Go East Young Man (Part 2)

Been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Maybe I’ll tell the story of why it took so long for me to get around to writing this blog post another time. Or maybe I won’t. That’s the beauty of being in control of content.

The CoastIn October of 1995, I stepped off a train carrying the aforementioned two duffel bags and a knapsack and stepped in to the East Coast sunlight for the first time. I had no idea what I was going to do next. Looking back, I’m amazed at how unperturbed I was with the prospect of not having a roof over my head. I walked across the street to the nearest car rental place thinking, “If I don’t find a place to crash, at least I’ll have a car to sleep in for a few days.”

At the time, I thought I would remember that car for the rest of my life. All I can remember now was that it was some white domestic compact, fairly generic. What I do remember is how awed I was seeing Halifax spread out in front of the front window. I hadn’t been on a vacation of any kind since I was a little kid, and Halifax was the first new place I’d seen in years. And I live here now!

After a couple of aimless hours driving, I came across a bar called Gatsby’s. Fancying myself as a writer on an adventure, I took it as a sign. Walking in, I saw the customary wire racks of free newspapers that crop up in the doorways of urban bars. My eye was immediately drawn to The Coast, in large part because it looked like the Toronto weeklies Now and eye that had spent years ignoring my attempts at getting published. First things first, though. I had to see about finding a place to live.

It turns out Gatsby’s was a sign after all. The bar was part of a complex that included the Lord Nelson Hotel. In the “places to live” section of The Coast‘s classified ads, the hotel was offering rooms at $380 a month. In Toronto, I’d had dreams of rent that cheap, but never managed to find anything more than a musty basement room with a five-foot ceiling in that price range. In Halifax, $380 a month got me a hotel room bigger than my $600 Toronto bachelor apartment with a large tiled bathroom, weekly maid service and free local telephone calls. There were even free newspapers and coffee in the lobby! After about 10 to 12 hours of working on my American-hosted website in a month, I could pay rent and was left with almost $100 a week to live the Bohemian lifestyle I dreamed of.

After settling into the room and returning the car, I opened up The Coast again and called the phone number on the masthead. It was pretty late at night, but I didn’t want to give myself time to chicken out so I left a message detailing who I was, where I was from, and giving a quick list of my writing credits. The next morning, one of the editors of The Coast called me up and asked me if I would be interested in doing a phone interview with some members of a nationally-renowned dance troupe that would be passing through town.

That began six months of being part of the East Coast arts scene. In that time, I talked with artists of every stripe, business owners, government officials, successful writers who had started out by doing what I was doing. I even reconnected with some bands that I had interviewed while in Toronto. I didn’t get paid a single cent for a word The Coast published, but I was having the time of my life.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. While Prodigy was a big player in the online world of the 1980s, the mid-1990s saw its fortunes waning and, as a result, my Bohemian dream job disappeared. After a frantic job hunt, the only company that offered me a job was a call centre — exactly the thing that I had left Toronto to escape. Finally, I decided that if I was doomed to return to life in a cubicle, it’d be better to do it back in Toronto with my friends.

I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if I had held on in Halifax, but you know what they say about not being able to go back. I did leave the East Coast with a whole lot of new stories to tell my Toronto friends over pints, though. Sometimes it’s worth doing something just for the stories.