Wednesday, August 3, 2011

8:30pm in Toronto

 For those who enjoy nostalgia, I recommend spending the cash to take in Woody Allen's latest flick - Midnight in Paris. Here is a brief synopsis. Gil, a screenwriter who works out of Hollywood, is on a trip to Paris with his fiancee (Inez). After a night of drinking, Gil decides to walk the streets of Paris and soak in the atmosphere. As a writer, he is seeking inspiration to work on his own novel. While resting on a set of stairs, chimes from a bell announce the midnight hour has arrived. As this is taking place, an old car pulls up. The occupants encourage Gil to join them. Their journey takes them to a local nightspot. At this point, Gil realizes he has gone back in time - to the roaring 1920s. In the crowd his eyes focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. His eyes flash upon Cole Porter performing his magic on the piano. The next destination results in a meeting with Ernest Hemingway. I will refrain from going further, as I don't want to give too much away.

After screening the movie, I couldn't shake the concept from my thoughts. It was simply brilliant. Then, I started to envision a scenario where a hockey fan is suddenly whisked back in time. With my apologies to the "Woodman", the following is my fictional take on a hockey version of Midnight in Paris.

8:30pm in Toronto
A Short Story by Jim Amodeo

My name is William Taylor Foster. With a name like this, most people expect to meet a bank vice-president or partner in a large law firm. In my early years, William was shortened to Billy and Taylor limited to official documents. Today, I'm Billy Foster, employed in a dual role as creative director and art director with an advertising agency. The task of toiling over my drawing board consumes an enormous amount of time. My creative juices spilling out and dripping onto canvass as I bring story lines to life. Working with copywriters to craft the tale of a clients product and brainwashing the buying public into purchasing same. From morning until night, the current campaign being the single thought flowing and racing through my entire body.

We have all heard of the - "Golf Widow" - the poor darling who is left at home while her hubby is out chasing the small white ball. Jennifer, my better-half for the last two years, is known by her friends as an "Ad Widow". She gained this moniker thanks to my late lunches which lasted into the next day. As creative director, it became part of the job description. The client, fully aware all expenses were being absorbed by the agencies American Express card.

It was time to settle the score with Jennifer. No man could have a better partner. Being a freelance writer, she understands how the game is played. The philosophy of "work hard & play hard" becomes a way of life in the zany world of advertising. It is no different in the marriage game. As a couple, both parties have to take-a-little and give-a-little. It was my turn give. After a month of communicating with Jennifer via e-mail and text messages, quality time together topped our agenda. The last campaign was more difficult than usual, as the shooting schedule included locations in New York and Manchester, England.

For the past week, Jen and I have once again connected. The simply aspects of life bringing us the most joy. Watching an old black & white movie in bed during the middle of the afternoon. Cooking a meal together and washing it down with an overpriced bottle of wine. The drives out to the country and walks in the tree-lined landscape. Going to the local cinema and viewing four pictures. Sprinting from one exit to the next entrance, hoping the trailers would provide us with a buffer zone between show times. Stuffing our faces with buttered popcorn and massive sized cups of cola.

Yesterday, we attempted to play tennis at the club. The couple on the next court were well into their seventies and their game put ours to shame. Jennifer and I couldn't stop laughing as our ball wandered on numerous occasions onto their side. Wally and Beatrice were so wonderful and even offered to provide some instruction on the finer skills of avoiding double-faults. We treated our new friends to cocktails and dinner. We listened to their engrossing stories relating to trips made around the world.

On this Saturday in early December, we spent the morning in Yorkville having breakfast. This was followed by taking a stroll along Bloor Street and doing some window shopping. In the evening, Jennifer was meeting a college roommate, in town for a conference starting on Monday. I was treating my younger brother, Harry, to a Leaf game at the Air Canada Centre. We are both hockey fanatics and loyal fans of the Blue & White. From the time I was a wee grasshopper, one of my favourite past times involved reading hockey books. At the top of my list are biographies and releases chronicling the history of the game. Another must-have are large coffee-table publications with their stunning photographs.

After seeing Jen off in a taxi, I opted for pounding the pavement as my mode of transportation. I have always found taking long walks as being therapeutic. It is a time to clear my head or workout any nagging problems. Also, I had some clicks of the clock to kill prior to the drop-of-the-puck. As I made my way down Yonge Street, the traffic light at Carlton Street turned red. Glancing to my left, I noted the College Subway Station. This brought back flashbacks of walking up the subway stairs and proceeding east to Maple Leaf Gardens. While lost in my reminiscing, the light turned green. To buy more time, I turned to face the red light, as it was my intention to cross the street and walk on the west-side of Yonge.

