A New York City police officer directs traffic through New York's Times Square. Photo: AP
The other day, I was cycling down the footpath of Jamaica Avenue, near my New York loft in Queens. I was stopped by a policeman, leaping out of a car, who informed me that it was illegal to ride there. "Could I see your driver's licence, sir?" he said.
I pulled out my ACT driver's licence, which he stared at for several seconds, somewhat bemused. He then showed it to the driver and they talked for a few seconds before he returned to me.
"Since we can't recognise this licence in the US, I'm going to have to arrest you," he deadpanned.
This wasn't what I wanted to hear. "Really?" I said.
"No," he said, proving even American cops have a sense of irony. "But I'm afraid you're not allowed to cycle on the sidewalk." He apologised for this, agreeing with me when I noted that it was considerably more dangerous to brave the roads of Jamaica Avenue. It's a rule, enforced almost everywhere, that makes perfect sense, but also makes life tougher (and cheaper) for cyclists.
In Toronto, I also cycled, but the bicycle lanes are far safer. This is partly because so many people cycle in Toronto, and partly because the city is so laid-back that motorists don't care if they have to slow down behind a cyclist.
I didn't bring a bike to Toronto, but used the Bixi Ranks. These are bicycle rental places, with racks all over the city, from which you can rent as many bikes as you like as long as you return them to another Bixi rack within half an hour. They have similar arrangements in numerous European cities as well. But having not tried them anywhere else, I can only say that it works brilliantly in Toronto. The bikes are sturdy, and can be used by anyone who's learn't how to ride (serious cyclists would probably avoid them because they have unimpressive features such as bicycle stands and pedals that can actually be operated without crampons). They don't come with helmets, but that's fine because helmets aren't compulsory over there. (Well, it's "fine" in a legal sense. Not in a safety sense, of course. Message for kids: always wear a helmet! OK, I think I got out of that one.)
These bikes work pretty well, until you go to a central part of town at rush hour and find out you can't park, because everyone else parked their bikes in the same rack. You then ride around in a mad panic, trying to find the nearest available Bixi spot. But, aside from that, it was the best way to travel in Toronto, and I'd recommend it for Canberra if they could do something about the helmets.
I used a Bixi on a lunch break from the Toronto Film Festival, when I decided to ride down to the harbour front for an event promoted as "the world's largest vegetarian festival". This is the Annual Vegetarian Food Festival (which is not only large, but also has a name that makes sense). There, I sampled the best vegetarian sausages I've ever tried, courtesy of a company called Field Roast. (Before you accuse me of introducing shameless advertising to this page, let me point out that I can't imagine you can buy these in Australia. If you can, please let me know, and I'll send them a bill.) I tried different types of vegetarian satay, vegetarian chicken, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian cakes, vegetarian noodles and vegetarian tea. OK, so vegetarian cakes and noodles don't sound especially groundbreaking, but this was a festival of food that was lacking in some way. What could be a bigger drawcard? The noodles were made of tofu, so they were not only wheat-free, but grain-free as well. The cakes were gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. The tea was caffeine-free, and sweetened by agave rather than honey (which isn't strictly vegan, if you want to be vegan) or sugar (which isn't strictly good for you), or even maple syrup (which is too expensive, even in Canada).
Toronto is a city where you can't walk more than a few blocks of the central business district without seeing a vegetarian restaurant, so it makes sense that it would host the world's largest vegetarian festival. Still, some of the visitors to the festival were slightly nervous about dipping their toes. At one stall, where they were offering vegan cheese pieces, one woman didn't join her husband in sampling some of the delights. "I'm scaaarrrred," she said.
Another woman was happy to try the barbecued soy chicken samples, but she said she wouldn't buy it. "I don't know what's in it," she said. Well, I don't want to go all "born-again-Evangelical-holier-than-thou-lecturing-vegetarian" on you, but I don't eat real chicken because I do know what's in it. So there.
After wandering around the Vegetarian Food Festival, my soul was nourished. As a bonus, so was my body, which was the whole point of going. I returned to the film festival, and with joy in my heart, I sat down to watch a violent movie where vampires go around cold-bloodedly murdering people. Perfect.