Everyone has a moving day story

By David Hayes, The Toronto Star, October 14, 2006

It’s moving day,
Pack your bed quilts
and get away,
If you spend every cent
you can live out in a tent,
It’s moving day.

Caught up in the agony of moving day, few of us would be humming this jaunty Vaudeville tune. We’d be too busy gnashing our teeth because we didn’t start packing far enough ahead, draw up a checklist or remember to book the elevator in our new highrise.

Or maybe to save money, we hired the cheapest movers we could find and they didn’t show up. Or we started yelling at our spouse and the dog ran away (can you blame her?) and, to make matters worse, the former tenants left behind a terrible mess.

Most of us have experienced one or more of the above, but this isn’t my story because I haven’t moved in a quarter-century (so even thinking about it terrifies me). Still, thousands of us do every month. Among them, two weeks ago, on Sunday Oct. 1, were Duncan Morgan and his fiancĂ©e, Sarah O’Brien.

By early evening, the couple look relaxed, if slightly shell-shocked, sitting in their new apartment in Roncesvalles Village amidst boxes, bags, framed paintings, furniture and Morgan’s collection of guitars, mandolins and keyboards. A large Lindt chocolate bar, partially eaten, sits on the kitchen table and Felix, their cranky, 15-year-old cat, has finally calmed down. But this was not the scene 15 hours ago, Morgan says, when O’Brien awoke at 4 a.m. in a cold sweat, her heart pounding.

“I was up at seven,” O’Brien says, frowning.

“You were up at four. You woke me at seven.”

Shrugging, O’Brien says: “By seven I was like, gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. The movers will be here in three hours.”

Both work in the theatre. Morgan, 36, is a husky man with long, flowing hair and a goatee. He is production manager for Dancemakers, the modern dance company, as well as a freelance sound designer. O’Brien, 32, a fine-boned woman wearing a blue sweater, painter jeans and her blond hair in pigtails, is a stage manager for theatre and dance.

They have lived for the past two years in a loft on Beaconsfield Ave., near the Drake Hotel, but they found the location too noisy and the unit too expensive. They wanted to move, and O’Brien had the idea that they could get everything over with at once by moving the same week as their wedding. (“It was the dumbest idea in the world,” she admits.)

As she does every year, O’Brien was working in Nova Scotia for the past five months so Morgan, whose work schedule is demanding, had to search for their new apartment alone while carrying on a long-distance relationship. (Every night, Morgan called O’Brien on her cellphone and “walked her home” after work.)

One evening in early September, after viewing several apartments, Morgan had a meltdown. “Since I wasn’t there,” explains O’Brien, “I wanted to just let him choose it without me complicating things. Then he called three times in 15 minutes. The last time, he said, `Listen, I need some input from you! I feel like I’m all alone!'”

Morgan shakes his head at the memory. “It’s difficult finding a place for someone else who isn’t there,” he says. “You can never find perfect in rentals, but I really wanted it to be comfortable and a place we’d love, because we’d be spending the first year of our marriage there.”

Finally he spotted a long, narrow one-bedroom on the ground floor of a house on Sorauren, a residential street north of Queen, that he was sure O’Brien would love. It had hardwood floors, a working fireplace, stained glass above the living room window and a galley kitchen with a gas stove. And it was $950 all-inclusive, several hundred dollars less than their previous place. The landlord was also creating a backyard patio.

“When I met our landlords, Sasha and Gintz, we talked about everything but the apartment for 45 minutes,” says Morgan. “We hit it off immediately.”

O’Brien, who returned from Nova Scotia less than a week before the move, says, “We had accumulated a lot of stuff so we had to divest. At least I managed to convince Duncan to get rid of his Pat Benatar albums.”

Holding up a cheap, plastic toy horse, a souvenir from one of O’Brien’s jobs that survived the move, Morgan says, “And what about this?” Laughing, he adds, “We have tchotchkes up the wazoo.”

At 8 that morning, Morgan and O’Brien took Felix and a few storage bins in a taxi to the new apartment, then returned to meet the movers. Morgan had hired Quick Boys Moving Storage, a family business in Richmond Hill because, as he and O’Brien agreed, they were above the official age when you stop renting vans and asking friends to help you move for pizza and beer.

“Everything went smoothly and the movers were right on their estimate,” says O’Brien, sounding relieved. She was thinking about their last move, when they’d rented a truck and, with the help of O’Brien’s sister, did it themselves during a torrential rainstorm.

This time, O’Brien stood back and carefully watched the process while Morgan picked up coffees and water bottles for the two movers. The men had a five-ton truck and the couple’s belongings filled about a quarter of it. With O’Brien sitting on Morgan’s knees, they accompanied the men in the truck’s cab to the new apartment. Three days later, they were in Ottawa for their wedding, leaving the apartment largely unpacked. They tell me that their long-term plans are to start a family once they move to Antigonish, N.S., where O’Brien will open a bookstore and Morgan will make musical instruments. I ask if they think this is their last Toronto home.

“We’re not going to do this again for quite awhile,” says O’Brien. “Holy Hannah, there’s nothing fun about moving, even when everything goes smoothly.”