Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Some Notes Around West Queen West

I took a walk along Ossington yesterday. During the day, the strip retains it's pre-hip entertainment area feel, which is to say, relatively quiet and rather charming.

At the foot of Ossington, I turned west along Queen and walked all the way to Gladstone. Along my way, I was stopped by a young man on a bike, who told me he had just gotten out of jail, and that he didn't want to do anything stupid to get some money, and was wondering if I could help him out. I said I was sorry, that I had no money (which was true, I rarely have money on me), and he biked off down Queen Street.

I've been asked for money many, many times here in Toronto, but this was the first time someone had actually implied to me that a) he was going to "do something", as in go rob a store, if I didn't give him some money, the implication then being that I would be somehow responsible for his bad action, and/or b) that I might in fact become the victim of his inability to acquire money. Maybe even right now.

Either choice put the onus on me to prevent harm, to myself or to others. In other words, he feared his own incontinence, or more precisely, he felt that conveying this as his de facto marketing strategy was a way of standing out amongst the local begging community, most of whom are mentally ill and therefore, at least to me, have become a kind of secular mendicant class in our post-institutional society.

I am genuinely curious to know if it works for him, although I am little desire to encounter him again.


Moments after this experience, I strolled into the Drake General Store. The Drake Hotel, credited with "revitalizing" this part of Queen Street, has expanded this revitalization to include pornographic colouring books and vintage Mickey Mouse trapeze toys.

Yes, there really are pornographic colouring books. I don't really see the fun in colouring this kind of stuff, really, wouldn't it be more fun to draw, but there you have it. As for the Mickey Mouse trapeze toy, I mention it because a) I had one as a child, and b) they are selling them for $20. A quick search on the Internet reveals the average price of this toy to be around $5. If mine still exists, I would be happy to kind of split the difference and sell it to one of my readers for $10. If there are any takers you know how to get in touch with me.

It might come as a surprise to you that despite it's name, the Drake General Store has little in the way of things that one might associate with general stores of yore, you know, things like food and blankets. I suspect this is some kind of ironic ploy on their part, a wink in the direction of their clientele that what is general about the store is its diffuse range of kitschy objects.

Nevertheless, I can imagine some hapless tourist, in need of band-aids, finding their way into the Drake General Store and being slightly disappointed and somewhat confused. Especially with the neon purple Swiss cross hanging outside the door.

Oh, and another thing, the guy in the store said nothing and looked at no one. This may come as a surprise to you, but my Drake hotel experiences have been generally good, and the staff friendly and courteous, so I was a little bit surprised by this. Perhaps he'd just coloured outside the lines of the "Behind the Green Door" page of his colouring book and was sulking.


Once I hit Gladstone, I decided to walk north, off Queen street and into the residential neighbourhood. It was only then that it hit me - I do not like this strip of Queen street anymore. It was visceral actually, a kind of revulsion at the fact that there is a brand new poutine...(store? restaurant? poutinerie? (I think the last one is correct) poutinerie, run by a pair of very nice guys who have built a very nice place that sells...just poutine. Poutine. It's good poutine, by the way, but that's not the point.

Have I mentioned before how many local places around here have a house poutine? Many. And yet most of them fail to be as good as what one can get at a Harvey's in Montreal. Not that I eat much poutine, mind you, but I have yet to convinced of its ascension into the pantheon of dishes worthy of extensive culinary experimentation, its value as an aesthetic object. This is mostly because of bad gravy.

Toronto, just as you've only begun to wake to the possibilities of very fine coffee, you seem to be years away from gravy that doesn't taste like it was once powder contained in a foil-lined pouch. And yet, we can already see that poutine's brief star is waning, to be soon replaced by the grilled cheese sandwich.

If the hipster Pravda that is Blogto is right, and they usually are, there will be many nice establishments selling $16 grilled cheese sandwiches using only 16 kinds artisinal cheese from Ancaster Bros Farm pre-blended exclusively for the local grillé-fromagerie. And nothing else.


If one detects a certain malaise coming out as a kind of inchoate rage here, I apologize. If it is not to your liking, I would direct you to many of the fine blogs I link to on my sidebar. I just feel the need to say, kind of publicly, that West Queen West is not going to be a very nice place to live or visit in about 4 years. I could be wrong, but I suspect I won't be.


Osbert Parsley said...

I think I've encountered the gentleman you speak of, who walked with me and delivered a similar spiel about a week ago. As I recall, it was around King and Jarvis. He claimed to have just gotten out of jail, said that all he needed was a bus fare to get to Barrie, and hinted darkly that by refusing I was contributing to his incipient slide into oblivion.

I refused his request, although this may have had less to do with my being short on cash and more to do with my having just read Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom.

Andrew W. said...

Osbert, that's really funny! The bus fare to Barrie bit is one of the oldest scams there is out here - I've heard it at least twice since moving here. This guy was a bit different, more menacing than pitiable.

By the way, were you at St. Mary Magdalene's during the RCCO conference?

Osbert Parsley said...

I was! High Mass preceded by a terrific recital by Patrick Wedd.

Andrew W. said...

I wondered - I'm in the Gallery Choir there!

Steve said...

According to Martiniboys, there's a second location of The Drake General Store opening at Yonge and Rosedale.

Andrew W. said...

Steve, thanks for the comment.

If there's any place that is in more need of a general store that has absolutely nothing of value to one's health and or welfare, I would suspect it's Rosedale.

One can see a trend emerging, where the Drake General Store becoming the Walmart of the upper-middle class, where they too can buy crap, but instead of paying nothing for it, they can have the honour of paying for too much.