Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for December 2008

Hanging Out in Toronto

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We left Southampton between storms. As we got closer to Toronto, though, snow found us again. Eventually we found ourselves in a city struggling with the weight of winter. With two days to go before Christmas the town was congested. Not just with Christmas crowds but because of snow, piled high and hardened by the temperature, lining curbs, corners and sidewalks. Navigation, by the excess of both people and traffic, was difficult. Parked cars, occupying half the curb lane, jutted precariously out into the street. And nothing angers uptight Toronto drivers more than impediments to their speedy progress. Those driving their SUVs while chatting on their cells phones had no patience for the traffic tie-ups. Torontonians on Christmas shopping missions scurried up and down the slippery snow crusted sidewalks with scowls on their faces. All made the merrier by freshly falling snow. One big wet sloppy mess.

Rain and fog on Christmas Eve made things even worse. The wet weather turned the already accumulated snow banks into dams welling up with water. Curbside the corners and crosswalks became slush ponds – pools of cold, brown water and ice. Women in expensive high-heeled leather boots cursed as they waded in ankle deep. Water soaked the cuffs of their pants and crept up their legs. In sad contrast a bag lady struggled through the slush with her ladened shopping cart only to have the contents tumble to the wet street. She cursed each passing car as it sprayed her with slush. The miserable weather made everyone equal.

The only creatures that received special treatment were the tiny toy dogs sheltered in purses. Those wrapped in custom coats and booties, were carried in the arms of their owners, shielded inside their jackets, safe against the elements.

It was equally interesting in the stores. Shoppers sipped lattes as they checked their Blackberrys. Cell phone addicts walking and talking, heads down, banged and bumped their way through the crowds giving their victims dirty looks. Long lineups wove all the way from the mall to the cash register. Irate shoppers were not reticent to voice their opinions out loud demanding a better system to speed them in their quest for more stuff.

Ah, the spirit of the Holidays.

We were in Toronto to celebrate with family. We checked into a downtown hotel, which gave us the freedom to hang out in what was once our favourite part of the city.  And there is a difference between living and visiting in your previous hometown.  You take things at a more leisurely pace. You can sit in the hotel lounge sipping an overly expensive glass of wine and wonder why the people crowding the bar aren’t at home this late on Christmas Eve. You have time to chat with the coffee lady at Holt’s and explain to her how to make a RedEye while she tells you that in El Salvador ( where she comes from) they prefer light roasted coffee to dark roast. Lingering, chatting to strangers and people watching become second nature.

There is no Toronto rush. You see things differently.What you once took for granted is now a source of amusement. Its not that you’re smug or above it all. It’s just that it doesn’t involve you directly anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 27, 2008 at 8:16 PM

Macs Redux

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The Trials of Living in a Small Town

In my very first Blog on this site I wrote about the routine pleasure of venturing out for my morning paper.

“Big city newspapers don’t get home delivery in small towns. Which means getting out of bed, getting dressed, getting in your car and driving into town to Mac’s Milk on Highway 21 to see if the Star has made it from Toronto three hours down the road.”

That was back in January 2008.

A year later nothing has changed. I’m still a creature of a habit that relentlessly starts my day, regardless of weather. There’s the odd time that the Star doesn’t make it. So I make do with the Globe or the Owen Sound Sun Times. There was one stretch where the Star was consistently late and the others were on time. I sent off an email to TorStar but they never answered. They probably don’t care about some small town complainer. Where’s the equity in making me happy?

Notwithstanding (love that word) I came smack up against the reality of small town living this morning. Macs was closed. The lights were on. The door was locked. The place was empty. And there was no way I could get my hands on a morning paper.

Just then, the guy who delivers the papers arrived with what I wanted. 

“Where are they?” he said.

“I dunno,” was my simple reply.

“Guess I’ll just leave them out here. I got other deliveries to make in Port.”

“But it’s snowing.”

“Too bad. They’re wrapped.”

“Can I take one? They know me. I’m a regular. I’ll pay them tomorrow.”

He looked at me like I was some kind of thief. “Nope. They count ‘em. If they’re short, it costs me.”

Tempted as I was, I resisted. As I watched him leave I realized that there was no other place in town that (a) had papers and (b) were open. Southampton was deserted.

