Thursday, November 27, 2014

Welcome back to the city of stairs

It was since moving to Vancouver that my mobility has significantly declined. The city has been variable in terms of accessibility, but even without walking, there are places to go, and ways to get there. There are headaches and many bumps along the way, but even when my mobility was at its worst, this city still felt like mine.

Toronto was once mine, too, as I cruised past stopped traffic along the bike lanes on Davenport, jogged up the Spadina steps, and rode on streetcar after streetcar, escalator after escalator. I could wait too long for a table in any café in the city, and pay too much money for a croissant and americano. I know the subway system like I know the constellations of my own freckles, and I don't remember when I last checked directions before grabbing my bike helmet. Toronto was my oyster - my home.

Returning for a visit with clumsy, spastic legs, I feel like a delinquent teen locked out after curfew. I remember every dissonant chord of the southbound subway entering St. Clair West station, as I drive a borrowed car to St. George, the nearest stop with an elevator. I cut short my afternoon on Roncesvalles after going from one restaurant to the next and realizing that when the banks are closed, there may be nowhere to pee without descending the steep, harsh steps that lead to the basements in Toronto's older neighbourhoods. The car stops behind a streetcar. As a child, I ran for the seats in the very back, to look out the window at the cars behind us on the tracks, as though the streetcar was pulling a small train.

A semi-accessible transit system might as well not be accessible at all, as it forces me to drive, and to see the city from within a small steel and glass bubble. On my bicycle, I could smell them maple trees in the spring; the Portuguese bakeries on Dundas, subtly different from the Italian ones on College. Every station on the Spadina subway line is imprinted with my memories - but the rush of excitement from arriving at Museum is muted when I can no longer get beyond the platform. What used to be home is now a city of stairs.

Vancouver has fewer memories, but with a transit map and a scooter, the city can be mine. Back out west, every ramp and every elevator welcomes me home.

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