On Traveling, Toronto and Ghost Towns

 

If the city of Toronto and I had a relationship status it would be, “it’s complicated.”

November 11th, 2017 marked the 6th year anniversary of my move back to the west coast and yet, whenever I meet anyone new, one of the first things they always ask me is, “do you miss Toronto?”

After years of having to answer this question, I’ve perfected my answer.

I miss my friends. I miss eating at my favorite Nicaraguan restaurant. I miss the diversity and being able to get almost any kind of food, any time of day (like 24hr Jamaican takeout). I miss walking down Queen St West on a sunny day. Sometimes I miss the nightlife (although I doubt I could still keep up with my old party schedule). But do I actually miss living in the city? Not really.

When I moved to BC, I traded the excitement and conveniences of big city life for a more balanced lifestyle. Things are better for me here. I’m healthier, I’m less anxious and I’m generally happier.

I haven’t been to Toronto for a proper visit in 6 years and don’t really feel sad about it.

After years of going back and forth to see my family, I’d rather spend my money traveling to places that I haven’t been before. Besides, it’s cheaper for me to fly to LA than it is for me to go to Toronto — and you know how much me and Joe the Intern love The California.

(Besides, people should come visit me. We have the warmest weather in Canada. And beaches. And fresh sushi for days. I mean, it’s pretty fucking rad here.)

This is what I tell people, but the truth is more complicated.

Toronto gave me a lot of things. Wonderful friendships. Love. Awesome professional connections. Assertiveness, drive, ambition and the ability to hustle.

However, Toronto was also the site of a lot of soul crushing, worst-moments-of-my-life, heartbreak. My last two trips there were bitter sweet. I had a wonderful time catching up with friends, but it also felt like memories and reminders were around every corner.

Toronto isn’t the big, bad, concrete jungle that a lot of Canadians make it out to be. It’s a great city. Really. But going back there is emotionally complicated for me. I know I’ll eventually come visit Toronto, but for now I’d rather travel to places where I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of uncomfortable feelings.

I used to wonder if my aversion to Toronto was all in my head, until this past October when I missed my flight home from Cancun (police incident on the freeway) and found myself in T.O for an unexpected ten hour layover.

I thought of calling one of my close friends to stay with her, but she now lives in Newmarket and it wouldn’t be worth the long drive. Instead, I went to apply for a hotel voucher from the airline. Half an hour later, I was settled into a grim airport hotel where everything was a faded brown hue, including the stained carpet.

Maybe it was the jet lag or the shock of finding myself removed from the high-voltage colors of Mexico, but when I pulled back those beige filmy curtains and looked out the floor to ceiling windows of my hotel room, I was struck by something.

This is not my home anymore and I don’t want to be here.

The feeling was so intense that it contributed to my decision to decline a work opportunity that would bring me back to Toronto the following week. On the flight home the next day, I felt a huge sense of relief as soon as the Pacific Ocean came into sight.

This is all to say that it’s okay to know what feels like home and what doesn’t. It’s okay to protect your emotional well-being. Don’t feel guilty about any of it.

That isn’t to say that the city of Toronto and I aren’t on speaking terms.

Between four red-eye flights to the Caribbean over the past four months, Toronto and I have cobbled together a new relationship of sorts. It involves groggy 4am breakfast sandwiches at Tim Hortons, followed by a lengthy browse through the Jo Malone duty free shop (aka heaven) — a ritual I now look forward to every time I pass through YYZ.

There’s lots of friends to hug, babies to meet and new homes to celebrate, so I know I’ll eventually make it back to Toronto for a visit sometime in the near future, but for now “complicated” works for me.

Shoe Addicts: Meet the Shoes.com Store in Toronto

When people ask me what I miss most about Toronto, I usually mention the shopping. During the time I lived in the city I was extremely spoiled when it came to my retail options. I never shopped online because if I needed something, I could literally step out of my door and find it. My office was located a stones throw away from stores like Zara, H&M and Holt Renfrew (Canada’s answer to Neiman Marcus or Saks.) If I wanted to browse Chanel and Prada on my lunch break, I could. Even when I started working from home, I could easily walk down to Queen St West or take a short subway ride to a bunch of different shopping areas.

While shopping in Victoria, BC isn’t terrible – we have a decent selection of vintage stores and indie boutiques – when it comes to name-brand items (like finding that sought after pair of Nikes that you’ve been jones-ing for), the selection often leaves a bit to be desired. Since moving back to the West Coast, I find that I do way more shopping online.

Since Zappos no longer ships to Canada and buying from the States can involve hefty duty fees and/or ridiculously pricey shipping, I do a lot of my shoe shopping via SHOEMe.ca – a Canadian online retailer based out of Vancouver. So, I was really excited to find out that that ShoeMe.ca had recently opened a brick and mortar Shoes.com store on Queen West (my old stomping grounds!) Since I wasn’t able to be there in person, their lovely PR manager gave me a tour of the new space via FaceTime.

