Let Us Now Praise Tim Horton
March 27, 2009 § 7 Comments
Last fall, I lost a dog. Every day for ten days I got up after a few hours of restless sleep and took my son to school. The next stop was Tim Horton’s for coffee, thus beginning another day of searching alleys and abandoned houses, handing out flyers, walking the aisles of the animal shelter. Had I the strength I would have done this 24 hours a day. But this story is not about my search for the dog, it is about Tim Horton.
The dog? Oh, you want to know about the dog. Well, okay, but then after that, it’s about Tim Horton. On the night of the ninth day, I got a phone call from a nurse at the local Hospice. They had seen my dog, she’d come up to the doors, looking for food. It was the first call I’d had. That night we tracked her through the woods behind the Hospice and across their park-like campus but came up empty-handed. The next day, very early, after a trip through Tim Horton’s drive-through, I went back to the Hospice and searched. And waited. And searched. At 2:30 in the afternoon, she crept out of the woods and seeing that it was me waiting for her, she flew to me.
Those mornings I could have made coffee in my own kitchen. The freezer has organic Nicaraguan French roast beans, fair trade Sumatran, a bag of Eight o’clock that my husband is very fond of. No, I went to Tim Horton’s because it made me feel hopeful. The window of the drive-through would open, and a friendly person would take my money and hand me a hot coffee in the Tim Horton holiday cup.
They always had a day-old Timbit (or as my son likes to call them “bits of Tim”) for my retriever, sitting in the seat behind me. He would sometimes startle them, sticking his big brown head over my shoulder and through the window in anticipation of his treat, but they always laughed.
Each night when I finally gave up and went home, I’d set the empties on a shelf in the garage. They joined the other Tim Horton cups there, lined up like little soldiers waiting for Macy to come home. And when she did, the cups all went unceremoniously into the trash.
For those of you not versed in the parlance, Tim Horton’s is a chain of coffee and doughnut shops (or as they like to put it “Baked goods, always fresh!”) established in 1964 by Canadian Tim Horton, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Who had previously tried his hand at a Studebaker dealership and a hamburger stand.)
Tim had been signed to the Maple Leafs in the fall of 1952, when he was 22 years old and played for Toronto until 1970, during which the team won four Stanley Cups, and Tim was named to NHL all-star teams seven times. He was tremendously strong, yet calm under pressure, earning few penalty minutes for an enforcer-type defenseman. (Gordie Howe called him “Hockey’s Strongest Man.”) Between 1961 and 1968, Tim Horton played in 486 consecutive regular-season games; that stood as the NHL record for consecutive games by a defensemen until 2007.
He had an unusual method for handling players that were fighting him: he’d wrap his arms around them in a giant bear hug and squeeze. It’s said that the Bruins’ Derek Sanderson bit Tim hard, on the ear, during a fight. The story goes that Sanderson felt one rib snap, then another and was desperate to escape the veteran defenseman’s embrace. Or maybe he was just dreaming of doughnuts.
Tim Horton was never known to be vicious or sneaky though and earned the respect of fellow players throughout his long career. When coach Punch Imlach was fired from the Leafs in 1969 following a humiliating playoff defeat, Tim left soon after, finding a new berth first with the New York Rangers, then a single season with the Penguins before arriving at his old coach’s new team, the Buffalo Sabres, in 1972. Imlach wasn’t the coach anymore, he’d been sidelined by a heart attack, but he remained with the franchise as GM.
Then, very early on the morning of February 21, 1974, in the pre-dawn hours, Tim Horton was coming home to Buffalo from a game in Toronto 90 miles away. He was trying to avoid a traffic stop by Mounties (he’d had a few drinks after the game) when he flipped his DeTomaso Pantera and was killed. (The car, a gift from Punch Imlach, was an awful car anyway. Too little weight for too much engine, the steel unibody construction had a poor fit and finish. Many Panteras broke down on the Ford test track. It’s said that Elvis Presley shot his with a handgun when it wouldn’t start.)
Like the rest of the Pee Wee girls hockey team, I wept at the news. With a child’s grief, I put a stripe of black electrical tape across my 1973 O-Pee-Chee card and tacked it to my bulletin board. I may not have even noticed Tim Horton before (I was really a Flyers fan) but now I mourned him. For the rest of our season I finished off my long braids with black ribbon.
