The Suburbanite’s Guide to Living in Downtown Toronto


As far as having pride for your city goes, let’s just say I don’t wear my I<3 T.O shirt and Jays hat every day. I’m just a Mississaugian here for school. But I’ve been here for 3 years now and I can say it was more than just a change of scenery for me. Coming from the copy-and-paste box houses of the suburbs to the eclectic concrete jungle is like being a freshwater fish dumped into the ocean; the first thing you’ll notice is that the shallows run deeper and the currents flow faster. Being a hub city, somewhere where people from the world over stop by to visit for various reasons, you meet many interesting people and experience the kind of nights that make good stories. To the uninitiated it can be intimidating. Thus, I’ve decided to compile a half-serious guide to living in this crazy city based on my own experiences. Here it is:

1. Ditch your car

Trade your car in for a nice bike and a year’s worth of Metro Passes. Driving into the heart of the city is a hectic affair; save yourself the headache of worrying about your car. When you drive down here you’ll also notice that traffic moves like a retarded snail at times, and you run the risk of hitting the many jay-walking pedestrians that litter the streets. Finding a good place to park is the Holy Grail of downtown Toronto. Just get used to walking or taking the TTC. It’s better for the environment anyways.

2. Take up an Instrument

Here in Toronto, everyone and their mother plays some sort of instrument. Guitar is by far the most common. Not only will you mesh well with the locals but you can whip it out at street corners to make a quick buck (your guitar that is). Stranded and need bus fare? Just pull out your trusty guitar and start plucking at it. And in no time at all you’ll have passerbys tossing you their change to get you to stop. Muggers got you down? Just take your handy guitar and beat your attacker into submission. Here in the city, carrying around a guitar isn’t just something douchebags do to compensate for other things; it can make or break your stay here.

3. Learn Self-Defence Techniques

Some parts of Toronto can be very uncomfortable (for lack of a better word) to traverse, especially if you’re alone. These areas, which I will hereafter refer to as PSPHs, or Places where Sketchy People Hang, are difficult to walk through without being hassled in some way. Jarvis and Gerrard, Kensington market and Parliament St are some examples of PSPHs. Usually it’s just minor heckling that you have to contend with, or someone on drugs just, well, being someone on drugs. But there’s an easy fix. Ever see that zombie movie where the survivors pretend to be zombies to sneak past the dead under the guise of their fellow flesh-eaters? Well, to get through these areas it is best to mimic the image of sketchiness. I’ve observed that in PSPH’s, people tend to only mess around with people less crazy than themselves. So being sane puts you at a severe disadvantage. Adopt a deviant mannerism, whether it’s a limp, a twitch, or a social disorder altogether, and watch them move aside as you walk past. If that fails, there’s always what they teach in women’s self-defence classes: grab, twist, pull.

4. Keep your Things Secured

Putting yourself in Toronto is a lot like doing laundry: some of your shit will go missing, and you will never find out what happened to it. Ever. Cellphones, wallets, bikes, people: anything you bring into the city is automatically at great risk of going missing. It’s not uncommon to walk past bikes that have their front wheels absent, and these are the lucky owners that get to keep their handle bars and seats. Lighters, too, are a common casualty of Toronto, perhaps even more so than usual.  This city will try its hardest to inebriate you with drugs and alcohol, and steal all your shit. Cabs are the worst culprits though; they’ve engineered the seats to swallow your pocket possessions. Be wary, be very wary. You might want to staple your pockets shut before stepping off that subway.

5. Beware Pan-Handlers and Street-Canvassers

“Can you spare some change?” If you didn’t know any better you might think this was how we greet each other here in the city. But really everybody just wants your money. And there’s always a cause. For pan handlers you need to learn to identify the bullshit. I don’t want to shut you off from helping anyone, but if I were to give a statistic (pulled straight out of my ass) probably about 70% of the people you meet are lying to you. For three days in row I was once asked by the same person in the same spot for the same $3 TTC fare because they lost their metro pass. Know when to turn down your compassion, because in this city there’s an inverse correlation between how much you care for your fellow man, and how empty your pockets become. Have a healthy level of scepticism.

As for Green Peace and the World Wildlife Fund, some of their canvassers gaily skip past the fine line between outgoing and obnoxious, and warrant being smashed over the head with the clipboards they carry around. To save yourself an assault charge, wear headphones and a hoodie so you can safely ignore their badgering. I know it’s anti-social behavior, but they’re getting ruthless in their canvassing tactics: Because I’m A Girl is even hiring dudes now.

6.   Overcome your Homophobia

Toronto is a notoriously diverse city and is home to a more-than-significant gay population. If you’re susceptible to some homophobia now and then, learning a little acceptance might help you adapt better. Moreover the girly-man stereotype is long-dead; these guys work out. The last thing you want is to let slip the other F-word around one of them. Also it might help to stop using “gay” synonymously with “stupid”. Just saying, these guys can fuck you up. And there’s nothing homo about that.

7. Let Nothing Surprise You

If you’ve been to Yonge and Dundas Square enough times, you might be familiar with “Believe in the Lord” guy or Toronto Batman. As strange as that last sentence seemed, these are real characters that you’re sure to come across eventually if not others who are just as iconic.”Believe in the Lord” guy stands at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas every day and shocks every other passerby with a sudden outburst of, what else, “Believe in the Lord!” Toronto Batman is just as self-explanatory: a guy who dresses up as the Batman and roams Toronto. Toronto is full of characters like these, and you’ll often find yourself on the streets whispering to your companions, “Did you see that?” or “What the F***?”, if you’re not so eloquent at expression. After a while though, nothing in this city will surprise you anymore. I remember walking by spider-man the other day without so much as a second glance or an excited text to a friend. I guess when you see so much “random” it stops being random and starts being normal. Show me a pirate riding a dinosaur giving out free donuts, and then maybe I’ll get a little worked up.

8. Decide whether you want to fit in or stand out

As with any heavily populated city, the masses here afford you a certain level of anonymity. Nobody knows, nor cares, who you are down here. So it’s up to you to decide whether you want to embrace your plainness and be like everyone else, or stand out and get noticed. If you want to blend in then just do what you’ve been doing all along. But if you can’t stand just being another person in the crowd then try getting unique tats, piercings, hairstyles, and clothing. Personally I’d rather blend in. It’s cheaper.

And there you have it: my guide to living in downtown T.O. I have mixed feelings about this city; at times I hate it and at other times I love it; at times I think it’s driving me crazy, at other times I think nothing drives my pen like the city’s crazy stimuli.  But it never stops being interesting and full of personality. It may be dirty at times, and smell like India at other times, but there is always something going on. You might find yourself saying a lot of things during your stay in downtown Toronto, but “I’m bored” will never be one of them.

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