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The mats were nicely stored in the compressor room (after a big struggle last March to allow them to be in there), and when the electricians came to the rink to get the machinery ready for start-up, the recreation staff took the opportunity and hauled the mats out. Now they're all laid out, ready for the opening.
Once again there is the yearly effort to find out what the rink maintenance plans are. Every year there are new people running the show, and every year we ask for them to meet with on-site staff and rink users to talk about what works well. The meeting rarely happens. This year I also asked if I could have an hour to talk to the zamboni drivers operators during their three days of training. The lore of Dufferin Rink -- so different, so strangely "out of the box" -- is known by all the drivers. I thought I could show them a bit of the history, with a slide show, and talk a bit about the reason why a winter social space (using rinks) is a good idea. But management is doubtful that they can spare the time from all the compliance matters that need to be addressed in the curriculum.
Apparently the West Toronto rink supervisor is not available to talk about the rink plans. It turns out he'll only be the supervisor for one month anyway. The other two months of the rink season he'll be away on holidays. It's a tough job, being the supervisor. The zamboni drivers often book off sick, and then skaters get mad when their ice isn't done. Also the equipment is often broken -- either the zamboni or the trailer that pulls it around. So there might be enough drivers, but not enough equipment. That means lots of stress for the supervisor. Beyond that, the forepersons have not been selected yet -- another bit of unresolved business, ten days before the first fourteen rinks are supposed to open.
The citywide rink manager, as is his custom, has booked his holidays in the preparation time leading up to the rink openings. His auto-reply says "I will return on November 29."
Meantime it appears that the practice of "job selection" is uppermost in determining who will work at this rink in the winter. In other words, what matters is not who worked here last year, not who worked well with the other staff and the rink users -- "job selection" means that it's simply the driver with the most seniority who decides where he wants to be. And city management agreed to that, during negotiations.
The rink manager says I can't make the presentation to the zamboni drivers. Too bad. But there's something worse -- a sudden announcement that the rink season will be shortened by a week for the fourteen rinks due to open on Nov.20. The reason given is the weather. The rinks have compressors so they don't need to rely on freezing temperatures, and the forecast for the week is mostly cloud and rain, making it even easier to flood. It's hard not to think that the problem is not the weather but the fact that city staff are not ready for the opening. The rink surface is still full of leaves and dirt, the dasher boards haven't been painted yet, and still nobody knows who the forepersons will be.
Last year's promises about running a better program this year -- out the window.
Two painters were painting the dasherboards, but first spending a lot of time sweeping leaves out of the way, because the rink surface has not been cleaned. One painter is on loan from the sign shop. He says the city used to have six painters, now they have one. And six carpenters to fix boards, benches, etc., and now they have one.
No response to our request to use Dufferin as a test rink.
Harbourfront is ready to open tomorrow morning but no municipal rinks have started making ice. The city is still in the early preparation time. Today someone got rid of the leaves on the rink and hosed the rink down, very quickly.
Weather: High of 14, low 13. Showers.
No ice making. Program staff swept off the leaves that returned and the news came that the compressors would be turned on tomorrow. The Parks director called to set up a meeting but he was unwilling to try any experiment involving ice-making, saying that his technical services staff are the experts and he defers to them.
Harbourfront, by comparison, is open and their skating lessons are not cancelled despite the light rain.
Weather: high of 14 in the morning, sun and cloud, then dropping to 4 in the afternoon. Low 0.
Compressors turned on at 6.30 pm.
Weather: high 3, low 0. Sun and cloud.
Two staff putting on floods between 10 pm and 4 am.
Weather: High 6, low 0. Rain showers.
Three staff at rink, two flooding between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., one removing leaves from outside the rink fence. Ice building up well. No evening shift.
Heavy rain around 10 pm. Two staff arrive, but no zamboni yet to take the water off. Staff in garage, waiting for the rain to stop.
Weather: low -2, high +6, a few snowflurries
Ice is solid at 7.30 a.m., but thin on the pleasure-skating side, some cracks. Zamboni arrived before 9 a.m. Hose-flood of the hockey side. New staff being trained on the zamboni, on the day shift. No evening shift. In the evening, some skaters tried the ice and found it very good. Overnight flood staff arrive at 10 pm.
