One Hour, Eleven Minutes
My friend Liv and I were out at the Reverb for a Red Autumn Fall gig. It was the summer and I’d driven into Toronto from Peterborough. I was thrilled to be back in the Big Smoke and away from a town that, at the time, I called “Raisinville” on account of the number of retirement homes. Liv and I had seen Red Autumn Fall play a few times, by this point.
I first learned about them through a fellow I met in the original Depeche Mode chatbox. He was in a band that was playing with Red Autumn Fall and, due to the nature of text and what with the newness of the Internet, I wasn’t sure if he’d been coming on to me or what the expectation was. Liv and, I think, Meg, joined me that first time, because I didn’t want to die at the hands of a Depeche Mode loving axe murderer. He was a bit odd, but not in a homicidal way. His band wasn’t that great, though it was kind of fun in an early New Wave synthesizer and plastic jackets sort of fashion. That other band, though, Red Autumn Fall, was fucking amazing. They were kind of Britpoppy with influences from some of my favourites, like The Smiths and Jeff Buckley; I was hooked.
They came from Alberta, part of a mid-90s Calgary music scene that was just incredible and smashed all the stereotypes Southern Ontarians have about Calgarians. They’d decided to relocate to Toronto, I guess, because in order to “make it” in Canadian music you had to not be in Alberta. That’s what they told me, anyway, when I’d eventually become friendly with them. Whatever their reason, they were in Toronto now, and they were not only a tight, well rehearsed act, with a skilled, badass-yet-ladylike woman beating the drums, and but they were fronted by an articulate, intelligent, charismatic singer who hit notes that sent chills.
It was the summer of 1998. Liv and I would be moving in with Meg that coming fall. I was working for the Ministry of Natural Resources in communications on a minimum-wage summer contract. I had the car for the night and money in my bank account. It didn’t get much better. We were going out to dinner and hitting a club. I felt like a grown-up.
Parking in downtown Toronto, in those days, was always kind of an adventure. If you knew what you were doing, you could find free parking behind stores and in lanes, or in small lots that weren’t well guarded. Generally, I was pretty good at it and had never received a ticket. Although my mom was then living in Peterborough, I’d grown up in Toronto and had learned many of her secrets. After driving around a bit, we found a spot in a makeshift parking lot wedged between two buildings. We scoped it out; there was no one in the little kiosk and the weathered signage didn’t indicate anything about an overnight rate. I looked on the dashboards of a couple of cars and saw no parking slips. After some time, we came to the conclusion that this was one of those weird, little lots where free parking sometimes happened.
The Reverb was one of my favourite clubs. The face of Queen Street West was to change dramatically in the early 2000s and I remember when it closed how sad I was. But, this was the late ’90s and it was still a place to go and the looming gentrification hadn’t quite yet taken off. At this time, I hadn’t started writing music reviews for either the Varcity or the ‘zine, I didn’t need to talk to band members or make nice, and I could just go to shows and enjoy myself, usually on the dance floor. I don’t remember the details of the night. I probably talked to some people, turned down a phone number or two (I was in a period of intentional, self-inflicted celibacy), drank some vodka-crans, and danced. Show over, Liv and I left, happily chatting about the gig, how much we enjoyed RAF, how attractive the singer was, maybe about our parents, or the coming school year, or whatever two young women talk about at one in the morning.
Outside the club, we bumped into the singer of Red Autumn Fall, loading out gear or smoking a cigarette. Heady from a great night out, I struck up conversation with him. I have no idea what was said, but there was a lot of smiling, some laughter, I introduced my friend and myself, and then we went on our way. Liv was impressed by how cool I managed to act, and truth be told, so was I.
We reached the parking lot and looked around. We kind of stood there, turning slowly, scanning what was basically a vacant lot less than half filled with cars. My mom’s car wasn’t one of them. I was confused. How do you lose a car in so small a lot? Maybe it wasn’t this one. “Is this where we parked?” asked Liv, echoing my thoughts. “Yeah… I think.” I wasn’t sure. I looked around again. No, it totally was. “Holy shit, did someone steal the car?” No, no way. Then came the slow, sinking feeling of dawning realisation. “Maybe… maybe it wasn’t free and we’ve been towed.”
We went back to the parking kiosk, to the faded sign that said nothing about evening rates. Then, there it was, a second sign, deep in shadow, equally faded and partially hidden, with an evening rate, a towing company’s phone number at the bottom, and the promise that violators would be “towed at owner’s expense.”
I remember hearing myself lament, “But there was no one in the kiosk…”
Neither of us had a cell phone. We had to write the number down and walk to a payphone outside an Asian-owned, all-night convenience store that sold bushels of fresh fruit and flowers as well as chips, canned pasta, and rolling papers. Sure enough, my mom’s car was impounded and the fee to get it out was $160. For two young women making minimum wage, saving for the coming school year, that was a shocking amount of money, especially when we’d already spent money on dinner out, drinks, and cover. How gratuitous of us!
We walked another block westward on Queen. We were now about two blocks west of the Reverb, where the neighbourhood started getting sketchier. The doorways to smokey sports bars were open and leering men smoking cigars kissed at us. Maybe that was a different night, or maybe I just expected it. It doesn’t matter, our good mood had evaporated, the character of the neighbourhood, or at least our perception of it, had changed. We practically ran to that ATM, each of us withdrawing half the impounding fee plus cab fare to get us to the impound yard. It was almost the entirety of what was in my chequing account. I felt nauseated.
The yard was located in another part of Toronto, now equally gentrified, shiny with lighting and bustling with life, but at the time, Front between Jarvis and Sherbourne contained warehouses, service yards, and dirty buildings owned by slum lords preying on the urban poor. We were a pair of middle class Jewish girls from uptown; we thought we were worldly and sophisticated, but we were mostly just sheltered kids who had socially conscious, liberal-minded, academic parents. The impound lot was terrifying, I think, for both of us, with its sickly yellow lighting and deep, dark, shadowed recesses between the cars.
The person at the service counter, whose gender I don’t recall, but whose smell of stale cigarettes I won’t ever forget, wouldn’t let me call my mom from their phone, because it was long distance. I had to pull the old brick Motorola cellular out of the car’s glove compartment and plug in the longer roaming antenna in order to call my mother.
I told her where we were, what had happened, and that, yes, we’d handled it. I also explained I’d be home really, really late as, not only were we practically down by the Lake, I had to drive Liv back to her parents’ place up and out of the way in North York. It was just after two in the morning when I powered off the cell. The streets were unusually quiet as I sped out of the impound yard. Neither of us had much to say now, though the sense of relief was palpable, cutting through the adrenaline neither of us realised we were pumping.
Liv jumped out of the car at her parents’ house and I waited for the front door to shut behind her before backing out of the driveway. I don’t remember much of the drive home, except, much like the streets of Toronto that night, the 401 was eerily quiet and the rolling hills of the 115 to Peterborough were utterly empty. I had music on. It was probably loud. I rolled into the wide driveway at my mother’s house. I wasted no time letting myself in the side door. I went straight to my mother’s bedroom upstairs where her light was on. She was waiting for me, like so many worried parents when their kids are out later than they should be. Her eyes were big as she looked from her magazine to meet my gaze, sweeping her bedside clock in the process.
“You’re home fast!” she exclaimed. I looked at her clock. Then I looked at my watch. It was 3:17A.M. I had just driven about 150km from impound yard to Liv’s to my front door in only one hour, eleven minutes. “How fast did you drive?!” gasped my mom.
I stared at her, unable to do the math involved. “Very.” Then I added as an afterthought, “But the show was awesome!”