The Docks Driving Range and Drive-In, nestled in the Port Lands, the last seedy waterfront section of Toronto, between the gentrified Harbourfront and the Beaches, has to be experienced to be believed.1 We have to take the longer route. The most logical turn-off takes us to flashing cherry lights, crowds standing around and police directing cars to u-turn, nothing to see here, folks. We backtrack and drive up to Leslie and then wind around the shore to Cherry Street, past vacant and vacated land and rusted out industrial sites. Left takes you to Cherry Beach. Urban lore holds that, in less enlightened times, Metro police officers dumped resistant suspects there, and gay bashers, the beaten bodies of their victims. People were immediately suspicious of anyone found wounded on Cherry Beach. We went right, to Polson Pier. Poison Pier.
Polson Pier, 2017, features bars, Soccer World, a driving range, miniature golf, old-fashioned go-karts, a marina, and detritus. On summer nights, the driving range parking lot becomes a drive-in movie theatre. Boats sail into the marina behind the screen. Planes soar to and from the small airport on the Toronto Islands, passing low and momentarily drowning out dialogue. The theatre has a food and videogame building, and a separate food truck. The interior of the building includes posted articles on the history of drive-ins. The site gives great views of Toronto, and no one seems to mind that we climb up to the elevated driving range spots to look at the city proper.
They have two screens. One projector fails so we get to see both lead features and no second-run, second-rate back-ups: The Dark Tower and Atomic Blonde. Lots of people die in Atomic Blonde, killed stylishly to a candy-perfect 1980s pop soundtrack.
The top online (anonymous) review of the most prominent Polson Pier bar reads only: DANGEROUS ENVIRONMENT STAY AWAY!
A week ago, one of my friends had to put down her dog, due to cancer. She always had a date when we were young, but she never settled with anyone. She came home to her German Shepherd. Curiously, she is the only one in our group who never knew Kay. Different cities, different eras: they only met in passing. Perhaps that's a small mercy. We had other news a week ago.
I remember Kay for her natural smile and what always seemed a joyful attitude. Kay was impossibly fit and changed openly before going in the water. Kay worked as a flight attendant and was always going to or coming from somewhere. She was a little younger than the social group mean.
Apparently, she suffered quietly from depression for years.
The best man from my wedding sets up a camp chair beside the car. The windows are down, and we have the radio tuned to the drive-in channel. Around us, people tailgate in their trucks and minivans. Quite a few people drink openly, but no one acts in a way that would interfere with anyone's enjoyment of the films. There's a faint whiff from the lake. A car over, someone lights up a joint and it masks that scent. Overall though, lakes and rivers in industrial areas smell a lot better than they did when we were kids. The 1960s and 1970s were good times for industry and bad times for industrial waterways.
The car in front of us has a child, maybe twelve. I imagine she's here for The Dark Tower.
That film is a mess, an adaptation of Stephen King's genre and canon-spanning fantasy series, transformed into a confusing, trope-filled YA adventure. The young Chosen One must join the last Gunslinger in a battle against evil. Idris Elba gives a good performance, though, as the guy who must shoot villains with a gun forged from Excalibur. Bang!
Atomic Blonde rolls up its body count. A bright red stiletto heel becomes a weapon. Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella make out to electric dance beats. Bang!
The car in front of us leaves after the sex scene.
Sometime after breaking up with a fellow flight attendant, with whom she looked darned cute, Kay married a guy she met through her family. They moved to California and I lost touch. My Best Man's wife and her best friend, a Public School librarian, rented a red convertible and headed across America, with Kay's wedding their ultimate destination. We waved goodbye and then hung out. I think we went to a road house for lunch.
The afternoon before Polson Pier and the drive-in, we were in that most gentri-transformed of T.O. regions, The Distillery. The place went from Victorian industrial to scary-- dilapidated buildings and drug addicts-- to reclaimed buildings, craft beer, upscale restaurants, and exclusive shops. A couple of condo towers rise out over Victorian factories. The detritus there is deliberate, carefully placed items of stressed, found art. I don't know if and when that will spread to here.1 There's movie soundstages down the street, and you can walk to some really nice beach property. At some point, someone on city council will suggest calling the place something else.
Only one person at the drive-in knew how long Kay had suffered from depression. She hid it from others. The news a week ago was kind of like hearing Robin Williams had killed himself, if one actually knew Robin Williams. There is no good depression. It's not sexy. It's not fun. It's not the new rock and roll.
The Dark Tower assures us there is good and evil, and we must prevail against the darkness. Atomic Blonde twists and turns through its Cold War spy thriller plot, double agents and duplicity everywhere, and death, and there's no clear moral. The world is as shady as an 80s nightclub.
We drive back on the Gardiner Expressway through the lights of the city. Monday I drive home, leaving behind friends who knew Kay better than I did, a woman who put down her dog, Poison Pier, and the ghosts that haunt Cherry Beach.
1. Update 2022. Past tense. The place has since experienced significant gentrification.