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My Kind of Town — Edmonton

Oct 20, 1995

A friend drove me to the Muni Saturday morning.

  edmonton sunrise

My friend’s name is Bon — of the world’s ten best smiles he’s got two or three of them.

I had to connect with an Air Canada flight out of Calgary which meant I had to leave our house at 6:30 a.m. Bon showed on time.

As we tooled along Groat Road, I was again reminded why Edmonton is one of the great cities.

The endless river valley green belts complete with parks and cook-out facilities. All those walking and biking and horse trails.   Beaver swimming ten feet away from you in the middle of a city. Wild mushrooms and song birds.

The air was perfect — so sweet from a recent mowing that you could have become intoxicated on it. (If you think you can’t get high on good old Alberta grass, the kind cows munch on — then you don’t know what high is.)

And the sky! Marshmallow clouds streaked with sunlight that made the heavens so blue that your eyes ached looking upward.

I felt sad I had to leave; on the other hand, if I hadn’t gotten up early then I would have missed the morning. (Lovers are always talking about sunsets — but I suspect that the more sunrises a couple sees together, the longer they’ll stay together.) One of the great things about Edmonton is that you get lots of sunsets and sunrises a few hours apart. Eat your heart out Paris and San Francisco — you so-called fabled cities that have great songs written about you.

Soon Bon was driving across Jasper Avenue. The single city that approaches the pristine quality of Edmonton in early morning is Zurich. And it’s boring. No cowboys.

Then the magic was shattered by a drunk, a native, staggering down the street. What a pity, I thought, that one of our country’s aboriginals can’t appreciate the morning.

Hold on. The drunk had a cane. He wasn’t drunk. Just old. He staggered like my mother who is 92 and doesn’t drink anything more powerful than Postum.

I felt ashamed for stereotyping that aboriginal. And stereotype I had — if I had seen Mother limping down that street I would never have assumed she had been drinking.   I might wonder what she was doing before the city was awake.   Knocking over parking meters to pay for home care?

“Bon,” I said, “do you think there’s a lot of prejudice here?”

“Some. People get laconic when you call them on it.”   Bon has three university degrees and savors words such as laconic. His speech is not an affectation, it’s part of his charm. He assumes everyone knows laconic means terse.

We got to the Muni and Bon said, “people who are prejudiced really hurt themselves.”

“How do you mean?”

“Suppose a white guy hates a black guy just causes he’s black. Just because of his complexion. That means every time you see a black guy you’re going to boil with rage.   Most of the time the black doesn’t even know about that anger, it really has no effect on him — but all the negative energy is really bad for the white guy. The person you hurt if you hate, just to hate, is yourself.”   Bon was not that laconic when he was philosophizing.   We shook hands and he wished me bon voyage.

Half an hour later, as my commuter flight lifted off over Edmonton, I watched the city fanning out below, waking up.

A familiar yellow car crept across the Low Level Bridge. I wondered if Bon was in it. Maybe. I wondered if he really understood prejudice. Better than most. He is black and has been living here for ten years. Just before I paid him and got out of his cab he told me how much he liked hacking. “Gives you a chance to meet so many people. It’s a blessing.”

I thought again how lucky I was to be in Edmonton where people like Bon made their homes. Saturday morning was the first time we had ever met and I had known him for only twenty-five minutes. But what a golden twenty-five minutes.

One day if you’re lucky you’ll ride with him.

**********

By the way, even though the city has changed over the last two decades, the sun still seems to be working… check out Edmonton’s sunrise tomorrow morning.

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