Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Big Toronto Apple

I’ve always loved Toronto, or at least, the idea of Toronto. Having lived in-and being unsuccessful at obtaining a visa for- Brooklyn, I always considered Toronto the next best thing to the (original) big apple, but as it stands, my impressions of it have been limited to the following:

Ages  12-14: Summers spent living at Wonderland (shout out: Ghoster Coaster and Tiny Tom’s donuts! No shout out: impossible-to-win giant stuffed animals which I still dream of…)

Age 16: Winning a Ricky Martin CD at a dirty dancing competition in Mel Lastman square…

Age 23: Getting bitched out by my artiste boyfriend for not loving the Bata Shoe Museum.

Age 27: Conquering the Leviathan at…well, Wonderland again.  Top Ten most insane things I have ever done.

It seems my impressions of T-Dot are always guided by the people I happen to be with when I’m there, so last week, when presented with an opportunity to check out the city on my own, I carpe’d that diem.  Oh and it was literally a diem. 

First of all, nothing makes you feel like a small-town hick like riding a subway. There I was, thinking I was a big shot because I know not to take the 85 St-Laurent to St-Laurent (all my East End betches, where you at? You know that mufucka never gets to that mawl..) and can pretty much take Ottawa's transit system with my eyes closed. Entering the Union Square subway, I was actually really overwhelmed. You know how people just assume that if you’re in a subway, you know what you’re doing, and they walk super fast all around you and roll their eyes when you stop to inhale for half a second? That was me, annoying everyone in the world just by being. After buying a handful of pirate booty (cute little tokens that you use on the subway and street cars), I dropped a coin in the slot with the agility of a comatose sloth, and headed towards the giant map that supposedly tells you which train to take. 

I’m used to very clear, very direct directions in NYC, but Toronto is another story..like how are we expected to just know what Southbound and Northbound means? Luckily, a very nice lady saw me frothing at the mouth from confusion, and quickly pointed to the right platform, lest my pointless bag of bones take up any more space in the crowd of ambitious commuters. And while on the train, I made sure to let everyone know I was a tourist by epically projecting my Google maps app for all to see that I am So. Effing. Confused. I will say this proudly, however: I did not get lost even once! 

Between running across the streets with a wild look of terror in my eyes (hellllo four lanes of traffic!), circling block after block as my GPS refreshed (thanks again, Mobilicity!), and eating gum off the underside of the railing (just kidding), I was basically Buddy the Elf.

And maybe everyone in Toronto saw that, because be it from kindness or pity, everyone was so, so nice to me. From the gentleman who politely asked if I was in line at Tim Horton’s (while I stood about 8 kilometres away from the café), to the street car driver who explained to me how street cars work (after I announced to all of the passengers that I’ve never been on this type of transportation before), to the lovely man at Bull Dog Café, who, when I asked him why he chose that name for his coffee shop, explained that “The bulldog is a magestic animal” and wished me a blessed day.  And some treats I acquired, fresh from the oven…

Later, while charging my phone at a Starbucks, I was approached by a businessman with a laptop, who asked if he could “nestle in” beside me and plug his laptop in my outlet. #thatswhatshesaid and of course I obliged. But the thing is, people just aren’t so open in Ottawa. We’re small-town, we’re cozy, we’ll tell you how to get to the Byward Market, but we don’t do any nestling whatsoever, and that is clearly a problem.

After getting my appointments out of the way, I spent the day people-watching, walking by the water (remember when I said I don’t know anything about geography, in the LA post? Yeah I don’t know where in Toronto I was, either..) I went to the Eaton Centre, the street, the other street, this one really nice park, and Times Square. Well, not really Times Square but…you know..

I really loved the diversity of the people in Toronto.  It was amazing to walk into an establishment and see fifty women, all dressed to the nines. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many people care so much about their image, or seen an elderly woman carry a Jil Sander leather lunchbag, or seen a perfect replica of it at Forever 21 (what???). 

Remember this bag, from like Runway 2012? I had to do a double-take when I saw fierce gurlfrend slam him down on the counter and order a latte. So badass.
And much like NYC, Toronto is full of hilarious people saying hilarious things. While in Ottawa, the most exciting thing you’ll hear on the street is the latest way the homeless guy would like you to go fuck yourself, Toronto’s exclamations are slightly more colourful, and include:
“Roll down your window and come get some!”
“He’s a real son of a bitch. Guarantee it.”
…and with honorable mention: 

“Not her. Never. She’s a real person.”

Part of a true solo traveling experience, to me, is roughing it. For this express trip, I chose to stay at a hostel near….somewhere. Okay, let me really try…it was around…College Street? Something along those lines. Anyway, it got great reviews, and it’s been a while since I slept under crusty sheets, so I was super stoked. I was surprised to receive a text message from a mysterious number that afternoon, telling me where I would find my keys, the buzzer number for the door, and my room number. Ooooooo how 50 shades of grey, I thought, can’t wait to meet the landlord! Well, to my ultimate surprise, there was no landlord. Or anyone. At all. 

The password for the door was the very tricky, undecipherable combination of numbers known as “1 2 3 4”. Although I have great appreciation for the brilliance in its simplicity, I’m equally confident that a nearby vagrant could’ve just as easily unlocked the secret code by pleasing himself against the doorknob. After cracking that matrix, I entered a dark hallway and immediately noticed one of those cats with the waving arm, just waving and waving and waving at me.  Don’t ask me how he sent that text with no opposable thumbs. 

