A Musical Interlude
By Gene Wilburn
I once described myself as “a loner with friends” — an introvert with broadband connectivity. Through Internet forums and special-interest groups, some of the friends I’ve made have been local enough to meet in person. Nowhere has this been more evident than on the Rangefinder Forum. As we discussed rangefinder cameras and film shooting (frequently trading and buying and selling cameras and lenses to each other), we revelled in the glorious sunset of the film-photography era. As more people began to embrace digital, used film cameras got cheaper and cheaper and even I got to experience the beauty and joy of shooting with a Leica M2 with a Hexanon 50/2, and a Leica CL with Summicron 40/2, not to mention a fine bevy of Bessas.
Some of the members of RFF, as the forum is known, began scheduling local meetings of rangefinder enthusiasts. I think the first was in San Francisco, perhaps New York. Not long after, a Toronto meetup took place, and extended to several subsequent meetups as we got to know one another. We found we had more than just cameras in common, and we developed a network of friends around the city that is still thriving.
One of the people I met this way was my friend Guy Steacy, a US draft dodger from San Francisco who came to Canada a short while before I did. We’re about the same age, both tall and white-haired with Swedish ancestry, both with degrees in English, and we were born across the Bay from each other: he in SF, me in Richmond. We both emerged from the era of Flower Power and shared similar tastes in music.
Guy has a good sound system and a discerning collection of LP and CD recordings, and over the past couple of years we’ve begun having meetings of what we call the Bay-Area Boys Listening Society. On a recent Saturday Guy invited me over for some listening and I was delighted to accept.
These interludes are special for me, because I tend to be a hermit and don’t go out often, except for walks to the harbour. Special not just for the music and amiable conversations, which are always a pleasure, but also for the trip into Toronto then the long trip to the east end via the Queen streetcar. I’ve always liked being in Toronto — all my jobs were in the city — and I especially like seeing the parts that are less upscale than the Bay-Bloor area. Another friend of mine, Stan Smith, who was attending the University of Toronto at the same time I was, went back home to Nelson, BC, one time, for Christmas. When he got back he said he just stood on the corner of Yonge and Bloor, “getting off on the traffic.” Some people love cities. I’m one of them, and I’m a boy at heart when it comes to streetcar rides.
Walking up from Union Station to Queen and Yonge, I got on board the 501 to Neville Park and began my journey east sitting in a single window seat where I could gaze out and take some photos. From there Toronto began to reveal itself. The rusty, abstract statue on Victoria St., St. Michaels Hospital, Henrys camera store, Vistek camera store, the armoury, mannequins on the sidewalk, the bridge over the Don Valley, the Riverdale neighbourhood, the Leslieville neighbourhood. Pedestrians bundled up against the cold winter wind, a thin young Asian woman who began singing aloud as her stop approached and continued to sing as she stepped down to the street. Passengers boarding, most of them nodding or saying hi to the driver. Faces that looked lived in.
We passed pubs, convenience stores, meat shops, tatoo parlours, head shops, art design studios, Indian restaurants, coffee shops, cheese shops, more convenience stores, parkettes, a shop that sells whey products, and a gas station. Streetcars passed us headed the other way, filling with passengers even on a Saturday. The 501 line is said to be the longest streetcar ride in North America. Starting at Long Branch, in the far west end of Toronto, you can ride it all the way to the Beach area in the east end, or vice versa. It carries passengers of all ancestral nationalities, many of them conversing in languages other than English or French. All now Canadian, not in the American “melting pot” way, but in the Canadian “cultural mosaic” way.
I got off at my stop and walked the rest of the way to Guy’s place along a narrow, tree-lined street, each house a little different from its neighbour. Some old, some renovated, some newly replaced — most of them two storeys on narrow, deep lots. Cars, mostly compact models, parked on the street. An older neighbourhood, getting more than a whiff of upscaling in the hot Toronto real-estate market.
Guy greeted me at the door, made us a pot of coffee, and we settled in for an afternoon of listening, at significantly loud volume. We both have eclectic tastes, so we started with some Grateful Dead standards, then followed the Dead on an experimental journey through “Playin’ in the Band” which probed the edges of rock music. From there we cut over to Art Pepper and grooved to some “California Jazz.” Since we both like music that is a little unusual, we finished off with the Diga Rhythm Band, a band that included Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. An excellent afternoon of music, conversation ranging from Old English to current politics, and the consumption of many cups of coffee.
Then the reverse trip home, streetcar to city centre as dusk fell over the city and the lights of the city switched on. Toronto — beautiful in the twilight. Back to Union Station and the GO-train ride home where Marion greeted me with a kiss and a bowl of hot veggie chili.
Mick Jagger had it wrong. Sometimes you can get satisfaction.