Toronto, Canada • May 2014 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes
The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.
I’d arranged to meet Aaron and Alfie for dinner that evening on Adelaide Street and whilst they went for a couple of apartment viewings I took the liberty of catching up on a precious few hours’ sleep. The boys had managed to ‘win’ some one-year working visas in the lottery that is the Canadian immigration application process and were staying at the hostel whilst they searched for suitable employment and a cheap, but handy, dwelling. Interestingly, in Toronto at this time all drawn up rental agreements required full payment to the landlord for the month in which the entry date was signed. This meant that whether you were moving in on the 1st June or the 29th for example, the entire June rental fee was payable. As my visit to Canada fell in the last week of a month in 2014 this meant that a large number of the hostel’s guests were taking the same approach as Aaron and Alfie, all with the plan of checking out and moving in come the 1st of the next month.
Things were quite competitive because of this, but I was still amazed to see how many people were looking at moving in with one another having only met weeks, or even days, prior. I suppose that’s the mindset of the traveller, though. Someone who is always willing to create friendships and dive into things just for the curiosity of what lies ahead. ‘What if…’ not a phrase to be found in many of their dictionaries or phrasebooks, regardless of the language it’s written in.
Come 6:30 pm I was fully recharged and strolled my way yet again downtown towards our meeting place, a little pub opposite the restaurant we’d unanimously agreed upon. Sipping on a frosty one whilst waiting for the lads to show I looked over at the sign above the building as the busty waitresses swarmed the tables in their tight white T-shirts and infamous orange hot-pants. If the accompanying knee-high stockings weren’t enough to stimulate my attention, then what was spelled out in old cinema lettering above the doorway most definitely was.
[7 PM - HOOTERS BIKINI CONTEST]
“Signed on the dotted line then and there before anyone else could get their stinking paws on it,” beamed Aaron as the boys rounded the corner. “We are now officially residents of this glorious city.”
“Brilliant. And we can’t have you living here never having gone to Hooters now can we?” I chuckled, pointing at the sign.
“What a way to celebrate. Things are just falling right into place.”
Hooters was bursting at the seams as we joined the queue behind some creepy Chinese dude who clearly had no idea how a ticketing process worked. When he therefore inevitably got into a row with the maitre’d over the cost of entry the Liverpudlians and I was happy to throw our $10 cover at her and swoop in to grab a front row bench before the show started. Sitting down, I ordered a pitcher of beer from our lovely server Annie and took in the surrounding phenomenon. The 98% male audience was on tenterhooks as an announcer climbed up on stage to explain how the competition would work. There would be three rounds: bikini; swimsuit; and evening wear, with a winner being crowned at the end of it all based on the decision by an expert panel of judges. I looked over at the four fat, hairy, pale, middle-aged men and wondered what their credentials were. They could have been talent scouts for a high-end modelling agency for all I knew, but a more educated guess would be that they probably spend a little too much time locked in their bedrooms with the blinds shut and high definition porn on repeat.
As Annie came back for our food orders a young guy of similar age sat down on his own at the bench opposite; a scraggly beard and fashionable beanie hat not quite enough to mask his ruggedly handsome face. Joseph had arrived in Canada from Wales, via Monaco, and was there to support his girlfriend who was competing in the contest. In yet another ‘coincidence’ it turned out that he actually graduated from the same University course as Aaron and Alfie did, only in the following year, and that they had a host of mutual friends. It was agreed that they’d also all been in attendance at some of the same flat parties before but just hadn’t bumped into one another.
“Man this is sick,” exclaimed Joseph, slapping his palm on the table. “I move to Toronto to be with my girlfriend, not knowing another person in this city, and randomly bump into two guys that I went to University with at a Hooters bikini contest. You just can’t script this stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy how things like this work out,” I nodded with a grin.
“Hey, we’re all having a little post-party celebration after this. You guys should definitely come along, and that’s more a polite request than a question.”
“You don’t have to ask us twice bro.”
“Awesome. Currently, it’s just me and the girls so it would be good to have some male company for a change. As nice as they are and all I do sometimes miss the lad banter.”
“Have you managed to find a job since coming over here then?” Aaron asked.
“Not for a lack of trying,” sighed Joseph.
“I know what you mean,” agreed Alfie. “Aaron just got a part-time job as a kitchen porter at Sneaky Dees up on College Street, but I’m going to keep browsing for something more permanent. Craigslist seems to have some decent odd-jobs though if you’re really scraping for coppers.”
“I’ve been scouring that and Gumtree but it’s difficult to tell what’s legit. Also, some of the stuff is pretty freaky. I came across an ad the other day that was offering $400 cash for you to masturbate and ejaculate on camera.”
“Would your face be shown?”
“Yeah, it was a whole torso effort. Not that I was thinking about applying for it anyway. Curiosity gets the better of you sometimes though when trolling the web and you can find yourself clicking on some weird shit without even realising.”
