has been located at Golden Mile Plaza 1880 Eglinton Avenue East in the Scarborough district of since the 1950s. Added to the original Golden Mile, an industrial and commercial area developed after World War Two, the Plaza is now a combination of smaller strip malls. When I was a boy, the original mall housed a variety of shops and services, primarily a pair of movie theatres and the Golden Mile pharmacy and tuck shop. On the front face of the cinema, a huge "Golden Mile" marquee glistened through the day and glimmered with a thousand lights every night. I had seen it many times from the back window of my Father's car, as we zipped past it on our way home from other adventures. Although a relative distance from my home, at the time, it held much promise when suggested to me as a destination for summer play. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 5th 1975 started out like almost any other summer day for me. The temperature was moderate and a cool breeze ever so slightly touched the air. With nothing to hinder our travels, my brother Phillip, and our mutual friend David Hall, all boarded our bikes and headed east towards this somewhat mythical shopping experience. I had been convinced to accompany my hosts with the temptation of a large section of comic books in the pharmacy/tuck shop. I was sold from the get go.
My Mom had cleared my departure earlier that morning, so without interruption the three of us sped off towards
York Mills Road. We followed the way up to Victoria Park Avenue then headed south until we arrived about an hour after we had left from home. It may not have been a challenging journey, but despite traffic and the hot sun to slow us, we finally made our way. We all wore shorts and t-shirts, each one of much colour or print, a fashion trend of the day. I had on an army green V-neck, which I wore a little loose so I had room to move. My shorts were cut-offs, trimmed to an appropriate length with rough cut edges all dangly and loose. The white denim was slightly faded, but no worse for the wear. Every few inches, or so, a turtle, neck extended, sat perfectly. He carried through the entire fabric, every few inches repeating. I so loved these trunks, "my turtle shorts." I was very sad when I had to give them up.
This one time place of wonder was a different sight up close and personal. All the drive-bys, and all the expectation, seem silly to me now. I was underwhelmed. I felt this way years later when I got off a Greyhound bus in downtown
. I suppose nothing is ever really all it's cracked up to be. We locked our bicycles behind the mall and preceded to investigate the stores. As we wandered about, suddenly I spotted it. The anticipation of all those comic books was almost more than I could stand. I started out ahead of my comrades, rushing to get inside. All of a sudden my brother stopped me, his hand on my shoulder halted any push forward. I had no idea what was going on. "Let us go in first," he said with a strange little smile. Hollywood
I stood with the bikes waiting as I had been instructed. I had no idea why they needed, or even wanted, to go in without me but nevertheless there I was alone. It did not seem very long when they both appeared around the corner of the mall. They laughed as if in on some secret joke. When we reunited they revealed grand splendour. Chocolate bars, chewing gum, baseball cards all flashed before me. So many treats and surprises that I could not believe my eyes. Then it hit me.
"Hey where did you guys get money to buy all this stuff?" I questioned.
"We stole it stupid." Phillip replied.
"No way, Mom is going to kill you if she finds out," I subtly threatened..
"Mom won't find out cause no one is gonna tell her," he preached.
"Now, it's your turn," David added.
I don’t know why I followed their orders. I still refuse to take threats or duress of any kind, and I was no different as a child. Soon, however, I found my pockets full and a few comics stuffed down with Mr. Turtle and the crack of my butt. I was never really good at being discreet, at least not during a crime, and as I walked towards the exit I was confronted. He was tall, and big, like a football player or defence man on a hockey team. He kind of reminded me of Lurch, from the original Adams Family, looming over me intent on my doom. I thought I just might pee my pants.
I was a very average sized kid for all my 10 years. I had ear length naturally blond hair, and freckles about my face and arms. I had an average build but was very athletic and fast, well trained at the art of escape from years of playing werewolves with the kids in the neighbourhood. As he stood there, arms crossed and rather stern, I made my move. I ducked to my left then cut back around to his left, easily avoiding his out stretched arm. I hit the glass exit with the fury of a madman, my body unaffected by the powerful collision. I landed on the sidewalk with the grace of a cheetah, turning quickly towards the end of the mall. I glanced back for just a moment to make sure the coast was clear and saw him standing at the distance I had crossed, his right arm raised and shaking. I switched into high gear and roared off down the strip.
