My boss calls me in the morning and says “Hey – I heard a story about the library this morning and I thought of you.” I did a quick Google search and found the story of what he was talking about. Apparently, at the Pleasant View branch a young woman fell asleep while studying just before closing time. When she finally woke up the library was dark and empty. They’d closed the library with her in it. A spokesperson for the library said “Our staff do walk-throughs in the branch every evening after close to make sure members of the public aren’t still in the building, but in this instance, we, unfortunately, missed the customer.” Clearly this was a suggestion as to where my next library visit should be.
I step outside and for the first time in 2019 I don’t find myself wanting to turn back immediately. The temperature is 7 degrees C – that’s about 45 Fahrenheit for those of you in Liberia, Myanmar or the US. The sun is shining brightly and even though the wind is still cold, I can feel a bit of warmth from the sun. Spring is definitely on its way.
I approach the intersection where the bus will stop and see the bus approaching also. I’m going to have to run to make it. I break in to a run as soon as the light turns green and head straight for the bus. The driver starts forward as I get to the other side of the street, looks at me and accelerates away. A woman crossing behind me says “He totally saw you running so fast and just kept going!” There is no other bus due for another fifteen minutes – very unusual for this part of town. We usually see them every 3-4 minutes. I feel a bit grumpy until I realize that this is the first time this year it’s been warm enough to just stand at the stop and read my book and still be warm.
The bus comes and I’m lucky enough to get a single seat all for myself. I relax and enjoy the trip which takes me to the northern edges of the city. We pass through a subway station and soon after I’m dropped off deep in the suburbs.
People who know me know that I’m not a fan of the suburbs. Generally speaking they’re designed for living in your house and yard and making any necessary trips beyond that by car. Roads are wide and fast, there’s a great distance between homes and shopping centres and other things. And because the population density is so much smaller, there’s less demand for transit – and that means there’s less bus frequency. And so it is I’m left at an intersection that’s a 20-30 minute walk from the library with a bus due in 20 minutes. I might as well walk – it’s a great day for it after all.
I head east and the road narrows and the neighbourhood turns completely residential. There are no more stores anywhere nearby.
I swear there are little giveaways as to the age of any given public building in Toronto. I put this one somewhere in the mid 1970’s based only on the typography of the sign here. It’s reinforced by the interior decoration as you’ll see. (A quick check of the library’s site tells me that it was built in 1975. And based on the architecture of many of the homes and the stamps I see on the sidewalks indicating the year the concrete was installed, I suspect this whole neighbourhood was built somewhere around that time.
I go inside and am taken back to the libraries of my childhood. While the library site says that it was retrofitted in 1995, it doesn’t look as if they did a major renovation like they have in some other branches. It feels like I’ve traveled back in time.
There are a fair number of people here today but not so many that I can’t find photos to take that have nobody in them – and so you get to see a bit more of this space. Perhaps they’re worried they might fall asleep and be left behind!
Note the check out desk here. You have to look hard to find things that give away the date as anything but 1982. I feel like the “Cozy Up To A Good Book” sign may well have been installed 40 years ago.. Only the computer monitor and a little bit of the photocopier in the corner let on that Pierre Trudeau is not still Prime Minister.
I’m honestly a little surprised at how someone could get stuck in here unnoticed. There really aren’t a whole lot of spaces in which to go. The library itself has one big room with a corner for the children’s section (not pictured – it was busy), a function room in which people were meeting, a single washroom, two comfortable seating areas near the windows, some desks in the middle and stacks. Where could you sleep undetected?
If I were going to sleep, it would be in one of these chairs. There are two seating areas just like this diagonal from one another. For some reason this one near the front door was empty, the other one was completely full. In either case while it might be easy to fall asleep, it would be hard to go unnoticed. I sit here to take a few notes and listen. This is not a silent library but it’s not loud either. There’s a comfortable bit of conversation between the librarian at the desk and various patrons.
As I sit there I notice the crowd is mostly older – in their 60’s and above. Sitting in the chair and looking out I can imagine this being a comfortable place to spend an afternoon post-retirement. After all, it’s being one for me well before retirement.
Eventually I need to leave and decide to walk toward “civilization” – the towers I see a bit to the south of here.