As I walked in front of College Park, a glorious vintage vehicle in the curb lane caught my attention. Having worked on several automobile ads, I conducted extensive research on the history of General Motors. Once the car passed, I noticed it suddenly braked and started to back-up in my direction.

I was able to dissever the make and model. It definitely belonged to the GM brand. The "Flying Lady" chrome hood ornament being the first clue. Recalling my research, I established the vehicle was a Cadillac five-passenger sedan. I remembered reading 1929 was the first year GM introduced sidelights on the fenders, which was the case with this car. So, it must have rolled off the '29 production line or sometime early in the 1930s. The markings were very distinctive and featured chrome-plated headlights, bumper and front grill. The spare tires were positioned in fender wells and mirrors were mounted on top of them. The paint job was exquisite. The main body was light gray and the roof washed with a dark gray.  A magnificent contrast emerged as the fenders were painted black and draped over white-wall tires.

The vehicle came to a halt just as I stopped walking. For a moment nothing happened. After checking my watch, I looked up to discover the front passenger window had been rolled down. I stepped up onto the running board and leaned forward to take a peak inside. The gentleman behind the wheel was neatly attired in a brown tweed overcoat with cuff sleeves. An all-white silk scarf providing protection from an autumn chill. A fedora hat perched at the top of his head completed the look.

"Nice sweater" said the driver, his eyes glued to the middle portion of the jersey.

After leaving  Jennifer, I slipped my Leafs retro sweater over my coat. This morning, I chose the 1930s replica jersey. The 47-point Maple Leaf clearly showing which team I supported.

"Are you going to the game?", he asked

"I'm heading there now", I replied. The humming from the V-8 engine causing my voice level to increase by several octaves.

"Glad to give you a lift", he stated. I could see his breath as the open window filled the interior with brisk night air.

For some reason, the gent looked awfully familiar. His manner of dress reflecting the same era as his car.

I swung open the passenger door, picking-up a newspaper dangling near the edge. Under the Toronto Daily Star banner, a bold headline screamed out, "HEART TROUBLE CAUSES W.F. MACLEAN'S DEATH." Glancing at the text, I discovered some facts about MacLean. He was the founder and editorial writer for a local newspaper - Toronto World. The article mentioned the newspaper no longer existed. The writer of the piece noted it was Canada's first one-cent morning paper.

The sheer size and design of the Toronto Daily Star stood out. In technical terms, it is refereed to as a broadsheet. The date? December 7, 1929 - 5 O'clock edition.

My imagination kicked in at this point. The car. The driver. The newspaper. You know the feeling. Is this really happening or is it all a dream? While lost in my thoughts, I noticed the drivers right-hand coming in my direction. His left-hand remained on the huge steering wheel.

"Let me introduce myself, I'm Charlie Conacher" he stated, with his handshake lasting for several seconds.

Taking a second, third and fourth look, I couldn't believe it. Then, all the photographs of Chas Conacher in books I read flashed before me like a slide show. This truly was Charlie Conacher - star of the Toronto Maple Leafs!

"Nice to meet you Mr. Conacher. I've been a big fan of you and brother Lionel", is all I could muster-up as I introduced myself.

"Did you know we signed Harvey Jackson to a pro contract yesterday? He should be in the line-up for tonight's game, Conacher explained enthusiastically.

"Will he play on your line" I enquired. The Bomber, a nickname given to Conacher due to his wicked shot, shrugged his shoulders and seemed to be thinking about my question. In my head, I added Joe Primeau to the mix. Perhaps, the NHL version of the Kid Line would make it's debut this evening.

At Yonge and Gerrard, Conacher made a left turn, then a right at Church Street. As we travelled south, I questioned Conacher about the car - "What year is this Caddy?" - he confirmed it was a 1929.

In no time at all, we reached the intersection of Church and Dundas. I could tell Conacher was making a transition, putting on his game-face. Our chit-chat decreasing and his attention shifting to other matters. After making a left at Dundas, a right took the Cadillac down Mutual Street.

We had reached our destination - 60 Mutual Street - the Arena Gardens, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Built in 1912, the edifice took in parts of Shuter Street, Mutual and Dalhousie Street.

