Friday, December 10, 2010

Toronto, I am Breaking Up with You

Toronto, it’s over. I’m dumping you. We had a good run, but it’s been nearly nine years and one of us has to get on with it. As Jay Farrar says, “When in doubt, move on.” I gave you most of my 30s, and you gave me a lot of affection, contentment, and high jinx, but also a lot of heartache.

Son Volt - Drown.mp3
Buy: Trace (1995)

We got off to a rough start, Toronto. Your big brother Canada didn’t help at all. On my third day here in March, 2002, on my first day of work, my manager pointed out that Canada had listed me, Amy Diane, as man on my official Canadian work permit. I had to truck back to my port of entry and change my sex.

Within days of solving that fiasco, your other big brother, Ontario, did me no favors my going on strike for eight weeks. I couldn’t get a diver’s license, a health card, or register my car. Not that it mattered that much, since as soon as I tried to get my car to pass all of Ontario’s various inspections, I had to put $1200 worth of work into it. Was my 1993 Mercury "Speed" Tracer even worth $1200 in 2002? Doubtful.

But all of these family issues notwithstanding, Toronto, my living conditions were not helping anything. When we got together I was fresh out of grad school, beyond broke, so I took a cheap apartment in the Mimico area of Etobicoke, sharing it with a dude who would say things like, "I’m not racist, I just don’t like Blacks or Jews," which was ironic to me considering that he was Latin.

And the commute from Etobicoke to your downtown was murder. How many times did I wait in the rain and cold for over 50 minutes for your streetcar that was supposed to come every ten minutes? And the brutal heat that summer in your putrid non air conditioned streetcars. Then you, Toronto, went on strike! The "Garbage Strike" of the summer of 2002, sixteen days of mid-summer misery, where I couldn’t stand the stench anymore and would get off of your streetcar at Queen and Bathurst for some "fresh air," and walk the rest of the way to my job at College and University. By the beginning of fall I gave my 30 days notice to my racist roommie, moved downtown, doubled my rent, and tripled my sanity.

Sun's Hanging Low

50 Stephanie Street: a concrete slab of all that was wrong with 70s architecture. Also, my home for nearly six years. 50 Steph and I got off to an auspicious start. I moved in one week before my 30th birthday, and I informed my new roommate Kirwin that we were going to celebrate by having a pub crawl on your streets, Toronto. My first step into the Horseshoe Tavern was that night, and I recall Kirwin buying me a shot of something that was on fire. I ended the night vomiting all over your Queen West, and for that I will apologize Toronto. But God knows that it wasn’t the first time, or the last.

You got your revenge on me the next day. Since I had just moved in I hadn’t installed curtains yet, and you made sure that the sun blared into my south facing bedroom window all day. I had to actually crawl under my bed to keep the light out of my hungover eyes. When I finally got out of bed at 6 pm, Kirwin said, “Dude, I’m so glad you are finally up. So, Bishop hooked up with.....” Turns out that while I was passed out all of my work friends had hooked up with all of Kirwin’s friends. I couldn’t deal, so I went back to bed.

Since a few of Kirwin’s friends lived in the building, 50 Steph turned out to be like a bad episode of Friends, only with sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and enough booze to drown a small country. And we had none of this cutesy shit like “OMG! Rachel likes Joey!” We had real problems, like being broke and unemployed, having disastrous relationships, having our cars broken into, our apartments being infested with mice, and having no heat in the winter. It was nearly identical to Sarah Harmer’s song “Basement Apt,” only in a high rise. “We live out where John Street ends, in a high rise apartment with all of your friends.” We did throw some killer parties though, and I think your cops, Toronto, only showed up twice. At least we had a killer view of your downtown.

Sarah Harmer - Basement Apt.mp3
Buy: You Were Here (2000)

Things were good for a while, until you decided to kick my ass in 2003, Toronto. First, in the spring you infected Mt. Sinai hospital, where I worked, with SARS. No one knew what was going on, so we all got sent home for two weeks as “non essential employees.” Some of my friends even got quarantined to their homes. It was surreal. It was like I had a snow day for two weeks, but no one else in the city did. Most of my work colleagues were from Ontario so they went off to visit family until the crisis cleared up. My family was far away, so I sat at home, lonely, bored, with dial-up internet, watching Days of Our Lives and other bad TV.

Later that summer, you got nailed by a blackout. Although, to be fair, that was the fault of your cousin to the south, Ohio. I crawled up 18 flights in the dark to get to my apartment only to find that a party had broken out on my balcony. Cool! Everyone was hurrying to drink all of the beer before it got warm. I made peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.

We all got destroyed in late August when Kath died. Fuck, how does a 31-year-old die from a cancer that usually appears in old men? For all of her short life, Kath lived and breathed you, Toronto. She should have been given more time. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you.

