The Drive-In: A Perfect COVID-19 Activity

Originally published in Volume 6 of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine at: https://www.flipsnack.com/IdeaExchange/alonetogether-issue-6-retrodiscoveries/full-view.html

When our lovely Idea Exchange Volunteer Coordinator, Shannon, reached out to me to write an article about my first experience at a drive-in theatre, I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Vancouver, where the closest drive-in was in a suburb an hour away. I don’t think I even knew what a drive-in was until I came to Ontario! After a quick Google search, I decided to take myself out for a Thursday night date at the Mustang Drive-in to see the 80’s classic films Dirty Dancing (which I had only recently seen for the first time on Netflix) and Footloose (which I knew nothing about).

I wasn’t quite sure when people tend to arrive at a drive-in, or what the quality of the food at the concession stand would be, so I drove to Guelph early to grab a quick dinner. I stopped by Royal City Park to eat my sandwich and say a socially-distanced hello to a few friends from the Flying Dance Community; I used to be a regular at their Friday night social dances, back when those existed. The familiar Latin music piping from their speakers as they set up for a lesson in the gazebo put me in the perfect mood to head to the drive-in for some Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey!

I arrived at the Mustang five minutes after “doors” opened to find about 30 pick-up trucks and SUV’s already parked on the simple gravel lot. Most people had backed into their appropriately distanced spots and were setting up with blankets in their open trunks. I found a place with a good view of the large screen and ventured out of the car to check out the single building at the back of the lot. The cash-only concession stand had a small selection of candies and cold drinks, with just a few pre-wrapped burgers under some heat lamps, the sight of which made me glad that I had eaten before attending. The washrooms were well-maintained and clean (for some reason I had been expecting Port-a-Potties), but I wished I had brought a flashlight as I navigated puddles on my way back to my spot.

I leaned my seat back and settled in for several hours alone in my car. I found myself wishing for a hot drink and a blanket as I waited for the movies to begin, especially as the evening grew colder and rain began to pour down in sheets – it almost completely obscured my view of the first fifteen minutes of Dirty Dancing. Thankfully, the rain did not return for the rest of the evening as I enjoyed the feature films. I was originally hesitant about the sound quality in my very old little Toyota Matrix, but the audio came through loud and clear through the radio.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience at a drive-in, despite being alone and cold. I look forward to returning with friends and blankets some day!

July Roundup

Read time: 2 minutes

What a busy month! I’ve been fortunate to start some projects for a couple of new clients, as well as do a whole bunch of writing on the side. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to…

Writing

I love writing articles and blogs, so when the chance comes to guest-write for other people, I jump at the chance! Somehow, I was lucky that every contributed article I wrote in July was about my great passion, sustainability. From writing about a ground-breaking net-positive workspace to turtle protection, I had a great time highlighting the important work our community is doing to ensure the safety of our natural world. I also provided some tips about reducing food waste in the kitchen for the University of Guelph Sustainability Office student blog. I don’t always get the chance to write about topics I love so much, so this month was an absolute pleasure.

Reading

As usual, I’ve been reading up a storm. (If you’re interested, you can find me on Goodreads.) This month, as an added bonus, I submitted my reading history to the new Idea Exchange Summer Reading Program for the chance to win a prize to some local businesses.

My reading choices this month included:

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, by Nadia Murad: The true story of a young woman who was swept into the ISIS slave trade in 2014 following a massacre by Islamic State militants in her home of Kocho, a small village in Iraq. She is held captive, abused, and raped before she manages to escape.

Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice: A novel about a small Anishinaabe community following a long blackout. Without power or food supplies, tension begins to rise among community members – and then, people from the south begin to arrive, disrupting their lives even more.

I’m Afraid of Men, by Vivek Shraya: In this beautiful memoir, trans artist and professor Vivek Shraya describes her experience with misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

The Matched Series, by Ally Condie: This series, which is faintly reminiscent of The Giver, tells the story of the Society, in which officials decide everything for the community members including their jobs, spouses, and even death dates. Suddenly, something goes wrong with the perfect system, and young Cassia and her friends are thrown into uncertainty.

