Thursday, April 2, 2020

Capitalism, take a breather.

It's not as though we're about to fall behind all the other planets. We have a pretty decent head start. Some of them haven't even achieved rock.

Look! Rock! (Earth)


1. Pay attention to what the scientists and medical experts say.
2. Stop hoarding TP and eggs.
3. And flour.
4. Enjoy the antics of the baby feral hogs.

Before you know it you'll be back to full-time destruction of everything that is beautiful.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020


The neighbourhood is quiet. We knew when we bought a home near the airport that jet noise would be a thing.  I miss it now, worse than 911.

We've been watching the cherries bloom.

(Actually, we don't care about the cherries. We care about the squirrels, what they're up to.)

In years to come, cherry blossoms will remind us of this time.

Standing in the yard, I hear the bing bing bing of a basketball on a driveway the next street over.

The cherries are noisy too, the mesmerizing buzz of  bees. 

Those are hopeful, no?

Making chicken for dinner, I feel nostalgic for Salmonella.

Update, April 2: 

Delicate snowflakes and cherry blossom petals are falling--at the same time! 
(Some signs of the apocalypse are quite pretty.)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Home? Part 6

Wednesday, March 18 - Don't touch anything.

(Part 1 here)

The world seemed to be closer to the end than it turned out to be. There still were/are many more flights of stairs to fall down.

Breakfast: There were $9 single servings of  yogurt in what remained of the hotel's dining area, and $2 Froot Loops cups tucked away on a bottom shelf at the gift shop, below the maple syrup and keychains. Froot Loops are not as deadly as a lot of the things people eat.

There were news reports that the express train to the airport was running on a reduced schedule. What did that mean? Besides, when we thought about retracing our trip in from the airport: subway-express train-inter terminal train-all those surfaces to touch, and no means of washing our hands...we'd rather not.

We took an airport limo, flat rate $58.00, and got to our terminal 7 hours before departure.

So much space.

Granola bars, bottled water and wi-fi. We waited to check in, watching planes taxi back and forth.  Everyone was keeping a distance. Everyone was afraid. A large, bearded man at the end of our row of chairs was face-timing with his cat.

Two hours to go, we checked in. There was a long, lonely march to the gate, which was within a little island of gates way out in the airport somewhere. You took an endless underground route with fun, moving sidewalks.

We had the impression the entire airport had been constructed with the soul purpose of getting us the hell out of town.


And then the same thing in French.

We got on the plane, finally. It was half empty, as if it were 1986. There was no food service and the flight attendants were grumpy. We understood. I played Solitaire on my phone most of the way, as my daughter slept against my shoulder.

Bye Toronto. We'll meet again, do know where, but don't know when.

I love you old town.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Home? Part 5 (There's only one more part after this.)

Tuesday March 17. We just wanna go home.

(Part 1 here)

Back in pre-apocalypse times, when I booked the trip, the travel agent said, "One more day costs only $180." 

There is so much to do in Toronto. Why not?

But there wasn't anymore. There was nothing to do, and our flight home was on the following evening.

"We should go back to the U of T bookstore," my daughter suggested. We had to buy a birthday present for her brother, and we knew that the bookstore was open. We could get him a cool hoodie as the world went dark. Incidentally, the U of T bookstore (at College and St. George) was originally a Carnegie Library. (You can look that up, there's probably time.)

We walked there. Along the way we came across a woman lying on a heat vent near the old Botany Building, which has had its sunshine stolen by a shiny new biomedical building that rises on stilts. A man ran past us, to the woman, holding a dozen eggs.

McCaul St., south from College St.

We carried on and were the only customers in the U of T Bookstore.  We bought a cool hoodie from a woman wearing black latex gloves. We retraced our steps. The man with the eggs and the woman were snuggling on top of the heat vent.

We got on the subway at Queen's Park to ride the loop to Dundas.

Queen's Park is one of the aesthetically pleasing, rounded, bored-out stations, as opposed to the crass, square, cut-and-covers. This is what it looks like when you're the only passengers.

We got to the Eaton Centre with a mission to buy my wife something nice from a clothing store that doesn't exist in Vancouver. We already knew where it was thanks to scouting trips on previous days. Many of the stores in the mall were closed, and the bottles at the hand sanitizer stands were all empty. The intended store was open, but on reduced hours. We were the first customers of the day, and headed to the petites section. We knew better than to guess and so started systematically taking pictures of clothes and texting them to my wife in Vancouver so she could decide. The store manager was amused by this and helped with our task, holding out likely items.  She told us she was originally from Vancouver, but now lived in Toronto. I told her I was originally from Toronto, but now lived in Vancouver. Life is hilarious. I told her we couldn't wait to get back home.

A woman spoke from behind. "Good luck with that," she said.

We looked at her. She was wearing a grey skirt and a grey jacket. She had a snooty face.

"They've closed all the airspace. All flights are grounded," she said, snootily.

I looked at my phone, which had been feeding Canadian Covid19 alerts for the past few days. It had said nothing about domestic travel restrictions. 

