Here I am teetering on the edge of the age gap, wondering what adventures the other side of the great chasm will afford me. Let us just say that I am celebrating a “noteworthy” birthday this year and that I had decided that I would celebrate it by dissecting North America in a Ford Mustang. However my journey was to start in Toronto, Canada, a city which I had always planned to visit and which had always held a certain mystical allure. So here I am, teetering on that age gap, reflecting on the past tri-decade and feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
I should have known better really. I mean, what did I expect? I have lived in London now for approximately half of my adult life and once you’ve lived in one big city, you’ve lived in them all. I can therefore say categorically that I have visited Tokyo, Munich, Paris, Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Chicago and Seoul. The stamps in my passport are irrelevant. I have lived in a city therefore I have lived in all cities. Toronto is no different. Although I must say there is something particularly soulless about this great city. Yes I know what you are thinking. The city is artifice, it is constructed, manmade. But no, there is something that found spookily bland about Toronto. It is a city that appears to live in the shadow of another great city. It is the younger sibling that strives to find its own identity yet labours under the personality of the more dominant offspring. It is America-lite or Yank Zero if you like.
I had come to Toronto hoping to find my own private slice of Canadia. I wanted to discover the distinctions that provided Canadians with justified umbrage every time one mistook them for Americans. I hoped to understand the culture of the people and to see what it meant to be Canadian and not American. I wished to become fluent in the Canadian tongue and understand the distinctions that existed between the Canadian accent and its American cousin. So how did I achieve this? I went to Toronto, and stayed at the Sheraton. Beat that for immersing yourself in Canadian culture. It is like the man who travels to Abuja for the first time, spends two nights at the Hilton and feels qualified enough to deliver a three hour sermon on the ills of the entire Nigerian nation, simultaneously offering remedies for its improved economic performance. I felt like a fraud and I had to get my hands dirty.
On the Friday I landed I was Toronto bourgeoisie, sipping Patron and dining a la carte. On Saturday I devolved to the middle-class. By Sunday I was a plebeian. The irony is that I endured the greatest joys as a plebeian. On that day I explored parts of Toronto that I doubt any respectable tour company would include on its itinerary. I went to Chinatown and ate Indian. I went to College Street, stood on a soapbox and orated. I talked of my wanderlust. I spoke of human passion and its unvarying ability to surprise. My audience was small but captive. I visited Yonge Street and listened, nay vibed, to Soular. I marvelled, as I always do, at artists who swear by their passion. They were not famous. They were not rich. The words were often not theirs, but for the sake of a free meal at the establishment that provided platform, they sang and they performed like gods. An extraterrestrial visitor would have witnessed their performance and compared it with the MTV radio signals they received in Delcrum 9. They would have struggled to identify who was the more talented, Soular or Beyonce or Rihanna or whoever. At last my hands were grubby and I realised that this was the fragment of the city that I most loved – its heart. For even amongst the mechanical and the logical aspects of every city - its imposing skyscrapers and dirty, overcrowded public transport systems, you will always find a small but thriving organ that allows for the rest of its adjuncts to thrive independently and function harmoniously.
On now to Boston for St Patrick’s Day. The colour of my money and my underwear are both green so I suspect that I will fit right in. The rest of my four week sojourn will involve a variety of accommodation from the opulent rooms of Las Vegas to the cockroach infested motels that are strewn across Route 66. Each moment will be an adventure and I promise that there will be images, plenty of images. For all my American dwelling friends I may be coming soon to a town near you. I am hopefully meeting with at least two fellow blog-villains. If you holler at me then lunch is on me. If not then look out for the cherry-red Ford Mustang. You will recognise me I think. I will be the black guy getting stopped by the Police in every State for doing 100mph.