The weary chronicler sat at his keyboard and began to work. He had left a strong cup of tea and some chocolate in an adjacent room, but immediate tasks meant that such amenities would have to wait2. As he began the process of recording in bytes the latest noteworthy event, a young waif crept into the room, seeking (as all young waifs do) what nuggets of wisdom the weary chronicler could provide. The chronicler, long accustomed to the intrusions of young waifs, continued his endeavors without so much as missing a semicolon.
"If you ever overcome your fear of the East End, my son", the chronicler began as he recorded furiously his observances for the benefit of posterity, "there is a place you must go. I will call it the 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'"
The young waif leaned forward intently, as if to catch every word on his tongue like a snowflake. This brought a stern rebuke from the sage3, who nonetheless continued in his tale.
"The place must have at one point been important, because the Western terminus is called Main Street, and 'those who know' had the foresight to install a subway station there4. But whatever its importance was, it now is merely a shadow of any former glory. It runs to an eastern terminus at Victoria Park station, which is not even on the boulevard at all, but a respectable distance away, as if avoiding the unpleasant company in the neighborhood5."
"It is the home of many strange and peculiar establishments, but even more strikingly a ghost town of failed businesses and ideas. There are barren grocery stores, apparently new red-brick and green-glass office fronts that are unoccupied, and other closed-up businesses without substance. It is the home of animal hospitals and cheap bars, used record stores and antique shops, psychic bookstores." The chronicler turned and faced the waif. "Credibility", he said, "is when Media likes you, 'big brother' likes you, and Ronald McDonald likes you. Do you understand?"
The waif did not so much as bat a eyelash at the words of the sage.
"Of course you don't, you are too young to even know whether you would like a smoking or non-smoking psychic. For the psychic bookstore does not sell books on psychics, or psychic phenomena. No, the bookstore is only run by psychics, who refuse to charge tax on books because they know the tax will be repealed. Of course they know, they are psychic! There is also a store on this boulevard called 'Kiss N Tell', which you are most certainly too young to understand. It's motto is 'for the sensuous and the adventurous' and you are too young to be either. But the store seems in strange juxtaposition with the rest of the area."
The chronicler angrily shook his head. "Enough on the makeup of this boulevard. It is imperative that you understand that the only broken dreams here belong to the residents. For the weary traveller or unsuspecting tourist there is nothing here but fulfillment. Items long sought after - obscure novelizations, rare recordings, old wishes of every size and description can be found among the decrepit shops on the boulevard. Those who only pass through take no risks, but you must not linger!"
The chronicler stopped. He considered the head of the young waif, decided it was at the wrong angle and tilted it. He began again.
"No, you must not linger. Those who linger never leave, and their fulfilled wishes turn into broken dreams. The lure of cheap rents and ambience prove transitory and ruin ensues. So visit, but do not linger. And start your journey at Annie's Pizza."
The waif returned his head to an upright position and queried, "A pizzeria? Where is the meaning in a pizzeria?"
"You do not understand!", the chronicler yelled, tilting the waif's head back on an angle, "You must understand that if this were just a pizzeria there would be no mystery, but it is because it seems to be just a pizzeria that the mystery is acute. Your first understanding of the broken dreams will be found here. The restaurant is advertised as 'your family restaurant', and the outside sign proclaims 'Pizza, Burgers, Donuts'. You understand now the restaurant?"
"Yes.", the waif replied.
"No you do not! You will enter and you will see no families, just couples and two very loud drunks by the front. You will sit near the drunks, because you are a stranger and strangers do not go to the backs of restaurants. You will ask for pizza. Not only will you be the only one asking for pizza, you will be the only one asking for food, and will suddenly notice that no-one is eating. The waitress will say there is no pizza, no, not tonight. Before you can ask for a burger or a donut, she will recite the menu. Fish and chips, veal cutlet, hot roast beef. But no pizza. And no sign of Annie either. You will order your fish or veal or beef, and you will sit down to eat. The drunks will yell and scream and harass you and the waitresses, and you will understand the broken dreams."
The sage turned back to face the keyboard and resumed his typing. "But with the broken dreams", he continued, "you will find a peculiar wish fulfillment. The owner will come and greet you. He will give you a free coke. You will be surprised, and be unable to fathom the occurrence. Perhaps it is because you ordered food. Perhaps it is because you tolerated the drunks. Perhaps it is because there was no Pizza and this visibly disappointed you. Or perhaps it is some atonement by the owner, some attempt to gain exit from the boulevard of broken dreams by altruism. This atonement will fail, for there is no escape."
The sage felt the call of the tea and chocolate as he finished his typing. "You will leave Annie's much sobered, my son. You will understand the boulevard and you will know why you must not linger there. When you have conquered your fear of the East End, my son, you must go."
The sage turned around again. The waif was gone. The chronicler tried to remember if he was sure the waif had ever been there, but he could not assure himself that this was so. He stored his bytes to the eternal memory and returned to the tea and chocolate without.
1 The "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is that stretch of Danforth Avenue between Main Street and Victoria Park Avenue.
2 Any computer user will tell you that hot cups of tea and computer keyboards do not mix. The danger of keeping any liquid in close proximity to your keyboard is great, and a true chronicler learns to respect his equipment and its sensitivities.
3 Young waifs must be taught not to stick out their tongue!
4 As any good urban planner will tell you, the choice of subway station placement is not arbitrary. Subway stations are located in high-traffic localities and/or future planned centers of urban expansion. I once, however, overheard a comment while riding the subway that called this neat theory into question. One rider pointed out to another that Summerhill station seemed to serve no possible purpose, and it was his contention that it was merely placed there to break up the journey between St. Clair and Rosedale into manageable proportions. Whether or not this same philosophy created Main station is not clear, but it must be pointed out that when the Spadina line was created, the T.T.C. did not hesitate in placing a long trip between Dupont and St. Clair West stations. This may represent a change in philosophy as the two subway lines (Danforth and Spadina) were separated by a ten-year span.
5 Ever noticed how peculiar it is that urban dwellers define locations in proximity to this or that subway station when they have the choice? Or that it is possible to define a stretch of street in terms of two subway stations, e.g. "between Main and Victoria Park stations"? The subway exerts such a decisive effect of the urban psyche and urban sense of location, yet it is such a common phenomenon that it is never commented upon. Historians of the future may remark that it is the only noteworthy feature of the latter 20th century that concepts of "place" became defined solely in terms of public transit facilities.
[Return to the Serial Diners agenda.]