Squeals And Loathing In Justin Bieber’s Hometown Of Stratford, Ontario

I’m way too old to be a Belieber but there I was on a snowy Saturday afternoon driving slowly up towards Justin Bieber’s boyhood home in Stratford, Ontario. I’ve never bothered to investigate the legacy of musicians that I actually like, so why was I paying homage to a kid whose fan base wasn’t even born when I graduated from college? Call me crazy, or worse, but how can you not be curious about an 18-year-old who has earned well over $50 million and has 7 million more Twitter followers than the President of the United States?
Stratford is a prim, artsy town in Western Ontario that, until Bieber burst into the popular culture, was known as the home of the Stratford Festival, one of North America’s premier venues to see live Shakespeare productions at five area theaters. But these days, legions of tween and teen girls from all over the world descend on the place to walk in the footsteps of their hero. Two years ago, tourism officials in the town teamed up with Bieber’s grandparents to create a “Bieber-iffic” map with 24 of the lad’s local haunts.

But the home that Bieber grew up in with his mom, who became pregnant with him at 17, and his grandparents, wasn’t on the map, so I Googled it and made plans to hit the Bieber Trail on the way home from a Thanksgiving visit to Buffalo. Stratford is a lovely town with an impeccably preserved historic core, full of appealing shops and restaurants and nice old Victorian homes.

But the Bieber home people flock to is a couple miles outside the tourist friendly zone on a nondescript, working class street behind a strip with chain restaurants and some big box stores. As soon as I stepped out of the car and snapped a photo of the home, I felt like a stalker and furtively ducked back into the car.

If I was a 12-year-old girl, my mission would have been perfectly understandable, but as a middle-aged guy, I felt ridiculous. Still, as we drove away, I wanted to know if Bieber’s family still lived in the house, so I pulled over and asked a pair of teens who were walking on the slushy street.

“Oh no, they moved,” said the girl, who was probably about 14.

“Well are they still in Stratford or did they leave town?” I asked, as my wife swatted me in the stomach.

The girl had no idea and as we drove off, my wife, who was blissfully unaware of what a large detour I had taken us on to follow in Bieber’s footsteps, lost what little interest she had in the crusade.

“This is so embarrassing,” she complained. “You’re a grown man asking teenagers on the street about where Justin Bieber’s grandparents live? People are going to wonder what’s wrong with you. “

If only my sons, who are 3 and 5, were a bit older we could have plausibly claimed we were visiting the Bieber Trail on their behalf, but alas they were too young to serve the purpose. Around the corner from the Bieber house on a typically suburban stretch of strip malls and fast foot outlets, we pulled into the parking lot of King’s Buffet, a “Chinese & Canadian” buffet, where young Justin apparently spilled spaghetti and meatballs all over himself on his first ever date.

My wife refused to come in with me and as I approached the maître d’s podium, I couldn’t decide if I should simply ask about Bieber’s first date or explain that I was writing a story about the Bieber Trail.

“I read that Justin Bieber had his first date here,” I blurted out, sheepishly, thankful that the place was almost completely empty. “Do you know anything about that?”

“Sure, we get groups of young girls coming in here all the time for that,” said a young man with spiky hair who was dressed in black.

“Really? What do they say?” I asked.

“They just come in and start giggling and squealing,” he said. “Most of them want to know where he sat, who was the girl, what did they order. But unfortunately we don’t know any of the details.”

Hoping to find someone with a bit more information on Bieber’s connection to the town, I went to Stratford’s Visitor’s Information office and struck up a conversation with Aaron Wybrow. He told me that the two most popular stops on the trail were City Hall, where Justin performed his first ever recorded song and the Avon Theatre, where Justin supposedly used to make upwards of $200 per night as a busker. (A bronze star honoring Him is now emblazoned on the sidewalk in honor of this legacy.)

Wybrow is often the first person that Beliebers meet in Stratford, so I was curious to know what it was like to encounter these ferociously loyal, some would say psychotic, young women.

“They’re hard to control and hard to talk to,” he said, standing next to a display case with an autographed Justin Bieber guitar. “They want to see everything about Justin so they’re asking every question under the sun and before you can answer, it’s another question.”

