6.11 Gentleman Stroller of the Streets

I didn’t know unicycles were a thing now. I’ve missed so much when living up in North York for three years. Granted, I moved back downtown last fall, but the winter quickly set in and walking outside was not the most pleasant excursion in the world. Now, I’m reminded why I decided to move back into the city and why one of my favorite things is to walk - walk to the office, walk out to meet friends, or just walk with no destination in mind.

Before the winter came, I managed to get a bit of walking in. On my way to the office one day, an old man stopped me and asked for the time. I told him, he thanked me, paused and said, “My mother died the other day.” We stood there in that moment together. He wanted nothing from me, there was nothing really for me to do, except say, “I’m sorry.” And we parted ways. Maybe he just needed to say those words out loud in order to understand the reality of them? Maybe he just needed to share those words with a stranger, to someone he would never see again?

Last week, I stepped into a convenience store and into the middle of an argument. A customer was arguing about the price of the lip balm she was buying. She must have felt the price was too high, grabbed it off the counter and started leaving. The woman behind the counter grabbed a broom and threatened her. Somehow I ended up in the middle and said to the customer, “I think you should leave now.” She left, the woman running the shop still quite tense. This must happen a lot, especially if she had the broom so at the ready.

The other thing that has happened is I feel a part of a community. After joining places like the Centre for Social Innovation, there’s something nice about walking through the city and running into people on the street. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling over the years and at some point realized that I actually quite like living in Toronto. Well, at least in the spring, summer and fall.

How much I enjoy living downtown hit me a couple of weeks ago on the first really warm spring day. It was a Saturday and a bunch of us headed down the street from my place to Trinity Bellwoods Park. It was packed full of people sitting around, playing sports, throwing frisbees, drinking beers and just hanging out. It felt like the entire city was there, everyone getting along and doing their thing.

It got me thinking back to the writings of German urban explorer Werner Hamburg. He moved forward the French term of the “flaneur”, an important symbol for artists and writers, denoting the act of the idling walker or connoisseur of the streets. Hamburg discussed the concepts of the grid city versus the fluid city. For example, Toronto is very much a grid, while Paris is a fluid city. Part of the idea is to get lost in the city in order for an individual to engage with it more.

There is something that happens when I take my earphones out and listen to the soundtrack of the city happening around me. Things and people start to interact with my awareness and I start seeing more of the details.

Whether you just want to connect to a stranger, if only for a brief moment. Or have to protect yourself from a threat. Or be a part of a larger group of people. Or go unicycle spotting. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.