Toronto


576 Mile Commute To Work

Being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it doesn’t happen very often that you get to see two of the top teams in the league battle it out but that’s what happened when I saw the Bruins play host to the San Jose Sharks. After a minor ticketing fiasco, we ended up sitting in box seats for the game which was a much better result than the nose-bleed section. The game had a couple of fights, plenty of scoring opportunities to get the home crowd excited but the result was a disappointing 2-0 loss. Take away that shutout loss for Boston, and they have scored 19 goals in their last 4 games – it just happens they don’t score anything the night I am there. It was my first ever game at TD Gardens but the arena is definitely worth a visit with all the memorabilia inside of the legendary Celtics, the Great #77 for the Bruins and even jerseys of Brady and Manning during their rivalry years.

On the other end is Green Bay – By far the smallest city to have a professional sports team is once again the champion. This marks only the second time since I moved out here to North America that a professional team out of the four major sports that I root for has won the championship – it was also the Packers in 1997. As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Blue Jays have not made the playoffs since 1993 when they won it all for a second year in a row, while the Leafs and Raptors have struggled just to make the playoffs this past decade, never mind being a contender to win it all.

I think I moved maybe once or twice from my seat once the game began and even tortured myself through the god-awful half time show just so I wouldn’t miss the beginning of the 2nd half especially since Pittsburgh had just scored to the end the half and the momentum was definitely beginning to shift. Most definitely the worst quarter to watch all season was the 3rd quarter. Packers struggled to do anything, punted on every single drive while gaining only 17 yards in the entire period.

What arguably feels like the longest week in a very, very long time is about to end. Last Friday I flew into Boston for the weekend to visit a friend to watch a hockey game and then the Super Bowl to see my beloved Packers play the Steelers. I was initially scheduled to come back from Boston Sunday night which I fortunately got changed to Monday morning. After having gone to bed after midnight, waking up at 4:30am and taking an hour and a half commute to the airport followed by a 100 minute wait and a 90 minute flight from the greatest airlines in North America (maybe outside of Jet Blue) and I was at work in Toronto at 11 – a lovely 576 mile international commute.

I don’t know how people in the US make those long commutes in NYC and Boston on a regular basis but I could never pull that off on a regular basis. Having spent the rest of the week playing Left 4 Dead 2 much later during the night than I really should have has really compounded my lethargic week. At least tomorrow is Friday which hopefully means I can sleep in at least one of the two days but knowing how my weekends go here, I really doubt it.


A Short Vacation

Just like that, my mini-vacation is over. Last week, I had taken Thursday and Friday off and flew down to New Jersey via the great Porter Airlines for the first time.

A visit that lasted just over 3 full days makes it very hard to juggle anything else when I have well over 50 close relatives who were in the area. It is something I am becoming gradually accustomed to but visiting the family after a few months was really nice. Visiting at a time of a religious holiday can make it feel even shorter since we were busy pretty much the entire time I was there and even slipping away for a few hours to visit some old friends and roommates was hard to come by.

The airline and airport were a very pleasant surprise. I had never flown with Porter Airlines before but had heard some great things from some coworkers and an uncle. There is a free shuttle from the airline that runs about a block away from my place of work which became very convenient when my carry on bag became slightly heavier than I had anticipated. The shuttle took us to the ferry which motored all of about 200 meters (0.12 miles for you American folks) to the airport.

With minimal passengers, the time it took me to check in, pass security clearance and get to the waiting lounge was probably 10 minutes. That’s when things got to be really fun. I was still fasting the day of my departure and since it was getting very close to sunset time, I needed to find a place to eat. Since the airport was very small, I was having trouble find any sort of food vendors or even a vending machine to dispense so snacks. That is until I ran into a sign that said Café. As I prepared to dish out normal airport costs for minimal food items, I was shocked to see complementary foods and drinks for all passengers waiting in the lounge. It included items such as cookies, peanuts, coffee and all sorts of beverages. They even had a decent size “computer lab” filled with 10-15 Mac computers for people to use. I didn’t check if they offered free wifi but saw plenty of people using their own devices that it might have been the case.

