When I was a kid, the Central Canada Exhibition, aka SuperEx, aka The Ex, was a big deal — the last hurrah before the end of summer. If it was still going on, it would be on right now.

For a pre-teen or teenager of my generation, it couldn’t be beat. We’d save up all summer to spend the day at the Ex. It was our one day of freedom, where there were no parents, no set mealtimes, nothing except our friends and the rules of the Ex. Those rules were pretty simple: If you wanted to play a game, go on a ride or get a treat, everyone either went along or stopped to watch. And you generally had to behave in a way that wouldn’t get you kicked out, which gave you quite a bit of latitude.

Weekdays were the domain of the tween and young teen crowd. Parents were at work, younger kids were too young to go by themselves, and the older teens were either working summer jobs or sleeping in. We’d take the special EX bus to arrive at opening time. The crowds were relatively small and you could often get off of a ride and jump right back on it after going back through the entrance gate. The barkers were desperate for customers and would come out of their booths to entice you to play a game. If it was a racing-type game, your only competition might be your friends. Somebody’s parents would arrange to pick us up sometime around the supper hour.

Evenings belonged to the older teens and young adults. I remember certain rides were tailored to this crowd, including the Swiss Bob.

The Swiss Bob – Pinterest

The operator of the Swiss Bob played loud rock music all day, and he would talk to the riders through a microphone, saying things like, “Do you want to go faster?!” 

And of course, everybody would scream, “Yeahhhhh!”

Whenever I think about the Ex, which I often do at this time of year, all of the sights, sounds and smells come back to me as if I’m right there.

The air was pungent with the aroma of cooking oil, especially in and around the Food Fair building, which boasted Tiny Tom donuts, fresh waffles topped with ice cream, and all sorts of burgers, fries, corn on the cob, Pogo dogs, back bacon on a bun and just about anything else that was more about taste than nutrition. How we kept all that garbage down while taking in the rides, I’ll never know.

The midway games were the loudest part of the Ex, with barkers talking into microphones that were strapped to their chins (a little too closely for clear sound), entreating passersby to come and win a big prize. “All you have to do is get the ring on the neck of the bottle.” Three tries for a dollar!” I also remember the sounds of the racing games, where you had to spray water into a clown target’s mouth until a balloon filled with water and burst, or be the first to shoot out a paper star with a pellet gun. When somebody won, a siren would go off and the barker would shout, “We have a winner!”

Usually the prize was something like a small stuffed toy. Then you could play again and trade it in for a larger toy. The manliest of young men might blow their budget for the month trying to win a HUGE stuffed animal for their date, who always looked so proud to be carrying it around the exhibition grounds for the rest of the night.

I also remember the click-click-click of the wheel in the Crown and Anchor games, that nobody ever seemed too young to lose a few quarters on, although when I was very young my father told me those were grown-up games. I do remember as a teenager putting my money down along with my friends. I was never overly tempted to bet too much or play too long because I knew I had to make my money last all day.

But nothing tops the memory of those rides. The scariest of all was the Skydiver, which was a bit like a ferris wheel, except the cars were enclosed and spun on an axle that ran front to back down the length of the car, controlled by a little steering wheel. There was no way to keep that thing from going upside down or even going into an uncontrolled spin, as the cars went up the wheel, then over the top and back down again.

The Skydiver – Pinterest

Then of course there were the haunted houses. Some you walked through and some you rode through. I’m not sure which ones were the scariest. Knowing that you had to walk through it yourself was a bit more unnerving because you had to screw up the courage to keep going.

And the Sky Wheel, also known as the double ferris wheel offered a spectacular view of the exhibition grounds and surrounding neighbourhood.

The Sky Wheel – Pinterest

My favourite, though, was the Tilt-a-Whirl.

