Car Wash of the Living Dead

Originally published (with plenty of photos) on Torontoist on August 20, 2012.

When zombies are around, trouble looms. Whether caused by disease, viral outbreaks, space debris, or science gone bad, a gathering of the undead tends not to turn out well for the living.

And yet even though logic dictates that one should run when faced with a mass of shambling, shuffling creatures, curiosity draws us to them despite the mortal danger. I’m guilty of this. How else can I explain why I ventured into the middle of a gathering of zombies who appeared to be…washing cars?

I had heard rumours that the undead were being used to clean the vehicles of the living. The washes are reputed to serve as a fundraising effort for the annual zombie walk through the streets of Toronto. Further rumours suggested that the Heart and Stroke Foundation is a partner in this year’s walk.

As I pulled into the Classic Coin Car Wash at College Street and Lansdowne Avenue, my heart jumped a little. Was I putting my life on the line to discover if a zombie could wash my vehicle? Perhaps, but I had to find out if the undead could do a better job than some of the mechanized car washes around town, whose programmed cleaning cycles can miss a spot or two.

Judging from her fresh-looking gaping wounds and relatively peachy colour, it appeared the zombie collecting my money had recently joined the undead. Her partner was grey and slower-moving, which made it easy to close the window on him when he attempted to eat my brains. I was motioned to park the car and wait for a bay to open up.

Since the air lacked agonized screaming, I figured the situation was under enough control that it was safe to wander the lot. There was a table where several zombies had been pressed into bake sale/T-shirt-selling duty. Even the undead have embraced the cupcake craze: frosting swirled like a brain was a good match with the chocolate cake, even if I tried not to ponder what (or who) might have gone into the sweet topping.

As I drove my car into an open bay, it was swarmed by a legion of groaning zombies. Their eyes spoke of their inner longing to have me for lunch as they slowly spread blood across my vehicle. Their slow, jerky motions shook the car a bit, which was unnerving until I realized they were spreading their bloody mess onto every spot of dirt. Still, the thought that they might turn on me at any second made me want to flee the car the second the horde shuffled off to work on another car.

Back in the lot, more zombies had ventured to the curb to draw in traffic. Their efforts appeared to be working, as a line snaked westward along College Street. While some undead mumbled about brains, others offered children cotton candy. One brave kid smiled when a zombie grunted that he could leave a bloody print on the child’s t-shirt (with parental approval, of course). Any lingering worries about a sudden attack evaporated.

Soon it was time to drive off. I looked over the car and determined that training the undead to clean vehicles might have been a good idea. The car smelled fresh and soapy. The blood had been washed off. With the zombies’ attentions turned to other drivers who shared my morbid sense of curiosity, I drove out of the lot. Just to be to safe, I checked the trunk a few miles down the road just to make sure nothing had crawled in while I wasn’t looking.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This was a fun story to write — what’s there not to enjoy when scribbling about zombies washing your car? It didn’t hurt the participants totally threw themselves into character while cleaning my vehicle, and left it looking spiffy.

It’s possible I may have taken backup photos, but currently I cannot find most of the images I snapped during 2012. When/if I do, this post will be updated. Otherwise, check the link at the beginning of this piece.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Which Vehicle Has the Right of Way?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 6, 2011.

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Toronto Sun, September 27, 1981.

The courtesy suggested in today’s ad only went so far. After two more decades of drivers pinning in public transit vehicles, legislation forcing vehicles to yield to buses became provincial law on January 2, 2004. We suspect there were drivers who took fiendish glee in purposely cutting off buses one last time on New Year’s Day before the risk of receiving a $90 fine kicked in.

Thanks to lobbying efforts from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Ontario followed British Columbia and Quebec in enacting a yield-to-bus law. TTC officials felt the law would result in speedier service, with some routes expected to see travel times decrease by five minutes. Signs on the backs of buses employed more forceful language: “please” was dropped from the yield warning sign. The change of wording outraged Toronto Star reader Harold Nelson, who complained to the paper that the TTC was “not as polite as it once was.” His remarks prompted Barbara Gilbert of Newmarket to respond. “When was the last time you saw a sign that said ‘please stop?’” Gilbert wrote. “Maybe the reader should familiarize himself with the rules of the road before he heads out in his vehicle.”

Additional material from the April 24, 2004 and April 30, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ending Summer with Elmer

Originally published on Torontoist on September 21, 2010.

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The North Toronto Herald, August 23, 1963.

With summer’s end upon us, it’s time to take stock of the season gone by and see what lessons were learned, especially when it comes to personal safety. Can you find the seven flaws in this picture for Elmer the Safety Elephant? Unfortunately, we lack the official answers, but we invite you to make your best guesses!