Finally, on Halloween, I landed in the ER with what turned out to be a small bowel obstruction. I had to have major surgery, and spent 17 days as a patient at Mt.Sinai Hospital. My mom and I watched your damn Santa Claus parade from 14th floor lounge. After I was released from the hospital, poor Kirwin had to put up with my mom living with us for two weeks while she took care of me. It was one of the most miserable times of my life. I have had continual complications and GI episodes since then, leading to 17 different ER visits and hospitalizations over the last seven years. I unfortunately know the inner workings of both your Mt. Sinai and St. Michael’s emergency rooms. But I do have to acknowledge that your socialized medicine rules, and I never had to wait more than an hour in the ER. You at least got that right.

Why I didn’t dump you Toronto after 2003 I will never know.

Outside the Stars

But things got better between us, Toronto. I took up a bunch of sports. I paddled a dragon boat in races from your Toronto Islands all the way to Sudbury, and everywhere in between. I played softball in parks all over the city, like Coronation, Riverdale, Downsview, and Centennial, and even won a few championships. I joined a soccer team and learned about muscles that I didn’t that know I had. We frequently played at Sunnybrook park, a gorgeous semi-secluded park that I didn’t even know existed until I got my city-slicker butt north of Eglinton Ave.

I took up curling. No, I became obsessed with curling. I would watch the CurlCAST on my computer at work. I would spend my Sunday afternoons fixated on CBC during major tournaments. I even road tripped to the Brier in Hamilton in 2007. I bought curling shoes, and a broom, and gloves, and a powerful curling kilt. I curled at East York, High Park, Leaside, Brantford, Tam Heather, and Avonlea (which you, unfortunately, turned into an indoor soccer arena in 2006). Once on my way to a league game, while walking down Spadina to catch the Queen West streetcar, a man stopped me and said, "I’m from Regina and I never thought I would see a curling broom in downtown Toronto."

During the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, I arranged my work schedule around specific matches. One of my favorite curling Canada moments came during the 2006 Olympics. My brother and future sister-in-law were visiting from Detroit and I took them out to the Firkin for beers on the Friday night of the men’s gold medal game featuring Canada and Finland. Since the men’s hockey team had sucked and lost early in the tournament, the bar was showing the tape-delayed curling match on all of it’s TVs. The bar was packed, and everyone was riveted by the curling action. The dude next to me poked me and said, "Do you know the outcome?" I did, since I had skipped out on work that morning to watch it. The dude fist pumped and said, "Fuck Yeah!" Yes, Toronto, even you can get excited about curling.

And since I was finally relatively healthy and active, and finally getting to know your downtown, Toronto, I started going to concerts. Lots and lots and lots of concerts. I estimate conservatively that I went to 150 live music shows in the last seven years, and that doesn’t include festivals. I saw a mediocre Bob Dylan gig at the Phoenix (capacity ~800) in 2004. I saw Dylan rip the fucking roof off of the Air Canada Centre (capacity ~19,800) in 2006, with the Foo Fighters opening with an acoustic set. Awesome. I was at Massey Hall in 2006 when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco called us all "motherfuckers" because no one was dancing (who dances in Massey Hall?). I saw the Drive-By Truckers for the first time in the fall of 2006, and was so keyed up and blown away after that gig that I didn’t sleep at all that night. I saw dozens and dozens of small local acts play their hearts out at the Cameron. The first time I saw The Sadies was at their annual New Years gig in 2006. I subsequently saw The Sadies live roughly 17,345 times after that, and I never saw my hot date from New Years 2006 after that night. Hot dudes come and hot dudes go, but The Sadies are forever. I will never forget January 2007, and James McMurtry singing the last verse of "Holiday" a capella on a bitterly cold night at the El Mocambo where the heat was barely functioning and the ticket girl at the front was turning blue because it was so cold. I didn’t even remove my toque for that show.

In 2008, encouraged by some fellow alt country/rock music lovers, I started a music/mp3 blog. Despite it being a total vanity project, my blog netted me some “press” passes to gigs, and got me on some guests lists. I also got to meet some incredibly cool people along the way. Toronto, you have an enthusiastic but tiny community of alt country fans, and this blog helped me get to know many of them, including some of the bands and artists.

Toronto, we did so many things together. We got drenched by super soakers at the Pride parade. We waited for rush tickets at the Film Festival. We wandered around aimlessly during Nuit Blanche. We sat on the 50 Steph balcony with our cocktails and watched the air show and various fireworks displays. We did Summerlicious and Winterlicious. We got stuck in soccer parties and traffic during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups. But I got the hell out of town during every Caribana weekend.

