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(CARLOS BARRIA/Reuters)
(CARLOS BARRIA/Reuters)

David Shribman

Dear Toronto: Good luck with that Add to ...

What? They cancelled Roy Halladay's return to Toronto because the G20 is coming to town? Here's hoping that the Blue Jays' relocation to Philadelphia is the biggest dislocation you have. And here's betting it's not even close.

We in Pittsburgh were hosts last year, and it had its moments of amusement. There were parties and banquets and some very serious talk about some very serious issues, a fraction of which actually was comprehensible to normal people. Nicolas Sarkozy was here, and so was Barack Obama. Gordon Brown was here, too, but don't look for him in Toronto.

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The G20 prompted a lot of things we seldom experience, and each provided a lesson. One of our Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters got arrested for doing her job, which is to report the news even if it includes a near riot. The lesson was that even in an era where the newspaper business is in peril, it is still perilous to be a newspaper reporter. A lot of businesses were shut down. The lesson was just a warm-up for the deepening recession. (I also slept at the office twice. The lesson was that if you are going to sleep in the office, choose a profession where presses don't start rumbling under your cot at 2 in the morning.)

Pittsburgh's town fathers and mothers ardently and unanimously proclaimed the G20 a big boon, although not one of them could name the previous host city. They said there would be loads of great publicity and a great reminder of the lessons of Pittsburgh's own renaissance - that if you substitute education and medicine for heavy manufacturing, and win a Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup in the same year, you can make the transition from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age.

But here is one incontrovertible truth: No amount of naysaying, no number of anarchist marches down Yonge Street, no volume of arrests, is going to convince the planners and sponsors of this event ever to concede in public - even a teeny, weeny bit - that this was anything but the greatest idea since the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens. In private, however, they may tell you how much it cost the city and its businesses, and the figure will make your eyes bug out.

So as you prepare the barricades, bicker about whether work can productively be done at home, fight about paying overtime to employees who have to overnight at the office, order up your cots, check whether your masks match the police's tear gas, figure out how you're going to find food when so many restaurants are closed, debate whether having soldiers on your roofs might make you targets for protesters, add costly new anti-terrorism measures at your workplace, and worry about what you'll do if your car is in the security zone and you are not, here is a viewers' guide to the G20:

Don't expect much to happen. Sure, there will be protests by anarchists (wearing easily the best outfits you'll see the entire week), people holding signs and a few people with bullhorns, but not very much is going to be decided in Toronto. At best, the 20 guests of honour will sign a document that's already being drafted. It will sound very important, but not a soul in Toronto will be able to tell you a thing about that document a month afterward, or even a week afterward. Not even the G20's biggest boosters. Count on this.

Don't believe anyone who tells you life will go on as usual. It will go on as usual only if your life usually involves security checks, not being able to go where you want for coffee, being told that you can't go to work even if you want to (and maybe that you won't be paid, either) and watching a Blue Jays home series being played in Philadelphia.

Don't think you're going to run into a world leader at Swiss Chalet. They won't be going there, not even for the special sauce or a $9.99 double drumstick offer. It's true that Michelle Obama did create a minor sensation by sneaking out to Pamela's, a well-loved Pittsburgh-area landmark, for some scrumptious pancakes. But there will be very few unscripted moments at the G20. Just in case you're wondering, dropping by your favourite Chinese restaurant on Spadina is almost certainly not in David Cameron's script. And if it were, you wouldn't be able to get in.

Don't expect the inconvenience to end when the summit ends. In Pittsburgh's case, there were multiple arrests after the world leaders departed. That said, the gargantuan protests promised by activists never materialized. Police far outnumbered protesters. Think of this as an employment program for police officers. Or as an economic stimulus for people in the security business, although maybe no one else. (Unless you sell barbed wire, in which case this is the month you've been waiting for.)

Don't expect you'll want to play host to the G20 again. Once is enough. For most of us in Pittsburgh, the best thing about the 2010 G20 is that the dateline on all the stories will read "TORONTO, CANADA." For us, those will be the two prettiest words in the English language.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of U.S. politics.

Follow on Twitter: @shribmanpg

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