Training is essentially at an end. I’m sitting in the back of the room, waiting for the Canadian staff to ask me questions or call me over with some difficulty. I’ll pop up again in about half an hour to answer final public questions and then we’re off to the YYZ, yo.
The oddest thing about the trip to Canda has been how much my schedule is changed, even though I’m only one hour ahead on the internal clock. At home I’m up very early and in bed at a reasonable hour, here on the road it’s been reasonable mornings and late evenings.
Part of that is due to my dependence on the group as a whole – the office is a good distance from the hotel, and as one of the designated drivers I can’t leave until everyone’s ready to go. The fitness center in the hotel also doesn’t open until 7, which doesn’t give me enough time to work out in the mornings – and by evening I’m so hungry that working out before dinner isn’t a very good option. As to working out after dinner, well … I’m not just running on salads this time around.
I remember that during my last trip abroad, the time change worked in my favor to a large extent. Waking up at 3 AM local time isn’t that different from waking up at 4 AM at home, and gives me time to either get to the gym or pool (assuming those hours are flexible) or work on writing, design, etc. I got a lot of fiction and game work taken care of in those predawn hours outside the standard box, and I plan to do the same this time around. We won’t have cars in Hong Kong or Frankfurt; and at least in Hong Kong we’re staying in the main downtown harbor area rather than the suburbs, giving me a lot more latitude in terms of travel and sightseeing.
Travelling back to the States should prove interesting – American Airlines has sent out new security restrictions which really impact the way I intend to travel. I use my computer bag as the single carry-on for laptop, camera, mp3 recorder, medicine, books, iPod … the works. Well, I landed in Canada before realizing that AA will no longer let you carry anything but a computer in a laptop bag. You can have a secondary, smaller bag – but of course, I don’t have one.
Luckily, my winter weather coat is a hobo-style coat rather than anything stylish. I got it when I was fifty pounds heavier and carried candy and reubens in my pockets for the commute. As a result, everything I used to carry in the laptop case has fit into the coat pockets without affecting my silhoutte. I feel like a compulsive hoarder; of course, but nobody has to know but me.
One of the things I’ve noticed in Canada is a surprising – to me – amount of nationalism. This isn’t necessarily obvious in speaking with people, but it is when you look around at some of the cherished institutions of the United States which have crept into Canadian culture like Canuckudzu.
I am referring, of course, to fast food.
Canada is not alone in its alteration of the McDonald’s logo, according to logoblink.com, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it personally. Their ads have also included the phrase “c’est ca que j’m,” which is Canadian French for “I’m lovin’ it.”
I’ve also seen on television that the Taco Bell logo has a silver maple leaf appearing, apostrophe-like, alongside the “Think Outside the Bun” tagline on their late night commercials. I haven’t been able to find photographic proof of that, though, and as I’m flying out tonight it looks unlikely that I will.
It doesn’t bother me in the least – in fact, I rather enjoy seeing how local culture influences corporate culture. However, I’ve got a feeling that slapping a white star or red stripes over a Tim Horton’s logo in Detroit would result in considerably different press from designers and Canadians alike.
No update last night for the simple reason that I was fried eight ways from yesterday, and not much happened to report. The training is great when I’m actually up and presenting, but sitting in the back and just hopping up to answer questions tires me out.
Of course, when I say “not much to report,” I don’t mean not anything …
The consultants wanted to get back to the hotel more quickly than usual to address a few issues that had come up during the sessions, so we agreed to find a place to eat more local to the hotel than the night before. A bit of sleuthing resulted in Amanda suggesting Zen Sushi in Scarborough, and with the Garmin reactivated we set off on our way.
I pulled into the wrong parking lot at first, undershooting by about ten feet, and wound up staring at a combination bowling alley / strip club awash in garish neon and the swaddling darkness of illicit entertainment. The actual parking lot had the restaurant wedged in between a Pakistani video rental storefront and a “spa” which may or may not have offered showers.
I’ll be honest. I was leery.
I shouldn’t have been.
Inside, Zen was a tiny treasure amidst the waste. There were no tables for seven, but we split off into two groups. We were instructed by a grandmotherly woman to remove our shoes before climbing into the booths, something I haven’t done since I was a wee lad at the International House of Pancakes! Jennifer, Amanda and I decided on Sapporo and sake before ordering.
It was some of the best Japanese food I’ve ever had. Wanting to try something new, I decided against the usual nigiri and ordered a combination mountain potato / goma-ae appetizer with a stockpot of sakitori for the main course. I can’t accurately describe the sweetness of the sauce on my dish, other than to say that the tofu cubes with the consistency of custard soaked it up like angel food cake. Combined with slices of lightly cooked beef, firm oyster mushrooms and glass noodles as transparent as fishbowls, I was in a little world all my own – too full by the end of the meal to even consider the traditional tamago end-meal.
