The Accidental Tourist
One of the greatest pleasures in life is indulging in the culinary arts and trying as many dishes as your stomach can handle. It is always a pleasure to try something you have never had before in your life and come away feeling not only content but also psychologically fulfilled in the process. Sure, there is always the chance that you might not like it but at least you gave it a shot – it just didn’t suit your particular tastes. I’m a pretty adventurous guy when it comes to trying new food although I haven’t quite gotten around to eating deep fried grasshoppers or scorpions yet as I just can’t stand the way they look. If someone were to “hide” it in, say a stew, I might be able to trick myself into eating it just like the time when I was a young pup and my parents told me to eat this piece of “chicken” that turned out to be frog. I liked it and I still liked it even after they told me what it was. Maybe I should just wear a blindfold so that I can’t visually look at something that might turn my stomach.
My wife and I make it a point to try and eat out every weekend. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy as even McDonalds works if we are in the mood for a Filet of Fish. We find it nice and relaxing to just hop into the car and decide on the spot where to go – maybe Chinese food, Greek, Italian, Mongolian, anything works. Maybe my wife saw an ad in the paper or something on TV that piqued her interest or maybe a friend of ours just gave their personal recommendation. Still, like everyone else, we do have our “regular” joints that we frequent. It is at these restaurants where the waiters and waitresses know us by name and can strike up a conversation about anything ranging from vacations to what we are wearing. Sometimes they just see us and know exactly which dishes we are going to order and the ultimate reason why these places are so good is that we go so often we end up getting discounts and even free food! That’s always a plus. I have a feeling just about everyone around the world has places they can go to where they are well known and they have tried every item on the menu.
Then there is what I call the “accidental” restaurant that we have ended up in even though we never intend to go there. Not even once. It is the place where we have tried at least half the menu, spent countless hours chatting up a storm but not really wanting to be there at all. It’s like the third wheel friend who tags along during your date with the prom queen who just gets in the way and makes you infuriated.
For us, that restaurant is the Expedia Café located in Toronto Pearson International Airport terminal 1. I can’t even begin to count how many times we have ended up in that eatery. It also doesn’t hurt that it is the only blasted sit-down and order restaurant in the entire ticket area.
Those who have not been to Toronto let me give you a quick overview of it. Terminal 1 is a huge high-tech gateway to the city that opened in August 2004. Like other newer airports from around the world like Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok, Beijing’s Terminal 3, or Heathrow’s Terminal 5, Toronto’s terminal 1 was designed with a striking modern look with a cavernous canopy covering the ticketing and arrival areas. All glass sides and almost bleached white concrete pillars accentuate the metallic highlights at the ticketing counters and row columns. Granted it is not as big as those Asian terminals but it is nonetheless an excellent facility save for one tiny problem. When designing this new terminal the planners decided that one of the greatest aspects of it was to make the flow of people easier from the ticketing area to the departure gates. They wanted that process as short and seamless as possible. To that end they designed the terminal so that the bulk of all the stores and restaurants were located inside the departure area meaning you have to past the X-ray machines and customs and into the gate area before you could really shop.
Although there are a few stores outside they are nothing more than a paltry number of magazines/convenience shops and an even lesser number of eateries. There is a Tim Horton’s donut and coffee store in the arrivals area along with an expensive watering hole but the way the terminal is designed it does not feel like a restaurant. It just feels as if someone decided to grab a few Ikea bar stools and some metal fences and cordoned off a small floor space in front of the arrival gate. If you want a fast hard drink go ahead but it’s an awful atmosphere if you want to sit down and have a bite.
So the only real eatery then turns out to be the Expedia Café located near the Starbucks on the upper ticketing area. Talk about monopolies. Whether we are there to pick up friends or relatives or see them off on their vacations we inevitably end up sitting, usually, at the same table, in that café and every time I get a huge wave of déjà vu washing over me whenever I sit down. For some reason it only happens to me at this particular restaurant – its like being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day where he gets stuck in a time loop, forever having to relive the same boring day over and over and over.
Now the food at the Expedia Café is not exactly bad. I know people always carp about airport food being terrible but I’ve always enjoyed it. Heck, I even like airplane food. Bring on that microwaved plastic tasting hunk of meat or the rubbery fish. It all tastes good! The menu at the Expedia Café is your typical western fare like burgers, chicken fingers, chicken wings, daily soup, sandwiches etc. The wings are not too bad although they really lay on with a bit too much hot sauce making the skin a bit mushy – I’d rather have it just plain or mild leaving the skin crunchier. The hamburger use to be like any other you’d find in most places with a single beef patty sandwiched between two buns. They previously served it in a basket but the last time we went there about a month ago they must have decided to spice things up a bit and now it’s served on a normal plate and the burger now sits on top of a big hunk of bread. Darn, why do I remember how these things use to be served? Makes me wonder how much of my brain is filled with useless information. Then again, I use to know Captain Kirk’s safe combination from Star Trek. Thankfully, time has excised that from my memory, probably replaced with what I use to eat at the Expedia Café. Sigh.
Being in the airport you’d think it was mega expensive but it really isn’t and comes out about the regular price you’d pay at a family restaurant in town. Now the ambiance might not exactly exude anything other than airport frenzy but that is actually part of its “charm.” I think just being in an airport is inherently exciting. It’s probably a psychological side effect that occurs since the very notion of being in an airport usually equates to one taking a relaxing vacation to some exotic locale.
I have always loved being in airports and just walking around seeing the people buzz about or going to the observation deck to watch planes take off and land. It is actually a downer when you see kids in an airport who are completely oblivious to the inherent “coolness” each terminal exudes. I guess the golden days of flying are long gone as taking a trip has lost much of its allure. Now taking a flight is as common and banal as taking a cab ride around the block.
When I was young I remember my parents gave me this little book/log which I carried with me every time we flew. I’m sure some of you remember them – you would ask the stewardess to give it to the pilot who would fill it out for you telling you the flight information, how many miles you were going and he’d top it off with his signature. Wow it was so cool to get a pilot’s signature! Nowadays you can just sit back in your seat turn on the personal TV in front of you and pull out the GPS digital map showing the same info. It’s great since the info is there at your fingertips but there’s no sense of adventure or mystery anymore. Remember those times you sat in the window seat and saw a landmass below you like a range of mountains and tried to figure out and guess where you were? Now you just flip on the GPS and it’s just there.
I’m sure my love for traveling and flying influences how I feel whenever I go to the airport. I just get a natural high I guess which probably contributes to my thoughts on the Expedia Café. I do like to get to the airport early as my wife can attest to. Although I do it partly to avoid the traffic, which, if you have ever been to Toronto can get downright congested, I think part of me just wants to get there so we have enough time to chow down at the Expedia Café and enjoy my wife’s company. It might be the furthest removed from being romantic or being that favorite restaurant you can’t get enough of but in my case it’s part of the whole airport atmosphere that I love to experience even though I might not be hopping on a plane to Shangri-la.
© 2008 The Galactic Pillow