Tuesday, March 25

2005 Flashback - 'Toronto Diary (2/5).'

DAY TWO.

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That first morning in the city, I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be a vacation as much as it was going to be a whirlwind tour of duty. Sherry had meticulously planned out every angstrom of this trip, and we only had so much time to take in every single attraction in Toronto, one of the biggest cities on the planet.

Opening my eyes, it took me a while to realize just where I was. The lush, king-sized bed in the hotel room put a good three feet of space between me and the Missus, so while pawing around in the darkness; I thought I was all by myself. Knocking my watch off the nightstand, I grabbed the remote control and turned on the television, switching to Much Music, the Canadian equivalent of MTV.

A quick word on Much Music. It’s an interesting network. We used to have it here in the states, but about five years ago they pulled the plug in favor of Fuse, a network out of NYC. They play standard Music Television fare, but then they surprise you with Canadian bands that are still an underground novelty here in the states. The first thing I saw when I turned on the station was an Arcade Fire video, followed by DFA1979. I instantly felt that I belonged here.

“Happy Anniversary”, I told the Missus as she opened her bleary eyes.

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After breakfast, the first big Toronto stop was the world-famous CN Tower. This is the tallest observation deck in the world, at least that’s what the sign told me. The CN Tower is right next to the Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play. Ironically, the Milwaukee Brewers were in town that day for an afternoon ass-whooping.

It was here at the CN Tower where we exchanged more American money and bought a City Pass. A City Pass is a neat way to get admission to a bunch of local attractions for one price. For about $50, we got well over $100 worth of tickets to most of the things we had been planning on seeing in the first place.

Another quick word on Canadian money. They have one and two dollar coins in Canada. The one dollar coin has a picture of a Loon on it, so they are referred to as "Loonies". The two dollar coin is referred to as a "Toonie". Now you know.

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The four of us got into the elevator, shooting us straight into the air at about 15 miles per hour. The elevator was glass, so it was nothing short of awful watching the ground disappear from under you so quickly. Our tour guide was a funny, sarcastic young woman who kept me from vomiting all over her. Here’s some sample dialogue that she had with us, some overall-wearing rednecks and a group of French-speaking tourists sharing an elevator:

Redneck: “How fast are we going?”
Guide: “About 15 miles per hour. This is actually the same speed as an opened parachute falling from a plane.”
Redneck: “A military parachute?”
Guide: “No. Actually, the military chutes fall a little faster because they’re in a hurry…to kill people.”

(Silence and muffled laughter by the four of us)

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The CN Tower gave us some truly amazing views of the city we were about to dissect. The tour guide also let us know that the Much Music Video Awards were going on tonight, and they were closing off some streets and broadcasting live. We decided that we would check that out if we had the chance, or at least watch it on television. Arcade Fire was playing live, so I was pretty adamant about checking it ‘oot.

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After seeing every square inch of the CN Tower, we found our car and were off to the Toronto Zoo. But first, a few words on parking.

Parking And You: How to Lose $100 a Day for No Reason.

Driving in Toronto is nothing short of a sick joke. However, I despise public transportation and choose to avoid it at all costs. It’s because of this that we spent literally hundreds of dollars just on parking in those eight short days.

Parking at the Rogers Centre was $14, and we found places that were as cheap as $6 throughout the week, but we usually had to park at anywhere from 2-5 different spots per day. You can do the math. Take it from me, if you plan on spending any length of time in Downtown Toronto, I strongly recommend taking the Subway or using some sort of tour bus. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

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Now then, the Toronto Zoo was beckoning. Several hours and several more miles of walking later, we came to the conclusion that it was a pretty large zoo. We saw every animal you would think that would inhabit a zoo, and we also saw some things that I had never seen before. Like turtles mating.

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Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the sheer amount of walking. Maybe it was the pungent scent of sunscreen emitting from a million screaming children. Somewhere along the way, we all started to get a little cranky. So early into the trip, and we were starting to take potshots at each other and argue over insignificant stuff. The zoo was beautiful and one of a kind, but it was a welcome treat to get back to the air-conditioned vehicle.

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We had some time to kill before dinner, so we decided to check out one of the beaches in the city. I cannot stand beaches, as I can’t swim and my skin is milky white. I get sunburn just sitting too close to a computer monitor, so I normally don’t have many good things to say about beaches. This beach was no different. Some highlights were Ben getting hassled by a clearly intoxicated German man ("cut your hair!"), or a woman collecting litter dressed as a clown, complete with makeup and red nose. I couldn’t leave fast enough.

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My pants are rolled up in a fruity fashion because I didn't want to get them dirty. Don't worry about me.

Before getting back to the hotel, we drove by Much Music studios to check out the crowd for the awards show. There were already 15,000 people there three hours before show time, so we thought it better to watch the awards on television. We got dinner at the hotel, and the waitress bothered us about basically everything. She made poor Ben feel so guilty about not finishing his food, he wrapped it up just to make her feel better, knowing full well that we had no fridge or preserving device in our hotel. We had a mini-bar, but I instructed nobody to open that thing if they valued their money or sanity. A mini-bar in a hotel is like a Pandora’s Box of alcohol and cashews. Avoid it at all costs.