The Tilt-a-Whirl – Pinterest

There were, of course, also the Grandstand shows, which were included in the cost of admission in the earlier years, although as the names got bigger, separate tickets were required for them. The stage was set up on the football field where the Ottawa Rough Riders played, facing the north stands. I remember seeing the Osmonds and the Bells. Later, I paid to see George Thorogood, Bryan Adams, and Neil Young at the Grandstand.

And if you needed to relax and get out of the heat during the day you could go into the Civic Centre where the hockey rink was used for equestrian competitions, including barrel racing and show jumping.

The Ex had a complicated relationship with its location, Landsdowne Park, as well the Glebe neighbourhood where the park was located. There was frequent talk of moving it to a location outside the city. During the 1990s attendance seemed to drop off as well.

A tragic incident where a young man died after a reverse bungee ride malfunctioned tarnished the Ex’s reputation somewhat, and when Landsdowne Park was redeveloped starting in 2011, the Ex was suspended, and then finally cancelled for good. 

The appeal of theme parks like Wonderland and La Ronde with their multitude of permanent roller coasters took some of the magic away from the Ex. The Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto was and is much bigger and, no doubt, some families chose to go there instead. 

In the end, the Ex was a victim of its times. It had simply outlived its era.

The Scotty Method

“Captain, we canna do it! The dilithium crystals’ll never hold under those conditions.”

If you’re a Star Trek fan, you know exactly what’s going on here. Captain Kirk needs to do something that should not be possible and he wants Scotty, the Chief Engineer, to make it happen.

About 10 minutes from now, when Kirk is congratulating Scotty for working another one of his engineering miracles, Scotty will say something along the lines of, “Aye, a couple of feet of Romulan duct tape and a spool of baling twine did the trick.”

I call this the Scotty method; an extreme version of “under-promise and over-deliver.” It’s a can’t-lose position to take. When Scotty says it can’t be done, and then he does it, he looks like a miracle worker. If it doesn’t work, Kirk can’t say he wasn’t warned.

But if Scotty was always saying, “Sure, no problem” when he doesn’t even know himself whether he can do something, he would come across as supremely unreliable when all of his bravado and false promises led to failure.

The Scotty Method might work on TV but, personally, I don’t advocate creating diminished expectations any more than I recommend creating unrealistic ones. Here on Earth, the best course of action is to know what’s realistic, state it and then meet it. If you can’t complete the job in two hours, don’t say you can. If you could easily do so, don’t say you can’t.

In the freelance world, people are paying you for a service, and they want to know what their hard-earned dollars are going to get them. So as a service provider, it’s important to state upfront what you’re going to do, how long it’s going to take, and what the final product is going to look like. If you do that, and then you deliver as promised, word will get around.

And people will trust you with the dilithium crystals.

Delivering a Wedding Speech? Read This First

Someday (soon?) we will be able to come out of self-isolation and try to begin returning to something like normal life. Although we will be forever changed by the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will also be a great hunger to be among friends and family once again.

Weddings that have been postponed will be rescheduled. Best men, parents and others will once again be called upon to say a few words as they raise a toast to the newlyweds. And once again, those who are asked to lead this ritual will ask themselves what on earth they should say and how on earth they got roped into this.

Public speaking, and off-the-cuff speechifying, come easily to just a few fortunate people. Some of us dread it like (dare I say it in these times?) the plague. Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes. We have varying levels of comfort with public speaking, and varying levels of concern that we don’t make fools of ourselves. 

Some people take the honour of speaking at a wedding very seriously, and want to make sure they play a role in making the day special for the happy couple. If this sounds like you, let me give you a few pieces of advice.

Number one, take it easy on the alcohol until you’ve had your moment in the spotlight. The night is young, and nobody wants to see a member of the wedding party rambling incoherently.

Number two, even sober, don’t assume you’re going to be able to go up there and wing it, even if you and the groom have been best buds since you were in t-ball together, or even if you used to take the bride fishing every Saturday morning until she suddenly discovered boys. You may have years and years of experiences to share, and not more than five or 10 minutes to do it in. You could spend that time recounting the times you embarrassed yourselves in public, and embarrassing everybody in the room in the process. 