As I walk, the nearby schools start to get out and the streets are filled with kids wearing backpacks, relieved to be leaving. The neighbourhood continues to feel like I’m stuck in the 80’s and soon I’m feeling like any minute now I could see Ferris Bueller trying to run home in time to be there before his parents arrive.
After about 15-20 minutes of walking I reach “civilization” – Sheppard avenue. There are a few businesses, but even those make me wonder if, perhaps, I’ve traveled back in time.
Johnny’s Hamburgers advertises that they’ve been around since 1967. That’s only 20 years ago, right?
And not far from there is a Chuck E. Cheese. One of my favourite places to go when we lived near one in 1983.
Many of my readers in North America will know about this place, but my friends outside of here may not be familiar. They’re a great way to overstimulate small children. Picture this: It’s a pizza place where kids can eat tons of pizza, drink lots of sugary drinks and then go play video games or visit the indoor playground. In between all of that, if you’re not entertained enough, animatronic animals throughout the restaurant will put on a variety show for you with singing and dancing.
I fully expect that when I go in, Crystal Castles will be there. No, not the musical group, the completely bizarre video game. The first and last time I played it was in a Chuck E. Cheese and I spent all of my money on that and Mr. Do. Fortunately I don’t go in to check. I don’t want to go broke today.
I am a little hungry and like to share a bit about what I find in the area. There’s nowhere to sit in the burger place, Chuck E. Cheese is a family place, and the next place I see is an Indian vegetarian restaurant. This sounds really good but readers of this blog will know that this is a common go-to for me. I continue walking and come across this inviting sign:
Thai food is one of my favourite things to eat and one that advertises itself as spicy hot even in its name gets my hopes up high. I look at the menu and there are a lot of options with anywhere from zero to two chillies next to the name indicating the spice level. And then there’s one called “Marshal Spicy Chicken” with four chillies next to it. It is described as chicken fried in an extremely spicy oyster sauce. I can’t pass this up. I am craving hot food.
As I am reviewing the menu I hear a Canadian couple ordering. One of them says “But is it spicy? I don’t want spicy? The Cashew Chicken isn’t spicy, is it?” He sounds sincerely distressed at the thought that there might be something that was even cooked in the same room as fresh red chillies. As he orders I wonder if he saw the restaurant’s sign before walking in. Wouldn’t he have been happier at the fish and chips place next door? Or the place offering steak? Why risk it?
My food arrives and I’m pleasantly surprised. There’s not only the chicken dish and rice but a couple of fried spring rolls.
I can see chilli seeds in the sauce and am hopeful that this will be good. I take a bite and am first struck by how tough the chicken is. I think it hasn’t just been deep fried, it’s been deep fried a few times. The sauce, though, is a huge disappointment. It is barely spicy at all. Maybe the other guy in the restaurant would think it was extremely spicy but I don’t even rate it a medium on the scale. It is milder than most food I ate in India – food that was not even advertised as spicy. I blame people like the other patron for the fact that you can’t get spicy food in this town. Enough Canadians have ordered food that was mildly spicy and claimed it was inedible that cooks won’t make food spicy for anyone.
On the other hand there may be another reason that they don’t make it spicy here. This dish is so loaded with soy and oyster sauce that it is ridiculously salty. The waitress has to refill my water twice. I’m drinking water like crazy to keep from becoming dehydrated but it looks like I’m trying to cool my burning mouth.
But it’s all good. I’m comfortable, I’ve had a nice visit to the 1980’s, I’m reading a good book – David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding – Diaries from 1977-2002. I’m particularly happy as even my book is taking place in the 1980’s. I’m reminded of having to use pay phones, days when hitchhiking was more common, and the fact that if you wanted to find out information about a university you would have to write the university a letter asking them to send you a catalog and application. I’m also reminded of how much more openly racist and sexist the US (particularly the south) was back then, the election of Ronald Reagan, the arrival of a mysterious disease that seemed to target gay men (AIDS) and the seemingly constant threat of nuclear annihilation that hung over everything to the point that even as a twelve year old I was working with activists for the nuclear freeze movement.
So needless to say I was glad after this short trip to 1980’s suburbia I was able to return to Canada in 2019.