Simple sigh, man.
Are you done yet, dad? Can we go now, dad? (top photo)
Had a nice Six K jaunt today – and though I turned my ankle twice (not at all normal), my main distance-walking muscles felt absolutely delighted to be doing their thing again – phew! Exploration on foot has been one of my greatest pleasures ever since I was a kid, so good to activate those important soul-stabilizing circuits once again.
Better still, I caught a few nifty images, and got taught another meta lesson in rushing to judgement. BTW, the all time best smart-ass one-liner about that subject? Deng Xiaoping was once asked what he thought about the French Revolution and he answered, deadpan, “It’s too soon to tell.”
My suddenly questionable judgement? I hate intensity of density – that is, some towers are all fine and well (when done with artfulness) but let’s not blot out the entire damn sky with them, please!
That being my starting position, I was happily stunned with what I found as I walked north along Yonge from Davisville, to a few blocks past Eglinton. I’ll share some views, because good news is in short-ish supply of late.
The opening picture shows a Starbucks which went out of business, and a fruit market and an independent restaurant which survived (The also great ‘Fruits basket’ one further door out of frame, made it too). I love the way these fresh food markets have adapted to their many condo and apartment customers – you can buy a whole pineapple if you want – but that’s a lot for one person to get through – so you can also get a half or a quarter pineapple that they just chopped up that morning – share the delightful freshness with other singletons and micro-portioners. Watermelon, Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon – same deal. Perfect summer snacks, with natural sugars only, and superb thirst quenching built in!
No Bike-lanes here yet – but doors open and even better – customers!
This was nice to see – people enjoying summer again! I saw a lot of older folks out for their afternoon walks and lunches with friends, and got the feeling that more than one of these gentrified seniors lost a few pounds under lockdown, when they could no longer enjoy their favourite local chefs on a regular basis. Double astonishing – not only that so many of the old favourite restaurants were hanging on – there were even three NEW restaurants (Mexican, indy coffee and Thai) – talk about courage! (Mind you, I bet it was a great time to negotiate a lease).
Sadly, the wacky, OTT gadget-filled Spy Tech did not make it through, but there was a note on the door in which the owner thanked his customers for 29 great years! (Which by rough mental arithmetic, adds up to an awful lot of paranoid lovers, spouses and parents).
Mariachi’s is a cheerful and delicious spot – even from outside you can tell that they started with a vision and have put a whole lot of heart into the place. So glad they are still going (and have just as nice a street patio, which is why I was able to step back enough to capture the whole lovely painted front, without getting flattened by a semi).
Just the thing on a summer day (or evening)
I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that Punto Gelato was still there – superior flavours and lovely people. Let’s help them sell a lot of delicious gelato, eh? I want them to be around to cap perfect summer evenings ten years from now, too!
The Stock Answer
Here’s a minor case of my cynical assumptions being overturned. I was furious about this project – the developer knew there was a huge campaign to get the building designated historical (a no brainer) and snuck in with a last minute permit and started smashing stuff on the weekend, just before the stop work order could come through.
But – I have to give him huge points for the final result. Rather than gutting the historical building, then using it’s original facade like a flayed skin disguise for a hideous monstrosity of steel, concrete and glass, he actually had the good taste to leave the original building almost intact, and just added a too-bland-to-be-brutalist beige monstrosity, which now looms over this beauty from behind. Far from perfect, but if they absolutely had to raise the tax generation capacity of the site, they might have done much much worse.
(I did capture the nice old former post office building part – now a very spiffy dining establishment – but I’ll allow you to imagine the monstrosity for yourself, since this is in every way nicer to look at)
Such a Face
Though many have been lost, or turned into donut shops or retail stores, Toronto does still have quite a few historic small theatres – mostly tucked away on commercial streets of second order intensity. This one on Yonge is a real standout for lasting in such a perilous high turnover area, and it’s a genuine stunner, too.
They are obviously dancing as hard as they can, to keep the lights on. Points to the church, for booking a place big enough to distance responsibly – but you have to wonder if they knew what show would follow their act!
Personally, I always had fantasies of running one of those little shops that used to be built into the front of many old theatres like this. The wonderful repertory Bloor Cinema used to have a Kebab and Shawarma place – ideal way to make a line-up seem less tedious. But the all time best ever was the guy who decided to put a hobby store in the shop front of the old Eglinton theatre. For years, back in the 1970s, the Eglinton ran nothing but Charlie Chaplin films every weekend – and I remember standing in line and admiring the train-sets, slot-cars and other sophisticated toys on display vividly. Even George’s trains (a wondrous destination spot for decades) has now moved away from its old Mount Pleasant home. I wonder if we’ll ever again see R/C and balsa (that is, serious adult and kid hobbyists) together in the same store! Melancholy thought, I know. ;o)
This is much too plain a photograph to convey the magic within – the good bite is a genuine diner. Not a replica, recreation, hokey markety ploy piece of crap – I mean the real thing in every lovely way. On the weekends the grill is busy, and the bacon snapping. Eggs friend in butter, hot top for your coffee before you even ask for it. Every flavour just what you were hoping it would be, and every corner of your tummy filled. Oh, and BOOTHS!