Or you can say something relatable, and also meaningful, that will leave the guests with a warm feeling about you and the happy couple, instead of squirming in their seats. The choice is yours. 

So think about what makes your relationship special, think about what makes this couple special, and think about how you can make the guests feel that they are taking part in something special.

It’s actually a bit of a tall order for most of us. You could go online and try to find some advice about what to say at events like this, and you will probably find some. But what you won’t find online are instructions on how to gain the experience and expertise that are needed to write a really meaningful speech, in our own voice, that you can deliver with confidence.

You might even decide that this is something you could use a little help with. There certainly are writing services that will be happy to take your money and give you a ready-made wedding speech in 24 hours.

But the bride and groom are unique people, with unique personalities and unique stories. You want to do them justice. That’s why you need a speech writer who will give you a unique speech that tells the guests who these people are and why they are special to you. With my expertise in interviewing interesting people, paired with my writing skills and experience, you can count on me to provide you with a speech that is personal, heartfelt and easy on the ears. One that will make the happy couple even happier, and one that will make you proud to have had the chance to deliver it.

Saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and what all this has to do with landing the Triple Lutz

I once had a friend who lived, breathed and ate sports. He was in multiple fantasy leagues and could quote you stats about just about anyone who made an impact on the games he loved, which were baseball, hockey and football. Those were his big three, as they are for many people. For some, basketball supplants hockey. For some, it’s a big four, not a big three.

But when the Olympics roll around, everything changes. Suddenly the javelin throw is interesting, or track cycling. And like my old friend, suddenly people who follow three or four major professional sports religiously bring that same fervour to ALL sports. This really hit home for me the day I walked into his living room and he was waxing authoritative about one individual’s figure skating performance. “She didn’t do the Triple Lutz!” he proclaimed in astonishment.

Three months previously, my friend neither knew nor cared what a Lutz, a Salchow or a Toe Loop was. Now he not only cared what they were, but he could identify them and pronounce on whether they were performed successfully.  

You know what I couldn’t really define three months ago? Social distancing.

A couple weeks ago I saw a post on LinkedIn trying to describe social distancing in plain language. The poster mentioned a few of the things that social distancing means, including keeping two metres away from people, staying home except for essential trips, and a couple of other measures. 

It was a laudable effort, but an unnecessary one.

When COVID-19 was still mainly a blip on the media horizon, the local media included in a story title the phrase, “confirmed presumptive case of coronavirus.” 

In addition to being a mouthful, it sounded both contradictory and confusing (is it confirmed or is it presumed? As it turns out, authorities were confirming that they were presuming…. ), not to mention unclear (What exactly does “presumptive” mean in this context anyway?).

As the virus began to hit home, both literally and figuratively, we started to hear more and more of this kind of jargony language in the media, including talk of social distancing as a way to control the spread. The term was at first followed by explanations, and it didn’t take long for it to enter the vernacular. Consequently, definitions and explanations began to become so much noise, like someone trying to define coffee or bread. Sure it might be valuable to explain them to someone from another planet someday, but a waste of breath to tell you or me what they are right now.

So what’s my point?

Although we should always strive to write clearly, there are actually times when the best term might be the jargony one. There might have been a time when we needed to define coffee. In fact, Bob Newhart once did a hilarious take on Sir Walter Raleigh trying to describe tobacco and coffee to his bosses back in London.

But that was more than 400 years ago. Similarly, there was a time, however brief, when we needed to define social distancing. That time, though, has mostly passed, at least in most countries. Sometimes the most appropriate term is not the most descriptive one, but the most familiar. Maybe this is one of those times. 

Grandpa, what did you do during the Pandemic of 2020?

