A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
In the gaps between the thunderstorms and torrential downpours we either mow the lawn or try to get off the property for a reason other than groceries. The Edmonton Journal last week carried a small item announcing a newly conceived Latino festival, an inaugural street party way up along
118th Avenue, a major
thoroughfare a fair distance from the Crooked 9. Knowing the urban geography a
tiny bit Ann and I agreed there would be good food to be had. And there was a
beer garden. Late last Friday afternoon we crossed the river and headed north.
The busy artery through the neighbourhood used to be known as
and the community has retaken ownership of the old name. The area is now
considered inner city though its residential streets beneath their canopies of
elm leaves seem beyond walking distance from the aspirational reassembly of the
downtown core. The homes are one storey and modest, most constructed between
the world wars. Some are immaculate, obvious sources of pride to their owners.
Some are neglected. Some have the air of properties rented to lazy tenants.
Most are respectable enough. Currently in-fills get thrown up in more desirable
parts of town.
Not being a local, my understanding gleaned from talking to Edmontonians and a little bit of reading is that
didn’t just smack into its nadir in the 70s, it left a crater. The progress of
a long rehabilitation is evident along the avenue itself. There’s an eclectic
mix of small businesses and a surprising range of worldly restaurants,
Caribbean, Ethiopian, Salvadorian and Italian sprinkled amongst the discount
car dealers, manicurists and mom and pop convenience shops with
poster-cluttered, hold up-friendly windows. The liquor store must do all right.
Still, I was delighted to see that the storefronts of commercial predators,
payday loans and rent-to-own, were dark and empty, dusted.
Efforts of rejuvenation are evident. A wall mural here and there. The street signs and lampposts are decorative. The crosswalks are embedded brick. The tips of a few streets offer expanded angled parking for visitors. Even so the bad reputation and some residual grit persist; you lock your vehicle and make sure there’s no drive-thru change in the cup holder, there are some unhealthy looking characters lurking about. I picture today’s provincial economy as a bicycle wheel. The rubber splits the front forks passing the brake pads and revolves downward on a dirt road sprayed with oil to keep the dust at bay. I know there will be an upturn eventually but I can’t gauge the circumference of the wheel. There are some faces on
Alberta Avenue that
are etched by the results of the classic resource-based cycle: booms benefit
other people and busts plague them.
The street festival is comically small, something we might mount in our back lane in an attempt to get to know our other neighbours, the folk one street over. Wind
has a booth for burner phones. The
North American Soccer League Eddies, Edmonton FC, is set up too, distributing
autographed player cards and pinup schedules. Near us on the corner is Handy
Bakery, a Portuguese bakery and deli with a few tables and a beer license. It’s
shut and I’m mildly disappointed because if I’d been thinking I would’ve dragged
Ann to Handy a week earlier to watch the Euro 2016 final with people who really
cared about the outcome and to savour a roasted pork chop smothered in hot
piri-piri sauce served as a sandwich filling inside a fresh flour-dusted bun.
The major sponsor is El Rancho, a restaurant renowned in the city for its
superb tortilla soup. The joyful news is that El Rancho’s staff are doing all
of the cooking – albeit on rented propane grills. Mobile
At most public events in
you can’t just buy what you want. You
must line up for tickets and then join another line to exchange them for what
you actually want. The red tape rationale has always escaped me; perhaps it’s a
prim Holy Roller legacy hangover. Ann buys us 20 food tickets worth $1 each. We
watch as each unwound ticket is then painstakingly stamped with a magenta dot.
Killing time, the young person manning the booth asks us if we’re from the
neighbourhood. Ann replies, No, we’ve driven over from the south side because
we’d seen the notice in the newspaper. Immediately there’s some excited talk
among the staff in the ticket booth. They skip and clap. Can Ann mention the
festival on Facebook, por favor? I
move away to buy beer tickets for us from somebody else even though it’s
technically the same booth, but, you know, rules, and we’re only into the first
couple of hours of this festival’s beta launch. Alberta
On the small stage a woman with elaborately coiffed copper hair topping a tubular black cocktail dress karaoke croons a breathy ballad, Spanish is the loving tongue. At the food booth Ann and I select chorizo tacos and something else that looks like cigars but has little filling and even less flavour. We take our food into the beer garden which is no larger than our backyard patio. The backs of our hands are inked with green dots. The tacos are delicious, their greasy drippings like blobs of red mercury. I find the cilantro garnish slightly overpowering, not my favourite flavour. Our dessert is a dish of roasted baby potatoes seasoned with sea salt and drizzled with juice from a freshly sliced wedge of lime; we look at each other: Hey, we can make these ourselves, easily.