The Mystique of Hastings Street

Someone asked me the other day how I liked living where I do, acknowledging it has a bit of an “edge.” It seems like a good question until you realize this person literally lives two and a half short blocks from me. The key is that she lives south of Hastings and that makes all the difference. The sidewalk on the south side of Hastings is like the wardrobe to Narnia. On one side lies either Chinatown or the yupster Victorian homes of Strathcona and to the north it is like winter with no Christmas. Or so some seem to think.

The belief is not entirely unwarranted, of course. My assessment, however, is not that Hastings is the Wardrobe, but that it is Narnia. Our house is quite tame comparatively.

Two nights ago, my wife sent me out for some ice-cream bars. I told her I needed to go up to the convenience stores on Hastings because the ones on Powell close after 6 or 7. She told me to be careful.

I had two choices, both equidistant from the house (though there might be 50 convenience stores in the neighbourhood)—one on the block to the west of our street and another on the block to the east. I decided, based on nothing other than whimsy, to try the one to the west. I crossed the first street before Hastings, noticing the corner directly opposite our block absent of the prostitutes that normally stand there at this time of night. When I got to Hastings, I started walking west but I stopped in my tracks to witness a woman stripped down to her underwear swearing at a man in front of the door to the convenience store I wanted to patronize. My first reaction was one I would likely not have had in any other neighbourhood I’ve ever lived. I thought to myself, rather nonchalantly, I guess I’ll go to the other store, and I turned around.

I have no training in settling disputes such as that one. They do not teach you that in seminary. I’ve studied the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, but not his methods of non-violent resistance. I could theorize about the right thing to do in that situation, but have no expectations in how I might act it out. More shamefully, however, is that I didn’t even consider stepping in at that situation until I approached the other convenience store. There I saw a police car driving west and I turned to watch it pass the scene, hoping the lights would turn on in front of the other store. When they did, I went into the convenience store, noting the sign on the sidewalk advertising Magnum ice cream bars.

I searched the freezer, finding no signs of Magnum products. I asked the man behind the till if he had any Magnums and he said they did not deliver them today. Why keep the sign outside your store, I thought. I bought two Popsicle brand ice cream bars for $2.50, wondered how much the Magnums would be and walked out of the store.

The police car was no longer in front of the store and the woman was clothed and walking away. A man sat in another doorway with a glass pipe in his hand, his head nodding and his eyes glazed. I turned north back up our street and saw a woman on the corner, dressed in unprepossessing attire, gazing up the street. She didn’t move when the light changed.

I went into our house and presented my wife with a Popsicle.

“Huh. I was expecting a Magnum bar, but okay.”

“Yeah, so was I.”

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About azlewis

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