I went into downtown Toronto yesterday to go bridesmaid and wedding dress shopping with my brother’s fiancee and the rest of the bridal party (I’m a bridesmaid). I’m not a city girl, by ANY stretch of the means.
I drove from my town to the nearest GO Train station and left my car in the parking lot. It was a little over an hour on the train, and to my shock, I’ve discovered that while I become violently motion sick while moving if I read in most other forms of transportation, I can read quite happily on a train. I read for a glorious total of 2.5 hours yesterday with all the time I spent on trains and subways. I think, if I ever had to take a job in the city, I’d move closer, but not that close… just close enough to take the train.
I made my train by a measly 4 minutes, which if you know me at all is not acceptable, and I felt quite at odds about it. Once I was settled into my seat on the train with my open book though, I was much happier.
I arrived at Union Station and Roseanne, the maid of honour, was to pick me up at Front and Bay street, but if you’ve been downtown Toronto lately, you know that Front Street by Union is pretty blocked off because Union Station is completely under construction. Roseanne had trouble finding me.
Once we finally met up, after I’d waved off many hopeful taxi cab drivers and explained to very many random wanderers that no, sorry, I have no idea where the aquarium/York Mills/whatever is… I don’t really even know where I am…. we were able to proceed to our first appointment.
We went for lunch after the first place, and it was delicious! If you’ve never been to Artegelato on Bloor, I recommend it. Good panini, and the gelato looked AMAZING!
We then traveled all over the city, between the downtown core and North York and back again. Traffic sucked. There were SO MANY LIGHTS! There were SO MANY CARS! There were so many angry motorists who weren’t driving properly, and then got really angry at those who were! People trying to turn Right, stuck at red lights behind people going straight through (who obviously can’t run red lights) would honk incessantly until the light turned green. Motorists going straight through would honk while waiting in line behind someone turning left, who obviously couldn’t just turn left into a steady stream of Bay Street traffic. Drivers would just drive down the middle of two lanes. Drivers would sneak up in closed construction lanes, bike lanes… really, wherever they could. It was insane. I’m beyond glad that I wasn’t driving. There would have been tears.
By the time we got to the last place, I was exhausted and my self-esteem had taken a huge hit while dress shopping, so I was already edgy and nearing tears. We did four appointments between 10:30 and 3. Nutso. At each appointment, I found that each store only carried my size of dress (18) in two or three styles, and so trying to try on different styles was like trying to stuff a big, fluffy, Queen-sized pillow into a cheap twin-sized pillow case. It wasn’t working. At one point, one of the staff at the last place we visited handed me a size ten dress and expected it to work. I hadn’t looked at the tag because I assumed when I told her I was a size 18, she’d understand that that meant probably the smallest dress I’d be able to get my hips into would be a 16. Maybe a 14 if it were forgiving. This conversation actually happened while I was in the dressing room.
As she kept trying to open the curtain, she says “Laura, are you ready? Need help?”
“No, this dress is a size ten, it won’t go past my mid-thigh.”
“Put it over your head! I’ll hold it closed for you!”
“I’m an EIGHTEEN! Putting it over my head isn’t going to work. My chest won’t fit. My waist won’t fit. My hips won’t fit! It’ll be a really awkward shirt, and I may never get it off again!”
Luckily, despite my not being a size ten, we had tons of time at the last place and were ALL able to find our dresses! Super exciting.
This is where the fun starts, though. I had plans to meet my cousin downtown at the Eaton Centre for dinner, and that means I had to navigate Toronto’s transit system all by my lonesome. I’ve taken Subways, I’ve taken buses, but I’ve never been left to figure it out all on my own before.
I left the last bridal store on Sheppard, which unbeknownst to me is technically in North York, and I started walking the direction I thought I needed to walk to get to the Yonge-Sheppard Subway station. I was texting my cousin as I walked… even though to my dismay, I left the bridal shop with a mere 29% battery life. I asked him to text me instead of iMessage so that I could turn my 3G off to save battery, but for whatever reason it wouldn’t work, and I was only receiving his messages as iMessages, so I HAD to leave my 3G on.
It was rainy, it was damp, and the wind picked up through the day yesterday, so it was rather chilly walking through the streets of North York in the dark by myself. I felt like I was walking out of civilization… which I wasn’t, it just didn’t look built up like I thought it should when I was supposed to be walking toward Yonge Street. I was actually walking toward Rexdale and Brampton, turns out… because I was walking West and not East. It would have been a very long walk had I not recognized the fading signs of big city life compared to the quieter buzz of suburbia. I imagine I’d have clued in by the Allen Expressway if I hadn’t figured it out sooner :p
As I was walking, I got swamped by a TTC Bus… and let me assure you, when you see it happen in the movies, they’re not exaggerating it. A bus drove through a giant puddle of muddy, icy water and sprayed it all over me. It ran from my hair onto my neck, down my back, and soaked my leggings and coat. My purse was soaked. I was soaked. And now I was chilled. And I was lost, and quite frankly at this point, I was scared. This attempt at independence I had made was not working well, and my poor cousin was waiting at a mall for me. I felt bad for keeping him waiting.
