For most of my adult life, I've been enamored with limousines. In the '90s, I worked for a financial services firm in San Francisco. The firm later went down in flames amidst one of the biggest scandals of the decade, but while it lasted, the money flowed like water, the parties were on the grandest scale imaginable, and the extravagance in our daily office life was over the top.
This was my first experience in a limousine. Having graduated high school in the '70s, I never took a limo to the prom, as young people do now; back then our idea of luxury was borrowing dad's sedan, which is what I did.
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At the firm however, it was a very different story. As do many firms, this one had a monthly “ employee of the month” award, and when I won it, I expected a plaque and a handshake, and maybe a $25 gift certificate. What I received however, was dinner at one of the swankiest restaurants in town, additional spending money, and the company limousine and driver for the evening.
It was a shock to the entire neighborhood when the driver pulled up in the stretch Lincoln. We lived in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, the birthplace of hippies, where people were more accustomed to seeing VW vans and barefoot deadheads than stretch limos and drivers in uniform. As we walked out the door, dressed in our evening clothes and as the driver held the door for us, I heard a couple of people we knew, who had actually been there since the '60s and loved telling how they used to make the scene at Janis Joplin's pad, utter as they beheld the extravagance: “ Man, the sixties must finally be over.”
This year, I had the privilege of having that experience once again, as I took a trip to Toronto for my nephew's wedding. The gift? Of course, it would be a chauffeured limousine for the entire day.
There was not much time for tourism, but I was a bit awestruck with the city's grandeur. Whenever I travel I always like to eat local and avoid the chains, and there were no shortages of wonderful ethnic restaurants, and the first day there I had a chance to enjoy a Haitian restaurant for the first time. And of course, I had to pay tribute to my ethnic heritage and visit Toronto's Roncesvalles Village, the heart of the city's Polish community, where I was delighted to happen across a shop with a sign in the window that said, “ Mówimy po polsku” (We speak Polish), and I just had to walk in and say “ cześć” (Hi!).
I also had a hankering for dim sum. Being as I live in the Midwest – land of all-you-can-eat buffets and chain restaurants – dim sum is hard to come by, and I hadn't had good dim sum since visiting Hong Kong. Toronto's Chinatown of course delivered, and I found a delightful little place with simple décor, which reminded me of the very basic types of dim sum places in Hong Kong, where the locals sit in the afternoon, read their newspapers and drink tea.
The wedding and reception both were in the beautiful Toronto Botanical Garden. Afterwards when it was time for the happy couple to drive off into the sunset, the limousine was waiting. They knew I had planned one, and I think everyone expected the basic Lincoln stretch, but I decided to go all-out and look like a big shot and reserve the classic Bentley instead. As soon as it pulled up, everyone's camera phones were out! It was a big hit.
The wedding was of course, traditional Polish, with catering from one of the restaurants in Roncesvalles bringing over plenty of kielbasa and kapusta, with two different traditional soups – barczsz (beetroot soup) or czarnina (duck blood soup). I passed on the czarnina – I'm traditional, but not that traditional. Dessert was strawberry pierogi dusted with powdered sugar, a delicious treat I hadn't had since I spent time in Krakow. And it goes without saying, there was a Polka band, complete with accordions, and a room full of second-generation Poles trying to remember how to dance Polka. It was hilarious!
I only had a few days, so all the many sites on my list would have to wait until next time, but the iconic CN Tower that stands over the Toronto skyline was at the top of my list, and I couldn't miss that. I took the glass elevator to the LookOut Level – and once I got used to the height, the view was simply spectacular. I saw that you can even take a walk on the outside of the roof (tied to a rope, of course), but that was a little too adventurous for me. I did however, stop in at the 360 Restaurant, which has a revolving view of the city and a wonderful menu, and a good selection of Canadian wines. Who knew? Canadian wines are every bit as good as a French Bordeaux.
After my long weekend it was time to leave, but I fell in love with the city – and plan to return for a longer trip so I can check off everything on my very long list of things to do in Toronto.