When I rounded the back of the mall, I screamed bloody murder. Phil and David had already prepped our getaway and the three of us tore out onto the road and down into a subdivision across the street. My head raced and my heart beat so fast I could have danced to it. I kept peddling like some exercise fanatic trying desperately to lose 5 pounds in 5 minutes. You could not have stopped me if you tried.
It seemed to take forever to reach the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve Trail. My brother stopped first and we all then decided to take a much needed break. I was terrified, afraid I would be seized and punished. I had stolen candy before, and been caught, but I was older now and sure I would be held quite accountable. Phillip warned me that the police would be out looking for me and David suggested we stay off the main streets to avoid detection. They both assured me that if I remained out of sight and did what they told me everything would be fine. I bought it, hook, line and sinker.
The 12 foot tall chain-link fence was all that stood between us and the park ahead. With no other area available, no spot to cheat, we knew the task we faced was not going to be easy. I climbed over the fence first, Phillip right behind me. I jumped onto the ground while he remained near the top. David raised the first bike, then another, until finally all three were caged no longer. Phillip brought each one over the fence, one-handed, then lowered them down to my waiting arms. He seemed to me a hero.
As things calmed down, for them at least, and we all managed to catch our breath, the three of us headed into the trails. This was no longer an adventure for me; I didn't need convincing that I was in danger. We journeyed through the conservation area, on the lamb, convicted criminals trying desperately to get back home. Every once in awhile David, who was no more than 12, would try to convince me that it was my shorts which would give me away to the police. He won me over to the idea that I should discard them as soon as possible, so as not to give my identity away. I was sure that he was right.
Phillip's birthday, later in the month, would find him 13 years old. His age mattered little to me as I placed in him my trust for safety. As we biked through the massive forest, he warned me what would happen if we got caught. Tales of juvenile hall, and foster care, filled the air like bats in a belfry once the bell had tolled. My anxiety reached full peak as we crossed under the
Don Valley Parkway, and back into Don Mills. I prayed that the coast was clear.
Back out on the street, every time either Dave or Phil thought they spotted a cop, they yelled for me to find cover and hide. Each time I almost fainted in fear. I would cower behind a tree, or a car, or a rock, begging God to help me avoid detection. When my attempts to hide in plain sight became too frequent, they decided we should get off the beaten track and cut through the Donalda - Don Valley Golf Course. Also built in the 1950s, the greens are located between
Lawrence Avenue and the York Mils Road/Don Mills Road intersection. Phillip, and my older brother Alan, had both been caddies here, having told the family tales of their adventures carrying around the clubs of sport stars and business men. Needless to say, I was sure my brother knew how to keep me and make things safe. He would assure our escape.
Without event, we travelled over the distance, undetected. We clung to the tree line, always diligent of our surroundings. If someone approached, we would simply enter the woods and disappear, only to rejoin the clear when the threat had departed. I had never been so scared in my life. As one of my companions attempted to calm me with reassurance, the other would relay caution and fear. I didn't know if I was coming or going. When I saw the bridge which crosses the
Don River, I knew I was almost home.
We exited the safety of the golf course, as we went to navigate the thoroughfare, I spotted a cruiser at the bottom of the hill. It headed up
York Mills Road towards us. David yelled to find cover and Phil chose to act unassuming. When it passed, we ran with our bikes across traffic and down onto Valentine Drive. With only a short hop, skip and jump towards serenity, we made it home exhausted but relieved. The very first thing I did was to remove the evidence I cherished so much and hide them above a furnace duct for later removal. They found final rest in a deep hole near the old river bed in Grayden Hall.
"There's a sucker born every minute." (P. T. Barnum)
For well over a decade, no one spoke of this incredible journey. My parents did not have a clue what had happened that day. When they later, that day, inquired if we wanted to head up to the Parkway Mall, for ice cream, it was just to close to the scene of the crime. The next summer, as we drove down the 401 highway towards our new home, I smiled at the thought of escaping both the city, and my capture, forever. In spite of this new found freedom, I still wished I had my turtle shorts.
It was not until years later that our secret came to light. Like with all good stories of old, it held no power over me and I laughed at the thought. No harm, no foul. My brother and I sat with Mom, and my sister, joking about the past. Phillip revealed the game he and David had played with me, taking amusement in my peril. He thought I had known for years but not once did I realize I had been gaslighted. I guess it is true, sometimes things aren't all they are cracked up to be.