"I don't think that's correct," I said.

"I work in public health, so I know. The first thing we do is shut down flights. They spread disease like wildfire."

The store manager said to her, "Can I help you with something?"

"I'm just checking to see what stores are open. I'm surprised you are."

"I'm waiting to hear from head office," said the manager.

Snoots left the store and the manager was apologetic. as if it were her fault that a random nutball had decided to scare the crap out of an anxious dad and his teenage daughter.

Ding, a text. We got an approval, made a purchase, and headed for the food court. We knew that our hotel was no longer serving lunch, which, a buffet, was a sneeze magnet.

The tables and chairs at the food court were stacked against a wall and the seating area was ribboned off. A few vendors remained open, selling takeout. I ordered  brisket curry at a Thai place and was given most of a day's worth of meat, an inkling of the feast-famine nature of apocalypses.

Yup, the Eaton Centre was closing down.  It was like being inside a dying whale. We escaped its maw and hurried up Yonge. The sidewalks were empty, no proselytizers, no man in black shouting into his fist. We got to our hotel, opened the doors with our hips, washed our hands extremely well, and over-ate in our room.

Post-prandially, daughter decided to face-time a pal. She showed her our room. She showed her Doug Ford on television. She showed her Toronto out the window. She told her that the University of Toronto was weird. a bunch of little old castles in the middle of the city.

Here's one of them.

Later: although we had consumed over-sized lunches, we thought we should still go for dinner, to fatten up for the lean times.

We discovered that the hotel had closed its dining room for all meals.

You could order a pizza from the kitchen, though. which we did. It was thin on cheese and overloaded with oregano. We each had a slice and then banished the thing to the balcony.

Here pigeon, pigeon, pigeon.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Home? Part 4

Monday March 16 - The smallening.

(Part 1 here)

Toronto getting smaller.
The sidewalks getting sparser.
The subway getting emptier.

We leave our hotel room only to forage for food. Restaurants are still open, which now, a week later at this writing, seems weird and reckless. 

*   *   *

We subwayed and walked west across Bloor to Koreatown for lunch. There were four other tables with customers. We took the subway back to Yonge from Christie (above), conscious of every surface we were touching.

"Don't touch your face."

"You don't touch your face."

We stopped at a bakery in the Eaton Centre to buy cinnamon buns for tomorrow's breakfast. We bought cheap but stylish mugs at Miniso, so we could make tea in our room.

We visited cousins at their home.  I shook hands with one, likely the last hand I will shake for a long, long time.  Then we were driven back downtown, where food delivery contractors were among the few on the streets.

Brief aside: those lovely old yellow-brick Toronto houses.

Back to our room to wash our hands, and then an early dinner at Red Lobster.  To make the most of things, I ordered a beer. 

As we were finishing up, the server, the kind of person who calls someone she doesn't know "Hon," asked, 

"Would you like another beer?  They're closing all the bars at midnight." 

I was puzzled. I looked at my watch. It was 7 PM. Did we seem the sort of people, one of whom was a minor, who would be interested in drinking until midnight? 

"Do you understand, Hon? The government is closing all the bars tonight."

Oh.  Thanks, but no, anyway.

So back to the room, this view of downtown, the mishmash of old and new that is Toronto still, whether or not the bars are open, the streets are sparse, or the subway is empty. 

One more full day to go.

Part 5

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Home? Part 3

Sunday March 15 - A brief respite

(Part 1 here)

We escaped the city, which was at a state where increasing numbers of people were wearing masks and inventing ways of opening doors without using their hands.

A relative who lives an hour north of Toronto drove down and picked us up and took us to Niagara Falls. People who visit Toronto for the first time will take a side-trip to the falls (an hour and a bit drive around the end of Lake Ontario, past cities such as Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Grimsby and St. Catharines. I was born in St. Catharines and lived there until age 9.  Our house was only 10 miles from the falls, so going back to Niagara was for me like going to a home deeper than my longtime Toronto home. I love Niagara Falls, the geology, the hydrology, the geography, the sociology (i.e., the weird museums), the history, and the hydroelectricity. I did multiple grade school projects on Niagara Falls. I would have enjoyed grade school more had Niagara Falls been a larger component of the curriculum.

Hello Hamilton.

The Niagara Escarpment, from near Grimsby

All the Niagara Parks facilities, except the washrooms, had closed the day before. (Our timing remained impeccable.)  

We parked at a lot above the falls and walked along the river to the cataract (which is a great word in this context). It was a sunny but cool day, and mist was freezing in the branches of leafless trees.


Horseshoe Falls

But we didn't linger. We had lunch at a diner-style restaurant (non-Parks businesses were still open), and then headed back to Toronto.

We diverted through St. Catharines and visited my first school. It's always fun to show your children where you went to kindergarten. It helps humanize you. (Or something, I dunno. Maybe it just bores them silly.) Last year was the school's hundredth anniversary. Many a Niagara Falls project has been forged here.

