Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Testing with Faces / A pet duck

With a tip of the fedora to Dale (, I've decided to try adding a photo or two to this thing. The duck, by the way, is truly a pet. The owner even has little diapers for at home. The faces are my friend Ezio's doing. They look infinitely cooler in person. All the more reason for you all to seek him out and buy one (not that I would shamelessly plug my friend's work or anything).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ti Jean, long walks and subway tokens. . .

Tonight I was planning on writing about Kerouac's On The Road. I've started reading the recently released On the Road - The Original Scroll and it's given me a chance to take a second look at a book that shaped my youth. Unfortunately, it just isn't there. I have some ideas of what I want to say but I'm going to let it bounce around a little more before I let it go.

I'm heading to Sarnia this weekend for my friend Ezio's wedding. It's shaping up to be quite the event with well over 200 people expected. For a man who spends so much time claiming to be a hermit, he sure knows a lot of folks.

Anyways, I'll be doing my usual and taking the train down, much to the exasperation of my mother. Every time I go down, she asks if I'm going to rent a car. Every time, I have to tell her that it probably won't happen. It's not that I'm really against renting cars - I've rented them before and I will again. It's just that I rarely see a need for it. I enjoy the train ride and, when I get down to Sarnia, I find that a combination of walking and the occasional taxi will get me wherever I want to go.

I've always liked public forms of transit. Even before the aneurysm, when I drove a lot more often and had a car of my own, I often took transit when I could.

Now, I'm a regular transit user - a connoisseur of routes maps and schedule arcana - and I like it that way. It just suits me. I get to sit down, pull out a book and still get from place to place. Now that I've gotten used to commuting via transit, I can't imagine going back to any other way. Where I once spent my commute angry at the jerk in front of me and worried about the idiot tailgating me. While transit does have its drawbacks - grocery shopping by transit is rarely enjoyable - it's a trade-off I'm willing to make.

One by-product of this travel choice is that I also walk a lot more. I walk holes into my sneakers quite often nowadays. This is good for both my physical and mental health. I mean, it was while walking home tonight, listening to Elliott Brood above the rustle of wind-rattled leaves, that I started thinking about On The Road and what I would write here. On days when I have something less trivial to worry about, I find I can process it better while in motion. With my sneakers on autopilot, my mind roams free, far freer than it's ever been when behind the wheel of a car.

Of course, this is just what works for me. While I wish people would take transit more often, I know a lot of people who just can't handle it. I remember my first trip after 9/11. I took the train to Montreal for a few days. I was on the fastest train going to Montreal, a surprisingly quick 4 hour jaunt. The train was packed with people whose companies chose to have them take the train rather then risk a flight. It goes without saying that I was prepared for the trip. I had my mp3 player and a couple of good books on the go, so I was more than set. My fellow travellers? Not so much. They were used to a short one hour flight, the sort of flight where the flight attendant finishes his take-off spiel just in time to start the landing spiel.

Stuck on the train, you could see them get this stir-crazy look in their eyes as they reread the Globe's business section for the 4'th time because it was the only reading material they had. As much as I enjoyed the train trip, I'm not sure my fellow travellers did.

Well, I'm sure I could ramble on a while longer but I really shouldn't. It's late and I've got stuff to do before work tomorrow.

So long for now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Labyrinths. . . Or a random post about a random wander.

Tonight turned out to be a night for wandering.

I had stuck around work for an extra hour tying up the loose ends of a night that did not go quite as smoothly as planned. For some reason, I didn't make my usual bee-line to the subway. Instead, I decided to walk a bit. Sometimes I just don't feel like going home right away and, besides, hitting the downtown streets at ten on a summer evening makes for interesting wandering.

As a habitual wanderer, I've taken most every route away from work, both above ground and below. There's Yonge Street, which is always a treat for people watching. University is all cars and faceless office buildings. The PATH network of tunnels is a maze of shopping malls and food courts that stretches as far as the bus terminal by day or, as I found out last week, the Sheraton by night.

Today, I pointed my sneakers towards Bay. Bay Street at night is a study in contrasts. Suits and tourists share the sidewalks with street people and skateboarders. Where Yonge Street pulses with life well into the night, Bay is quieter, ostensibly honoring the bankers' hours of its usual inhabitants. The rows of blank and orange cabs patiently parked along the streets are the only sign that the buildings are not yet sleeping.

I really didn't have any plans. I figured I'd walk up to Queen and then cut over past the new opera house to the subway.

When I got up to Bay, though, I turned right instead of left. I then turned up the street that runs between the Eaton Centre and Old City Hall. It had been a while since I had been up that way and I wanted to see the labyrinth again.

There's a stone labyrinth behind the Eaton Centre. It's been there for a couple of years. Before that, there was a small plot of grass with the labyrinth mown into it. It's a interesting sight, even at night. Basically, it's a site for meditation and contemplation. You follow the path as it twists and turns and you are drawn out of yourself. Eventually you reach the centre. You then follow the path back out to the edge. For the believers, this is in many ways a form of prayer, a way of leaving your physical self behind, if only for a short while.

For a fence-sitter like me, it's still a powerful place. While I have doubts about religion, I have a certain respect for people who can open themselves to things magical and unseen. Doing this in the heart of the city, in the shadows of shopping malls and office towers, requires a great deal of faith.

I've never actually walked the labyrinth and I didn't do it tonight. I am content more to see that it is still there. Besides, I'm already experienced in walking circles. . . and squares. . . and even the rare straight line.

Cutting across a silent Eaton Centre I start walking up Yonge. I've been walking Yonge St. on my own for close to two decades now. I've watched it change, change back, stay the same and change yet again. I can remember when certain street corner preachers were young. I can remember when Yonge and Dundas had character and when video arcades were everywhere. I remember when hustlers and fish converged on a few chess tables around the corner from Sam's (I remember Sam's. . . sigh). I remember the excitement and the first sweet taste of freedom that came with being a teenager set free in the big city.

Alas, the city is doing its best to sap the character, verve and fun out of the neighbourhood. They tossed a fountain and some tables and chairs on the roof of a parking lot and then had the nerve to call it a square. They tossed up billboards and advertising everywhere as if they really believed that ugly posters could make people think this is a new times square. They tore down a bunch of small stores to put up a pointless mall across the intersection from the Eaton Centre. They got rid of the chess tables, banishing the hustlers to remote waters where fish rarely swim.

Thankfully, some of the grittiness remains, as it always will. While the fine folks at Cadillac Fairview may have made the space in front of the Eaton Centre smaller, buskers still show up each night at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, providing a show that is often more real and fun than the "entertainment" that goes on across the street.

After that, it was a short walk up to College and then down into the subway. A good book, as always, made the trip shorter. . . even the bus. Getting off the bus, I took my time walking down to my building, marvelling at the yellow grass and thirsty trees that say August clearer than any calendar.