I adopted Queen West as my home. I cursed at Nickelback and other awful pop bands when they polluted my Queen West with their music during various outdoor Much Music shows. I inhaled deeply while walking through the perpetual mushroom cloud of weed smoke in Grange Park. I did tons of volunteer work. I raised funds for the Terry Fox run. I never went to Honest Ed’s cause that places freaks me out. I survived two transit strikes (‘06 and ‘08) and another city services/garbage strike (2009). I cursed your YYZ and adored your YTZ. I supposedly developed a Canadian accept, although my hometown is farther north than Toronto, so I suspect that I already had one.

I got to travel all over your cousin provinces, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Vancouver, British Columbia (but I sort of skipped everything between Sudbury and Calgary). I took a 12 hour ferry from North Sydney, NS, to Argentia, NL. I skied Lake Louis and Mt. Tremblant. I got lost in an area of Quebec where no one spoke English. I bought a used copy of Mule Variations at some run-down CD store in Calgary. I ran a 10K in Vancouver, then stupidly took the red eye home that same night (oh the pain). I spent the night in my car somewhere near Edmundson, New Brunswick.

In Another Time

Toronto, you can be hard on people. Sometime in 2007 Ryan saw an opportunity that you couldn’t provide, and up and moved to Vancouver. Somehow, that caused all of us to grow the fuck up and leave 50 Steph. Bishop bought a condo. I interviewed for a job in New York and when I didn’t get it, I “divorced” Kirwin and moved into swanky condo. Kirwin bought a condo. Grelly bought a house and got themselves hitched.

And you really started to kick my ass in 2009, when I got a 20% pay cut, even though I hadn’t had a raise since 2006. All of the noise and construction and sirens near work started to fray my nerves. The elevators at work were/are always broken, and some days it took me longer to get from the first to the 10th floor, than it did to bike the 2K to the hospital. The same lady still sat in front of the church on McCaul and asked me “for change for her son.” She’s been there since 2002. The heat/smog wave of 2010 almost killed me. And I nearly had a goddamn nervous breakdown as rioters came within a few blocks of my home and trashed my Queen West during that great fucking G20 fiasco. And more recently I had a big run-in with your Canadian immigration system. Or, I should say, had yet another run-in with Immigration Canada. I can take a hint.

Before moving to Toronto I lived in Chicago (‘91-’95) and St. Louis (‘95-’02). Unlike those cities, there was never a time with you, Toronto, where I didn’t feel safe. When I moved here it took me a long time to get over the fact that it was OK for me to walk alone after sunset without having that nervous feeling that someone was going to jump out of the bushes and murder me. I would ride my bike at midnight through the so-called “bad” neighborhoods of Toronto, where there were certain neighborhoods in Chicago and St. Louis which I wouldn’t even drive in during bright daylight with the windows rolled up and the doors locked. I scoffed at people who moved to Ottawa because Toronto had become “too dangerous.”

But Toronto, you lack on some things these other cities offer. For example, I never got really excited by a local professional sports team. Getting to your main airport was always a total nightmare, or it cost me an arm and a leg. Your beer and liquor stores close too damn early. Your job market was and is totally brutal for my field, and even many of my colleagues who are Canadian citizens had to leave you to get jobs in other provinces/states/countries. Your public transportation system is terrible. And during my tenure with you Toronto, I never fell in love. Except maybe with the city itself.

But it’s time Toronto. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot. I’ve dragged this on too long and it’s time for me to go. It’s not you, it’s me. It wasn’t meant to be. When one door closes another one opens. Cliche, cliche, cliche. To paraphrase James McMurtry, I’m onto some bright future, somewhere down the road to points unknown. I’ll send post cards when I get there, wherever it is I think I'll go.

James McMurtry - I'm Not From Here.mp3
Buy (mp3): Live In Aught-Three (2004)


toomuchcountry said...

Whoo-hoo! Congrats. Woulda been cool to see how you might have transitioned from metro Toronto to Music City USA. But a change to Beantown will be great too. What a fantastic city. But hope you got that pay cut restored & then some because the cost of living there is about the stomp the living daylights out of your bank account.

simon2307 said...

Good luck Amy.
Hope all goes well with the move.
Keep on blogging.

Cowbelle said...

Beautifully written. I think we have relationships with places sometimes as much as we do with people. Congrats on the new gig. See ya stateside.

ps- I love that Sarah Harmer song. LOVE.

Berni said...

Welcome to Massachusetts! Contrary to popular belief, the state doesn't end at Route 495 - there is a thriving music scene in western Mass. (And lots of metal in Worcester.)

Anonymous said...

Does this mean I'm left to go to Lucero shows alone again?

It's been swell. Good luck with the move. And see you at SouthBy!

Rad Jen

Ron said...

Enjoy! The music and food are great.

My inlaws and my eldest daughter live there.

I left in '89 and in the words of David Byre, "I wouldn't live there if you paid me"

But he was talking about the midwest. Silly David Byrne.