A Soft Start to Living Internationally Part 2: Starting with Toronto

I started this series gabbing about the morning I left America. If you would like to read about how this day began, read part one of this series here (Part 1).

TL;DR – I packed up a few bags and left America.

Landing

Laurel’s wonderful friend, Agata, kindly offered to put me up during my short Canadian stay. I would then step off from Toronto to England because the flights much cheaper. Toronto, you take me places!

But first I had to get there. With the echoes of minimalism, the thrift I try to always exude, and my fear of going broke, I thought it best to walk to Agata’s place. Who needs trains, am I right?

After the Greyhound bus from Detroit stopped, I turned just about every direction before my GPS caught up. Pro Tip: the location identifier on Google Maps doesn’t take any data and is a big help when you have no other guide or data abroad. With only a few steps backtracking, I headed off towards rest at Agata’s place.

Turns out, my densely packed bags made for a more arduous trip than an unencumbered jaunt would be. My bold plan took a lazy turn after about a mile. Sweaty and disheveled, I made my way to the closest train station. It occurred to me that I would be doing this muling around with all my belongings often; this was a marathon, not a sprint. I have to take care of myself. Vigor and focus renewed, I ambled down the steps towards the Toronto public transit.

Public Transit of Years Past

I had experience with other public transit systems, just not in Detroit. The Motorcity has a rocky history with public transit. There is the People Mover, but it has a short route. The short M-1 light rail, dubbed the Q-line, will be operational soon.

While living in LA, I didn’t have a car. I thought and continue to believe their public transit is a thing of wonder. The trains and buses combine gangsters with business people, panhandlers with school children, young professionals with crusty punks, homeless folks with the retired. The public rails and wheels took me from my home in Koreatown to my non-profit office in downtown LA, to the middle school I served at in South LA (or South Central), and to the Santa Monica Beach which I visited just about every weekend – the ocean was a great experience after living in Michigan.

But another part of the public transit was the tourists. Several times people had a wide-eyed look glancing around and trying to figure out the system; which lines went which ways and were any of those ways close to the location they wanted. The escalator at the Wilshire (unfortunately pronounced “Will sure” instead of “Will Shire” as I wish it was) Vermont station separates the tourists from the residents. This is the longest escalator west of the Mississippi (proof – http://lat.ms/2pTIXo0) so while the tourists stand with mouth agape, the residents sit down to wait out the long ride.

escalator

This is just a part of the Wilshire/Vermont escalator. Photo credit Darylynn D. on FourSquare

Often a tourist would ask me with my tanned skin and long blonde hair at the time (AKA typical LA white beach lover) for directions in broken English. I would catch mutterings in broken German, French, Eastern languages which had the ring of similarity, and Eastern languages which had no similarities before the one with the best English would approach me imploringly. Usually, I barely knew any better than them, but I tried.

Now, I was a tourist struggling to figure out a new system. At least this was in English for me.

The rail system had two lines, each going in opposite directions. Nothing crazy. I knew the stop I wanted. Now how to make the ticket machine speak to me. The plot thickens.

I needed a transfer eventually so I approached a distracted teller hoping for guidance. I grabbed a ticket from the stand she pointed to, briefly wondered why I didn’t pay any money, then she let me through. Her alluring cellphone helped this ignorant customer that night.

I knew I had done wrong, but I didn’t know how to do right. So I made it to my train, sweating from the walk and the anxiety of being found out, labeled a cheat, fined, and kicked off the train forced to walk again – this time in shame. Luckily, I played it cool and got off at my stop.

After struggling through the subway system to her stop, scaling an impressively steep hill, and making it up to her apartment, Agata immediately remarked “wow you’re tall! Let’s go eat.”

While she changed, I scrutinized her extensive library judging her shrewdly. Pursuing someone’s books allows me to judge the owner by the covers, as it were. Her shelves boasted the likes of Vonnegut, Tolstoy, and Bukowski; although we had to talk our way through Hemingway, we came to an understanding. Her immediate food demand combined with her stellar book collection catapulted her to immediate “good people” status.

agata and korean

The wonderful Agata and the delicious Korean spread she located.

Agata took me to a Korean spot cementing her greatness. I miss you LA public transit and LA Koreatown.

Out and About

The next day was “Family Day” in Canada, mirroring Presidents Day in America. Apparently, Canadians are about the people close to you; I’m with that. This was great for Agata because she had the day off and terrible for me because working parents and their ankle-biters had the day off. Time for a solo outing.

Struggling through adversity and Lilliputs, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). This place blew my mind. Its vast collection spanned five floors! Check this out:

boat hullway

This area was constructed to be like an upside-down ship. It was a beautiful hullway!

If you think that is something, check out this set of stairs:

stairway

Stairway in the middle of the attrium!

Plus, due to it being Family Day, they had extra fun, such as a room for popping bubble wrap (read as “Jake’s personal heaven”). With my height, I have trouble passing for a human, let alone a child. I let the littles have their fun…but I will have a room like this (hint, hint – present suggestion).

Pro-tip: Stick around for the free tours at the AGO. They are short and sweet, but our guide was supremely personable and knowledgeable. She took us for an intense slice of some of the gallery instead of trying to hit everything.

 

lounging lady

Check out this “Reclining Figure” by Henry Moore. A little too scandalous for America.

 

Next, I explored Kensington Market. This was a great area to buy cheap, vintage clothes. This was also a DIY/artist/hippie/alternative area – my kinda people. In one shop, when a customer admitted he had never heard of Kraftwerk, the worker took it as a point of pride to play “Die Roboter” instead of pushing clothes. When I couldn’t help singing along, I made a new friend.

Kensington Market

The bizarre glory of Kensington Market.

After bumbling around there for awhile, I met back up with Aggie for so much Mexican food (in Jake that means “just enough”).

We headed back because Aggie had work in the morning – honestly, who works on a Tuesday?! We hung out, watched Black Mirror, gossiped, made cookies (she cooked, I judged), braided each other’s hair, etc. It was a good, chill night in the middle of so much excitement.

Goodbye Friend, Gay Morning, and Goodbye Toronto

The next day, after getting visible, matching friendship tattoos (sorry mom!), she went to work and I caught up on Facebook, politics, and Facebook politics. Before packing up again.

 

Before leaving the wonderful Toronto, I made it out to the gay district, called The Village, just in time for it to pour rain.

 

rainbow

So fabulous their crosswalks were rainbows!

 

Despite becoming a sodden boy and carrying now sodden bags, it was nice to grab a burger (two half pound patties with bacon – good thing they don’t have a weight limit for passengers on flights) and wander around the area where Queer as Folk was filmed.

 

glad

The best bookstore and my future home.

 

I happened across the oldest gay bookstore in the world, called Glad Day Bookstore (https://goo.gl/atmqKj). The original owner started off selling porn magazines out of a backpack in gay bars. It moved from the second floor (where let’s be honest, it was safer) to its present location which also serves food and booze and has dance parties on weekends. If they had a treadmill, I probably would have tried to apply for housing!

Begrudgingly, I caught a train and then bus during the after work rush hour surge (oops!). I made it up to the airport arriving on a day and time when most folks don’t travel – only two people in the security line in front of me! Let’s go Tuesday flights!

I arrived at my gate about two hours before boarding, 2.5 before take off. However, after writing a draft of this, I only had over an hour to grab food, convert to a small but serious cult, read my book, stress over whether or not my bags will be accepted within the size limit, and troll the internet. Much to do.

Next post will be a European one!

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