Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Firstly I want to thank everyone for the positive comments on the last post. It was reassuring to know that this is well accepted and I have nothing to worry about. Not that I didn't feel that way to begin with, but re-enforcement helps!

When I took time off work I began to walk. A lot.

I began to walk with the intention of ending up somewhere I'd never been before. I managed to accomplish that several times which was a challenge when I grew up in this city. I used to think I knew every nook and cranny of this place (what the hell is a cranny anyway? Just sayin'). As it turns out nobody really does. We all focus on our little part of the world, our little piece of heaven as it were. We have blinders on in most cases, we move from point A to point B, and if we're driving we normally see nothing but the tail lights of the car in front of us and street signs.

I found with my walks that there's more to any city than meets the eye. Walking each day, or as often as circumstances permit, averages about two hours. In that time I don't ever intend to follow that same course more than I have to. I intend to see things, to slow down and become more observational. A sort of urban explorer if you wish.

One day I started out as normal, and headed towards the Detroit River - about a half hour from home. I wanted to see how they were getting along with the massive water retention basin project that have essentially turned 5 kms of riverfront parkland into a construction zone. I made it to the river along Devonshire Road near Hiram Walker's Distillery, and turned toward downtown. I made it about three blocks before the rain started threatening. Along the river at that point, there is no shelter. Unless I parked my ass on someone's front porch and waited it out, I was going to get soaked. The black clouds rolling in seemed a little ominous. I turned towards Wyandotte Street. By this point I was near the old Danny's Tavern - a male strip joint that closed about five years ago. Behind Danny's I found the alley that ran up behind my old house I grew up on. I played in that alley as a kid and I hadn't walked it since. A flood of memories welled up. I saw graffiti on people's garages that has been there for thirty years. I remember that! For a moment I felt like a kid again, kicking stones down the old alley, I even thought about climbing some of the old trees again. Then I saw my old house and how much it had changed. I realized at that moment how time had passed. I walked on, threatened by the storm once again. By now, it was raining lightly.

Down on Wyandotte I looked for somewhere to ride it out. There isn't much. Within minutes the rain became heavy and I became wet. I was not dressed for this. By Parent Avenue I had had enough, I ducked into a bar that has been there for years and does not enjoy a positive reputation in town. I knew this going in, but screw it - the intention was to go somewhere new, and this qualified even though it was a little seedy. I ordered a beer from the woman behind the bar - a middle aged black woman with a personality that indicated that she reserves judgement on anyone. She looked me over quickly and went back to the regulars. Except for that woman sitting by herself at a table looking a little worn down and scruffy, the clientele here was perfectly normal, just guys having a mid-afternoon sabbatical at the local bar. No big deal. After my beer I checked outside, the rain stopped, so I moved on.

Walking down Wyandotte wasn't what I had in mind, I completely missed the construction zone. When I got downtown I headed down Ouellette to Dieppe Park. I wiped off a park bench and sat down, taking the time to watch. Boats on the river, freighters, fishing boats, cruisers, all the time wishing I was on the water too. I walked on down the park and again stopped to watch. I listened to a tourist couple within earshot pointing at things in Detroit. Their accent gave them away as American. I thought it strange that they were here in Canada, looking across at their homeland with a strange interest. Shouldn't they be looking around in Canada? I moved on.

Further down the river there are two railway cuts, both long since closed to trains. At one time tracks came right to the riverfront, where barges would take the trains across. Now they use the tunnel. One of the cuts has been turned into a park by local residents. The owners of the cutting don't provide anything for it, either does the city; everything there was done by residents. There has been news lately about it going downhill because nobody can afford to keep it up anymore. This became my second objective of the day. I heading into the cut, but within ten minutes I realized I went into the wrong one. This was no park.

The trail running down the centre was obviously well used. Trees covered the embankments up either side so that you cannot see any signs of urban growth. Even the taller buildings are obscured. A complete urban forest. Garbage began to appear - tires, shopping carts, and more crap. As I walked it got worse. I began to realize my mistake, but hey, it was all about exploring right? So I kept going. A man was coming down the path towards me, he wasn't exactly dressed for the opera, I was a little nervous until he gave a friendly hello and walked on.

Underneath Wyandotte Street rail tracks appeared. Further down you could make out the huge CP rail yard. I was a the tail end of it. Underneath Wyandotte I stopped - amazed by what I saw. People live down there.

There were giant fire pits still smouldering, there were signs of people eating, sleeping, living, all around me. Up on the concrete supports holding up the road was graffiti like I had never seen before - and it covered every inch of everything. It was all oddly beautiful art in a can. The colours and patterns, not to mention portraits. Some of this stuff would be in a gallery if the medium was different. For a few minutes I forgot where I was. I had to leave, the tracks in front of me meant climbing out of the ravine, but I could find no path. I climbed up making my own. I came out in an empty lot near Crawford and Wyandotte. I began walking back towards downtown. After about a half hour I was a McDonalds, so I had some lunch, then turned toward home. That was enough for the day. The walk home took another 45 minutes, again, meandering down streets looking for the route less taken.

By the time I got home my feet hurt (I was wearing sandals), I was wet with sweat and rain, and dirty from climbing around in a ravine. I changed and showered, grabbed a bottle of water and sat on the porch. I relaxed there for a while contemplating my day. Just over four hours. I looked around at my neighbours homes, and my own, I greeted a few that were outside and in that time I developed a deep appreciated of what I have in this life.

I realized just how lucky I am, disorder or not.