I would gladly have walked 20 miles to see Pops Staples touch his electrified guitar and sing the truth. But I didn't have to. He was playing Harbourfront. I only had to brave a bicycle ride through the speedways that separate downtown from the lake.
He was so beautiful, all in green, right down to his fancy shoes. He told of picking cotton to save the money to go up to Chicago.
He was just getting warmed up, really, when word came that it was time to pull the plug. Any place that would close down the Staple Singers is not a place I want to be.
That was years ago, and I foolishly broke my own bylaw the other night by agreeing to meet people there. Harbourfront Centre is 10 times more crowded now. There's a mall full of crafts made by people in what used to be called the Third World, now euphemized as the Global Village.
Luxury boats colonize the surface of the water. The only clear view of the harbour is from above and sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I limp to the Music Garden nearby, inspired by Yo Yo Ma. There I meet the only person I know who lives at Harbourfront outside all year. He's a keen critic of a city that tries to hide poverty as well as it does its shoreline.
There's a woman who lives out, too. She has detailed architectural plans for the area and indicates buildings and people: "They have to go." Her speeches are enthralling, but her contact with reality is tenuous.
That my friend can maintain not only his sanity but an engaged and engaging intellect is extremely impressive. He is very clear in his understanding that the treatment he receives from police and security guards is meant to break his dignity.
His latest lakeside nature news is his sighting of a hawk with a rat in its claws. He witnessed a pike practically leaping out of the water at a surprised fisherman. He finds birds dead at the bottom of the buildings that block their flight off the lake. Some of them have metal bands on their legs, and he wonders who he could contact to report their fate.
This pleasant man could be a nature guide in the concrete wilderness. He could be paid to make the city look good. But Toronto has never had a lot of respect for what matters.
No amount of cosmetic surgery or little green strips can fix the manmade blight that breaks the downtown's connection with the lake. Until it crumbles away, one must go east or west to get a sense of where we're at. East to Scarborough to the bluffs. Find out why stupid Toronto has let the Guild Inn fall into ruin. Any place that does not capitalize on such a magnificent treasure is truly in distress.
The Long Branch streetcar will take you west to New Toronto. Walk down any street, past unassuming bungalows, and at the end of it you will find waves crashing onto rocks. Here, you can feel the power and size of the lake. It's quite different than that sheet of oily stuff lying by Queens Quay.
On hot days, the lake beckons like a mirage in the desert. Its maddening inaccessibility has rendered it little more than a decorative feature in architects' vain plans. And all the kerfuffle about the Island Airport? It's a red herring. The real issue is development, condos and cars.
I grew up a mile up the hill at the east end of Queen Street. I can still remember the haunting sound of the foghorn blowing to guide ships in the night. Disco music from party boats can't compare. Maybe ferry captains should have a go at running this town, and make a tight ship of a thing that's gone adrift.