I used to think about those poor, petrified souls who, upon hearing the news in 1976 that a fuming, menacing little cannonball named René Lévesque smoked his way to the top, packed up their mansions and bolted like greased WASP-y thunderbolts straight down the 20 West with the speed and efficiency of their German sedans.
Getting off the island would have been rough, no doubt there, but the bile in their stomachs probably settled right around Les Coteaux, a motel-and-gas-station burb that sits on the Ontario-Quebec border. By the time Cornwall rolled around, indigestion – not to mention bruised anglo pride and the smell of political uncertainty – would have been a bad dream.
What was on their minds as they hit the straightaway between Kingston and Toronto to their new home? Maybe it was a feeling they had dodged a bullet, that they really did get a deal on the fire sale of their spiffy houses, if only because they would never have to live in the Republic of Quebec. Maybe it was the idea that their kids, strapped in tight in their car seats behind, would never have to sully their tongues with government-mandated French. Maybe they were really just following the jobs, the ones that flowed from downtown Montreal to Toronto like some bizarre, paranoid osmosis.
Maybe. But you can’t help but think that the stretch of blacktop was prophetic: straight, slate grey, boring, kind of like the city toward which they were fleeing. God, what a sad thought, I used to think way back when. Wimps. Pussies. They can’t stand the heat of this beautiful, unholy joint, can they?
I ate a big slab of crow recently, folks. I became one of those people this week, with a few variations on the theme. I didn’t escape in a German sedan, but an old-assed Volvo whose wonky heating/cooling system is reminiscent of severe menopause. There is no spectre of uncertainty in the province’s near future, other than the Charest-mandated one that is about as popular as the clap – and as curable, courtesy of the next general election. Nor am I particularly scared of anything, apart from those brutal, third-period collapses to which the Canadiens seem all too prone in the playoffs.
Still, though, I did it. I left Montreal on the day it bloomed, complete with 27 degrees of sweaty heat and a dizzying expanse of blue sky. It was the type of day you live through three months of Siberia to get to, and it hurt. So why’d I do it? Simple: career. The situation in Montreal print media is such that you either work the weekly, alternative newspaper gig, or try like hell to get into The Gazette. I did the former for three years. I will never, ever do the latter.
Or you move to Toronto for a summer contract job, move to one of those dreaded, furnished "efficiencies" complete with soiled mattress and a view of one of the city’s umpteen apartment high-rises, and begin dreaming of the trip back.
So, that’s where I am right now. It’s certainly not the worst situation to be in, but it does mean the end of this column. Please indulge me the weepy, self-serving goodbye I probably don’t deserve.
First Watch started just under three years ago, shortly after my last move back from Toronto. It hasn’t changed much during that time, serving as a lovely platform from which to tee off on whatever made me happy, mad, frustrated or crazy. Reaction has always been swift, and usually brutal. If I learned anything writing in this space, it’s that if people agree with you all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.
I thank the regular readers, wherever you happen to be, and am especially indebted to the slew of perpetual letter writers who filled my inbox with their own poison from week to week. I thank Dimitri Katadotis, for (largely) keeping me out of trouble, and Jamie O’Meara for being both a muse and a shining example of how a columnist should live and write.
I thank predecessor M-J Milloy, whose unbending cynicism rubbed off mightily as I took the job a few years back, and Richard Burnett – the straightest-acting gay man known to civilization. I especially thank the lovely Suzie Owen, girlfriend and intellectual sparring partner, who, I’m proud to say, agreed with exactly one of these columns. The rest made for good debate.
I could go on, but this nostalgia is wearing a little thin. Plus, I have to go fight traffic on the Don Valley Parkway right now. Damn. Real work sucks.
It would have been easy to wallow in paradise for the summer, but four months of purgatory is going to pay off in the long run. It might have hurt to leave, but it’ll be even better to be back. Thanks, ya’ll. It’s been a slice.