When I left, I never in a million years imagined that I would be back in this city. The love/hate relationship that I had with the city and its people when I lived there had me all kinds of conflicted and when I eventually left, I vowed that I wouldn’t return. And then the travel gods made it so that transiting through Toronto from Amman to Bogota was the cheapest way for me to go and so I returned. The massive influx of memories that I had during my two days here was huge. I remembered so many things that I had forgotten and look upon fondly. Majority of the memories were oddly from my first 6 months living there when I was young, bright eyed and had never lived overseas before. So for me, and for those that were with me during those times, here are some of the memories that surfaced as I strolled around the streets of Toronto.
The first thing I remembered as I walked out of the Toronto Pearson Airport customs area was my friend Dayna greeting me on that very first day I arrived with a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate and a box of Timbits. It was almost like a homecoming. Unlike that day, I made my way to the new UP Express train to the city and got on board.
As I exited Union Station onto the street, that crisp cold hit me. I walked along Front Street past the Hockey Museum I said I’d go to and never did with the statues out the front. I couldn’t see the top of CN Tower that my ex used to call the ‘seeing tower’ as it was too foggy, but the lights of the lower half let you know that it was there and waiting. I made my way to the hostel where I lived for my first six months with one of my best friends and checked in.
The hostel had been newly renovated. The blue and orange colours of old were now replaced with white and black. The reception had moved to the front instead of the side and I made my way to check in. Despite the place being completely renovated, the bones reminded me of the old place. There is a new kitchen now where I won a beer and toothpaste in the pool competition and Tash and I carved a pumpkin on the floor for our first ever Halloween.
The couches we used to jump on while singing the Shakira Africa song, and where we drew on sleeping people’s faces has now been replaced with dining tables and chairs. The downstairs area in the Cavern is now a bar and bistro with live music, instead of the living room and kitchen. I went down to visit. The memories of dancing on the cavern tables for New Year, reading erotic literature from the bookshelf to the masses, threatening people who kept stealing my chocolate milk with laxatives, hiding in the laundry room to gossip with Del and Cian and just general shit talking with the other long termers came back.
The rooms are pretty much the same. Too hot. I got up in the night to turn off the heater and another girl got up and turned it back on. Tash and our other roommate used to fight over this all the time. It made me smile. I remember her coming home frequently with shit that she had stolen from out on the street when coming home drunk. The room we shared was so full of massive real estate signs, traffic cones (Tash’s doing), dildo’s and sex toys (my doing – stolen or acquired from the drag bar but more on that later) that we had an interesting time on our last night there trying to sneak all the shit down several flights of stairs and out the back door so that the staff members didn’t find out. I had quite the fetish for chocolate coated peanuts in those days too. I disgustingly used to keep a bag of them beside my pillow and eat them when I woke up after nights out so that I didn’t have to get out of bed to eat. That then became a daily occurrence. For my birthday Tash bought me 20 dollars worth of them and they were gone in the 2 days I spent on the couch feeling sorry for myself with a cold I contracted from a guy I made out with after Dirty Bingo.
That first day I went to get Timmy’s for breakfast and made way to the Eaton Centre where I used to work. Fossil was the same but the Aveda had been renovated. I walked around inside and sampled some new product before checking out what else was different. The Sears is now a Nordstrom. For that first Halloween, Tash and I went shopping at the Sears for my costume, a pillowcase that I cut up to go as Wilma Flintstone. In the process we tried some granny panties on our heads and took dumb photos.
I still remembered how to navigate through the PATH so I explored my other old workplace noticing that all the places I used to eat lunch have now gone except the Yogenfruz. So I got a Yogenfruz to go. As I walked along Queen St W I noticed that quite a lot of things had changed. There is a Toronto sign now in Nathan Philips Square, the shops have all changed. Luckily for me my favourite underwear store was still there and I went in to get some more bras. In those days I was obsessed and literally bought the store out of sets. I walked past the large car park where they had the Much Music concert and I got to see Lady Gaga perform among many other acts.
Up into Chinatown I went. Chinatown became a haunt of mine in Toronto because I was poor. Unfortunately the five dollar barbecue pork I loved no longer exists, but the Mashion Chinese bakery where Anthony and I used to eat all the time still did and I went in for some egg tarts. Just as I remembered them. Chinatown has lost a bit of its charm these days as people have started making upmarket places in the middle of something that was fabulously grimy. It doesn’t have the same feel anymore.