I ordered it anyway.
The training went very well and the students were very responsive to my own peculiar brand of heavy metal tutoring. Extra points for having to adjust my spectacles to peer at my boss and the consultants and ask them to keep it down in the back of the classroom, making me the clear authority figure you all really wish me to be. The glasses may stay on again tomorrow for this express purpose.
After class I suggested we head downtown to get some good dinner and hang out by the lakefront, having found an Indian restaurant called Aroma which was highly recommended by various guides. We drove the forty-five minutes down from the hotel and enjoyed a fantastic meal, from shared platters of vegetable pakora and mint naan to my seekh kabobs, several vindaloos, and a few Kingfisher and Cheetah beers. Amanda, our youngest member, had never had Indian before – turns out she lives in the neighborhood now! We shared some local information and everyone had a good time.
After that … well, I give you the listing from eyeweekly.com for this week at the Orbit Lounge in downtown Toronto:
Note that the Sisters Euclid are due to play at the Orbit Room tonight.
We wrap dinner around 8:30, and proceed to shuffle our feet another half hour or so. I’ve already advanced the idea of the Orbit Room, but that I’ll understand if people are tired. Nobody wants to be the one to make a decision regarding what to do next. Finally, as we huddle in a bus shelter, I ask if there are two people who really want to outvote me and go home. There are not, and as such we proceed.
Harry’s Garmin has lost its mojo at the least opportune time, responding neither to tears, threats, nor recriminations. We are forced to follow Norb, who is being directed by Amanda using Google Maps on his Blackberry. Amanda is young enough to not fully grok the idea of a non-touchscreen telephone, which proceeds to lead us through an area I will lovingly refer to as Lower East Crackton in search of the aforementioned club. Eventually they turn a 180 by Lower East Crackton’s Civic Centre and go backwards, PAST the Indian Restaurant by a good ten minutes before we find the Orbit Room.
Which is closed.
For the evening.
As the kind gentleman sweeping the stairs informs us.
Am I disappointed? Well, yes and no. I would have loved to see the band and spend some time listening to good jazz, and I’m a little disappointed that I chose against the Retribution Gospel Choir. On the other hand, I DID get out of the hotel and led us somewhere, and there’s no promise that Eyeweekly wasn’t lying about the Choir as well as the Sisters. The fact that the end result wasn’t what I expected doesn’t invalidate the journey itself.
We begin to head home, which takes another hour as Norb and Amanda lead us on the Arduous March Redux for about thirty miles on Yonge Street to find the expressway. After the second emergency anti-merge, Harry, Jennifer and I decide we can afford to let them lose us and dope it out on our own.
Wound up back at the steakhouse for a nightcap with Norb, Nitin and Tony; enjoying a scotch and getting only a tiny bit of it spilled on me by our waitress. It is the end of the evening, and I am proceeding to get to bed. It’s past time to put a capper on a day that was good by any measure.
Note: Across the street from the shuttered Orbit Room was an ice cream parlor presumably run by Ben and Jerry’s less respectable acid-dropping brothers. It took all my willpower not to go demand a hemp sundae.
One of the things I’ve found in my short exploration is that there seems to be a sharp dividing line between daytime activities and nighttime activities in Toronto. I’d love to see one of the following exhibits or museums, but they – along with most of the art galleries – seem to roll up their doors around 5:30 in the evening, which is going to make it nigh-impossible to go:
Design Exchange – Celebrating industrial design.
Bata Shoe Museum is showing a special on the history of high heels, which sounds really weird, but they’ve got a collection of 15-16th century prototypes that look like good research stuff for swashbuckling and costuming alike.
Casa Loma – been there once before but it’s such a cool architectural place, and hey, secret passages for the win!
The Royal Ontario Museum has tons of cool stuff, but again, they close at 5:30. I begin to suspect collusion against me by history.
So instead I took the advice of the divine Miss Missa and started looking into the famed local music scene. There are two places that are attracting me for very different reasons.
The Orbit Room is a jazz club down between the U of T and Little Korea. I have a feeling I’ll be able to get my boss to visit with me at some point, since Alex Lifeson of Rush is a part owner. Just dangling the word Rush in front of him generally gets things moving in the right direction, and the club looks like an absolute blast.
Alternately, the Drake Hotel is in a part of town I’m vaguely familiar with already, and is hosting the Retribution Gospel Choir tonight only as part of their world tour. Looks like good stuff all around.
The final option, of course, is just dinner and an early evening in, given how long we were out of pocket for the football games last night. If that’s the case, though, I’m definitely heading out tomorrow.
Lunch is wrapping up, and I’m on stage in ten. See you tonight!