Random Thoughts from a Torontonian in Auckland

The downtown core of Sydney appears to be every bit as busy as Toronto yet I’m sure there are many more people in the skyscrapers around Bay and King than in all of Sydney’s CBD. So what gives? I’m blaming it on the PATH. Toronto streets like Wellington, Richmond and even Bay are clogged with vehicles but you see relatively few pedestrians in summer and even fewer in winter – they’re all underground buying shoes and wine and burritos and lattes. In Sydney you see those people on the street and they give the downtown core a sense of vibrancy. What Toronto has over Sydney is the fact that people WANT to live downtown and are thus around after the stores close. Sydney empties out at 6 bells and people don’t return until the morning commute.

I slept through most of my flight from Sydney and only awoke when the plane touched down. A flight attendant immediately came over the intercom and said, “Welcome to Oakland. The local time is 2:23 pm.” How the Hell did I end up in Oakland, I thought. About two seconds later I realized that she had a thick NZ accent and I really was in Auckland.

And while we’re poking fun at accents, I have to say that I’m a little tired of Americans asking me to pronounce ‘about.’ I’ve never heard a Canadian say ‘aboot.’ Where did this come from? How about asking a Kiwi to say Auckland? Or Deck. I was on the Allure of The Seas cruise ship a few years ago and chuckled every time I heard a recorded voice that played in the elevator. The middle-aged Kiwi or Australian woman would announce your floor by saying “Dick 6, Dick 7, Dick 8,” etc. Everyone on the elevator burst into laughter one time when the door opened to reveal a man wearing a Speedo and right on cue the recoded voice commented, “Dick 2.” The poor guy looks down then up and says, “What the Hell does she know? It’s obvious I’m at least a 4.”

And this from my Facebook friend Terry Wilson…

Q) How do Mexicans cut their pizza?
A) With Little Caesars

And speaking of Mexicans…

The front desk guy at Discovery Hostel Rio was giving some last minute advice before a group of us headed out on a pub crawl. “Whatever you do, don’t mix your drinks, especially Tequila and vodka. Think of your stomach as a dive bar. You don’t want the Mexican guys messing around with the Russian guys. If they do, there’s going to be trouble.”

I used a shuttle bus to get from hostel to airport in Sydney ($14) and from airport to hostel in Auckland ($16). The Auckland service was called Airbus. I had visions of being picked up by Karlheinz Schreiber. I don’t expect anyone other than my friend Randall to get that one. Prior to moving to Sydney, Randall spent a few years as Brian Mulroney’s Director of Communications. He learned a few things about throwing a party while working in Ottawa. I’m not sure how to thank Randall and Freddy for hosting me on Christmas and New Year’s Eve but it was great to spend time with them and their eclectic circle of friends.

When I presented my passport to the Customs and Immigration agent at the Auckland airport she smiled and said, “Good, ol’ Canada.” I don’t think you’d get that kind of greeting at Pearson.

I met Randy Carlyle a few times when we both worked in Winnipeg in the 80s. He was a star player with the Jets and I worked at the track. Carlyle came to the races often and owned a cheap horse or two with trainer Chuck Fraleigh who was one of the horsemen I was closest to. We had beers together at Pharo’s Steakhouse and Lounge.

When Randy was fired yesterday as head coach of the Leafs it reminded me just how tough that job can be. He was quoted in the Star as saying, “It’s a great game (but) its an ugly business. I said that before when Brian Burke was removed. Now this is my turn, I guess, the gun’s pointed in my direction.”

I’m sure Carlyle will land a coaching job in 2015 or 2016 and my guess is that he’ll have more luck with just about any squad in the league, proving that the problem in Toronto isn’t the coaching staff but rather the current collection of boys who wear the blue and white. Phil Kessel’s reaction when a reporter asked if he was partly to blame for Carlyle’s firing is proof of that. A 6-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in their first game under a new coach underscores it. Still, I wish ’em luck and will continue to follow from this side of the pond.

When I was standing in line at the Immigration area at the Auckland airport a drug-sniffing dog was paraded up and down the line several times. He sniffed my messenger bag for what seemed like an eternity before moving on. His handler didn’t indicate that anything was out of the ordinary.

