“You got wheels?” He had hipster muttonchops and the lexicon to match.

“Excuse me?” my wife said, holding the door halfway open. Our friends were there, one in a wheelchair, so his question sounded curiously apropos rather than anachronistic.

“Do you have a car?” he clarified.

“Oh. No. Sorry.”

He was a neighbour looking for someone to jumpstart his engine. We had just moved back to town and hadn’t had a chance to look for a car. It’s been four months and we haven’t yet bothered. I have joined a car co-op, but haven’t used any of the cars, partly because we live fairly close to friends, shopping, downtown, and several bus stops, and also because no co-op would choose to park their cars near our house.

I’ve had a few friends park cars near the park only to find the window shattered on the street and someone sleeping in the back seat. After this happened several times, they chose to keep the doors unlocked and the car empty other than a club mounted on the steering wheel.

And then there’s the response to this problem I saw the other day. My wife and I were walking our daughter back from her dance class in Strathcona when we came across a car with Alberta plates and this sign in the dashboard:

A Picture!It reads: “If I catch you in this car you will most likely be murdered though you are probably uneducated and cant read” [sic]

The car is south of Hastings but just by one block. Also, if the plates are any indication, the owner/author does not live in the neighbourhood and may not understand the situation in which he put his car in the first place.

The houses on the street are mainly old character homes recently renovated. This wave of gentrification has about two or three blocks left before it washes over Hastings into our neighbourhood. The people most closely associated with the Downtown Eastside are mobile despite their general tendency to remain in their own neighbourhood (though I do occasionally see some of my neighbours panhandling downtown). Apparently, some may also wade into Strathcona to escape the chaos of Main and Hastings, perhaps to sleep in a safer locale. But how much safer if their lives will be threatened, ironically by people from out of province?

Earlier in the week, on that very same street but further away from the wave, I was walking my kids back home from the library in the double stroller. From down the road I saw a man with an unkempt beard pushing a bulky cart from the Downtown Eastside into Strathcona towards us. As we got closer I realized he pushed a jury-rigged wheelchair covered with a tarp. Other, superfluous wheelchair and bicycle wheels hung from the beast. The grotesque machine appeared a hybrid of something from The Road and “Mad Max”. As we approached, he stopped and looked at the boy. I half expected him to say, “There is no god and we are his prophets,” but instead he took out a string with a bell attached to it, said something in Cantonese, smiled at my son and rung the bell. He trudged along, ignoring me and my daughter, pushing his monstrous contraption into the dangerous. I have yet to see him again.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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