Here in Toronto, we talk about crack a lot just now. Walking along the sidewalk in an elegant part of the city the other night, almost everyone I passed was talking about crack. The waves of chatter emanating from the sidewalk cafés was, as it has been for weeks, crack chatter.
Pretty girls with bare shoulders placed summer drinks down on white tablecloths and said, “Don’t be silly, Marinia. You can so hold a conversation while smoking crack. It just depends on your tolerance.” Or, “Crack does not make you skinny! Not eating makes you skinny. But you can eat and smoke crack. It just depends on your budget.”
I only hope all the tourists coming to the city this summer have read a newspaper. It’s possible visitors to Toronto will return to their towns of origin and say, “It’s the oddest thing. It’s very clean and feels safe, and it has a world-class opera, but everywhere you go, all anyone talks about is smoking crack.”
It would be helpful if there was a sign at the airport reading, “Welcome to Toronto: Diversity Our Strength, but every single one of us is talking about the allegations that the mayor smoked crack.”
Instead, I want to offer a primer for tourists to Toronto this summer, so that they might better understand and enjoy our city.
1. Toronto has been obsessed with our present mayor all along. Even before the crack-allegations scandal, we spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about Rob Ford. The mayor has become an iconic figure for us. He is a sort of folk hero who never really does much. Think Johnny Appleseed, if Johnny Appleseed were completely indifferent to the cultivation of apples and railed against oranges instead – or, in this case, unburied public transit.
2. Before the onset of our municipal conversation about crack, people in Toronto talked exclusively about real estate.
Even now, most people instinctively pose the question, “Did our mayor really frequent a crack den?” as “Did our mayor really frequent a crack fixer-upper?”
3. While it’s understandable that visitors to our city might reach this conclusion, people who tell you that the mayor has phoned them or been over to their house are not high on crack. It’s fairly likely Mr. Ford actually has been to their house. He likes to pop in and solve things, like Fairy God-Mayor. Mayor Ford mayors as if he were managing a three-star Caribbean resort – charging around responding to complaints about loud air conditioners. He micro-mayors. He does not macro-mayor. Like the manager of a Caribbean resort, he does not see achieving large-scale infrastructure projects as his role, but he’ll gladly buy you a mai tai, and he hopes that you can be buds.
4. It may appear to ousiders, or to people who’ve lived here their whole lives, that Toronto now operates under a co-mayor system, in which one mayor talks and the other mayor either giggles at everything the first mayor says or runs away. This isn’t actually the case. Doug Ford, the “mayor” who talks, is a city councillor, the actual mayor’s older brother. Nobody elected him co-mayor.
5. Do not be alarmed if you see a raccoon on a subway. They’re well adapted to the city, and have learned, like the dogs of Moscow, to use public transit. Still, do not approach them because, like anybody else on the subway, they may respond in a very aggressive manner. … This is not actually true, but I thought it might get you all to stop thinking about crack for a while.
6. Toronto is the most populous city in Canada by a large margin. There are more people living in Toronto than in the four Atlantic provinces combined. By some estimations, Toronto has more former mayoral staffers than Prince Edward Island has permanent residents. And all of us are talking about crack. However, there is always room for more voices in this conversation. Please visit us soon.