Escape from Toronto - Chapter One


Toronto. New York run by the Swiss.

altA frozen paper mache of snow and refuse. A generally hostile environment in the heat of summer becomes a frozen wasteland of cars, people, indiscernible smells with the crunchy tease of urban winter tossed in for good measure.

Finding a great cup, even a good cup in Canada's big smoke is about as challenging as running the Ironman with 3 weeks practice on a treadmill. It just doesn't pay to approach the task unprepared.

As it turns out, coming prepared means crossing your fingers because in the haughty city of Toronto (center of the Universe) the first things you will have to deal with are the never-ending bleats of cultural supremacy, the straight-faced declaration of inventing, well, everything and the dressing down of anyone west of Hamilton, Ontario.

Being a bermuda wearing, tweed-curtain bordering, root-vegetable digging, sock and sandal type granola from the great Rain forest of the West Coast, you can well imagine that I deplane somewhat punchy and peevish.

The CoffeeCrew team arrive at Terminal-1 Pearson, the new add-on to an already sprawling international airport. It glistens with steel and glass and the very latest in security features to keep the grounded unwashed separate from us paying flyers. As we wait patiently for our bags we are surprised to see our ride appear out of nowhere, in the secure zone. I do not even bother asking.

The ride to base-camp, in sleepy Oakville, takes us down a couple of chunks of highway some 24 lanes wide. Imagine 8 lanes of cars going in one direction, 8 lanes in the other and 8 more 'collecting' for this artery of concrete slab. We will repeat this process one week later on the return leg and for some reason it will seem scarier and significantly more frenetic.

Oakville is a large scale human storage facility for the city of Toronto. Row after row of identical brick houses fill in an ever-expanding mosaic of farmland eating neighborhoods. We visit almost every other year and even the locals will admit, if you blink you may miss the appearance of yet another characterless subdivision or strip-mall. Ford motor company used to make a home here and it is no surprise - Oakvillians love their cars, their trucks, and their SUV's. Heck, cars in Ontario are more like rumpus rooms on wheels. They shop in their cars, eat in their cars, living life or watching it pass by in the air conditioned comfort of their ride. Okay, I am describing Los Angeles too. Toronto is a cold and grey version of L.A. - It is L.A. without the bling, without the heat, without the tan.

For some reason outside of my grasp, the food and people of Toronto are fabulous. We sat down to an Italian meal with about 3 other couples (thanks Sara) in a restaurant that claimed to make the countries best risotto. There was no doubt about it. It was superb. The company of friends at this table had more energy than the average nuclear plant. Most of this was estrogen power by the way - the guys, although artistically brilliant, and I sat stock still (relatively) while an episode of Sex in the City played out live around us. For the men, it was the "So, what about the NHL: on or off?" For the ladies, it was, "Have you been to that new mud spa and accupunture clinic down in the annex? Their japanese masseuse is `@&*$` out of this World and you would be one stupid '$#@*'  if you missed out on his 6-block $150 an hour treatment." Did I mention I often dig root vegetables in my co-op garden south of Oak Bay?

Toronto is a contrast of grey-haired men in $700 cashmere coats and homeless waifs in hand-me-down arctic grade full-body sleeping bags over Bay street heating vents. If the spectrum of wealth versus poverty was not distributed in such chaotic and unexpected abandon, I would have half-suspected I was walking around in a sub-polar nightmare, or maybe San Francisco on a really cold day.

In chapter two I will approach the focus of this bad dream - Toronto's Coffee Scene. 

Colin Newell is a writer, journalist and technologist living in Victoria, B.C. Canada. He sniffs the air for a good story like a Black Lab that has just picked up the not-so-fresh scent of an unclaimed fish head. C-man is his name and Coffee is the game..