The plane was about as big (or small) as I thought it would be, seating a capacity of 70 people but our flight had barely 20-25 people. The overhead compartment to place your luggage was rather small that it didn’t fit my bag but stowed away nicely underneath the seat. That was probably my only issue with the flight as food was served maybe 5 minutes after take off and the exotic vegetable potato chips probably were the craziest chips I had ever eaten. Besides the flight being just over an hour, I barely had any time to catch up on some much needed sleep – it didn’t help that I had taken coffee with chips earlier to kill off any chance of napping.

I am not sure what took me this long but I have been a heavy user of the program Skype to talk to both friends and cousins back south of the border. I recently got the 5.0 beta which allows video conferencing with up to 10 different people at the same time. It has also been pretty useful to stream videos between people at a much faster pace than each person having to get their own copy. If any of you out there use Skype, feel free to add me and maybe we’ll catch up sometime.


20 Landmarks in 20 (Work) Days

Ever since Ramadan began, it opened up an hour long block during my lunch break. Determined not to sit at my desk and surf or write away, I figured I would set out in the city and find 20 different thing within walking distance of work to view during the next 20 days of my work before my mini vacation begins on September 8th.

Here is the list of places I have been so far:

1.    Hockey Hall of Fame Store
2.    Hockey Night in Canada / CBC Radio Museum
3.    Nathan Phillip’s Square
4.    Porter Airlines Bus (Union Station)

Since August 11th, those have been my four stops and for that last one being yesterday, that is the free bus service from Porter Airlines to the Airport located in Downtown Toronto that I will be taking next month.

I am going to list some more places that I want to see below but I definitely won’t be able to fill all 30 so for those of you reading this, help me out.

Places I want to visit:

1.    Air Canada Centre
2.    Eaton’s Centre
3.    Maple Leaf Square
4.    Rogers Centre
5.    CN Tower
6.    Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
7.    City Hall
8.    Roy Thompson Hall
9.    Metro Toronto Convention Centre
10.    Art Gallery of Ontario

This puts me at 14 places, leaving 6 more to figure out in the next 15 work days. If you know of a place that you want to recommend, let me know in the comments or reach me any other way you know how.


Sports Teams In Toronto

The one down side to summer is that there isn’t a lot of variety available in terms sporting events to go watch in person. The Raptors and the Leafs have finished up, leaving the Blue Jays who were the only team I saw in person when I first lived here, the Toronto FC and I suppose you have the Canadian Football League but I’m not really interested in seeing much of that in person although I am interested in trying to get tickets for the Bills in Toronto game this year against the Bears.

That being said about the Jays, I haven’t been to Rogers Centre since it was renovated, revamped and renamed – that place will always be SkyDome to me. I am thinking of going there towards the end of September when the Yankees roll into town for a 3-game set. Who knows, maybe the Jays continue this good stretch and cut the 10.5 game deficit into something manageable heading into the last few series. Especially with the stadium within walking distance from my work, it is no excuse not to make a couple of games down the stretch of the season.

Most importantly, I can’t wait for hockey season to start up again. I was in elementary and middle school when I lived here for 5 years so I would always every game and eagerly await Hockey Night in Canada but never really got a chance to see them play in person. Hopefully this is the year they will finally stop the drought and make the playoffs. I wonder how much a couple of decent seats will cost me since every single home is sold out irrespective of the fact that they haven’t won a title since 1967 but then again people still go out to see the Cubs too.

Even though Bosh has gotten up and left in hopes for a ring, I’m still hopeful that the Raptors can at least compete for a playoff spot in the East. A few years back when the Raptors played the Nets in the playoffs, I remember going to the games in Jersey where the fans in attendance were split 50-50. There was such a lack of interest by the local fans there coupled with the fact that the Raptors growing fan base was willing to make a trip since it was easier to get Raptors tickets in NJ than back home. They should have another decent shot to finish second in the division but whether that will be good enough to make the playoffs, we’ll see.

Back in 1994 when I was still in Pakistan, we all used to get up in the middle of the night to watch the FIFA World Cup games. Even though there was a slight translation difficulty when we moved with a tiny kid like me asking people if they wanted to play ‘football’ and getting weird looks in return, the passion for the sport did not fade. With my elementary school being within walking distance, I would come home during lunch breaks just to catch parts of the game and update the rest of the class upon my return. I will admit that I don’t think I have seen more than a handful of the Toronto FC games but with all these arenas and fields located centrally around my work place, it makes it very convenient on days I want to do stuff right after a tiring work day.

