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Saturday, July 20, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: Convenient commute to charismatic Caribana
Ross Robinson waits for the GO bus at Niagara College’s NOTL campus. SUPPLIED

Yes, readers, it is sometimes cathartic to take a giant leap out of one’s comfort zone.

Last Saturday, I went from comfy and cozy Niagara-on-the-Lake to big and crazy and noisy and chaotic Toronto, for my 14th visit to the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Caribana!

I make this day an annual sensory overload. Fourteen fabulous years in a row now, with two years off for COVID-19.

A kaleidoscope of colours, a seemingly disordered but in reality highly-organized celebration of all things Caribbean and Canadian.

Get out of the way, mon, the soca music is heating up, eager to overpower everything in the area.

And I did it with the real folk. The GO bus from Niagara College to Fairview Mall in St. Catharines at 7:46 a.m., on a crowded double-decker bus with about 40 young people going to work, coming home from work or visiting family and friends.

All into their own worlds, many with earphones insulating them from the world. All courteous and quiet, getting on with their lives in a new country. Many fatigued, after a night shift working at NOTL hotels and restaurants. Beautiful new Canadians.

Then, along the QEW with four more brief stops on the way to the Burlington GO station, to catch the GO train (that’s the clever acronym for Government of Ontario, eh?) to Toronto Exhibition Centre.

Everything is on time to the minute so far, and unbelievably cheap. Especially for seniors like me.

So many people smiling. So much courtesy and quietness. Most nap as the GO bus and trains take them where they are going. It’s all good here in Canada, eh?

People are polite and the GO employees are professional, eager to help, and they make it easy for riders to get from point A to point B to point C and beyond. Everyone is going somewhere, for their own reasons.

Long live public transit. We need it – much more of it. Is it true that 38 per cent of Canadians don’t have a driver’s licence?

Off the GO train at 10:15 a.m., at the Exhibition stop along the lakeshore in Toronto, next to the fairly busy Gardiner Expressway. Why drive?

Into the fray. An explosion of bright colours and I head to the grand parade muster area in behind Medieval Times. The brighter and more sparkling the better, and “as bare as you dare” costumes.

So many feathers and so much glitter. I have never seen so many people helping so many people attaching so many strings and ribbons to so many bare limbs. Bodies of all shapes and sizes, all ready for a day in the sun, with their “mas” groups at this year’s emotional blowout.

Mas is short for masquerade and everyone seems to know the cool steps to the marching dance. Except me.

Mas groups with names like the Toronto Revellers, Tribute, and Sunsmile. The 18-wheel trailers are heavily laden with speakers and amplifiers. Try to think through the deafening music, as DJs try to overwhelm each other, revving up the thousands of beautiful Caribana celebrants.

All types and forms of beauty.

Beautiful in so many diverse ways. Almost all adults, some teenagers, almost all various shades of non-white skin, all proud of themselves and feeling the vibe in their costumes for the day.

It is refreshing to feel part of a definite minority, in the senses of age, sex, national background, musical preference and social comfort level.

And this Caribana party, my 14th, is just revving up. I am that random old guy, as my winger Larry couldn’t make it this year. Lots of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed white felt hat. I look a bit like a Panamanian drug dealer, but so be it: I’m me today.

This year’s Caribana parade got underway right at noon.

I find a place along the parade route, on the Exhibition grounds, next to a community of about 25 friends. They were all set up under a tent, with food cooking and cold drinks. And lots of love.

I must have looked hungry as the smell of their food hit me.

“Do you want a plate, mon?” A 40-ish Guyanese man brought me a plate of what looked like jambalaya. “No, mon, this is my pelau, the favourite food on my island. We call it cookup. It’s a Trini dish.”

Soon, I had two bottles of cold water for five bucks, an overpriced double multi-flavoured popsicle and a bunch of new friends with whom to enjoy the next few hours of my life.

I asked my new pal, Marco, a few questions, and he easily explained how to roll a spliff (weed mixed with tobacco wrapped with rolling papers). Yes, there were a few people enjoying weed or a water pipe, but certainly not a lot.

Marco has been in Canada for 20 years and is a mechanic at the big Chrysler dealership in Mississauga. I asked him if Canada was a good place to be.

“It’s good if you want to work and don’t spend money stupidly. It’s all good, mon,” he said.

Everyone was just taking in the day of celebration.

Later, at about 2:30, strictly by chance, I got involved with a bunch of marchers/dancers/crazy ladies from the Tribute mas.

Their music was great, they were dancing very suggestively, and they wanted to get pictures with “the random old guy.” It would have been rude to refuse their request. You must agree.

The DJ was firing them up, as they waved their flags from Grenada, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados and other islands.

There were lots of ladies in the parade from the United States, and I met some from New Jersey, Detroit and Las Vegas.

I realized on the way home that none of them had waved the Stars and Stripes.

Interesting, eh? Or am I overthinking this?

Returning to NOTL late in the afternoon, I was mentally exhausted from having so much fun. GO train, GO bus, Niagara Region Transit. Great people. Dependable, well-trained. Fun!

Again, it was my favourite day of the year. I know what I’ll be doing on Aug. 6 next year.

God willing, I am certain our public transit system will be even better. C’mon, politicians.

We are so fortunate to live in Canada in 2023.

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