“True that. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone online just to quickly check my e-mails and ended up being still at the computer a half hour later scrolling through galleries of people with bad tattoos.”
To get the show underway the girls all strode out in catwalk formation down the stage which had been erected especially for the event. Something that might have also been ‘erect’ was the bizarre Korean pensioner who whipped out a professional camera (complete with tripod) and started taking photos like he was on safari. Despite how many elegant birds were prancing about, a 30x zoom lens with a shutter speed comparable to that of the rounds fired by a Gatling gun seemed a little unnecessary. Joseph’s girlfriend was gorgeous and put up a staunch performance to appear third overall, but ‘contestant number 3’ was undoubtedly the queen of the evening and the judges all agreed. She was absolutely shredded from head to toe and either had a serious squat routine or had been prescribed some crazy anabolic steroids.
Following the show, Joseph took us over to meet his other half and the rest of the girls that had been performing. One with short hair was so off her face on blow that she appeared to think she was in the middle of a lads’ mag photo shoot. Wrapping her arms around each of the far-too-willing punters she would hold a sexy pose for 2-3 seconds, presumably until the ‘camera flash’ in her mind went off. I looked at the mass of creepiness funnelling out into the street. It didn’t even bear thinking about what they were going home to do.
The girls were all dolled up in their evening dresses from the final pageant round and with the adrenaline rush from the event still at a peak they were pumped to be heading out, especially a tall brunette called Laura. When her boyfriend finally arrived from a gig he’d been playing we all went round the corner to a pub and ordered some pitchers. Mick was Australian by birth and like Joseph had decided to settle in Toronto for the time being as a result of his newish relationship and the strong bar scene. He was one-half of a folk duo and provided guitar and backing vocals to his female accompaniment’s soaring pitch. He also drank like an Aussie, immediately sculling the pint of beer placed in front of him by Aaron on return from the bar.
Across the table from me was a strange looking Asian guy, already on his second pitcher and trying desperately to get the attention of the short-haired Ms Blow who was still running at Mach 1. Ali was a self-professed drug dealer and proud of the matter. Despite my complete lack of interest, his greater lack of social queues led to me being excitedly shown photos of the cannabis farm he’d been cultivating back home. I couldn’t quite figure out what game he was trying to play so called “bullshit” right to his face. He left me alone and departed soon after when his supposed mistress gave him the cold shoulder. Or perhaps it was because we were heading to a different bar called The Officers Club? The name alone giving our not-so law abiding citizen the chills.
As we huddled around a wooden table in the smoking area at the back of the new venue I turned to Annie, our waitress who had joined the party straight after her shift had finished.
“That girl who won,” I pondered, “She was so well-defined physically it was scary. What does she do outside of work?”
“That is what she does for work,” replied Annie bitterly. “She’s a body builder. We were short of entrants so they got some additional people to fill the lineup who aren’t actually Hooters employees. She doesn’t even go here.”
“Seems like it should have been a void competition then, or that the prize should have at least gone to the runner-up?” I mused. “But on a separate note, you just quoted Mean Girls didn’t you?”
“Yeah totally, especially since the prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to Miami – no shitting you. And on that separate note, yes I did just quote Mean Girls. Good pick up on the reference,” she winked.
This glimmer of sexual tension was immediately broken by a random Chinese dude in a purple jacket. At some point, he had shuffled his way into the party and was now rolling a little tablet around the table.
“All you need is a little bit crushed into your drink and you’ll be sorted for any eventuality that may befall you this fine evening,” piped the aged punk-rocker to his left in such a wavering accent that it could have originated anywhere from Shetland to Southampton. I didn’t have time to ask where he hailed from however before Ms Blow leaned over the table, grabbed the pill from the Chinese dude’s grasp, and swallowed it whole.
“Does anybody know what effect Viagra has on females?” queried one of the girls at the table, looking at her colleague with a mixture of disgust and bemusement.
“It makes their clitoris pop out instantly and become absolutely enormous,” said the aged punk-rocker with a wry grin.
Before the conversation got any weirder I turned to Aaron and Alfie and gave a slight nod towards the exit. Their facial responses were those of agreement so the three of us bid a kind farewell to the Hooters’ cast, exchanged details, and made some rough plans to meet each other that following weekend for a festival happening on Centre Island. I’d left the glorious city behind by this future date, but keeping true to their word Aaron and Alfie did meet up with Joseph, Mick, Laura and co., and have remained close friends ever since.
Six months later, in fact, I would log onto the internet from a beach hut in Thailand to see photos from a road trip the Liverpudlians and the Aussie had taken together along the entirety of Route 66. Culminating in a Robert DeNiro-style fancy dress party in Las Vegas, Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, The Deer Hunter’s Michael, and Cape Fear’s Max Cady even went as far as getting matching tattoos to commemorate the experience. To think none of this would have happened had we not been sitting at that very table, in that very restaurant, at that very time.