A Road Home


On the occasional Saturday night, this is the first thing I see before going home.

Friends of mine spin vinyl at the Sugarbowl. I show up around 10-ish, say hi to them, chit-chat and debate ordering food and just enjoy the music. Then I go home.

I cross 88th ave, jaywalking and passing through the rear parkings and alley of 109st a short way. It’s night, dark now. Just lamp posts to guide the way to my car. I practically don’t need it, I’ve done this so many times. Minding my footing on the cracked and gritty ground, I know my car is still where it always is, parked quietly behind the block of food and coffee and movies. It’s business parking, but the sushi place’s spot I tend to grab is long closed. I’ve never been ticketed. Never been towed.

The Metro (Garneau) Theatre has a big warm light, overlooking tall above the intersection of alleyways just behind it that are rarely used this late. Its rear fire exit has a cooler blue light. Less strong, but vital in the dark. A vague sense of a bit more security. I don’t mind admitting that I keep my eyes and ears open back here. It’s not a rough part of the city but close enough to Whyte Ave, where people are less than sober on a weekend evening.

My car starts and I’m on my way. The same way, every time, and a pleasure. The rocky, potholed exit from the alley; the left turn onto 87th, sometimes briefly impeded by traffic; left onto the far busier 109th street, always flush with vehicles coming and going to cross the North Saskatchewan one way or another; the quick crossover to the far right lane; the sharp right onto Saskatchewan Drive. All of this can happen in less than five minutes, and with its need for sharp and swift maneuvering it helps to sharpen my attention for the rest of the way home.

Somewhere between turning onto 109th street and then onto Saskatchewan Drive, I turn the radio. This might be my favourite aspect of this ride home. As much as I love music, especially while driving, I don’t enjoy it here. I go straight to talk radio, generally CBC on the AM dial, and I turn it down. I cross my fingers that it’s a telephone interview, and I turn it down just enough to barely make out the conversation if I care enough to actually listen, and I carry on.

Heading east on the one-way Saskatchewan Drive should be far more enjoyable than it is. On my right is a fairly open view of the river valley, the North Saskatchewan river somewhere beneath as it gulfs the gap between the South and North, the two urban downtowns of Edmonton. The north side has far more skyscrapers, dappled with office and condo windows and red and blue and white little lights, and the business logos you wish didn’t have to sully the electric view. With this on your driver’s side and no oncoming traffic at first, it should be enjoyable. But this part of the distance is so short, and before you know it the Drive becomes complicated. A handful of awkward intersections u-turn you downhill to cross the River, or north to begin Calgary Trail heading south, and a few pedestrian crossings that are thankfully underpopulated at this time of night. It takes some paying-attention-to just the same.

My eyes don’t like a lot of light at night. The Saskatchewan Drive minimizes that. It’s also far swifter than trying one’s patience through Whyte Ave’s late partiers, out on foot or driving or in cabs. All in all it’s peace of mind. Most of this route home is residential, decently wooded on either side. The night time equivalent of a nice Sunday backroad drive instead of a stale, concrete highway. It’s a pleasure.

A year or so ago I learned to break right from the Drive onto 90th ave. To continue the Drive to its end goes straight to 99th street, met by a slow, high-traffic wait and a sharp turn south. Cutting onto 90th ave cuts that distance down, and keeps things residential a bit longer (though the potholes increase). It keeps things dark, with lots of thick trees reaching overhead and next to no other drivers. It keeps things pleasant.

Once I head all of eight blocks up 99th street to Whyte Ave, now clear of the party district (though not of the party walkers), it’s back to driving with other drivers. It’s not a super-busy ordeal compared to rush hour, but it’s far more populated than the trip up to this point. More headlights, more street lamps… the enjoyability is somehow broken. There’s never any real concern for the last five minutes. You just kind of put your faith in people not driving under the influence, and you remember the flash photo radars between 99th and 85th street. They’ve become super-vigilant with this over last couple years. It’s a good thing, and I’m no speeder. But I watch the speedometer just the same. I’m as prone as anyone to drift some 5 clicks over the limit without knowing it.

Then it’s the last few minutes home, the last couple of km’s. It’s all highly familiar now. All routine. The 85th street intersection almost always pauses things for no good reason, as does the much busier and more understandable one at 83rd. The supermarket in between these on the left is closed at 11 but something in me always wishes it were still open for some unnecessary snacks. I know it isn’t. I know I’m a stone’s throw from home. A quick left and then a quicker right, pulling up alongside my home. Home, and sleep.

This final stretch reminds me of the eight years I didn’t have a car. I haunted Whyte Ave a lot more back then, taking public transit. Staying out late enough meant the risk of missing the final midnight-or-so buses. A near-hour long walk instead of a 15-20 ride. Taking either the 4 or the 104, or even the 7 that would turn north but still take me half way home. A manageable walk the rest of the way. And sometimes I’d walk the whole distance, about 5 and a half km’s from the far west end of the main Whyte Ave drag. Doing this in winter wouldn’t be fun, not at night for sure. But then it would feel like an accomplishment.

Driving that same distance doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. But it’s a pleasure just the same.

© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes


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