Pokémon : Toronto vs. Elmvale

In an attempt to embrace our latent millenialism and maintain the illusion that we’re closer to 20 than 40, JF and I are avid Pokémon Go players. Yes, it’s just as embarrassing as it sounds. But we can’t seem to stop!

When I reached Level 21

The celebratory screen shoot I took after reaching Level 21 before JF

Part of the appeal might be that it has become a competition. Mikaela vs. JF. Husband vs. Wife. Men vs. Women.

We’re (literally) running around to see who can get to level 22 first. I’m edging ahead but my recent lack of pokeballs has put me at a serious disadvantage – unable to capitalize on any creatures that appear on my screen.

Two days ago, I almost spent real actual money from the bank on virtual (e.g. make believe) pokeballs to catch a level 700 Staryu (level 700! Staryu!). I didn’t waste my wages, but I may have shouted « Noooooooooooooo! » on a busy Elmvale road.

Why did I run out of pokeballs, you ask? OK you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyway. It’s because Elmvale only has four pokestops – the source of pokeballs. And when you’re a grown up with actual things to do, you simply don’t have time go by those pokestops again and again.

Which brings me to today’s thesis : people in less populated are at a serious disadvantage in the game Pokemon Go.

In Toronto, there is a pokestop or gym at every corner. Our friends Mireille and Patrick took us to High Park, where we filled our virtual pokebackpacks to the brim with pokeloot and caught all sorts of rare beasts. Sometimes, I dream of going back there without JF to gain a serious lead in our pokebattle.

screen shots from the game

Left: downtown Elmvale. Right: downtown Toronto. Unfair!

Last weekend we walked through Allan Gardens and caught a Bulbasaur, Clefairy and Gloom in the span of 20 minutes. That same amount of time in Elmvale might yield a Rattata (rat), Weedle (weevil) and Pidgey (pidgeon). So basically, Elmvale gets rodents and pests. Toronto gets fairies and dinosaurs. I call no fair!

I’ve just re-read the words I (a 32-year-old woman) typed above. I feel deep shame but also a deep sense of injustice. Equality for the boonies! Equality for the boonies!

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A cottager’s guide to blending in with country folk

It’s cottage season again and that generally means three things for us residents of north Simcoe County.

  • MONEY: Cottagers spend a lot of their hard-earned cash in our little towns. Conscientious ones support small businesses like Elmvale’s amazing bakery and antique store.
  • BUSY-NESS: Travelling from Elmvale to Barrie on a Sunday now feels like crawling painfully to the ends of the earth. And local grocery stores now have actual lineups. Whoa.
  • NOISE: Everyday, at least one thumping Mercedes filled with teenagers in stringy bathing suits screeches by our house on its way to Wasaga Beach.
They're ba-ack!

They’re ba-ack!

Bullets two and three are the reasons most locals (who don’t own businesses) are irritated by the influx of people from the GTA. I can’t personally be vexed because, two years ago, I barely survived July in an air-conditionerless Toronto apartment. What I can do is help bring permanent residents and summer visitors closer together.

You see, when I worked at a boutique in Midland as a teenager, I knew spenders cottagers as soon as they walked in the door. I lost that superpower after a few years in the city. But now, as a citry girl, it’s back and triple its original strength. So, here’s my advice to Torontonians trying to blend in with small towners:

