Friday, June 6, 2008

Tim Hortons: A Blessing and a Curse

When I'm having a bad day, sometimes just going to the Tim Hortons down the street makes me feel better. Other days, like today, going inside is almost painful, for how familiar it is.

A little background. As mentioned in the earlier post, the donut and coffee chain Tim Hortons is the equivilent to Dunkin' Donuts here in the States, but holds perhaps an even greater hold on the Canadian consciousness. In Canada, we have snow, hockey, and Tim Hortons.

Going there was a common thing for me and for a lot of people: I went in high school with my best friend Bean to hang out (and see her when she worked there), I go with my mum or my brothers when I go back home to Ontario, and I've always stopped on road trips for a bagel and a chocolate milk. I was never a coffee drinker, but I always loved Timbits, or the little donut holes. And I liked the smell of coffee and bread and how warm it always was in there. It was just one of those collective things: a place everyone knew, and everyone went to, where most people would agree to go to for a snack, or a coffee, or whatever.

So in coming to live in America, that standard that I was so used to, like everything else back in Canada, was no longer available. And like I said before, when you leave the country you've always lived in, suddenly you start to miss things you didn't even think about, like the familiarity of a chain restaurant, of all things.

Recently over the past few years, Tim Horton restaurants have been popping up in Rhode Island. It's funny, because Dunkin' Donuts has such a hold over the general Rhode Island population, that when this Canadian franchise first tentatively opened up, it was expected to fail miserably. (Which is probably why they don't play up the fact that it's a Canadian franchise). But still, this is DD land! No one would go, right?

Well, they opened up one down the street, one 15 minutes away in one direction, 15 minutes away in another direction... you get the idea. And they are staying open, and although never packed to the gills, there's always someone in there. So in a strange way, Canada has come to me unexpectedly.

But it's also painful in a sense. The Tim Hortons around here is done in the exact same style, color scheme, layout, uniform, etc. as back in Canada. So going into one of these places is like going into a timewarp and coming out back in Southern Ontario. I can almost imagine that I'm 10 minutes away from my parents' house when I step into one of them.

Not that these employees of Tim Hortons help me keep the illusion, though. When the one down the street first opened, I went inside, thrilled to bits to see it, and even more thrilled when I saw these in the display case:

These, my friends, are butter tarts.

To which I exclaimed to the countergirl: "Hey! You guys have butter tarts! We have those back in the Canadian stores!"

To which she just gave me that teenage dead-eyed look and mumbled: "What?"

I had to show her where they were in the display case, and even then, she mumbled some other name for them that I can't even remember, probably because I was so annoyed at this moment being spoiled.

Anyways, to sum up. Today, after running a bunch of errands, and feeling tired and somewhat grumpy, I go to the Tim Hortons down the street to get a sandwich.

And from the first step, that familiar interior, the smell of the place, my heart wrenched a little and I got sad. It was a little weird. Even though my sandwich was delicious.

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