First, an update on that wonderful (mostly) vegetarian restaurant located within the Glebe Community Centre, The Pantry. I first wrote about its being under threat in November 2013, asking "Can this Pantry be saved?" Then on May 26, 2014 a more optimistic entry, where it seemed it would get a reprieve, at least for a couple more years.

Well, those couple of years have come and gone, and I heard on the news yesterday that it has (probably) served its last meal. This time, the main issue seems to be not so much competing programs offered by the Community Centre as the decision of the current proprietors to retire, with no one waiting in the wings to fill their shoes.

Of course, the restaurant always closed during the summer anyway. Its schedule was tied to that of the (Ontario) school year, being closed during Christmas holidays and March break as well. There is some talk of possibly establishing another restaurant somewhere within the Community Centre, though whether that would be another vegetarian place and where in the centre it would be remains unclear. So stay tuned, folks. Maybe we can look forward to a similar situation to Books on Beechwood, one of the last independent bookstores in town - when the former owner decided to retire, one of its loyal customers stepped up to the helm. We can always hope!

Secondly, an update to "Your neighbourhood pharmacist", which I wrote on August 4, 2014, several months before the last major flare-up of my arthritis in April 2015.
In that entry, I argued among other things that we don't tend to fully utilize the skills and expertise of our pharmacists.

Since then, it appears that pharmacists have been under increasing pressure to earn their keep and justify their existence. I think maybe they earn a certain number of brownie points (or at least don't accrue demerit points) for every "medication review" they conduct with a patient and for every time they phone you to "remind" you that it's time to renew one or other of your prescriptions or that your renewals have all run out, and would you like them to fax your doctor to get permission for another 3 renewals? It got so annoying that I basically ended up telling them "Don't call us, we'll call you." Moreover, when they begin a phone call with letting you know that "This call may be monitored for quality control purposes" it raises some serious red flags about the privacy and confidentiality of one's medical information. Big Pharma is watching you?

On a more positive note, I think maybe I HAVE finally trained the pharmacy NOT to dispense my medications in containers that are almost impossible for me to open when my arthritis is at its worst. But it took a lot of persistence on my part, even after they supposedly had a note on my file and I on one occasion even mentioned it in a voicemail when I phoned to renew a prescription. I still don't go too far away from the pharmacy without first opening the little white bag to make sure they've complied with my instructions. And I'll also acknowledge that I've had no more episodes of getting someone else's prescription. Occasionally they still aren't able to completely fill a prescription, but they do give me enough pills to tide me over until the rest of them come in.

Finally, an update on my PRESTO card. If you were following my blog in 2013 and 2014, you may recall I had a whole host of problems with it initially, what with the top-up feature not working, and then the card itself failing. On May 26, 2014, I wrote an entry where things seemed to be going more smoothly. And that was the case for a couple of months until the replacement card failed as well! But this time, it seems the Presto folks at Rideau Centre were a little more ready for me. They quickly replaced my card, I didn't have to pay $6 for it, and the nice man loaded on a few free trips (which I'm not sure ever did get billed to my credit card). I still had to phone Presto to get the balance from my old card transferred to my new one and it still took 24 hours or so but at least it didn't seem to be quite such a rigamarole and I wasn't stuck in some endless telephone tree for hours on end. And nearly two years later, the card is still working (touch wood - but don't touch anything magnetic!)

A good thing too, because tickets are being phased out to make way for rapid transit and all-tech options for fare paying. Of course, all fares have gone up as of today (and will rise again on January 1). Amongst other factors, it appears that the Metrolinx folks are trying to extort yet more money for the "privilege" of using the PRESTO card system that's been plagued with problems since day one. Ah, well - hopefully most of those problems are behind us now. And I do think it'll be nice to finally have a proper light rail system in Ottawa - once it's up and running.
Today I want to revisit a few things I've dealt with in earlier entries.

Back in November, I asked "Can this Pantry be saved?" Word was that The Pantry, a (mostly) vegetarian lunch place operating weekdays during the school year out of the Glebe Community Centre, would be forced to close permanently at the end of June because the Centre needed the space for its activities.

