Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Inspired

I don't know if it's because the days are getting shorter, whether my illnesses, from flu bugs to head colds, or the stress of losing a friend and now, losing one of our vehicles and being forced to shop for a new one, but I have been incredibly tired of late and have been in no mood to write.

The stress of not wanting to write has weighed heavily on me, too, as I start getting geared up for working on my next novel, putting this blog on hold until it's done.

For a couple of weeks, now, I have been uninspired, and if you're a regular reader of The Brown Knowser, you will have noticed that I'm not keeping to my Monday-to-Friday schedule. Last week, with only one blog post, with no writing, was a bit of a bust.

Perhaps, without trying to, I'm trying to get you used to having no blog post. Doubtful, but who knows what goes on in my head? I sure don't.

It took a good, long walk, to clear my head of all my stress, perhaps, and get me thinking again.

Because our minivan broke down a couple of weeks ago (and is now for sale, as is, for $500 OBO), I have found myself at work a couple of times, last week, without a means of transportation to get home. Luckily, on one evening, a co-worker who lives near me was able to drive me home.

On a second evening, I was meeting with a friend for dinner, and I needed to get to Old Ottawa South. And, luckily again for me, another co-worker was able to get me across the border, back into Ontario, where he let me off in the centre of the Byward Market more than two hours before I had to meet my friend and some five kilometres away.

But I came prepared and I had my camera bag and tripod.

Of late, I have taken a keen interest in Ottawa's history; specifically, in the old architecture and how the city has changed over time. For example, I have always been fascinated about the old train station, across from the Chateau Laurier, and how the trains ran south, along the east side of the Rideau Canal, where Colonel By Drive now lies. But I have also taken interest in the buildings and shops that have disappeared next to the station, how the appearance of Sparks Street has evolved into the glass and concrete pedestrian mall that it is today.

I wandered these parts of downtown, on Thursday, standing on street corners where I have looked at photographs from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I snapped photos of how those streets and buildings look today. I wandered Elgin, to Laurier, crossed the bridge, worked my way north, to Mackenzie Bridge, and across again, to the War Memorial, along Sparks, to Bank, and then south.

By the time I reached my rendezvous point for dinner, I must have covered close to seven kilometers. And it wasn't without adventure.

It was the evening rush, lots of people exiting their office buildings and making their way to their cars or to the buses, looking to get home. Others were wandering, looking for places to eat or to shop, to take refuge from the bustle until it died down. A few looked fresh and were, perhaps, on their way to an evening shift.

Everyone was busy, everyone seemed in a rush. Some were preoccupied, with faces in smartphones and tablets. I saw a few, with cables that stretched to ear buds, plugged firmly into their ears.

I stood on a corner, waiting for the light to change. It was, I believe, where Bank came upon Queen, but in the excitement that followed, I lost complete track. By the time I made sense of what happened, where I was didn't seem important, other than one undeniable fact.

It was along a bus route.

It also was one of the few intersections where, when stopped, waiting for the light to turn green, for the Walk sign to come to life, I was alone, away from the crowds. Not for long, though.

I heard her footsteps as she came from behind. Steady, with purpose. The gait was quick but unrushed. I saw her in my peripheral, to my right, and I started to turn my head toward her as she stepped past me. She was tall, with long, straight blond hair, that was covered on top with a purple tam. Her coat was vivid to me at the time, possibly red, but because it happened so quickly, writing it out now, I can't remember. It looked warm, comfortable, and it suited her slim figure perfectly. Dark leggings and high, tan boots.

Yes, it was red.

In her right hand was a smartphone, brightly lit, and she had her headphones on, the white cord standing out in the darkening light. Her head was down as she was reading whatever it was that had her full attention on the screen.

It happened in an instant, and my reaction exceeded my ability to fully comprehend what I was doing. As she extended one of her long legs to step off the curb, to attempt to cross the street, I moved forward, my right arm lashed out and my hand placed a firm grasp on her left arm. My camera, its strap resting on my shoulder, slipped off and came to rest at the inside of my elbow, the camera swinging from the violent jarring.

I pulled her back. I used as much force as I could, not wanting her to slip from my grip. She looked up, in shock, and seemed to swing her right arm back, ready to engage the person who was assaulting her. But before anything else could happen, the bus, that was travelling at speed, making sure that it crossed Bank Street before its light turned red, passed a mere metre or less from us.

No longer angry at being accosted but with a new look of shock on her face, the woman understood what had just happened. A stranger had just prevented her from walking, distractedly, in front of a bus.

I released my hold on her arm. We looked each other in the eye. I nodded, saw that my way was clear, my light was green, and continued, ahead of her, on my journey.

As I continued south, on Bank Street, I noted the many buildings, the old and the new, identifying those that remained from when Ottawa was young and the new structures that had replaced so many parts of our history.

I have to say, I don't like the newer buildings in the downtown core. Too much plain concrete, not enough character. Why could they not have preserved the facades of more old buildings?

I watched people, too, and I was discovering that my head was filling with ideas for writing. The walk—and most likely, the life I had saved—had inspired me. I knew that I was ready to start writing again. I made eye contact with many people I passed and when I did, I smiled and nodded a greeting. It was a lovely evening, with the temperature well above normal for December. Why wouldn't I be in a good mood?

As I neared the Queensway, I could hear the sounds of rush-hour traffic, the grid starting to free up and the cars moving faster. The sound of cars and trucks was all around me. The conversations of groups of people, the sound of a horn, the distant lament of an emergency vehicle.

I spied a young woman, black skinned with massive, curly locks, walking slowly, toward me, eyes looking through a store window. Beyond her, a seemingly homeless person, disheveled, with a dirty winter coat, also walking toward me, coming up behind her.

It was his hand that I noticed above all, down, at his side, but with his hand reversed, outward, held to cup, fingers gesturing as though they were squeezing something the size of a large grapefruit. He was on a trajectory to intercept the unsuspecting woman, his hand in line with her bottom.

I passed her before the grubby man could reach her and I changed my course to intercept his. As I was about to pass him, I leaned in, my shoulder coming to his. We looked into each other's eyes, and in a low voice I said three words to him before continuing on my way.

"Don't do it."

Once past him, I stopped and turned. He had changed his own course, put his errant hand into his jacket pocket, and continued past the window-shopping woman without incident.

I miss walking our city streets. Before I had my car, this is what I did twice a week. It's a shame that I no longer do it. The various neighbourhoods in the downtown core are inspiring, filled with all kinds of stories.

All you have to do is take the time to watch. And, when the situation calls for it, you can take part.

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