I’m on Whyte Ave and 104 helping my musician friend Gordon load some gear into his car. We’ve just come from a royal battle of a performance and we’re wired. Down the street, I hear the smash of a few beer bottles followed by the sound of two men deep in the throes of drunken buffoonery. Sure enough, a few seconds later, two Jagermeister warriors come trollopping along, each making a noble attempt to negotiate the empty side walk. Instantly, I am uneasy.
There is a new breed of shit-kicking lager lout roaming about these parts. Guys with short fuses and even shorter pricks. Guys looking for nothing more than a shot of brew and a knuckle-rapping dust-up. Running into these cowboys is scary. I can’t prove this, but it is my firm belief that Whyte Avenue, E-Town’s most notorious drinking area, is more dangerous now than it ever has been. And just so as I don’t come off as some rusty old critic wagging my crooked finger at the youth of today, I’ll be honest. It’s always been dangerous down here. There have always been hoods and heavy drinkers and other assorted miscreants down here, all looking for a human punching bag. It seems like the stakes are higher these days and people’s fuses are shorter. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.
The one brawler makes an honest effort to communicate.
“Hey man, cool piano.” (This is especially funny because Gordon is a drummer, and we have not one piece of equipment that looks anything like a piano or keyboard)
“Uh, what piano?”
“Oh. I thot you had a peeano.”
“Why, are you looking for one?”
“Fuck YES, man! You should hear me play the muthafucka. Man, I’m all up in and shit and man, I smoke that bitch. Peeeannno. That’s me man, mister peeanno.”
“Wow. That’s really cool.”
“So you guys a rock band? Playin’ rock and roll and shit? Y’know I fuckin’ rock out, dude! Like ROCK! (strikes a power chord on his air Gibson, yells incomprehensibly down the block)”
“Nah. It’s more jazz.”
“Jazz fucklers, eh? I likes the jazz, too. Can’t play the shit worth shit, but I likes it. Whassup with the piano, man? You got the fuckin’ piano or what? My fingers man, they play the ladies. Bitches line up all round for a little tiddlywinkin’ if you know what Ima sayin’. I’m all this and they’re all yeah baby and I’m all yeah fuckin’ hoooooo (yells that last part down the block while making the metal sign with his hands).
This guy seems harmless, but then again, drunk people are unpredictable. I feel as though one wrong saying on my part, one sarcastic comment, and he’ll be feeding me his knuckles. Maybe that’s too cynical a stance. Maybe he really is just a pissed-up music fan wandering the streets looking for a new joint to stink out.
“Yeah, we like the jazz too.”
“Well that’s FUCKING GREAT. EFFEN’ GREAT FOR YOU, FUCKER!” (small traces of spit fly from his mouth; strong smell of stale draft beer emanates from his mouth).
“So what’re you guys doing tonight? Bustin’ the strip or what?”
“Yeah, we be drinkin’ t’nite. FUCKING. DRINKING! (yelling down the block) BIT-CHES!!!!” (yells down the block again, this time grabbing his crotch and sqeezing).
I humor the guy for another minute or so. His increasing propensity for yelling out “BITCHES!!” has me looking for a safe exit. I glance at Gordon, who has been waiting on the other side of the car. He gives me a nod that says “lets get outta here”.
“All right dude, we have to go. But take it easy out here, alright?”
“Ah, fuck you guyz. Jazz fuckerz.” (stumbles backwards; a well-placed tree breaking his fall)
Gordon and I take off down the ave. I look behind us. Our buddy is peeing on the window of the old tobacco shop. A nice cap to a beautiful Wednesday evening.
It’s easy to hate Whyte Avenue when one sees drunken buffoonery shit like this. And maybe the place must be hated a bit in order to love it a bit. I know one thing for certain: That five or six block strip on Whyte between 104 and 109 holds the best and worst of our fair city. If a visitor wanted to glean the true essence of this town, that’s where I’d take them. For better or worse, Whyte ave is us.
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?