Thursday, June 25, 2015

Turnabout is fair play: when a former resident becomes a tourist

Be a tourist in your own town.
A burger of "mass destruction" served up for lunch
 at The Burgernator, Kensington Market.

That's the advice provided to many people, who, due to work scheduling issues, budgetary restraints, health concerns, and other factors (like the inability to find an acceptable parrot-sitter!), cannot take a holiday or vacation away from home.

In other words, a "stay-cation."

It's also given out to travel writers looking for new places to write about. If you want to find a story or story angle that's new in order to pitch an editor an idea unique to the countless other pitches he or she receives during the course of business, try to find something new or unique about your own city that is relatively unknown or not written about previously.

Well, there's another kind of spin on that type of activity.

How about you go back to a city you essentially grew up in, used to know it like the back of your hand, but haven't been there, haven't really spent any time there for at least a few decades? And an old friend, but one who did not grow up there, but has now lived there for 30 years acts as a "tour guide" taking you to places you'd never been to, and knows the city better than you ever did.

For some, that might be a bit jarring. But not me. I experienced it the first week of June and I just rolled with it and enjoyed the whimsical irony about it and pondered about the twists of fate and caprice that lead us to those positions.

Got a rant? Check out this alley.
It works well for Rick Mercer.
I spent a very busy but enjoyable day touring around a few spots in Toronto with an old friend, Dan Arsenault, who I actually hadn't seen since 1977.

Dan is one of those people who was a real catalyst in my life, one of what I like to term "pivotal people," individuals who have a significant impact on one's life, regardless of how long your friendship exists.

We met during Frosh Week at the University of New Brunswick in the fall of 1975, and really hit it off.

We hung out together, drank and partied together, had long discussions late in to the night - and it was Dan who introduced me to the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien and that Middle Earth universe.

But that's not what he did that was so pivotal.

Dan was the one who got me involved in media.

He was in arts, I was in forestry. Like a lot of freshmen, I was overwhelmed by all the extracurricular activities provided for students on campus. I wanted to do it all! I eventually tried fencing, joined the UNB Outdoors Club (they didn't have a paddling club then, or I certainly would have joined it!), the UNB Forestry Association, and probably a few others I've forgotten. And maybe even a few I could not join...("What? You mean I have to be in the faculty of nursing to join the UNB Nursing Society??" There went that idea for meeting single females...)

But Dan, who did a show on CHSR 700, the carrier current AM campus station, kept telling me I should join, that I'd probably be good at it, and really enjoy it. Eventually I listened, and joined, and was part of the executive that helped transition the station to a low-power FM station in 1981.

And at that point, although the writing was not quite on the wall yet, and it would take a few more years, it really was, "Sayonara, forestry degree!"

That first year zipped past, and then it was spring, time to go home for the summer. Dan, went home to Chipman, New Brunswick, I went back to Newmarket, Ontario.

We kept in touch over the summer, mainly via letters (this was LONG before email, the Internet and social media), and a few phone calls. During the summer, Dan told me he was not coming back to UNB in the fall, as he needed to take some time off to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life.

video

Wandering around the Distillery District, looking for a lunch spot. 

I felt not exactly devastated, but certainly at a loss. However, life went on. Dan dropped in to the campus a few times for a visit, but we eventually lost touch. He moved out to Alberta, I continued on at UNB, and so it went.

Eventually, I graduated (with a business administration degree) and moved out west to begin work at a weekly newspaper, the Barrhead Leader. Little did I know at the same time, my gone-but-not-forgotten pal was moving from Alberta to Toronto.

Fast forward to April 2011. I was just back from Thailand, and somehow we re-connected on Facebook. Then, when I realized I'd be spending a few days in Toronto in early June, I thought of Dan and how much I'd like to see him again.

So we arranged it, met up and hung around Kensington Market for a few hours - one of those places I always knew about but never went to, growing up in Toronto.

We had lunch at a cool little burger joint, did a bit of window shopping, drank some coffee, and just caught up on, oh, 40 years of living.
One of the pieces of public art on display in
Toronto's Distillery District.

Dan was a great tour guide. He knew the area well, even knew some of the merchants there, and it was an enjoyable few hours.

He also took me down an alley, not far from the market area. It was the graffiti-filled alley where TV host Rick Mercer conducts his "rants."

But it didn't stop there.

We hopped a streetcar and rode over to the Distillery District, an area I'd just heard about recently and spent some more time wandering and drinking coffee and chatting.

Dan really knows the city well, and that gave me the opportunity to look at Toronto differently than I had in the past. When taking other friends back there, I'd always been the one "guiding" us to where we wanted to go. This time, I just went along for the ride.

Try it some time. You'll probably get new perspectives and maybe a fresh appreciation for places you'd known or known about years ago.

While it was great seeing parts of the city I'd never seen before, basically, seeing it as a tourist might, of much greater importance was my re-connecting, in person, with someone who I've always considered a special friend, someone whose presence in my life had a profound impact on it.

And it was like we'd never even been apart for 40 years.

That's friendship.

You can travel the world and maybe never find something like that. Or, to paraphrase Irish novelist George Moore, you can travel the world in search of what you need, and return home to find it.

Spending time with good friends is like that: it's a return home.


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