Over in Kensington, nothing had changed. The College Backpackers where I lived for a while looked exactly the same from the outside as it did six years ago. This place was filled with utter nut jobs. I remember sharing a room with one woman who thought that all Tim Horton’s employees were in cahoots with her husband who was trying to poison her so she couldn’t eat there. She wore a mask at all times too just in case. There was also a woman with some kind of schizophrenia who used to pace the kitchen having conversations with herself. One minute she’d be a lawyer defending Prince Charles as the father of Prince Harry and the next she’d be having a conversation about gardening. I did however meet some lovely people while I was there. We bonded over not being crazy. And I still have the thermos cup that the lovely Irish guy, Peter, gave me for doing his Canadian taxes for him.
From here I walked along College St where I used to spend a large number of my days walking flyers for a living for eleven dollars an hour. Because I was pretty quick at my job, I used to take an hour for lunch at Hero Burger and stay on the clock for it. Unfortunately all the Hero Burger’s in Toronto have magically disappeared along with many of my other favourite things. But the building where I studied my TESOL course was there and I was fortunate enough to catch up with a friend I made on that course and learn some interesting gossip.
I walked down Yonge St, past the Zanzibar…. flashback to that one afternoon where Del, Cian and I decided to do Culture Wednesday and went to the museum and then somehow managed to wind up at 4pm in the Zanzibar stripclub laughing at the men wipe the poles between each woman that came out to dance. Past the Stag Shop where I spent some time shopping with a friend as she convinced me that the government liked to fuck people so we were getting vibrators courtesy of her government tax rebate. And past the place Zelda’s was, where Dirty Bingo once took place. After getting a free drink voucher from a guy who was leaving, we went in to watch the drag queens lead the bingo and wound up with one of the guys we were with getting hauled up for naked bingo. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Then with the help of Del’s jacket, we stole a giant double ended dildo that we waved at people and slapped taxi’s with the whole way down the street home before I put the thing in Tash’s bed with her. I am trying not to laugh hysterically as she wakes up and something goes ‘thump’ on the floor and she puts her hand on it turns the light on her phone on and mutters ‘oh my god, my hand smells like giant dick’. She got her own back though, cause later that morning I was woken up by a giant dildo prodding me in the face.
And then of course there are the memories of the gay village and Crews and Tango. I went back on the Monday night which used to be Candice’s Star Search and watched Carlotta Carlisle perform. Once upon a time many years ago I was a support act for her. Just watching her made all the memories flood back. My friend DJ Quinces was there too and we had a chat about the good old days. I used to take part in some of her showcases at Buddies In Bad Times called Rendezvous to which some of the videos of my being a total hussy are still on the internet. I have so many fond memories of performing in that place. I remember doing an impromptu duet of Lady Marmalade with Amanda Roberts. Jumping up and down on the stage screaming out the Barbara Streisand song with Carlotta and Devine but saying our names instead of Barbara’s. I remember trying on the drag queens wigs and getting way more than I bargained for with bit tucking in the dressing rooms.
I remember my crew spreading nasty rumours about other contestants I was competing against in the star search to get votes. I remember supporting Jade Elektra and meeting some lovely people to collaborate with. I remember filling my friends handbag up with condoms and having her empty them on the table in the middle of the hostel in front of everyone saying ‘I believe these are yours’. I remember how much of a kick I used to get out of singing the difficult diva songs. I remember meeting my ex there and the boys giving him shit for having straight shoes. They did the birthday draw and because we nearly have the same birthday we were up together on stage and they heckled him to take his shirt off……. whoa. And of course, how it helped me to survive through a time where money was tight and work was infrequent. Some of the fondest memories that I have exist in that place and I was so grateful to be able to go back there.
Many people say that you shouldn’t go back to a place where you had the best time ever. And granted, those months were not exactly the easiest. There were a lot of bad memories and a lot of really tough times. But at the same time, I was really happy and thankful to be able to walk back and get reacquainted with a self that was wide eyed and so excited about getting out into the world. I am hoping that some of it encourages me now to take the same kinds of risks in my newest adventure. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my memories! Until next time x