Monday, February 13, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 18 - Making Connections with my Community

Sudbury has been buried in several inches of snow – maybe even several feet. I don't know – I'm from the metric generation. What I do know is that a lot of snow came down this weekend – throughout the day on Friday and Sunday, with a beautiful sunny Saturday wedged in between.

I spent a good part of this weekend reconnecting with my City. Knowing that I won't have to drive has been, in some cases, quite liberating. Take Friday. On a snowy walk home from work, I stopped in at the Laughing Buddha and enjoyed a pint (Granville Island Winter Ale) or two (Beau's new Tripel whose name I can't remember now's a Tripel - ok, the internet tells me it's Triceratops Tripel, which is appropriate, because I felt as if I had been gored by something with big horns after drinking it). On another Friday evening, I would have walked on by, with the expectation of plans having been made that would have included me behind the wheel.

These past few months, our Saturday mornings have been spent at the YMCA, which has some great programs for the kids. Dance, gymnastics, arts and crafts – and some quiet time for me between to read a paper and have a coffee. The Y is pretty close to Riverside Manor, but once the kids are decked out in their jackets, boots, snowpants, etc., it seems as if it takes them a little longer to move from Point A to Point B. I'm not sure that it's the extra clothing that's slowing them down there, but instead the distractions along the way – mountains of snow pushed up by the plow leading to climbing, snowball fights and just general goofing off. My kids have transformed a 5 minute walk into a 25 minute “Hurry Up”-fest.

But they love the Y, and it's just so awesome that we live close enough that we can visit whenever the mood takes us – with or without a car.

Of course, Saturday mornings are extra special for the kids, because they know that when the leave the Y, The Candy Store on Durham Street will be open and Dad can't resist a short visit there no matter how many times he says, “We'll see” in response to the question, “Can we go to the candy store today, papa please?” Yes, I'm a sucker for sweetness – and I like candy too.

This Saturday saw me come back downtown in the afternoon. A rally in support of electoral reform had been organized by a few students from Laurentian University, and they invited the community to come out and join them at Tom Davies Square. Ya, I admit, I get a kick out of things like this – to see people in my community come together around an issue that matters to them and to me. Especially those events that I don't have to help plan and can just show up to!

So, about 30 people came together Saturday afternoon – many of whom I had never met before (which always kind of surprises me at rallies like this. A few years ago, I ran into another 'regular' like myself, walking to Memorial Park, presumably to attend a rally. “What is it this time?” he asked. “Income inequality? Bill C-51?” “No,” I replied. “I think we're here for elephants and rhinos this time,” but I wasn't 100% certain until someone else handed me a sign). A few speeches were made, the high notes were hit, most speakers kept theirs short, and then we walked down to the MP's office (wedged between the Y and The Candy Store! I love Durham Street) and took some photos. The MP wasn't there. We knew that, we didn't care.  We hoped he was spending this beautiful day somewhere with his family.  He'll get our message eventually.  He's a good guy.  Good rally. Well done!

Back home. Saturday evening was set aside as grocery night this week, after our Sunday shopping experience last weekend. So we packed up the kids and our re-usable grocery bags, hopped on the bus, and – didn't quite make it to the transit terminal. Something was missing....apparently it was food in our stomachs, because when the first, “I'm hungry!” was spoken, it quickly turned into a chorus – as I had secretly hoped it might when I said it. We exited the bus on Larch Street and walked over to Peddler's Pub on Durham. It brought back memories to go there for me and Sarah, who had spent a few quality evenings there when we were dating – including one memorable St. Patrick's Day – memorable, of course, for us not being able to remember a whole heck of a lot of it. We had a great meal (here's a shout-out to Peddler's for that awesome Spinach Dip! And for Peddler's new axe throwing venue which is sure to be a hit for Sudbury's downtown), and afterwards walked down the road to continue our journey by bus to the grocery store.

Food Basics. Groceries. Re-usable bags. The one low point of the weekend. But this time, our shopping experience ended and just as we scooted across the street, we saw the bus coming. And the bus driver saw us, running (well, that's a relative term) across the street. He stopped the bus and waited for us to all climb on board. That made our evening. The low point came later – lugging the groceries from the bus to the front door of the house. The straps gave way on the one of the bags, right in the middle of the street. And of course it was the bag with the jars of pasta sauce and jam and everything else breakable. As we stuffed the products back into the now strap-less bag, I was picturing sauces everywhere – and more money down the drain. But surprisingly, nothing had broken, and it was all good. We didn't even hold up any traffic on “busy” Riverside Drive – because really, although the Transportation Master Plan shows Riverside as being at capacity (see Figure 8, page 10), I haven't seen it. And I didn't see it on Saturday night as we picked up our groceries.

Sunday. Church. Great service. The Minister talked about love, and in Sunday school, the kids decorated their own cookies. Veronica wanted to give hers to people who are hungry, which came out of nowhere and blew me and Sarah away. We'll be looking into how we can continue to encourage her and all of our children to think about other people in our community.

