The number 4 spits its diesel right through the heart of Edmonton. That is to say, it does not travel through the political heart, or the geographic heart, of town. No. It augers straight through the ugly, beautiful, scummy, and quirky heart of the city: Whyte Avenue. On a typical Saturday night, the number four is jammed with shit-idiots, skanks, and your garden variety buffoons – all making their way to the nightclubs and bars on Whyte. I recently had the distinct _dis_pleasure of sitting on the number four at 11:00pm on Saturday. If nothing else, the experience was great fodder.
There is a kid talking like Al Pacino in Scarface. He thinks he’s some kind of bigshot, throwing around the fucks and cunts like he’s got a pair. Trouble is, this milktooth is about as thin as a red hair and about as swift. Hat on backwards and wearing sunglasses. Not realizing that being vulgar without heart is the worst abuse of language, little Pacino fires blue streak after blue streak at his buddy who is along for the ride. It’s quite a display of insecurity and desperation. As the youngun leaves the bus he says “nice pussy” to two girls sitting in front of the door. They pay him no mind, but just before the doors slam, another rider says to the guttermouth, “have a nice night, ladies!” Through the middle fingers and yelling, the bus trolls into Old Scona proper.
The hip jean boob top girls are sitting by the door having their jollies on their cellphones. Overextended laughter brought on by Seagrams Gin – the cheapest shite bluebacks can buy. Their vaguely chubby hips roll out of their low rise jeans. They’re kinda sexy methinks, but as soon as they open their mouths and that tween talk gets trotted out, that allure gives quick way to the edges of pity. The obligatory lower back tats make appearances, as do the pink thongs; by now so ubiquitous among penciled young broads that they scarcely inspire a glance. If you’ve seen one asscrack, generally you’ve seen them all. The Millwoods jezebels do the hair flip staggered stance dirty runners trick pretty good and now choking back wobblys is their priority. Ding. They’re off to dance on the speakers.
The stoner at the back has his headphones cranked. Can’t make out the tune, and it likely doesn’t matter ‘cause pot boy is about a dime-height away from catatonia. With eyes redder than a dozen bloody suns and reeking like the Lower Mainland’s finest, he sways gently with every move of the bus. He’ll be fine in a few hours. Just throw a 7-11 pizza sub, a bag of Doritos, and a large lime Gatorade down his throat and VOILA. Straight as a Henckels.
It is disheartening to see Whyte Ave turn into such a shithole in the evening. It’s infested with frat pigs and Molson Good ‘ol Boys and “woo hoo” girls and porn star outfits. All of this is, of course, nothing new. The place has been on the steady downward slope for many years now. Every weekend it seems to get worse. And blaming “tourists” from The Woods or The Park is a load of shit because locals cause the same problems. On a given Friday or Saturday evening, I can never tell the difference between the uniformed hipsters ‘keeping it real’ at the Black Dog or the steroid clowns at The Roxy. It’s all the same idiotic shitpile to me. Practicality be damned, the whole five-block strip needs a teardown, rebuild, and re-zone for more residential developments. Not going to happen any time soon.
It’s tough to beat Whyte Avenue for sheer alcoholic convenience. With at least 40 bars along the strip, it’s not hard to see the appeal. It is also really difficult to watch a neighbourhood slide out of respectability on a weekly basis. I’ve always felt safe on Whyte Avenue, but not so much any more. The combination of concentrated bar hopping and an increasing youth population is, in my opinion, a doomed recipe. If the present rate of drunken idiocy continues, the Ave will follow in the footsteps of Calgary’s Electric Avenue – a notorious strip of taverns that was eventually brought down by the city of Calgary following public pressure to clean the place up. I wouldn’t be averse to that happening to Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. In fact, I’d lay good odds that it will happen within the next five years.
Of course, that would render the number 4 just another bus route. Less asshattery, less shitheadery, less crap. Might be boring, but at least it’ll feel safer.
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
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?