I'm in Toronto attending the International HIV/AIDS conference.
Thanks to the Black AIDS Institute, I've been given an opportunity to spend the next three days with medical professionals, activists, advocates and policy-makers from all over the world.
Because of the heightened terror alert, getting out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport was a real challenge. But people took the intense screening in stride, and I learned that I could really get by with one suitcase and no carry-on bag.
Toronto looks so much like Chicago that Hollywood has passed it off as Chicago in several movies. I've been here a few times and there's a noticeable difference between the people in Chicago and the people here. They are a lot friendlier.
Instead of jumping in a cab, I decided to take public transportation from the airport to the hotel. I wanted to see for myself how Toronto's public transportation system compares to CTA. Besides, the cab ride would have been about $55, compared to $2.75 for the bus and subway.
Needless to say, I had a dazed look on my face when the bus deposited me at the Kipling Subway station. But a white man in a business suit who was going my way assured me he wouldn't let me get lost. After pointing out the transit map (that goodness I can read one), he talked and I listened. He wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Toronto. He was just returning home from a business trip in Nova Scotia.
Two stops a later, a black man sat down between us and struck up a similar conversation. He’s from Jamaica, and makes his living as a painter. He was quite proud of that, and went into his bag and pulled out a photograph of his brightly-painted home in Jamaica. He talked about how great Toronto is, although he said that the terrorist threat had changed things. He also told me not to worry--he wouldn't let me get lost.
People of all nationalities--Muslim women in head scarves, Indians in long Saris, Asians, blacks, whites, people who sounded like they were from someplace in the Caribbean all traveling in the same direction.
When my stop approached, both men motioned me toward the exit. The Jamaican, who had been telling me how he always looks out for black people, got the attention of a young black woman across the aisle and asked her--no, he told her, she had to make sure I got on the Northbound train.
She looked surprised to be getting orders from a stranger, but she led me up the escalator anyway. I lost her in the throng of commuters and ended up taking the wrong train anyway.
That meant I had to drag my over-stuffed bag down a long, long flight of stairs in order to the other side of a platform. A young dark-skinned man, possibly from the Middle Eastern background, asked if I needed help. I said no. He asked again. I relented even though he was already carrying a large bag.
He picked up my hefty suitcase and hauled it down the stairs. I said thanks. He said, "You're welcome," and went about his business.
Here, Chicago seems like the foreign land.