A revolution of joy – 10 years since “The Phoenix Show”

I was recently reminded this was coming up, and thought I’d contribute some thoughts on it.

Almost eleven years ago, I became part of an online community. It wasn’t the first online community I was part of, but after all these years it’s still been one of the best.

It all revolved around Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean, and one of her biggest releases, Day One.  But let me start at the beginning.

In my first year of university (2001), Sarah Harmer was doing a tour of Southern Ontario (and some nearby places), and Sarah Slean was an opening act for her.  I knew very little about either Sarah, having heard a couple of Sarah Harmer’s songs on the radio and knowing literally nothing about Sarah Slean, but tickets were affordable and they were conveniently playing right there on my university campus.  I liked Sarah Slean immediately, but didn’t think much more of her after that.

About a month or so later, I heard Sarah Slean’s song “Sweet Ones” on the radio, and liked it even more than the first time I’d heard it.  I eventually bought the album, and all her other albums, and started going to her shows whenever I could.  She had already developed quite a fanbase, who were all connected through a listserv/Yahoo!Group sort of mailing list. I joined, but never got overly active in it.  I still made a point of going to as many shows as I could though, as she puts on an excellent live show!

Fast forward to 2004.  Sarah has been recording a new album in LA for awhile (many of the songs of which we’d gotten a sneak preview of at concerts).  Completely unrelated to this (I don’t think I even knew at the time she was recording there), I booked a trip to Los Angeles in late July/early August of 2004.  It was my last summer with no classes, and I figured I’d never have such a long period of time to myself again, so I planned a road trip.  The plan was to drive from Hamilton, ON to Los Angeles, CA, then up to Vancouver, BC and back across Canada.  As a way of making myself go, I timed it around an Alanis Morissette (someone else that I was a huge, huge, huge fan of at the time) concert at the Greek Theatre in LA.  At the time, Alanis had two concerts announced in LA and none anywhere else… though these two shows ended up getting sandwiched into the middle of the Au Naturale Tour with the Barenaked Ladies.  I ended up buying tickets to both, on July 29 and 30.

As the date approached for me to leave, Sarah Slean started posting some concert dates in LA around the same time. And then, there it was – her last show in LA was at Genghis Cohen on July 28.  I made a couple quick plan changes, and scheduled myself to arrive in LA that night.  This was no easy task as it turned out – being the music-obsessed person I was at the time (I still am a little, to be honest, but have less access to this level of show in Vancouver), I also had tickets to Madonna in Toronto right before I left.  I had to rush through most of the drive down to LA, though my only real regret was not spending more time in Las Vegas, where I’ve since returned to make up for it.  (Side note: I also had to rush the end of the trip, as I ended up with tickets to see Alanis Morissette again at the Casino Fallsview when I returned).

The show itself was amazing – Genghis Cohen is the most bizarre little Chinese restaurant / bar / music hall you could imagine. The music seating area is arranged in church pews with small tables where you can order (really delicious) Chinese food.  Anyway, long story short the show was amazing, and with some patience I was able to get an advance copy of the CD (two months before its release!) from her manager who was attending all the shows.  I never got to thank the person who pointed him out to me, but remain thankful to him to this day!

At the same time, I connected with another fan on the listserv who lived in Vancouver, and we arranged to meet up while I was there.  What was supposed to be a brief meeting for her to give me some bootleg tracks (on a CD-R) ended up being a several-hour long conversation at the Granville and Broadway Blenz.  This fan and I ended up becoming good friends after she moved to Toronto.

This, it turned out, was only the beginning.  Day One was released September 28, 2004, and in the lead-up to its release Sarah’s management launched a new website, complete with a message board meant to build on the existing fanbase that was currently using the listserv.  I’m not sure if, when they launched it, they anticipated what it would become.

SarahSlean.com rapidly became a community.  It soon attracted dozens, then hundreds, of her fans from around the world (though, admittedly, most were from Sarah’s home of Southern Ontario).  The latest version I can find on the Wayback archive shows 721 members, but I’m pretty sure we exceeded 1,000 by its end.  I was probably the most prolific poster on the boards, but a large number of people posted regularly – many of us checked in at least daily.  We became the Passioneers (after a line in the song Day One).

