Poor Man’s Shia & Other Things

I’d read somewhere Toronto had a thriving underground nightlife, and my friends were determined to find it. Luckily some Torontonians they’d met on another trip showed us the places to go to be seen. I went along with it, despite my usual desire not to be seen by anyone but the people I want to be seen by.

Among the recommended places was an upscale lounge frequented by pretentious sorts, a prime example of my aversion to places like it. For one thing, the bartender, a  poor man’s Shia LaBeouf, flirted with tall blondes and brunettes before serving drinks to the commoners. And when he did serve drinks, an attitude came with them.

“I don’t know what that is,” he said with an eye roll.
“But,” I said, “it’s on the menu.”
“No, it’s not. You can ask HIM how to make it,” said Poor Man’s Shia, referring to the other bartender.

It was big-city snobbery without the big city.

A cab driver blamed the recession for the lackluster nightlife. After I’d lamented the empty streets and muted energy, he said people had become more careful with their money, but “It’s not New York.”  I nodded in agreement, though I hadn’t expected it to be New York in the first place.

During the day, it was no better. At around 5 p.m. everyone downtown passed in a blur of suits and briefcases. A suited drone rammed into my friend and kept walking, barely missing a step. It’s a familiar sight in big cities, but the colorless backdrop made it seem even colder.

This isn’t to say there weren’t good things about Toronto.

I was surprised by the narrow interpretation some people took of my Kensington Market entry. Though I can’t control how my writing is interpreted, it’s interesting how people project their biases onto the situation, depending on how well they think they know the people in the story.

I highlighted the interesting parts of Toronto in pictures. But because pictures can be deceiving and it’s not always easy to capture frustration visually without going into abstract or extremely literal territory (cue picture of me scowling), I felt it necessary to use commentary to provide a more complete perspective. I’m not interested in reading the censored version of anything, so why should I write such drivel on my blog?

I aim to provide accurate accounts of my experiences — at least how I see things, which is the key element here — whether or not they were pleasant. I’m not going to say something was life-changing and amazing when it wasn’t, but I’m not going to portray someone negatively without merit either. Something less than adoration is not necessarily criticism of the person but an analysis of someone’s behavior and my reaction to it, which could just as well be a criticism of myself. And because I’m a writer who thinks too much and analyzes too much and deconstructs too much, I always try to learn from these experiences and, unfortunately (insert wink), try to share what I’ve learned with others. With that said, Poor Man’s Shia LaBeouf was a douche and certainly deserves the title.

Toronto reminded me that more often than not, especially when traveling, things don’t always go as well as you’d hoped. As with anything in life, it’s all about how you react to things. I reacted by taking an hour to explore the city alone and by dissecting the trip afterward. It also further reinforced that travel means different things to different people. Some trips you take to enjoy friends and to make them, some to get away from the drudgery of daily life, some to explore the unfamiliar, and so on. All of them, ideally, allow you to learn more about yourself and things outside of it. All of them hopefully don’t hinge on a solitary landmark or mishap, because if something ever goes wrong — and, chances are, something will — then it would all be a waste of time.

Of course I would have loved to come back with several tales of misadventures and glorious encounters (though there was some of that), but not all trips are like that, just as life isn’t always like that. If it were, it would condition us to grow accustomed to extreme highs; monotony would ensue. This way, the moment something amazing does happen, it heightens the senses and makes us all the more aware of its rarity.

More common still is the sameness of life, briefly interrupted by glimmers of things less ordinary. And that, to me, was Toronto.

These pictures are completely random and didn’t fit into previous posts.
Here, a dog actually was sniffing these statues but I sadly didn’t get a good shot of it.

The day S. and I went to the Cambodian restaurant, we also came across a grocery store called “Manila,” named after the Philippine capital.

S. laughs during one of our impromptu photoshoots.

Rush hour zombies.

Flashy Chucks.

This guy hung out at Tim Hortons. When we gave him change, he started calling us his girls.

First glimpse of C.! In this picture, she’s passing through an air-blowing security checkpoint at the CN Tower.

I really liked this walkway, which led us to the tower.

The ROM. I enjoyed ancient Egypt the most. Women were held in high esteem
and could rule the country. Ahead of their time or are we just backward?

At Casa Loma after the Princess’s exit.

