Crossing USA: Toronto

I crossed the border by bus, suddenly alone. I felt forlorn and excited at the same time, back to how it all started in the planning phase: Me, on a trip, by myself.
I was joined by a German, who, under the assumption of privacy, told her friends behind her all about me and how she suspected that I was pretty disgusted with her smell. Me, I was just happy that for once, I wasn’t the one disgusting others. Running water is such a great invention, even in New York bathrooms where it runs non-stop, soaking into the walls.

I am on the last leg of my trip and already, I miss the road. I do this a lot and it’s a good habit: Near the end of a long vacation, I take the time to visit friends and hang around for a while, in limbo between traveling and home. It slows me down and absorbs the shock of going straight from the car to the day job.
And a home I have here, indeed- Coincidentally, I have a number of friends in Canada and I’m trying to see them all, happy to be the visitor this time. I feel like part of my background took place here in my absence, and it’s nice to catch up. It feels like I was missing this place without ever having been here in the first place. Problem solved; Let the missing begin.

The city itself struck me as quite unremarkable at first. It has more character than Manhattan but so does white bread. The place seemed somewhat utopian, with little independent shops and creative studios all over the outskirts. If you play your cards right, it’s relatively cheap to get by here, too, giving small businesses and starting artists a chance. But what I missed was the expression; Where was the street art? If everyone here is an artist, where does their work go, other than the frames hanging up in coffee shops? I kept looking for a collective creativity, the soul to match the heart I saw beating behind closed doors.

It wasn’t until my host Julianne took me to see Kensington market, that I found that spark. On paper just a couple of streets like any other, were actually a neighborhood where finally, I saw the community work to add vibrance. Bike racks were suddenly a thing to stop for and take a second look at, and parking lots were transformed into ever-evolving art galleries. Cheap stores and food shops were a pleasure to discover.
After that, I began to see certain elements re-appear throughout the city, in the form of small pieces from graffiti artists that I had begun to recognize, or public bulletin boards without actual notes, but riddled with thousands of staples.

One little thing I’ve been having trouble coping with is just how nice people are on this side of the Pacific. In fact, all through the US, yes even NYC, one could safely say people are, if anything, more chatty than in Belgium. We are a timid race and I know that, but I didn’t expect to be so pleasantly surprised by what I thought to be a smug, shallow and ultimately, asocial friendliness.
It’s hard to keep up, though. I don’t ask how people are doing, I don’t go out of my way to express just how thankful I am of the 7-11 store clerk. I give the money, take the junk I bought, and leave. But apparently, it goes further than that: People notice my camera and spend a good 10 minutes encouraging me, or tell me things unrelated to the weather. Unheard of, in my introverted little country.

So yeah, I sort of like Toronto. It has charm but more importantly, it has content. High buildings and monuments don’t mean a thing without the fingerprint of the people between them, and I was glad to see some of that after the sterile scenery in Manhattan. Looking back, I probably misjudged New York City completely based on its financial district, but frankly I don’t really care. I’ll take Toronto any day.

So soon, it is time to go back to tiny Belgium. Although homesickness hit me hard just today, I don’t want to go. My real life is there, with my real worries and real budget problems, since I spent every cent I have, and will have for the next couple of months.
But I knew the sacrifice beforehand. I knew this would happen, and I went through with it. I wouldn’t even have made it this far without the continued support from my friends, for which I am deeply grateful. You guys know who you are and if I haven’t thanked you in person, I forgot and I’ll say it here: Thank you.
Or, you just feel unjustly addressed and you can actually go fuck yourself. I don’t owe you anything.

London seems an eternity ago. Our stop in Oslo, I can’t even remember. San Fransisco, the anticipation of Burning Man. The euphoria when we finally made it. And the ball that slowly got rolling, pulling us in tow as we plowed through the US. It all seems so long ago now, the faces of the people we met have become a blur. Even my friends in the car are across the ocean now, while I sit here, in the back yard of a tiny house outside Toronto, Canada. It’s hard to grasp how far from home I really am and at the same time, frustrating how quickly I’ll be facing my own front door again. Come to think of it, I’ll have to see where I put my key…

Here’s to the day when we got those tickets. May there come another.

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