The morning scow from Westmount to the Meat Factory is usually populated by regulars. Guys who know exactly how long they can nap before pulling the cord. Women who can read their novel to the very moment they leave the bus without looking up once. Every once in a while some wide-eyed newbie steps on, trying to get to some obscure west end business that only a handful of people know of. I like newbies. They brighten up the everyday grind a bit. I love the scared look on their faces. Transit map in hand, attempting to decode the mobius strips that are E-Town industrial park bus routes. And cursing the perpetually late-running busses. Good for a smirk and perhaps a small shade of sympathy.
I usually sit at the back of the bus. Not for some idiotic, junior high hierarchal reason, but so that I can observe everyone. New Guy strolls onto the platform, trying to look like he’s taken this bus before. I instantly recognize him as an outsider, as does everyone else on this bus. He plunks himself down right in front of me. I know what’s coming. He’s going to turn around and attempt to talk to me. I’ve got my big Sennheisers on and the AC/DC is smacking pretty high right now. I wear the big ‘phones so that everyone knows I’m no casual music listener. That, and I don’t like to be bothered. Even if nothing’s spinning, I keep the phones on. The Senns are man phones. I can’t brook those pussy-assed iPod white earbuds. They’re for skinny white dames and neutered hipsters. And it’s AC/DC in the morning these days because it’s cold as fuck and Bon Scott’s voice is that of the devil.
New guy sits down and turns around. Starts talking. I can’t hear him over Riff Raff. Music off. Make sure I’ve got a mildly pissy look on my face. Address him. Tells me that the driver wasn’t any help in determining the suitability of this bus for his travel needs. “Couldn’t tell me a fuckin’ thing,” he says. Shows me a card with an address on it. It’s next door to my office. “Bus’ll take ya there,” I say and move to put my ‘phones back on. Starts asking all kinds of scheduling questions. He seems like a nice guy so I resign myself to a chat. Yeah, same bus rolls by at 5:00. Yeah some of these drivers are assholes, but hey, they get paid shit and put up with all kinds of crap that you and I wouldn’t, so maybe cut the guy some slack. Throughout the journey, he keeps asking me if we’re close, is this the stop, why are we turning here, blah, blah, blah. After a bit of time I find that I actually don’t mind the conversation. It becomes a nice diversion. Our stop rolls up and buddy waits for my lead; gets up just after I do. Five seconds later we’re on the street, ready to punch the clock like the other stooges.
“What time does the bus stop runnin’? In the evenin’ I mean?”
The guy seems different now that we’re off the bus. Like he’s got it all cased out. Like my tutelage has ended unceremoniously. “Last bus is at 10 to 7 or so. Fuckers are unreliable in the evening. Pretty dead around here at that time.”
“Shit. Might be in for a long walk, then. Pullin’ a twelve today.”
“Well man, take ‘er cool. Maybe see you tomorrow.”
Doesn’t answer. He’s off to his new workplace. Fishes a pack of Canadian Lights out of his jacket pocket. Lights one and walks away.
Tree in Water - Mahone Bay, NS
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?