As I left the hospital today, I had to figure out where to go. I needed a grocery store and a place to buy some wine. But the hospital is kind of in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know the bus routes and I didn’t want to spend thirty bucks on cab fare. So I started walking.
My intention was to head east from the Civic toward Bank Street or the Canal. Google Maps said it was forty-seven minutes on foot. I also considered walking toward Westboro. It was eight minutes closer so I decided to go in that direction.
I wanted to see some nice neighbourhoods but after a few blocks I came to realize I was traveling about five kilometres in the the wrong direction so I doubled back. My initial forty-seven minute walk turned into well over an hour. No matter. I saw things I’d forgotten about and a few things I never knew.
I was surprised by how many streets I came across that once meant something to me.
The first one was Inglewood Place. That’s where my prom date once lived. I visited her there a few times but her little brother was usually hanging around and she and I only kissed a couple of times. She got sick a few days before the grad. And though I had a paralysing crush on her, I don’t think she ever really thought of me romantically. I still remember her address.
I ended up back on Carling, the street I wanted to avoid, but now I’m glad I didn’t. As I passed Preston Street and Dow’s Lake, I had to laugh at the memory of myself trying to order a quesadilla for the first time on a patio around there. I summoned my most authentic Spanish accent and ordered a “queladissa”. The pretty and busy waitress was kind enough not to roll her eyes.
Next was Rochester Street. Every time I pass that one, I think of my late, great friend Rob. We used to play poker at his apartment back in the early nineties. When Seinfeld was new and the Simpsons were fresh and each month he’d introduce us to a new band like the Breeders or Cracker. We were invincible twenty-five year olds.
A few blocks away was Bell Street. That’s where my mother’s family once lived and where she spent most of her youth. It was a tiny rented house, long torn down, but it was once home to most of the ten children and two parents in her family. There were bunk beds and the babies sometimes slept in dresser drawers. There was the Depression, a World War and boy soldiers. I can’t imagine.
As I crossed Bronson into the Glebe, I looked to my left and remembered my first Ottawa apartment a few blocks away on James Street. It reminded me of a girlfriend whose face I can’t quite picture anymore but I remember thinking at the time that she looked a bit like Ashley Judd. So that’s what I’ll go with.
And I looked to my right to Glebe High School, where I once had a great play-off basketball game. Their star had twenty points in the first half and my coach told me that my only job was to shut him down in the second half. And I did. Two points. We won. His name was Nico.
I continued east on Clemow Avenue, the most desirable address in that tony neighbourhood. I went to school with a girl who lived on that street and I was there for a party one time. I couldn’t pick out the house though. Sometimes the past is crystal clear. Sometimes it’s as murky as can be.
For kicks, my wife and I like looking at fancy houses in affluent parts of town but it wasn’t as much fun by myself. It made me miss her and it felt kind of lonesome.
As I crossed Bank Street and approached the canal, not all that far from where I went to high school, I saw some houses that reminded me of the homes of some of my friends who lived in a near-by neighbourhood.
Big, beautiful, three-story Victorians and my first thought was that they sure were fortunate to grow up in such a great environment. And then I thought, that’s true but that’s only the beginning of the story. Their first chapters started on lovely streets in gorgeous houses but what then? There’s so much more to it all, and the grandness of one’s childhood bedroom is no recipe for happiness.
I finished my meandering six kilometre stroll in a place where I was able to buy some dinner and get some wine. And I was glad for the unexpected journey. I crossed a good chunk of my old city and I re-visited a few decades of my old life. It turns out that in merely trying to make my way home, I was fortunate enough to go home again. At least for one chilly afternoon.