12pm – NYC Station
Walking up the concourse stairs and out into the front foyer of the square, I immediately felt different.
“Ah.. good ‘ol Uptown” I said with familiarity, though ironically I had not been here in almost a year. Mel Lastman always had a lasting impression on me, at least form what I could remember. It has been a place that Momma Dukes and I had been to back in the day and I could tell because it looked neatly identical to my recalled vision on it years ago. Walking comfortably in my Jungle Air Max, I headed toward the front door of the Civic Centre in stride, taking a moment to observe the flurry of crowds that surrounded me. My pupils picked up on the flurry of red apparel everywhere. Adults in long t-shirts, children running around the foundation with flags in their hands and colourful red and white banners stretched out across the shallow fountain waters. A whiff of ketchup and mustard mix graced my nose only for a split second before it vanished as I entered the realm of a former city hall. “What happened to all the boroughs?” I thought reminiscently as I followed the signage directing the facilitators of the day toward a small committee room. A small woman with pearly whites greeted me upon entry with her practised smile and spiel.
“Hi! Are you here for the volunteering?”
Nodding my head with the least of effort I proceeded to walk past and enter a room of calm randomness. I could see some people looking down at a paper across the room. Figuring it to be registration, I walked in its direction, only to be stopped by a short gentleman in a cowboy hat enroute.
“So what WOULD you do, young fella?” he asked, beaming his not-so pearly whites and nascar-styled sunglasses my way, Realizing he was referring to my shirt, I swiftly replied,
“I’d let you tell me.”
Taking a moment before answering, he answered with the same smooth tone with which he asked the question.
“I like that answer my friend” and went about his way throughout the already-feeling semi-claustrophobic size meeting room. Now a smile had crept upon my face just as I approached the registration table. I knew I had chosen to wear my ASK ME WHAT I THINK IF I RULED T.O t-shirt for a reason. Better yet, I knew I had made the right decision in attending the event in the first place. Shifting my mind back to the events of the day, I confirmed my attendance on a sheet being overseen by a bold headed gentleman, also short but this brother had a sharp pair of specks on. Looking up from his seat, he handed me a Special Events lanyard but not before his instructional procedure.
“Jesse. Yes, wait over there,” pointing to the southern side of the room. “You’ll be with Fara and Tanya at Booth 2 and your role today will be an Information Ambassador. Ok?”
“No problamo!” I casually moved around the other side of the room but not before I got a glimpse of what had got to be the finest volunteer I had seen thus far. Her short hair went nearly perfect with her Denim capris. I could tell she was from the Islands because locals didn’t have the type of Brown skin complexion she did. I could feel other eyes on me as I continued to stare at the perfection of her tank top shirt which seemed to have fit no better than the skin itself. Mentally approving the gold hoops she had dangling out her earlobes, I instantly remembered why I had a thing for J Lo back then. Shit, I probably still did. Capitalizing on the fact that she had yet to see me, I yanked my eyes from her and proceeded to the side of the room where my new friends for the day Fara and Tanya were located. Gaining a much different visual reaction from me (though still accepting), I instinctively confirmed that these were the pair of eyes who watched me watch Miss Where Are You Going So Fast Come Here I Need THAT. Not caring about their reactions, I immediately introduced myself and engaged in small talk to draw the attention away from my new daily mission. The three of us hadn’t been talking for 3 minutes when we heard:
“Alright! Welcome Welcome everybody my name is Trisha and I’ll be your volunteer captain today. Just a few housekeeping things to go over before we head out…”
“You know,” I whispered to Fara, “if they just let us do our thing without instruction, I’m pretty sure we would do an even better job than listen to their checklist of dos and don’ts.” She chuckled in agreement with my assumption. Drifting in and out of Trisha’s speech, I thought of who I might see and/or meet today and how that would play a role in my future endeavours. Realizing I was getting ahead of myself, I focused back to the volunteer PSA just as she concluded with…
“and that’s it. Have fun, be safe and enjoy the festivities, Happy Canada Day everyone!” A lacklustre cheer from the handful of volunteers ensued. Maybe it wasn’t a big thing after all. I swung my Sony XB600s around and off my neck and folded them neatly into my nearly full JaysCare backpack. I had had enough of just sitting around. I needed fresh air. Following the volunteer crowd out the door, I tried to scope out where she would be stationed. By the rotunda? Near the Yonge Street entrance? By the library? In the garden? I was determined to find out because unlike Trisha’s speaker box voice, I hadn’t had enough of her. Not by a long shot.