I'm pleased to report that the answer seems to be, "Yes, it likely CAN be saved, at least for a couple more years." We went back there a few weeks ago, wanting to at least enjoy one more family lunch there before the bitter end, and I asked about its status. Already they have made some modest changes such as putting casters on their tables to facilitate quick rearrangements at the beginning and end of their stints there each day to accommodate other groups that use the space. Dare I speculate that the petition we signed actually made a difference?

We haven't seen too much media coverage of it since the initial threat of closure so I guess talks are still ongoing and its future is still uncertain. But I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed!


Then there's the continuing saga of my PRESTO card. Again, the news I'm reporting today is mostly positive or hopeful. I haven't had any problems using it in Ottawa since I got my new PRESTO card. I also managed to use it successfully inToronto earlier this month - at Queen's Park station. There's still the problem that many Toronto subway stations simply aren't equipped with PRESTO readers at all. According to the Toronto edition of Metro (the newspaper), many won't be before some time in 2016.


Finally, today marks a sad anniversary. An Ottawa high school student was killed three years ago after a metal drum he was cutting through for shops class exploded, critically injuring him. The inquest into his death was only recently concluded and hopefully school officials will henceforth be extra careful to avoid another (presumably preventable) tragedy like this in the future. I was in Halifax at the time of the incident, attending a conference of the Canadian Library Association, but it was reported on the Halifax TV news and in their paper.

Back in 2011, it was reported that the drum (acquired second-hand for the project) had previously contained peppermint oil which (or so it was reported at the time) was a highly volatile and dangerous substance. Again, I remember that well because we had recently been advised to spray peppermint oil in our car to deter mice, which had been gnawing at some of the innards and shorting out the wiring.

Well, guess what? In the news reports of the inquest earlier this year, no further mention was made of any peppermint oil - instead, it was reported that the drum had previously contained a toxic cleaning solution (possibly involving lye?) Moreover, just a week or two ago, domestic mavens Steven and Chris were waxing eloquent over how fabulous peppermint oil could be in the kitchen, to deter ants!

So is peppermint oil safe? Who knows?
On March 25, this blog turned two. In the next few days or weeks, I'll re-examine a few of the perennial issues I've been dealing with in this space.

First of all, my Presto-card woes. Soon after writing my last entry about the subject, having just returned to Ottawa from Toronto, I wrote that the two cities' systems did not seem to be compatible after all. That may not have been true, because soon after that, I realized that my card wasn't working in OTTAWA, either!

Now, you might think that I'd be able to simply take my defective card to an OC Transpo kiosk and exchange it for a good one. Nope. First of all, I had to pay $6 just for the card itself, then the nice young man loaded a few trips on to it (which I also had to pay for) and I was further instructed to wait 24 hours (not 23 or 23.5 hours, mind you - I found that out the hard way) and phone up Presto to get the balance transferred from my old to my new card number. That involved lots of time caught up in endless telephone trees and on-hold periods, though to be fair, the call-centre people were unfailingly polite.
And by the time I had to take the bus again (probably by the end of the next day), it was once again working as it should.

Still. What if I WEREN'T retired, had to take several bus trips a day, and simply didn't have the TIME to do all that? And it's not as if it were really my fault - I'd had the old card safely in my purse all along and hadn't done anything terrible to it like step on it, put it through the washing machine or dryer, or toss it over the Hog's Back Falls, sans barrel (though I was certainly tempted!)

Why can't they make these things easier?
So I went to Toronto last week for my Ex Libris board meeting and Ontario Library Association Conference. I also went to see the Kafka play Metamorphosis and the Mozart opera Cosi van tutte, and did a kind of museum-crawl (the ROM, the AGO, the Gardiner Museum plus the brand new Aquarium). I was excited by the prospect of using my PRESTO card, which is now supposed to also work on the Toronto transit system - ever since they shut down Ottawa's system for a week in January and boasted that the changeover had been near-perfect. Hah!

