The NA Tour #2: D’oh, Canada

So when I last left off my story, it was Monday 25th June, I had reached Canada two and a half days late due to the calamitous Canadian airline WestJet. I was at my friend Ronnie’s house in the Toronto suburbs, attempting to book tickets on VIA Rail to travel to Kingston the following day, where my aunt was waiting to see me for all one day of the remaining time I had to visit her.

The power had just gone out.

Ronnie suggested that I might have picked up a curse somewhere. I began to consider the possibility.

Train and Agony

Fortunately, the power came back on about 15 minutes later, allowing me to book tickets, but since midnight had passed in the midst of the blackout, I could no longer get a good deal on business class, so I figured it would probably be wiser just to book coach and deal with it. Fortunately, even though WestJet had refused to cover the cost of rebooking the train, my travel insurance would. Ronnie convinced me to shoot for a later 10:45 train, rather than a 9:30 service, in an act of foresight that will become relevant later.

That done, I went to bed. Ronnie woke me up early the next morning so that we could drive to the local GO Metro station in time for the 8:14 rush hour service to central Toronto.

Which had been cancelled. Ronnie again jokingly discussed the dangers he perceived in traveling with someone who had so clearly been cursed. We waited instead for the 8:44 service, and immediately perceived a problem.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Lakeshore_West_GO_Train_Westbound.jpg

The cancelled 8:14 rush hour service is usually comprised of twelve double-decker coaches. The 8:44 service had only six. So essentially what was happening was that eighteen coaches worth of passengers were now trying to squeeze into the six that were available. It was fortuitous that since I was only visiting Kingston for a single night, I hadn’t bothered to bring any other luggage with me. It was a tight squeeze, and made possible only by the direction and gently forceful manner of an extraordinarily patient guard, whose car we happened to be riding in. Ronnie discussed trying to hire him for crowd control at future furry conventions.

We got to Union Station in downtown Toronto around 9:30, and I was relived Ronnie had convinced me to shoot for a later train, as I was able not only to able to actually have a chance of actually boarding my train, but I even had time to grab a coffee at Tim Horton’s.

The train ride to Kingston was a perfectly reasonable affair, just shy of two hours, of which I spent about thirty minutes trying to make the WiFi work on my laptop. I eventually realised I was using custom-set DNS servers, which the train’s WiFi apparently didn’t approve of. Once I got it working, I was finally able to update my friends on my situation. I also watched a few more episodes of Altered Carbon, which I can highly recommend.

Kingston, Ontario

The results of the visit to my aunt are a family matter which I won’t go into much here. Sufficed to say, seeing each other for the first time in 21 years was a shock, but it was nice to see her again. I was also able to meet up with various friends of hers who had not seen me since my last visit to the town, 22 years ago. All of them, without fail, remarked on how much I’d grown, which I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about.

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Kingston has changed a lot in the time since I last saw it. It’s a lot more built-up, with taller buildings, modern facades and a surprising number of hotels. I stayed in a motel in the north of town that was a short trip from the local train station, easier for my aunt to get to, but it was a very easy taxi trip into the downtown area. We ate at an Italian restaurant, and had a quick look around the waterfront, where I was delighted to find an old steam locomotive in a park that I remembered from my childhood visit.

On Wednesday morning, we took another trip into town, and another thing I was delighted to discover hadn’t changed at all was Brian’s Record Option, an independent record store run by a man named Brian Lipsin. This was a place I visited as a child, and knew of at least remotely before I’d even been there, because my aunt used to send me cassettes from a Canadian comedy band known as The Arrogant Worms, which she invariably purchased from Brian. This was in the days before the internet made all music worldwide, and locally successful bands might never be heard or sold outside their native country.

Brian hadn’t seen me since I was 8 years old, but recognised my aunt the moment she walked into the store, and within five seconds had realised who I was. He was delighted to see me, and we had a conversation that must easily have been half an hour long about music, musicians and the very ethos and philosophy of his establishment. We even discussed a tape I had purchased on my last visit to the store – by another Canadian comedy band called Moxy Früvous – which has turned out, in later years, to have been an exceptionally rare release.

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I was terribly dismayed, months later, to hear that the shop had been damaged in a flood, but also gratified to hear that the shop was such a universally beloved institution that seemingly the entire city had stumped up to assist in its recovery.

My trip to Kingston was a bittersweet affair, reconnecting with a place I have so many good childhood memories of after so long, but it was worthwhile. I’m aiming to visit again – sooner, this time, with less than a two-decade gap.

Return to Toronto

An uneventful two-hour train ride back to Toronto later, and I met up with Ronnie and a friend of his. It was about five o’clock and the weather was overcast – it had been raining heavily when I left Kingston, but it must’ve been traveling east, since it stopped soon after I arrived. The plan was to wander around the downtown area for a little while before meeting up with various Toronto furries for a dinner to which I had been invited as a “secret guest.” This description was somewhat dampened by the fact that just about everyone in the furry fandom, Canadian or otherwise, knew about my recent travel problems getting to Toronto.

We took a trip through the downtown area, and I have to admit that from an aesthetic standpoint, Toronto is one of my favourite cities. It looks amazing.

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The Fountain at Nathan Phillips Square

We ate at Three Brewers at Yonge-Dundas Square, which is an absolutely fantastic microbrewery with an equally excellent kitchen. The white beer they had on tap was superb, and comes with my highest recommendation. They also know how to whip up a spicy burger that’s actually spicy, rather than merely being described as such on the menu, and for that alone I salute them.

After two hours of great food, great beer and great conversation with Toronto’s local furries, Ronnie and I headed home so I could get some proper sleep in time for my flight to Baltimore the next day.

The Cursed Traveler

Ronnie and I woke the next morning, took the 8:14 commuter service (not cancelled this time) to central Toronto, after which I was directed to the Toronto-Pearson Express, which cost $8 and got me all the way to the airport in just over twenty minutes. I was traveling with my backpack and one reasonably-sized travel bag, the latter of which I handed over as checked luggage. This will be relevant later.

When traveling from Canada to the US, US customs and immigration occurs on the Canadian side of the border. I had wondered how well this work, and the answer was that it worked pretty much exactly as it does when you go through US customs and immigration at an American airport: a bunch of slightly suspicious people look at your passport and ask you questions that were on a form you’ve already filled in. I got through it okay, had a chicken quesadilla while waiting for my flight, and then boarded and spent most of the flight looking out of the window.

I arrived at Baltimore Thurgood Marshall Airport in good time. The bag I had checked with Air Canada, I discovered while waiting in luggage claim, had not.

Are you kidding me?

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