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Starting A New Life & A New Business (Behind The Scenes: Part 8)

Part 8: Toronto & Beyond

Taking a detour from my life back in Spain, I decided that Toronto would become my new home. I had no idea what I was getting into, but living in the biggest city in Canada couldn't be more complicated than living in South Korea or Spain, so I gave it a chance. During my first few weeks, I traveled around the city as a tourist, taking in the sites, and I happened to run into a friend from Lethbridge while dining out high above Dundas Square. Although I had been able to stay with a friend I'd met in South Korea, it was nice to see someone from back home.

This post is packed full of photos and videos. It also includes a few trips I took for vacation and trips back home. I attempted to capture as much of the three years of life and adventures experienced in and around Toronto.

I spent a lot of time looking for work, deciding to focus on food service or retail to get back into working in Canada. Luckily, there was a position open at The Bay in downtown Toronto. It was the flagship store and housed seven floors of department store shopping. I worked in the Christmas department alongside some great individuals. I then moved into housewares, Wedding Registry, and a short-term position with John Allan's salon for men when it opened.

In my downtime, I found a Spanish-speaking group that made food for the less fortunate, and I was able to help out for their event while speaking Spanish. It made me miss Madrid a little less, and the food was excellent (even the little appetizers I helped create).

Among bustling city streets, I stumbled upon a place called Riverdale farm. You walk through a standard park, and then BAM! There's a cow, sheep, and chickens. I had to take pictures of them to prove that I'd found it for real. :)

As the months passed, I made new friends and continued to do the tourist thing, especially after my sister, her husband, and her son came for a visit. We made it to the top of the CN Tower, and I sat on the glass floor, looking down 340 meters (1,115 feet), and then headed to a Blue Jays baseball game and watched them win against the Boston Red Sox. It was a great visit, and I was glad to see family again so soon. :)

While working at The Bay, I took on a second job with a company called Primerica. They helped families with life insurance and financial planning. I tried it and studied for the Life Licence Qualification Program (LLQP). I passed on my first attempt with a 77% and became a Senior Representative.

I met one of the company's top earners, Keith Otto, and focused on building my skills within the company. The hardest part was that, since I wasn't from Toronto, I lacked a network of people to whom I could potentially reach out. But I pushed forward and continued to learn about the company and how I could help families.

I joined the Daniel & Sandra Pirillo team on a trip to a Primerica Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. We traveled by bus for 14 hours through Michigan (Detroit), Ohio (Toledo & {WKRP in} Cincinnati), Kentucky (Lexington), Tennessee (Knoxville and Chattanooga), and finally, Georgia. The convention was held at the former Georgia Dome and was attended by 50,000 representatives. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, but the positive energy was palpable. It was a crazy event, and our office even brought home a trophy!

We also got to check out the CNN Center, the world headquarters of the Cable News Network. It was quite a building.

While outside the convention, we explored one of the nearby shopping malls, and I found myself playing a Just Dance game on the Xbox 360. No controller needed (and apparently no moves either). I must thank my team member for capturing this gem for you to enjoy now. I don't mind putting smiles on people's faces or getting a few laughs at my own expense. I cringe now, but it was fun.

Getting back to Toronto, I made my second of four trips to Canada's Wonderland, an amusement park to the north of the city. The weather was perfect, and we splurged and bought their newest fast-lane pass for an additional $30. At first, we thought it was too much to pay, but then we realized that we were one of the only ones who had purchased the pass. This allowed us to get on a ride in the fast lane, exit, and re-enter the fast lane, skipping the dozens or hundreds of people still waiting to ride. We found the newest ride, Leviathan, and ended up riding it six times in a row before deciding to try out the other rides in the park. Another favorite was Behemoth, a simple enough ride with just a lap bar. The excitement came from the banked turns and airtime hills.

I would highly recommend the park and these two rides if you are in the Vaughn area...or make it your area while you're out there while the park is open.

Here's a quick video of the first drop of the Leviathan rollercoaster. Heart racing yet?

As time passed, I chose to look into some energy and focus issues I'd been dealing with. A doctor suggested that I attend a sleep clinic to see if there were any problems while I slept (sleep apnea or insomnia). I'm surprised I could even sleep with everything taped to me and attached to the rest of me, but I did sleep and didn't wake up once. They also told me that my sleeping was regular. Worth a try and quite the experience.

I decided to quit The Bay and found a job at a restaurant in the heart of Dundas Square called Spring Rolls. We served Thai food and a mix of other Asian dishes. The staff was so fantastic to work with, and we started to bond during and after our shifts. I felt like I fit in and enjoyed the food as well. :) Malaysian Fried Rice with extra hot sauce was one of my favorites.

As Halloween approached, we started to plan our costumes. I love this time of year and did my best to dress to impress and strike a bit of fear into people. The first year I was a vampire, the second a demon/devil. Some of my customers couldn't even look at me. Other people said I scared the hell out of them while I ran into them on the street. Maybe hiding in the dark and jumping out wasn't a great idea, but you must remain in character. One of my all-time favorite photos is below. One coworker took the photo outside our restaurant, and it looks like I'm floating above another coworker.

