

Our saviour.

We searched for a car rental agency. The closest one that could help us was in Barnstable, about 20 minutes away. There was an airport with a Hertz. I bid the girls farewell, hopped in the van, and sped off.

I left the van at the airport and took the car. It was 4:45. The GPS said it would take a little more than an hour to get to the dealership. Not acceptable, in my mind. I flew as fast as I felt I could without attracting the attention of any speed traps, and knocked more than 15 minutes from my trek. By 5:30, I had a new alternator in my hands.

I returned to the cottage, starving. I hadn't eaten since breakfast. My first priority was to feed myself and my family. And so we headed out to our last dinner on the cape. Seafood. Very good seafood.

I'm stupid. I forgot to heed Rick's warning about driving in the dark. After filling our bellies, we drove to the airport and picked up the van. Lori drove it with Lainey; Sarah and I followed in the rental.

As Lori pulled on to Highway 6, I noticed the taillights start to dim. I crossed my fingers that she had enough juice to make it to the service station. We would drop it off and then I would drive the rental to meet Rick in the morning.

We were close. So very, very close. But no cigar.

About half a mile from our exit, the lights really dimmed. The van slowed. Lori pulled over onto the shoulder. The taillights appeared sleepy, like they were drifting off into a lovely dreamland. And then the van stopped. Dark. As Lori and Lainey piled into the rental, I learned that there were no lights at all on the dashboard as Lori coaxed the van as far as it could go.

We're safe. We're all right. The van is now at the garage, waiting for Rick to show up and install the alternator. With any luck, we will be ready to go long before Hurricane Irene comes up the coast. With any luck, we can resume our vacation, travelling about New England, without a care in the world.

But with the firm memory that we have lived in interesting times.

To be continued... ?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Photo Friday: Copycats

The other day, when we were in Provincetown, MA, my eyes couldn't help wandering towards the town's number-one landmark, the Pilgrim Monument. It's a 252-foot tower that was built from 1907 to 1910 as a dedication to the pilgrims that first landed in the area, in 1620.

As I looked at the monument, I couldn't help think that I had seen this tower before. But where? It certainly looked Italian, and I wondered if it was reminding me of one of the towers that I had seen when I was in Italy in 2004 and 2009.

At first, I thought it might be similar to the tower on the town hall building in Florence—just much taller. Perhaps.

Maybe it was like one of the towers in San Gimignano. There certainly were enough of those. But no, this tower was too ornate for the residents of that medieval hilltown.

And then it dawned on me: I had a bunch of photos from my last trip to Italy. They were stored on my iPhone. So I started looking.

It didn't take long, and the results were astounding.

Apart from the color of stone used, the bell on the top of the Sienna tower, and the windows up the column, the towers are identical.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arrr... Thar Be Whales!

Holy frickin' crap!

A few years ago, we took the kids to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, to watch Minke whales frolicking in the Bay of Fundy. It was a great experience to see these majestic creatures crest the surface of the water, giving us brief glances of their backs. If we were lucky, we caught a glimpse of a tail

So when we had an opportunity to go whale watching off Provincetown—at the tip of Cape Cod—I wasn't against it, but I thought: been there, done that. And the kids said an outright "no."

We saw pictures in the ads for the whale-watching companies, glossy photos of humpback whales jumping out of the water—breaching, it's called. I thought, yeah, that probably happens once in a blue moon: you have to go out several times, watch for hours. I thought that we would go because Lori really wanted to see humpbacks. This was one of her bucket-list items.

As I said at the beginning, holy frickin' crap!

These guys didn't just show their backs; they put on a fabulous show. We had at least a half-dozen whales breach over and over again. They weren't shy: they swam right up to the boat, and at one point we had to shut our engines off because of one whale who came right alongside us. We didn't start up again until we knew the whale was clear of us.

My photos have not been cropped to make the whales appear closer. At times, I felt I might need to switch to a wide-angle lens. Shooting with both eyes open, the lens pretty much captured what my other eye was seeing. These photos were shot at 70mm, which is only slightly closer than the human eye. At one point, when the whale breached and then hit the water, I was hit by the wave.

