It wasn't the hooker that made me uncomfortable.
She didn't make me nervous as she approached me, a stumble or stagger, either drunk or on drugs, or maybe a bit of both. She had been standing just outside the Econo Lodge as I started extending the legs of my tripod on the edge of Montreal Road.
It didn't bother me that she came right up to me, asked me what I was doing, and watched me take the first couple of shots. I was taking street shots, I told her, explained that I was not shooting video, was just taking stills. I wasn't worried that she stood near to me as I composed the shot and then took the picture.
"That's really good," she said, as the image appeared on the view screen.
It didn't make me nervous when I walked Montreal Road, tripod extended, camera clamped to the head, the whole apparatus resting over my shoulder. The drunk, young men, laughing, did not unnerve me as they approached from the opposite direction, as they saw me and said "hey," and continued on their way. I could smell the alcohol and cigarette smoke, mixed with sweat, they came that close.
The people waiting, at the bus stop, didn't invoke fear. It was I who had approached them, after all. They were there with a purpose and wouldn't be around for long.
None of these people bothered me. Ottawa is a safe city, even in the infamous neighbourhood of Vanier. Montreal Road is a busy street. In the time that I walked the few blocks between Palace Street and Cyr Avenue, I was unafraid.
What made me nervous was the guy who kept his distance, who watched me from afar, who said nothing. The dirty jeans and white shirt, the baseball cap turned backwards, the long, wavy dark hair spilling from it.
I first saw him across the street, standing on the corner of the Stars Palace. He didn't look like he was there to sing Karaoke, but I'm not one to judge. I didn't see him when I was taking my photos from across the street. But I noticed him as I continued east. He was leaning against the building, watching me walk with my tripod slung over my shoulder.
Shooting at the bus stop, the couple waiting for their ride, he walked past as I captured the flow of cars, which would appear as nothing but streaks of light. It was when he stopped walking, leaned against the light post at Cyr, watching me, saying nothing, that I went into alert mode.
I've wanted to capture the lights and night life of Vanier for a long time, but its reputation as a rough neighbourhood has always made me reluctant to do it, especially alone. But after last week's photo walk in the Byward Market, where I could walk unafraid, I felt emboldened.
Ottawa is a safe city, after all.
Until you have a stranger follow you, watch you, and say nothing. And your opinion of this city changes.
And you decide that your night of photography is over.