While living in Toronto, I went on two trips abroad. The first was to Cancun, Mexico, with another Mitch. We relaxed at our resort for a few days and then had a blast at nearby Playa del Carmen. We met a monkey, explored one of many cenotes that exist all over the Yucatan Peninsula (caused by the impact of a meteor that killed the dinosaurs), and took in Coco Bongo (a top nightlife venue with live performances). Then it was time to tour Tulum (an ancient Mayan port city) and Xel-Há Park (a commercial aquatic theme park and ecotourism development). These excursions were a great way to unwind and enjoy Mexico's beauty.

At one point, by the pool, the resort staff put on a contest, and I decided to join. Having partaken in a few drinks (holding my Bubba), I couldn't honestly tell you what I was supposed to do (maybe sing). Either way, I kicked the competition's butt and won. I couldn't believe it, and I'm sure I again made a fool of myself for the enjoyment of all those people watching. I guess you go on vacation to let loose a bit too.

The second trip abroad was to the Cayman Islands again to visit my sister. My nephew had gotten much bigger, and while he was a bit shy to start with, he warmed up quickly. Other Mitch joined as well (the travel bug had gotten him), and we packed many adventures in the week we were there. We made it to Hell (a place on the island with short, black limestone formations) and back for a party boat ride along the coast.

As the island is pretty tiny compared to other island nations, we had no choice but to explore below the waves. We rode the Atlantis Submarine and went down nearly 36 m or 120 ft, seeing marine life, a mermaid (statue), and a shipwreck now home to various sea life. The Cayman Islands is a perfect place for a submarine as the Cayman Trench surrounds it, the deepest point in the Caribbean Sea.

After our deep sea exploration, we stretched our legs, and I got to walk along the dock with my nephew in the wind and rain. It was a great moment captured by my sister.

Our last few days were packed with more sea life. We swam with dolphins, played with turtles, and then went scuba diving in open water... I won't lie that I felt unnerved knowing there was nothing between me and the dark waters of the Caribbean. While we didn't see any sharks, we did see a manta ray and some barracudas. I didn't drown either, which was a big plus considering my first-time scuba diving in a swimming pool as a teenager. I had swallowed a ton of water, as I could not figure out the pressure to surface. I got back on that horse.

We spent an afternoon at Starfish Point collecting starfish and watching them not so slowly move away. We also worked on our upper body strength with a rope swing. Another favorite photo is of me attempting to lift myself on the stick attached to the rope, making it look like I was using my sister's head as support to push myself up. She's a great sister and would've probably let me, too.

Our last amazing experience was an evening out on a sailboat. It was so calm, and we were sad to end the moment. Mitch loved being able to captain the ship for a while on the open water.

Although it was great to get away from the big city of Toronto, there were also so many adventures. From head-sized battered fish to seeing the cast of Quantum Leap (Scott Bakula and the late Dean Stockwell) at ComicCon to a helicopter ride around the downtown Toronto skyline.

I also made it out to Niagara Falls a few times. I have to agree that the Canadian side (Horseshoe Falls) is much better than the American side (American Falls), mainly since 90% of the water for Niagara falls flows over the Canadian side. :)

There were so many random experiences while I lived in Toronto, but I won't go into them all. I did see a performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra that was amazing, caught a glimpse of the Cash Cab (but didn't get picked up), and rode a mechanical bull at a Country/Western bar for the first time (staying on for around "8 seconds").

I guess here's some proof of the 8-second ride. :)

One of my WORST experiences also happened in Toronto. I was sitting at home and progressively felt sharp pains in my abdomen. Thinking it would go away, I tried to shrug it off. That is until it got worse, and then there was blood. I called for a taxi and, in pain, made it to the hospital. I was put in a hospital bed and laid there for nearly a half hour in the worst pain of my life. I don't know if they thought I was on something, but I wanted to be. I remember watching the nurses smiling and laughing nearby, and all I wanted was a knife to cut whatever was ripping through my abdomen. At one point, I screamed out in agony and began crying, and a lady finally came over and said, "You'll think of me as your guardian angel. You'll feel better soon." And I did, once the morphine kicked in.

After a CT Scan, I was told that I had a kidney stone and had to "pass it." Luckily they sent me home with enough morphine, but two weeks later, it was out. Never again do I want to deal with that pain. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. After taking a picture of it below, I dropped it off at my doctor's office for analysis (to determine if it was caused due to genetics or diet), AND THEY LOST IT!!! To say I was upset was an understatement. So far, I haven't had another one. Fingers crossed.

