We wake up on our last day excited and ready to go and again not sure where we’re going to go. Over breakfast we’re deliberating between a few different spots and not sure exactly where we want to go. Finally, though, we remember: it is an illusion that our destination matters. What matters is that we don’t spend our day trying to decide what to do and instead actually go somewhere. The fun gets figured out naturally. Once we figure this out, Daegan knows just where we’re going to go.
Today’s the first cloudy day. It looks as if it might even rain a bit. It will be nice to have a break from the direct sun. Off to the subway we go again (WAIT…WAIT…WAIT) and we surface at Flatbush Avenue. Daegan and I agree that it feels like the area around Dundas West station in Toronto. He suggests it could be St. Clair West also though I don’t get out there as often as he does. After days of mostly trendy areas of the city, we are in a neighbourhood that feels like one in which we might live. There are grocery stores, a shopping mall, a Dunkin Donuts, and many Caribbean restaurants along with Brooklyn College right down the street. A TD Bank at the end of the block feels like a “Hello” from home. I like visiting neighbourhoods like this when I travel. If you visit tourist areas you learn how tourists behave outside their usual environment. You also learn how locals behave – when their job is to cater 100% to tourists. It can be a bit of an unpleasant dynamic where tourists are just trying to see all of the things in their guidebook while locals work in stores designed to appeal most to them. Ask locals in any city how often they visit tourist areas and they’ll usually say “Oh we never go there…” If it is so great, why aren’t they there every day? Take Toronto, for instance: I have been to the CN Tower once just after we moved here. Why would I go? Once you’ve seen it once, there’s nothing more to it. And the only stores nearby sell overpriced food or trinkets with Canadian flags on them, maple syrup, or T-shirts. I don’t feel like I’m visiting another place when I visit places like that. It feels almost like having a layover in the city’s airport. There are hints as to what the city is about but they’re so far from reality as to be cartoonish.
Contrast that to a regular neighbourhood. Here locals are able to be themselves. The businesses are designed for them and not the tourists so you can see a bit more about what daily life is like. Where do people go grocery shopping? What kind of food do people eat here? Do they like to spend time in parks or on patios? You won’t find that out about Toronto if you visit Ripley’s Aquarium or Dundas Square. And the things the locals like about their city are entirely different. I don’t love that the CN tower is here, but as you know, I love our libraries, I love going to eat at interesting places, and I love our parks.
We walk back and forth down the street outside the subway station looking for the bus stop. There are several on various streets around the station. Finally, we find it, behind an illegally parked cab that moves out just before our bus arrives.
The bus is another in which we have to strain to hear the stop announcements, finally giving up and going with just watching Google Maps. As we ride, we hear a couple behind us talking about where we’re going:
Dead Horse Bay is named for the rendering plants that used to be there back in the 1800’s. It never occurred to me but of course if you have a city filled with horses pulling carts and carriages, there would need to be a way of dealing with all of the horses when they die. And so, they used to be taken here to be converted in to useful things like glue and fertilizer. Then once the horses were processed, the bones would be dumped in the water. Garbage incinerators and fish oil factories in the area at the time must have made this area particularly awful to visit.
As this was already such an unpleasant area, a bit over 100 years ago they also started using it as a garbage dump and filled it with their trash. Why not keep everything awful in one spot? I later read that in the 1930’s they capped the landfill so that it would be kept contained. Sadly, in the 1950’s the cap burst and the trash has been spewing out over the beach ever since.
We overhear the folks behind us saying that there’s a little path that leads through the grass and so we get off the bus where Google tells us to. The people behind us were heading somewhere else so they remain on the bus. We start walking east, keeping an eye out for paths. Eventually Daegan sees what he thinks is it. It’s a tiny bit of matted down grass that leads through the brush in to the forest that lies between us and the water.
The path disappears and reappears and the brush gets thicker. Eventually it splits in to a bunch of different paths.
At the edge of the field the brush gets extremely thick and most of the paths end. The brush goes from ankle level to well above our heads and is sometimes mixed with poison ivy for good measure. It’s clear we’re not to travel this way.
We keep trying branches of the path from the one field and having no luck.