But one of the most satisfying parts about yesterday's whale watching was hearing the squeals of delight from the kids. Hearing them shout "this is the best vacation ever!"

And hearing the screams of delight from Lori. Check one off the bucket list.

More photos will be available on my Picasa Web album shortly. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hello, And Thanks for All the Cod!

Greetings from beautiful Cape Cod. We've just started our vacation with a last-second getaway to the eastern shores of Massachusetts' great peninsula. And I do mean last second: we were sitting in our kitchen on Saturday morning, wondering if we were going to find a place to stay, when the phone rang. It was one of the places we had contacted on Friday night: they had a cancellation, and how soon could we be there?

Apparently, we could be there that evening!

So here we are, in a little cottage in Harwich. I'll be in touch...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Photo Friday: Sparks Street Afternoon

I love hanging out downtown. There are so many things to do and so many things to see.

One of my favourite areas of the downtown core is Sparks Street. Converted into a pedestrian mall in 1966—only a year after I was born—it's home to some great pubs and restaurants, book stores, shopping centres, government offices, and the CBC Ottawa broadcast studios. Stretching from Elgin Street to Bronson Avenue, it's a fairly long street.

It's also a great street to simply stroll down, leisurely snapping photographs. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks A Lot, Anna & Kristina

My kids love cooking shows. Whenever they visit Grandma and Grandpa, they both ask if they can watch the Food Network. At home, they like to tune into Hell's Kitchen or MasterChef. And one of their favourite food shows is Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

Or was. At least, as far as Lainey is concerned.

The premise of A & K's show is simple: pick a cook book to review. Take a range of recipes from the book and try to replicate it exactly as it is intended. The test: a gourmet chef is invited to sample Anna and Kristina's work. The ladies, after all, are not professional chefs.

Even I like this show. The mood is fun and both Anna and Kristina are very nice to look at. (Let's face it: they're hot!) So when my girls tuned in, I almost always join them. (In all honesty, I was also hooked by this season's MasterChef.)

Lainey looked forward to watching this show. I usually snuggled up with her—when she wasn't tumbling all over the place (she's not one to sit still for long). But all of that came to an abrupt end a couple of weeks ago. Since then, she vowed to never watch the show, even going as far as saying, "I hate Anna and Kristina!"

What happened?

England happened.

We were watching an episode where A & K were in the U.K., reviewing Best British Dishes by Marguerite Patton. Among the culinary dishes was a British favourite: rabbit stew. Not contented with purchasing their rabbit at a butchers, Anna had to bag her own game.

Can you see where I'm going?

We saw it coming. And we suggested to Lainey that perhaps she might want to leave the room for the next couple of minutes. But what was coming came far too quickly, faster than we could react.

Lainey loves animals. All animals. But in particular, the cute animals. She never wants to see one hurt, never one in danger. A couple of years ago, when the family was watching Supersize Me, Lainey burst into tears during the scene where the process of making Chicken McNuggets was explained with the use of simple animation—a cartoon chicken falling into a contraption of gears and coming out as battered nuggets.

Lainey likes meat; she just doesn't like to see how it gets to her plate.

So just imagine her horror at seeing sweet, lovable Anna, toting a rifle and shooting fluffy bunnies. Before she could leave the room, the first shot was fired and the first rabbit was felled.

Thanks a lot, Anna.

Lainey was silent for a few seconds as the shock took her. And then the tears, flowing like water from a faucet, running down her cheeks and dripping off her chin. And the wailing, the red face.

We hit the pause button, freezing the action, but not before the second rabbit was killed.

"I hate Anna & Kristina," Lainey screamed, "I'm never watching it again!" And with that, she stormed out of the family room and up to her room.

Thanks a lot, Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag. You could have given us more warning. We know that you provide a warning that the show contains coarse language, but we can handle that. You bleep out any questionable words, and so there is no risk of shocking our kids. They don't actually hear the coarse language—words that they've heard on the school grounds.

