Big Girl Panties

I wanted to be an adult; I wanted a new life filled with my own responsibilities, finances and freedom. As summer was approaching its end, my future was unfolding in front of me, a future in a new city, at a new school, making new friends and starting a new life… I was stoked. Thunder Bay would be my new home. A unique northwestern community, perched at the head of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay held a population of approximately 108,000 in which I would become a part of. In the month to follow as I packed up my former life, it became aware to me just how gutty a decision it was for me to voluntarily choose to move 11 hours away from home; however, deposits were paid and class schedules made, it was too late for reconsideration, I had to put on my big-girl panties.

Approaching Thunder Bay, the Sleeping Giant was the first to come into view, a city trademark I was self-educated on; in addition to the Persian and the complicated bus system I believed I knew everything I needed to. Boy was I mislead. Thunder Bay’s city layout made the bus system look like a piece of cake. The city, which is actually the result of two smaller cities merging together, consists of these two completely different sections of the city, Port Arthur and Fort William, which are now connected by the business district of Intercity. And as a result, both Port Arthur and Fort William house their own “downtown” and their own variations of historical heritage and current highlights and amenities, all of which I would become aware throughout my trial and error bus trips and downtown encounters.

My parents insisted on bringing me up to school, which although I was persistent on my quest for adulthood, brought me much comfort and inner peace. As we pulled onto Lakehead University Drive South, my heart was nearly bursting with excitement; my parents’ feelings did not mirror mine as they seemed to be bursting with something quite different. After parking the car, we walked into the lobby of Bartley Residence. The room was bustling with the chitter chatter of newbies and the concerns of their parentals as they bombarded the residence staff with questions and luggage. I waited in line for my conformation of independence: my new house keys.

Lakehead University accommodates approximately 7900 students each year at this campus. It consists of 116 hectares of land in the heart of Thunder Bay with many of these hectares dedicated to maintaining and preserving the wonders of nature for its students to enjoy. This year round geographical beauty is available for students through hundreds of hiking trails used not only in the summer for biking and running but in the winter months as well for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. In addition, outdoor skating on Lake Tamblyn as well as ice climbing and dog sledding is available on campus as well. The university’s ecological wonder plays a significant part in its allure as a post secondary school option, for me especially.

Something about this set of keys was different, differing from my former set of keys at home. They were many shapes and sizes, ridged and cold in my clammy hands; bronze, silver and gold, they were the same colors as medals. They had multiple purposes: opening my house, my bedroom and my mailbox. This set of keys opened my new house. This set of keys costs $200 to replace. This set of keys was important.

As I unlocked the door to my house, my future awaited; a future filled with new experiences, new people and new places, beginning with the grocery store. The week after my parents left Thunder Bay, my roommate Julia and I were faced with the realization that we really needed to hit the Super Store. My parents had brought me groceries when they were down but by now, all I had left in our lonely fridge was a half of a brick of cheese and some bottled water, a not so nutritious dinner. So, we decided to adult-up. We grabbed our wallets, some reusable bags and our keys. Luckily for me, Julia’s parents bought her a car for this year, so were fortunate enough to not have to bus to the grocery store. We drove down Balmoral Street, turning left onto the Harbour Expressway, one of the main highways that lead to the downtown area of Intercity.

Intercity, the heart of Thunder Bay and the buffer between the former two cities is where Thunder Bay comes to life. Intercity is made up of many of the classic family chain restaurants but also many unique ones such as Mongo’s: a healthy, buffet-style restaurant making only stir fries but still one of the best eateries in town. In addition to the food industry, Thunder Bay’s intercity has any shopping opportunities as well, such as the intercity mall and various strip malls around the area. This piece of Thunder Bay is an area that I would soon become very familiar with as it homes most of the business district of the city.

Julia and I stepped into the bustling grocery store, it was in that moment that I realized just what I was getting myself into. All my life growing up, my mom always did the grocery shopping; she budgeted herself each week, prepared a list according to the meals she would be making that week and shopped for the needed items. I looked down into my purse… I didn’t have a list… I didn’t even have an idea of what I would be cooking for myself this week. I kept my chin up and did my best while grocery shopping. I bought more of healthy foods than junk food and even thought of some ideas for dinner: a success in my eyes. It wasn’t until it was time to pay for my groceries where I seen the error of my ways: $150 worth of error. The budgeting would be a longer process I guess.

It wasn’t until the spring of my first year in Thunder Bay that I had the opportunity to go to a bar for the first time. It was Saint Patrick’s day and I was newly legal; Crock’s, one of the nightclubs in Port Arthur’s downtown area, was having a huge St. Paddy’s day bash and my friends and I were pumped. Port Arthur’s lively downtown area consisting of many ma-and-pa shops and eateries. One of the most famous eateries being The Hoito family restaurant, located in the downstairs of the former Finish Labour Temple; it is one of the oldest organization-owned restaurants in Canada, serving some of the finest finish foods for hangover breakfasts or first date brunches. After 9pm each evening, the streets of Cumberland and Red River Road light up with neon signs and taxi lights. The Foundry, NV Nightclub, Black Pirate’s Pub and many of other venues hold themed event nights and popular concerts for the residents of Thunder Bay, in particular the student population and in my newfound adulthood, I was planning on taking advantage of it.

With no curfew and a valid ID, the girls and I were on our way to Crock’s. Dressed in tacky and risqué green and white apparel from the Dollar Store, we looked like the stereotypical newbie white girls out for our first time. As we approached the front door I handed the bouncer my ID. He glared at me: “‘nother piece” he barked. Surprised, I rummaged through my bra for my health card; he smirked and nodded me in. The club was pretty full. Strobe lights and people showing too much skin danced around the room; the smell of sweat and beer burned my nostrils. After grabbing a drink and meeting up with some friends, we hit the dance floor; arms up and swaying my hips to the heavy EDM music that radiated my brain, I was having a good time. Next thing I knew I was being sprayed in the face! Heavy streams of was lime green glow paint were being sprayed out of super soakers by the staff on stage! Turns out, Crock’s decided it would be festive to unloading gallons of paint onto their guests; it was a good idea. The room filled with cheering as the paint shot across the dance floor. The party didn’t die down until last call; two in the morning was when we finally grabbed a taxi home. Waking up the following morning with an empty wallet, a pounding headache and an assignment due that evening, was a not-so-subtle reminder of the responsibilities I now had as an adult. To this day my brown high-heel booties are still stained with lime green paints as a reminder of one of my first adult experiences.

Growing up my parents always told me to “put my big-girl panties on”, meaning that whatever challenges or fears I was facing had to be handled correctly and with courage; when I moved away for school, I was told the same advice. My new life in Thunder Bay has helped me to establish the independence and self image needed for me to finally created my identity as an adult. Today, I have been living in Thunder Bay for almost two years and although it may not be new anymore, the transformation to adulthood still is.