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Creepy Crockford Blvd.

2 Nov

A few days after moving into our Scarborough digs a year ago, a neighbour dropped by to welcome us to the neighbourhood, share tomatoes from her garden, and offer a few pointers for us newly-minted locals.  One of the things she mentioned by way of guide to the area was a short-cut to the closest grocery store, a Food Basics.  I thought it was a great tip.

In 12 months I have never had occasion to go to the store.  It is generally a lot more convenient for my car-less self to hitch a ride with family or friends as they run their errands, or to pick up groceries along the subway line on my way home.   (Woodbine Station is excellent as there is a Valu-Mart steps from the metro so I can hop on, hop off and get my shopping done).

On a recent Sunday afternoon, however, I decided to go get groceries and it occurred to me to try out this famous short cut to Food Basics.

It was extremely foggy around 6p.m. when I set off.   As I headed north to Lawrence Avenue via Crockford Boulevard—an industrial street with barely any sidewalks, barely any cars, no people and two guard dogs—I was quite a bit creeped out.  It also felt like I was walking forever (‘short cut’ certainly seemed a misnomer).  The fog didn’t help with either of these perceptions.

In order to quell my slightly nervous state, perhaps, I started daydreaming about what Crockford could look like in a somewhat alternate universe.  With a new direction, new zoning bylaws, and a lot of investment — if it were to become a pedestrian-friendly precinct.

I envisioned how different the place would be if some of the vacant or underutilized buildings became loft-style apartments; if the warehouses were revamped and converted to offices, funky restaurants and party venues; if a renewed Crockford became Toronto’s latest Distillery District or Liberty Village northeast.

It was a pretty big stretch but a fun place for the mind to wander.  Who knows what the future holds, in any case?

Bye Bye Bloor West, Hello Rosedale

22 Apr

Last month, our company’s offices moved from Bloor West Village (where we’d been located since I started working there three years ago) to the strip of Yonge St. between Rosedale and Summerhill subway stations.

The change has been significant.  Living as I do in the east end of town, the new location is welcome firstly because it cuts down on my commute time by almost an hour a day.  And the new neighbourhood, while a little pricier than Bloor West, is cheery and full of the energy that comes with loads of people walking up and down Yonge St. all day long.  (It doesn’t hurt that spring has sprung, filling patios and putting a little extra jazz in everyone’s step).

Though I wasn’t very familiar with Bloor West prior to starting at the firm a few years back, I will be missing some of the local businesses that were in and around the old digs.  Here are some of the neighbourhood shops I came to be thankful for:

Alfredo’s – Local grocery store with a deli and everything. Very handy for last minute lunch purchases of all kinds.

Java Joe’s – Slightly quirky folk but the panini I used to think was expensive and only got as a treat every so often is looking mighty reasonable relative to a panini in midtown!

The Pastry Chef – Sadly this lovely little bakery has recently closed due to the owners retiring (maybe not so sad for them!)  These guys supplied all our office birthday cakes and satisfied all sorts of early morning and late afternoon cravings for sweets. Local chatter says the place will now be occupied by a dentist’s office, which makes me wonder: why wouldn’t a new bakery come along to buy the old business with its ready-made clientele that’s been built up over the years…?  I asked myself the same question when Peter’s Place closed down.  This seemingly very successful greasy spoon with the most wonderful characters closed last year when the owners decided to retire, but nothing has yet sprung up in its place.  Again, someone could have probably set up a great business coming in where this one had closed down (because its closure was certainly not due to lack of interest in burgers, greek food and all-day breakfast from us local folk).

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Feel good TTC stories (an antidote to the recent spree of bad press)

24 Feb

The TTC hasn’t had it easy – public relations wise – over the last few weeks.  Even before the the sleeping TTC collector and the break-taking bus driver, they had to contend with the realization there were 31,000 complaints in 2009, a 15% increase over 2008.  In response to this spike in general dissatisfaction, the TTC has recruited a customer service panel with private sector advisors in other sectors such as the hotel industry to give them tips on how to improve.  This panel is still underway so it remains to be seen exactly how its recommendations will be rolled out.

Many of us are familiar with the frustration involved in using public transit everyday, so few of us are surprised to hear about the high number of complaints.  But while most of these are legitimate, we should remember that where there are complaints about service on the TTC, there are compliments.  And those compliments are voiced much less often.

So this blog post is about the memorable exceptions.  Everyone has at least one or two feel good stories about riding the TTC.  Here are a few of mine.

Streetcar Entertainment

This was years ago.  I lived by Bathurst & Lakeshore and took the 511 Bathurst Streetcar on a daily basis.  Long before the automated stop announcements were in place, there was one driver who had this route who would call out the names of each stop, as I believe they were required to do.   But he had a little twist: he would say the names of the stops– BACKWARDS.  That’s right SDRAWKCAB.

So we would pass Tecumseth – but it would be Htesmucet.  I think it was this same driver who would announce his own “guide to the city” as we went along.  “Toronto Western Hospital is next, Toronto Western Hospital.  Let’s hope you don’t have to end up there.”

The Irresistible Pout

While still living lakeside, I was once attempting to catch a southbound streetcar at the corner of College and Spadina.  Here the streetcar stop is located on the south side of the intersection. I was waiting at the south east corner of the street and saw the streetcar as it rushed past me.  I pouted in the streetcar driver’s general direction, making a little puppy dog face.  I was going to miss my ride because the traffic light looked as though it would not change in time for me to cross safely and run to the stop.  Surprisingly, the driver happened to catch my sad little face as he passed the intersection and waited for me a whole minute until I could safely cross and run to meet it.  When I got on, I thanked him.  He replied: “But of course.  Who could resist such a pout?”

