Three Days in Toronto


A trip across the country, with didgeridoo and Trudeau too.

At the airport in Vancouver a man in a pinstripe suit was playing a didgeridoo as he boarded the plane for the flight to Toronto. The low, deep sounds echoed through the terminal and the gate attendant shook her head and sighed. His sleeves were too short and his pant legs rode up as he walked; when he sat down, the old man in the next seat said, “There never was a finer day for flying.” The sun shone in through the windows; the engines revved and we taxied down the runway.

The didgeridoo man told me he was a “sound healer” who had trained as a music therapist. “I didn’t believe in sound healing until I heard it and saw it work—it’s just like acupuncture or herbs, you know.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, which read: Ashley Tait, Bell Mobility. “Are you on Facebook?” he said. “I highly recommend it.” His face looked like an elf’s face. “I created a group called the Notorious Ashley Tait—that’s my name—and I’ve found eight people on Facebook in North America called Ashley Tait. Wouldn’t you know three of them live in Vancouver, so we’re meeting up next week. Hey, would you like to come?”

I told him that my name wasn’t Ashley Tait and asked him whether the other Ashley Taits were men or women, and he said they were all women. I told him my name and we shook hands.

“Do you have a card?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “they’re kind of like Facebook in my opinion.”

At baggage claim, the didgeridoo man tapped me on the shoulder. He had his arm around a woman with dread­locks. “You should think about Face­book,” he said. “Call me sometime, we’ll go for coffee and talk about it.” He winked and walked away and I waited for my bag, which was the second last one to come around the carousel.

At the end of an invigorating day at the magazine publishing conference, where I attended sessions called The Joys of Online Circulation Management and E-Publishing: Making Your Mark, I got in a cab to meet my friend Robin at Betty’s Bar on King Street, where reporters from the Sun get drunk after work. When we got there, I looked at the meter to see the fare and the screen was blank, so I asked the cab driver how much. He looked at the meter and said, “It’s up to you”—he’d forgotten to turn it on. I gave him eight dollars and he said, “Lady, you are more than fair.”

I was halfway out of the cab when he said, “Wait! Have you ever tried young coconut? Jelly coconut? Would you like to try? You wait here, I’ll be back.” He jumped out and walked around to the back of the cab and opened the trunk, and the car rocked a bit as he shifted some heavy things around. “Shit,” he said loudly. I opened the door and got out. He held up a round, cream-coloured, Saran-wrapped object that didn’t look like a coconut at all.

Just then my friend Robin rode up on her bike. “Is that young coconut?” she asked.

“Here’s what you do,” the cab driver said. “First you need to shave off the skin with a sharp knife.” He tapped the coconut softly. “Then you poke a hole in the bottom, right here, and you drain the water.” He held up the coconut and shook it.

“No,” said Robin, “you drink the water.”

“Yes, you can drink the water,” the driver said, “and then you need to smash the coconut against the floor to open it up, but watch out, it will make a big mess.” He handed me the coconut, which had a little orange and green sticker on it that said Best, and he bowed low, then straightened up and smoothed his hair back. “The inside is like a jelly, and you scoop it out with a spoon and eat it.”

“You know,” Robin said, “the number one killer in Papua New Guinea is falling coconuts. I was there for a film shoot, and I was just standing there when suddenly this coconut fell— thunk—right beside me on the sand. It was crazy.”

The cab driver nodded. “Crazy,” he said. He wiped his hands on his pants, slammed the trunk, got back in his cab and took out a pad of paper and wrote something down.

Robin and I went into Betty’s Bar. I sat the coconut on the tiny table between us and we drank pints of beer and talked about photography, horseback riding and how you can’t trust the media. On our way out the server ran after us, waving the coconut in the air and calling, “Hey, you forgot this.”

Later that evening at my parents’ condo, I told the story of the cab driver and the young coconut, and offered them the coconut as a gift. “We don’t eat coconut,” my mother said, “young or otherwise.”

After Circ. Shop: Twenty-five Ways To Improve Your Circulation, the final magazine publishing session on the second day of the conference, my colleague Trevor and I went for drinks at the top of the hotel, in a room with a revolving floor. We said hi to some friends, then stepped off the moving floor to get to the bar and the friends disappeared around the pillar. “Two Heineken,” Trevor said, and the bartender handed us two Molson Canadian.

Another publisher walked over to greet us and said, “Did you know this used to be Pierre Trudeau’s favourite hotel, when it was the Colony? Apparently it was the only hotel in downtown Toronto where you could actually open the windows, and that’s why he always chose it—even though the hotel across the way was far nicer,” and he pointed out the window at a building in the distance. Over the next hour, eight people told us the same story, on and off the revolving floor. We interrupted the first few to tell them we’d already heard it, but then we stopped. Eventually Trevor started to feel dizzy, so we left.

A few days later, back in Vancouver, I told my friend Cassandra about the revolving bar and the repeated Trudeau story, and she told me about the time she had lunch with a client, the classical guitarist Liona Boyd, in that same revolving room when it was a restaurant at the top of the Colony Hotel. They sat down together with plates of fish from the seafood buffet and as they ate, Liona Boyd told Cassandra about spending time at Sussex Drive with Trudeau during their love affair, and how they used to play hide and seek and jump on the beds.

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C.E. Coughlan’s work has been published in Geist, Grain and the anthology Emerge. The Wigmaker, her collection of short stories was published in 2007 by Smart Cookie Publishing. Her piece, "Once," was a runner-up in the 1st Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.


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