But they've never seen a life come to an end on television. The life of an innocent animal. And for that scene, there was no warning. There was no advisory.

And for that, you've lost a viewer. And the cuteness of your show is forever diminished by three other viewers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Cost Of Procrastination

What has happened to us?

Lori and I are great travellers. In our 22-plus years together, we've covered a lot of ground together. Just a month or so after first dating, we took off for a long weekend in New York City. We've been out east a couple of times, to England, Wales, France... not to mention all of the places we visited in East Asia when we lived in South Korea. With the kids in tow, we've been to Italy with great success.

Yeah, Lori and I do the travel thing really well. So why can't we get our shit together this year?

Today, had we stuck to our travel plans, I would be publishing this blog post from Paris. We would be on the start of our trip to France. Instead, I'm writing this post from Ottawa; as you read it, I'm at work, grumbling about the fact that we couldn't put our trip together. Annoyed that Lori, who still booked this week off, isn't enjoying the sights of Paris with Sarah and Lainey.

And I'm cheesed at the realization that at the end of this week, I'm going to start my vacation with no vacation plans.

What has happened to us?

I think part of our problem is that we've been so busy with work that we didn't make time to sit down and plan. In the past, when we'd decide on a destination, we would sit down with books—either from the library or from the bookstore—or pull up chairs beside one another and cruise the Internet. We'd rent DVDs. We'd make notes, compile lists of things we wanted to do, and devise an itinerary.

We'd plan on travel dates and schedule time off. If air travel was required, we'd book flights as soon as we found the best price (we've had a knack for finding low rates). We'd get the ball rolling and would have everything sewn up long before our departure date.

That didn't happen this year.

We decided that we wanted to take the kids to France two years ago, when we were in Italy. The girls were showing that they were natural travellers and embraced our trip with such eagerness (we had travelled with them before, but never this far and never to a place so different from home). Lainey wanted to see the Eiffel Tower so badly, we were excited for her.

As an added bonus, my folks wanted to come with us, and that idea had the kids even more excited. On top of that, some friends, who live in Europe, wanted to join us in our final week, when we planned to rent a villa in Provence. The girls were even more excited, having enjoyed our friends' company in Venice.

Lori and I bought travel books. We rented DVDs and recorded episodes of Rick Steves' Europe from PBS. We scoured the Internet, looking for ideal places to see, for inexensive yet well-located places where we could stay.

I think part of the problem came with having too many people to plan for, too many people to accommodate. I think too many people wanted a say in the dates, the places, the cost, the itinerary.

And when I say too many people, I mean people who haven't travelled with us before. And in no way am I pointing a finger, laying blame, or indicating fault.

Lori and I are used to leading the charge in planning the trip. Deciding where to stay, where to go, and when to go. Our friends in Europe have always been flexible and would make plans to join us, whenever we nailed down a date and a place. They had travelled through Tuscany with us in 2004, when Lori and I planned all of our accommodation and destinations. When they joined us in Venice, in 2009, again we coordinated the dates with them and then found a place that would accommodate us all. (Hmm... this sounds like Lori and I are a bit controlling. I hope we haven't developed a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.)

For France, our friends again just wanted us to confirm a date so that they could make plans to join us. And from what we gathered, they were content to let us find a place to stay. So far, that plan has worked out well.

My parents have also travelled a lot and like to plan. And maybe this is one of the snags that tripped us up. We had different ideas of travel dates and of where to stay. And no one wanted to take charge. And so weeks, and then months, went by and no firm plans were nailed down. Dates flopped back and forth. No one could commit to anything.

And so nothing happened.

At the beginning of July, I told Lori that if we didn't sit down and make firm plans, I was out. I wouldn't go. But I didn't do anything to further our plans. I'm as guilty as anyone else. The cutoff date for me came and went, and our plans for France came to a firm end.

Next year, we promised the kids. Next year.

The challenge before us now was what to do this year. How were we going to spend our vacation? Because we were going to get away, come Hell or high water.