And then I realize, with all of the thick brush and back and forth we’ve done, I have no idea which path leads back to the road. I also am pretty sure this isn’t the path we need to take to get to the beach. We are well and truly stuck. I tell Daegan to keep his ears open for the Minotaur.
Sure we have no other options we head in the direction of the beach, making our own path. It is a roundabout route because we have to crawl under thick brush in some places and climb over it in others. In places it gets quite dark – but this is good as these are also the places light doesn’t penetrate enough for the underbrush to get too thick.
Eventually I see a bit of light at eye level ahead. We must be closing in on the beach. I am now walking on a big brush pile through which bunches of plants and small trees are growing through. I’m glad that poisonous snakes are not an issue here or we might be taking a big risk. Still, there are things like wasps that like brush like this, and I have no idea how far down the brush pile goes. It wouldn’t be difficult to twist my ankle here. And then how would I find my way out?
Daegan laughs and half-jokingly worries: “What if we get through this and are at the top of a big cliff?” That could be bad, we’d have to backtrack quite a ways, finding our way through the thick brush that seems to seal itself behind us.
Finally, the brush thins and we find ourselves at the top of a small hill overlooking the ocean. We’re there. I’m happy to find that there is no big cliff, just a small hill leading down to…a beached boat.
I imagine what it may have been like for the person piloting the boat. Did they run aground and decide to just abandon their boat? Was it even their boat? And then what? Did they go through the same impenetrable forest we did?
We walk down the beach further and pass a lone woman walking toward us. We greet each other and move on. As we walk further east, the trash becomes more prevalent.
We find another boat beached right next to a bench. It is most definitely not a beach where you might want to sit and relax on a bench. Who put it here and why?
Trash, especially old and broken bottles are becoming more and more prevalent here. There are so many now that every step crunches with them. There is so much broken glass that when the waves come in you can hear it tinkling. It’s a pretty sound if you don’t think about where it comes from.
Walking around this much broken glass makes me cringe. Even though I’m wearing sturdy shoes, stepping carefully, and most definitely not swimming, the idea of this many sharp edges around makes me a little uneasy.
As I stood here I realized what this place reminded me of. A little song from my childhood:
Something tells me that’s the boat that we saw beached earlier in the day.
There are a lot of seagulls around and I wonder – why would they be here when there are so many far more pleasant places to go? Heck, just fly a few miles east and eat discarded french fries at Coney Island.
As we reach the eastern end of the beach the sky begins to look threatening over the water. We may get a thunderstorm yet. We decide to head back. Daegan tells me he saw a real path out of here that a few other folks we saw came in on. I’m glad. The idea of being in a thunderstorm as we try to navigate through dense brush is not attractive.
He’s right, though, and soon we find ourselves on a very well-worn path heading back toward the road.
The path is beautiful and other than a wrong turn that took us back to the beach, we find our way quickly. Along the way we see a rabbit and Daegan stalks it like a cat until it realizes what he’s doing and runs for the bushes.
As we walk I think some more about visiting touristy areas versus other areas. It makes me think a bit about keeping up appearances. When I was a kid and we knew company was coming over we’d clean the house up to make it look like we always had a clean house. (It was pretty bad sometimes). A lot of places do the same thing with what they show the outside world. People see North America and New York City on television or in movies and think it must be a clean and wealthy utopia. But as you can see, there are places that are terribly polluted. There are people going hungry every day or going without clean water. I was talking to someone in India a few days ago and she was shocked to find out that child marriage is still a thing that happens in the US with states allowing it for kids as young as 14 or even younger if they can get a judge to allow it. It’s a bit disturbing.
All of which is to say that nowhere is what we think it is based on what we watch or read, or even what we see from visiting tourist sites. Going beyond those sites is a great way to get a better picture of where you’re visiting. This often results in surprises both negative and positive. (I admit to harbouring a few negative stereotypes about the south but after visiting Louisiana a few times, I decided to delve a bit deeper and beyond what the average tourist or business traveller might see and ended up having a great time.
The time has come for a new destination and as we wait at the bus stop for the one bus that takes us to the subway we figure out our next destination. We’re headed back to Coney Island.