Toronto Mayor Robert Hood Saunders was inspired by a child-safety program he observed in Detroit in 1946 and consulted with the Telegram to create a similar campaign here. Telegram editor Bas Mason and Toronto Police Department Inspector Vernon Page came up with the idea of using an elephant as a mascot due to the animal’s reputed powers of memory, and put out a worldwide call to fill the position. Elmer’s enthusiasm impressed the hiring committee and he assumed his role with great gusto in 1947. During his first year on the job, the number of traffic collisions in Toronto involving children dropped by 44%. For his second year on the job, Elmer was issued a cuter, more childlike costume designed by one-time Hollywood animator Charles Thorson that remained his standard outfit for decades.

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Motor Magazine, May 1948.

Elmer’s brother Junior was also in the safety mascot biz for awhile, though his work was more commercial-minded. In ads such as the one above for Maremont, Junior demonstrated the right and wrong way to hang the manufacturer’s parts and equipment in garages. After an injury during a 1954 photo shoot for a hood producer, Junior retired and became Elmer’s business manager. A third brother, Pinky, served as the model for the drawing found on boxes of Lucky Elephant popcorn.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 4

Ten Thousand Doctors Can’t Be Wrong

Originally published on Torontoist on January 12, 2010.

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Toronto Star, March 5, 1915.

Trusting the judgment of her faithful nurse, the morose, near-suicidal patient took the tipple of Wincarnis. And another. And another. She wasn’t sure if the promised “new life” ran through her veins, but at least she was temporarily distracted from the other pressures of this mortal coil.

Wincarnis derived its name from its mixture of wine and meat byproducts. It was a snappier branding than the one it bore when introduced in Great Britain in 1887: Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine. The current manufacturer continues to tout the medicinal qualities of the herbs and vitamins mixed into Wincarnis, even if it is officially marketed as an aperitif instead of a cure-all. We’ve also read that it tastes great mixed with Guinness and milk.

Golden Girls Galore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 27, 2010.

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Toronto Sun, August 29, 1983.

Thirty years after this ad teased Toronto Sun readers, the phrase “golden girls” may not conjure up a night in a peeler joint, unless you’re a fan fiction writer willing to place the sitcom characters in such a setting (though given Betty White’s willingness to do anything lately, it might not be that great a stretch to imagine her in pasties and a g-string).

Besides overemphasizing the hair colour and lusty potential of the dancers, we wonder if club management had a soft spot for a classic Bob Dylan album. Would the non-blonde (unless the newsprint is lying) Viki Page have titillated her audience to the strains of “I Want You” or “Just Like a Woman”? Would the urging to get stoned in “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” combined with the lack of accessories on the dancers have caused club clientele to drop all discretion?

Later nightclub incarnations at the same address include Uberhaus, Tila Tequila, and Moda Night Life.

A Cure for Oilcers

Originally published on Torontoist on June 1, 2010.

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New Liberty, March 1948.

Today’s ad is for readers who are puzzled whenever bags appear under the headlights of their vehicle that aren’t caused by scratches bestowed by other drivers exiting a tight parking space or provided by a bird in an artistic mood. Fret not: oilcers can be cured (however, that puddle of stomach battery acid on the ground might be a different story…).

For readers unable to decipher the good doctor’s prescription underneath the remedial box, our certified medical professional recommends that the patient should have “one complete set of Perfect Circle Custom Made Piston Rings—to be taken before the next meal. This to be followed by plenty of road work.”
Disclaimers: Only use Perfect Circle as recommended. Do not use if car develops fever, froths at the mouth, or responds to the name “Christine.”

Free to Go

Originally published on Torontoist on July 13, 2010.

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Maclean’s, March 2, 1987.

Yes, this businesswoman is free to go…into the afterlife, that is. The glowing lights and yellow arches welcome her to whatever awaits after she shuffles off this mortal coil (though it looks like it will resemble a 1980s ad designer’s dream). She should have taken it as a warning sign when the pressure of balancing so many communications gadgets sitting atop her head, day after day, caused her face to assume a grape juice–like complexion. Poor Robert will receive neither a reply about the breaking developments with the coffee supply contract, nor will he receive the page she was preparing when her brain caved in.

National Pagette was acquired by Shaw Communications in 1995. At the time, it was described as Canada’s largest provider of telephone answering services and sixth-largest paging company.

Vintage Toronto Ads: An Automotive Knighthood

Originally published on Torontoist on May 25, 2010.

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Financial Post, March 13, 1930.

Not noted in the fine print for the Great Six coupe shown in today’s ad: whether the $2,675 price tag (which, according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, would be around $33,250 in current currency) includes a replica suit of armour so your chauffeur can drive you through Toronto with that extra degree of regal bearing and social distinction.

