By Tim Harper
It just happens.
No one arranges it. No one takes attendance.
We just gather there, four of us who have sidled up to our local, every late Friday afternoon for years, leaning over the bar on long, dark winter days, lamenting the inky black and chill of the season, or perched on the patio in the all too brief summer, surveying the Queen Street rush hour in Toronto’s Beach district behind our Ray-bans.
We’d watch a game if something was worth watching, we’d trash talk, waste money on football pools, play a little baseball trivia, catch up on the success and follies of the past week and laugh as the phone rang and the automated school board voice told one of our crew that his son was late to school in the morning. Again.
Truth be told, I am an arriviste. Two of our crew began meeting here for a quick pin before picking up their sons at daycare. Those boys are now headed to university.
This is more than just a local and we like to think we are more than just regulars. The owners and staff are friends; they join us for holiday parties and we celebrate their birthdays.
It’s part of a chain and nothing special, trending toward the cookie-cutter faux British pub, but it’s an anchor in a neighbourhood that now features too many boarded up windows, For Lease signs, pop-up shops and grim futures.
Since mid-March, we’ve tried to do our part to keep our anchor afloat through this pandemic by grabbing takeout food (I actually rarely ate there), sharing their menu on social media and offering as many encouraging words as we can muster through our COVID masks.
We can now look to the day when our haunt will reopen and it will be a great cause for celebration, but it will be ephemeral, lasting only until we come to grips with what the reopening portends.
How do we reconvene two metres apart in a pub that will be mandated to remain half empty? How do we shout trash talk or share laughs if it’s the four of us spaced across eight metres?
The reopening , I think, will be a rather sombre affair.
In my dreams, I still greet friends with handshakes and hugs but there will be none of that when we get together next.
We may watch the Blue Jays, but they won’t be in Toronto and they won’t be playing in front of fans. What would it be like to watch the Leafs play in an empty arena from a pub enforcing physical distancing?
I know these may seem like trivial concerns in the grand pantheon of this pandemic but I have not been immune. My mother died, alone, during this scourge. My daughter remains cloistered in Manhattan and travel restrictions mean she might as well be in Katmandu. Her long-planned June wedding has been moved to 2021.
We will deal with these larger setbacks.
I suspect it’ll be the small things we yearn for and will be denied that will be the toughest to handle going forward.
The anticipatory roar of the crowd as the home teams takes to the field on a sun-dappled day.
The growing excitement in the audience as the roadies sound check the headline act.
The impulsive decision to grab some Greek in a crowded Danforth restaurant, the embrace of an old friend not seen in weeks, the freedom to duck into a café or unknown hole-in-the-wall pub after a long walk. Sharing a joint with a friend or high-fiving a stranger in the shared jubilation of a home side win. Flirting.
When again? Or ever again?