That was the text conversation I had with my son, in response to my heinous crime—a Monday 6:30am run, in Toronto.
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My Toronto stay was for a week, and a downtown hotel seemed no reason to cease and desist running. I’d already missed two days in a row due to an impromptu visit to Waterloo. Miss another, and my customary happy state would be at serious risk. Getting my feet on the streets was vital, even in the concrete jungle.
I’d fought for that Monday run because, although I’d packed all my running gear, I had to to buy new running shoes, unexpectedly.
Who knew there was a weight restriction with Via Rail?
“One 50 pound suitcase and a carry on,” said the woman who sold me my ticket from Waterloo to Toronto on Sunday.
My bag had been slightly overweight when I originally flew in from Halifax. In the two days since being back in Ontario, I’d fallen off my self-prescribed shopping moratorium. I knew I would have to do something about the associated suitcase weight gain before the flight home. But really? I had to contend with this for the train?
Apparently, I did.
The woman came out from behind her glass window and hefted my bag on the scale to check the weight. Surely, it couldn’t be that much over 50 pounds.
It weighed in at 62.
The very nice woman explained to me that I must open my bag, take stuff out, and ditch 12 pounds in order to take it on the train.
And so it was, I sent a separate bag of items home with my friend Ruth, who’d driven me to the train.
Bye bye running shoes.
They were a few years old anyway and, by my estimation, had a good 3000 – 4000 kilometers on them. They owed me nothing.
And luckily, when I arrived in Toronto and got to my hotel, it was right by The Eaton Centre. Everyone knows nothing closes in Toronto, even on Sunday nights. So for the first time in two days, I headed out on a shopping mission that was technically necessary.
Shunning chi-chi stores like Nike and The Running Room, I nosed out a bargain basement sports shop where new shoes could be had for less than the cost of car payment. Course, the droves of similarly like-minded meant buying shoes might be an exercise in patience and pugnaciousness. But I’ve raised three sons, so buying new shoes under such circumstances was nothing.
Grabbing all the pairs I could see under $100, I scanned for a sales person, noting my competition: Dude with low-slung jeans (underwear visible) holding a pair of kicks in his hand looking about ready to flag down sales lady barreling toward the two of us.
Tossing him a don’t-even-think-about-it look, I nabbed the shoebox-laden clerk first and passed her my six pairs of shoes.
“Size eight please.”
“All of these?” she asked (cue blasé look of someone in their 20s who would much rather be on an iPhone than getting some bossy middle-aged woman six pairs of shoes).
I nodded, and then sat down on the bench to wait. She was back in ten minutes with two boxes.
“Out of eights, except for these.”
As if. But such is the shopping experience in bargain-basement land.
I’m not picky, and one pair fit, the Saucony runners, size 8 that would match my teal running jacket. Good enough.
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Monday morning, new shoes on, I pressed the button for the elevator. A minute later, the doors opened up to a young woman inside, dressed for success. I slipped in and nestled into the corner.
Neither a word nor a look passed between us, and we both stared at separate points on the closed elevator doors to wait out the floors, all 13 of them.
It occurred to me that I’d not even wished her a good morning. I wondered at how easily I’d abandoned my new East Coast propensity to talk to strangers in lieu of awkward elevator etiquette.
Reaching ground level, once the doors opened, the woman whisked herself away to the left so fast I thought perhaps she’d been a mirage.
I exited the hotel, and the cold outside bit my face. The temperature had plummeted, and my breath left a foggy cloud behind me.
Booting down Yonge Street, I crossed Front and dashed into the tunnel, under the Gardiner, grazing by the blanketed forms of one, two… maybe five people, tucked in a row.
They didn’t stir at my footfalls.
Sunrise on Monday was slated for 7:47am, and I reached Lake Ontario at 6:37. Still dark, the sky was ink, save for a seam of light between water and sky.
My feet hit the slats on the boardwalk, and the whoosh of traffic on the Gardiner skyway was left behind. There was not another soul in sight.
I looked out to the water. “Good morning,” I said out loud.
Since moving to Halifax, I’ve grown accustomed to greeting the ocean in the mornings. It’s like a new lover I’m getting to know, and I miss it when we’re apart from each other. But that Monday morning, I thought, perhaps, I might get to know Lake Ontario a little bit, test out how fickle I might be to the sea while away from it.
Along Toronto’s boardwalk, the landscape’s perplexing geography prevented me from staying at water’s edge for anything but spats. I was forced to abandon running alongside the water for detours around marinas, where boats creaked against the dock, and condominiums and hotels, with their signs and billboards ablaze, as if without them the buildings might be invisible. I chanced upon racks of colourful kayaks and canoes, stacked on high, and a random beach, complete with white Muskoka chairs, umbrellas, sand, and a light dusting of snow. And still, not a soul to be seen.
By the time I got close to Billy Bishop Airport, the sky was edging over to light from dark, and it was time to turn around to head back to my hotel, but along Queen’s Quay for the run home.
At stoplights, I waited on my greens for the errant cars to race through reds, trusting that some might not stop. And sometimes, they didn’t, barreling through before opposing traffic had a chance at their turn.
The sounds and signs of city awake whooshed into ears and eyes.
I am in Toronto for the moment, not Halifax, but I like running this concrete jungle.
Nearing the end of my Toronto visit, I managed to keep my promise to my son Graham about running in the deep dark mornings, but I still ran before the city was fully awake.
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