2pm – Booth 2 – Top of the Rotunda
The sweat of my forehead was already seeping into my Maple Leaf snapback.
“If only the origin of this sweat could be from a good…”
I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Looking up the hill towards the street, I could see the short hair bound evenly above her coke white tank top, handing up pamphlets to all the new attendees of the day’s events. By now, the space was quite full, with even more kids running around playing tag, faces painted with cool colours from the face painting station near the Library, I looked back at Fara and Tanya under the tent of your Information Booth, both of whom looked bored beyond realization. We had finished playing Carmen San Diego, a game we made up finding people in the crowd who even half resembled the once iconic game show host. Actually, still iconic. The Venti sized Iced Green Tea was looking quite sad, Tanya no longer interested in consuming the rest. Looking at it with an idea for its reinvention, I motioned toward her and asked, “You’re not gona finish that, are you?” Shaking her head robotically, clearly drained from the day’s heat, I picked up the large transport cup with about half an Iced tea remaining and proceeded to walk down the garden lane way nearby. “Thanks” I said, heading toward down the shaded path of over covered trees. Telling Fara that I was going for a short walk and that I’d be back, I began by exploration. It had not been 15 seconds before I noticed where my exploration would began. Perched quietly on the cobblestone seat and hunched over the cement table of equal size was a young man, probably in the late 20s, early 30s, slim build and I miniature goatee. What got my attention, however, was the assortment of wood carved chess pieces he had lined up on the embedded chess square board within the cement of the table. I knew what was to be done.
“Mind if I take a seat?” I asked carefully, unsure if he had someone else waiting to play.
“Not at all, go ahead.” Perfect. I sat down with the swiftness, placed Tanya’s vent on the edge of the table and began to line up my pieces as if I owned them, In hindsight, I’m sure a more subtle approach would have been sufficient. But whatever. Smelling the cocoa butter I had used on my hands earlier, I knew being smooth as the butter itself was the key to victory.
“You always come out here to play?” I asked intentionally, as he made the first move with this pawn.
“No. Not usually. But today’s so nice I told myself, ‘why not’?”
“Yeah. I hear that. How long you playing chess for?” By now, my knights was out, but as causal as my conversation was, I could tell he was paying attention to my every move. Going for a different approach, I grabbed the Venti drink and began slurping as loudly as possible as he answered another one of my aloof questions. My master plan of distraction had almost worked! Another smile crept up on my face as my beautifully large lips surrounded the green straw of Tanya’s drink. I could feel the momentum of the game going my way as I had advanced my knight pass the halfway mark and then all of the sudden, I felt a daunting presence hovering over myself, the game and my new chess buddy.
“”Jesse. Have you been here this whole time?” It was Trisha, patrolling the grounds like a dayum State Tropper. No wonder Yogi Bear hated them niggas so bad.
“Na, na.. I just got here.” I said, my voice shaky yet defiant.
“You know you only get one 15 minute break before 4pm right? Have you told the people at your booth that you left?” Now I was getting pissed off. I refrained from staring at her to avoid an automatic oral reflex of the potentially backwashed Iced tea hurling straight into her four-eyed presence.
“Yea yea. They know. Don’t worry. I’m good” I managed to mumble off before zoning my attention back to the game.
“Ok, cus you can’t be here all day you have a booth to attend to. Alright?” She stomped away with me and my new chess buddy feeling intellectually demoralized.
“I apologize for that man” I said immediately, “Person like that can’t appreciate the finer things in life” as I drew our eyes back to the intensity of the game.
“Agreed.” he said solemnly. Trying to regain my game theory, I couldn’t help but think of the nerve of that wannabe Hallway Monitor. Who did she think she was? Bitch don’t even know me. Never mind that.
“I’M A VOLUNTEER BITCH!” The words rang through my head as if I had said them aloud. “WHO THE F*&% YOU TYRNA REGULATE OUT HERE?” Enjoying the thought of having to checc her on an 05 Eastside tip, I focused my thoughts back on the game.
3pm – Chess Match Table
I watched him move his Queen parallel to the Rook.
“I think that’s Checkmate. Again”
“Damn. I think you’re right.”
“NO. GET REAL NIGGA. IT IS CHECKMATE.” I could hear my conscience super checcin me. Geeze. I knew I was gona be close but, 3 losses in a row? I thought I was good. Clearly not next to Hulio over here. It was my nickname I had come up with for him during the game since he hadn’t told me his name and I was too focused on the game to even ask. Rising from my seat with a slight cramp in my resilient thighs, I extended my hand in sportsmanship, though not with the swiftness. I had had enough.