We talked about everything – the album, the lyrics, the extensive tours that followed the album, and often even just life in general, too.  We started to recognize each other at concerts, whether by coincidentally running into one another or by arranging meetings.  I even met classmates I didn’t know I had, because we happened to be on the boards together.

I imagine that there probably were trolls, but if there were I don’t remember them being around very long.  At times Sarah’s management got a little aggressive with their moderation, though they were eventually replaced.  There were a few people who were a little… let’s say eccentric… and they were treated with compassion and friendliness.  The diversity was unparalleled – a real cross-section of humanity.  In short, it was about as close to a utopic online community as you could imagine.  A revolution of joy.

In the first six or seven months of that board, and the tours that were running at the same time, I met around a dozen people in real life that I still consider my friends today, a decade later.  We started intentionally finding one another at shows, and often even arranging rides together.  I’m guessing based on her tour archive, but I probably went to six shows of hers in as many months.

This all culminated ten years ago today, in advance of her concert at The Phoenix in Toronto. Since Toronto was pretty central for quite a few of us, and some fans were flying into town for the show (which was also the final show of the tour), we decided to have a great big meetup before the show.  We also decided that since Sarah had been giving of her art over the last six months (in addition to the new album, and concerts, she regularly posted new written and visual material on her website), we would create a (secret, but not really that secret) project ourselves.  We launched a “scrapbook” project, where people from the boards each created a page (of equal dimensions of course) and sent them all in to someone who coordinated them centrally.  The whole thing was then assembled and we brought it to the show.  A number of us gathered at Salad King (in its old location, on Gould Street) for late lunch / early dinner (we wanted to be first to the show so we could be right up by the stage, of course).  Many of us met for the first time that day.  The show was amazing (and bloody… she cut herself on the keyboard), and we presented Sarah with the scrapbook after the show.

This was one of several pinnacles in this community, but for many of us it was a highlight.  What followed was several years of getting together for shows – we often travelled together, or met up at shows, saving spots for people who had to work late or buying tickets together.  We got together at festivals, and went to other artists’ concerts too. And we kept meeting – some of these people remained cyber-friends only, and I’ve met some in real life for the first time as recently as 2011.

For several years, Sarah held a pair of concerts at Harbourfront Centre every December, which became a reunion of sorts for us fans.  Starting with the first year, we decided that instead of giving art again, we would give back to our communities.  We created a “Passioneer Holiday Card” project, where people from the message board would give back, either by donating to an organization or by volunteering, and we compiled electronic submissions (with descriptions of what we did, and our usernames) into a card.  While in theory this was one of those “fans giving a gift to the artist who probably doesn’t need it” things, this was such a great way to get together with people around the world doing good.  Even though that tradition has discontinued (along with the annual concerts), I still make a point of making a donation to an unsuspecting charity around that time each year.

There have been so many highlights over the years, but these are some of mine.  Thank you Passioneers for being part of my life.  This community lives on without the message board, and is still the most positive online community I’ve ever been a part of.

2014 blog summary… not nearly enough. More next year, I hope!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  I’ve barely blogged this year… I really need to change that for next year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The trouble with sexual assault (trigger warnings, also graphic content)

I’ve been trying to put this into words for several days now, ever since the Jian Ghomeshi story [link is to the most comprehensive, not the first, news story] broke this week.

People ask, time and time again, why victims don’t report. How these things happen over and over again, with little or no consequences for the perpetrator. I was left wondering last night what could have happened differently to stop this.

I’ll leave the broader, more technical, analysis to the countless experts out there.  Some good reading on what happens when victims do report is here, and a very personal account from a Twitter-friend is here.  I’ll also point out, as was reminded to me when I posed the question via social media of how this could have been stopped, that at least one woman did report it, which only made matters worse.

All I can bring to this table is to share my own experience.  I’m sure I’ve shared this story with some friends over the years, but never in a public space online.  It was so long ago now, and is admittedly somewhat repressed, so the details are missing – but they don’t matter here.

