“So, whaddya think of Chicago traffic, huh?”
There’s silence from the passengers to this and every other comment from our shuttle van driver, Shawn. Personally, I don’t mind a chatty driver – it gives you a chance to get the flavour of what the locals really think about a place. Shawn hates Uber – they undercut regular cabs and, apparently, end up killing people. It’s a common attack on the relatively new boys in the taxi game. I’ve used them many times and never once been killed.
At O Hare airport everything runs normally, until we enter the departure lounge. All of a sudden, everything takes twice as long to explain – because once you’re under the care of Air Canada, everything is in English and French. It may be more pronounced (literally) in Quebec – but they’re just as careful about in in Toronto.
Toronto itself has a brilliant shuttle train which takes you downtown from the airport in just 25 minutes for CA$12. It’s the kind of public service all airports and cities should provide, but so often don’t. For this part of the trip I’ve opted for an apartment – not something I’d normally do because, as a solo traveler, it can work out expensive. But not here : the gleaming Trillum Suites come in at the same price as a hotel overnight. And NewsMutt is enjoying the view from the 27th floor. It’s so windy, he almost fell off.
It turns out to be a historic day – Ontario has become the last Canadian state to legalise cannabis. The story is all over the TV news, and although only a handful of stores are selling it, there are queues on the street. There are people of all shapes, ages and backgrounds here, with one or two getting upset because they’re being made to wait in a windchill of about -6c until there’s enough space inside.
Toronto immediately strikes me as a city of contrasts. There’s a large Asian (Far East) population, with Chinese or Korean just as likely to be heard in conversation as Engligh or French. And although there are huge skyscrapers, away from the financial district many buildings are just two or three storeys, giving the place a much more intimate feel.
For the British pocket, Canada also offers good value for money with the exchange rate. And on a weekday, places like the Wide Open bar are adding to that value with all beers at CA$4, although the menu is a bit rough and ready.
Slightly more upscale, though no less friendly, is the Rex Hotel and Jazz Club. Dating back to 1951, there’s nightly music. Tonight, it’s big band with a big sound. Mike Malone and the Jazz Writers Orchestra play two sets of mostly originally composed tunes. Jazz itself divides opinion – but the Rex isn’t a place where people complain. The music is respected, and it sounds great.