“Hulio. Good game man.”
“My name’s not Hulio…” he sounded confused, knowing he never told me his name to begin with. “It’s Pab…”
I had already begun to make my way back to the Booth. What was I sticking around for? We had already shook hands. Plus, I felt better knowing that I didn’t know the name of the person who submitted me into checkmate 3 times in 50 minutes. Arriving back at the blue city tent, my crew seemed to have more life in them and I thought I knew why. Standing next to the two seats just out of reach of the tent’s shade was Shirley. I moved with the swiftness towards her, arms open.
“Waaattts uppp!” We embraced for a reunion hug and then gave me the real update as to why everyone looked so alive and upbeat.
“Look. Down there by the doors. It’s the Mayor!” Craning my neck slightly, I could recognize a huge, burly man being escorted through a fan-based crowd outside of the Civic Centre doors. There he was. Mayor Ford, in all his glory, fresh off who knows what. You could never tell with this guy. Its like he just made his way into stardom overnight. People rushed around him to tai selfies, get autographs or whatever else they could familiarize themselves with to get a piece of hum. Shirley herself, seemed excited as always. Ever since we met a few months ago at the top of City Hall during the Doors Open showcase, we have become friends,. I had no idea she was volunteering today. Until now. Her flats and top matched her personality. An array of energetic patterns reflected her exuberant character well. She always had a fresh perspective on things.
“Ooooh! Do you think he’s going to chase after a camera??” she said laughing.
“Just like he did on the driveway true?” My words were equally filled with laughter. We both erupted into school kid chuckles.
“Are you gona go try to get a picture?” Shirley joked, though nudging me to head down in that direction.
“Nah but.. I’ll be right back!” I moved swiftly down the Rotunda steps and bypassed the unexplainable crowd around the Mayor and made my way toward the northern end of the open public space. Talking shelter from the sun’s rays under the Blue city tent, I approached another volunteer whomI had seen working with my daily mission earlier up at the Yonge street one.
“Hey man. Have you seen shorty with the short hair and white tank top? She was w—“
“Mirella? Yea I was working with her earlier but I think she left. Wasn’t feeling good or something’ like that.” I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to throw me off because he was on his own quest for her or if he was being genuine. Nodding in comprehension, I kept it moving. Into the Civic Centre I went, searching for the one person to make my day worthwhile.
4pm -Booth 2 – Top of the Rotunda
As I sat on the table, snapback turns backwards from all the sweat my scalp has produced, I began to imagine this city as a utopia. Perfectly running subway lines. Organic food delivery of the homes of TCH families. Even volunteer social linkups, whereby 2 people are NOT to be interrupted as they get acquainted with each other. I gave up on the search for Mirella. Life would connect us again. Hopefully soon. I had picked up a stack of pamphlets on the day’s activities and had begun handing them out at random, despite half of the activities had already finished. The sun was on the decline though still a good way from setting. Mandy and Joe and come to join us from their city tent near the bridge (and also to replace Tanya who had left and went home). Mandy was an mature woman, perhaps late 40s. But her smile was at young as ever. Joe was tall, slim, with a trucker hat and a moustache. I could tell he was from Scarborough. South Scarborough to be specific. Probably along St. Clair East, close to wear the Wimpy’s is. He was in his late 30s, tops. It felt good to be surrounded by people from all different walks of life. The variety of culture within our little tent group was astonishing in itself. Shirley’s filipino descent, Joe’s West Coast Canuck roots, Mandy had Scotian blood and Fara was from the Middle East.
“YO.” I said aloud, acquiring the attention of my fellow volunteer peers. “We can run this country right now if they let us. Just us 5, we would rock this government, styl!!”
“Yea but you see the thing about Parliament is its in Ottawa” Mandy blurted out before anyone had a chance to get in what I had really just said. “Like, if I’m to run this country, I want to be able to do it and still go to Johnny’s on a Friday night.”
“Yeah,” Joe chirped in, “Like they gota be able to organize some type of way to make the locals.. I mean local government people do the country and the city thing together. Its so divided right now. Nobody’s working together!”
“And then they wana come looking for vote during election time. You see? Look right here.”
Just as Shirley finished her two cents of input, we all noticed the campaign of one of the city’s acclaimed Mayoral candidates walk towards us. From the shirts they were wearing, it was obvious who they were all for. Smiling right behind his team of promoters, I could see him randomly smiling at just about everybody he drew eye contact with. Nearing our table, I just happened to me the first person of the City Tent crew that he met. Extending his hand, though I had to believe it was most definitely not as authentic as mine, he offered up a slight smile and said,
“Hi. I’m John Tory and I’m running for Mayor of Toronto this year.”