June Roundup

Read time: 3 minutes

In June 2017, I made my annual trip to Toronto to attend the Pride Parade with my friend. We jockeyed for a good spot to watch the floats. After a while, the parade completely stopped. We learned on Twitter that a group called Black Lives Matter Toronto was staging a sit-in. As we sat in the hot sun, I said to my friend, “I’m tired of waiting for this parade.” And she said, “If you’re tired after half an hour, think about how Black people feel.”

Of course, I had no idea how Black people felt. My friend’s comment made me realize that I wasn’t making space in my life to hear the stories, perspectives, and history of the Black community. I had and continue to experience racism and fetishism as a visible minority, but I am a light-skinned cis/het woman who has privileges that others do not, and I have no idea what it is to walk the world as a Black person.

I began to follow some Black influencers and activists on social media and consciously sought out media and content that wasn’t from straight white men. But I freely admit that I could and should have done more to educate myself.

You may have seen on my social media accounts that my partner and I made some recent donations to support organizations like the Nia Centre, the Black Business and Professional Network, and Across Boundaries. But that is not enough. I also commit to amplifying the voices of others through my work as a storyteller, especially underrepresented voices. I will create content that does not promote harmful stereotypes or systemic racism, even if I have to challenge a client’s wishes. In my personal life, I will support more local Black-owned businesses and encourage the people around me to become more informed.

For the June Roundup, here are some of the things I have been reading and listening to:

Brother by David Chariandy

This novel tells the story of two young brothers growing up in Scarborough, Ontario in the 90’s, facing prejudice and injustice every day. Their hopes and dreams are cut short when a particular gun shooting changes their lives forever.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

I am about a third of the way through this book, which compares the modern American justice system to the Jim Crow laws which designated Black people as second class citizens.

What a Day Podcast (Crooked Media)

This daily American podcast, hosted by comedian Akilah Hughes and reporter Gideon Resnick, takes a look at each weekday’s news in a way that is both entertaining, informative, and motivating. They often approach news stories from a diversity-focused lens.

Colour Code Podcast (Globe and Mail)

I have just downloaded all eleven episodes of this podcast which examines race in Canada. I am looking forward to listening to it.

I am always open to recommendations to diversify my views. Please reach out to me if you have suggestions at hello@valeriechong.ca.

May Roundup

Read time: 2 minutes

Here’s what I’ve been up to this month. Enjoy!

Learning

Back in the Saddle

The return of beautiful weather and the continuing quarantine have pushed me to pull out my old bicycle. I learned how to ride as a child, but am unfamiliar with bicycle road procedures and shaky on busier roads. This month, I’ve been learning about arm signals and rules of the road as a cyclist. I’ve also started exploring Cambridge’s vast array of trails and bike lanes. I feel lucky to have so much nature just in front of my handlebars!

Reading

The Libby App

Long after audio books became widely popular, I refused to swap my weekly visit to the public library for an app on my phone. I loved everything about visiting my local branch of the Idea Exchange (Cambridge’s public library): the opportunity for a walk downtown, the chance to say hello to the familiar staff, and a comfy seat by the large glass windows. And besides, I had my earphones in during every waking hour – my eyes and ears needed a break!

Of course, COVID-19 put a stop to that lovely habit. Once I ran out of books to read at home, I finally cast around for an audiobook option. I briefly considered and discarded Audible and looked with interest at Libro.fm (similar to Audible, but supports local bookstores), but ultimately settled on the free option provided through the Idea Exchange: the Libby App. It’s easy to use and has a great selection of audiobooks and e-books.

I am currently listening to If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. It is a beautiful novel about Amanda, a transgender teenage girl who moves to live with her father in Tennessee for a fresh start following a physical assault in a women’s bathroom in Georgia. Her struggle to navigate life and love has touched my heart.