But as we ride, Daegan says “Do you know what I’m craving? A burger and a coffee at a classic diner.” I pull out Google Maps to see what our options are and lo and behold, only a couple of stops ahead is one.
This appears to be just what we’re looking for and we head inside. This is just the sort of place we both love and that we were looking for the day before when we ended up in Williamsburg instead.
We place our orders and get exactly what we were looking for.
From here it’s off to Coney Island. Google suggests a different bus so we grab that and this one has automated stop announcements that I can actually hear. Hilariously we’re going to the end of the line so it doesn’t really matter.
And here we are back at Coney Island. With the weather much less nice than yesterday it’s nearly empty. We wander a bit. The carnies are much more aggressive today shouting out to us as we go. We walk by one place and one of the guys running the game calls out “Hey, I’ll buy you a game!” We ignore them and walk by. Two seconds later, an older man puts his hand on Daegan’s shoulder and says, somewhat menacingly:
We keep walking and decide, spur of the moment, to try the Wonder Wheel. I grab some tickets and we get in line. There are two choices: Fixed, and Swinging cars. Swinging sound more fun and I imagine them to be like regular cars that rock back and forth a bit as you go around while the other cars are stationery.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, though. Instead of just rocking back and forth we are surprised to find out that these cars are on tracks. When they reach a certain point, they roll forward like a roller coaster. It almost looks like our car is just going to go leaping off the wheel to crash down below. It catches us both off guard in the most delightful way. I tried to get a video but had some trouble with the phone. Fortunately these guys got a good one:
We find our way back to the Eldorado, hoping to ride in the bumper cars. Maybe I’ll ride in the one Joe Strummer drove! But no, it’s open but there is nobody there and no music playing. We go to the arcade and get some quarters and play some Mr. Do. After years of playing on a computer keyboard it is strange to have a joystick again.
Off we go to play skee-ball. It’s easier than I remember but I’m still not that great. We have a great time, though. But then we take our quarters to what we really got them for – back to the pinball machines where we play several more games. A guy about my age who, based on his uniform, works somewhere in the park lets me in on a secret: one of the machines lets you play for free. There’s someone playing it, though, so we don’t have a chance to try it out.
We walk down to the nearly empty boardwalk and see what we can see, walking past the New York aquarium. I look up some reviews and find it is likely not so great. So we keep on walking. As we walk, we come across a trash can that I feel looks like a child’s cartoon version of the two of us.
On the way back to the subway a smell really gets our attention: something delicious and baked. We find our way to the source and find that they’re making nut brittle. That doesn’t sound so good but the cinnamon babka behind the glass looks too good to pass up and I buy one.
The time has almost come to go home. We swing by the hotel to pick up our luggage and then duck back in to the subway again to take us to the airport. The trip out there seems long, over an hour by subway. Even though it is only about 6PM, the dim lighting in the car makes it feel like it is almost midnight. We are surprised when we arrive at the station and see that it’s still light out.
We get to the airport and once we have gone past the area where we need our subway passes we leave them on a bench with a note “Free transit passes – good for three more days.” We are met by a guy a few minutes later who, knowing that people often have passes they won’t use here, asks us for ours. We tell him we left them on the bench and he runs off to get them. He comes back saying that he was able to get one so he was happy.
At the airport we search for food and stop first at a restaurant with table service. The menu on the iPad at the table is ridiculously expensive and we get as far as keying in two burgers and fries before we stop and look at the cost: $56 before tip – $73 Canadian dollars. We get up and walk next door to Wendy’s and pay 1/3 of that for the same thing.
Once dinner is done, we sit down at a table and play more Seep. After a few hands, we notice that a security guard has sat down next to Daegan intently watching us. After some time he gets up and goes back to his post about 10 feet away. Daegan asks if I saw him and then says he thinks he came by to make sure we weren’t gambling.
The flight home is uneventful. We scan our documents at the customs kiosks and hand our paperwork to the Canadian customs officer. She asks if we’re bringing anything back and we say no. And she responds with something that makes me smile fondly every time I hear it.