Which brings us to now. Lori never cancelled her vacation time for France (it was the date that we wanted but still had trouble getting buy-in from my folks). Because we never made firm plans, I never booked this week off. But once we knew France was a flop, I booked the last two weeks of August off to do something, anything.

And again, we've dragged our asses. We have no plans. Pathetic.

This is the cost of procrastination.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo Friday: Clouds 9

On Wednesday, we had a lot of storm clouds roll through the Ottawa area. Many of them threatened to pour rain on us; some of them actually made good on that threat.

Because I always carry my iPhone on me, I was able to capture the ever-changing sky, starting at work.

On Wednesday evenings, Sarah plays soccer. Rain or shine, her team plays. The only exception to this rule is lightning. As the team was practicing before the game, ominous clouds rolled in. In the distance, thunder rumbled.

About 10 minutes before the start of the game, we saw a couple of flashes of lightning and the referee called all the girls off the pitch. We would wait until the official start of the game to see if there was more to come; if so, the game would have to be called off.

We kept our fingers crossed. This was our last pre-tournament game of the season, and our team was undefeated. If we won this game, we would be the top-ranking team in our league. We didn't want to miss out on this game because of the weather.

And as luck would have it, the cloud swiftly passed over us without incident and the game started on time. But more clouds kept coming.

Halfway through the game, as we were leading 2–0, rain fell off and on, despite sun pouring through the horizon. But no more lightning was seen; no more thunder was heard. The girls played on and I shot more photos of the ever-changing sky.

Final score: 4–2. Undefeated. League leaders.

And on Cloud 9.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes From My Kids: Happy Family

Of all the notes that Sarah has on her bedroom door, this is one of my favourites:

I feel the love when I read the message. It warms my heart.

And then there are times like last night, when, as I was watching TV, I heard Sarah screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Lainey! Get out of my room! What part of that don't you understand? Get out! GET OUT!!"

Ah, happy family. Feel the love.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Happened Next

A couple of weeks ago, I gave you the tale of alien abductions. Where I was the alien, being a foreigner in South Korea. But I didn't tell you the whole story, what happened after I returned to my apartment. What happened next. Here we go...

So it was about 2:30 in the morning and I was outside my apartment in Chŏnju, South Korea. I had been abducted from a night club, beaten, and robbed. I was also somewhat inebriated, and all I wanted to do was go to bed and get some rest. But, dear readers, my evening was not over yet.

Lori and a buddy, Russ, convinced me that I should report this incident to the police. I was skeptical because I doubted that the police could or would want to help.

So we went to the local police centre—a box, really—and we found three officers on duty: fast asleep. I walked into the centre of the reception area, where two officers are snoring on sofas and the desk sergent was in front of me, and I said in my loudest voice, "AANNYONG HASEYO!! SHILYE HABNIDA!!!" (Hello!! Excuse me!!!)

The officers came to life: at first, shocked, then perturbed that their sleep had been interrupted. In my broken Korean, I tried to explain what had happened to me. That I had been taken out of a night club, thrown in a car... you know the rest.

After some animated, charade-like explaining, the desk sergeant conveyed that his officers would take me to Headquarters, where I would get better help.

As luck would have it, there was an officer on duty who spoke perfect English. He was a young man, presently serving his mandatory service (in Korea, men must serve either three years with the military or two years with the riot police). This particular riot police officer had spent his high-school years in the United States. However, he wouldn't in charge of my investigation; he would merely act as the translator. With him was his supervisor, who asked all the questions.

His first question for me was, understandably, "Are you drunk?"

"Yes," I said, "a little."

Then I was asked, "Are you Korean?"

I shook my head, thinking I must have been more than a little drunk. "Excuse me?"

"Are you Korean?" the question was repeated.

I looked at the riot police officer, then at his superior, and then said, "Maybe I should be asking you if you're drunk!"

The ridiculous questions didn't end there. Throughout my interrogation, I was asked things like "How old is your wife?"; "When your contract ends, will you renew it?"; "How long have you been married?"

