Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Ambitious Kitchener/Waterloo BusWalk Tour: Route One

ROUTE ONE: Stanley Park (In which our intrepid explorer discovers the plan's weaknesses). Go here for pictures!


I'm doing these routes in numerical order, and this is my first one...but fortunately I've been this way before. My friend Clay used to live in Stanley Park, though now he's famous in Japan for drawing hardcore anime porn.

I've packed Skittles and cola and a camera. I'd considered bringing a microphone in order to capture the whole sight, thought, and sound impression, but that would have been overdoing it.

I'm open to all possibilities except mugging, I have no priorities. I figure I'll get off at the furthest point and take a zig-zag, shady route back. This tour is about exploring new things, not revisitng old things.

* * *

Sitting in the shade, on the grass in front of a school called Crestwood. Fifteen minutes and I'm already lost, exactly as I'd hoped to be. This isn't exactly suburbia -- the houses are too old and the streets too orderly -- but it's certainly off the beaten track. You can't tell if a road will take you to a traffic artery or to yet another dead-end crescent, and while I don't begrudge a wrong turn I HATE retracing my footsteps.

This is a rest to get my bearings and enjoy the shaded grass. I'd like to say it's a pretty school, but like so many Southern Ontario schools it appears to be built on a 1960's plan: single storey, red brick, lots of angles, lack of flair. I could be anywhere.

The weather is oppressively, beautifully hot. Low-flying planes make it sound even hotter. Vague nautical associations. Vague nausea. Forebodings.

* * *

I have travelled far and talked to elderly people, who drank summery drinks on their front porch and pointed me in the general direction of downtown Kitchener. The wife thought I was particularly stupid. Men are repairing their roofs and carrying boxes from apartment to car, keeping to the shade. Some women have strollers, but not many. I orient myself by power lines and the sound of River Road, which I don't believe actually follows a river, unless it's one of the ones my ancestors bricked up and buried long ago.

* * *

Middle-class homes are generally boring, so exploring residential areas is like walking endlessly in circles. Now that I'm walking through the comparatively interesting Shantz Park, I think maybe these adventures should become a series of park tours? Now that I'm away from the ashphalt and the traffic, that idea sounds pretty good.

This is a wide strip of grassland and dense forest that runs parallel to the distant expressway. The only vehicles I can hear are motorcycles, and they're very far away. Soon I can't hear them anymore either. I'm sitting on a bench that's more moss than wood, carved with old names and initials. No garbage here, no people. The moths are of the small white kind, cat-chaseable but with no cats, no animals at all that I can see.

I go deeper, further. I am in the wilderness. Culverts bleed the recent rains and feed ropes of nearly-dead vines in long, sloping hollows. Poison ivy and flowers and endless shade. A single jogger passes me, then a man with his daughter. Otherwise it's a ghost trail. Just the breeze, which gradually blends with approaching traffic. After walking forever I am near the end of the park.

* * *

After exiting the secluded shady forest I am where I least expected to be: Ottawa Street. It's a major four-lane thoroughfare, sunny, shadeless, radiating, SWELTERING. I want to take a detour through a cooler area but I know that Ottawa Street is my only path across the expressway; if I stay on this side I'll NEVER get home. I'll die and the truckers will find my bones.

Apparently I've travelled in a huge loop and now I'm boiling, I'm sweating terribly. My sunscreen is long gone, I have no sunglasses, I'm out of liquid, I think I'm losing my mind. There is no shady place to sit down and I'm breathing exhaust fumes that are physically, tangibly hot. I'm lost in a desert of pavement and cars and I know my skin is baking. I'm light-headed and woozy, almost sunstruck. I must get out of the sun. Pronto. Now.

I keep walking until I reach an area where people are SUPPOSED to walk: across the expressway and into an oasis. An air-conditioned Tim Horton's.

The staff is surly but the drinks are cold and sweet. My blood sugar is far too low and I'm red and drenched and deshevelled. I sit with old men, skateboard kids, construction workers, ostentatiously typing. Gradually my blood sugar returns to normal and I make careful note of lessons learned: more sunscreen, more liquid, and LOTS more rests in the shade.

There is not much to see between Ottawa and downtown Kitchener, other than my grandfather's grave, but I'm not sure exactly where it is. Instead of searching, me and my red face go home. I'm sure I'll pass this way again.

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