If you haven’t been reading along, this is Part Two of a three-part blog series I’ve been doing on class in the places I’ve lived throughout my life. The first part, about my hometown of St. Catharines, is here. The first post also contains the original prompt that inspired this series, if you’re interested.
Growing up, I had an ever-evolving, love-hate relationship with my hometown, which provided a ton of enrichment and inspiration for my later work, but no place for a person with my particular talents to develop into a young professional. I was frustrated with the declining amount of career-track jobs, and the rising crime rate, which seemed to ruin many of the things the place had going for it.
All this left me in my early twenties, longing to escape to the city and round out my education in some way that employers would actually recognize. I saved my bursary money, sold a large portion of my stuff, and moved to Oakville to attend Sheridan College for animation.
My feelings about Oakville were mixed from the start. On the plus side, it was way cleaner than St. Catharines, and I never felt unsafe on the street, on the bus or basically anywhere, whereas in my hometown, I would have to have my wits about me pretty much all the time. Someone in Oakville who would be considered dirty or ugly would pretty much be considered average anywhere else in Ontario. This had advantages and disadvantages. Because I’ve always been a bit of a fashion fan myself, I found myself feeling like I fit in better sometimes than I did at home. However, the major disadvantage of the bar being higher for fashion and looks is that I couldn’t just walk down to the mall in my crap clothes with my hair unwashed, like I would sometimes do before. I mean, it’s a free country and everything, but appearance really did seem to make a big difference when it came to customer service there. If I came in wearing a $900 outfit, I’d get doted on by every salesperson in the place. If I came in with average hair and clothes, with road salt on my jacket, I’d basically get ignored, and if I managed to corner somebody, they’d usually be rude.
Another plus was that being in an urban centre close to other urban centres meant that transit took less time and usually went to the places I needed to go, and jobs were easy to come by. I found that businesses sat on resumes for a lot longer, on average, before replying, but it was definitely easier to get interviews and casual jobs. I had one rough summer where I couldn’t find work, but Robin and I muddled through somehow. Having said that, though, I never really saw as much of the town as I would have liked to, because a) they don’t have a very good central news source, and so it’s hard to know what’s going on around town and b) everything’s ridiculously expensive.
Now, on to my major beefs with Oakville. The first one is the environment. Oakville has a lot of nice parks and hiking trails, it’s true, but it lacks good sources of fresh produce like I had at home, and I found myself growing really homesick for the fresh foods I had pretty much year round in St. Catharines. I also really enjoy bird watching, and birds are much fewer and farther between there. I know that might seem elementary to someone used to the city, but it’s not something I even thought of before I went there. And the air quality is really, really crappy. As in, the crappiest in the country. I got sick every winter unless I pumped myself full of vitamins, and I temporarily lost my singing voice. We lived just a couple of kilometres from the 403, and walking down there made your skin feel gritty. There was also a huge problem with medical wait times. Any trip to the walk-in clinic or emergency room was a guaranteed five-hour endeavour, regardless of time of day. Anywhere else on the peninsula, it’s like 45 minutes to an hour, tops.
Another huge problem with Oakville, for us, was the housing prices. We paid $1200 a month (an amount that will get you a newly renovated place with a parking garage, weight room and security anywhere else around here) for a slummy place the size of a postage stamp with management that I wouldn’t be exaggerating to tell you to hide the silverware around. Our appliances and fixtures hadn’t been changed since the 70’s, they cleaned the hallway about once every three months, the elevators broke down several times a week, the boilers exploded, our toilet exploded one day with no one around it (seriously!) we had insects coming up through the drains from other people’s filthy apartments above and below us, we had people that let their dogs crap in the hallways rather than go outside, we had a crack house down the hall, and on Christmas Eve, 2012, we found a guy passed out on the floor of our hallway with his cock out, in front of an apartment where a mom and her teen daughter were living. We called the cops. A lot of times. They never came. The prices were so high there we were forced to take on a roommate, and that turned into its own nightmare. After a string of thefts, destruction, and just plain creepiness, we had to give up on the roommate thing and go it alone. Our place, for $1200, was the cheapest we could get in town. This was a problem.
Eventually, we had to give up on Oakville and move away. I still don’t like to think about that very much. It was hard for me to write this, because I’m still dealing with everything that went on there. I guess, on an emotional level, it was a really bad place for me. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like you just never quite measure up. I was constantly trying to prevent people from finding out where and how I lived with a mixture of fancy clothes, confidence, and education. It’s exhausting to have to live that way. I still want to live in the city, but there has to be a better way.
Next Post: Our flight to Hamilton, and what’s next.