I’m still not sure how actively they show collegiate sports here north of the border, but I will have to keep track of RU football and eventually college basketball once that rolls around. Unfortunately, I can probably already assume that March Madness will not be the same here as it is there and that’s an unfortunate sacrifice I will have to make.


Different Behaviour And Other Observations 2

In my second edition of Toonie Tales, noticing the behaviour (<– notice my spelling) of people here has been a refreshing change from those south of the border. No matter where I have gone – take it from the Passport Office to the Tim Hortons to the Government of Ontario offices to the people at Pizza Pizza – there has been nothing short of gracious service and friendly people everywhere. It’s a complete culture shock even though I have visited here nearly every year since I moved away but moving back has been great.

First experience was immediately felt at the border. I presented the guy there with my proper forms of ID for crossing into Canada and I figured since I had tons of stuff with me, I would have my work contract since he would most likely ask. Instead, the guy asked me about my school and where I graduated from, which state I was currently residing in and whether I planned to still own the car the next time I would visit. THAT was it. My contract lying on the seat next to me went by the way side, no luggage check for someone admitting to move into the country and in under a minute, I was on my way. It’s safe to say, people like me are usually the ones “randomly” selected to be inspected at any TSA line.

I thought maybe I had gotten lucky but I was in no mood to push my luck so I carried on. The rest of the travel was rather short and I only unpacked and called it a night. The next day was my first at work and I had spared myself some extra time getting to downtown because of the train commute. I got there a little early and the thing I noticed, (noticed it when I came for the interview too), was that there is no uptight security like we have back in the States. Any work environment I have been a part of, barely lets you set foot into the building before being forced to talk to a security guard of some sort or brandish your work ID. Here, there is a guy sitting at his desk but he just said “Hi” as I walked in like I had been here before. Interestingly, all the doors on every floor including the entrances from the staircase are ID protected so you can get in the building, but can’t do much else.

The relaxed and refreshing environment of security was also present at the passport office too where a very pleasant officer was greeting people waiting in line going out the door and was suggesting alternative timings to come avoid the rush or different places if you were there just to pick up your passport instead of filing for one. The kind people over at Service of Government of Ontario were great too. I didn’t have an appointment (they accept people from 4-7pm with appointments only) but the lady waived me through as the queue was rather empty. Apparently I didn’t have all the necessary paperwork ready that day but when I did come back a couple of days later, a different lady guided me through all the paperwork, even chatted about why I hadn’t lived in Canada since 2000 and what I liked better.

I put all the government offices first because that’s where you are least likely to find a friendly environment in New Jersey or New York but this behaviour transcends those walls too. The local Tim Hortons next to my work has a packed line at 7 or 8 in the morning and yet they each find a way to laugh about something with each customer. How do people get the energy to do that, this early in the morning? The Pizza Pizza near where I am living apparently goes even beyond that. First, the lady upgraded our order from a large to extra-large because there was a sale/it was going to cheaper on our end and then once the order was complete, they opened up each box to show that we were satisfied with what it looked like. Apparently, they go back and cook more / make you a new pie if it is too burned. Good like finding that kind of service at Pizza Hut or Dominos without putting up a fight.

All that praising aside, they do have a complex with identifying every single person who is Canadian though. For example, there have been repeated updates on the radio of injured “Canadian” first baseman of the Minnesota Twins Justin Morneau. It is quite awkward to hear all Blue Jays, Raptors, Leafs and Argos updates and they include a tiny segment for the Twins vs. White Sox update because Morneau is not playing. Also on the radio, there is a rather bizarre obsession with Lady Gaga music here that has to be classified as some sort of disease.

My biggest adjustment so far would probably have to be not crossing the street on a red light. No one and I literally mean no one crosses the street when there is a red hand up. I am sure everyone has places to go but even on an empty road in the morning or the add break in traffic leave for home, everyone seems to patiently wait until the light turns green and the ‘walk’ symbol appears before they start walking. Succumbing to public pressure, I have also stopped and kindly twiddle my thumbs while waiting for the light to turn green – I guess I need to learn to be more patient.

On a funny note to end this, I did experience one incident of road rage while I have been here but it turns out the license plate of the guy was from the great state of New York. Go figure, right? Good Ol’ USA.

P.S. Popeyes still has the best chicken and biscuits of any fried chicken place.