Kidney stone on a dime
My kidney stone on a dime

One of the biggest positives of my time in Toronto was all the great people I worked with at Spring Rolls. The work wasn't always great, but the tips allowed me to fund my life and travel. But it was the people who kept me sane. I met people from Vietnam, Thailand, China, Mexico, Ireland, Bhutan, Chile, Spain, Japan, The Philippines, and Ukraine. So many great memories with each of them, and I miss them the most about not living in Toronto anymore. The connections you develop with people make life so much better. I had several house parties, and we always played Just Dance by the night's end. Great workouts while drink in hand (or sitting safely on a coffee table so it won't spill).

Visits from family also helped the time pass between trips home. My mom stopped by on her way to see my sister in the Cayman Islands. I got to show her my life and some of my friends, and we explored the city a bit together. She struggled with sitting down on the streetcar seats for some reason. She was a great sport to sleep on my big comfy couch as well. My sister had some work to do in Toronto, so we got to catch up and go for dinner for a couple of nights. My first cousins, once removed (my mom's cousins), also surprised me with a visit after they found out where I worked and stopped by on their way through the city. My coworkers were always excited to meet my family, as most visitors seemed to find me at work.

I also did something that I should have done decades ago. I joined a creative writing class and let out all the creativity that had been bottled up over the years...okay, not all of it, but quite a lot. Starting at a local high school, I joined a large group of other students as we developed our skills and shared our weekly assignments and in-class exercises. After the program (which I believe was around 6-8 weeks), the instructor invited a handful of us to continue in a smaller class at her house for a more private focus on our writing.

One classmate, Val, joined me as well, and ever since, we have been good friends even with long distance. She wrote amazing stories (and still does) that captured my imagination and inspired me to push my creativity. After leaving Toronto, we haven't written much together, but we recently reconnected and rekindled our writing via Zoom.

I look forward to developing more stories to share down the road, possibly.

Not all my time was spent in the big city or on vacation. I also made it back to see family several times. Some of them to celebrate and others to say goodbye.

One Christmas, I celebrated the birth of the first daughter of my friends Kathy & Andrew (whose wedding we had attended in Las Vegas a few years prior). Then it was more family Xmas festivities meeting with aunts, uncles, and cousins I hadn't seen in years. It was also great to spend the holidays with my nephew as well.

But like I said, sometimes I had to be home to say goodbye to loved ones.

When my grandmother, Gertrude Howg, passed away, I was gutted. She had been such a massive part of my life and was involved in my and my sister's lives, cheering us on in soccer, concerts, or playing cards with us on Sunday nights after family dinner. She was a great lady, and it was hard to say goodbye. I placed a single rose and a pack of Skip-Bo cards in her casket. She had introduced the game to us and played with us for so many years. We still play now, and I think of her often, win or lose.

My family has lost so many people over the years. I had flown back to spend time with my mom in Edmonton as her husband was in a coma and battling cancer. I then returned for his funeral to support my mother in her grief. While it is always difficult to lose family and friends, my family keeps a great sense of humor, as well, and shares the great times we remember about the people we have lost. It is bittersweet to see other family members and friends at each service. I took the time during one of my visits to help organize my family's photo albums, ready for digitizing when I was back for a more extended amount of time (spoiler alert: they are digitized).

This leads me to the sad part of the story. I decided to move home, saying goodbye to my life in Toronto and all the amazing people who remained there. I attempted to get together with as many of them as I could for dinner, drinks, or at a games cafe, but I know I missed a few of them. Saying goodbye has never been my best skill, even though I've had to do it quite a few times in my life as I traveled. I knew I would be back as well (which I have), which made this goodbye a little easier.

Deciding to leave wasn't easy, but my brother had rented a U-Haul from Lethbridge and volunteered to drive it out to Toronto to pick up all my stuff and then drive it home. My sister had planned to go home at the same time and coordinated her flight so that she could drive back with my brother and I. It just worked out so well.

The night before I was to leave, I invited everyone I knew to a private event at Rex's in downtown Toronto and celebrated one last time. At the end of the night, well, part way through, I gave a speech and passed out one last gift.

There was a gift for each person. A personalized card with a message to everyone in attendance, which wasn't easy considering some people attended that I wasn't prepared for, but I very sneakily wrote them a card as well. :) It was one of the best goodbyes you could ask for: tears, laughter, and lots of hugs and love.

The drive from Toronto took us 36.5 hours through Canada. We only stopped for gas/Tim Horton's/bathroom breaks (at the same time usually). It was amazing to realize the size of the Great Lakes, as it took 24 hours to get to the Manitoba border. At one point, we also stopped to pose for a photo with a metal unicorn (an inside joke for my mom about being told I was delusional and I almost fell off my unicorn; this time, I did).

I was glad to spend time with my siblings, but it was a huge relief to get out of the car by the end. We only had one issue in Kenora where it was icy, and the suburban and trailer slid into a traffic circle. No damage to passengers or valuables, though.

I have to say I miss Toronto and, of course, all the people I left there, but I am glad to be closer to family now.

We are nearing the end of this journey with two posts left. I hope you enjoy learning more about me and my life. I also want the ability to share those photos and videos that have brought me to where I am now.

Check out Part 9: Back to my Hometown

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