The questions kept coming, and not one of them was relevant to the investigation. And I let them know, in increasingly loud reminders, that THIS WAS NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS! At one point, I even wagged a finger at the investigating officer, and said, "You are USELESS!" and told our translator to tell his superior what I just said. He shook his head, embarrassed, and said, "I won't."

Frustrated, I finally asked for a notepad and pen, and said I would give them a written statement. I said that perhaps it might be a good idea to get a description of my assailants, a description of the car, or perhaps even (and I was no police officer, so I wasn't sure that this would be helpful) the licence plate number—I had made out about half of it after it dawned on me to take it, before the car turned a corner and was gone.

I wrote out my statement. The riot officer read it and then translated it for his supervisor.

The supervisor absorbed the information and then said something to his officer, who in turn asked me, "How do you know the car was a Hyundai Elantra?"

"Because I may be drunk but I'm not a moron," was my reply. "I know cars."

"Are you sure?" was the next question. "There are many different models of Elantra. Are you sure it couldn't have been another type of car?"

Absolutely ridiculous, I thought to myself. And finally, I lost my temper. I grabbed the investigator by the arm (I'm surprised he didn't charge me with assault) and walked him out of the building. I then proceeded to point out all of the Elantras in the parking lot. In fact, all of the police cruisers in the Chŏnju force were Elantras. I was even able to picked out one that fit my assailants' car description to a T (except for the licence, of course); because the taillight section read Elantra across it in big letters.

Yeah, I was sure.

It took a long time for the investigating officer to digest my report, but finally I was told that my complaint would be looked into. Lori and I were offered a drive back to our apartment and by the time we got home, it was after five in the morning.

At around 7:30, our poor translator phoned us and wanted to ask one last question: "When you return to Canada, will your wife be going with you?" I hung up on him, but not before answering in a very sleepy and irritated voice, "What could that possibly have to do with your investigation? Call me when you have something intelligent to ask!"

On the following Monday, my police translator and his supervisor picked me up at work and took me back to Pappy's, the night club where my abduction took place. The manager met with us, along with the person who had served my friends and me, and the doorman (who attended the top of the elevator). The server recognized me and the doorman remembered a group of foreigners arriving, but he didn't specifically remember me leave—only the group of waeguks.

The manager assured me that his club had nothing to do with my abduction and said that if I ever returned with my friends, our food and drinks would be on the house. And with that, the police and I left, and outside Pappy's we parted ways.

I never returned to Pappy's and never heard from the police again.

Was that it? Apparently, yes. Here's what I think happened: perhaps Pappy's was involved in my abduction. Perhaps they didn't want foreigners coming to their club and making nuisances of themselves. Perhaps the description of the car led the police to someone from the club; by bringing me before the manager and getting his offer to treat me and my friends, the police were helping the club save face. Case closed.

For me, it was just another adventure to write home about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Power Of Twitter & Starbucks

Let's face it: Starbucks was not going to lose me as a customer. I love their coffee too much—I'm addicted to the stuff—and I'm a sucker for their snacks and Frappuccinos. And while their sandwiches are not the greatest (for me, no coffee shop makes a better sandwich than Bridgehead), there are a couple that I like.

I like the Thai tuna wrap: it has a nice zest and I always feel full after eating one. But my first choice for sandwich at Starbucks is the ham and cheese panini. It's like comfort food for me. And when it's heated up, the cheese nicely melted and the tomato softened, it's great. Especially when it's washed down with a green tea Frappuccino (no whip).

So imagine my disappointment when I had a bad experience with the last ham and cheese panini, last Tuesday.

Tuesday nights are my nights to either go to my Toastmasters meeting (which I haven't done a lot of, lately) or to find a place to write—either on my blog or my book. I like to work downtown because it's far-removed from my home environment and I find inspiration from the sights and people. And when I arrived downtown, last week, I was hungry.

Not knowing what I wanted, and not wanting to spend a lot of time searching for a place to eat and a lot of money on food, I chose the closest Starbucks, on Albert, between O'Connor and Bank.

I've been to this Starbucks before but I'm not crazy about it because it doesn't have WiFi. At least, there never seems to be WiFi available when I'm there.