As we were talking one of his colleagues, who was manning a visitor’s information desk the city had set up at a regional girls pee-wee hockey tournament, stopped in to restock his supply of Justin Bieber maps. The demand was so great that it was his third reload of the day. (The visitor’s center has distributed more than 20,000 Justin maps since they were produced in 2010.)

Wybrow explained that the Beiber Trail had been created in consultation with Justin’s grandparents, who had just one condition for their cooperation: that their home address wouldn’t be listed as one of the stops. They have since moved to a neighboring town, but the visitor’s information office still won’t tell people where Justin lived because they don’t want stalkers, like me, to trample the place.

Wybrow mentioned that when Beiber returned to Stratford last summer with girlfriend Selena Gomez there was a media feeding frenzy.

“And there’s a rumor going around now that Justin’s in town right now,” he said. “But I don’t know if it’s true.”

That nugget added another delicious little element to my quest. Perhaps we’d meet Justin. Who knows, maybe we’d run into Him at one of His old haunts or perhaps He’d play an impromptu gig somewhere in town or busk at the Avon Theatre for old time’s sake?

“Tell me, am I the only guy who has ever come in to ask about Justin Bieber sites?” I asked.

“We have had guys come in,” Wybow said. “But they always say they’re just asking for their girlfriends. I’d say that about 98 or 99% of the people who came in to ask about Justin are girls.”

Feeling very much like a member of the 1%, we repaired to the Café 10, where Ana Staffen, a 16-year-old girl, waitress and cashier served us some great food and even better Bieber gossip. The restaurant isn’t listed on that Bieber Trail but she still fields plenty of inquiries from Beliebers.

“When I tell them that I live right near Ryan, who’s like Justin’s best friend, they just start screaming and freaking out,” she said. “One time, I was telling one of them that I had once been to a party that Justin was at and she just started shaking and, like convulsing like she was going to collapse. Then she wanted to take my picture.”

Ana was keen to tell us everything she knew or had heard about Bieber. She claimed that he’d transferred schools after just one semester in high school because he was being bullied. A few of his best friends still live in the town and some of them thought that being a member of the Bieber entourage made them like royalty.

During Bieber’s visit to Stratford last summer, Ana and a group of about 30 other teens gathered in front of his grandparent’s residence and sang and chanted for hours, hoping to coax Bieber out of the house.

“He came to the window and looked at us, but he never came outside,” said Ana, who said she saw Bieber’s movie three times even though she doesn’t really care for his music. “But eventually Kenny Hamilton, his bodyguard, who is also pretty famous, just because he’s Justin’s bodyguard, came out and everyone wanted his autograph and their photo with him.”

After a few hours, the vigil was broken up when a neighbor called the police, who came and dispersed the crowd.

One of Ana’s male colleagues said that “not many” people in Stratford were fond of Bieber, though few could deny that his popularity was a boon to the city’s tourism industry.

“He went to meet the Prime Minister and he wore overalls,” he said, explaining his disdain for Bieber. “Who does that?”

Over at Long & McQuade, the music shop where Bieber used to rent guitars, Aimee Jesso didn’t seem surprised when I asked her about the store’s Bieber connection.

“We’re stop number six on the map,” she said. “We get all kinds of Beliebers in here.”

“Tell me about them,” I asked.

“They scream,” she said. “They scream. They cry. They ask questions.”

“They cry?” I asked.

“They cry!” she insisted. “I mean full out tears.”

Jesso said that the Beliebers want to know if HE touched anything in the store, if she had ever met Him, when was the last time He came to the store, and just about anything else you could imagine. The store has an autographed guitar that Justin once rented but it’s kept on a ledge about 15 feet off the ground for very good reason.

I asked Jesso if the rumors that Bieber was in town were true and she had no idea but gave us a clue of what to look for.

“You’ll definitely know his car when it’s parked out along the street,” she said. “It’s like a Batmobile.”

We spent a few hours wandering around Stratford’s atmospheric streets, taking in some of Justin’s old haunts, but saw no sign of Him or his Batmobile. But His smiling visage was in all the shops. A bookstore had an entire shelf full of books about him. A gift shop had a whole corner of the store devoted to Bieber-related products, and even the town hardware store had a whole section of Bieber items, including cups, plates, bags and pillows bearing His likeness.

We left town without ever having seen Him, but walking in His footsteps somehow didn’t seem that creepy or shameful by the time we reached the border crossing just outside Sarnia, Ontario.