Thankfully his phone had much more juice than mine, and he was able to look up transit routes for me. He explained that I needed to get on the 84 bus going East and take it to the Sheppard-Yonge Subway station, take the Yonge-University line going South, and get off at Dundas, and he’d meet me at the Subway.
I finally saw a bus. It was an 84 bus! I had hope! I ran across Sheppard at the cross-walk and flagged down the about-to-depart bus, got on in the nick of time, and made my incompetence known immediately. This conversation with the bus driver actually happened:
“Thanks for stopping! How much is it?”
“Ok.. *I fish change out of my purse.* Where’s it go?”
*she points to the change intake thing.*
“Thanks!” *I put my change in the thing, and out pops a ticket*
*she hands me the ticket.*
“Is this my ticket?”
“where do I need to get off if I need to go to the Eaton Centre?”
“Sheppard Station ma’am. Step behind the white line, please.”
“ok. oh. ok. Thank you!”
My cousin is still texting me subway instructions at this point, and asks me if I got a transfer ticket. I look to the unsuspecting woman I’m sitting beside, hold up my ticket, and ask “is this a transfer ticket?” She nods. I tell her I’ve never done this by myself before. She smiles and says it takes some getting used to.
I managed to get off the bus at the right station, and I managed to get into the subway station. I found the first person dressed in a TTC uniform, and asked him to tell me where I needed to go. He brought me to a map, where I was made keenly aware of just how far away from the actual city’s downtown core I really was, and he very kindly explained to me exactly what I needed to do.
I texted my cousin to let him know I was off the bus and at the subway station, and then I planned to text him once I was on the subway to tell him I was leaving, but I had no service for like ten minutes! I turned my phone off for a little bit to save some power. By this point I had 16% battery life left. I turned it back on after about ten minutes, only to find that I had a text from him saying “u ok?” I assured him that I was, told him I was on the subway and would be there soon, he told me he’d meet me by the doors at the Dundas station, and I told him I was turning my phone back off.
Luckily, I was able to find him, and let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a familiar face in my life. He gave me a big hug, and then as the stress released, it hit me that I was in fact quite hungry, and needed to eat. We went into the food court, and I purchased a meal that was far too large, and couldn’t finish it. Then, I made the very wise decision to go to the Telus store and purchase myself a car charger for my phone so that I’d have it when driving after returning to my car. The last thing I’d want would be to break down on the 403 at night with a dead phone.
We had a nice visit, and decided that on a Saturday in the near future, I’d come up to Toronto for the day, and we’d see some of the sights and do some of the cool things the downtown has to offer, and I’m looking forward to that. I feel like I can handle the GO train, and I can handle the Subway, but without my cousin texting bus instructions, I don’t know what I would have done. Walked to Brampton, maybe? Died on the streets of North York? Who knows? I’m being dramatic, of course, but I was getting quite scared. If I hadn’t had battery dying issues, I’d have just Google Mapped my course, but I wanted to make sure I had at least some battery power in case I had an emergency.
The biggest thing I learned through this entire ordeal is that I am not cut out for big city life. I very much enjoy that my city takes 15 minutes to get across, and that while the drivers here are also idiots, I feel much safer at home.
It was an experience…. one that may have shaved a year off my life due to how tense I was. At one point I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry or vomit…. or do both… and then I couldn’t decide what order I’d do them in. I was stressed. It did, however, give me an opportunity to pray. I asked God to help me see where I needed to go as I stood in the lobby of an apartment building trying to get warm, and regrouping my thoughts trying to figure out what to do. Just after I walked back out the doors to turn around and walk back East, I saw the 84 bus on the other side of the road, and I booked it. It had to be divine intervention that the crosswalk let me walk just as I needed to to be able to catch that bus. I don’t know how far apart those buses run, but at the very least, I knew I wasn’t going to die on the streets of North York. There was hope. And in that moment, that one thing was enough to get me going again. Thank the Lord.
As I watched all the people around me moving seamlessly on and off the bus, then transferring to Subways without any hesitation, I very much felt like I was on the outside looking in on a totally different culture and way of life. Big City living is not something I’ve ever had to navigate solo, and while I will try it again to go meet my cousin in the city, I will make sure I have a charged up battery, that I bring my charger with me (an outlet at a Tim Horton’s for 20 minutes would have saved a LOT of trouble!), and that I’ve planned my routes out ahead of time. Never again will I assume that public transit “can’t be that hard” when you’re a teeny tiny little minnow swimming in a sea full of really experienced, gigantic…. whales? I think that’s about how small I felt yesterday. A minnow in a sea full of whales.
** The photos used in this post are licensed for use by Creative Commons. I do not own them, and I was not endorsed for using them.**