Toledo, Ohio-based Willys-Overland began its Toronto manufacturing operations (which, depending on the source, were based on Weston Road, Yonge Street, or both) when it purchased the Russell Motor Car Company in 1916. The driver who wanted to enjoy the prestige of purchasing a new Willys-Knight had few opportunities after today’s ad appeared, as the deepening depression reduced the pool of buyers who could afford to travel like European royalty. Willys-Overland slid towards bankruptcy and, as part of its reorganization, chopped the Willys-Knight, several other lines, and its Canadian manufacturing arm by the end of 1933. Within a decade, the company developed the vehicle that became its enduring legacy: the Jeep.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Day by Day in a Cutlass Supreme

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2010.

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Source: Maclean’s, October 1972.

If your friends could see you now in a redesigned ’73 Cutlass Supreme, they’d be impressed by the new set of wheels you got to chauffeur that special person you’re trying to dazzle, even if it is the third new date you’ve gone on this week. Go on, show off your new toy in a public place where people will gawk in amazement and your date will be charmed by your taste for cultural events. Good thing you’ve ventured out at three in the morning to figure out where to ideally position the car for maximum ego gratification.

But the car and its imaginary owner aren’t the reason we’re talking about this ad. Let’s zero in on one of the posters…

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GM’s ad designers may have tried to jumble the letters to avoid copyright issues or invent a foreign-language theatrical sensation, but a sharp-eyed reader in 1972 would have been able to tell that the posters outside the Royal Alex are for the Toronto production of Godspell. After matching the poster with the program, we’ve determined the spotlighted performers below the scrambled title are, clockwise from top left, Avril Chown, Jayne Eastwood, Don Scardino (who replaced original Jesus Victor Garber, who had left to star in the film version), and Gilda Radner. The other poster includes the rest of the cast, which at this point included future SCTV stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Martin Short. It doesn’t look as if any of the pit band, led by Paul Shaffer, are pictured.

The show’s first preview was in front of a group of two hundred clerics on May 25, 1972. The crowd was pleased with the joyful tone brought to the material, with the exception of a handful of grumbling Roman Catholic priests and nuns who refused to be identified in a Globe and Mail article. When the show opened on June 1, the Globe and Mail’s Herbert Whittaker felt the cast was energetic and high-spirited (“the energy of the performers seem almost diabolical, the frenzy of their enthusiasm unquenchable”), while the Star’s Urjo Kareda found Godspell clichéd, over-directed, and full of self-conscious actors (“there doesn’t appear to be a moment which hasn’t been minutely pre-programmed and choreographed, which leaves the exhausted-looking actors without a hope for the kind of spontaneity or improvisation which might animate and surprise”).

Shortly after this ad appeared, the production moved from the Royal Alex to the Bayview Playhouse (recently the site of a short-lived Fresh and Wild grocery store). Kareda gave Godspell another go after the move and found it more to his liking (“the actual performance is much more relaxed and ingratiating in the intimate confines of the Playhouse”). After 488 performances, the final bows were given on August 12, 1973.

Additional material from the May 26, 1972 and June 2, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 2, 1972 and September 11, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: An Olympic Drive

Originally published on Torontoist on June 2, 2009.

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The Globe, June 1, 1929.

As Toronto taxpayers now own part of General Motors, we feel it appropriate to offer up a slice of their new investment’s history.

The Oakland Motor Car Company was launched in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1907 and was purchased by General Motors two years later. The marque was positioned above Chevrolet and below Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac in the GM hierarchy. Oakland-branded vehicles were produced through the 1932 model year, when the division changed its corporate name to that of a companion marque that quickly outsold the Oakland line, Pontiac.

The A.D. Gorrie dealership on Gerrard Street east of Yonge eventually sold Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles. By the time the lot closed in the late 1960s, it faced the northern expansion of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. The dealership was owned for years by the Seitz family, who were also the original proprietors of Golden Mile Chev/Olds in Scarborough.

A pair of auto-related “special despatch” stories were printed on the same page as today’s ad. In Stratford, Daniel Hohner satisfied his need for a late-night high-speed joyride by borrowing the largest passenger bus in the city’s fleet for a trip forty miles west to Elginfield and back. Hohner claimed a bus driver was with him, though he did not know the driver’s name and was still charged with taking the vehicle without the owner’s consent. East of Toronto, in Belleville, Mrs. Robert Maynes had rotten luck with automobiles. A week after her husband was killed in an accident, Mrs. Maynes “was sitting in a car with her right arm hanging out over the door. Philip McDonald unwittingly backed his car into the auto in which Mrs. Maynes was sitting, jamming her arm.” The end result was a trip to the hospital with a compound fracture.