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A Victory Lap

At first it’s quiet, with some fireworks in the distance, but few people celebrating. There’s a few dog-walkers on the side streets, and a nice lady in a Raptors hat, but there’s no street party here. That changes turning onto Bloor. The honking starts here, with cars flying East, or South on Parkside. They’re waving flags, Raptors flags, but also Canadian flags, streaming and billowing in the night. The sidewalks are still relatively quiet, but the cars stream towards noise, towards the festival convulsing through much of the city.

A family stands on the side of the road, draped in Raptors jerseys, waving flags. Their smiles are so big. They raise their hands for high-fives as you walk past, look you in the eyes, smile deeply and earnestly into you. That’s rare to see, especially from a stranger. It’s a beautiful thing, and the city is full of those full-faced, real smiles beaming into a night that’s already lit up by headlights. Slapping them on the hand, returning the smile, it’s enough. It’s a connection that never exists in a city this big. Everyone’s giving so much with their smiles, is so generous, so vulnerable, offering so much of themselves. It occurs that this is a rare moment.

Whenever there’s a bar on the street, there’s a group of people  standing on the side of the road and yelling. They had spilled out of the bars like bears out of hibernation. They’d been in there for a few hours, and for 24 years, waiting anxiously. And with the Raptors finally declared NBA Champions, they swarmed to the streets to celebrate with people they never have and never will see again. They feel so connected to everyone simply for living in the same city. Strangers hug like old friends.

The cars are starting to slow down. They’re all honking, and one is trying to synchronize his beep, blaring out, beep beep beepbeepbeep, but no one gives the driver the customary response. It’s too hectic, to many overlapping sounds. They’re bumper to bumper. Passengers lean out the sides of most cars, and someone runs down the line and gives high-fives to 10 or 15 in a row. There’s commercial vehicles, garbage trucks, and they’re all celebrating, beeping their love into the air with the rest of the city. A cyclist pedals by, and someone offers him a high-five so hard it almost tips the biker onto the ground.

Later, there’s a man in the middle of the street with a We the North flag raised above his head. Cars pass by in single file, and they all honk in rhapsody, joy unmenaced by the crawl at which they move. It’s why everyone had been stopped down the road. The crowd surrounds the flag, spills into the street in its joy. Someone bangs a beat on the lid of an empty garbage bin, and the crowd erupts into a “Let’s go Raptors” chant. There’s a feeling of togetherness swimming through the crowd, jolting between smiles and shouts, like tadpoles in a swamp.

There’s a moment in some Raptors home games when the vibrations hit your bloodstream, when your synapses start firing a mile a minute, and the frantic energy of thousands floods your eardrums like a tidal wave. It happened for the last thirty minutes of the Raptors’ close-out game versus the Bucks. It happened for a few short minutes near the end of game five against the Warriors. But here, inside the city itself, with so many thousands celebrating together, it’s endless. That feeling of chemicals pouring into your brain hasn’t stopped for hours. You  realize your face hurts because you’ve had a goofy smile plastered to it for hours, as well. It doesn’t matter. You keep smiling and laughing along with the crowd.

Later, there’s a man across the street dancing. He’s wearing a full-body leather jacket, and you can’t tell amidst his twirls if it’s one person or two spinning around. He steps forward crookedly, plants one leg, and lifts his arms above his head, spinning on an awkward angle all the way down the street. He’s engrossed with his activity, not whooping or shouting, just spinning happily on a jagged angle. The whole city’s dancing, spinning on a strange axis.

It’s garbage day. Every store has a bin outside and wrapped cubes of cardboard. It’s why so many people have been banging on garbage bins. There’s a sickly sweet smell rising into the air, but the hoards of party-goers are indifferent. Celebration is more important than happy senses, and the vague smell of rotting is part and parcel to the city anyway. It’s just part of life. And life is frantic and delirious.

Thee’s a woman leaning out of her window banging on a pot, storekeepers standing outside of mom and pop groceries giving high-fives to everyone who passes by. There’s another family, with an eight- or nine-year-old son wearing a Raptors flag like a cape. He throws back his head and screams happily into the night, and a group on the other side of the road picks up the signal and joins him. The passengers in cars are increasingly more bold. One man leans his whole body out of the car except for his right leg. There’s people sprouting through sunroofs like beanstalks, faces leaned out of every window cheering with the clumps on the sidewalks and in the streets. Another man is sitting on the hood of a car as it wheels through traffic.

Two men with gigantic flags on even longer sticks walk slowly on the edge of the road. They’re celebration superstars, with crowds cheering them as they walk. When a car drives past, the men dip the flags onto the windshield momentarily, baptizing the cars. The drivers all honk cheerily, gladly accepting the holy ceremony. One teenager poking through a sunroof wields a pool noodle, and it slaps harmlessly against the great flags.

Another celebrator walks down the road towards the men with the huge flags. Like them, he sports a strange prop. He carries a gigantic, gilded mirror. He carries it on his shoulder, and most passers-by look into it quickly and smile. For the flag-bearers, he makes a special exception and lifts it off his shoulder, holding the mirror directly into their faces. You might expect contemplation, a moment of truth revealed. After all, you’re outside staring into a mirror brandished by a total stranger in the dead of night. But you look at yourself for half a beat and begin screaming, “We the North! We’re champions!” It is a moment of reflection, after all. You looked into the mirror, and there is nothing out of place. A city of millions is turned on its head, with strangers smiling and laughing and hugging. There are bizarre ceremonies, and overlapping chants and shouts. But the mirror doesn’t show anything strange. It only shows Toronto, a city of champions.

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