Boarding the 502.
After church, we hopped on the 502 Regent-University-Four Corners bus, going the long way around, because it appears to be the most convenient – even if it loops around and takes us back to where we started before heading to the transit terminal. Since we never know how long it's going to take to get the kids winter gear on or even just walk a hundred metres, we've realized that it's best to be early and take whatever bus we can take, even if it means a longer ride, or a wait at the transit terminal.

A beautiful, snowy Sunday, and we're all on the bus heading home to do...well, nothing, really. The usual. Whatever takes our fancy.   So when the bus calls out "Science North" as the next stop, questions are asked, "Can we go?" - and there's no good answer why we can't, other than we've missed the stop!  And even that's not a good answer, because the bus will loop around back to the stop.  "Do you have our membership card?" Sarah asks.  Of course I do. I never leave home without it!

The Science North bus stop isn't exactly at the front doors of Science North.  It's on the other side of Ramsey Lake Road, at the hospital. But it's still a short walk to the building, albeit one where cars have to be dodged crossing Ramsey Lake Road (which was pretty easy on a snowy Sunday afternoon) and then again walking along the access road into Science North's parking lot (a little more tricky, given the blind curves here - a sidewalk would be nice, but I expect it wouldn't be used by all that many.  A typical Sudbury problem.
Veronica, Alice and Brian on the turtle at Science North.

Science North!  What an absolutely wonderful community asset this place is.  And not just because of the tourism it attracts.  It's a wonderful place to learn about so much - and even Brian, who is just 4, learns a lot by doing, seeing, hearing - just being there.  It's an eye-opener for our children, and Sarah and I are always learning something when we're there.  We are just so lucky to have Science North in our community.

After visiting with the butterflies and trying to race the cars along the electrical track without derailing them, we decided to sit in on the Climate Change program at the Object Theater on the top floor.  I hadn't visited this exhibit for years.  If you're not familiar with it, briefly, Rick Mercer plays a sheep whose pasture is drying out due to climate change.  Rick and his friends take us on a quick journey, looking at the problem, and identifying possible solutions - all with the help of videos and models.  Our kids got a kick out of it - Veronica seems to be aware that there's something insidious afoot in the world, with melting glaciers and extreme weather (a Science North and Dynamic Earth have helped inform her growing understanding of her world, that's for sure).
Veronica at the F. Jean MacLeod Butterfly Gallery,
Science North

Sarah, who hadn't seen Rick Mercer as Sheepy before, walked out of the Object Theater and says to me, "We can't go back to the car now."  She's always known that climate change would be bad news for our children.  I think what hit home for her was the discussion of feedback loops - and particularly, the role that melting permafrost will play with massive methane releases.  It's scary stuff, for sure.  But now I'm scared, too.  What is this going to mean for me ever driving our minivan again?  I want to do my part - every day, I feel that I'm doing my bit to help - but am I ready to give up the car, for good?

Oh, and we're also going to turn our backyard into a vegetable garden this summer, apparently.  Thanks, Rick Mercer.  I know you're right, and all, but...  Maybe you can come and help me build the garden!

Back home on the bus, after a walk to Health Sciences North from Science North (I'm sure the proximity of these two closely-named institutions has never led to any confusion).  The bus was late.  It was nice outside.  The kids were tired.  We didn't really care.  We hopped on the first one that came along, headed the wrong way of course - which meant that we had to pass the Science North stop again.  I don't think anyone other than Sarah was awake this time to ask if they could go (and that includes me - I've been dozing on buses for years).
Alice, ready to help sick and injured stuffed
animals, Science North.

My City is a beautiful place.  It's true that this whole car-free experience has at times led me to feel that my world has closed in on us a little.   Getting around isn't easy.  But luckily for us, we live in a very dynamic part of the City - with the downtown so close by, and along a transit route were we can just hop on a bus and end up at a world class venue like Science North, or continue along to the library at Laurentian University, or even further to the Laurentian Conservation Area.  Bell Park is accessible by transit as well.  And many of our favorite restaurants are within walking distance - staggering distance, even, for those nights where I might have a few extras on the way home (not that I know anything about that - wow, it's not easy to write when your fingers are crossed).   This weekend I fell in love with my City again, and I feel so happy, so excited that my children will grow up here - that they, too, will explore and come to love this place - a City that may be built for cars, sure - but ultimately, a City that operates on a human scale.

On the bus, going home.
We're off the bus at Riverside Manor.  Wake the kids up.  No, that's not working. Carrying Alice and Brian off the bus.  It's just a short, short walk now to the house, across the street, up the driveway...Boy, there's a lot of snow in the driveway.  I'd have to shovel that to get the van out if...

This morning, on Day 18 of our Car Free pilot project, the driveway still isn't shoveled.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

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