I Am a Pedestrian: Part 2
Walking around a city
I Am a Pedestrian is the result of a 159-kilometre walk around Toronto. The book consists of 159 observations gleaned from a 42-hour adventure at the perimeter. I Am a Pedestrian is a record of underexplored places, stories of people encountered and lost histories rediscovered at Toronto’s current city limits.
Before the onset of the novel coronavirus, I promoted I Am a Pedestrian in public libraries and other venues with a talk titled, The Time Travelling Pedestrian. With the aid of historical photographs, maps, and group discussion, the presentation revealed how Toronto has grown from a lonely French outpost in 1750 to today's bustling metropolis.
Long Branch Loop — known as LBL — is a transit hub. Cotton Top describes the elderly woman encountered while exploring the transit hub. Except when joined by fellow pedestrian, David, near the final leg of the journey, my sole companion throughout is Scout, a World War II-era harmonica. Below is an excerpt from the book.
LBL has been a transit hub since 1928. This stretch of track dates further back, to 1895. In eight plus decades the property remains largely unchanged.
A concrete wall runs the length of the hub separating the transit property from Long Branch GO Station. A mural titled Modes of Travel (artist unknown) adorns the barrier. At one end a depiction of First Nations people in a birchbark canoe, at the other an automobile zipping through space.
Half a dozen Arab cab drivers wait on fares. They eye me with suspicion; I approach the waiting shed. The structure dates back to the loop’s early days. Inside, a homeless man in coveralls and a soiled shirt slumbers on red benches. The interior is stifling. The air is fetid. He is barefoot. Pocked cheeks are covered by coarse stubble. His wrinkled face is a canyon of woe, a map of misery.
I plunk my rubber boots on the ground beside Cotton Top; the scent of lavender perfume is a welcome reprieve. Maintenance workers in orange vests get out of a work vehicle. Armed with corn brooms, they sweep pavement between tracks. Pointing in the direction of Modes of Travel, I ask Cotton Top in a loud, outside voice if she has knowledge of the mural. She is puzzled.
“The painting with the flying car? Over there.”
Broom brigade halts mid-sweep and sizes me up. Instead of answering, Cotton Top points down at my boots and asks if I’m going fishing.
“No. I’m walking Etobicoke Creek to Eglinton.”
She asks if I’ve brought food.
I pat a granola bar inside my pant pocket.
Cotton Top invites me to lunch at Church of St. Demetrius, a short hop by streetcar.
The 501 rumbles into the loop. The work crew waddle out of the way like unhurried penguins. Cotton Top rocks to a stand. Before she boards she removes a vinyl change purse with a worn clasp from a crocheted handbag. Removing a coin, she presses a toonie into my palm.
Back in the waiting shed, I hold my breath and place the coin on the bench above the shoeless man’s bird’s-nest head.
I bound across the boulevard, toward Marie Curtis Park. Scout erupts.
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