After that, though, tears long dry, Tim Horton came to mean doughnuts. There was only one Tim Horton’s on Prince Edward Island. It was in the capital, Charlottetown, on University Avenue. Every trip to Charlottetown- picking up someone at the airport, going to the high school drama competition, our annual high school football game with Colonel Gray, Christmas shopping- every trip meant stopping by Tim Horton’s to pick up a dozen doughnuts. There are nearly two dozen Tim Horton’s on the island now. Charlottetown’s paper, The Guardian reported in a story last July that the three Tim Horton’s locations in the city are causing traffic problems as the drive-through lines back up onto city streets.
It’s been twenty plus years since I was last on the Island (and yes, I went to Tim Horton’s on my last trip there) but I found my Tim Horton’s fix in other places: Vancouver, Cranbrook, Lethbridge, Calgary. And then a few years ago, Michigan! The migration south over the border has begun. Now there are nearly a dozen Tim Horton’s in the Dayton area.
A confession is in order here about Tim’s doughnuts: I don’t love them anymore. I don’t know if it’s just that my taste buds are more developed now or if the doughnuts have declined since my childhood (so many things have) but really, they are just okay. It’s a funny thing about those fried rounds of dough: people are very opinionated about what makes a good one. I am sort of partial to the fare offered up at Dunkin’Donuts, but Krispy Kreme—no thanks. (Even if it is fun to watch their Rube Goldberg contraption make them.) Jim’s Donut Shop in Vandalia is said to have excellent doughnuts, but we haven’t tried them yet. The best doughnuts I ever ate were made by Margie Collins in the basement of the Redeemer Lutheran Church. It doesn’t matter though, because Tim Horton’s isn’t really about doughnuts anymore, it’s about coffee.
There are more conspiracy theories about Tim Horton’s coffee than any subject save the American government. It is the “double-double” (two creams, two sugars) that regular drinkers describe as addictive. There have been university studies and chemical analyses, there are web-pages dedicated to the topic (“Tim Horton’s Coffee aka Canadian Crack,” “Tim Horton’s Crack Identified,” “Tim Horton’s Introduces New Crack”—okay, so the last one was about their breakfast sandwiches, but you get the picture.) You have to pry their cold dead fingers from around the cup.
My old high school friend Richard doesn’t understand the fuss, calling the coffee “Generic, but consistently okay.” Perhaps, like me, he is drinking the coffee black instead of ordering the fiendishly addictive double-double. (230 calories, 12g of fat) The Double-double is so pervasive in Canada, that the term has gained entry into the Oxford English Dictionary. As a beverage, it has been endorsed by the law enforcement community in Police Link .
Richard may not be vulnerable to the Tim’s addiction, but my friend Jan doesn’t go into work (for the Canadian Coast Guard) without her extra large Timmie’s in hand. As it happened, during the weeks that Macy the dog was missing, Jan’s profile photo on Facebook was a photograph of a Tim Horton cup sitting on a console at Jan’s work. Every day, she wrote to ask how the search was going, to reassure me that the dog would come home, to ask how I was holding up, and every message that she wrote bore that image of the Tim Horton’s cup. I don’t think I ever got around to telling her that I saw picture of the cup as a gesture of solidarity, a badge of courage, a sign of hope.
Yesterday, my husband and I were sitting eating chicken salad sandwiches at the Tim Horton’s less than a mile up the road from where I was reunited with the dog. (Oh yeah, you can get lunch at Tim Horton’s too.) With a nostalgic smile I pointed at the door to the restroom, the sign says “Wash Rooms.”
“Canadian-speak,” I said. Since I drink my coffee black, I’ve never tried to order a double double there, but I’m sure if I did they’d know what to do. On the shelves are bags of coffee beans from the sustainable coffee program that Tim Horton’s has developed in Guatemala to benefit coffee growers, and their communities. On the walls are photographs of the summer camps Tim Horton’s sends underprivileged children to each year. Behind me there is a poster of Sidney Crosby, “the kid,” a hockey phenomenon signed to the NHL in 2005 at the tender age of 17. Sid was a member of the Timbits hockey program in 1993, and he is shown with a little girl and a little boy from the contemporary program which provides local hockey associations in the Canada and U.S. with jerseys, participation medals, hockey jamborees and for some, the chance to play hockey as the intermission feature at select NHL games.
Later, I will read that altogether the Timbits sports programs supports more than 200,000 children in not just hockey, but lacrosse, soccer, t-ball and baseball, along with sponsoring free swimming at community pools in the summer and free skating at community rinks in the winter. I’ll read about the Smile Cookie program that contributed over two million dollars to support children’s charities in Canada. But first I have to finish the cup of coffee on the table in front of me. It’s brimming with hope.