The first problem is that many of the subway stops in Toronto are not even equipped with a turnstile that reads Presto cards. It seems Presto is just one of several systems in use there. For example, they don't seem to load monthly or annual passes onto their Presto cards in Toronto the way you supposedly can here. So on my way to my Tuesday Ex Libris meeting, I entered the first station on the University Line (St. Andrew?) and, not seeing any green Presto logos, showed my card to the attendant in the booth by way of enquiry where I could tap it. He just waved me through his turnstile, so I got a free ride in that direction. On the way back to my hotel, entering at Yonge-Eglinton, things were less busy so I actually went up and spoke to the attendant in the booth there. "Sorry, we don't have Presto readers here," she told me. So I paid a $3 cash fare instead. Rather than going directly back to my hotel, I decided to stop off at the Bloor-Yonge stop and do a bit of a Yorkville crawl. Surely they would have a Presto Reader at that stop!

They did. And that's when I encountered problem no. 2. The booth attendant seemed a bit bemused when my card didn't work at one of the turnstiles but helpfully suggested I try one on his other side that also bore the Presto logo. No luck. I broke down and bought a supply of tokens for the rest of my time in Toronto, but still attempted to use my Presto card whenever I saw a turnstile with the green Presto logo. In one instance, a fellow passenger earnestly coached me for several minutes on the use of my card before reluctantly conceding that my Ottawa card probably would not work after all. Funny thing was, the reader didn't even gong me or provide some message like "Card rejected". Finally when I tried to use my Presto card at Union Station, an attendant came over to me and said "Quick question - where are you from?" When I replied Ottawa, he sort of nodded knowingly and said he thought so, it probably wouldn't work here. Clearly he'd encountered the problem before. I haven't approached anyone in Ottawa about this yet - stay tuned!
NOTE: Part 1 in this series was posted on May 30. If you're looking at my last 20 entries, it will be on the same page - for a while, at least.

Here's a quote from an article by David Reevely in today's Citizen: "The Presto system has squeezed some of the human generosity out of the transit system." Hmm, do good transit systems just naturally "contain" human generosity that can be squeezed out? And the transit-riders hung out to dry or taken to the cleaners or whatever? I think maybe that's just a jargony way of saying that a lot of transit users, while initially and for some time willing to give the Presto system a try, are by now fed up with the seemingly endless series of glitches they've been forced to endure. "Enough, already!" they are exclaiming.

The article mentions that less than 5% of users have set up auto-load features, either for monthly passes or top-up of cash balances (the so-called "e-purse"). Well, let me share my auto-load story with you.

I noted in my May 30 entry that I intended to register my card by snail-mail, after a frustrating time trying (and failing) to do it online, and another frustrating session using their eminently satirizable touch-tone-phone-tree. Since I was sending in THAT form (to register my PRESTO card), I decided to also include another form requesting an automatic top-up whenever my balance fell beyond a certain point. After all, both forms were supposed to be sent to the same address - what could possibly go wrong?

I was soon to find out.

Quite quickly after sending in the forms, I got an e-mail thanking me for registering and providing me with a 4-digit PIN. Great! Since I was registered, I figured they must have incorporated my auto-load request into my profile somehow. Though I still couldn't log in online because, it seemed, I hadn't selected a "user name". Efforts to try my e-mail address or name or initials as user name, together with my PIN as password, were in vain. I tried again by phone and this time did somehow manage to access a real person - but although she was pleasant and patient enough, her instructions (which for various reasons I had to carry out AFTER the call had ended) did not yield the desired results. Oh well, I figured I'd just keep on using my card and hoping for the best.

I went to Music and Beyond. I went to Chamberfest. On the way to one of the concerts, my PRESTO card was rejected for insufficient funds. Turned out the auto-load was NOT activated. So I went back to going to the Rideau Centre and topping up my card in person. That worked, although I didn't get any helpful advice from the folks there other than the recommendation that I send in a new autoload request form. I filed that in my file-13-purgatory file for possible future reference.

Then, some weeks later (I think it was early in August), I got a phone-call at home from "private number". Now, the great thing about call-display is you can decide if you want to answer calls or not. I practically never answer calls from 1-800 or 1-888 numbers, but with "private number" it's sort of hit-and-miss as to whether I answer them or not. If I'm busy at the time, I don't, unless I'm expecting a call or think it could be urgent; if I'm not busy, I might. Well, this time I answered.

