Out running an errand at about 9:45pm, it’s cold and The Ave is shaky. Stop in at the cafe to grab a tea for the journey. I gotta break a fifty because that’s what the damn back machine spat out. On the street moments later and it’s a beaut out here. Just below zero, air cold on the face, the wide avenue not quite bustling. On 109 and 82 waiting to cross. A middle-aged man stumbles ragged drunk over to me, gives me a glazed look. I pretend to not notice, and I see him swaying on the curb out of the corner of my eye. I know I’m in for a question. Maybe some unlikely story about having to get up to Fort Mac for an interview tomorrow, or that he needs ten dollars to buy a tank of gas so that he can get home to his wife in Camrose. The guy follows me across the street and stops me at the other corner. He’s got a good bag and a half in him.
“Hey man, you know where there’s a Catholic Church around here?”
The smell of whiskey on his breath is almost unbearable.
“Uh, well, not really. There’s a Mormon church a block down. Nearest Catholic Church is a ways down the street. Almost out of walking range, I’d say.”
He looks down the road to where I have pointed. Turns back to me.
“Can I ask you something?”
“I’m in mourning. A family member just died. I need to get to a church. Will you walk me there?”
“My brother. I hadn’t seen him in years. Buried him yesterday.”
“Man, that’s awful. I’m sorry.”
“Can you take me to the church?”
“Well, I’m kinda on my way somewhere. I can walk with you for a bit, if that helps.”
“To the church?”
“Sure, to the church.”
The guy is pretty out of it. He’s having a lot of problems standing and speaking. I’m not so sure about walking with this guy, but I figure he’s harmless in the state he’s in. We walk East on Whyte towards the Church of LDS on 108. He says nothing on the way, just tries to maintain his balance. I walk a little slower and keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn’t dovetail into the gutter. He tries to talk a few times but it comes out as gibberish. A few minutes later we’re at the Church. I’m fully expecting him to ask for a handout. At this point, and going against my normal stance on giving away money, I’d throw him a buck or two. He doesn’t ask. Just goes and sits on the steps of the Church. I feel that it’s time to leave, so I make my exit.
“Take ‘er cool, pal. Stay warm.”
“Thanks for taking me here. I feel better.”
“Good. Have a good night.”
I walk away down the avenue, never once turning back.
Corner street light, 109st - 82 ave, jan 07
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?