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The 3000 square foot space, designed by Canadian architecture and interior design firm, Dialog, originally opened as a pop-up shop in November 2015 and has since become a permanent store.

It probably seems counterintuitive that a company would open a physical store after achieving online success (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?!) but Shoeme.ca wanted to bring the digital experience to life for their customers.  By the sounds of it, they’ve done just that.

The front space of the Toronto store is named the ‘Home Room’ and reflects the products and messaging of the Homepage on SHOEme.ca. The mirrors in the Home Room create an optical illusion of an endless selection of shoes, just like the online experience.

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The middle of the store is called the ‘Dressing Room’. This space host 5-6 new brands every two months with the goal of allowing customers to discover the styles, stories and the people behind new brands, while rediscovering brands they know and love.

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However, my favourite part of the space has to be the ‘Editors Room’ which is located at the back of the store. Designed as a community space for workshops, speaker sessions and/or taking a break from shopping over a coffee with friends, the Editor Room also displays curated collections of local handmade products by well-known Toronto makers.

Coffee + Shoes = Swoon.

Behold this South Western themed curated vignette that makes my West Coast girl spidey-senses tingle.

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Also located at the back of the store are computer stations where you can access the Smart Shopper tool. Instead of browsing through 1000’s of shoes, Smart Shopper is an AI-powered shopping experience that uses visual intelligence technology to show right product, to the right consumer, at the right time. As you click on product images, Smart Shopper rapidly learns your unique style preferences. The tool identifies and draws connections between hundreds of shoe attributes, creating a deep understanding of the individual’s personal style preferences.

To fuel my shoe addiction and so I could test out the Smart Shopper tool for myself, the lovely team at Shoeme.ca sent me a gift certificate. A few minutes and clicks later, I was lead to the Steve Madden Nilunda sandals – a gorgeous pair of shoes that I didn’t even know I needed.

steve madden nilunda black

steve madden nilunda black

steve madden nilunda black

About a week later, my shoes arrived and I was able to wear them out for drinks with friends to celebrate my 36th birthday. Made of real suede, the leather is super soft and the heel is the perfect height. These are honestly some of the most comfortable heels I own.

steve madden nilunda black

Overall, I really enjoyed my SHOEme.ca shopping experience (both virtually and online.) I try to always support Canadian retailers, so that my money stays in Canada. So, while I probably won’t be able to stop by the brick & mortar Shoes.com store anytime soon, it’s great to see companies pushing the envelope when it comes to creating new and better shopping experiences for Canadians.

Too Much on The Inside + Other Truths

0402d5ae9968c163d5d9db0d742611bcWhile I was writing my book, which is a coming-of-age memoir about (you guessed it) dating and relationships; I avoided reading anything similar out of fear that I might creatively psych myself out. Now that the manuscript is complete, I’m having fun binge reading female penned memoirs and books set in Toronto. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to pick up and read cover to cover, Danila Botha’s Too Much on the Inside.

When Danila got in touch with me a few months ago, we quickly bonded over the fact that we spent our 20’s hanging out at a lot of the same places along Queen Street West in Toronto. She remembers what the area was like before it became gentrified, when two of my two favourite bars, Nasa and Element still existed. From the excessively greasy pub food to the telephone poles made thicker by six-inches of flyers and concert posters, Danila captures this era and locale so perfectly that I was unable to put her book down.

Set in the sub-cultural heartland of Toronto’s Queen Street West, Too Much on the Inside explores the depths of human connection as the lives of four people in their twenties converge with the impossible task of escaping their pasts in Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Nova Scotia. They wrestle with love, heartbreak and angst while trying to build new identities.

All of the characters feel like they’re bits and pieces of people I met in Toronto. Whether it’s a violent trauma or their own angst, all of the characters are trying to outrun something, while grasping at the new and unknown. But, as Too Much on the Inside unfolds, it becomes clear that escaping the past is easier said than done.

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[photos of our old stomping ground via erik howard & flickr ]

Told in the first person, each chapter alternates between the perspectives of the various characters, which gives Too Much on the Inside a voyeuristic, diary like feel. One of the characters I found the most compelling was Marlize – a young South African woman trying to rebuild her life after her mom and sister are murdered and she’s violently raped during a home invasion in her native Cape Town. Traumatized but tenacious, she’s determined to move forward with her life. I loved watching her character fall in love, stumble and get hurt while growing stronger and more sure of herself.

Like the characters in Too Much on the Inside, when I moved to Toronto I was also running – from my parents separation, the lethargy of small town life and an aimless relationship with a much older man – in search of a place where I would feel at home. On some level, I intuitively knew that I would find likeminded individuals in Toronto – and I did – but, not without experiencing my own struggles.

