On Patrol with Ontario's Suburban Batman
Aug 30 2013
All photos by Jeff Campagna
My plan was to write at least 500 words about how difficult it was to track down the Brampton Batman, the local legend that's been haunting the streets of this Ontarian city all summer. I wanted to tell you about lurking in dark alleys, spending night after night scanning suburban rooftops for blurred silhouettes of a cape and cowl, asking locals about sightings much like the awkward, four-eyed journalists from the comic books. But finding this homegrown version of Batman wasn't difficult at all. As it turns out, a modern-day Batman requires only a Facebook page to keep his gloved finger on the pulse of the sleepy burbs. I just had to message him. No bat signals or bat phones needed.
Flash-forward: It's 10:30 on a Saturday night. I'm waiting to meet the Brampton Batman (who prefers to be called the Dark Knight) at the corner of Steeles Avenue and Dixie Road in the bowels of Brampton, a gnarly notch on the commuter belt northwest of Toronto. If you haven’t been to Brampton, you’re probably better off. Imagine an abandoned theme park taken over by thinly veiled rub ’n’ tugs, roti shops, and police stations. I feel uneasy, but I shouldn't. I grew up not far from Brampton, so I've passed this intersection countless times before, though not in this context. Relatively normal things suddenly seem sketchy: a woman steps off a public bus and scurries into the darkness, looking over her shoulder as she goes; a drunkard sleeps on the boulevard; colourful characters in low-hanging jeans and backward caps with the stickers still on glare at me as they pass; East Indian party music pounds from a nearby strip mall. I start to feel as though I'm in a watered-down, stillborn recreation of Gotham City.
At 10:39 I spot him from maybe 100 yards away, and I start to get excited, though I'm still apprehensive. My wife is certain I'm going to get raped. Batman is walking with purpose – it’s more like he’s marching. I can imagine him toppling forward ass over ankles. I meet him in the middle of the road and shake his hand, complimenting him on his killer suit. He apologises for being late in a voice so deep it's goosebump-inspiring. He sounds like the guy from movie trailers, or Frank Miller's idea of a badass. His voice doesn't resemble Christian Bale's, thank God. He’s also black, which makes sense in the melting-curry-pot of cultures that is Brampton.
By 11:00, we're marching together up Dixie Road against the heavy flow of traffic. Batman demands that I walk on the inside so that he is between the speeding cars and me. "For safety," he says, establishing the strong superhero/helpless citizen relationship. It's kind of weird because I'm pretty certain that I'm older than him, though not by much. His concern for safety supports the rumour that he is an off-duty cop. I ask him about his suit. "My previous suit was a bit more of a hands-on project," he explains while cars rocket past honking at him. "But one of the best things, of course, is the realisation that being Batman is not just the suit. You really do have to be Batman on the inside. Those who know me with my cowl off still call me Batman." He tells me that he has three police citations for civilian bravery. If he’s not a cop, he certainly has a real hard-on for justice.
Batman’s current suit is the real deal: 32 pounds of boots, chest armour, a utility belt, cape, cowl and gloves. It's an exact replica from Nolan's The Dark Knight. Batman won't tell me where he purchased the suit or how much it cost but a strikingly similar suit is for sale from UD Replicas for $1,564. A constant drip of bat sweat beads off the tip of his rubberised nose armour like a leaky faucet and he continually dabs it dry with a shredded paper towel.
A crowd gathersaround The Dark Knight in front of Bramalea Mall.
Around 11:30, at the corner of Dixie Road and Queen Street in front of the hulking mall known as Bramalea City Centre, he attracts a crowd of Bramptonians. They pour out of a nearby bar called All Stars that looks suspiciously like a shawarma joint. Batman shakes everyone’s hand, poses for Instagram pictures and utters "Good evening,” "Pleasure to meet you,” "You got it” and "Stay safe,” with Tickle Me Elmo consistency. I end up taking photos for everyone with their smartphones, which gets annoying. "Are you Robin?" people drunkenly slur at me. A young dude smelling of smokes and cheap beer tells Batman his friend lost his license because of an altercation last week when The Dark Knight chased down a car that was driving on only three tires and called the cops. Apparently the driver was covered in coke – classic Brampton. Batman seems unfazed by the story.
