By G.D. Maxwell
In the Before Time, when I lived in the Old Country Ontario February was the month of much moaning. The first sparkling rush of winter had long since given way to drab, dreary sameness of dirty piles of snow. Everywhere the landscape was washed in the colour of gritty, filthy underwear, a colour never found in the big box of Crayolas.
It was dark when I went to work; it was dark when I came home. Both trips were made on the subway, often in cars so crowded with other winter-numbed commuters the simple act of entering them was a working definition of safe sex. Crowded subway cars, especially during the early evening rush hour, were the olfactory counterpoint to the visual bleakness of the world above stale perfume, overcoats long overdue for a trip to the dry cleaners, bags of fast food headed home for dinner, deodorant in dire need of reapplication, the exhaled remnants of lunches rich with garlic, a million smothered farts.
From the time ice appeared in the gutters of Torontos streets sometime in mid-November, until it melted away again sometime in mid-March, the subway to work and the subway home was the bread in my sandwich of life. I hated it. And I didnt care very much for the hours in between. I longed for ice-free gutters so I could begin, again, to commute on my bicycle.
The highlights of February were the annual Bike Show and Boat Show. The Boat Show was for dreamin. It was impossible to walk among the acres of sailing yachts and not dream of lottery riches, Caribbean seas, tall rhum drinks, lingering technicolour sunsets and barely-there bikinis. Though I know it was impossible, I always felt as though I left the Boat Show a bit tanner than when I entered.
The Bike Show was about dreamin too. The bikes were people-powered, shiny, new, cutting-edge and, at the time, breathtakingly expensive. I imagine you could find most of them at the landfill in Whistler these days. They were mostly road bikes and touring bikes, some one-speed track racers and a handful of exotics: tandems, recumbents and those retro looking new mountain bikes. Aluminum tubing was pretty much the sexiest breakthrough in basic construction and the battlegrounds for most manufacturers seemed to be seeing who could cram the most sprockets on their bikes and who could build an eighteen pound bike that wouldnt fall apart on the first ride.
I quickly learned the only way I could survive the Bike Show without buying a new bike was to leave my credit cards at home or take my Perfect Partner with me. Without ever denying my jones for a new bike, she nevertheless embodied the concept of sober second thought. Why indeed would anyone want to buy a new bike in the middle of winter in Toronto?