i have a love-hate relationshipwith fall. I used to long for it. When the smog, humidity and hot nights of summer had worn me out, I could barely wait for the first real stint of invigoratingly crisp, clean autumn air. My ambivalence has to do with Toronto's anti-smoking bylaws. I know that when the really cold times hit, my freedom and comfort-level spaces will shrink a hundredfold. But I'm a youngish smoker, my health is great. What's difficult for me to accept is the seasonal isolation imposed on smokers a lot less able than me.
I live with my mother in a very middle-to-upper-class neighbourhood. With few exceptions, socializing in this area can be pricey. Those of us who don't have the income to support the colourful dining and bar trade have had to find other meeting places. We find refuge in the local coffeeshops.
My mum started hanging out at the Second Cup down the street from where we live after she suffered a series of difficult life events, including medical stuff that severely restricts her mobility. Over the last couple of years, she's gathered a huge network of friends there. For under two bucks, she can sit on the patio and chat and laugh for hours.
A lot of the regulars have similar stories. Some have endured psychiatric trauma or breakdowns. Some are retired. Some are dealing with addictions to other drugs. Being on disability or a pension often means having little money and a lot of empty time. Caffeine, tobacco and silly anecdotes with friends can be very comforting.
Many are in recovery, but not all. The beautiful thing is, this scene couldn't be recreated in any social service scheme, because all sorts of people come here. As with any healthy community network, people of different backgrounds come to share stories, gossip and joke. There's no stigma.
Professionals, artists, writers, musicians and others whose range of choices may be wider because they have more money swing by because they love it. Because their friends are there. Because they know the chat's going to be good. Because Matthew, a regular, the superintendent of the building above the shop, will undoubtedly say something offensive and side-splittingly funny.
But patio season is over, and for some that means deep isolation until spring. There are other repercussions, too. A bartender at my favourite local says the place will probably have to close because of the no-smoking law.
My plaint isn't about some obnoxious concept like smokers' rights. This is about humanness and awkward socio-cultural moments.
How difficult was it to draw friendly attention and support for needle exchange programs at the beginning? They're still contentious. But many of us realize that while junk addiction is horribly destructive, maybe we have to live with the moral dilemma, implicitly supporting the habit for the sake of minimizing its nasty side effects.
Folks find themselves at dingy donut and coffeeshops all over Toronto for cheap comforts and easy company. Sometimes communities develop there. I'm angry for the people I know with few financial, familial or emotional resources who are now hunkering down for a long, lonely winter.