Our family's adventures shopping in the big city; a close encounter with a rock star!
BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING TORONTO STYLE!! Aaah, the month of August. It's still summer so we can swim, camp, barbecue, visit theme parks, boat, and swim some more. If you're a parent, however , it's not all carefree. Something shimmers on the horizon. A something that requires intestinal fortitude and provokes the gnashing of teeth. A something that requires deep pockets and provokes patience;an annual August ritual known as 'back to school shopping'. Even conducted under normal circumstances, at local stores, back-to-school-shopping is not for the faint of heart. Parents and children agree to disagree. What constitutes a necessity? Practical clashes with fashionable. "Everyone else is wearing it" versus "I'm not the mother of everyone else". Pleading and deal-making stretch flimsy purse-strings. Being budget-conscious and weary of the familiar in our Near North territory, I decided to transplant our wardrobe skirmishes to the mecca of shoppers: Toronto. Surely, I rationalized, Toronto would have something for "our" everyone. For my three offspring, the number one reason for this shopping spree was new shoes. They weren't interested in just any old shoes. They wanted name brand sneakers: the status symbol famous-athlete type. The kind that any self-respecting teenager would willingly wear. In other words, the expensive footwear. Before we left, I established the spending protocols. Each child was expected to chip in some of their own money towards the purchase of their dream shoes. As a parent, I recognized this to be a learning experience. I expected them to better appreciate and accept responsibility for something they had earned. We joked that I'd be buying three shoes, three mismatched shoes. And so we drove south to Toronto, three excited kids and their financial backer/ chauffeur. Visions of bargains were dancing in our heads. We were on a mission to spend, spend, spend, but first I needed to find a room for the night. How difficult could this be in a city with "millions" of hotel rooms? As I was about to discover, most visitors to Toronto booked their hotel rooms in advance. After many fruitless phone calls, I was relieved to receive a "definite maybe". If I appeared at exactly 5:00 p.m. at a certain hotel's front desk I could possibly rent a room for the night. (Of course, this depended upon whether the "reservist" appeared before 4:30 or not.) Basically, I was at the mercy of a room lottery. My eldest served as my navigator as we drove along the quintessential Toronto road, Yonge Street, seeking this hotel. I soon recognized that she was reading the map upside-down. I was hearing names that we'd already passed instead of upcoming ones. In any case, we found the hotel near the original Maple Leaf Gardens. Chance was definitely on our side. I was able to procure a room with a cash advancement. My children and I were not destined to sleep in our car, although it was about the same size as our rented shelter. The only available room in downtown Toronto boasted two single beds. For three of us this wasn't an issue, but my son had to choose between bunking with one of his sisters or with his mother. For one night we would make do. We decided that it was no different than sharing a tent. This camping philosophy/atmosphere set the tone for our stay. Despite a full, tiring day of travelling, shopping, and dining, we were not ready to sleep. We seemed to be in campfire mode, swapping observances from our day and keeping each other awake. We didn't realize just how noisy we'd become until a hotel clerk knocked on our door disturbing my youngest daughter's rendition of a rousing camp song, to warn us that we were in violation of the "no noise after 11:00 p.m." policy. So much for subtlety. Did he suspect that there were four of us in a room designed for one or two? At one point, we finally fell asleep, but not for long. My eldest, she who'd actually once slept blissfully unaware of a protesting smoke alarm right outside her bedroom, awoke us with the startling news that the hotel smoke alarms were blaring. Half-asleep, we stumbled out of our room to join other unhappy campers heading for the stairs. All of us were attired in various forms of wrinkled sleepwear. Our hair was mussed and matted. We were without make-up or adornments. Every one of us, bleary-eyed and grumbling. As we obediently followed others down ten flights of stairs, unsure of our immediate future, worried about a possible fire and its effect, my son just had to say something to his two sisters. "You look like hell, but the shoes are great!" In their life or death haste to