“Where are you going?” asked the U.S. border patrol agent, who barely looked away from his computer screen to see who we were despite the fact that it was late in the evening and no one else was in line to cross into the U.S.

“We’re heading back home to Chicago after a visit to my parents in Buffalo,” I said.

“So you just transited through Canada then, you didn’t stop?” he asked.

“Well, we went to Stratford just to see Justin Bieber’s hometown,” I said, betraying no shame whatsoever.

“No you didn’t,” he countered, jerking his head away from his computer screen to get a better look at me.

“We were passing through anyways,” my wife interjected defensively, perhaps fearful that we were about to be denied entry back into the U.S. “We didn’t go to Canada just to see Justin Bieber’s hometown.”

I didn’t mention that the Bieber trail had actually been a major detour. No one in their right mind drives from Buffalo to Chicago via Stratford, Ontario.

“Are you sure you’re Americans?” the agent asked shaking his head, half kidding and half serious, before waving us back in.

Back home in Chicago, it occurred to me that I’d never actually heard a Justin Bieber song, or if I had, I didn’t know it was Him. I felt about 99.9% certain that I wouldn’t like the young man’s music, but I hadn’t even given Him a chance. After traveling in His footsteps, I owed him that.

And so, on Sunday afternoon as we put up our Christmas tree, I dialed up his latest album and some tracks from his Christmas album on Spotify, which spares one the indignity of having to actually pay to hear the kind of music you’d be ashamed to be caught with in a shop.

The verdict? Spending time in Bieber’s hometown hadn’t turned me into a Belieber despite my wife’s claims to the contrary. Listening to his work confirmed that it wasn’t my cup of tea. But when I listened to his rendition of “Silent Night,” I had to admit it was good. Not good enough that I’d be sent into a convulsive fit if in the presence of someone who once stood near Him, but pretty, pretty good.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Memorial Day road trip plans focus on spending, safety and…Justin Bieber?

When we think of what we need for a road trip, a common list unfolds. A cooler, ice, beverages, snacks, maps and pillows are all normal items we might bring along. We’ll fill up with gas and head out on the highway to get away, even if just for the Memorial Day road trip weekend. This year, some of those items will cost a bit more, some a bit less and there are some new things we might want to consider bringing along.

More than 30 million people nationwide will travel more than 50 miles during Memorial Day weekend, defined as the period from Thursday, May 26 to Monday, May 30 says AAA, an increase of 0.2 percent.

“In 2010, Memorial Day travel experienced a gain of more than 14 percent,” AAA-Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai told the Washington Post. “Many travelers have told us they’ll compensate for higher fuel costs by cutting back in other areas of spending.”

They’ll pay more too, with gas running just a bit less than $4.00 per gallon, compared to $2.85 this time last year reports TulsaWorld. But while the high price of gas does not appear to be stopping road trip plans, travelers are looking at expenses carefully, saving where they can.

“You’ll see people eating sandwiches out of the cooler instead of going into a restaurant,” Susanne Pelt, spokeswoman for the South of the Border roadside attraction in South Carolina told SeattlePI.com.

In fact, new ways to save money traveling have been gaining in popularity as more people are expected to travel for the Memorial Day holiday than have since the Great Recession. That means more cars on the road, and more opportunities for motor vehicle accidents during what is already a time when safety concerns prompt law enforcement officials to begin a focus on Click it Or Ticket campaigns, handing out traffic citations for those not using seat belts.

A $200 fine does not exactly fit in with the whole money-saving focus but neither does a traffic accident and ignoring seat belt laws are not the only concern. Avoiding texting while driving is a cause that has even teen sensation Justin Bieber teaming up with PhoneGuard, a system that disables texting while driving.

“It is tragic that almost on a daily basis there are reports of deaths and severe injuries caused by drivers who are texting and driving,” Bieber said in a statement. “We need to change the attitudes in our society toward texting and driving and I am making it one of my personal goals to make this happen.”

He’s not alone in his concern either. The Associated Press reports that Texting and Driving has reached epidemic proportions killing one person every 11 minutes in the United States making it four times more dangerous then drinking and driving.

Flickr photo by richardmasoner

Where was Justin Bieber in February?

