Lake cities

Two great lakes, Michigan and Ontario; two great cities, Chicago and Toronto. Chicago holds more of a personal connection for me, having visited Lincoln Park Zoo as a child, prowled the Art Institute often during my teens, loitered in hotel lobbies pretending to be someone else. Attended some of my first theatre. Felt self-conscious with boys in fancy restaurants after a prom. The end of January weather was clear, sometimes cold and windy, but what zest the blue sky injected. The lake lay just on the other side of an overpass from Lincoln Park, near where I was working at the Chicago History museum; later in the week, just down the street from where I stayed in the Loop, a short walk - that included a crossing of Lake Shore drive, where there is a crossing light for pedestrians, down to Monroe Harbour and a sidewalk that stretches around the water.

This is a big difference between the two cities, lake accessibility... unless it is just that I do not know my way around Toronto well. Yes, I can walk from Union Station, under the freeway and across some busy streets to Queen's Quay, and from there along the lake shore, past Harbour Centre and further along, the lovely park with its musical references. But it seems further away from the core of downtown, and so I rode the streetcar out to The Beaches, stopped in Leslieville along the way, for coffee with Alison. It was a raw day, so I didn't walk far, but did see a lovely view of the lake and appreciate the potential of the sand on a sunny day. Development decisions in the past have affected the appearance of Toronto, and with more high rise condos going up, the lake may just disappear from easy view?

The Dufferin Centre theatre complex, Saturday afternoon. In the Ladies room, in the large stall next to me, a woman speaks: "It's okay, Joe. It's only the movies. Did it scare you? I guess I'll never see the end of that movie. It's okay, Joe. We're only at the movies.

The thin lady dressed in yellow pants, with a yellow scarf over her head, whipping around the new Dollorama on West St. Clair, chattering in Spanish to a friend she finds in an aisle.

The couple at Honest Ed's, the woman perhaps 5 feet, drawn-on eyebrows, rusty hair, her husband maybe 5 foot 4, a three inch fringe around the back of his bald head; jars and jars of honey, piles of clothes heaped on the counter. The woman bargaining with the Asian clerk,the blocky husband packing items in their carry-all, forebearing, conspiring.

The big black gallumphing poodle in Cedarvale Park on a sunny cool day, the paths half ice, half mud. Dog society, dog-owner society. Some are new, wary, others familiar and know how to behave, whether to restrain, or simply toss the ball. A small woman with an Irish face, short brown hair, pushing a shopping cart up the hill from the base of the ravine. The contrast between the gritty feel of Bathurst and St. Clair West, with food banks, Phillipine Fruit and Vegetable stores, the Dollorama, and the grand homes of Forest Hill nearby.

Eatons's Centre area, so busy, so loud, full of people. What can I say about Toronto that isn't a cliche? But if I am going to be visiting more or less frequently, I need to find a connection in addition to my daughter. Old City Hall is beautiful, I like the variety of people -- always someone to catch one's attention. The noisy yakka bar (it's our culture, remarked the hostess, when I commented on the volume).

When I stood on the sidewalk, waiting for the cab a woman in, perhaps, her late 40's, early 50's walked toward me, smoking, muttering. She wore a good cloth coat. "It's all about greed and money. I told her to cash the cheque right away." She was on the verge of tears. Straight teeth, full lips, pencilled-on eyebrows, a hat low over her forehead. Eyes the colour of the lake on a cloudy day. Her rent cheque bounced. Her mother didn't like her. She was the oldest and her mother didn't like her. But she has the church, where they let her lead the rosary." I'm weird," she said. "I believe in Jesus. And I have two beautiful daughters. It's a beautiful day, I like days like this. And you're beautiful, too," she concluded, before continuing on. The arc of an encounter.