"We are here" Conacher announced, as he parked his car at the side of Arena Gardens.

I stood by as he locked the passenger door. I wished him luck as we shook hands. Conacher was immediately mobbed by fans as he made his way into the Arena. I felt something in my hand. It was a ticket to the game, slipped into my possession by Charlie Conacher.

As I slowly walked-up to the entrance on Mutual Street, I read the following sign...Hockey Tonight - Arena Gardens, Les Canadiens (Hockey's Three-Ring Circus) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs ("Your Own Team"), Reserve and Bleacher Tickets Still Available, Bleacher Seats On Sale in Advance.

Once inside, I purchased an "official programme" (Buckingham Hockey Pictorial). Contained within were stories on the Stanley Cup, Allan Cup and Memorial Cup. Wonderful photographs graced the pages, including those of Babe Seibert, Bill Cook, Frank Nighbor, Bill Brydge, Jack Adams, Cyclone Wentworth, Hap Day and Baldy Cotton. Not to mention, my new friend Charlie Conacher. Special features highlighted NHL rules and a schedule for the 1929-30 season. Most important, were the line-ups for both Montreal and Toronto.

The Arena was quite a size smaller than the Leafs future home at Maple Leaf Gardens. A full-house would incorporate between 6000 and 8000 customers.

I spotted sportswriter Lou Marsh of the Star huddling with broadcaster Foster Hewitt. Straining to overhear their conversation, I heard Marsh ask Foster about the show airing on CFCA Radio prior to his call of the game.

"Well Lou, it is a recital by soprano Margaret MacLennan Andrew. Her pianist and accompanist is Montagu J. Kellaway. Miss Andrew's rendition of "Don't Drink to Me Only" and "Indian Love Call" are a joy to listen to", Hewitt told his fellow member of the working press.

I took my seat and noticed the Leaf bench directly across the ice surface. I sat in a state of dazed bewilderment. Reading the programme was similar to turning the pages of a history book. An incredible list of names stared back at me - Hainsworth, Morenz, Chabot, Day, Horner and Cotton. The referees were even ex-NHL players - Bert Corbeau and future Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Cy Denneny.

It was 8:30pm in Toronto.

During first period action, the Leafs dominated, but couldn't beat goalie George Hainsworth. In the middle frame, Montreal opened the scoring on a tally by Pit Lepine. His intended pass to a teammate, deflected off Hap Day's stick, past Lorne Chabot in the Leaf net. For the balance of play, Hainsworth shut the-barn-door, as Montreal defeated Toronto 1-0. I was mesmerized watching Howie Morenz dart and dash from point "A" to point "B". Maple Leaf fans rose from their seats as Primeau, Conacher and Jackson skated up ice on the same line.

Throughout, I noticed how much more vocal and rambunctious the Toronto crowd was in expressing their pleasure or displeasure. I'm certain the presence of several "betting-pits" scattered at various locations only added fuel to the fire.

Departing the rink, I walked along Mutual Street and observed a greasy-spoon at Mutual and Dundas. The sign outside told me I was about to enter an establishment called Arena Lunch. I ordered a cup of coffee and couldn't resist a huge slice of apple pie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

My head was spinning as I left the delightful 1920s diner. Several additional cups of strong black coffee provided a boost of energy. Reaching the corner of Church and Dundas, I was overtaken by an impulse to check the scene over my left shoulder. As I somehow expected, the Arena Gardens was no longer on the horizon. Instead, the land was occupied by a number of Housing Co-Ops. The identical buildings which were situated on the property during my last visit to the area in 2009.

The hockey crowd which took in the game at the Air Canada Centre had long since dispersed. Approaching Union Station, I decided a strong-stiff drink was necessary prior to boarding a train for home.

I crossed Front Street and nodded to the doorman positioned at the entrance to the Royal York Hotel. As the main dining room came into view, I noticed a small billboard informing customers of the following...Toronto's Smartest Sunday Occasion - Mr. Rex Battle and His Famous Concert Orchestra Will Provide a Select Program of Concert Music - Every Sunday Evening - $2.00 Per Person.

Sticking my head in the door, I observed three smartly dressed  fellas having their dinner order taken by a tall-sleek waitress. All I could do is shake my head and rapidly blink my eyes.

Seated at the table were Sylvio Mantha, George Hainsworth and Howie Morenz.

The End.


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