Sunday, April 1, 2012

7 Weird Things About Hamilton

A mullet you can set your watch by
So yesterday I was in a barber shop here in Hamilton waiting for my turn in the chair when I realized just what a weird ass place this city is. I moved here almost four years ago from Toronto, and some differences were almost immediately noticeable such as the lack of traffic and no condo towers popping up everywhere like dandelions in the spring. Over the years some subtle, but profound, differences have become more obvious. The guy in the barber's chair ahead of me was one of them. He had a mullet, and he wasn't just getting it trimmed, he was having a full-blown mullet maintenance procedure. He was in his 50s, which was odd to begin with; how many middle-aged mullets do you see? But what was really weird was that the barber spent a good ten minutes wielding various hot irons and crimping tools to add volume to the mullet. It was a virtuoso performance, but where else in the world, I wondered, would someone be able to find a place that specializes in enhancing the world's most risible hairstyle. Only Hamilton, of course. Here are some other weird things about Hamilton:

1.Old Cars

There are a lot of old cars on the road in Hamilton. Some are vintage and lovingly maintained, but many more are just mufflerless rustmobiles that carry their original owners around town. Partly this is down to Hamilton not being very affluent, but it's also because Hamiltonians aren't embarrassed to be seen driving clunkers. A Torontonian would die rather be seen in a car with a single rust spot, but in here in Steeltown it's almost a badge of pride to be driving something that looks like a chunk of the Rust Belt come to life.

2. Shirtless Men

Anytime the sun is out Hamilton men doff their tops. Young, old, fat, pasty, skinny, buff, sunken-chested or hairy, it doesn't matter, the guys love to soak up the rays. It doesn't actually have to be warm for the T-shirts to come off. Even if the temperature is barely over 10 Celsius, as long as the sun is shining then it's time for a tan in Hamilton. And on days that are truly hot the city actually fines men caught out in public with their shirts on.

3. Pierogies

Starchy, stodgy and usually adorned with fatty sour cream, pierogies have to be the least glamorous food dish. No Michelin-starred chef ever rose to fame on the strength of his or her pierogies. Hamilton loves them. All non-chain restaurants have them on the menu and supermarkets sell them frozen in bags the size of pillowcases. If iron ore is the main ingredient in steel making, then pierogies must be the main ingredient in steelworkers.

4. Children Playing In The Streets

What's so odd about that, you ask? Well in Toronto kids are so rigorously nannyed, playdated and daycared that they almost never appear in public. Hamilton kids are out in the streets playing road hockey, skipping rope, hopscotching, biking, running, jumping, in short, acting like kids from when I was a kid. And all of them unsupervised! Seeing an unchaperoned child in Toronto is virtually cause to call 911, but Hamilton's urchins traipse around all over the place, mostly going to Tim Horton's to pick up coffee for their parents.

5. Mobility Scooters

Could he make it to Tim's before closing time?
The first-time visitor to Hamilton will immediately notice the abundance of people in mobility scooters, usually by being bumped off the sidewalk by one. It sometimes seems they outnumber bikes. Hamilton does have more than its fair share of the elderly and infirm, but there are an astonishingly large number of fit-looking people humming along in scooters. In fact, kids (see above) often purloin or borrow grandad's scooter to make Tim Horton's runs.

6. Incompetent Jaywalkers

Based on roadkill evidence squirrels and raccoons are the worst mammals at crossing the road. Hamiltonians come a close third. Hamilton's citizenry, seemingly heedless of the advent of the horseless carriage, will blunder into the roadway without taking any notice of squealing tires, blaring horns or shrieking, swearing drivers. I have no explanation for this behavior; perhaps they want to get themselves into a scooter (see above).

7. No-Frills Restaurants

Gordon Ramsay regretted hiring a Hamilton interior designer
Hamilton has the usual selection of chain restaurants, but the local diners are unique for their complete disregard for interior design or atmosphere. Not every local eatery is like this, but an amazing number of them have less charm than a canteen in a Soviet tractor factory circa 1957.  Some of the ones I've been in feature colour schemes borrowed from prisons, furniture direct from Goodwill, and menus handwritten with Sharpies and taped to the wall. It says something about Hamilton's restaurant scene that its homegrown themed restaurant, the Bedrock Bistro, celebrates the Flintstones. The Flintstones? Really?

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