Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On Tour: Toronto

Christine and I just got back from a trip to Toronto to see her parents, pitifully my first time out of the country. They didn’t even stamp my newly-minted passport at the security checkpoint, so technically my documentation says I’ve still never left the country, but we’re going to Germany in July for a wedding so I’m making damn sure they stamp it. Hell, I might even see if they have any Canadian stamps there, and if they can postdate it. A few notes from north of the border:

I got to experience, multiple times, the Canadian equivalent of Dunkin Donuts, Tim Horton’s. Christine’s dad even gave me a brief history while I had a double chocolate donut and a way-too-sweet iced cappuccino at the Niagara Falls location. I’m no hockey fan so I didn’t know Tim Horton was one of Toronto’s most beloved players, winning 4 Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs from 1961-1967; I thought that was pretty impressive until I found out there were only six teams in the NHL at that time. Anyway, the kicker of the story was the way he died – almost 30 years before OJ, he was involved in a high-speed police pursuit, but he wasn’t quite so lucky . Hopped up on a painkiller-vodka cocktail, he flipped his sports car over a curve in the QEW at over 100MPH and was thrown from the vehicle . Needless to say he died, but here’s the irony I found after hearing the story – a man killed while being chased by cops leaves behind a legacy of Canada’s most well-known donut shops? I wonder if they cross themselves before ordering.

In other sports-related Toronto news, I got to see my beloved-loser Royals play the Blue Jays on Saturday at the retractable dome. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the 70s, which was nice after our first couple days there that were cloudy and in the 40s. It was a vintage Royals game – they gave up 4 runs in the first inning, racked up 7 hits without scoring in the next few innings, and gave up 2 more unearned runs – one walked in with the bases loaded and one off a throwing error to first base on a routine ground out. I really thought the Royals might finish around .500 this year, but even that modest goal seems at least another year away. Their scoring is so anemic that this past week opposing pitchers have thrown a no-hitter and 2 complete games. To put this in perspective, Jon Lester’s no-hitter was the first of the year and the 256th in the entire history of baseball, and the Roy Halladay and Jesse Litsch’s complete games marked the first time in eight years that 2 Toronto pitchers threw consecutive complete games.

But enough about sports. We got to see plenty of art as Toronto is in the middle of its yearly art festival, but I was especially impressed with the Distillery District, a cool mixed-use area located in the old distilleries that imported booze to the States during Prohibition years. It still has a few pieces of equipment on display like massive scales, mills, and conveyor belts integrated right into the fabric of restaurants, galleries, lofts, theaters, and educational facilities. We spent a day there, and I spent a good portion of the rest of the trip talking about it. City planner Jane Jacobs, who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities and spent so much of her life expounding on the virtues of mixed-use facilities, spent the last 40 years of her life in Toronto, must have had a hand in revitalizing this district, and if not then she surely must approve wholly.

In all, I’m pretty well infatuated with the Golden Horseshoe now. From the wine trail along Lake Ontario to the Maid of the Mist to the gorgeous view of the lake from Christine’s parents’ back window, I found the place truly majestic. And speaking of Her Majesty, the QEW was even a welcome surprise – after battling my way through NYC and surrounding traffic for the last few years, I found those Canadian drivers downright gracious. And I think they even made me a better driver, at least until I got to Binghamton.

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