There should be no doubt that these are difficult times. The COVID-19 outbreak will go down in history as one of the defining moments of our time. Unlike those who can tell you where they were when the planes hit the Twin Towers, we likely won’t remember the exact moment we first heard about the coronavirus, but we will certainly remember how it changed our lives. In fact, the period before self-isolation is already starting to feel like a distant memory to me.

Many people are at home with children, or trying to help their older friends and relatives either in person or remotely. This is all noble work that we can take pride in. If these are the kinds of things you’re doing, you’re doing plenty and you are certainly helping to flatten the curve.

Some people are going way beyond. A house painter and general handyman I know of, who has no work and therefore no income right now, is making grocery runs for shut-ins and even purchasing baby supplies and other products for single parents.

We all know of the sacrifices being made by health-care and other frontline workers, including retail employees, pharmacists, paramedics, military personnel, peace officers and firefighters. A grateful nation salutes you.

Our elected officials at all levels and from across the political spectrum are putting aside their differences to work toward solutions to get the country healthy and functioning normally once again. Every day they are on TV, facing the scrutiny of our news media, who are fulfilling their function by asking the tough questions on behalf of all of us.

This isn’t fun and games for any of them. When the Prime Minister or a provincial premier holds a news conference, they might have the answers to the most likely questions bookmarked in their heads, but it’s tough work, and they’re doing it every single day. Yes, they are being paid well. Yes, you could say that this is what they signed up for. But they are doing it, and they are doing it to the best of their abilities. 

Regardless whether I personally agree with any politician’s actions or ideology, I remain convinced that the vast majority of our political leaders are doing what they believe is in the best interests of our nation – even when I don’t like what they are doing.

I am personally heartened to see Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being not just civil, but respectful to each other, during this time of crisis. I applaud Premier Ford for personally loading up his pickup truck and helping to deliver donated medical supplies – without alerting the media first. 

I applaud Prime Minister Trudeau for showing up every day, seven days a week, to address the nation while under self-isolation due to his wife’s COVID-19 diagnosis. 

I applaud the Conservative Party of Canada and various provincial parties for delaying their leadership races because they know that the hyper-partisanship that is necessarily a part of these exercises would not be helpful right now.

So when I see the trolls on social media with neither anything new nor anything constructive to say about the situation we’re in, I can’t help but to feel a little sad for them. 

I feel sad for them because someday our grandkids are going to ask us what we did during the coronavirus pandemic. I will be able to say that I practiced social distancing to prevent it from spreading, I made sure my quarantined neighbour had the supplies he needed, and I helped to keep my mother from feeling alone during this time. 

Others will be able to boast that they did something truly heroic. They saved lives, or gave up their own paycheques so employees would be able to make their rent, or they just helped someone who was feeling sad about all this to feel a little better.

There will be plenty of time to dissect each and every decision being made by each and every politician once this is all over and, frankly, that is what we as a nation should do so we can be better prepared for the next crisis.

But when your grandkids ask what you did during the Pandemic of 2020, I hope you will be able to say you were one of the helpers and not just, “I sat on my couch and spread conspiracy theories while complaining about the government on Twitter.” 

My elevator pitch

Let me tell you a secret.

There are a lot of smart, capable people out there who are not great writers. 

I’m going to be frank. I was never particularly good at math. I can do arithmetic and simple algebra, but the farther I went in school, the harder it became for me. Most people pursue careers that are a good match for their interests — and their interests are usually related to their actual skills. 

So if you’re good at business, or have a head for numbers, you still might not necessarily be an expert writer. Even if you’re a capable writer, you’ve probably chosen to devote your mental energy to other pursuits. 

As for me, I’ve devoted my mental energy throughout my life to becoming a better writer. And I want to use these hard-won skills to help you with any writing challenges you might have.

Whether you’ve been asked to offer a toast to the bride or a tribute to a longtime colleague, let an expert guide you on those occasions when it matters most. 

When you have a leaky faucet or a wonky light switch, you call an expert. So if you want a website, Facebook page or brochure for your business, don’t leave things to chance either. Call a writing expert.