Two trips to Toronto last year convinced me I’m not, in any way shape or form, a big city boy. And given I was raised in the country, and have lived in the country most of my adult life, I felt very much the outsider perched high above the city.
There’s a part of me that enjoys the city for a brief while. I love the art galleries and the new thoughts and emotions created there as I absorb those images. I enjoy wandering the back streets watching how the city works, looking at the small shops full of impossible things. Except here they are in front of me and I wonder at how a store survives selling these esoteric props for life. And then I remember how many people surround me and remember that out of this number there are enough to support even the most estoric of products.
There’s an energy that’s impossible to replicate in the city. There are huge numbers of artistic events, galleries, coffee shops full of the chattering masses, and many things to do for any number of tastes. I have found several interesting bookstores on these trips but even there, in that place of silent books, there’s a restless energy as if the shelves are holding their breath while the next best-seller is unpacked. The two used bookstores I visited are legendary and so too are their prices. It would seem that costs such as rent in the city core does not allow the luxury of low priced, used bookstores. I can’t remember the last time I visited two used bookstores in the same afternoon and didn’t liberate a single book for my collection.
As I walk the daytime streets, full of busy people going about their city lives, I note one in a hundred will meet my eyes and only one or two of them have smiled in return. These walkers have no time for casual contact with a stranger. Out of place, I think how I would feel if I were a refugee from a small distant village where I’d grown up with and lived with the same people all of my life. It is a far cry from my home where we still wave as we drive by each other on our narrow roads and having another person ahead of you at the four-corners stop sign is a major traffic event.
There’s no silence on the streets. Even at 3am, when I wake to the sound of party returners celebrating past my hotel room door, the city isn’t sleeping. There are cars on the freeway, growling trucks rolling the streets below as they feed the needs and dreams of this sprawling collection of humanity. People still walk the streets at this hour, I can see them from my hotel window. In reduced numbers to be sure, but they’re there. Some walk briskly as if they still have a place they must be while others have no place except, hopefully, out of the wind and cold. I see a shadow on a building stand, and I watch as the shadow stretches its arms and then wraps them around its body in a lonely hug.
The lights of the office towers shine through the night and even though I can’t see a single body, I see many computer screens in the empty offices. “I am too important to be turned off,” they proclaim.
The train below rumbles with the power of diesel engines but I don’t stay upright long enough to watch them haul out the train. It’s time for me to tuck myself back under the thick comforter in this hotel and pretend that outside life isn’t there.
And in that, I understand I’ve learned the first rule of successful city living and a sad smile crosses my face as I drift off.