K, so it’s the first weekend of Stampede and I can see the fireworks waay off in the distance as they explode over Stampede Park. They’re pretty far away—I can’t hear them—but the view from my apartment is pretty cool.
It’s super hot during the day—the kind of heat that causes the clouds to bubble up at the end of the day, and threaten to drop a pound or two of hail onto your garden, or worse, the hood of your car.
It’s that heat that’s just unbearable—the kind that drags you down and makes you grateful for a respite in an air-conditioned restaurant or pub or club.
It was just like this a year ago, when I was in the middle of a life transition.
Our house had just sold, and even though I had picked out an apartment to move to (it seems you can search and search, but until you walk into the room where you can feel yourself, you don’t really know what it is you’re searching for), I didn’t have the funds to make the down payment. In fact there was going to be, at the very least, two to three weeks between wanting to buy and needing to move while the cash from the sale made its way through the system, and so I needed to move right then.
So I rented. For two months, I plopped myself down onto one of the busiest streets in the city. And I spent the summer there, and blogged about it.
And it brought me to where I am today.
Honestly, it was the only furnished apartment I could find that would rent to me for just two months—two months that provided an overlap to moving out and allowed me to take my time moving into my new place. And even though I wasn’t sure it was where I wanted to be for that interim break, I could not have picked a better place, right smack in the middle of everything.
And the timing worked perfectly, in more ways than one.
Since I had become separated, I’d found this incessant need to write. I don’t know where it came from—fear, anger, grief, relief? I’m not sure, but I couldn’t stop my hands from slapping the keyboard night after night.
I’d started to journal and what I wrote ran the length of my life and the gamut of my emotions—it was past, present, future; it was funny and sad and real. And it amounted to more than 125 pages, single spaced.
By the time I moved to the rental, I knew I needed to lighten things up in the writing department.
So I came up with my first blog.
I’m really not sure how it evolved, but it was fast—it came to me on, maybe the second or third night in the rental.
A block off 17th Avenue. Dozens of places to meet and eat and drink and laugh.
And it was a blast.
So, I got to thinking. I’ve had a pretty incredible year since then. I kind of feel like I got a do-over as an adult, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Okay, well, most minutes. The colonoscopy was not one of them. Neither was exploding two of my car tires in a pothole and the ensuing debate over compensation (but, as I say, that’s a story for another day).
Two weeks ago, I met my friend Candace on 17th at the Coup, the “Ethical Vegetarian” (their words) place across from the apartment, and after we had a great lunch (I had the equivalent of huevos rancheros in a sprouted tortilla and Candace had…a bowl of stuff), I decided to stroll the length of the Red Mile (the name given to 17th during hockey playoffs many years ago, it’s stuck)—to see what was the same and what was new…ultimately, to see if it had changed as much as I had.
First off, a massive construction project has flowed to the west and was very recently blocking a chunk of the main drag from 4th to 7th Streets—a very heavily trafficked area with some key dining and drinking spots—among them, Trolley 5 side-by-side with Brasserie Royale, which is situated next to the Big Cheese, where I had my first-ever poutine just a year ago on Canada Day; the incredible, award-winning Market and Analog, where Kim had her first-ever coffee. There’s also Clive Burger with its great burgers and to-die-for custard shakes, the Living Room, and, across the street, Blanco Tex Mex.
A step back: last summer the city began this massive work project on 17th Avenue—tearing up the entire street, replacing old utility and sewer lines, putting in shiny new stuff most of us will never see but will be grateful to have–eventually. A lot of disruption, a lot of dust, and, when it rains there’s mud, but an improvement that is necessary. They close down several blocks at a time, make the updates, close it up and move on. They started at the (relatively) quiet end of the street but are now moving into the more heavily trafficked areas. And they have great signage and are doing a good job promoting those businesses affected, but that still doesn’t make it easy to head down there.
A little further down in this construction zone—which
really is essentially a dirt track the width of the road; in some places there were big pits and pipes sticking out from the sandy soil. Diggers, bulldozers and shovelers were scattered throughout the fenced-off areas, and I can only imagine how noisy and dusty it’s been during the week (my walkabout was
fairly early on a Sunday).
But here’s the good news. I just took a quick drive down there yesterday afternoon….and this segment of the construction has absolutely miraculously been completed! They must have worked around the clock to get the street open in time for Stampede, and, sure enough pardner, the asphalt is new and the patios are open.
UPDATE: actually just heard on the news that the construction is done until fall, so that the businesses can continue to host people inside and out, windows open to the street, parking available and lots of places to stroll.. Good move, City of Calgary!
In any case, most of last year’s favourites are still there.
Here’s my report on what’s changed in a year:
I already mentioned several of the businesses in the construction zone, and I think all the others I visited last year are still there: Una Pizza is most definitely still at it, and 5S17 is there too—closed at that hour, but I think still open, along with Kim Ahn Vietnamese subs (with bubble drinks to die for); Philosaphy coffee (yes I spelled that correctly) and Fiore (where I happily dined alone) are clearly still open for business, as is TukTuk Thai takeout.
But just past the zone, to the east—where the work was last year—a couple have disappeared. Gone is Local 510, and so is Run Pig Run. I don’t even know what this latter one is/was; last summer it was something else that never opened, and this year, seems to be the same thing.
But the rest are there: Ship and Anchor (busy as always—there was a World Cup Game on); Anju, where I discussed Brussels sprouts and relationships with Anju; Ox Bar de Tapas and Cleaver with its Plank Mondays specials and crazy drinks; Calcutta Cricket Club (you can’t miss it’s mint chip exterior) and Cilantro (best patio ever). Then even further down: Buttermilk Waffles, Model Milk and Pigeonhole—all still doing well; the ever-stately and always there La Chaumiere, and finally, at the very eastern end of the quest, Naina’s burgers—I hope they’re doing well.
talked writing with a real writer (you know who you are)—although I was a bit dismayed by a sign on a wall that suggested the space had great development potential (this in the shadow of a high rise that had just begun behind the Devenish, the building that holds Betty Lou’s Library); Nellie’s, Lounge 18, the Shisha Bar, and Cibo, my go-to neighbourhood fix, all still there; Adana Shawarma, Tubby Dog (yay!), Midori (my very first stop on the journey), King’s, Golden Bell and Scrollio still going strong.
(Man, I went alot of places. A LOT.)
Watchman’s Pub, Sobey’s (such great people), Las Canarias Paella and Tapas…..Home and Away (great food, nice people); across the street, Khao San Thai (really excellent), and last, but not least (although a great place for a nightcap), The Pint. Check, check and check. They’re all still there.
As I walked, I thought about each place—what I ate or drank, who I ate or drank it with, what we talked about. And it reminded me that even though we all have to eat, if we do it with purpose, the food tastes that much better.
So, what’s gone, besides Local 510 and the place I never went to?
Well, The Roosevelt is now Hostel (isn’t that the name of a scary movie? In any case, it looks the same; I did not go in); The Wendy’s has become a Popeye’s Chicken and the Mac’s is a Circle K.
There are a couple of new places: Gringo Street (Latin Street Food and a very cool
website)–lots of positive spin on this one, and Pin Bar (OMG this looks like fun—must go, soon) and a couple I missed I must return to visit: Heaven, gluten free and Venezuelan and Jasmine Lounge, a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern
food and shisha bar which just opened this spring is in the place where Ed’s
(famous for their chicken wings for many years) used to be.
And yes, I saved the best for last. Made by Marcus is still going strong, just as friendly and inventive as ever…and an ice cream cone is the perfect way to cap off a meal and a long walk.
Or to just have it for dinner.