Street Art Four Hours Straight

Friday night ended up being a random chain of events. I had no plans really, and considered a Blue Jays baseball game. But Goran Bregovic was playing his Balkan beats for a free concert, and that seemed much more important to go to. After wandering by the book store to check in with them, Tino just happened to be at the cafe next door. Charlie from the bookstore introduced me and it was finally great to meet one of the featured photographers in my book face to face.

Tino knew about the concert and decided to go. I’d planned to meet up with a pre-party but Tino said that they were all down at the square where the concert was going to be. So we hopped on our bikes and rode down into Toronto’s version of Times Square on Yonge St. (complete with animated ads running up the sides of buildings). There was a crowd, but we found the party via a trumpet call and a ghetto blaster blasting Roma beats. Once we arrived, I re-met some folks I’d met in Portland last June during the Car Free Conference. They were plenty drunk already, and we all danced our way deep down into the crowd and close to the stage. Guess a boom box of Roma beats spreads the Red Sea for a good spot to dance.

Goran Bregovic and his wedding and funeral music band played about three hours of great music. Nothing too postmodern, just straight up Balkan/Roma stylings. Tino and I ended up behind a guy named Patrick, who kept passing the flask back to me. And the vodka bottle (which I declined). And a water bottle full of a yellowish substance. Patrick and an older Russian man kept offering up cigarettes too, which I declined. Tino turned out to be a militant nonsmoker, but didn’t tell me. Instead, we spent most of the show second smoking Patrick’s chain smoke, and I had to deal with his drunk, swaying body later in the show. Yeech.

But the show was amazing. A huge crowd turned out, spilling into the streets and causing traffic problems. A few brave people climbed the light rigging and were shamed down. No one seemed to be interested in the Stanley Cup’s deciding game, but I’m a US citizen who doesn’t really know any better, so couldn’t tell if this was a hockey and/or Balkan crowd. Bregovic had six men singing tenor. During the encore, they really got me tranced out. The two Balkan female singers added to the surreal composition that closed the night. There were a few slow funeral tunes throughout the set, but most of it was the fast wedding music. And we danced, or at least pogo’d up and down in our cramped, crowded space.

The night ended with beers and french fries. Tino ran into his friend Rick who is a hard core Critical Mass rider. So we chatted a good bit about bikes, protest and government/civic stupidity. Parting ways, I wandered by my Chinatown crash and saw a party next door. Young folks; loud and drunk. Wondering what to do, I looked up and saw the CN Tower looming over the city. So I decided to bike over to it. On Queen St., my handlebars became loose, so I lost control of the bike. Almost wiped out. Being near Cine Cycle where the bike was born, I decided to stop by for an emergency repair.

Walking up to Cine Cycle, I saw three well-dressed drunk men peeing on the building. One was peeing in the doorway. I shamed them away and found Janet and Martin inside. Martin fixed the bike and then handed me the last piece of an amazing wild cherry pie. He then silently passed me a beer. I officially hit my maximum consumption with that beer. Janet was super excited about the bike tour and presentation tomorrow. She was making cards and book marks to give away. We made plans and hung out and then I left to go see the CN Tower.

The CN Tower is a huge tall structure that changes color from time to time. Reminded me of all the radio towers in Eastern Europe this January. I missed Pod and thought he’d enjoy paying the dough to go up this huge monstrosity. On the way home, my bike developed a painful squeak. About as bad as nails on a chalkboard. Well-dressed drunk people were cringing as I squeaked by. It was a racket of ear-numbing proportions and so I laughed the whole back to the Chinatown crash. The party was still going on but I closed my window and quickly fell asleep.

Saturday was the day for doing business. I woke up later than usual, partially because of turning on the fan and having white noise to keep me dreaming. Walked to Kensington Market and bought breakfast goodies (hooray for cereal and fruit). Went back to my wifi spot, grabbed a latte, and did a spot of email. TIme was flying so I dropped the laptop off to the crash pad and started walking the bike to Cine Cycle. An elderly Chinese woman covered her ears and told me to oil the tire. I did oil the tire earlier, and it didn’t seem to work. After walking the bike and then half-carrying it for a while to avoid the squeak, I said screw it and hopped on to pedal and cause ears to bleed. The squeaking stopped! Martin didn’t know what to think and said that this was a new bike with mysteries unsolved.

I spent some time helping Janet pack her art for the presentation and then headed back to Chinatown to pack my own things. Wandered over to the bookstore to drop off the laptop and art and met Tino and Janet there. We all rode to a graffiti store called Bomb the System so that Tino could buy a can of paint for the Street Art Tour. He went for a pink color and the guy behind the counter knew him from some bike activism that he’d done. Back on the bikes, we went back to the bookstore one more time before heading out to the starting point for the Bike Month Street Art Tour. This starting point was on Bloor St., and happened to be the same start point for Toronto’s Critical Mass ride. When we arrived, about 30 people were waiting for us. We waited a bit longer and ended up with about 40 total to lift off and follow Tino on his amazing tour of Toronto stencil spots.

For over two hours, we wandered the streets and back alleys of Toronto, with Tino in the front pointing out the great work. He had a competition in one alley way, giving away a copy of Stencil Nation to the person who got the correct number of “Man at a Computer” stencils in one alley. He took us to some great spots where we saw Posterchild’s works. We saw a legal wall of stencils made by a high school art class. I added a bike stencil to that wall to cheers and applause. We went down an alley near Queen St., not stopping to snap photos (I’ll have to return), and saw some more great works in with all the spray art. One thing going for Toronto is all the great spray art and stencils in all the alley ways!

I got to see some aggressive car drivers on this ride. One of the funniest was a van blasting the theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, honking the horn at us as we strolled down an alley way filled with graffiti. I heard a woman’s voice behind me yell “fuck off” to the van just before we cut through a parking lot to find more work. Other drivers would get a wheel and screech tires as they sped by us in a quick blast, only to get stuck at the next red light. But the bike ride was fun and went fast. We ended up in the alley where I’d parked my car. The Urban Repair Squad stenciled the word “SLOW” in a city-sanctioned fashion in this alley. Tino pulled out Janet’s stencils and his can and let some of the folks on the ride bomb the street around the SLOW stencil. It was 8:10 so we needed to head back to the bookstore to set up for the presentation. We had to practically pry the paint can out of participants hands so that we could get to the bookstore.

We arrived to find seats and screen set up outside. Janet’s stencil installation was out too, but not sandwich board style like she wanted it. The sun still lit the blue, cloudy sky so Charlie and I fretted the notion of having a slide show outside on Nassau St. I asked the 10 or so people already seated if they didn’t mind waiting until things got a bit darker for the presentation. They didn’t. Charlie introduced me to Francis Mariani, the photographer of the book’s cover stencil. Very nice to meet him at last! Janet fixed her art and then she and a friend went across the street to have a beer while some of the Bike Ride folks wandered off to grab burritos. I set my things up and showed off some art from Tiago. As the sun set a bit, I brought up photos of CELL’s Stencilada show to share with folks while waiting for things to get a bit darker. About 30 people were there for the show, and once people in the back could see the screen well enough, I started the presentation.

After a great presentation, we ended up across the street for appetizers and beer. Most of the people present were either bike activists and/or long-time Toronto residents. We spoke about bikes, art, politics, and the general notion of progress in the world. At one point, Tino exclaimed, “My god! We just had four hours straight of street art!” Yes we had. As did a pile of other people. It was another memorable experience on the Stencil Nation tour. Something that I’ll never forget. And, most importantly, good times were had by all.