That's one big city you got there

CARP, Ont. — The fact that sometimes things actually do change for good fills me with hope.

My most recent example is the difference between my first and second trip to Toronto. During my introduction, nearly a month ago, it scared me. It was a surreal scene to begin with, as I was one of many naked people on a bus, headed through the busy heart of town toward a nude beach on a nearby island. I promise to explain more in a future post, but the essential things to know are that I was on a field trip of sorts from a naturist festival I was writing about, and the bus was filled with families and couples mostly, nearly all of them much tanner than I. The ride was a fun frenzy, with my fellow passengers waving and smiling at passing traffic and some people honking at the bare breasted ladies (that’s legal in this province, you know). It was kind of sweet and definitely a new experience for me.

Toronto, as seen from the CN Tower.

Toronto, as seen from the CN Tower.

But I, however, wasn’t fully part of it. Instead, a dark little cloud had descended on me and didn’t fully dissipate until I reached the beach. There’s something about that city, about its huge size and tall, severe buildings and multitudes of hip young things that made me self-conscious. I had this flash of realization that I didn’t know if I could make it there, and that sent shockwaves of insecurity through my body. Suddenly, part of me wanted to move there and have an apartment and a prestigious job and a boyfriend who smells nice — just to see if I could. On the drive back, I had to fight to remind myself that while I might want something along those lines later, what I really want now is exactly what I’m doing. It’s so weird how easily doubt can creep in at times, even when I think I’m on a good path.

Suffice it to say, I was a little uneasy about seeing Toronto again. But I felt called to it, much like how I feel called to karaoke, even though I probably only sound good about four times out of ten. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to turn down a juicy risk, even when I should. Often, my conscience gets the best of me, pushing me out the door and into something potentially embarrassing. A few days ago, it goaded me onto a bus from Hamilton to Toronto.

I was off to visit Tory, a friend and very motivated journalist I knew back in Colorado. As excited as I was, I also had some worries in the mix. When you’re so used to only thinking about the immediate future, seeing someone from the past can be nerve-wracking. A small part of me felt as I did as a teenager when I was in a long distance romance. Thought it’s embarrassing to admit, I wanted everything to go perfectly, and I wanted to be liked.

It’s strange that those feelings faded right about the time I stepped on the bus.

Almost immediately, I went from fear to wide-eyed amazement — at nothing that spectacular. I switched to complete observation mode. I noticed how the bus driver’s brown hair was flecked with strands of white, and how he had tattoos wrapping around his forearms. There was a teenage, Asian boy behind me that looked punk-cool, with skinny jeans and glasses that were just for show, with no actual lens between the frames. Near him, there was a girl with a piercing just underneath her bottom lip and black hair shaped into a near mullet. Being the absolute last on the bus, I had to stand up the entire 50-minute trip, but I didn’t really mind. I was on an adventure. As we got closer to the city, I had completely transitioned, and I was smiling at each massive, grey landmark we passed. The Toronto Blue Jays’ stadium? Sweet. The CN Tower? Wow. It was fun to be awed.

When I met Tory, I could see she was excited, and I was too. I don’t think that emotion wavered too much for the 24 hours we were together. I met her boyfriend, Mihira, and reacquainted myself with her dog. Together, Tory and I ended up roaming the city a bit. Usually, I like to see new places on my own, but it felt good to have a guide this time. There was no learning curve to the subway system or need to orient myself. I just followed her lead and experienced things in a simple, easy way. I didn’t care much about where we went or what we saw, just as long as I was surrounded by city.

It’s common knowledge in Canada that Toronto is unfriendly and smug, but I didn’t find it that way at all, not the second time. It’s amazing how knowing someone somewhere changes the atmosphere, and he or she can warm up the place and can make it a little bit magical. While we were riding on a streetcar, I mentioned to Tory something about the TV show “Mad Men,” and we talked about how we’d never seen it. Spontaneously, a woman near us launched into a glowing review of the show, as did another female rider. For a few minutes, we four strangers held a lively spurt of conversation. And even though this was the biggest city in Canada, the exchange was intimate, and it left me glowing.

Tory and Mihira, looking especially happy because we're all about to eat poutine.

Tory and Mihira, looking especially happy because we're all about to eat poutine.

Later that night, I met some more of Tory and Mihira’s friends and went out to eat at a little pub. I had my first poutine (an inspired concoction of French fries, cheese curds and gravy) and drank a few beers, and I was happy to listen in on and add to the talk around me. I don’t know how it happened, but I was in my skin, and it was warm and energizing.

That was Toronto to me. That’s what really mattered. The next day, I would go off to the CN Tower on my own and stand in the cold wind and look at the city from what is almost the tallest structure in the world. I would try to memorize that view. Right after, I would grab a street hot dog and watch the parade of hurrying people pass me on the sidewalk as I walked toward my bus. As I left the city, I would look out my window and think about an ex-boyfriend who used to live here, and a pall would fall over me, and Toronto would seem big and intimidating once more.

But that’s not how I want to remember it. Thinking about the human connection is so much more fun. How weird it is that sometimes all it takes to like a place is a friend. And how perfect.

4 comments to That’s one big city you got there

  • Da Free Bum

    What fun it is to be able to follow your journey through all this modern technology. Gives me great hope for all that is to come for the whole world. Photos, story, good writing, and some nice fuzzy feelings.

  • Happened across your trip entirely by accident, but now I’m gonna have to keep reading!! Great writing style, an entertaining, insightful and enjoyable read!! Looking forward to more instalments!

    Jeff (Melbourne, Australia)

  • Michael

    Hi Stina,
    I learned of your trip from a podcast that I listen to on a regular basis, The Naturist Living Podcast. It truly sounds like a great adventure and I plan on enjoying your experiences vicariously through your blog. I was quite intrigued by your choice of travel trailer, the 1974 Boles Aero. My parents had a 70’s vintage 32′ Boles that they used to live in six months out of the year when my dad first retired. I so wanted to buy that trailer when it came time for them to sell it, but I was not financially able to purchase it at that point in my life. I wish you safe travels and look forward to reading your posts.

    Warmest regards,

  • George

    Dear Stina:

    Thank you for your interview on the “Bare Oaks” podcast. It’s nice to hear a positive story on naturism. Best luck on your travels and please continue to tell us about your trip.


    PS> Please consider the naturist lifestyle!

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