  1. MAKE EYE CONTACT: Smile and look directly at everyone you walk by —just for a second or two. Better yet, say hello. Yes, it does feels unnatural at first.
  2. MAKE SMALL TALK: Chat with waitresses, checkout persons, store clerks and bank tellers. Easy topics include: traffic, weather, local attractions and (if you feel like really getting personal) their plans for the weekend.
  3. DRIVE BIG AUTOMOBILES: If you’re renting a car, skip the Japanese or German hatchbacks, sedans and crossovers. Instead, opt for a large truck or SUV made by a North-American-sounding company like Dodge or Ford. Avoid luxury cars like the plague.
  4. WEAR CASUAL CLOTHES: For men, you’re kind of stuck with baggy jeans or khakis and a t-shirt or polo. For women, look less put together and more thrown together. Actually, you should just wear jeans and t-shirts too.
  5. WEAR BLAND SHOES: Women, don’t wear heels. Men, don’t wear pointy-toed shoes — ever. Sneakers and Crocs are good alternatives.
  6. CARRY CHEAP ACCESSORIES: Ditch your designer purses and sunglasses. Get your replacements at Wal-mart or, if you want to get fancy, Winners.
  7. AVOID LULULEMON AND STARBUCKS: Those things don’t exist here, so don’t sport your $20 headbands and grande americanos north of Midhurst. And don’t whine about the lack of either franchise – we’re sad too.
  8. SUCK IT UP: If your food is late, coffee is cold, or you don’t like the service, don’t complain loudly or ask for a discount. Mutter quietly about it to your friends. And offer a good tip anyway.
  9. LISTEN TO MAINSTREAM MUSIC: Your obscure indie jams don’t offer much social capital here, so crank the Sweet Home Alabama, Thunderstruck, and Copperhead Road. If you don’t have those on your playlist, just tune into Rock 95. They play those three songs on repeat.
  10. RELAX: Slow down, don’t hurry. Wait patiently, even if the checkout person is doing his best snail impression. You’re the same amount of important as everyone else. Besides, you’re on vacation!

And now, an obscure indie jam:

The province of Toronto

Some people in rural Ontario feel that Toronto is a noisy and crowded pit of depravity populated by spoiled elitists selfishly hogging hard-earned government resources.

This week, the editor of Elmvale’s free local paper claimed that if Toronto were to secede, the rest of the province would rejoice.

The editorial from Springwater News

Despite slight factual incongruities (Michael don’t you know Torontonians leave the city as often as possible?), this piece made me grin.

I would add that some Torontonians think of places like Elmvale as quaint little backwaters filled with gun-toting, simple-minded, conservative rednecks. That is, if they even bother thinking of rural Ontario as anything more than a hodge podge of ski hills, cottages, and cute little downtown shopping areas.

What’s important is that in both cases, “some” means a minority — hopefully. Both stereotypes carry a grain of truth. And as a citry girl, I’m delighted to be able to laugh at both the big smog and the boonies.

Kansas

Sometimes I feel like Dorothy. Yesterday, I learned that Flynn’s Irish Pub in Penetanguishene becomes Uncle Flynn’s Daycare during business hours.

Huh?

When I hear about stuff like that, I can help but think “Mikaela, you’re not in Toronto anymore.” I’m actually in Kansas. Or what most Torontonians think of as the equivalent of Kansas: Ontario farm country.

Here are two other examples.

1) The other day I asked a colleague from Elmvale where I could drop off my dry cleaning in town. The answer surprised me.

“The gun shop,” she said.

“!??,” I said with my face.

A quick call to her husband, a local tradesman, confirmed it. Watson’s Sports is where you go to get your clothes dry cleaned in my town. While you’re dropping off your silk shirts, you can also pick up a new Ruger and some Hula Poppers. Amazing.

That night I – the pacifist vegetarian – stood in front of the gun shop on Queen Street East with an armload of dirty officewear, looking for some sign that they cleaned clothes.

My eyes found a barely legible, tucked away old placard that either said “French cry leaners” or “French’s dry cleaners.”  I hoped it was the latter and went in.

A man stared me down as I dumped my blouses and trousers on the glass counter – right on top of the ammo. He didn’t offer to help me. Didn’t even bat an eye.

“Do you take dry cleaning?” I asked.

“Yes we do,” he volunteered.

“…?” I said with my face. “I’d like to get these cleaned. How long will it take?”

“Two weeks,” he replied as he slowly moved to fill out a receipt.