By midnight, we're patrolling down Queen Street toward central Brampton. I ask him why he's parading around as Batman in the first place and he says, "I've been Batman since I was 14. Putting on the cape and cowl was just for me. It's about going out and being who you are. It just ended up that who I am is a recognisable symbol. For a regular person to be able to bring joy to people is addictive." Brampton Batman, it turns out, is a much, much nicer guy than the brooding antihero you find in some of the comics and movies. He's polite, oozes political correctness like a walking Canadian stereotype and hates (as he puts it) the N-word.
Then, holy shit, a robotic voice from somewhere within his suit says "Incoming Message" and he bends his forearm out to check an iPhone embedded in his bat glove. It glows brightly and has an old-school bat symbol as its wallpaper. "Twitter is alive," Batman says. "They are looking for me." At this point, I realise that he takes this shit very seriously. He’s committed to really being Batman, albeit a nicer, Canadianised version.
An hour and a half into our patrol and I'm feeling it. My thighs are burning. My feet feel like I've worn them down to nubs. And even though it's cold outside I'm getting hot. And if I'm hot, he must be dying. I can smell sweat and hot rubber from his suit.
The Dark Knight contemplates his order at Sonny's Drive-in.
Sometime around 12:30 AM we end up at Sonny's Drive-in, a Bramptonian landmark and a traditional provider of late-night drunken eats. "Are you allergic to anything?" he asks before entering the dive. It's lit like an operating room and suddenly I can see the flaws in his suit – it's like when the house lights come on in a strip club and you can make out cellulite, mascara smears and scars on the girls. Batman orders a double bacon and cheese banquet burger and two Vitamin Waters. I realise he is ordering the burger for me and I'm slightly bummed that I won't get to see Batman eat a cheeseburger. I leap to pay, but my superhero friend beats me to it by pulling bills out of yet another hidden pocket in his bat glove. "Yo. Why you guys chargin' Batman?" a drunken girl in tight leopard spandex asks the cashier. "Batman comes in here too often for us not to charge him," the tattooed cashier responds. There's at least five people in line. They all have their phones out snapping pictures and video (most of which I see later that night online with the #BramptonBatman hashtag). I feel like Alice plunging further and further down the suburban rabbit hole.
The Dark Knight jacks up a Pontiac Grand Am for some Bramptonians in distress.
Shortly after, I am greedily chowing down on my banquet burger in the parkling lot. Across the street an old Grand Am sits lopsided with a flat tire. Four young Bramptonians – Girls with pink hair, shirtless guys with faded, indiscernible tattoos – stand beside it calling out for Batman. Before I know it he’s already across the street, jacking up the car. In this Canadian version of Gotham, there's no Riddler for him to chase, so Batman changes tires with help from a flashlight app and two shirtless dudes. "Be quick and be very careful,” Batman barks. “Who’s got the light? Give it to me. Well done. You got it. Secure it quickly. Who is smoking a cigarette near me? Secure the tire. Do you guys have it from here? Stay safe."
We continue our patrol toward central Brampton. By now, I feel an exercise-induced headache coming on, and Batman’s rampant jaywalking has me reconsidering the off-duty cop theory. By now, all of Brampton is intoxicated. Cars slow down or screech to a halt mid-traffic or cut sharply into parking lots to catch a glimpse of Batman. Passengers hang out of lowered windows screaming, "No fucking way! It's Batman!" or, "How many people did you save today, Batman?" or "You get the Batmobile yet?" or "Yo, Batman! What a' gwaan?" Batman is posing for more pictures than ever.
Around 1:30 AM we reach the Rose Theater in the heart of old Brampton. "This is one of my haunts," Batman tells me. "I like to come here and reflect, looking at the theater. It gives people the chance to catch a glimpse." Standing eerily still in the empty square, he cuts an imposing figure. But where was all the crime fighting? The only person left battered and bruised at the end of the night was me. But I guess that's a good thing.
The Dark Knight and the author.
After some small talk and a few more photo ops, I get the feeling that Brampton Batman wants to head back to his Brampton Batcave, wherever that is. We say our goodbyes and I leave him there standing tall, cape and cowl outlining a dramatic silhouette in the early morning suburban air, like a monument to himself. I wonder if he took the bus home.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @AWUTI
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