I used to live downtown. Well, not exactly downtown — a few blocks northwest of downtown.
But close enough that a car wasn’t needed, and I walked everywhere to do everything. I worked downtown, so my commute was a 15 minute walk. I shopped for groceries at small fruit and veg markets and butchers, and only did small, occasional trips to the grocery store. I ate in local cafes and shops with lunch counters. I got involved in the local music scene. I went to the library, and the artsy fartsy cinema.
That was a long time ago. A very, very long time ago.
And then, as one does, I met a fella and we decided to settle down and live a family life, and, as he loathed my dream apartment in a 100-year-old house, we decamped to a more family-friendly neighbourhood with houses and yards and parks and other families. And a forest full of deer and critters and nature walks.
That was at least 15 years ago. And to be honest, I haven’t been downtown much in the intervening years. Being in a new suburban neighbourhood brings with it all the creature comforts at your fingertips — grocery stores, restaurants, malls — so there’s really been no need. We had the odd class or appointment downtown, and a few trips to a favourite toy store, but otherwise, no.
And then, this morning, Stinkerbelle’s class had a field trip to the civic museum. Which is about as downtown as one can get, right next door to the city’s biggest and most famous landmark. And thus it was I found myself downtown, with an hour and a half to kill.
WITH FREE PARKING. A rarity downtown, to be sure.
So I decided to walk around a bit.
I didn’t go far. I went to do a little holiday shopping, going to the toy store, and then on to a yarn store, and our favourite gift shop. And as I stood on a wind-whipped corner, waiting for the light to change so I could cross, I was reminded of what made life in close proximity to downtown so nice. Just being out, walking around, looking in shop windows and remembering.
I walked past a shop that used to be a place we’d buy gift baskets and little odds and sods for the kitchen and for each other. It’s a sports store now, I think. And another shop, I didn’t really notice much.
The health food store remains the same, although I did not have time to stop in today. I remember they used to have the best bagels there, at a ridiculous price which I gladly paid. And it was there that I experimented with all the weird and wonderful things in the quite frankly dismal vegetarian years of my 20s.
My fruit and veg market has been turned into one of those upscale bistro market places where food and nicknacks compete for prominence and both are outside our budget.
The Polish cafe that was always empty has changed hands or reinvented itself into something European — vaguely Parisian I think is what they’re going for. It’s still pretty empty.
I stopped in at the gift shop where we bought a bedroom set we loved so much for the baby we lost. I hadn’t really been able to go in there since then, and we can’t afford much in there anymore. But now we have That Girl, and it was nice to browse and dream of things we would buy for her and look around a bit.
Traffic is more orderly, with freshly paved roads and lanes reduced to single plus a bike lane. And it looks strangely more decorative, with fancy light standards and whatnot.
But I also realized, as I trudged breathless back up the hill to the museum to pick up That Girl, that nowadays I would probably drop of a heart attack with all the walking and hills I did back when I lived in that neighbourhood. And as the temperature plummeted and the wind whipped around me, I would miss my car, not just for the convenience but for the warmth. I do not miss being cold and having to walk in all kinds of weather as I did then.
There are things I miss about downtown life, sure. But I’m a different person now. I’m older. I like my creature comforts. I don’t go out dancing anymore, or sit in cafes eating dessert with a fancy coffee, and even if I did, I don’t think I could cope with the drunken yahoos when the students come downtown to party.
I don’t have the expendable income I had as a single woman with no family or mortgage — but I love being settled into a family and owning a home instead of renting, despite the expense. It’s harder, sure, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And I love looking out into the woods and being able to go for a walk out in nature any time I want.
It’s true what they say. The past is a great place to visit, but there comes a time when you wouldn’t want to live there anymore.