Unsure of my next move but aware o my assets, I replaced my would-have-been handshake and extended to him one of the flyers in my stockpile.
“Thanks.” He grinned at the flyer for a split second before instantly handing it off to one of his associates.
“HE DIDN’T EVEN READ IT!” I could hear my conscience backing me up with the strength I so needed during this moment. I needed a solution to solve my disapproval of his action.
“GIVE HIM ANOTHER ONE! NOW!” Damn. Conscience was going in. Adhering to what might have been the best recommendation of the day thus far, I reached for another flyer of the exact dame kind and extended it to him with an even better swiftness than before. Reluctant, he took it again. This time, he looked at it longer.
“… Thanks.” His head was looking down at the pamphlet. Mission accomplished! Just then, my conscience intervened with another beacon for action.
Not thinking, I reached for another pamphlet and extended it for Mr. Tory to accept once again. By now, one of his associates had observed what was going on and proceeded to interject.
“Alright buddy. Take it easy on him. OK?”
I obliged. He got the message. Proceeding to look for less flyer distributing residents, Mr. Tory and his charade went along their way thought the holiday crowds once more. I turned to my own crew who were on the verge of erupting in laughter.
“Hahaha!! OMG Jesse you’re jokes guy!” Shirley was ecstatic. Joe too. Mandy’s smile couldn’t have looked younger.
“That was great! Did you see the look on his face?” Mandy knew what time it was. These politicians were not to be trusted. Even i her 40s she could see that. I could se Fara smile and give a thumbs up from below the City tent’s shade. We had represented ourselves with justice and I felt satisfied. Looking down at my replacement phone, I saw a new text had come in since last checked, Sliding the message bar across to unlock my device, it read.
“So what time RU gona be here?”
I replied swiftly. ” 6pm. Leaving now.” Checking the GO Bus times, I saw the 92 leaving Finch in the next 10.
“Ok y’all,” as I addressed my crew, “that was fun, straight up. But I gota dip. Gota holiday BBQ to go to. Aight?”
“Yea, ok bye JESSE!” Shirley exclaimed with a big wave from across the tent. The rest gave their goodbyes and waved as I made my way through the even larger crowd into the Civic Centre. upon entering the room, there was none in sight. I was planning to give back the Special Events lanyard but with none to collect it, I could be held responsible for his misplacement. Shoving it into my JaysCare backpack, I also extracted my XBs and curled them around my neck. Ensuring I had everything I came with, I made a super swift exit out the building and slid up the northern edge of the square toward Yonge. Arriving on the world’s longest road, I made a beeline south toward Sheppard,, recognizing the road closure would have the 92 divert form its original route. Making it down to Sheppard in under 5 minutes, I waited at the North western corner where the GO Bus stop was located, knowing that the bus still had a block of available road space to pass by the stop. Still, something didn’t feel right. I leaned into the intersection, trying to see if it was coming down Sheppard at all. Nothing. Staying in my spot, my conscience, once again, spoke up.
“GET READY TO CROSS THESE LIGHTS NIGGA. REAL TALKS!”
Unsure of the reasoning but wise enough to listen, I waited until the Yonge lights turned green and then proceeded to cross toward the Southwestern corner. Just at that moment, the 92 flew up Sheppard and turned with massive swiftness south on Yonge. Enough of this.
“Air Max sprint mode!” I told myself mentally. I leaped pass other pedestrians until my lanky waving arm had the attention of the bus driver. Recognizing my desire to catch it, they stopped just after the turn and swung the door open for me. Diving into my pockets, I looked out the PRESTO and got on my tap game real quick.
“Ajax right?” I asked, confirming the information from the GO App.
“Yup. Kingston Local” the bus driver replied, accelerating down Yonge Street.
“Cool.” I proceeded to make my way back to the back of the bus, only to realize that I was the only passenger. Lamenting in this joy, I tossed the JaysCare into the wide open seat at the back and sprawled out across the rest of them, the back blue key light illuminating my excitement. Ensuring the XBs were plugged in, I proceed to go straight to Youtube and type in the track I was feeling all week.
“S-a-m-G-E-a-s-t-s-i-d-e-t–i-n-g” my fingers typed across the search bar. Finding the song, it was time for me to pursue the REAL daily mission. Her. My everything. My world. I pushed play as the GO Bus sped up off the ramp and merged into holiday traffic on the Four-Oh. Lets’s get it.