Kids today will grow up without any limitations on who they can be friends with. That's kind of remarkable. Not fifteen years ago, if someone moved away, that was it. They were basically gone from your life, bar snail mail and the odd return for a holiday. If you grew up in an area with people who you didn't like, that didn't like you, or that didn't like the things you liked, you just didn't have friends.
Now we are a stage where you can be sure that there will always be someone that likes what you like out there on the Internet, to reassure you that you're not alone or weird or different. Location is no bar to friendship. We know more about the people living 1000km away from us today than we did about what our best friend down the street was doing ten years ago. Like I said: remarkable. First step towards world peace is breaking down the idea that our physical homes and nationalities are a valid point of distinction between us, and we're almost there.
I stepped out into Toronto yesterday on a rather surreal sunny, high 20s day. Sunblock weather. Sunburn weather. Coming from the grey of London, it was a little bit of a shock to be in shorts again. Admittedly, as I type this a storm has just broken with a clap and started to drizzle, but it was a nice break. I did a big loop of the city, from our north-west hostel, south down to the lakefront, across the waterfront, north up through the city centre and then back west again along the top. It's a big city, and it was probably 12km of walking.
It has a fascinating feel. People say Australia is multicultural, but it's got nothing on Toronto. The place is a huge sprawling urban centre that swallowed up surrounding towns and has kept growing into the "Greater Toronto Area". Every city block is different to the last. Wandering to get a burger on my first night, the wide streets and slightly run-down store fronts leant what I choose to imagine is a cool New Orleans nightlife atmosphere. Yesterday, when I headed out on my loop, I walked right into a huge Chinatown, replete with street stalls and exotic vegetables. As I paused at the intersection, a street demonstration slowly marched by to the sound of bagpipes.
I kept heading south and found the fringes of the city centre, with its large skyscrapers in the distance and the CN Tower visible from just about every angle. I hit freeways, and managed to negotiate the sporadic pedestrian pathways to the waterfront. It's not a particularly impressive bank, mostly covered in apartments and without a cohesive walking promenade or grassed areas. I kept heading east and wandered through a fair that was being set up. I had read that there was a photo exhibition ending that day consisting of work shot from the international space station, so I put it into the maps app and kept walking.
It will offend some Canadians, but it really feels quite American at times. Sometimes I can't place if the person I'm speaking to is an American tourist, or that's their Canadian accent that has picked up a more southern twang. As I headed out through industrial suburbs towards this supposed destination, not exactly confident I would find anything but making the most of the day and the walk, I kept having to remind myself I was in Canada. I suppose the fact that a lot of American TV be filmed in Canada just blurs the lines even more.
I ended up in what is the distillery district and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the historic area was populated with a large art festival running this weekend only (as it was a public holiday on Monday). The beautiful red brick buildings had been converted to galleries, giftwares and gourmet food stores, like a chocolatier and artisan bakery. After a huge sandwich for lunch (the food portions are just as big as the US too), I did a lap of all the booths and enjoyed browsing the really neat independent artists. If it weren't for the price tags and space concerns, I'd have been sorely tempted. Oddly enough, when I found the space station photos I'd travelled for, they were a bit repetitive and underwhelming, just showing clouds and desert. It was more than made up for by the atmosphere of the festival and other displays there, though.
I headed back up to town, and then along Yonge Street, which is the longest in the world at nearly 2000kms. I saw its start at the waterfront, but I don't know if I have time to walk to its end. It's a huge shopping area, with hundreds and hundreds of stores lining about 5kms of road. While heading through town, I walked past a Brazil Day celebration with flags and stages - again, a very multicultural city. After completing a lap along the top of the city and back across to my hostel, I prepared to head out.
For many years I was a dedicated viewer of the Totally Rad Show podcasts - in fact, I was watching since episode one. As the years pass you start to accrue a backlog when life gets in the way, but the community on the forums and then on Twitter were always great people with really interesting things to say and share about whatever TV show or game was out. And so, in the lead up to my arrival, I had mused about catching up.
I had known them for years, spoken as frequently as many other real life friends, and yet never actually met. It's a strange situation to face and yet one that I'm sure will happen more and more frequently. People will soon go their entire lives knowing someone and speaking regularly, but never actually meeting them. Isn't that weird?
I sent a message over Twitter to a guy I knew called Jim, and he was keen to grab a drink. I wandered to the pub at 7pm, having already sent my overly cautious police investigation safety net tweet about exactly who I was seeing and where I was going in case I ended up dismembered in a barrel (it happens). And then up walked Jim, we shook hands, and all was good. Face to name. First thought: oh yeah, he speaks with an Canadian accent. Makes sense.
It was a great night. Good meal, nice beers and fun conversation. We talked about Canada, and tourist ideas, and then got super nerdy and talked about Thor and M. Night Shyamalan in what was probably a slightly too loud voice. So nice to geek out about things, talk about shared interests and reflect on our history watching the podcast that brought it all together. Felt like catharsis to be able to vent about missing Breaking Bad and all the other things I've sacrificed while travelling. Somehow, it was midnight, and we had to head off, but what a pleasurable night.
You can meet people online today that share interests in things that no one in your real life is as passionate about as you are, but to meet them and realise, yeah, I would be friends with this person in the real world too? That's fucking cool.