Years ago, probably about a decade ago now, since it was before I lived in Toronto, I came into the city to attend a friend’s party.  He’d offered me his couch to sleep on in advance, so I was comfortable drinking and not having to drive or find another way home at a late hour.  I don’t really remember anything in particular about the party, only that I had enough to drink that I wouldn’t drive home, and that by the time everyone left I was a little drunk, and very tired.  Another friend of the friend I was staying with decided that, even though he didn’t live far away, he too was going to crash on this friend’s couch.  I recall him flirting with me earlier in the evening, but not much more.  I don’t remember if I flirted back, but knowing myself at that time I probably did.

The couch was a sectional, so we could both sleep perpendicular to one another, with only minimal bumping.  I made it clear that I was exhausted and going straight to sleep.  He had other things on his mind.  He asked if we could cuddle, and I reiterated that I really just wanted to sleep.  After he climbed over to my half of the couch I said ‘fine’ but that I was going to sleep and it was his problem if I snored in his face.  Despite my lack of interest, and lack of permission, he wouldn’t stop touching me, and began touching himself, eventually grabbing my hand to touch him as well.  No amount of “I really just want to sleep” got him to stop, and I eventually gave in and got him off with my hand just to get it over with so I could get some sleep.  When one of the women in the Star article talked about doing things with Ghomeshi “just to get out of there,” I was immediately brought back to this moment.

I didn’t agree to it, and I didn’t enjoy it – I just knew it was the only way to avoid him going even further, possibly after I went to sleep.  I guess an advantage of being a man is I know how men work – most guys won’t make the effort anymore after they’ve gotten off, and this was easier than spending the next few hours saying ‘no’ over and over again or risking him doing something to me in my sleep.  We didn’t really say much the next morning, and I’ve only crossed paths with him a few times since, when neither of us have acted like anything was unusual.

I never said anything to him about it, and I never said anything to our mutual friend whose couch we were on and who was none the wiser.  I avoided this person for awhile, but our circles of friends didn’t overlap much, so it wasn’t really much effort.  The idea of “reporting” never even crossed my mind. Which brings me back to the original question – why not?  This was technically sexual assault.

In part, I didn’t think about it because I knew that, if I’d tried harder I could’ve been more successful at avoiding him.  I could have gotten up and walked away, despite my inebriation.  I had the means to pay for a taxi to get home, even if it meant adding it to my student loan.  I knew that if I said anything at that point, the immediate question would be why I didn’t just get up and walk away.  To this day, I still don’t know the answer to that question, though I doubt the alcohol helped my judgment.

The other big thing that comes to mind is that, by contrast to so many more ‘serious’ incidents, this was about the most mild form of sexual assault I could imagine – I used the word ‘technically’ above for that reason.  Compared to the allegations against Ghomeshi, this was nothing.  And compared to the crimes of people like Paul Bernardo (having grown up in St. Catharines, he’s never far from mind when this topic comes up), even the allegations against Ghomeshi are practically nothing.  There’s always someone in a worse situation when it comes to sexual assault, and what happened to me is incredibly trivial by comparison.

Lastly, there’s that nagging feeling of being the one responsible for it. Regardless of the lack of consent, the fact that there was flirting or some consensual activity preceding it makes it really hard to vilify the other party.  “I got myself into this” is always there in the background… not to mention how unpleasant the notion of turning in someone you actually kind of liked is.

So, it’s been this many years, and I still won’t be “reporting” this person.  At this point, I don’t even remember his name.  So I can empathize with all those who have not made their own reports.  Even if I now feel torn up and have questioned over and over whether I was one of many, like is alleged in the Ghomeshi case, or just a drunken fluke.  I can only hope that we can change our culture to prevent these things from happening in the first place – so no one is ever put in the position of having to even consider such things.

Email to Mayor and Council about Roundabouts

This evening, in an incident that has happened countless times before, I had a near-collision with a car while cycling on the 10th Avenue bike route.  I don’t recall the exact intersection (I believe it was Prince Albert), but I was headed Eastbound and approached a roundabout.  There was no traffic (bicycle or car) in the roundabout, and no one coming to my left.  I headed straight through – I would guess at around 20 or 25 km/h given that I was going downhill.  This is still well under the speed limit of 30km/h on this road.

As I was travelling through the roundabout, a Northbound car approached on my right.  Rather than a) recognising that one is required to yield to traffic in roundabouts (the BC government has a lovely little page on this) or b) looking up and realising that driving straight through would involve hitting a cyclist, this car just kept driving anyway.  I was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting her car (or being sideswiped by her), but then she stopped in the roundabout and had to carefully manoeuvre around me to keep going.