Weather: high 4, low -2. Sun and cloud, with snowflurries. Morning-shift operator scraping and flooding ice at 7.30 a.m. Left for coffee at 9 and then it started snowing -- he returned right away and got the snow off. Big improvement over last year's rationing of ice maintenance!
The rink was very crowded with a lot of restless teenagers who all wanted to play hockey but had to wait for their time on the schedule. On the afternoon shift it was even more crowded. The new zamboni operator was being trained by the overtime (double shift) daytime operator. Training should not happen on the opening weekend -- it's really tough for the zamboni student to have so many people watching. It's tough on the rink users too, since the ice maintenance inevitably takes much longer.
A 15-year-old crashed into a bunch of his friends on the ice and got a concussion -- he could walk around but was confused. Taken to the hospital.
Weather: high 1, low -1. Mostly cloudy.
The rink was quite crowded in the afternoon. For the ice maintenance at 2.30, rink staff blocked off half the ice at a time (since Sunday daytimes are pleasure-skating only), and then reversed it. Seems to work okay. Today again, the new zamboni operator is doing her ice-resurfacing training on the afternoon shift, again with a double-shift daytime operator (very expensive overtime), again with all those skaters crowded against the fence, watching every mistake.
One ex-problem fellow at the park (who stole money and caused other kinds of worries ten years ago) came to skate with his wife and two little kids. They looked great all together. Then a sometime marijuana dealer from the summertime came and rented skates for him and his two kids, and they stayed out on the ice for a long time. His little daughter is ambitious in sports, and he seems to put his energy there. Then the guy who smashed so many windows at the rink three years ago came and said he'd straightened out. He said the Mall is about to drop the ban against him and that he's "going to school a lot more." He looked directly at me as he was speaking -- first time -- and shook my hand. One of the program staff dropped his rink ban last summer. So he's clear with us as well.
I said, "your mom must be so glad," and he smiled and nodded. She's a nice lady, and she was really worried.
I can hardly exaggerate how good this is. It looked so bad before. Everybody returns to the rink, and that's how the good news comes through, when it's there.
An hour after the good news, the other side. A group of at least ten Tibetan youth came to the rink (no skates) and challenged some other youth to fight. The other youth, also not skaters, had been talking to their skating friends in the hockey-side players' boxes. So there were suddenly two groups of youth running around to the front of the building, nearer to Dufferin Street. One of them shouted "want to see what I have in my pocket?" -- at the same time as the rink staff (and a few adults witnessing this) called 911. The staff called out "police are coming!" and that dispersed the groups, even before the police arrived. A very stupid scene.
Weather: Low of -4, high of +6, sun and cloud.
The rink was overwhelmed with skaters, or at least, would-be skaters -- when 62 guys are on the shinny hockey rink, there's not much of a game to be had. That was in the evening, the worst being the 18-and-over time slot. Some of the youth with anger management-problems (as they sometimes describe it) made such a lot of trouble that the staff kicked out a dozen of them for the night. This group then congregated just to the south of the rink near the footpath and yelled profanities and waved their sticks around. People going by on the footpath gave them a very wide berth. The rink staff -- already overwhelmed with the crush inside the rink area -- called the City's Corporate Security. A security staff person came and talked to the group -- very briefly -- but then left, saying he had things to do elsewhere. The ruckus continued and so the staff called the police.
By this point, there was talk of shutting down the rink, as more skaters kept arriving and had to be turned away. The zamboni driver, and even some of the skaters, agreed that it might be a good idea.
But then the trouble-maker group mostly went away, having heard that police might come, and enough disappointed skaters left on their own, that the scene became more manageable. When the police came, they arrested one youth who could not stop mouthing off.
This is an artificial scarcity -- there are four excellent outdoor rink pads within a 20-minute walk of here, all of them still without ice. The wish to skate, play, have vigorous exercise -- why is it ignored? Hard to know.
Weather: low 4, high 11. Lots of rain.
Mercifully the rain kept people away. There were still people at the rink, including four women eager to inaugurate the women's hockey season, but it was a small number. Three of the troublemaker kids were kicked out for the day.
Weather: high of 4 in the morning dropping to -1. Cloudy.