When I saw their sandwich selection, there was almost nothing, but I wasn't surprised: it was late in the day and this location is in a particularly busy part of town. I was left with a couple of vegetarian paninis (as if!) and a single ham and cheese. Guess which sandwich I chose?

When I asked the barista to heat the sandwich, I was told that the oven wasn't working. Bummer. This sandwich is good, but it's far better hot. My Frappuccino was cold; so was my sandwich.

I took my meal and sat on a stool at the windows, watching the commuters waiting for their buses out of the downtown core. As I was unwrapping my cold supper, the barista told me that they were closing in five minutes, and could I take my dinner out.

Hmph, I said. It wasn't a big deal: there were tables within the office tower, just outside the back door to the Starbucks. But I left feeling that I had to take care that the door didn't hit me in the ass on the way out. I wasn't made to feel that they wanted me to come back.

Don't worry. I won't. Not to that location. My regular downtown Starbucks wasn't that far away. I still intended to visit it the next time I commuted to work by bus.

And then things went from bad to worse.

After a couple of bites, I bit into what I thought was a thick, bendy piece of plastic. Nothing came off the sandwich and into my mouth. I inspected the sandwich, expecting to remove a foreign object, but the hardened substance turned out to be the ham itself. It had a tough piece of cartilage that seemed to occupy a large portion of the ham. And while I examined the sandwich innards, I saw that the cheese was very dry. Unappealing.

The doors to the Starbucks were locked, the staff seemingly in the back. I was loathe to bang on the doors to make a fuss. I was prepared to give up the cost of a poor sandwich.

And then I had an idea.

I wasn't going to demand a refund, but I was going to make my displeasure known. And so I turned to Twitter.

Since I've had my iPhone, I've snapped a lot of instant photos and posted them on Twitter through the Instagram app. If you've seen the pictures on my blog lately, most of the photos are Instagram shots.

I took a picture of my sandwich and posted it to Twitter with a simple message:

"Worst sandwich ever from @starbuckscanada. Throwing it out :("

There. I said my piece. And by including @StarbucksCanada in the message, I let the company know my feelings. I felt better already. But I was still hungry. I threw out the remainder of the sandwich and hoped that my Frappuccino would carry me until I got home.

I moved on, wanting to continue my evening.

Less than an hour later, I received the following tweet:

And so I responded, outing the offending location. I did mention that normally, I enjoy this sandwich.

A little later, this is what I read:

So I said:

And they said:

So I sent a direct message, and a little later I received a notification that @StarbucksCanada was now following me on Twitter. And then I waited, hearing nothing again until the next day, when I received the following tweet:

Wow, that was great. Not necessarily expected, but not a total surprise. Starbucks is known for stepping up when they offer less than stellar service. I've even received a free voucher for a beverage just because the staff felt I waited too long for my drink (I didn't think I had). I thanked whoever was running @StarbucksCanada and waited for my e-mail, which I expected would contain a coupon.

And so I waited. And waited. When Friday came, I wondered when they thought I'd be returning to Starbucks.

The weekend came and went, and by lunchtime on Monday, I figured that I had been forgotten. If only one person was looking after the Twitter account for Starbucks Canada, I wasn't surprised.

Was I upset? Nah. It wasn't @StarbucksCanada's fault that a single Ottawa shop served a bad sandwich. It wasn't as though Starbucks had lost a customer. Come Tuesday morning, on my morning commute, I was still planning to visit my regular shop.

And then, on Monday afternoon, six days after my sub-standard sandwich, I received the following e-mail:

Success. The love was solidified. And just in time, for I would be visiting my regular downtown Starbucks the next day. Now, I would be treating myself to a delicious breakfast. (By the time you read this post, the deed will be done!)

My thanks go out to Vicki—@StarbucksCanada. I think all Starbucks lovers who tweet should follow her. Not just because she stepped up when I complained, but because she's obviously someone who cares.

And I've learned that we all have a voice, and thanks to Twitter, we can be heard.