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The Westboro Patio

The Royal Oak Pubs are reliable. They’re always open when they say  they’re going to be open, and you can always count on getting a decent beer there.  You never have to worry about some impatient waiter who’s angrily stacking chairs, trying to intimidate you into slamming back your drink so he can leave. The Royal Oak is receptive. It’s a place that accommodates the customer, rather than forcing the customer to accommodate the establishment.

About five years ago, on Wellington, in the burgeoning and wealthy neighbourhood of Westboro, a new Royal Oak opened. Adjacent to the trendy Westboro village is Hintonburg, which is proving resistant to gentrification. The area, which is gritty and working class, refuses to be taken over by the hipsters who can’t yet afford the Glebe. And so, these two areas exist, side by side,  coming together to mingle at places like the Oak.

On the street, sketchy looking men ride wobbly bikes that look like children’s cast-offs.  Their shirts unbuttoned, empty plastic bags flapping out from their pockets, they stare with hungry eyes at the customers on the patio. On the sidewalk, other men wear penny loafers and Brooks Brother shirts. They look confident, like they’ve been to Europe and Asia many times.

Near the entrance to the patio are the regulars. At first there were just six of them, but soon there are over a dozen. People know each other here.  They wave one another in off the street. Amidst an impromptu tangle of chairs and tables, they recount the stories they’ve been saving all day.

Two articulate women– each one drinking a glass of white wine—are trying to figure out if they want to share an “Oak Combo.” Later, one of them tells the other that she’s getting a divorce. That’s her secret, the news that must be shared, in person, over a drink.

There is pawn shop across the street. An immense, bald man wearing a t-shirt that says “For those about to fart, we salute you,” approaches it. He swings his arms when he walks, his belly pushed out. With him is a thin and agitated man wearing pimp jewelry and an over-large Dany Heatley jersey.  He’s hoping somebody accidentally bumps into him. He’s just looking for an excuse.

A woman in a pink top sits alone at a table reading the Kitchespee Times.  She’s small, with curly hair and sweet and curious eyes. She’s eating a nation of poutine. When she speaks, she reveals a startling and crisp British accent.

Two men who look like they might be Carelton Profs drink Guinness. One of them is very expressive, talking with his hands. It appears like he’s very accustomed to speaking in front of people, of making sure that his ideas are understood. Beside them, a guy and two women are talking about somebody they know who has become a lover to one of 50 cents’ bodyguards.  When the man hears this, he sighs, covering his eyes with his hands.

Well maintained women talk about the Stilton and Port pate at Thyme and Again. One of the women has a small bite or abrasion on her shoulder. She simply cannot stop scratching at it. It’s driving her bananas. Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Of the three women at the table near the door, one is tall and blonde and deeply tanned. Her clothes could be expensive. The women who are less blonde and tall and deeply tanned, look grateful to be out with her. She speaks with bold certainty. Inspirational. Motivational. A salesperson out with a couple of new employees,  she’s trying to convince them that the good life she enjoys is just a few sales away.

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