Catherine and I used to go here all the time, many years ago. More recently, Nada and I stopped in and they all remembered me, and asked after Catherine. Even in polite Canada, not everyone thanks the cook for a great meal every time, as well as thanking the waitress – so cool that my “Captain Acknowledgement” thing counted enough for them, to be memorable – and it isn’t the only place where I have found a surprisingly warm welcome, many years after last being a regular.
Then again, it might have been the tensegrity towers I built with creamers (the wait-staff who liked me best, would keep bringing me more through the whole meal, just to see how many I could incorporate and balance).
To see that the Book City just south of St Clair was intact made me very very happy. It was even more cheering to see that the guys at BMV had survived the destruction of half their block (right up to their formerly shared wall), the construction of a massive tower right next to them, and then the long lockdown. BMV was started by a few guys who learned the trade at ABC Books, a few Km down Yonge St. (fingers crossed that they too survived) and combined their perfect used bookstore model (great condition only, very smart collection, no junk on the shelves – that’s for the dollar bin out front) with the ideal new bookstore model (again smart and also fun – complete with many sumptuous-to-browse sales tables) which Book City perfected, starting way back in the seventies.
The fact that BMV has excellent new stuff shelved right next to great used stuff means you can absolutely never tell what you’ll find there, and yet you can also rely on them having all of the standards you’d expect of anyone competent, with decent range. I not only found some lovely out of print Malraux translations – they even offered me several unknown volumes of John Brunner (my all time favourite science fiction author) an extended philosophical treatise from Rumi, and even a rare Doris Lessing book that I was sure I would never even see, let alone own. While at their downtown branch a few years ago, replacing a few precious pieces of Vonnegut and Bradbury with trade versions for my old-man eyes – I noticed that they shelved Atlas Shrugged in the humour section! Love ’em for life now.
The corner of Yonge and Eglinton is right over the top for density – and for many years this meant traffic moved fast – and there is a major TTC station here, which dispatches many busses on routes radiating from the Subway line. But somehow, someone managed to create a transit plan for Toronto which includes chaotically obstructing one of the busiest intersections in the city for years on end, with no apparent result. Can’t even remember what they said they were building – a pneumatic tube transport, perhaps? Zero emissions, but don’t forget to pop your ears? One can only hope.
This shot also captures the one moment today where I really felt my rustiness from an overlong dormant state, both in terms of my once fast-developing photographic nerve, and also my once reliable running speed! The patina of stickers, grime and hard use on the helmets of these three construction workers absolutely fascinated me when I stood next to them at a stoplight. Almost like the helmets of veteran soldiers – there had to be a death defying tale behind every deep dent and scratch.
A couple of years ago, I probably would have just asked them – “Hey guys, mind if I get a snap?” Or, if I felt even nervier, I might have just taken one of what was behind them, and caught them on the crop (with apologies should they feel offended). Nerviest of all – just take the damn shot dead on, because it really was so absolutely perfect and art demands such risks, then try to explain it to them if they got mad, and/or run away apologizing.
But running away – going fleet of foot for a few blocks – my personal preferred combat technique in any physical conflict situation – ever since I was an undersized teenage soda jerk working the roughest part of downtown until 2AM every weekend – did not now feel like something I could reliably invoke.
Oh well – at least with this longshot I caught the Pickle Barrel restaurant in behind. Amazed to see they are still there, after so much construction on the street and the mall. Another place Catherine and I were once very welcome regulars – the greeter even knew which window booth and waitress (Ann) we liked the most! And yes, it was way more trouble to find and thank the chefs there (huge place), but I still made a point of it, every single time.
Damn I miss the feeling of visiting a friend, while we enjoyed a great breakfast fry-up with fruit on one side of the giant plate and latkes with sour cream AND applesauce on the other. (Challah toast an absolute MUST – but they better remember to speed up the “Salamander” so it doesn’t burn!)
Not only was the view of the whole busy intersection utterly fantastic for instant story and character creation (the version of people-watching Catherine and I have long enjoyed the most), their tables were especially solid – so you could make your creamer-tower really tower!
The Towering Infernal
I will freely admit that I may sometimes go too far in challenging my own biases. I still can’t see these three new residential towers as beautiful – but I do suspect that they, and the even scarier density of same, just above Eglinton, are a big part of why the many independent retail shops and restaurants on this pricey strip remain so vital. Foot traffic provides their baseline metabolism.
Sweet Plums, Sweet Peach
But the new tax rate on Yonge is still a killer for the older businesses to adjust to, and the ones with heart don’t have the deepest pockets. Let’s leave our dosh with these struggling sweethearts whenever possible, and let all the conglomerate ‘Bucks and Marts recoup their losses on the long game. They might as well put all those business degrees on the board to some use – while we humans get busy revitalizing civic culture, one great urban-decadence expedition at a time.
And speaking of decadence…
A traditional Jalopyist, in full summer mating display
No, I’m still not a car guy – but this really looks like justified bliss to me – where commuting in an SUV for 90 minutes each way daily seems a whole lot more like slow suicide by treadmill. Distinctions count – and so does fun!