vacate our room, my daughters had chosen to wear, ( and save), their prized new sneakers. Apparently, their brother had also thought to don his new shoes. Everything else was expendable. If memory serves me, two pairs of Nikes and a pair of Adidas, were not. From the relative safety of the sidewalk opposite the hotel, we had front row seats to the arrival of fire trucks and firefighters. At no time, did we actually see smoke or flames. We were witness to Toronto's finest in action. All around us, people carried on as if a fire or the possibility of one was just an everyday ho-hum occurrence . Traffic continued to stream around the trucks. Pedestrians either walked along or stopped to gawk. The most ridiculous sight was the oblivious hotel guests who'd opted not to leave the hotel. They instead decided to watch the action leaning out from their windows. Was this the true meaning of blasé; stupidity, arrogance, cynicism, disbelief? Perhaps they thought that if it was a real fire they would be rescued?? Evacuation is meant to be a physical act, but if no one's home, if the elevator doesn't go to the top..... Eventually, the firefighters announced an "all-clear" and we trooped back into the hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel elevators were still locked down, they literally were not raising anyone to the top. The new sneakers were again put through their paces with a ten-storey climb. The next day, Toronto was still not finished with us. Once again, we encountered traffic that must be unlike anything else in Canada. Its sheer volume is staggering. Its variety is overwhelming. As a coping mechanism, we created names for what we were seeing. (We were from a Near North village with no transit, one traffic light, volunteer firefighters,...in short, far less people and vehicles!) My kids were especially fascinated by the different modes of transportation for cops, or police officers. C.O.W. was our label for "cops on wheels" .Sometimes, we'd refer to them as C.O.B., "cops on bikes". C.O.F. became "cops on foot", or P.O.P., as in "police on patrol". We were amused by S.O.S., "suits on scooters", and annoyed by S.O.B., "skaters on boards". I was especially irked by K.U.T.T.'ers or "kamikaze u-turn taxi'ers". People, pedestrians, walkers, are everywhere! They are a formidable force. I encountered F.L.O.W., "fearless league of walkers". I was alert to G.R.O.U.P., "great riot of urgent pedestrians". The maddening crowd had to be S.L.O.W., "snail's league of walkers". In our attempt to drive out of Toronto the Teeming, we were thwarted by a mob of people choking an intersection . There was no walking, no flowing, no dispersing---only gathering, lingering, waiting . Idling, literally going nowhere, I made eye contact with the backseat passenger on my left. Hearing my gasp, my children were instantly alerted to our close proximity with a celebrity. We easily recognized the relaxed superstar who graciously smiled, winked and waved at us. Dumbfounded, we reacted in kind with huge grins and waves of our own! His presence wasn't entirely inconceivable. I'd heard a radio report that he and his band mates were in Toronto to rehearse for an upcoming show. From our vantage point, we could clearly see a theatre across the intersection. The crowd of expectant fans was completely unaware that the desired object of their adoration was sitting in a car behind them, and unable to reach the venue they were blocking. Irrepressible and bursting to share this exciting news with someone, my eldest, Carrie, scooped up the for-emergency-use-only cell phone and dialled our house number. When my anxious husband answered, fearing news of an accident, his daughter shouted, "Guess what, Dad! We're beside Rick Jagger!" His reply was, understandably, "Who the hell is Rick Jagger?" Correcting herself with, "You know... Mick Jagger!", her still unimpressed father was quick with his short reply, "So." I suppose he had to be there. From behind me, an oblivious and impatient taxi driver dared to express his frustration with his cab's horn. What did this cabbie expect of me? My family and Mick were marooned in a rolling sea of people. Neither of us could move. We were at their mercy, waiting for a parting of the waves. Even the celebrity at the root of this gathering was forced to wait. If one pedestrian has the right of way, who can argue with hundreds? Hadn't this cabbie heard of " if you want to get along, you must go along"? Clearly, the star seekers were in control!! I'm sure that to this day, my children remember this memorable back-to-school shopping trip. They experienced fire sales, a fire drill and a smoking singer. They put their best foot(wear) forward. Only in Toronto, eh?