I’m on the 9 from Kingsway to Southgate, and it’s rammed. It’s one of those accordion busses, plenty of room for everyone, but it’s packed. My backpack is swaying around and I’m sure that I’ve hit four people. She trundles down 101 and into the valley, dips up to cross the High Level, then it’s down 109 all the way. Bunch of people exit and enter on Whyte. Brief pause, and she hauls down the corridor. It’s that time of day when the traffic lights are extra vivid – seemingly more red and amber than during the day. The green lights are beautiful, too, against the street signs. Arrive at Southgate a little off schedule but none the worse for the ride. Sun’s just tucked itself in and I’m South bound on a route that I’ve never had a chance to ride.
The bus that plys Route 304 [PDF of the 304’s route map, Edmonton Transit website] is one of those “para transit” busses – the small ones that look like engorged mini vans. In all my bus riding years, I haven’t paid them much mind. They’re the poor cousins of the fleet; relegated to fringe routes that don’t justify a full-sized scow. The mighty 8 busts a hearty laugh around these busses. May sound lame, but I’m excited to ride it. It’s a short jaunt from Southgate to where I have to be, but I plan to take it all in. She pulls up and opens, four pour out to the platform. I’m the first on, two ‘an a quarter down, back of the bus. Heater at my feet (most welcome), purple-haired middle-ager over there, grocery bagger at the front, retail worker on the side, a few others scattered. The bead of silicone at the base of my window is rotten and her purple hair shimmers under the 4100k fluorescent buslamps, a plex of cover up.
Bus winds through the retail area just South of the Whitemud – ‘Southpark Village’ as it’s called. Stops at Crappy Tire and the shoe place, and the hum of the little diesel – located in the front of the rig – resonates throughout the chassis and adds to the warmth of my heater. Storefronts go by and I’m glad I’m on here and not in there. The end of the ride is near. She limps over the speedbumps in the Save-On Foods parking lot, tires hit the wells. Pull the cord. Bumps again. To the stop and off. It’s colder out here than when I started out. Pull on my watchcap and head out. The 304 steams off, her engine sound and smell unfamiliar. I move on towards my destination but glance back just in time to see her signal turn off as she completes her turn onto Gateway. I don’t know why, but seeing that gives me comfort.
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?