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A block in ruins

24 Feb

The February 21 front page of the Toronto Star had some arresting images of the fire that all but razed a full quarter of the 600 block of Queen West between Bathurst and Spadina this past Wednesday. I think what got me even more though, was the language in a sidebar describing the damage sustained by each affected business: from “water damage,” to “gutted,” to “collapsed”. There’s something about the word “gutted” that’s especially heartwrenching.

Made a point of passing by the scene of the fire yesterday afternoon. Four and a half days after it broke out, the flames have been extinguished and demolition has begun. The area remains blocked to traffic and yellow “Fire Line — Do Not Cross” tape still sections off a vast portion of the street. My curiosity and need to see these ruins in person turned out to be far from unique: dozens of people and their cameras took a moment this weekend to gape at what remains of the strip of Queen West framed by Pizzaiolio and Organized by Design.

Gutted really is the right word for the state of many of these structures. What’s left of them is just a shell, if that. The former buildings’ insides and outsides are spewed on the sidewalk and street in chunks and shards.

The most incongruous thing in all this mess is the presence of a small rack of relatively undisturbed clothing in what used to be the back of preloved. About ten ‘nouveau vintage’ sweaters are just hanging there in a tidy row. Lightly sprinkled with ash, perhaps; maybe a few frozen threads, but essentially fine— probably still with the price tags on. There’s something ostentatious about the intactness of the stuff. If those sweaters were people, they’d be naive, oblivious, blissfully unaware of everything that has crumbled around them.

But there’s beauty here too (well captured by the Star and countless citizen photographers). Elegant icicles hang from charred bits of structure; what used to be walls or doors and are now pieces of brick, wood and glass fall into interesting arrangements… the odd office chair is visible under the rubble, turned on its side. The scene, moved indoors, could be an installation at the Power Plant. Only it’s a lost slice of T dot (not to mention a few homes and livelihoods). It will be interesting to see what pops up in the next couple of years in this spot, and to follow the displaced businesses to their new homes.



Sold Out

29 Nov

Dave Eggers was in town earlier this week talking about his book, What Is the What, newly out in paperback. Sometime last week, I came across a reference to the event online and thought I might like to go. I’ve only ever been to one reading in my life, but I loved Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (which my roommate bought in an airport several years ago and lent to me afterward), so I thought I would enjoy seeing him speak about his work.

I decided to purchase my ticket the day of the event. I showed up at the church where the talk was taking place only to find, to my dismay, that it was 100% sold out. But not before a rather convoluted trajectory around the city summarized as follows: Jane/Bloor to Bloor/Spadina to Queen/John to Danforth by Chester station, then back home to Little Italy.

I was particularly sad to miss Eggers’ presentation because I didn’t know of anyone else planning to attend, so nobody would be able to tell me how it went. I have had to rely on the National Post‘s account instead.  The only good thing that came of the rather failed outing was a brief ride on the subway with someone who had about as much foresight as me in showing up to a bestselling author’s talk sans $5 ticket. It just so happens she is a juggler, and you don’t meet a juggler every day, so that was pretty cool.

I really need to learn my lesson about buying tickets well in advance of an event. I have had next week’s José González show at Mod Club ‘penciled in’ in iCal for at least a month. But I just checked, and it is already sold out.

Of breakfasts, brunches, and petit déjeuners…

8 Oct

In Montreal one of my favourite things to do with friends on a Sunday morning—or any day or time, really—was to go for brunch. In undergrad, we got our breakfast fix at places like Oxford Café on Ste-Catherine, Place Milton in the McGill Ghetto, and Moe’s, a 24-hour diner near Concordia’s downtown campus. At Oxford there is a menu item called something like Elvis’ Breakfast which is french toast with bananas, peanut butter, and maple syrup. That’s my idea of delicious. (Maybe it’s just me and Elvis.) Place Milton and Moe’s are greasy spoons that serve cheap, tasty food, and still have their charm.

In grad school, my breakfast tastes got a little more refined. We’d have poached eggs served in avocado or mango at Senzala, morning glories and goat cheese & pear crêpes at El Dorado (‘the-place-across-from-L’Avenue’) or we’d beat L’Avenue‘s notorious lineup by brunching on a weekday. There and at La Grand-mère poule there are so many breakfast choices it takes half an hour to decide.

Since I’ve been back in Toronto, I’ve been enjoying trying out breakfasts around the city. Kilgour’s on Bloor has always been one of my preferred places for Eggs Benny; they serve one with roasted red pepper. Yum. I recently checked out Boom! Breakfast & Company in Little Italy. The fries are great and the service friendly.

Another new discovery is Aunties and Uncles, near College and Bathurst. The potato salad with just the right amount of dill is a nice twist—you wouldn’t think potato salad with breakfast, but in fact, it’s delicious.

Stroll down Dundas Street west of Bathurst on a Saturday morning and you can’t miss Saving Grace, rumoured to be one of Sarah Polley’s favourite breakfast joints. On a weekend, count on waiting at least twenty minutes for a table after marking your name on the sign up sheet at the entrance—it’s worth the wait. I’ve been there twice now: I had one of the day’s specials, a pumpkin frittata, the first time around and an old cheddar sandwich on raisin bread from the menu on the second visit (I was more impressed by the former, mainly because, despite the rave reviews, I felt like I could have easily made the sandwich at home). The Vietnamese iced coffee was very much to my liking (though my friend was disappointed—it was not as bitter as the coffees at her favourite pho places in Montreal and Toronto). Continue reading