Floral Encounters of the Third Kind

I used to live in the suburbs and although it's nice and green out there, there were some drawbacks to the geography that I didn't fully realize until I moved to an urban area. One of the main ones is that you have to drive everywhere you go. In the morning, you leave your house, get in your car (or WheelTrans bus), drive somewhere - let's say you’re going to the grocery store - do your shopping, get back into your car, drive home, take your groceries inside your house and often, you can both theoretically and actually spend days having only minimal interaction with other human beings besides your family. Wave over the fence to the neighbour, exchange hellos with the supermarket cashier, maybe smile at someone who holds the door for you at the mall, but that’s it. It’s a very high level of privacy.

Then I moved downtown. Most everyone walk or bike here, parking is incredibly expensive and if you both live and work downtown, it's actually easier to use mass transit. I should clarify a little, though. Although I technically live downtown, more specifically, I live in a very distinct small neighbourhood in the middle of downtown - a neighbourhood that I long ago took to calling a small town in a big city. Living here, it doesn't take long before you start recognizing people - not just your neighbours, but store clerks, humans and their canines in the dog park, the librarians, the street vendors, even the homeless and before you know it, you're interacting with a bunch of people every time you stick your nose out the door. It starts with a smile and a hello and with many people, it stays there and that's all right. But with others, you start chatting and before you know it, the librarian has become your friend, you've had coffee with the guy selling beautiful scarves from India, you chat to a woman as she progresses from being homeless to selling Outreach (a local newspaper sold by people in tight circumstances as – I believe and I could be wrong - a way of facilitating re-entry into the job market) to successfully getting back on her feet, someone’s corralled you into serving on a committee, you attend openings of neighbourhood gardens and this small area of the big city has become filled with friends and acquaintances that you see everyday. It has less obvious privacy and anonymity than do the suburbs, but there are more than one way of creating privacy and in 11 years of living here, I have yet to feel mine invaded.

Not too long ago, I was rattling down the street towards my mother's building to pick up her mail. It was an awful day - started out wrong and kept deteriorating to the point where it had solidly gotten the better of me. It was a nice day, weather-wise, but I was thoroughly focused inward, undoubtedly looking tired and upset. I'd already passed a few people I recognized, but today was not a day where I had done anything but the most cursory of acknowledgments. We all have days like that and people around here are good at respecting their neighbours' quiet days. I was only a few minutes from my destination when coming towards me was a man I’ve seen many times around the area - he's hard to miss, about 10 years older than I and has a most magnificent beard - but we've never progressed beyond the acknowledgment of familiarity. He was dragging along a small trolley on which had been placed one of those apple bushel basket things filled with autumn flowers in a riot of colours. We passed each other and then I heard someone say "hold on!" and there being nobody but me in the vicinity, I turned around, thinking that maybe I'd dropped something. He was bending down, holding up his finger as a sign for me to wait and when he stood up again and came towards me, he handed me flowers. I laughed and laughed, said thank you and we exchanged a smile (okay, so mine was more of a grin), turned around and went our separate ways.

It was a much better day after that.