I tried not to look shocked (two weeks!?) and walked around the store. I’m pretty sure there was a mounted stuffed dear head behind a rack of camouflage coats. Pray for my favourite blazer.

2) This past weekend was the Elmvale Fall Fair, in all its carnivalesque glory. There are so many reasons to love this event.

For starters, all of the moms and dads with kids at local schools take a day off work to watch their children march in the Friday afternoon parade. Apparently it lasts all of 15 minutes. That, friends, is community.

Then there’s the Saturday afternoon parade, which features pretty much all non-school-aged Elmvalers – everyone from grannies on scooters to farmers on tractors.

Also worth seeing at the fair: the tractor pull, oddest-shaped vegetable, best barley, most beautifully decorated pancake, and of course, the top cow.

This year, my old roomie Steph and I watched a handful of (we thought identical) three-year-old jersey cows walk around in circles and compete for a shiny red ribbon. A dairy farmer sitting next to us explained that judges look for cows with veiny udders and great “angularity” – that means bony.

But what I love most about the fair is that basically every living person originally from Elmvale comes to town, plus several extras like me. We could probably have sold parking spots in our driveway.

This really is a whole other world. My personal Oz.

The eighth oddest shaped vegetable in Elmvale

These cows are for eating, but at the fall fair, they are treated like queens.

These cows are for eating, but at the fall fair, they are treated like queens.

Off her rocker.

Off her rocker.

Mini princesses at the parade.

Mini princesses at the parade.

Elmvale is...

Rural Elmvale is… where we come back

Rural life.

Rural life.

Steph at the top of the ferris wheel

Steph at the top of the ferris wheel

The Deal

I grew up in the village (hamlet? intersection?) of Perkinsfield, Ontario. It’s so small it doesn’t even get a dot on the Ontario map. Even google gets confused when you try to find it. It used to have a fast food stand shaped like a giant hot dog that made it fairly memorable to cottagers driving through, but that shut down.

Found a photo of the old Perkinsfield hot dog stand.

Found a photo of the old Perkinsfield hot dog stand.

Anyway.

I’ve lived in Toronto since 2003.  I like the city. I like going to concerts on school nights and having delicious Indian food delivered straight to my door. I like my friends here. I like my workplace. I like my choir. I even like my apartment.

Our place is on the top right corner

Our Toronto apartment. The one on the top right corner.

The thing is, I’ve never actually loved the city. There were a few early years when I thought it might be love, but Toronto lost a little fairy dust each time I got stuck on a sweaty TTC car, was woken by police sirens, or forked over a massive rent cheque.

To me, Toronto is like a nice, A-type, career-minded person. I appreciate and admire it. But it takes itself too seriously.  It forgets there are other ways to be. It gets caught up in schedulers, americanos and expensive shoes. And all of that stuff has me itching to buy a few acres, throw on some wellies and buy a goat.

Which brings me to an interesting question. Ten years is a friggin long time. Is country life the way I remember it?

I have this vision of people wearing sweatpants to the grocery store, getting home at 5:15 p.m., and drinking beers on porches with long clotheslines flapping behind them. I imagine houses with wide open vistas, perfect for stargazing. My whole family laughing around my dinner table. Apple trees. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. But I might be idealizing things just a tad.

I will soon find out just how far off the mark my memory is. My partner Jean-François — the best, smartest, most handsome franco-ontarian this side of Markham — got a new office in Barrie and is buying us a house in Simcoe County. Probably in Elmvale, which is as close to Perkinsfield as we can get without making JF’s commute a major pain. My mother is thrilled.

This blog is my effort to catalogue our adventure. It might cover a little house hunting, a little decorating, a little job searching, and a little pondering. Maybe a little music (the other love of my life) too. Either way, I hope it will help you, my friends and family, keep abreast of my movements.

I guess you could say this big change in my life is an exercise in dream chasing. I have no job, no distinct plans, and will very soon have no money. But I’m optimistic. As addle-brained as this whole thing might be, it feels right.

That said, please wish me luck. I will need it.