Travelogue – Toronto

I took a break from writing because, as I think I’ve said before, misery inspires some of the greatest writers to some of the greatest works in literature. I am not one of them. Inspiration, for me, is beauty and sunshine, joy and pleasure. The past 18 months have been spare on joy.

But today, for the first time in a very, very long while, I *wanted* to write. I’ve told this story a few times in longer and shorter versions so this may not be new to every reader but I can’t help but share my nonconsensual night in Toronto.

A few weeks ago I visited friends all the way over on the west coast of America’s friendly hat. Prince Edward Island is a little province north of Maine, famous for Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery’s red headed spitfire, idol of many a feisty young girl. PEI is the New Zealand of Canada: rolling hills, friendly farmers… I half expected to see a hobbit hole if I looked close enough.

For five days we dug for clams, ate cheese curds on fries, swam in a deliciously warm ocean, stayed up late drinking mead and watching Werner Herzog documentaries, and enjoyed what for some of us was our first meaningful human touch since March of 2020.

I had been planning two trips at the same time when I booked my flights. The dates for both trips are similar but not exact. Unfortunately in my double booking, I scheduled myself to leave a day before everyone else. I tend to try to make the best of things but I was missing out and my heart was heavy as I headed to the airport. I had a long day ahead of me: take a puddle jumper from the island to Toronto, wait two hours for my flight to Detroit, then four more hours before finally coming home. I was already tired by the time I reached my connecting gate in Toronto but, resigned to the day, I plugged in my phone and curled up in a corner.

I had seen a sign asking passengers to upload their negative covid tests but I had assumed that was for foreigners entering, not for citizens returning. Until I heard my name over the intercom. The arrogant American tourist in me thought “they won’t keep me, right? I’m an American citizen, going back into America. They’ll chastise me and put me on the plane because otherwise I’ll miss my flight. I’m an American. I’ll be fine.”

Incorrect. At fifteen minutes to boarding, I was escorted back through security and pointed in the general direction of the ticket counters. The agent apologized for the trouble. Both of us knew I wasn’t making that flight. She told me that she would have to check to be sure but, though they would put me in the next seat from Toronto to Detroit for free, that next seat was on Tuesday. It’s currently Saturday.

Crying in public is really no fun. People try to fix whatever is making you cry but they usually can’t, so you wind up with people just being uncomfortable near you while you are also, but usually more, uncomfortable. Crying behind a mask helps prevent conspicuous onlookers, but presents soggy issues of its own.

So I’ve missed my flight, I’ve returned to the ticket counter for Delta but no one is there so I go to speak to WestJet. The agent does her best but, like a rube, I purchased my tickets third party and it’s a Delta flight operated *by* WestJet so after a half hour standing in line and on the phone, I am referred back to the Delta counter where an agent has appeared.

I figure that if I fly to Vancouver, at least there I can simply rent a car and drive home. And Covid tests are only required for international flights.

Incorrect. The Delta agent tells me I need a test for every flight, even to Vancouver, and points me at a train to a parking garage where I can get a rapid test.

The outlet on my puddle jumper wasn’t working and, assuming I’d have access to outlets all over the airport and on the next flight, I hadn’t guarded my phone battery very well. Smart phones are magical devices, granting access to knowledge of and connectivity to every corner of the world. Sometimes I forget just how useful they are. Standing in line, staring angrily at signs asking me to register for my test online, I remembered. I was also extremely conscious of my mood. I try to recognize that the service people helping me have really nothing to do with my bad mood and it’s not fair to be rude to them. I can hear my clipped sentences and add “hyper aware of how upset I am” to the list of reasons I am now upset.

I got my test, the fourth test I’ve gotten in less than a week, returned to the terminal, and speak to the gate agent at Delta again. There are no more Delta flights that day. She can’t issue me any refunds or credits because, having booked third party, I have no privileges and she has no flexibility. What she does find, however, is a flight to Vancouver with WestJet. It leaves in 90 minutes. I am light on my feet. TSA preckeck, a backpack and nothing else, no liquids… I can do this.

Correct. *I* can do this. The HERD OF COWS in front of me cannot. Between the family of five with two under two, the old lady whose bag is two kilos overweight but can’t possibly leave any precious items behind, and the sheer volume of folks in line… my excitement at maybe getting home tonight starts to fade. I watch the minutes tick by on my wrist. Ninety minutes to boarding. Seventy five minutes to boarding. An hour. Forty five minutes.

I have now cried perhaps five times in the past two hours? Maybe six. Most of them have been relatively containable but I can feel it coming. There are gonna be actual sobs this time. Not only am I far from home, I’m stuck, and my friends are still in our gorgeous air bnb, relaxing on the patio and celebrating their successful SCUBA certification. Not only am I lonely, I’m hot. I haven’t eaten in nine hours. I’m tired. I’ve got a headache coming on. I am *this* close to ugly crying in (a not socially distanced at all) line at the airport.

I’m out.

There was a hotel next to the testing garage. I’m getting a room so I can cry in private. “What brings you here today?” “I missed my flight” “Oh. I’m sorry.” One word answers make it easier to hold it together but I feel rude. “I’m sorry fo…” I’m sorry for not being polite. I was going to say that. I tried. I collected my room key as quickly as possible.

You know in movies when someone sits on the floor of their shower stall and cries into the water? That really happens sometimes. It feels so good (or at least less bad) to wash off the stress sweat and the salt. To feel fresh water sweep over you and really let it out. Privacy and resignation, a little catharsis… fifteen minutes later I felt a little better.