The rink was crowded again and extra staff came in, stationed at the hockey gate, on the pleasure-skating side, and inside. Culture-link brought lots of newcomer skaters who borrowed skates and wobbled all around the ice -- fun. The snack bar was closed for much of the evening so that staff could be on top of the troublemakers. Kids smoking weed were ejected from the bathroom and the rink. Kids were taken to sit on the outside bench for lectures on behaviour. The rain had made enough ice at Wallace and Campbell rinks that the kids who felt they couldn't behave better were sent on their way to skate at the other rinks.
So there were moments of rationality. The younger kids settled down and got sweeter. But strange moments still -- a man came in and said he'd just been robbed by kids down near Dufferin Street, tried to collect money for his bus fare back to Ajax. It took a while for rink users to figure out they were being scammed.
Another guy -- heavy tattoos and maybe in his twenties -- grabbed a young teen's hockey stick and went off. The kid yelled at him to give his stick back, and the staff confronted him too. He acted calm and then lost it, told the kid he had a switchblade and cursed him. Then he left the rink building. The staff called the kid's mom, who said she'd just bought this expensive stick on half-price sale for $50, but she's a single mother and can't afford to replace it. So $100 of the cookie money went to get the kid another stick. (It's no longer on sale.) The kid was brave to confront the guy, and he was crying with frustration when the guy left.
Weather: high of 2, low of -3. Mostly cloudy.
Market day, so a different kind of crowded. During the 12 and under time a mother told the staff that if they didn't divide the rink in half, so the smaller kids could have half from themselves, she (the mother) would lay charges if anything happened to her little boy. one thing the mom didn't like was that there was an older boy, just learning to skate, who had been allowed on. Parents of young kids sometimes have their whole horizon filled out by their own child.
The troublemakers have gotten more mellow again. The in-charge staff spent hours talking to each of them in turn, outside in front of the rink house, on the coloured bench near the pay phone. The kids listen, sometimes quite gravely, and they don't shout or interrupt nearly as much.
One of the staff sent around a note about the "by donation, pay what you want" food policy: "if someones been particularly troublesome for the day and now they'd like a mini pizza, hot dog, cookie, whatever..as far as I'm concerned they can choose to donate or not, they won't be getting anything, and will be doing me a favour by taking off their skates and going to the mall."
Some of the staff say they've been having trouble sleeping, they come home so tired and disturbed. But they're doing it -- they place is slowly settling down despite the crowds, and there are moments of good fun.
At the end of the evening, when it came time to turn over the pleasure-skating side to the pond-hockey players, there were lots of familiar faces. It feels so friendly sometimes.
Weather: high of 4, low of -9. Raining.
9:30 the zamboni staff lifted gates and nets. light maintenance done on ice.
Aroud noon, pushed off and sucked up water with zamboni - 45 minutes maintenance
3:30-4, light scrape to clear up rain bumps (pretty dry already)
4:45 - decided not to do maintenance. no use and not much rain bumps
6pm - asked for check in but decided together no need for maintenance
8pm light scrape of hockey pad (snowing)
All day 5 youth, sister taking her brother out for skating for the day, even tho it was raining, she didn't want to disappoint. the got free rentals for the day and free hot chocolate when the zamboni driver was on both pads.
It sounds like there might be talk again of the dangers of having the lift gates up with people skating on one side when the zamboni is on the other - we'll have to ask about that.
Ice maintenance: pre 9&9am scrape/flood; 11.45 scrape flood; 2.45- scrape only; 5.15 scrape only; 7pm scrape and flood; 8:55 scrape and flood.
Five youth were very angry to be told that they could not play on the over-18 time slot because they hadn't brought I.D. They cursed the staff so badly that they were asked to leave. This cursing was drawn out for about half an hour, and the expressions used were quite varied and remarkable. The story the group told, very loudly, was that the staff were "hippies" and "manga-cakes" who probably all ride bikes and do organic farming, and that the group would report them to Mayor Ford. The main descriptor was "bitch," though.
These young fellows looked quite normal but what came out of their mouths was astonishing.
Apart from that, the rink was busy all day, but there were many moments when the rink house was very peaceful, though every sitting place was full. An after-Christmas lull.