Twitter is good for lots of things, among these: encouraging solidarity in the name of toppling governments, publicizing breaking news, finding people with similar obsessions, and tracking the travel predilections of celebrities.

And there are few bigger celebrities at the moment than Canadian singer Justin Bieber. Mr. Bieber, 17 years old as of yesterday, has become an enormous star thanks to marketing brilliance, his actual talent as a performer, and a fair bit of good luck.

So what did the world’s most famous teenager get up to over the course of the month? A huge share of Bieber’s tweets in February were focused on promoting his 3-D feature documentary Never Say Never, which hit theaters on February 11.

And where was Justin Bieber in February? He spent time in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris, though what’s really striking is how few of Bieber’s tweets are about geographic location. Instead, they revolve around sites divorced from geographic specificity: television studios, movie multiplexes, and basketball games.

Below are the most travel-oriented of his tweets for each individual day over the past month. On those days when Bieber didn’t post a location-oriented tweet (see February 7, 20, 22, 25, 27, and 28) I went for whatever came closest.

A hour reviewing a month of tweets from Justin Bieber is instructive. The kid has his eyes on the prize. The spoils of success never materialized. There was no detailing of hotel suites. He attended premieres and award shows, watched the Super Bowl, and retweeted his followers like no one’s business. And he relied on multiple exclamation points along the way.

Mr. Bieber is constantly working. At some point, he should really take a vacation. And tweet about it.

Without further ado, Justin Bieber’s February travel (or travelish) tweets:February 28. im never gonna change…i will always remember…i will always be that kid from stratford…I will always be grateful.

February 27. shoutout to all of Latin America…i got love for all my Latin Girls

February 26. just got some new gear for the #MYWORLDTOUR – we coming to EUROPE next week…after MY BIRTHDAY!!!!

February 25. zero gravity + my stomach = not so good . lol

February 24. heading to zero gravity! #adventure

February 23. Just had a great time with the ladies at The Talk…they surprised me good. Met a hero of mine…

February 22. Rockin out the new #ThatShouldBeMe Video with @RascalFlatts !! EPIC!! #NsNremixes http://yfrog.com/h796zmkj

February 21. great night courtside at the All Star game… @kingjames with the triple double and my guy KOBE with the MVP!! #greatbasketball

February 20. Dream BIG and #NeverSayNever

February 19. we flew 13 hours to make the #allstargame but the French Premiere of #NSN3D was crazy…je t’aime – http://youtu.be/0D6GADVArfI

February 18. Just landed from a 13 hour flight. Rocked #NSNremixes on the plane. @chrisbrown our song is crazy!!

February 17. PARIS Premiere of #NSN3D was INSANE!! vid coming soon!! je t’aime

February 16. In route to the London Premiere! #NeverSayNever3D in the UK! Leggo!!

February 15. Headed to the BRITS!

February 14. 2nite was a great night. I got to perform at the grammys with my mentor @usherraymondiv and I feel like we did u guys proud

February 13. gonna head out and surprise some more theatres for #NSN3D – u support us so it only makes sense we support u. #thatslove

February 12. see! the crew with me to surprise theatres….we are grateful and excited. hope u are enjoying the movie – #NSN3D http://twitpic.com/3yt8er

February 11. Just surprised another theatre.. Midnight showing! That was awesome! #NeverSayNever3D is out Now!!

February 10. grammy rehearsals with @usherraymondiv – we are gettin it in

February 9. Just surprised the entire audience at @theellenshow – everyone is coming to the Premiere!!! Leggo!!


February 7. 1 more quarter. game is getting serious. #superbowl #greenandyellow #blackandyellow – who do u got?

February 6. Thanks to everyone at SNL for having me. Had a blast. #5Days

February 5. in NYC causing a ruckus with @itsryanbutler and @chazsom3rs

February 4. IN THE BUILDING at @MTV !! GET READY FOR @thesevenmtv LIVE!! LEGGO!! #7DAYS

February 3. about to head over to @106andPark and show love. #8Days #Feb11th

February 2. now getting ready for NYC Premiere for #NEVERSAYNEVER3D ….my guy LA REID told me he is bringing a special guest.

