Archive for the ‘Caffe Beano’ Tag

Life With No Car — Three Months and Counting   4 comments

Jared Jenkins who edited the Beano Anthology 2 with Jill Young, both former students of mine at St. Mary's University College.

This photo was taken behind Caffe Beano last summer at Beano’s annual Stampede Breakfast. This year, my little publishing company B House Publications, launched the second ever anthology of poetry and various writings by patrons of Calgary’s most literary coffee shop.(Copies of the Anthology are available at the coffee shop, or through me.)

But I show this photo in this little essay on life without a car because it was taken on a corner where there would normally be a lot of cars. In fact, it’s a block from where I was run over by a car (while crossing on a green light in a cross walk). Beyond the beautiful verdant foliage which we miss so much this time of year, and Jill and Jared’s smiling faces, what makes this photo so pleasant, in my mind is the absence of automobiles in a space where normally that’s all that would be found there.

Three months ago, I began a noble experiment to see if I could survive in a city like Calgary that was designed on the assumption that everyone has a car, with no car. Blessed by the best winter weather I can remember, and a light schedule throughout December and January, three months in I am happy, and a bit surprised, to report that I believe it is one of the best things I have ever done.

There have been a few obvious benefits. Financially. it was a good idea. Not having to re-lease a vehicle or pay for insurance or plates or gas or oil changes or car washes or parking has saved me around $1,500.00 and counting. To get by on the C Train, I have spent $51.00 on tickets and in three months have taken two cabs, at about $10.00 a pop which I would have done anyway as I was attending a function with free alcohol.

Health-wise, walking as much as I do now can only be good for me. I seem to average about 10 km a day, just in my day-to-day life. So, if you add it up, I’ve walked almost 1,000 km during this time — about the same as walking from here to Minot, North Dakota. (I’ve been to Minot and don’t really have a keen desire to go back, but you get my point.) I had hoped that all this walking might result in losing a few pounds in the old gut area. Sadly, I haven’t noticed a huge difference. Well, at least, if nothing else, I didn’t put any more on. Someone told me the other day that she thought I looked a little thinner, so who knows? Maybe it is making a difference.

When I made my move to become an official pedestrian, I thought that I could get by borrowing cars from friends, taking cabs, renting cars. Cars cars cars. So far, as I mentioned I have taken two cabs. One morning after Christmas I borrowed a car from a friend to take back some electronic recycling and visit the Market Mall. Another day, I cajoled my friend Zenon into giving me a ride to Ikea. That’s been it. I have had no need or desire to rent a car for a weekend. I looked at Calgary Car Share and thought about registering and having access to a car from time to time, but so far I haven’t bothered. Three months in, I can honestly say I don’t miss it at all.

When you become a pedestrian, you start to see cars as being optional. You start to question the need for them, the sheer numbers of them, and you notice maybe for the first time how our city is organized in such a way to allow for the movement of cars. Most of this organization results in the uglification of our city. It seems at some level like the city is nothing more than a series of parking lots joined by conduits allowing the movement of cars and the people in them, usually one at a time, from one parking lot to the next.

A lot of people say to me, “I wish I could do without a car but in my case I simply have to have one.” That would be the prevailing attitude of 99% of our population here. I don’t argue the point. In most cases, they’re right. And why shouldn’t they have one anyway if they want one? I can see there coming a day when I want a car again, just for the sense of freedom it brings, just to be able to go where I want, when I want. I try not to have a holier than thou attitude about it.

Yes it seems to me if we at least question the notion of the sanctity of the automobile, we have taken the first steps towards creating change. At the Walrus Magazine “The Art of the City” forum at the High Performance Rodeo a few weeks ago, Calgary author Chris Turner spoke very eloquently about this topic, and showed as an example photos from Copenhagen. The first was of a public square choked with cars, looking rather ugly and forlorn, if a town square can be said to have feelings. The second was of the same space after the city had imposed a ban on cars, and now it was looking very happy and spiffy and inviting. Through such changes, Copenhagen has been named the “most livable city” in the world. I don’t know where Calgary is on that list, but I suspect nowhere near the top.

The thing about Copenhagen and other cities that have made themselves more pleasant and livable, it doesn’t really take all that much to do it.

“But,” you might argue, “You don’t really work, you’re just a writer, you don’t have a schedule, you don’t have to be anywhere at any given time.” To a certain extent, this is true. (There really are people out there who are convinced that artists don’t really work. Our Prime Minister, for example! But that’s the surely fodder for another post.)

I’m fortunate I realize, to have the kind of schedule that allows me to walk. Although taking the C Train from my apartment on 12th Avenue to St. Mary’s in Fish Creek Park, door to door, is about ten minutes faster than it is to drive it. And having spent that 45 minutes reading instead of getting pissed off at other drivers and waiting at red lights has me showing up at school much more relaxed than driving ever did.

