I’m eastbound on the Number Three. Around here the three is a trolley route; a route that shows off E-town’s blue collar scent better than any. The sun is hightailing it into the Western sky and I’m enjoying the ride. The Three starts in the belly of the west end – Jasper Place transit center. A Burger Baron, a rusty pawn shop, a sketchy pizza joint and a bleached-ass hair salon all within a two block radius. In my books, not a bad place to start an epic route.
The Three wades through the glorious filth of the west end. Saint Pete’s peeler bar, one of the finer establishments of the genre, is ripe with jangling pussy and hairy whiskey. The snarlin’ diamond cutters aren’t so hard in that place. There are tears in the gin. Then we come to The Real Canadian Brewhouse, a busted up bar that’s changed hands a dozen times over the years. You can smell a hundred sweats when you walk in and the dogs at the bar pay in cash as they gush over the honeyed waitresses in their tank tops and assripped jeans. The cheap Chinese food joint, the ratcheted bar with the galvanized door, and the industrial eatery with the misspelled sign all make for interesting scenery along the way.
The bus winds through the dirty faced business end of E-Town. Through Mitchell and Garside industrial parks and the machinery contained therein. It’s a huge patch of the city that few will ever see, and fewer still will witness under the silent hum of the stars. These places are bustling like mad during the day, but something happens after dark. The place doesn’t just empty. It becomes completely abandoned. These places of lonely stone and spilled cutting oil can kill a man if he’s not careful. And I’m not talking that easy body death either. I’m talking that slow, devastating inner death that creeps like a blade. A man has to be careful that he doesn’t forget himself in the dank and rowdy steel of 118th Avenue North.
Bus chugs along the foot of Sherbrooke – one of the better, more established neighborhoods in the west end. It’s a community of curved streets, each street intercepting a school, a church or a community hall – sometimes all three. It’s a novel and impressive urban development; a shot of humanity and green family space into this area of short factories and concrete bollards.
We pull around the Groat Circle, surrounded by 70’s-era offices and unassuming strip malls. Unassuming except for Sherbrooke Liquor, that is. For years this place has had one of those big wheeled signs out front proclaiming that they keep the coldest beer in town. I remember buying a case or two from them back when I was shoulder deep in the sauce. Can’t remember if it was the coldest, but it was damn good nonetheless. They’ve had that sign out front for the better part of a decade. Who can argue with such self-affirming determination?
We rip ass down 124 street and slam a shithawk down 107th ave eastbound. 107th Avenue cuts a path through two Edmonton cemeteries – The Edmonton Cemetery to the north and St. Joachim Catholic Cemetery to the south. They both look about the same. More crosses on the south side of the ave. This is a somber place at any time of day, but is especially so in the dwindling light of evening. Rows and rows of heavy stones, made heavier by the evening’s dripping sun. Feelings may shift with the sun, but there is something concrete in the crunch of the bus tires as they roll into the only stop within the cemetery. Three people wait to enter the bus. The hiss of the door. The clamor of boots and jackets. The exhale of the red seats. The hiss of the door again. The three people take their seats and look out at the passing graves.
The Three takes a bit of death with it as it hails off into the pulse of downtown, leaving the west end behind. I’m still enjoying the ride.
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?