It was someone from PRESTO, explaining that my auto-load request could not be activated because I'd requested some invalid amount on it. I think I'd asked that it be topped up if the balance fell below $10, but it had to be at least $20. Or something. How to remedy it? Send in another form, of course. Unless I wanted to try my luck online again, which I didn't.

After sighing and stewing for a few days, I did fill in another form, being very careful to follow all the instructions to the letter - and the number. For the next few weeks, I carefully checked my balance every time I paid my fare. And miracle of miracles, I saw my balance dip and rise again. My credit-card statement a while later confirmed that this time, the automatic top-up had worked. Hallelujah!

When I went to Toronto in mid-September, I thought I might try out my card to see if it was working yet with their PRESTO system. But whenever I happened to see their card-readers, it was when I'd already gotten through the turnstile with my subway token. And maybe I should be sure it's really going to work before I try using it in Toronto - I'd hate for their machinery to somehow "eat" my card after all the trouble I've gone to to get this far! My next planned trip to Toronto is in November, so we shall see...
I got a Presto card yesterday and loaded some cash onto it. The next step will be to see if the thing works. It's already been an adventure getting to this stage.

When I learned that the smart- or not-so-smart cards for Ottawa's public transit system were now available, I thought I'd try to get a couple of them. Once the initial phasing-in period is over, the good folks at OC-Transpo are going to start charging $6 for that little green plastic card, BEFORE you've even loaded any money on it. I figured I'd pick up one for myself and one for my partner. Not so fast!

Turned out, they make you SIGN for the card. Well, okay. Then you get your card, pick up a "kit" from somebody else, and go over to the cashier if you want to load money on it. Or you can go online and load money that way. Either way, they still recommend that you "register" your card, so that if it's ever stolen, you can "hotlist" it so that it doesn't get used by the thief.

I took my kit and my little green card home and went online to register it. That's when I encountered yet another snag. I could key in the card number and the three-digit verification code, was presented with an on-line agreement, but then when I accepted it and clicked on the "Next" button, one of two things kept happening: either the screen froze entirely, or it came back with "please enter your 3-digit verification code", because apparently I had somehow wiped it out by checking the "I agree" box on the agreement. Well, not to worry, I thought. There was a toll-free number on the site, so I phoned that, went through one of those endless telephone trees where they never have the option you want and don't even have the option to press "0" to talk to a representative... and so I gave up. But I did discover on the site that I could sign in as Anonymous, using just the main card number and no 3-digit code. That at least confirmed that I did have the money on my card and that it was active.

After examining my kit, I realized it contained a form you could MAIL in to register your card. So I guess I'll do that. As long as it doesn't get lost or stolen before I've completed the registration process, I guess I'll be okay and won't lose my money. That's assuming the card actually WORKS when I try to tap it on the card reader on the bus!

So why am I even bothering with this? Well, tickets can be a bit of a pain. You have to board by the front door and remember to get your transfer as proof of payment. Moreover, OC Transpo decided some time ago,in its wisdom, that TWO tickets (costing $1.30 each)rather than one would be necessary for each trip (or four for a round-trip), yet they sell them in groups of SIX. So of course, I've been buying TWELVE at a time, but somehow always manage to end up with the wrong number of tickets at the end of the batch (if, for example, the ticket-box is malfunctioning and I get a freebie ride, or I make a stopover and need three one-way fares for one trip). I could use a cash fare but that too is awkward and considerably more costly ($3.30 per trip instead of $2.60). Moreover, tickets can't be used on the O-Train. The Presto card can. As well, Toronto uses the Presto card too, and I generally make several trips to Toronto per year. It will be handy to be able to use my card in both Toronto and Ottawa and not end up with obsolete subway tokens when fares in Toronto go up.

I'm hoping that by the time Music & Beyond starts in just over a month, the teething pains with my Presto card will be over and I can just hop merrily on and off buses, tapping my card on the readers as I go.

Stay tuned!

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