Eating

Local restaurants I’m loving:

Andy’s Pizza (Galt/Cambridge): this family-run local joint has delicious pizza and friendly service. Be sure to try their honey garlic wings!

Hungry Ninja (Galt/Cambridge): it’s hard to find good sushi in Cambridge (unless I make it myself), but at least I know I can always grab a decent salmon sashimi and shrimp tempura bowl at Hungry Ninja.

Barnacle Bill’s (Galt/Cambridge): these guys know how to fry a fish! Be sure to call ahead as their line can get a bit long. I love the cod & chips (pictured).

April Roundup

Read time: 3 minutes

Here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, and learning this month. Enjoy!

Reading

Chop Suey Nation, Ann Hui

In this memoir/historical/travel adventure, Ann Hui embarks on a cross-Canada road trip to explore the odd phenomenon that is “chop suey” (or “bits and pieces”) cuisine. Over crispy egg rolls and brightly coloured sweet-and-sour pork, Hui speaks with restaurant owners to understand what has brought them to Canada’s smallest towns to serve this odd version of Chinese food. Along the way, she discovers her own family’s chop suey story.

This book spoke to me on an unexpectedly personal level. Like the author, I’ve scoffed at “chop suey” cuisine for most of my life. You wouldn’t catch me eating a fried chicken ball for any amount of money. In Chop Suey Nation, Hui provides the context I needed to understand why Chinese restaurant owners serve this food day after day, and why every restaurant somehow has the same decor, menus design, and furniture no matter where you are in the country.

My family was part of an early wave of Cantonese-speaking Chinese mainlanders who came to Canada long before the influx of wealthy Mandarin-speaking expats from Hong Kong (many of whose children were my peers during adolescence). As I was reading, I remembered that in the 70’s, my own father had worked for a time in my Uncle’s chop suey restaurant in the Vancouver area. I had no idea that this narrative was so wide-spread in the Chinese-Canadian immigration experience until I read Chop Suey Nation. Growing up, I read voraciously, but never found novels with my own perspective – the child of a child of Chinese immigrants, mostly Western, and yet inextricably still Chinese. Now, I understand how these Chinese restaurant owners have worked so hard to be here, making chow mein noodles and lemon chicken.

It’s not often that a book truly changes my outlook on something, but Chop Suey Nation has done just that. I have a newfound respect for restaurants at which I previously would have wrinkled my nose, and for the hard-working restaurateurs of my own family. It’s the perfect book to kick off Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (May).

The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, Terry O’Reilly & Mike Tennant

The Age of Persuasion is filled with funny anecdotes from O’Reilly’s long and successful career in radio advertising. It provides insight into the evolution of persuasive marketing, examines the successes (and failures) of guerrilla campaigns, and discusses the Great Unwritten Contract between advertisers and consumers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It provided an excellent backstory to the strategy and communication tactics I use every day in my life as a freelancer. It also gave me a peek into the world of national agencies and big campaigns that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to be a part of. This book is accessible to everyone and has the same flavour as O’Reilly’s current podcast, Under the Influence. Recommend!

WATCHINg

Never Have I Ever, Netflix

Never Have I Ever is a charming new Netflix coming-of-age series about Devi, an Indian-American teenager, who is dealing with the death of her father while navigating high school and family drama. It explores themes of dual cultural identities, grief, young love, friendship, and more.

I binged this series within a few days of its release. Throughout the funny, heartwarming and sometimes painfully awkward scenes, I kept thinking about how much it would have meant to me (and other visible minorities) to see a TV series like this when I was in high school. At one point, Devi bemoans that she feels both “too Indian” and “not Indian enough” – an extremely familiar feeling to me. Mindy Kaling has created a beautiful show with complex and diverse characters. This is the representation I want in my television shows!

March Roundup

Read time: 2 minutes

Here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, and learning this month. Enjoy!