After collecting my checked-luggage I was taken aside and the messenger bag and contents were swabbed and tested for drugs. I had to read a release form and agree to the test. The whole process took about two minutes so it wasn’t an inconvenience. Later I wondered if this was a random check or if the dog’s behavior set off alarm bells. I certainly haven’t been carrying drugs but it dawned on me when I was walking away that my bag is one I bought in Parati, Brazil. It’s made of reclaimed canvas from old truck tarps. Who knows that those tarps may have been in contact with!

I’m writing from a Starbucks at Queen & Victoria in Auckland. I am not impressed. They offer 30-minutes of free wi-fi with a purchase (in contrast to unlimited free wi-fi at Starbucks in North America). There have been empty cups and garbage on just about every table every time I’ve visited this store. Not once have I seen anyone ‘bus’ tables. Today the barista asked me everything two or three times and the cashier short-changed me by about $5. It took her two minutes to figure out how much she owed me. I started to wonder if she was going to call security to check the video cameras over a few dollars. Just give the customer the money, lady.

While Toronto mayor John Tory revels in a 74% approval rating (considerably higher than his percentage of the vote on election day), I’ll remind you that Tory was the CEO of Rogers in the 1990s when that company regularly had 2-hour long wait times to speak with a technician. It wasn’t even under his watch that the problem was eventually fixed. And with one vote on Council, he won’t be able to fix all of Toronto’s problems overnight either. I think he was the best choice of the three mainstream candidates but he’s no miracle worker. (Did I just call Doug Ford ‘mainstream?’)

I have to admit that I was homesick for an hour on Tuesday when I asked friends in Toronto when it would be convenient to do Skype or FaceTime and they said, “Give us an hour. We’re waiting for Swiss Chalet delivery.” What’s worse than salivating over the thought of rotisserie chicken for an hour? I’ll tell you what: It’s having your friend tell you that he has just licked the leftover sauce out of the take-out container and there’s nothing left to hold up to the phone.

I’ll be embarking on a backpacker style bus trip on January 13. We’ll take 7 days to travel the relatively short distance from Auckland to Wellington. I’ll spend three days in Wellington and then take a train back to Auckland to meet my nephew Andy who will be visiting for about five days. This will be the first time I’ve seen a relative in six months so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure he’ll bring Swiss Chalet sauce!

Overheard at Starbucks in Auckland…
It wasn’t a little dog. Not a big dog either. Kind of a cat sized dog. Not a big cat though.

My borderline narcoleptic tendencies have allowed me to get a good night’s sleep despite a level of snoring from dorm-mates that could set off earthquake monitors. Young and old, male and female, EVERYONE was sawing logs last night.

My guide on Easter Island, Alvaro, told me that his grandfather was the mayor of the island’s only community for about 30 years, ending in the 1950s. One summer the President of Chile gave him an assignment: travel around the island and paint a number on each of the island’s 1000+ sculptures, petroglyphs, carvings, etc. At the time most people saw it as a useless “make work” project. In reality, the cataloguing of these magnificent moai was the first step towards Easter Island landing on the world tourism map. With little more than a can of paint and a small brush, a world class industry was born! Of course there wouldn’t be a tourism industry on such a remote island if there wasn’t something worth cataloguing, but every industry has to start somewhere.

This got me thinking about what Toronto can do to boost tourism. I’d suggest that paving and generally sprucing up Toronto’s numerous back alleys and allowing artists to “go wild” would fairly cheaply create one of the world’s great street art attractions. There are hundreds of very good street artists in Toronto and others from around the world would be inclined to visit if the canvas was rolled out. Rob Ford’s #1 priority for a while (short attention span, you know) was eradicating all street art. Thankfully saner minds prevailed and only “tags” were removed. Now is the time to take street art to another level in Toronto.


3 Responses to “Random Thoughts from a Torontonian in Auckland”

  1. hillerup1962

    I like the idea of 30 minutes free wifi at Starbucks. People linger for hours and often impossible to get a seat. Get in, check your email, write a blog note, drink your latte and move on.
    Love following you.

  2. Renée K

    I lived in Cambridge, New Zealand for awhile…..if you’re passing through give the town my regards!!!

  3. Kate

    Charging you at places like Starbucks is so wrong! Give people free wi fi and they will come in front of you for stronger connection and eventually order a cup of coffee!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: