I have a one hour bus trip ahead of me. I was going to bring the paper, or a book, but decided I would just sit still and pay attention to the cross-section of my city the bus route carved. I was on my way to see my old friend play in a women’s hockey tournament. It made me nostalgic for arenas and childhood team mates and bitter cold, the kind that crunches and snaps; a time when I had never heard the word philosophy or thought anything about politics or of the socio-economic conditions in which people struggle to live their lives. But those conditions were there, and I was in them, and as I grew older they impressed themselves upon me more and more, drawing me– without my knowing, for many years, where I was going - to the intellectual-political space I now occupy. Geographically, I am at a different latitude, temporally, in a different decade, intellectually, more awake, but in the midst of a socio-economic catastrophe I have experienced before.
The old man’s walker took up about half the aisle. At the next stop an older, frailer, more bedraggled and stooped-over man, also using a walker, boarded. With great effort he paid his fare and struggled onto the bus, but the other man’s walker blocked his way. The first man smiled, the second man narrowed his eyes and stared aggressively. He angrily jabbed his walker into that of the first man, doing no damage to the machine, but killing the gleam in the seated man’s eyes that told you he was kind. Defeated, he did what he could to make way. But he was old and frail too, and there was not much room for manoeuver. The second man gave up and slouched into a seat directly across from the first. Not a single word was spoken.
A smile is the most perfect invitation. Is there anything sadder than to see it reflected back inverted, as an angry scowl? But a hard life hardens. Sadness is for poets.
“Can I see another’s woe and not be in sorrow too?” asks Blake. No, not if you really see it, or so I have argued in the past.
So be sad when you see pain, or be indifferent, as you like, since it makes no difference. The second man was tired and bent and broken by age and illness and poverty and he cannot live his life over. Tomorrow he will have to do this again. I will not be there to see it, but it will be the same. How could it not be?
Ouellette Avenue, Wyandotte to Erie.
Every city has one, a bus stop where all the misery and addiction and ill health and anger and despair gathers. A man in a greasy Michigan State jacket gets aboard, followed by his girlfriend in a red track suit. The man looks like he has not slept in a decade; his eyes threaten to fall right out of his head. He shuffles up the steps and begins some inane conversation with his partner.
The aggressive old man wants to exit. The driver tells him to wait, that he will move up the street a bit to a more convenient location. The man seems not to understand and grunts angrily, extinguishing the same gleam in the bus driver’s eye that was in the first old man’s. The driver stops the bus a second or two later, a few dreary meters from the corner, and silently helps the man off the bus.
Capital leaves those zones it has milked of life and reconcentrates elsewhere. It drives out the neighboorhoody well-established, forces long time occupants to the periphery, creates noise and traffic and pollution and congestion. But it also generates intense urban energy whose seductions are difficult to resist. You want to be a part of it, even though you know that the price it exacts is constant disruption, dislocation, “creative destruction” exploitation, and alienation.
None of that here. The only thing worse than capitalist exploitation is the impossibility of finding a job in which to be exploited.
When capital leaves it leaves behind the old and the ugly and the brutalized and the severely damaged and the sick and the angry to fend for themselves. They cannot see the social forces that have abandoned them. They only see each other, so like a cat swatting at its reflection in a mirror, they savage one another.
On the main streets boarded up buildings decay and decay and decay– an architecture of hopelessness. Some of these buildings have been empty since before the 2008 crisis began. It is certain that they will not be renovated and put back to work anytime soon. Block upon block goes by– closed restaurants, closed clubs, closed stores, windows grimy, doorways piled with trash, the decrepitude amplified by the massive grey damp of the day.
Techumseh and Lauzon
The Fuck You centre is in the middle of the middle of nowhere. They couldn’t even build it right on the corner? Or, at least have it face the main intersection? Is it embarrased? Is that why its face to the corner is its massive refrigeration units and not a sign annnouncing what it is? I search for a means of access and wonder whether I am in the right spot.
Clearly no one thought anyone would ever take the bus and walk from the corner to the arena. You have to be meth-head poor before you take public transit here, and this dun suburban box was clearly designed with the car crowd in mind. The sidewalk on Lauzon ends about 5o meters north of Techumseh. No matter how slushy the shoulder is, I have to walk in it, because the alternative is clearly to get run over, and I still do want to see the game.
Tomorrow I will take a walk and see a ferocious man, frustrated, screaming and cursing to himself and kicking over trash cans. All the way down University, from Rankin to Church Street, the trash cans and Post Office boxes have been knocked over.
The aircraft hanger they are calling a pool blocks my view of the Art Gallery.