February 1. And the secret Toronto Premiere for #NeverSayNever3D is at…. Dundas Square AMC!! Leggo #Canada !!! #ProudCanadian

[Image: Flickr | Snow DQ]

SkyMall Monday: Top 10 pieces of spy gear

The world is a scary place. Heck, even the Cold War is heating up (er, cooling off?) again with Russian spies being kicked out of the US. It’s becoming harder and harder to trust anyone, even your family. Here in the SkyMall Monday headquarters, I trust Calvin the Garden Yeti and no one else. In these crazy times, it’s best to find out all the information you can on those around you, lest they try to steal your possessions, kidnap your children or take over your life like that crazy lady from Single White Female. Covert ops are not just for TV and the movies. You need to take matters into your own hands and do constant reconnaissance to be sure that you stay one step ahead of your wife, boyfriend, babysitter, coworker or daughter. Thankfully, SkyMall knows that your paranoia is justified and that a tinfoil hat is not enough to keep you safe from the people who want to steal your thoughts. They have 89(!!!) different items listed in their “Under Cover” spy and surveillance section. If that doesn’t validate your decision to spy on your loved ones, then just do it because it’s fun! This week, we take a look at the top 10 pieces of spy gear in SkyMall.Teddy Bear Hidden Camera Pictured above, this innocent looking teddy bear houses a heat activated camera which will record your baby’s entire sweaty nap thanks to that handsome and thick wool cap. It also works on grown women who creepily dress like little girls.

Tie Spy CameraWhat better way to spy on your coworkers than by placing a camera discreetly in your office attire? Of course, if you work as a lifeguard, you’ll want to make sure that the tie matches your swimsuit.

Cell Phone Spy Text ReaderThis device lets you read deleted text messages and review deleted numbers from any cell phone that uses a SIM card. There’s no way your girlfriend can hide her affair – or her obsession with the Justin Bieber fan line – now.

ID Card Hidden Camera Almost every office requires employees to keep an ID badge with them at all times. So what better way to hide your spy camera then behind that unflattering photo of that kind of makes you look like a pedophile? And, since everyone from your office park eats at the same Applebee’s, you can also use it to see who’s been spitting in your Wonton Tacos.

Tissue Box Internet CameraThe camera in this tissue box streams video directly to the web for you to watch in real time. If you see someone bring a bottle of moisturizer over to the tissues, it may be time to navigate to another website.

Panning Faux Security CameraYou’re not the only person who’s paranoid. Play on your friends’ fears by just making them think that they’re being watched. Now maybe they’ll stop leaving those bags of poop on your front porch.

Electric Outlet Hidden CameraSince it’s motion-activated, you’ll get great footage of your unattended toddler approaching the outlet immediately before sticking a fork in it.

Wireless Color Mirror CameraAs the product description so poetically puts is, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, catch that burglar once and for all.” Assuming, of course, that the burglar stops in the bathroom to put on some of your makeup. Speaking of which, you look like a clown whore when you wear all that blush.

Cell Phone Voice ChangerI’ll defer to the product description on this one: “No one will recognize your voice with The Cell Phone Voice Changer. Easily change your voice from man to woman, woman to man, a child’s voice, or even a robot–and it will sound completely real and natural.” Now you can call your ex and use that completely real and natural robot voice. She’ll be none the wiser.

Ultra Spy Hearing Ear MuffsHear every conversation going on around you while blending into the environment with your massive headphones with two microphones prominently attached to each ear.

Of course, what you do with this equipment is your business. Gadling in no way, shape or form condones you violating any privacy laws or statutes when spying on people. I assume you’ll be using these tools for educational purposes. Though, if I see you in the gym locker room in nothing but a tie, I’m going to punch you in the throat.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Photo of the Day (05.22.10)

What is it with kids today? They always have their hair in their eyes, scowls on their faces and loud music blasting in their iPods. Why all the angst? And why do they all smell like they sprayed an entire bottle of Abercrombie & Fitch cologne on themselves? I blame the MTV. Or maybe it’s that Justin Bieber. Speaking of which, who the hell is Justin Bieber? Anyways, it’s nice to see that emo haircuts and forlorn looks have made their way to rural Thailand. Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker found this hipster in a hill town in Chiang Dao. I’m guessing he loves Twilight.

Have a picture of a kid who hates his parents? Or maybe just some awesome travel photos? Upload them to our Flickr pool and we use one for a Photo of the Day.