Reading

Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower tells the story of a society fallen to drugs, war, and climate devastation. Lauren Olamina lives with her family and a close group of neighbours within a walled community near Los Angeles. When the walls fall, Lauren is thrust into the outside world in search of safety.

I read this book as part of Life’s Library Book Club. It reminded me a little of The Walking Dead in that, while the environment is harsh and resources are limited, it is other desperate humans that pose the greatest to danger to Lauren and her friends. It’s a thought-provoking and cautionary tale. Well worth a read.

Listening

Rewrite The Stars, The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman is a musical movie loosely based on the life of P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), a famous 19th century American Showman. A man of humble beginnings, P. T. dreams of a life of glory and fame. He gathers a group of outcasts and begins a circus.

Zac Efron plays P. T. Barnum’s business partner, Phillip Carlyle, who falls in love with the trapeze performer, Anne (Zendaya). Phillip is determined to date Anne; she is more reluctant, knowing that their interracial relationship would be more than difficult. I’ve had Rewrite The Stars, their love song, stuck in my head for weeks. It has gorgeous harmonies and is performed on trapeze – what’s not to love?

Phoebe Reads A Mystery, This Is Criminal Podcast

This Is Criminal Podcast usually covers quirky or unusual crime stories in half-hour episodes. Since the onset of COVID-19, however, showrunner Phoebe Judge has had to pause the show. She’s currently reading a chapter a day of a classic mystery book, beginning with The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. Phoebe’s calm, soothing voice has been a welcome sound during a stressful time.

Learning

Lynda.com Learning Video Courses

I recently discovered that I have access to Lynda.com, now also known as LinkedIn Learning, through my local public library account. The website has video courses for everything from Project Management to building a website to learning how to code. I’m about halfway through a course on the Basics of Graphic Design and am finding the videos extremely easy to follow. If you are finding yourself at a loss without something to do, why not brush up on some old skills or learn something new?

Starting Something New

Read time: 3 minutes

It’s been eight days since Premier Ford officially declared Ontario to be in a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Public facilities, theatres, and restaurants are closed; we’ve been advised to stay home. Since then, I’ve missed activities, social gatherings, and networking coffees. I haven’t been to my favourite thrift stores, local restaurants, or dance classes. I, like the rest of the province, feel as if I’ve been handed a sudden prison sentence with no end date.

It’s a little strange that I feel so trapped by this pandemic. I was let go from my role at a Marketing Agency in September and have been living a life of “funemployment” ever since. I’ve spent most of the last several months propped on my elbows on my pull-out couch applying to jobs, sending networking emails, and generally trying to figure out my life. Sure, I have the odd freelancing client, but thanks to the nature of digital marketing, I can do most of my work from that same position on the couch. You’d think that an order to stay home wouldn’t really affect me. The truth is, it’s torn away what felt like the only bright spots in my life: physical contact with the outside world.

After a week of self-pity and wallowing, I drag myself outside for a walk. I’m fortunate to live in Cambridge, Ontario, where there is more than 50km of trails running through the city and along the Grand River. I’m not much of a outdoorsman, but I’m grateful for those trails today.

As I wander along the path, I realize that I’m noticing small things that I would have previously ignored. The roar of the distant traffic, the chatter of birds, and the intense gaze of a small chipmunk catch my attention. I glance down at a dried river-bed and notice small pools of water caught in the footprints of absent rocks. Is everyone else noticing these things too, as they are pushed unexpectedly out of their regular routines into quiet walks in nature?

I realize I’m walking a lot slower than my usual meaningful stride when I hear someone approaching behind me. I step aside to allow her to pass by without getting too close, smiling as her small black poodle pit-pats away with a leaf stuck stubbornly to its tail. And with that smile, I’m ready to go back home to my couch.

That evening, I finally confront the fact that it might be weeks or months before we can resume our vies quotidiennes. My naturally practical side kicks in. If the job market was difficult before, it will be even harder now. Perhaps this is the push that I needed to fully embrace the life of a freelance marketer, which I had only dabbled in thus far. And so, a new adventure begins…