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COLUMN: Keep your beaches and theme parks, Service Ontario the place to be

Reporter Shawn Gibson, who had a very old health card, discusses his positive experience at the downtown Service Ontario office

We’ve all talked about the many things we wish we could do, but there are too many restrictions right now.

A tropical getaway, a weekend at the cottage with your 100 closest friends, or maybe just the mall are all things we want to do.

But we can’t. 

Well, if you’re looking for a good time, might I suggest Service Ontario?

I know we all dread getting anything done at Service Ontario, but if you haven’t been there lately, let me tell you, it's the place to be.

About a month ago I had a doctor’s appointment, something I do not normally do because, well, I’m a guy and we put those off. 

I caved and went for something minor and was told my Ontario health card had expired.

No biggie, I thought, as there has been a pandemic and they probably get this all the time.

Well, it expired before COVID-19 was even a thing in Ontario.

With vaccines being what all the cool people are doing, I figured I better get my card updated so I can also get a needle selfie.

I was not looking forward to it, but I scheduled to go to the Simcoe Street location, the one with the infamous long line every day that sometimes stretches around the corner and up Toronto Street.

I couldn't do it online, I assume because of how long my card had been expired. I made my appointment for 9:30 a.m.

I got there and there was no line! 

'Great, it's probably packed inside,' I thought. 'Stupid government. ... I can’t have friends over for a barbecue or sit in a coffee shop, but let's pack the Service Ontario waiting room.'

I got to the front door where I was stopped and asked my name by the pleasant security guard, who then checked a list and said come on in and head over to the first window.

I looked in to see two people at the counter speaking with staff and was motioned over to a great guy with an even better attitude. He gave me my number and cheerfully told me to “hang tight, sir, until they call your number and we’ll get ya out of here.”

Sir? How lovely.

I waited with my head up, something I don't normally do as I hate making eye contact with people who may speak to me. (I was raised down in the city, so it comes with the territory).

The seats were completely empty.

There was no guy on his phone talking loud enough so everyone knows his brother is an idiot and shouldn’t even be allowed on the family Zoom call.

There was no gum-snapping teen telling their mom she ain’t gonna wait around because she’s meeting Sharlene at the wifi hotspot at 10 a.m., no matter what.

There was no lady trying to make eye contact with every random stranger to say “they better hurry up, because not everyone has a cushy government job where we can take our time.”

The usual suspects just weren’t there.

It took less than two minutes to get my number called and about five minutes to get my picture done and told: “All done, hun. Anything else we can help you with?”

Yes, new lady friend, how about a selfie with my new hero?! That's what I should have said.

I jokingly said they should make this the new normal going forward even after the pandemic is over. 

“Oh, we’re hoping so,” my new friend behind the plexiglass said with a laugh.

I feel it's kind of our thing now, joking about all the great things at the Simcoe Street Service Ontario.

Myself and a few of the staff even had a good laugh about some inside joke they had with the manager and the way she walked by.

I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but man, did it feel good to share a laugh with the folks behind the plexiglass instead of having to roll my eyes and lie about “that’s what I was told to bring!”

I even got told to have “a great day, despite the overcast” from the security guard as I left.

The pandemic has changed the world, maybe for the worst in some cases. 

But one of the worst experiences in Ontario seems to have changed, and maybe forever.

Thank you, Service Ontario, for a wonderful morning. 

Service Ontario. More like Great Service Ontario. Am I right?

Shawn Gibson is a general assignment reporter at BarrieToday who had a really old health card.