It’s 2:00pm Sunday on the Avenue. The hot dogs are rotating, the ice cream is scooping, the necklines are plunging, the shorts are shorting, the sunglasses are concealing, the canines are thirsting, the old drinkers are downing, the city is crawling, the city is May long weekend, and the sun is trying desperately to slap the dirty heels of the pink youth.
The Commercial Hotel sits on the Ave like a black church, all crumbling doors and darkened windows. Pastor J.W. Beam is giving a sermon and the drunken devout are getting light headed and holy. A white haired grizzly of a man stumbles out of the place all midday rum and loose mouth. He calls out to a couple of middling hoochies down the block. “Hello darlin’, nice to see ya!” he blurts in his best Conway T. After his catcalls are ignored he stands in front of the joint like he probably has on two hundred previous Sundays. “They’re leaving!” he yells, to no one in particular. Stands there with the midday sun on his face, raggled and rummed, beat and dirty, moustache and cigarette.
In the back alley a bank of regulars pass around a bottle and a J, laughing and soaking up the afternoon blaze. They look jubilant in their tatters, maybe because tomorrow is a holiday and the forecast is for more skin and maybe a bit of death, perhaps a shower or two in the late afternoon, maybe another boneheater of a day. They slug and sock their whiskey and they’re all up and about in gleeful clouded commiserating.
The painted nails and bare heels are making their presence apparent. The sun dresses, the whitened blondes, the chocolate brunettes, the layered bobs, and the tragic dreads all add heat to the street. Mamas and their kids abound, daddies and little ones bounce about, and one might conclude that a baby boom is going on, what with all this procreation and rearing out in the open. Who is to say, and who is doing all this skronking, anyways?
In the bank vestibule a man is sleeping as money passes over his head. He is out of the sun, out of danger, presumably homeless, asleep, and unconcerned. He is in better shape than many on the Ave. His problem is not one borne from lack of charity, or responsibility decidedly dodged, or safety net failed. It is a problem of history and birthright; privilege, no privilege, and more privilege. On a Sunday afternoon, the only solution I can muster is empathy, and on Sunday that may or may not be enough.
People live on this avenue, people visit here, and people move away from here. The whole damn mess keeps the place interesting and unclean. It is difficult to love Whyte Avenue fully and it is difficult to hate it completely. It is nothing as simple as a duality. It is a plurality. It is difficult, as everything of value is.
Something New on StreetRag.
For the next month or so, I’ll be testing a new feature on StreetRag. It’s a sweet little extra that I hope will enhance the site and your experience here. I’ll be posting audio versions of certain StreetRag entries along with the plain old text version. The reason for this is simple: Some StreetRag articles have great potential to exist as spoken pieces. Not all of them, of course. And not necessarily as poems, but as “spoken urban postcards”, or mini stories passed in the oral tradition. I’m rolling up my sleeves and trying something new; observing what this audio experiment does to the writing and what changes it inspires. I hope you enjoy this new feature, and I would really appreciate some feedback – good or bad – on this experiment. Be aware that certain StreetRag audio pieces will contain foul language and are therefore NSFW (not safe for work).
Thanks for reading (and listening).
PS – I had to muck with the CSS a bit. Please refresh your browser.
Commercial Hotel - Front Door
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?