Pouring cement in a pandemic

April 23, 2020

Odd detail about this pandemic: Most of the economy is shut down. My office is closed. I have to work from home. At the hardware store yellow caution tape prevents customers from browsing. Yet despite all these restrictions, apparently Toronto needs an unincumbered and continuous flow of cement.

This came to my attention on Friday when I went to drop off our car for an oil change in the east end. I sailed through empty streets, passing shuttered shops and schools and deserted playgrounds. At the garage, all the doors were locked. A mailbox contained envelopes. A sign asked motorists to fill in their name, phone number, the car’s odometre reading, and check off the service required. I left the key in the envelope and slipped it all through a slot.

Nothing was normal, at least, not until I walked down towards Lake Ontario. Abruptly, I found a spot where the economy roars along unabated: the cement campus along the water’s edge. Ships bring in cement, sand and aggragates to this part of the port, so the cement manufacturers cluster there.

I had to keep a very close eye out for trucks. Votorantim Cimentos, St. Marys CBM Portlands Plant, Metrix Ready-Mix Portlands Plant: these and several other huge operations belched smoke. Trucks roared too and fro, hauling cement to the thirsty, growing city. It felt like a bonanza or a gold rush. I think the construction guys are in heaven: with no traffic anywhere in town, they can rumble about as they see fit. As long as they keep pouring cement.

To me this says it all about this town. Shut down whatever you want. Board up the Eaton Centre with plywood. Close McDonald’s to paying customers. Shutter the universities and clean out the bank towers. But don’t you dare touch our free flow of cement. One time a neighbour, watching the trucks pour cement for new streetcar tracks (a thing they seem to do quite frequently in this town) said, “They shouldn’t call it the TTC, but rather the TCC: Toronto Cement Commission.”

Toronto is a glorious poem in poured concrete. The composition of this poem, it seems, will never be complete.