When I was 19, I was sexually assaulted. I’d just moved to Toronto. Although the circumstances of my assault were completely different than the rape described in Danila’s book, the effects were long lasting. At the time I really wanted to talk about it, but often just couldn’t; instead I carried it with me, like a weight that felt impossible to shed. Desperately homesick but also determined to build a life of my own; I wanted to say everything, but also nothing at all.

Too Much on the Inside illustrates this dichotomy so perfectly. Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki – the protagonists of the story, literally have “too much on the inside.” Their hurts, anxieties and hopes for the future are concealed from others, but always on the verge of spilling over the top. The title of the book is a perfect metaphor for being in your twenties, but also for living in Toronto – a bustling, multicultural city where everyone is from somewhere else, homesick, striving, forced to coexist in a melting pot of everyone’s different histories, disappointments and ambitions. I’ve always said that it’s hard to describe the inherent tension and energy that’s unique to life in Toronto, but I think Danila does a damn good job.

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[from my Queen West days circa early 2000’s. I was angsty but I liked flowers. Still do.]

For decades people have been writing stories about angsty twenty-somethings trying to find their way in the big city. But, with the exception of maybe Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (also set in downtown Toronto), Too Much on the Inside is the first I’ve come across that takes place somewhere that I’m intimately familiar with. I can actually see, hear and even smell this story (the weird dirty greenhouse smell of Toronto never leaves you.) I think that’s why this book feels special to me.

When I think about the stories I’ve written about in my own book, Too Much on the Inside feels like a slightly different conversation, but a parallel one – like if I teleported myself back to the early 2000’s, I might look up from my beer and see Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki living out their lives on the other side of the smoky dive bar. Knowing what I know now, I would wrap my arms around these characters and tell them, “This. All of this. It’s going to be OK.”

 Too Much on the Inside is available on Amazon. I received a copy of the book (thank you!) in exchange for my honest review. All views are my own because that’s how I roll. 

That Friday Afternoon I Spent Watching Strippers, Photographing Half-Naked People and Doing Other Weird Stuff.

On October 22nd I spent the afternoon at the Toronto Metro Convention Center covering the annual Toronto Everything to Do with Sex Show for The Hip & Urban Girl’s Guide. The ETDWSS is a huge event that features over 100 different sex themed vendors, workshops, live entertainment and special guests.

If you’re interested in learning more about the show you can read my very vanilla-ified review of the event here. As a blogger who tends to write a lot about sex & relationships, going to this event was a bit like being a kid in a  candy store….a giant stadium sized candy store full of lingerie, sex toys & tons of interesting blog fodder. I was in heaven. Here’s a look at what I saw:

Interesting Sex Toys & “Adult Themed” products:

I was only at the show for a few minutes before I located the Sqweel. You might remember this toy from my Christmas list last year. Yes people, that’s a wheel of tongues. It’s back on my Christmas list this year because apparently even Santa is weirded out by this thing. I think this is one of those toys that’s so wrong, it’s almost right (IT’S A WHEEL OF TONGUES, HOW COULD THIS BE A BAD THING?)

Oh hello there, Cobra Libre Hands Free Masturbator. Last time I saw you it was in this post about Sex Toys Gone Hilariously Wrong. You really do look like a vacuum cleaner in person.

Do you want to be that creepy person on the block that everyone suspects is a total sex criminal? DO YOU?! Then, I suggest purchasing this “Pornkins” pumpkin carving kit for next Halloween. I can only imagine the trick or treating conversations (“Mommy, why is that one Spiderman stabbing that other Spiderman with his hips?”) Um, yeah.

Stuff that just doesn’t belong:

Like this random Soft Serve Stand. Is this always there? Is it part of the show? Does anyone really want to eat vanilla soft serve in the middle of a sex show?! Wait, don’t answer that. Either way, the lady behind the counter was not impressed that I took a photo of her.

Oh snap, I didn’t realize The Everything To with Sex Show was also carrying birth control!

I’m all about condoms and safe sex but, fellas – if your underwear features an ode to safe sex in the form of dancing cartoon condoms and says “EL SUAVE” across the waistband, you’re doing it wrong (unless your goal is to never get laid – if that’s the case, carry on!)

Once again, I feel like these Ed Hardy shirts do more to impede sex than encourage it.

Nearly naked hot people:

After I spent a good chunk of time wandering around all of the booths, I headed over to the main stage to catch the Baci Lingerie show. This basically involved watching a bunch of hot people strut down the runway in fancy underwear. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.  This is my favorite photo from the show:

I didn’t plan on spending the afternoon watching male strippers, it just happened. When it was time for male exotic dancing star Assassin to take the stage, the PR girl who was kindly showing me around, nudged me and said “You should stick around for this. He’s the biggest guy in the industry…and I mean BIGGEST. It almost hangs down to his knees” – naturally, my curiosity was piqued.

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