In my frustration I yelled out “what are you doing?!” because I honestly had no idea – she seemed uncertain as to whether she was going to continue or stop and let me through.  She responded with “it’s not your turn!”  The fact that this was her response suggested to me she had no idea how roundabouts work.  They don’t involve “turns” – they always involve yielding to whomever is in the roundabout.  Period.  You wait until it’s clear, then you go.

While the complete incompetence of Vancouver drivers is pretty common, and to be expected, I have to think at least part of this is connected to the way the road communicates to them.  I took this photo shortly before moving to Vancouver:

Just so I'm clear- are these roundabouts or do you make left turns to the left of them?


If you click through to the Flickr page it’s on, you’ll see by the caption that I was just as confused when I first saw them.  These signs do not mean roundabout.  And yet the City of Vancouver uses them on virtually every single roundabout in the city.  I’ve heard somewhere that the difference is that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” but frankly the wording is academic only – this has no meaning when it comes to how they are used.

So, I wrote the following email to Mayor and Council.  I sincerely hope something is done, because the way people behave around these things right now is incredibly dangerous.

Mayor and council,

After the most recent in a long string of near-collisions in this city’s roundabouts, I’ve had enough. I think roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool and I don’t believe the city should get rid of them. I do, however, strongly believe city needs to do a heck of a lot more to tell people how they’re supposed to use them.

Besides a public education campaign, I think the number one thing the city needs to do is adopt standard signage. Vancouver is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen “bear right” signs to signify a roundabout. If we all bear right without yielding, we crash into one another – that’s kind of how it works. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m saying, the BC government’s Graphic Sign Index that includes this sign (item number R-014-R) is here: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Regulatory_Signs.pdf. It refers to this sign (in the index) as “Median symbol (keep) RIGHT ARROW.” This does NOT signify to anyone how they are actually supposed to behave at such an intersection, or who has the right of way.

Everywhere else I’ve travelled, including virtually every other municipality in the Lower Mainland, uses a sign similar to Rb-R-502-T in the BC Roundabout Signs Index (http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/publications/eng_publications/signs/2010_Catalogue/Standard_Traffic_Signs/Roundabout_Signs.pdf). This clearly signifies to all road users that they are to yield to traffic in the roundabout. I have often seen such signs in combination with something like Rb-W-500 to show the direction of traffic flow (many road users, especially cyclists, turn left against traffic through these, suggesting they don’t realise how they should navigate these intersections at all).

I would like to see council adopt a motion that mandates the usage of these signs universally throughout the City of Vancouver to signify roundabouts or traffic circles. A limited number of roundabouts in the city use these signs (though often in combination with the bear right one, which is even more confusing); I see no reason they can’t all be used this way.

Before I get a response that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” the distinction is completely meaningless when one is travelling around one of these things and someone decides to drive or cycle directly in front of you (or side-swipe you). If the rules are the same, the size of island in the middle of the circle should not change the signage or communication made by the city. These are universally (outside of Vancouver) used and perceived as roundabouts, and it should be communicated to road users that this is what they are. The next time I’m cut off in one of these might be my last, and that’s not a result anyone wants.

Thank you,

Neal Jennings



How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

How to cycle straight across Hornby on Helmcken going Westbound, in 7 easy steps.

5 months ago, I emailed the City of Vancouver to ask about how I was supposed to cross Hornby Street Westbound on a bicycle when riding on Helmcken. At that corner, Helmcken is right-turn-only, and there is a protected bike lane on the left side of Helmcken on the other side of Hornby. The city, just now, replied with the following instructions.

1. Turn right on Hornby into the bile lane, reposition your bicycle and wait for the light
2. Proceed into the bike box in the intersection of Hornby & Helmcken
3. Wait for the light then proceed into the separated bike lane on Helmcken st.

By my count, this is actually 7 steps (and three full cycles of the traffic light)! 7 steps to continue in the same direction on a road!! None of which is marked in any way at the intersection.

Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.


I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: http://www.translinkcommission.org/html/yvr_add_fare_decision.html . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.


Neal Jennings


My 2013 WordPress year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Apparently I didn’t write much this year. I should rectify that for next year.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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