Getting Around and Getting Along in Canada

I don’t want to say that everyone we saw in Canada was nicer than the folks in the United States. A couple of the folks at the first hotel were, let’s say, indifferent. And the very first person we dealt with on the subway was clearly frustrated that we didn’t understand her incomprehensible instructions.

By and large, however, I found it a joy to be in Canada, especially Toronto. Other subway workers in the big city were quite helpful, and even complete strangers initiated contact to assist us when we looked confused.

Once we got the hang of it, we found the Toronto subway to be quite usable. Reasonably clean, mostly on time – except for that delay on the way to the zoo – and the riders were not openly hostile, as I’ve experienced in more than a few major American cities.

The bus trip to the zoo was actually fun, with people generally compliant with the signs to move back. We were near three high school girls from the suburbs who were native Chinese speakers, but were studying English words for some major comprehensive test, perhaps the SATs.

Apparently driving out of Toronto in the afternoon is OK until about 3:30 pm, except on Friday afternoons in the summer, which is when we departed at 2 pm and got into a major traffic slowdown east of the city. That’s why, I suppose, the highway has all of those LED road signs imploring people to Try Mass Transit, or Use Mass Transit. And when a merged lane sign shows up, the drivers were generally quite content to let a driver in, taking turns.

In Toronto, I’ve never seen so many people riding bicycles in North America in my life. And unlike in Albany, NY, the drivers weren’t hostile to them. Most of the bicyclists were not wearing helmets, which I think is crazy, but such is the confidence the pedalists have in their drivers.

Oh, and cars yield to pedestrians – what’s THAT all about? I was practically in shock when cars stopped at the intersection and waited for the people to cross the street, even folks who were not at the intersection before the auto was. This would never happen in Albany. The one sign of impatience is when the drivers ARE making their right turns, either with the light or especially right on red, they will usually have one or two drivers turn after the light is red. So don’t step off the curb right away.

I even liked a lot of Canadian television, the little we saw, generally in the morning and evening. There was some morning show that gave a lot more of what I consider REAL news than the US equivalents do after the first half hour. One segment was about homelessness in Canada, and the host showed real concern. Oh, and my wife got to see a performance by one of her two favorite singers, Diana Krall.

My favorite moment in Toronto: we were at the Ontario Science Centre. We bought a one-use camera for the Daughter, which was reasonably priced, BTW. She proceeded to misplace it. When I finally noticed this, I contacted the nearest employee and asked what I could do. He said, “Wait here,” walked over to the Lost and Found and in a few minutes, brought the camera to me. Usually, in such situations in the past, at best, an employee would direct me to the Lost and Found, where the camera might or might not have been returned. This outcome was, as they say, way cool.

So I was quite surprised in reading a comment to this blogpost by Arthur about the most livable cities. One of his LOCs stated: “I hope Toronto is not in the top ten! I was transferred here 6 months ago and as someone who has traveled all over and lived in South Africa, Australia, DC, LA, etc – I can tell you Toronto is not in the top ten!! Angriest people in North America, expensive, horrible weather. 6 months to go if I can make it.” (It’s #4, BTW.)

Now I did not live there. It was only four days. But there was a point, walking by the Royal Ontario Museum on our second day there, when I said to my wife: “I think I could live here,” assuming that we had employment, etc. Good mass transit, bikes, educational capital, intellectual stimulation, massive multiculturalism; there were plenty of places we DIDN’T get a chance to see. And there are angrier people in lots of US cities I’ve been to, starting with Albany, NY.
Heather Morris’ Staples Canada Back To School Commercial. Heather Morris, from the TV show Glee, is not from Canada, BTW.

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