The morning before the jewish New Year. I must buy a sweet raisin challah. When my family gathers, I want to be able to break open sweet yellow hunks of it. Apparently, I'm not the only one. As we approach the Harbord Bakery, the lineup threads all the way to the corner store at the end of the block. You can tell this throng has come as a surprise to some - they're the ones on their cells telling whoever's at the other end not to wait, because they're never going to get there.
But there are also those who experience this sudden time on their hands as a welcome yearly ritual.
"Oh," says an old friend, "you're in the challah line. I come every year. You get to see everybody." She's right. I can't finish a sentence to one person without having to say hello to another.
There's only one line, one door open and one cash register, six workers taking orders and who knows how many in the back actually kneading dough and firing the ovens. There are also free samples. Platters are piled high with slices of honey cake.
"I never buy the honey cake," says one woman, munching happily. "I'm the only one at home who likes it."
"So, you can't buy something for yourself?" says a stranger with that gentle Jewish inflection.
We've been there almost 30 minutes and we're just at the store entrance.
"We had the most amazing time last night," says someone squishing in to say hi to the man in front of us. "My band, we played salsa at the Red Lion. And it was full of Japanese people. Japanese people dancing all night to salsa. I tell you, it was a snapshot of multicultural Toronto," and he runs off.
"I love salsa," our line-mate opines. "I listened to the music for over 15 years before I finally learned how to dance to it. Now it's the joy of my life. Maybe I should teach some salsa dancing right here."
I look around nervously. Is this really going to happen? I'm feeling communal, but I'm not quite ready for a line dance. Suddenly, an acquaintance appears, just in from the airport and late for a doctor's appointment.
"What will I do? I promised to bring the challahs." She's frantic. "Do you mind if I piggyback on you guys?"
I freeze. We've all been waiting for over a half-hour. The striking elderly woman behind us, with long silver-grey hair, says as much.
My genius girlfriend saves the day.
"It's not really up to us," she says. "You'll have to ask the other people."
"Oh, let her in," says the woman a few feet back. "It's a mitzvah," she says, a good deed, she means, in keeping with the New Year. Done.
The woman behind us, the one who wasn't so welcoming at first, congratulates my partner. "How did you think of that so quickly? I would have said no, but that wouldn't have been very nice."
When our turn finally comes at the counter, of course we're completely unprepared. Unbelievably - as we discover later - we forget the black bread. But we emerge with our bagels, cakes and, most important, our sweet challah with raisins.
At lunch the next day, the guests are oohing and aahing over the challah. Still, we don't finish the whole thing. My parents take the last hunk home - a care package sweetened by dried fruit - and the high spirits of a Harbord Street Rosh Hashanah rabble.