And that’s the thing about small towns. You can’t always get what you want. Here in Southampton there’s one radio station and it doesn’t program Jazz or Classical Music. The local paper only comes out once a week. The Saugeen Times is up-to-date and available daily online but it’s not the same as holding and folding newsprint. Nobody carries the weekend New York Times and there’s no bookstore that stocks newspapers from around the world.

Am I complaining? Not really. Are there things I miss? Definitely!

But, yesterday, driving along Lake Huron’s shoreline we saw two Bald Eagles riding on the wind. This morning they glided high above my backyard.img_41481
Deer tracks crisscross the snow. They wander through scratching for wild apples in the snow and munching on tender Sumac branches.

The fishing boats are out of the water and dry-docked in the harbour parking lot. 

img_40341There is pack ice on the shoreline and floes floating down the river towards the harbour mouth.

Winter sunsets burn up the sky. A full moon lights up my neighbourhood. Walking after a snowstorm leads you through pristine paths. And winter quiet has restoratives powers you just can’t buy in the big city.

I never did get my paper. I went back after 7:00 AM and Macs was still closed. Tomorrow morning, I’ll ask them what happened.

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 19, 2008 at 6:55 PM

SANTA COMES TO SOUTH

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In winter, High Street on a Friday night after 6:00 PM is usually empty. Not tonight. Tonight vehicles are angle parked, from Victoria to Grosvenor, lining both sides of the street. Usually they drive in, engine first, but again, not tonight. Tonight they are facing out to the centre of the road. That’s the best way to get a great view of the Santa Claus Parade and stay warm at the same time.

You couldn’t do this in Toronto. You would be towed to a compound if your were foolish enough to leave your car on the parade route. But, that’s the way Toronto thinks. They need the room for the masses of people, the floats and the parade marshals zipping up and down the sidelines making sure everything is happening according to plan. Their parade is typically Toronto big. They should take a look at how small towns do it.

Santa brought his parade to Southampton and he was done in about 45 minutes. It was short, colourful and intimate. In the dark of a cold, windy, snowy Friday night, the lights on the floats shone brighter. Those participating and watching called out to each other by name, shouting encouragement. Clowns gave the kids and the adults candy. Laughter and smiles were everywhere. 

Brave pipers lead the parade. Some wore tights under their kilts. Some brave hearts left their knees exposed to the elements. Neighbouring towns entered floats as did local businesses. The Mayor and Council were out there freezing with the rest of us. Fire trucks, hugh tractors, horses, big dump trucks  pulled every thing along  without jamming the short route. The Shriners, as usual, were colourful and fun. Midsummer Cafe and the new Gift Shop dispensed hot coffee, dark and white hot chocolate. Some of the High Street stores stayed open for those who needed to Christmas shop. 

At the end of it all, Santa came down from his float and headed into the post office. There, he held court for the kids who personally delivered their letters.

That’s what I like about small towns…they can throw a parade without the hype. Its short and sweet. And Santa is not afraid to mingle with the locals…and the photos are free.

parade11(Pictures courtesy of http://www.saugeentimes.com)

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 6, 2008 at 8:29 PM

THE WEIGHT OF SNOW

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We woke to a Christmas Card scene this morning. Overnight, snow, thick with moisture, fell hard. Its clinging weight bent the branches of trees and practically leveled all the low lying shrubs. It was the kind of snow that snaps the trunk and limbs of trees. Thankfully we were spared.

Our birch tree was the worst hit. Its tall, proud branches submitted to the snow and lowered themselves to the ground. So much so that it looked half its normal height. Nothing was broken. All was bent. Robert Frost’s poem Birches came to mind:

They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,

And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed

So low for so long, they never right themselves:

You may see their truncks arching in the woods

Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground…

My fear was that he may be right. I did not want our birch to suffer that fate. I must have looked a sight, dancing around our tree in the morning darkness, stable broom in hand, knocking snow off the branches. For my efforts I was showered with dead leaves and wet snow. But, relieved of the weight, our birch reached skyward again. Leaves littered the snow covered lawn. The footprints of my boots trampled them down. Though many remain on the branches, golden against the white. The leaves of birches are always the last to fall.

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Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 1, 2008 at 8:13 PM