I am quite content to live in a modest apartment in the inner city, no desire to live in a big house in the suburbs that appears to be all garage from the street. I don’t have young children to drive around. I don’t ski or partake of mountain culture so I have no need to drive to the mountains every week. Even when I had a car, I didn’t.I think I used it mostly to drive back to Saskatchewan to visit my mother. Sadly, I can’t do that any more.

And so, I am a pedestrian, and I’m proud of it. I hope that reading this might inspire others to try, if nothing else, to become a little less dependent on their cars.

Post Script: Getting back to the Beano Anthology, a fellow pedestrian, the poet and photographer Jude Dillon, took the cover photo for the book one evening during his perambulations.  It’s a beautiful photograph, taken in the waning light of a summer’s day. Here it is:

Thanks for reading!

Mining the Journals   3 comments

Some of my journals from the last two years. These are just a few of the hundreds I have filled over the years.

I have been an inveterate diarist since I was in high school, and that’s going back a few years now, let me tell you. I actually have one of my journals from 1974, when I was in Grade 12. It records among other things a trip my friend Richard Campbell and I took from Regina to Banff. Anytime I lose my mind and think about camping as a possible activity, I only have to go back and read that record of those cold soggy nights on the side of a mountain and I quickly come to my senses.

With a few holes, a few missing years, alas, I have a fairly complete record of my life that spans some 40 years recorded in hundreds of notebooks,  containing probably close to 3,000,000 words.

Blake Brooker of One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre and I have talked about doing something with all these journals, some kind of interactive performance piece with them. I think all we’re lacking is any sense of urgency. Since we last talked about it, I’ve probably filled half a dozen more books. The possibilities would seem to be endless for such a piece. Want to know what I was doing on the day you were born? I could probably tell you. (Unless you’re older than me, but you’re probably not!)

These days, I am a regular fixture at Caffe Beano just off 17th Avenue SW in Calgary. I write in my journal there almost every day. When I am traveling, I look for new coffee shops that are conducive to the writing process. Last fall in Statford, I discovered Balzac’s on my first day there and wrote there every day for  three weeks. I guess I’m a creature of habit, which is no small trick when you don’t really have a daily schedule.

David Mamet once wrote a great essay, “Writing in Restaurants,” which gave the title for a collection of essays. There’s something interesting about engaging in a very personal act in a public place, especially one you won’t get arrested for. I don’t pretend to understand the reasons why I am able to be so productive in a coffee shop, so much more so than if I stay at home to do the same thing. You can’t argue with results, and my coffee shop and restaurant output has been consistently prodigious.

Yet, in a way, that’s the easy part. The hard part is having the discipline to go back through them and mine them, as it were, for the gold they may or may not contain. In doing this, one is confronted with one’s past, which at times can be uplifting, while at other times and more often than not,  simply deary, I’ve often noticed that we don’t tend to sit down and write anything when our favourite team wins a big game. But, get our hearts broken and that’s a different story. Unhappy events in our lives tend to send us scurrying back to the comfort of the written word, and so my journals, at any rate, tend to be a little on the dark side.

(If I had never had my heart broken, I might have 3,000 words instead of 3,000,000. That’s just how it goes.)

Along with the minutiae, the quotidian, as it were, we mine these journals for the poems and scenes of plays we may have written down on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, say, or late at night when we simply couldn’t fall asleep. These are a few pages from the notebook I kept in Stratford and wrote mostly while at Balzac’s:

It's a scene from a play someone wrote. Oh yeah! It was me!!


Obviously by now, writing down my deep thoughts on a daily basis is second nature. It’s habitual and probably very therapeutic. But as I say, the hard part is going back through it to see if there’s anything there of interest.

This scene I’ve been looking at today seems like it might have some potential. There are about ten such scenes in this unnamed play that I called at one point “an epic fantasy,” yet there’s no actual title at this point  So these days, cold days in Calgary when one looks for reasons to stay indoors, I am transcribing this raw material into my computer, with a wait and see attitude about what’s there. Is it gold, or fool’s gold? Too early to tell and no way to tell but to go through the process, hoping for the best.

Even though such scenes are written in full sobriety (for some reason I can’t write in bars) there are times when I go back and read them and have little or no recollection of having written them in the first place. What that’s all about, I’m not really sure, other than to say we clearly go into a very different frame of mind when creating, the results of which can be at some level unrecognizable even to ourselves.

And so now, it’s -30 degrees outside, yet I’ve been at this computer far too long. So even on a wretched day like this, I am to Beano to see what words are waiting on the page of my journal for me to draw out.

Thanks for reading! Stay warm!!



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