I plugged in my phone and climbed into bed naked. Texted to let people know I was safe and wasn’t coming home that night. Thanked my sweet rescuer who wired me enough to cover the hotel room and the very expensive ticket for a flight home the next day. Checked in for the flight and submitted my test results. Felt a little better. Still needed to eat something.

What the heck. I’m in one of the largest international food hotspots for the night. There’s a light rail directly downtown. I’m stuck here and if I have to be here for a night, I should make the best of it. I’ll regret it if I don’t. My phone’s got juice now, its warm outside, and I’m gonna go treat myself after a long and disappointing day.

This was not the right decision. Never let fear dictate your travel plans. The fear of missing out drove me into the world and the world kicked my ass.

The light rail leaves every half hour. I time it perfectly, get a ticket for the 7:30 train, step towards the doors, and a little old lady stops me to ask for help buying a ticket. Theres only a few minutes before the train leaves but I’m me and I can’t help myself and so I try… I have no idea how someone alive today doesn’t understand how to put money into a vending machine. She struggled so much with it the transaction timed out. I hate leaving someone who needs help but I can hear the announcement “doors closing” and make a break for it. Cue cinematic cliche number two: the doors close practically on my nose and I press the open button frantically and to no avail. sigh.

I kept reminding myself to be charitable. Kind to the people around me, even if they can’t hear what I’m thinking at them. The next train was already there so I took a seat and prepared to wait. Again. More. Two young people sat in front of me, chatting away about their travels. In another mood I’d have thought it was cute. Kismet. Youngsters in a foreign country bumping into someone from home. Budding love. Ugh. Gross. Fuck off ya twats!

I had dressed for the heat but the train was air conditioned so now I’m late, hungry, tired, cold, headachey, and still determined to make the best of it. I’ve picked a place called Alo. French food with local Canadian ingredients. Good cocktails. Highly rated. I love walking as a way of appreciating new places. The streets are bustling, everyone’s dressed in their Saturday night best, the girls all have their tits out and there are firm asses everywhere. It feels like there’s never even been a pandemic and all the blisters and irritation are worth it. The weather is perfect: warm and cozy. I’ve given myself permission to miss the last train back and just enjoy dinner. I can always have them call me a cab.

With really nice places on Saturday nights, it is wise to call ahead and check if there’s room.

At this point in the day, every time I hear no I just have to laugh. No you can’t get on the plane. No you can’t book another flight. No you won’t get anything back. No, you can’t get on the train. No you have no clean clothes. No, there’s no room for a single diner tonight.

Well I suppose I’ll just grab something quick and catch that train after all.

The blisters don’t really seem worth it anymore.

No, I did not fly across the country to get Dairy Queen, no matter how delicious it sounds.

That reminds me. There was an ice cream shop on the map on the waterfront. It’s hot, it’s late, ice cream on the lake sounds perfect! I can still salvage the night.

Are pedestrian traffic lights always this long in Toronto?

I’m getting flashbacks to standing in line for a ticket, watching the minutes slip away faster than seems appropriate. Watching my ice cream window get smaller and smaller. Watching it close.

Fine. No ice cream. But I have to eat something. It’s been twelve hours since breakfast and I’m thirsty, too. The words “Pulled Pork Poutine” in enormous letters on the side of a food truck signal my salvation. How delicious and perfect! Hot salty meat on fried potatoes, squeaky cheese curds, and a cold sweaty bottle of water.

Hahahahahaha! The poutine truck is out of poutine. The only bottle of water they have left is the displaying that’s been sitting in the heat all afternoon. They can make me a burger. I hope they can make it quickly.

Lolnope. That burger and the fancy boobs were the highlight of the entire day. Elegantly seasoned, cooked to perfection, on a brioche bun with fresh toppings, it was definitely worth the time it took to make it. Unfortunately ‘worth the time it took’ and ‘have the time it took’ are different things. Despite walking as fast as one can walk with a map in one hand and a dripping sandwich in the other, despite almost getting hit by a bevy of bicycles (cinematic cliche number three), despite running as many pedestrian lights as felt safe (very few), I missed the last train home.

The second guy in line at the taxi stand agreed to take me to the airport for fifty bucks (first guy said…… you guessed it: no). He got the last of my American cash at a 1:1 exchange rate. I hope he had a nice rest of the night.

The hotel bar is closed for renovations. Would I like a tiny overpriced bottle of off-brand Chardonnay? Finally, my turn to say no.

Fucking Toronto.

I believe I have discharged my accumulated bad karma from the past seven years. I have never had a day so full of mistakes, disappointments, tiny irritations and aches that stacked, one on top of the other, until they began to feel inevitable. By the end of the day it was either cry more or laugh hysterically. I was too tired to do either.

I got a late checkout the next day, slept in, and caught a direct flight back to Seattle. On which there was a medical emergency. I’ve never been on a flight that had to wheel someone out on a stretcher but it felt appropriate that this one was my first. Like this poor woman took over for me on the crappy karma train and I watched as it left me at the station.

Fucking Toronto

2 Replies to “Travelogue – Toronto”

  1. Great read! Happy you made it home. The one takeaway I cherish with all ill-fated trips is that I never forget them. And, as time passes, they morph from an event of anguish, into one of humor. As I grow older, I am continually reminded of events by others. Some I remember, and some I just go along with acting as if I did. I hope you will grow to somehow cherish, in an odd way, of your Toronto experience.

  2. Wow! What a horrible experience! You should be applauded for not completely losing your shit on the streets of Toronto!! Glad you made it home safe and sound!!

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