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During the Much Music Video Awards, we decided to quickly run to the nearest airport to exchange a bunch of money. This eventually resulted in an hour of wasted time, money wasted on parking, and no money exchanged. The changing station was perpetually closed, and the man we asked was nothing short of a complete ass to me and my friends. Again, we were starting to see how the rest of the planet viewed Americans. Then again, most of the inhabitants of Toronto are French, so it’s possible that they’re like this all the time. I kid the French only because they hate me. We made a vow to never return to the airport again (we returned two more times), and went back to watch the rest of the awards. By the time I got back in front of the television, Arcade Fire had already performed. I sipped my Guinness in shame, and felt very worthless and small.

DAY THREE.

Waking up on a Monday morning without having to go to work is a welcome feeling, but it’s usually accompanied by going right back to bed. Not in this case, as we had to get going to two of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Toronto; The Royal Ontario Museum and Casa Loma. While brushing my teeth, I realized that my toothbrush got smashed in the suitcase somewhere along the way, misaligning all my bristles. It works much better now, honestly.

Driving to the Royal Ontario Museum took us straight into the very heart of Toronto. We parked our car just feet from the Eaton Centre, one of the largest shopping malls on the planet. We were just there to grab some cheap breakfast; shopping was for another day. I had never ate a veggie sub for breakfast before in an empty mall food court, but there's a first time for everything.

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So early into the vacation, and we were all in wretched moods. I was already burned out on the hours, the Missus was in a lot of pain because she hurt her leg at the Zoo the previous day, and Ben and Sherry were constantly at each other over navigating and driving. This was the day that it all came to a head.

It was good to get it out of the way early on, as to enjoy the rest of the trip. Before we get to the meltdown, however, here are some fun facts about Canadian Television.

What’s On TV? Canadian Television And You.

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Canadian Television is basically the same crap that we have in the states; they just have a Canadian equivalent. We have MTV; they have Much Music, that sort of thing. The one thing they have that we certainly do NOT have is a French station that played nothing but terrifying children’s shows all morning. These French clowns would prance around, singing surreal songs and riding those old-fashioned bikes with the huge wheel in the front. Sometime in the evening, the children’s programming would cease in favor of soft-core porn. No thank you.

The morning programming was similar to ours, only their weathermen were simply never right. Every day, they predicted rain, and it never rained. In fact, the only time we saw a drop of rain was when we finally got back into Madison at the end of the trip. They did the traffic report, which was the same thing every morning:

Oh, looks like a lot of congestion on the 424. Good luck with all of that, ‘eh?

And now sports.

Back to business. The trouble started when Ben (or Sherry, it doesn’t matter who) misread the map. He claimed it was only “a few blocks” from our car to the Museum. Keep in mind that it was pushing 95 degrees that day, and the Missus was gimpy. A few blocks made all the difference.

In reality, a few blocks were about 20. The Museum was over two miles away.

As the Missus limped along with me, she said “I’d rather be at work”. I couldn’t blame her. When we finally got to the museum, the four of us split up as I tried to comfort the Missus, in tears because her leg hurt so much. When we all met back up towards the end of the Museum venture, things pretty much uncorked.

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For the sake of fair reporting, here’s where everyone went wrong.

Ben clearly misread the map, but he’s not to blame because he had a near-flawless record for 95% of the trip. He did a much better job than I ever could have, and I respect that immensely.

Sherry was a little sensitive because she had obviously worked very hard on planning out every day of this vacation. Criticizing things was like criticizing her. That being said, she was a masterful driver in the big city, and took on a task that I never could have done on my own. I respect her for that as well.

The Missus was sensitive because of a mixture of the blistering heat and her bum leg. She was really hurting, so any additional walking in the bowels of Toronto was quite hellish for anyone, especially her. She was quite furious, but was quick to apologize and fully understand the reality of the situation.

I was always the first to criticize everything. It would appear that I was never having fun, but I usually only open my mouth when I’m angry about something. Nonetheless, if I was truly angry about something, I’d do something about it. Apart from my crotchety old man routine, I felt as if I usually kept my logic and wits about me and made sure that nobody in the car killed me. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I brought anything useful to this trip besides my money.

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Looking back, I think we were all in bad moods for the same reason. We felt tiny. I mean, we are four intelligent, independent people who had absolutely no idea what they hell they were doing. Everything we did was done with hesitation. Every decision had to be voted upon. Simple tasks and directions were being swallowed whole by the city. We, as Americans, felt arrogant, pompous and quite loser-y. When a city backs you into a corner like that, it's only normal to start lashing out at each other. It's how us shaved apes keep order. If our petty little squabble was the worst thing that happened over the course of the week (and it probably was), then we all had a pretty good week.

Anyways, we came to the (simple) conclusion to take the subway back to our car. Had we been knowledgeable of the city to begin with, we would have done that right away and saved the headache. That boneheaded misstep was enough to put all of us back onto the same happy page again.

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We drove to Casa Loma, which had a nice free parking lot. This place was way more interesting and beautiful than I thought it would be. It also featured the scariest basement ever.

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The courtyard was amazing, and the views of the city were impressive. This brightened all of our spirits, and we eventually participated in a group tickle fight (I may have dreamed that last part. You should probably ignore it.).

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I purchased an iced tea in the outdoor beverage area, while Ben and Sherry split a Spongebob Squarepants popcicle.

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This was a long day, and we wrapped everything up with a dinner from the hotel across the street from us. It was there that I consumed the single greatest veggie burger ever made. It took us a full three minutes to even determine if it was meat or not, that’s how good it was. I swear to you, burger technology is really moving onward and upward in leaps and bounds. A perfect ending to a rocky and important day.

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