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.