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Wrestling with Wanderlust: the Toronto travelogue

Malls arenít great places for epiphanies. Especially not in the food court, between Sbarroís and whatever heat-lamped version of Asian cuisine is housed next to the pizza stand. But, there I was, sitting quietly, sheltered from the outside rain and thinking what a nice city this was, watching the people in their fall/winter clothes, almost as foreign to my Texas-based ass as the French language that most of these people can likely speak fluently.

I was with Wing Chun, who along with her husband Glark (they own a trio of excellent Web sites and have become good friends in the months since I started writing for them) was kind enough to let me visit on my quest to see Radiohead in concert. Iíd never been to Toronto before. Iíve never been anywhere that far North before. I mean, Iím Mexican-American. There arenít a lot of us Latinos up in Toronto, and Iím pretty sure thereís not a chapter of LULAC up in Saskatchewan. (Yeah, I just checked on the Web site. No chapter there.) I wasnít sure what to expect.

The flight up was one of the nicest Iíve ever had, with an in-flight movie and a sparse group of passengers that afforded me a row to myself. The movie was amiable and good-intentioned. If you havenít seen Shanghai Noon, I will say this: it was the best Jackie Chan-as-a-cowboy movie thatís been released in the last year. Seriously, it was that good.

Once there, I got itchy. I was in a lovely house with funny, bright people in a city that was more diverse than I expected. People walked around in nice clothes, black coats and scarves. I kept thinking how far removed it was from the 112-degree Austin heat of only a few weeks back. My arms hugged the oft-neglected coat I wore, and I just feltÖ right. Being there felt right. The itch I felt was the one I feel maybe every six months. Should I leave Austin? Iíve been there three and a half years, from the very month I left college. Why have I stayed so long?

It happened last year in San Francisco. It almost happened in L.A., if it wasnít for feeling that living there would make me feel like the ugliest person in the city with ratty clothes and a sub-par vehicle. I got the calm you get when you walk down the streets of a good place, a place where you could live and be happy. I constantly visualized myself navigating those streets, wondering what kind of work I would do, what I would write, who I would meet. All I needed was a street sign that said "Wanderlust" to make the feeling of fate complete.

One of the reasons I was there was to see Radiohead. They didnít disappoint. Wing was a little reluctant to go — she thought maybe there were more deserving fans who would probably have a deep desire to go (like people who fly from Austin to Toronto to see a concert, for instance). But I really wanted her there, which is the way I am about a lot of things, from movies to really good TV shows. If I donít have someone there to share an experience, it feels like a loss.

So there we were, walking along the street, finally catching a cab as the rain started in full. This was right after the mall, as I watched couples and shoppers sit in the food court. A large screen showed commercials and short programs. I loved the feeling of buying food with a different currency. I loved hearing messages given in English, then in French; loved the assumption of a bilingual culture. Ray Romano did a great bit where he talked about going to Burger King in America, where the vast majority of employees are barely lingual. It reminded me of living in Germany, learning to adapt to a whole different place.

At the concert, people outside were buying and selling tickets. I stopped a guy to ask how much he was charging. About $150 Canadian per seat.

Inside, Wing and I navigated back toward the floor entrance. They gave us wristbands and let us in through the Sears hockey centerís media entrance. We walked down a ramp and when we emerged through the doors andÖ Hold on, I need a moment here. Maybe some Kleenex.

Ahem. We walked through the doors. And we wereÖ 20 FEET. FROM THE STAGE. People stood around, but nobody pushed and people werenít being rude. Just a bunch of fans waiting patiently, looking back at the other 5,000 fans up in the hard-won seats. We waited. There was an opening act: a trio of DJs who spun as we nodded our heads and did the little silent groove dance.

Then, they came. The band was in such a good mood. They played fan favorites (except "Creep." Never "Creep.") and joked around, saying each song had a sponsor. ("This song is brought to you by Nike," Thom Yorke would say by way of an introduction.) Wing seemed to really like it, I was reminded of the last time I saw them in Dallas (when they were brilliant, but dour and bored.). I had started the evening with a headache, probably from the change in climate and lack of sleep, but I didnít care.

A girl in front of us threw up, probably from all the pot she was smoking and suddenly, that whole area cleared out. It was good magical vomit. It didnít smell, it was white (looking vaguely like cottage cheese under the purple lights) and drove everyone in front of us away. We had a totally unobstructed view after that. People would sometimes try to get in front of us, then their foot would slip on the white vomit and they would keep walking, grossed out. Magic vomit. I wanted to take some home with me.

Some girls behind us offered that last of their pot, returning the favor of me telling the name of a song they didnít recognize. I tried to be polite and turn it down. I was in love with the music. I knew most every chord. I danced along. I watched Johnny Greenwood towering just a few yards away. Thom sang and sang, his voice never tiring, the cacophony and calm of the music never boring anyone there.

We ate out and had some of the best fries in Toronto. We shopped in vain for a leather coat. I got a glimpse of a black market for console video games and was tempted to buy lots of Dreamcast discs.

Wing had tickets to see Bamboozled, which was just like nearly all Spike Lee/Oliver Stone movies of the last few years. It makes a good point, and then tries to ram it so far into your brain, that you almost resent having seen the entire movie. But there were moments.

And at linebacker... Bullwinkle!

On the way to the concert, we were walking along and Wing explained the significace of a bunch of moose statues we were seeing all over town. The city commissioned artists to make moose for Toronto in the same way that Chicago had done cows a while back. The Moose were funny and crazy. Some had big Canadian leafs on the side. Two were dressed as the mayor of Toronto and his wife.

I think I saw a moose in lederhosen.

A good city.

A fun time.

And then I came back wearing a jacket that I didnít need, hearing about all the rain I missed, and secretly wishing Iíd taken a longer trip. I was glad to be home, happy to see everyone and ready to enjoy the rest of my vacation. But the Wanderlust, temporarily sated, is still there. Iím so glad to be here, because this is a great city with a lot to offer and some of my favorite people in the world are here. But I wonder how long I have left in Austin, where Iíll go next and what it will take to pull me away.

Crazily, stupidly, I miss the moose.

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