The View From Away: Saving Canadian television, missing Portland

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The Canadian adventure has begun. That is my catchphrase for these next few months working on a sitcom in Toronto.

It was between “Canadian adventure” and “Operation Save Canadian Television.” I opted for the one less likely to start a discussion with my wife about my allegedly massive, out-of-control ego. Carol still doesn’t understand how important I am. (Ladies, am I right?)

My condo is in a high-rise about three blocks from the Blue Jays’ stadium. It is on the wrong side of the building to see Lake Ontario, but the Toronto skyline has a “Blade Runner”-ish look, in a good way. It wouldn’t surprise me to wake up one morning and see an air car floating outside my window. It is all very nice.

I miss Portland already.

Some of the ache is about missing simple family things, like meeting Bobby at the bus station when he comes home from Chicago, and watching the great strides Elizabeth makes with Kristy, a senior at the University of New England who is tutoring her in a broad range of life skills. At least I got to see my daughter lead her own parent/teacher conferences at Scarborough High School and PATHS, where she spends mornings in the food program. She improved her presentation significantly even in the short time between them. Just my luck to be out of the country during a cognitive growth spurt.

A lot of my pangs are about Portland itself. I have grown to love the scale of the place. New York is a river with a fast current. You swim against it at your peril. As for Los Angeles, Hal David and Joni Mitchell nailed it: L. A. is a great big freeway; they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

In both cities, you spent big chunks of your day traveling, and traveling is usually unpleasant. In Portland, you can get from the airport to the Eastern Prom in what, 15 minutes? At LAX, you would be lucky if 15 minutes got you off the premises.

Another great thing related to Portland’s size is its capacity for pleasant personal surprises. In a small hometown everybody knew everybody. Sometimes it was comforting. Most of the time it felt cloistered and claustrophobic. Big cities were the opposite. In New York and L.A., I rarely saw anybody I knew outside of work and virtually never by accident. In Portland, you neither run into people out of context too often, nor too rarely. Portland is, like, the baby bear of cities; the mix is just right.

It makes for the good kind of surprises, as when I looked up at Starbucks at the Maine Mall and nearly jumped out of my seat (granted, I’m a little high strung) to see the Domans, my former next-door neighbors, smiling at me through the glass. This led to a power chat that must have sounded like the parrot house at the zoo to the other patrons. We talked about everybody’s new jobs, hooked our sons up to hang out in the summer, and made plans for the annual block party on our old cul de sac.

At another Starbucks (I know, product placement. Will this rampant commercialization in journalism never end?), I ran into Bruce, our Realtor. Our encounters always start the same way. I tell him he looks like a million bucks. He tells me he got every impeccable item from a thrift shop for “pennies awn the dawllah.” Then we swap stories, by which I mean he introduces himself around the room handing out business cards while regaling me with tales of his exploits in the glory days of the car business.

Sometimes, I get glimpses of character from unexpected places.

Doing a lot of work in libraries and restaurants, I overhear a lot of conversations. Sometimes I get to know the help, usually as I try to charm myself out of getting ejected at closing time when I’m right in the middle of what I’m convinced is prose that will change the face of literature.

One night, a seemingly flighty cheerleader type who works at one place I spend a lot of time mentioned offhandedly the 20 hours a week she works in a day-care center as part of a co-op program. She was excited because she had just been accepted to a college in Tennessee with a great early childhood education program. I never would have guessed.

Another night, one of her coworkers seemed a little listless while she was mopping the floor. It turned out she is a surgical nursing student. She had spent the whole day in an operating room before spending all night working in the restaurant. Suddenly my writing didn’t seem so earth shattering.

The point, if there is one, is that these random encounters happen just often enough to put a little buoyancy and, occasionally, even some accidental inspiration in the days. In my experience, the atmosphere is uniquely conducive to these experiences in Portland.

I will miss that in Toronto.

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Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.