Subways and Streetcars

It’s easy to get around Toronto. One morning S. and I wandered over to the outskirts of Toronto to a Cambodian restaurant, where she talked to the owner in Cambodianglish for 10 minutes. “I’m proud of myself!” she said afterward. Here, we waited for the streetcar.

Just around the corner from our hotel, Union Station.

Their subway cars, at least on the line we used, were incredibly clean.

Their subway stations are pretty impressive.
Certain stops feature murals and other works of art.

It’s also a very green city. There are recycling bins everywhere.

King Tut was at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Sadly I missed it. I did see another mummy at the Royal Ontario Museum, and perhaps once you’ve seen one mummy you’ve seen them all. Yes? No?

Three impeccably dressed women sat across from us on the train. There was something graceful about them, even down to the leg-crossing.

Subway musicians are ubiquitous.

Leftovers and flowers.

Rush hour.

The Art of Undocumenting

“We should plan tomorrow better.”

We’d breezed through Kensington Market, a neighborhood in Toronto known for its diverse population, restaurants and nooks, and were in the midst of doing the same to Queen Street West. There went a bookstore, an art gallery, and so on, until we’d passed so many they might as well have been the same. My camera dangled from my right shoulder, unused, as my friend S. told me one of her detailed stories.

S. talks quickly without pausing. A simple question never gets a simple answer, as an inquiry of “Where’d you get that skirt?” can turn into a narrative of her particular mood the morning she might have bought the skirt, how her eyes might have been puffy from forgetting to take Claritin the night before, that the skirt she wore that day ripped from old age, and, after eating a grilled cheese sandwich, she saw an H&M, pulled over and…

“I think we’re going the wrong way,” she said.

Sure enough, she’d read the map upside down. We had to turn around. Our day had consisted of walking through neighborhoods in a city of neighborhoods without really taking them in. I knew we were in trouble seconds after arriving at Kensington Market, when I looked up from my camera to see S. standing a few feet ahead of me, waiting.

“Don’t you want to look at the thrift store?” I asked.
“I’m not here to shop,” she said.

Taking a picture often demands that its taker and subject be comfortable. I felt rushed, watched. She hovered.

“We should plan tomorrow better,” she said.

In my mind, the day was well planned. We’d visit two of Toronto’s vibrant areas and go from there. I’d missed her and another friend’s Niagara Falls excursion because I’d come a day too late, and we’d saved museums for another day. But without a singular popular landmark to focus on, it soon became clear we had different views about travel.

Though I usually pick a few landmarks to see, I also leave enough time to wander and document anything that interests me. This really evolved from my trips as a broke college student, when I was forced to be creative with my time and money. I rarely buy anything aside from a few trinkets or inexpensive jewelery; my pictures are my souvenirs. While I’m an observer of life, S. is an active member. She loves to talk, absorb the nightlife, and be the subject of photos, not take them.  She tells intricate stories; I listen. We get along because we don’t take ourselves too seriously, as our conversations often culminate in fits of laughter, mostly hers.

That afternoon I decided to put down the camera and see things her way. I tried to get lost in her stories, all the while inhibiting that gut instinct to document. I passed by much of Chinatown without taking a picture. There were many images, colorful ones, but I don’t remember them. I walked, she talked, and we missed everything in between.

When we got back to the hotel, we plopped down on our beds and opened our laptops. I wasn’t happy with the few pictures I had. I document things, I thought. It’s why I became a journalist. I’ve kept journals since I was 8, had cameras since I was 10, and once I learned I could publish my thoughts online, kept a blog at 14.

I looked at the time — our friend was due to return from her conference in an hour. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my camera and a map.

“I’ll be back,” I said, not really sure where I was headed.

I exited the hotel and turned right.

Tons of color and character on Spadina.

S. the model.

We didn’t figure out how to pronounce Spadina (spa DYE na) until a few days into the trip.

Kensington Market, one of Toronto’s most famous neighborhoods.

Mesmerized by the creepy bunny. Inside, there was another.

Asians & meat.

Here we met a nice Torontonian who gave me a rundown of the best coffee shops in town, naturally.

Anything but a white picket fence.

Something gritty, something neat.

Perfect for frolicking in a meadow.

On Queen Street West, we came across this contraption.
A sign on the door said no one under 18 allowed.