LAST week I went up Toronto’s CN Tower and took a walk along the outdoor ledge of the tallest freestanding structure in the western hemisphere.
You might suspect that I had finally tired of my own perpetual complaining and decided to throw myself off this famous edifice to protest a world in which freelance writers are poorly paid and never knighted. No such luck. Rather, I was part of a group of junket journalists who’d been invited by Tourism Toronto to do something only 9,000 others had done before us – participate in the tower’s new EdgeWalk attraction.
The “world’s highest full circle hands-free walk” was launched in August. It’s a smash hit with the pseudo-daredevil crowd – people like me, who might brave a zipline or a suspension bridge but would never set foot on a skateboard or even shiver overnight in an ice hotel. It’s the loftiest such stroll in the world, according to the folks at Guinness World Records, setting participants out on a 1.5 m. wide barrier-free galvanized steel grill that’s 356 m. (1,168 ft.) above the ground, higher than the Eiffel Tower.
As is the case with the Grouse Mountain zipline and other “adventure tourism” activities, much of the fun of EdgeWalk lies in the charm of your group’s guide. Ours was a funny young man called Brian, who quickly demonstrated that he was adept at memorizing the names of everybody he escorted. Just before we left the blessed harbour of the tower for the most unblessed ledge outside, after getting hooked onto a supporting trolley, we complimented him on this ability. “That’s me,” he said, deadpan. “Good with names -- bad with safety.”
The $175 price of the adventure includes video and photos for proof you ever had this much nerve. For it’s not enough on this trip to tiptoe around the tower, gaze longingly at Lake Ontario, then dash to the elevator for a relieved descent. No, Brian had each of us back away from the building until our heels were at the edge of the ledge, then tilt our bodies out until our rear ends hovered over the panorama. (Westerner though I am, I respectfully kept my pants up.)
As if that weren’t sufficiently terrifying, next we had to get our toes to the edge and lean forward over the streetscape, as if happily pitching off. Nobody refused, or fainted -- but afterward, at lunch, there was voracious guzzling of Niagara wines.
Strangely enough, EdgeWalk wasn’t the most gut-wrenching aspect of my trip. Before I’d left Vancouver, I’d asked my husband Stanley to print up some of my business cards. He’d obliged, and I’d quickly shoved the fresh stack into my wallet. On the first day of the Toronto trip, our group of writers enjoyed a tasting tour of the St. Lawrence Market, a Filipino cooking class, then a walkabout at Steam Whistle Brewing. At each stop, we exchanged business cards with our hosts.
Late that afternoon, I began noticing that the photographs on the cards I was doling out weren’t all the same. Most contained a picture of my smiling face, but one featured me with an iguana on my head, and another showed me wearing a highly unbecoming English Bobby’s hat. Stanley had evidently thrown in a few unappetizing images from our family photo collection. Weird, I thought.
That night we went to an oyster bar and my colleagues and I gave our cards to the garrulous proprietor. I pointed out to one of my new friends that my husband had perversely printed one card boasting the ugliest picture ever of me (and that’s saying something), in which I’m sticking my tongue out like a cow masticating a wad of peanut butter. She peered at it. “Did you see what’s written on this?” she asked carefully.
I squinted. Where it should have said “Kate Zimmerman: Freelance writer and editor,” it read “Kate Zimmerman: If you don’t hire me, fuck you.”
Another writer at the table chimed in that I had just given her a card showing me beaming in a Santa hat, beside the slogan “Drunk and at your service.”
It dawned on me that these were cards that Stanley had made as a private joke months before. When I got back to my hotel, I called to reprimand him for his carelessness and sternly said that I’d unwittingly distributed them all day. He burst out laughing.
“Have you come to the one yet with the picture of the back of your head after your brain surgery?” he asked.
“No!” I shouted, rifling through my wallet. “And I can’t find it, either! What does that one say?”
“Kate Zimmerman: Had my writer’s block removed,” he said, wheezing with delight.
That’s why leaning off the CN Tower was the least of my worries. I have a sick feeling I handed the brain surgery card to an unsuspecting host at the St. Lawrence Market, the one who gave each of us a pea-meal bacon sandwich. Unless I presented it to Toronto’s most famous chef, Jamie Kennedy.
Trust me – I am plotting my revenge.