Here you have to squint. On the horizon, between fence posts 1 and 2, you may be able to make out Toronto on the north side of Lake Ontario, about 30 miles (50 km) away (from St. Catharines on the south side). Who knew the apocalypse would start with crystal clear weather?

Crop from above. 

Driving back into town. Here's where the changes jump out at you. Mr. Christie's tower used to stand alone against the sky.

And more and more. The cranes keep moving as the city shuts down. No wonder Toronto is visible from 30 miles away. 

Back at the hotel, people were checking out as the news was becoming increasingly worrisome. The hotel attempted to calm us with a robot cruising the lobby, singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." (It was Eric Idle singing, with the robot's LED mouth lip-syncing the words.) The calming attempt was not successful.

Or perhaps the hotel was trying to rid the lobby of loiterers, in which case it was very successful. 

We went to our room and washed our hands really really well.

Part 4

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Home? Part 2

Part 2.  Saturday March 14  

(Part 1 here)

By the start of our first full day in Toronto, things were closing down. This was the day we had intended to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) - a day too late. We learned from the local CBC television station that most Toronto attractions had closed.

Well, we could still walk.  There’s a lot to see in and around downtown, and I had chosen the hotel for its central location.  Off we went.

There seemed to be a lot of people yelling. There had been yelling all night long echoing through the Yonge Street canyon. At the northeast corner of Yonge and Dundas a young man dressed in black was yelling, but into his fist, which made it impossible to know what he was yelling about. His other fist was raised in the air. It was hard not to notice that there were a lot of ill, addicted, broken people, many slumped in doorways, amid the crowd. (The street was still pretty busy, especially for a Saturday morning. This was just before social distancing became widespread.)

We walked past Christian proselytizers on the corner where the popcorn man used to be, and entered the Eaton Centre. We went up and down the levels, heading to the far end at Queen Street, scouting out particular stores where we had been instructed to purchase items not available back home, but took a detour outside to visit the Church of the Holy Trinity. This little old church, which is tucked in behind the mall, was spared during Eaton Centre development in the 1970s. There's family history here. It'e where my paternal grandparents were married.

We continued on through the mall. 

Here are adjacent Canadian icons, Lululelmon, and, in the distance, the Canada Life building, built 1929-1931, and for a long time one of Toronto's landmarks and largest buildings.

This is new, the walkway to the Hudson's Bay Store, or is it Saks now? (For old time Toronto folks, it's the old Simpsons building.) There has been a walkway since I can remember, but this is a recent upgrade.

 Looking east on Queen Street, one of the new, long streetcars. At night, 
illuminated inside, they look like aquaria for humans.

And then to the City Halls: 

Old City Hall

Current City Hall (Not new; it was built in the early 1960s.)

I had not seen the TORONTO sign before. I believe it was created for the Pan-Am Games a few years ago, and people liked it. The multi-coloured circle is an Indigenous symbol that was added afterward.

As you see, there were a few people skating. I can remember bumping in circles in frustrating crowds.

We heard yelling. There was a man lying on the ground on the far side of Queen Street. People were stepping around him. He didn't look like he had fallen, at least not recently.  He seemed to be sleeping, in the middle of the sidewalk, and it was not him yelling. It was the young man in black, shouting into his fist, from Yonge and Dundas.

We wandered north and west, Dundas, OCAD, through part of Chinatown, up Spadina to Kensington Market, and them through the university.

I can see my old office on the top floor from here.
I used to watch this corner from there.

Along Bloor, past the ROM, which didn't look like this when I was last here. I had been looking forward to seeing the inside of the new bit.  We went to Yorkville for lunch. Restaurants were open and busy.

Our eat/sleep cycles were off kilter, so we took the subway south to our hotel and had a rest. Then, off to Queen Street west. 


The bookstores are gone (obv.). Also, look at these things, surrounding and infiltrating the old beauties. 

There's a boxy new MEC where The Pusuit of Happiness parking lot used to be (only relevant to those who watched MuchMusic in the 1980s). The Horseshoe Tavern is still there. A bearded, long-haired sidewalk artist was creating a chalk drawing as we passed. A beefy biker type came out of The Horseshoe. 

Biker: Do you smoke grass?
Artist: Every day.
Biker: Do you have any on you right now? 

We walked a few steps. I looked to my daughter and she laughed. We kept on, to a sushi restaurant she had found online. We were a bit early for dinner, but there were no other customers. During our meal the only person to come in was a food-delivery person, picking up an order. He was wearing a Vancouver 2010 Olympics jacket, those turquoise ones  that were everywhere in Vancouver back then.

Because the hotel breakfast buffet was unreasonably expensive, we decided to drop into the Loblaws and pick up some bagels or something. This is where we discovered that panic had set in. We waited in a long line to buy 4 bagels, 4 apples, and a box of granola bars.  The world was getting scared.

We took the subway, not very full, from Osgoode south around the loop to Dundas.  We climbed the stairs to Dundas Street. The young man in black was there, shouting into his fist.

We hurried back to our room and washed our hands really well.

Part 3