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A tale of two cities 

What your first impressions of Halifax are have a lot to do with where you were before you got here.

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WHAT'S IT LIKE LIVING IN A SMALL TOWN?
It's fine. I mean, all they have for public transit is about four buses that run once an hour. No subway. And no Uber. Seriously. The taxis are like Ubers because they're just a bunch of regular cars with a little light on top, they don't have a special paint job or anything. I had to actually google the number and call it to get one, it was late, and then the driver tried talking to me the whole time like it was an interrogation. "Where are you from? What are you doing in school?" He even thanked me after I got out.

I hope you gave a bad rating.

That's what I mean! You can't give ratings here. So people have to walk. Which is easy because the whole place is tiny and it takes about five minutes to get anywhere. But then it's just sort of weird..cult-y. Everybody looks at you and smiles when you go by. Sometimes they're even like "hi" or "hello" so you have to move out of the way, except then there's a tree just right there in the way. Growing right out of the sidewalk! Halifax is essentially a forest. And if there's not a tree in the way, you still have to be careful because when you get too close to the edge of the sidewalk the cars in the street slam on their brakes, like they're waiting for you to cross or something. It would be OK if they honked at you, but they never do, they just sit there staring at you with these puppy dog eyes begging you to cross. They're the worst drivers ever, no idea how streets are supposed to work, the intersections make no sense...But then you're trapped with these freaks on the sidewalk acting like they know you. There's no privacy, there's no melting into the crowd, even though I'm new here. I'm already recognizing people from Tinder on the street. It's so confusing, a couple times I've even said hi back.

Oh gosh.

Yeah, it kinda is. And the downtown area is like one block and it's a ghost town. There's only one Starbucks, and it closes at 7:30pm. Everything else closes at 5 and the restaurants seem to shut down on Mondays and Tuesdays.. and Sundays, actually. And theres's only one of every store. You can't even compare coupons. It all feels like stepping back in time five years—the big news is they just got a Five Guys. There are line-ups. For a Five Guys.

No way. That feels like 10 years ago! Are the roads still cobble-stoned?

I know! I think they must have just finished the paving last week and all the construction crews went on vacation, because there's no tall buildings and nothing being built. But maybe that's for the best, since I don't know what they'd do if there was ever a big emergency. You never hear sirens, and far as I can tell there aren't even any fire hydrants.

This can't be a good sign for food, can it? Where do the locals eat?

If they're like me they're searching. Desperately. I finally found this restaurant that looked OK, but after I sat down the waiter couldn't even tell me where their chicken comes from.

Seriously?

Seriously. I wanted to leave, so I asked them where the nearest Ethiopian restaurant is. And there's nothing. No Ethiopian. No Moroccan. No Polish. No Swiss. No Serbian.

What about street food? Late night?

[laughs] This town goes to sleep so early, there's nothing happening on the street after dark. But I think that's part of what makes it so different. Like this one afternoon I took a walk down to this harbour, like the old-timey port they built Halifax around. It's so quiet and calm there, a few people walking around, the little cable ferry going back and forth, it was just a peaceful lake. I stayed until the sun went down, then started walking back. And you'll never guess what happened.

Big surprise, you got mugged.

That's what I'm trying to say, that doesn't happen here. But I looked up and I could see the stars. Stars in the sky.

Like summer camp?

Yes! It's like sleep-away camp here. Just hopefully without the lice.


WHAT'S IT LIKE IN THE BIG CITY??
Oh gosh, I can't tell you much. It feels like such a huge city, and even the little bit I've seen has sorta blown my mind. I don't know where to start.

Well, just tell me about some place where you walked and—

Walked? You don't walk here. Everything is way too far, and the sidewalks are just different. They're these giant strips of concrete, no trees or flowers or anything, and they're jammed with people. And there's Starbucks all over the city—literally—so I've walked to those a couple times which is sweet but nobody on the sidewalk even looks at you. They're all just in a big hurry to get somewhere, so you sort of keep moving to get out of their way, but you don't want to smash into a fire hydrant every other step, or you really don't want to fall into the street.

You'd get run over!

Yeah, but no. The drivers here are way too chill for that. I don't even think they use their horns. All I have to do is get close to the curb and all the cars stop. They don't like it, because it's basically rush-hour traffic all the time. So they stop and stare daggers at you, and now you feel horrible and have to cross the street. Then you have to struggle to weave between people on the next sidewalk and keep going. It's a lot.

That sounds awful.

It is, or it's just different. But I can actually take a bus from where I am to where I want to go. It's wild. The buses go absolutely everywhere. There are so many buses that one is always passing by your stop, only it's not always the route for where you're going, so you have to be really careful. I'm pretty comfortable with the system now, and my phone just tells me which bus to get on and when it's coming—in real time too. And sitting on the bus is a lot easier than trying to navigate the sidewalk for sure. This one time I looked up—which you're not supposed to do—but I looked up and this woman sitting on the other side was actually looking at me. I put my head back down pretty quick, but I would swear she was about to give me a smile. It reminded me of home so much, I almost said thank you to the driver on my way off the bus.

Well that's just a nice thing to do for the bus driver. Do you miss home much?

Sure. I mean, I miss you. And I miss some things. I wish the cashiers at the grocery store would stop being robots and chat for a minute. The city is just bustling non-stop—at night there are sirens all over the place and it's really bright with all the skyscrapers, so I'm missing the stars and I'm missing sleep. And I'm missing the quiet...But at the same time it's sorta exciting to be in that energy. Halifax is constantly growing, there's construction happening everywhere. I'm just like one person in the crowd, but I'm actually in a crowd...it's almost private...stuck in a crowd with no one who knows you, you know?

That would be too much for me.

It IS too much, but it's almost like having so many choices is the point. Restaurants from every country you can name, a Japanese place beside a Chinese place, with Indian and Thai across the street. I haven't even seen chicken fingers on the menu yet. People come here from all over the world, and they take the bus just like me. So many cool shops, I haven't even had time to find the Winners yet. I already have a whole route mapped out for when you come visit. We'll go to Spring Garden Road. It's Halifax's Rodeo Drive, the fanciest street east of Montreal but different than the bit outlets malls we'd have to drive to. Then down to Argyle Street, the nightlife capital of Canada–like people are actually out after midnight. you can get pizza at 5am...really!— and then, I think you'd like to see City Hall!

That sounds like a couple day's work!

We're not even done. The building for the whole province—the provincial legislature—is nearby, and it's the oldest one in Canada. We'll go there.

Is it beautiful?

It must be, because everything here is, but I haven't seen it yet. I'm saving it for until you come. The sidewalks will be easier to deal with when we're together. Then we'll go down to my favourite place.

The rink?

No, the Halifax Harbour. My frosh leader told me about it, and I've gone a couple times on the bus and did walk once. It has a long boardwalk that's always full of slow-moving tourists, so it's not as weird to walk there. And the harbour is amazing to watch, like a water highway with Navy boats and huge container ships and cruise boats going all the time. Even that old tugboat from the show we used to watch as kids...it's here in real life. I like to get a Beavertail—like they ones they have at the ski resort—and find a place to sit there, in the middle of everything, and I dunno...I kinda feel like one day this will be my city.

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Vol 27, No 25
November 14, 2019

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