While there was no one in this house, there were lots of rooms, and lots of Chinese writing everywhere, from posters covering windows to magazines serving as doormats. I walked up the creaky wooden stairs and discovered my room, Room #3, and its wonderful smell of strawberry Playdoh.  The room was very cold, but one time I slept in a towel on rocks in Italy, so I figured I would just deal. About an hour later, I couldn’t feel my nose, so I sent the cat downstairs landlord a defeated text. This is how it went down:

Allow me to say the “sooooory” did not help the “my landlord is a ghost” situation.

On the floor of the room: a mat with the numbers 1 through 6. A ‘choose your own murder’ scenario, perhaps. On the dresser: four stickers praising the consumption of milk products. “Mmmmmmmilk: it’s good stuff!” I’m going to die tonight, I conceded. 

No, the owner was nowhere to be found, but under the bed was a pair of slippers, and they were not facing forward the way slippers would be had they been placed there for my use. No, these were somebody else’s, and he would undoubtedly return for them, likely holding a hatchet or variety of asphyxiation tools. Every now and then I would hear this sort of vibrating/buzzing sound very much resembling that of a vibrator. Maybe that is what had been occupying the master of the house.
After charging my phone again, I walked back down the creaky stairs, through the dark empty house, and stepped out into the frigid cold to meet some friends for dinner. Took the street car like a champ (“One token for you, good sir, and a transfer for this ol’ broad, indeed!”) and wasn’t even late, which was irrelevant because the line up for our restaurant was insanely long. Christian told me this place was happening, and indeed it would be. Nazareth is a small Ethiopian restaurant, adorably decorated with plastic leaves, and serving enormous injera dishes that are well worth the wait.  The cooks/waiters/owners (?) don’t have time for small-talk, or to even explain to you what the menu consists of, so the conversation went something like this:

Christian: What do you recommend?
Lady: What do you want? Just pick and I make. It’s all good.
Christian: Okay, and what kind of wine is the house wine?
Lady: It’s red, or it’s white.

And you know those are the best restaurants – the ones where the food is so good that they don’t care to please you with their social skills. And man, was it ever good. At 969 Bloor Street West, if you’re in Toronto and have no dinner plans, I would highly, highly recommend Nazareth.

An enormous dish!

I would also highly, highly recommend the company of Christian and my new friend Leyla, who are both incredibly ambitious people and who managed to inspire me just over the course of dinner. “What would you do if you were not afraid?” Christian asked. Of course, like all confident people, he asked this with excitement, and I became afraid of the very question itself, and ate way too much injera, and hoped the question would just answer itself.  It’s not every day that I find myself in the company of people who are passionate about the very essence of ambition, and so I look forward to returning..not only for that very feeling, but for the promise of a Nicaraguan restaurant for our next date…

Returning from dinner, I found myself facing yet another security curveball: the gate to the abandoned house was shut. It’s tough enough with the code on the door…how would I ever enter El Delapidante now? Luckily, about a kilometre away, a butterfly sneezed, and the gate swung wide open once again letting me into my humble abode. Phew.

The room was warm and toasty now, and I changed into my pyjamas and braved the hallway towards the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. As I shut the bedroom door behind me, I was suddenly struck by the sleek, Audi-like shine of the exoskeleton of a cockroach. He sat on the frame of the door, waving his antenna around, probably also trying to figure out just where the hell everyone was. I let the little guy chill while I left to brush my teeth, figuring he would dip by the time I came back.
Walking to the bathroom, I discovered various projects at various stages of completion. Half-fried potatoes in a frying pan in the kitchen, a piece of paper on the dining table with several lines drawn down the middle with the pen resting just inches away, and in the bathroom: a pair of men’s briefs soaking in a shallow bucket of grey water. It occurred to me that I was in an Asian House of Wax. As I brushed my teeth, I counted fifteen chest hairs in the sink, two bottles of Drakkar Noir – official scent of creeps united, rising to the occasion once more –and a family size bag of toilet paper, visciously torn open in several places. Understandable.

I left the bathroom, walked by la cucaracha who was now viciously gnawing on another insect in a corner of the kitchen, and into my cozy, pungent bedroom. That night, as I fell asleep to the gentle whirring of the dildo next door, I thought about Toronto, and how much I had feared being there alone. I guess through the years I had become accustomed to making crazy impressions of ‘the big city’, to the point where I worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle just having a normal day there by myself (outside of Wonderland). I feared being overwhelmed, of feeling lonely, of losing myself in the crowds. But if “wherever you go, there you are”, then there was never anything to be afraid of, because there I still was, entirely myself, a real person, chest hair and all. See you again someday, Toronto!


  1. BRAVO!!

    Alisa, your writing had me laughing and thinking and just ENJOYING every word. You have a true talent, my friend, I absolutely love reading your posts! Sounds like TO was an adventure and you're waaaaaay braver than me with the cucaracha/hostel, etc. Good on you for travelling alone and DOING IT.

    Keep up the great blogging!

  2. Traveling alone is probably the most character-building activity that exists. Atta girl. xox

  3. Thank you so much Amanda! As always, I think you're my #1 fan! Thank you for the encouragement!

    Tyler, I couldn't agree with you more. I realized how much I missed that feeling.