“How much sir?”
“Did you say $58? And you don’t take credit cards? Aww man…”
I couldn’t believe a basic ride from the airport to my hotel was running $60 one way. $58 was about $38 more than I was expecting to pay, especially since I’d only taken $60 from the ATM. I forked over the cash with sincere apologies for the subpar $2 tip I was leaving the super nice cabbie. To my surprise he didn’t curse me under his breath the way NYC cabbies are known to do. He assured me it was okay and to enjoy my weekend. With that, my Caribana weekend commenced.
The trend of incredibly helpful, kind-hearted people continued. Everywhere I turned locals were extending helpful tidbits of advice, directions and recommendations. One young lady was eavesdropping on a conversation among friends and I; before we knew it she had directed us to where the best clubs were for afterhours as well as a nice tattoo/piercing shop she’d heard of. A couple of men our age met us for dinner/clubbing where we discussed everything from dramatic American politics (they are far more knowledgeable than I, the American), strict Canadian liquor laws (no independant liquor retailers exist), even stricter gun laws (unless you’re a proven hunter, you probably can’t legally own a gun) and finally the musical phenomenon best known as Drake, one of Toronto, Canada’s most popular exports.
One of the biggest events on our schedule was the annual Caribana parade. It was everything I’d heard it would be and more. A friendly bus driver offered us a free ride to the parade and a costumed Trinidadian performer gave us tickets to get in. Once inside, it was bright colors, near nakedness and liquor/drank EVERYTHING! Because we arrived later in the day we opted to walk the length of the parade with the performers instead of sitting along the side with other spectators. While it was incredibly hot, there were no fights, drama or dysfunction. Everyone was enjoying the party atmosphere and high-spirited vibes prevailed.
Continuing the momentum, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the club. The nightlife was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, primarily because of the diversity among the people. We went to an “urban” club that played only rap/hip hop and soca with a little reggae thrown in for good measure. We were listening to old school Gucci Mane, Drake (of course), Jay Z et al. In America, any club playing music like that features a Black audience with the occasional White person. In Toronto, West Indian, Black, African and White all partied together. It was almost surreal. None of the Whites or Blacks “acted” as anything other than what they are, which is folks who enjoy all types of music, cultures and people. After the initial shock that my American, semi-prejudiced mind has been accustomed to accepting, almost preferring, I realized I was turning a blind eye to the color differences as well. It felt good.
Upon leaving the city I only wished I’d had more time to spend there, to soak up more of what the city has to offer. Returning to littered American streets of drunk bums begging for quarters, racist communities and government agencies, and a lack of quality, affordable healthcare are all societal ills that our Canadian neighbors have managed to avoid. Their government is taking care of it’s people
even if they aren’t dominating the Olympics. After doing research I learned that nearly half, a whopping 49%, of Canadians are not native-born. Hmm, will I one day be able to count myself as a part of that 49%? Time shall tell.