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We’re Not Strangers, After All

Fall scarecrow, Preston Street, Ottawa

It was around 1 p.m. on a weekday and I was walking down Merivale Road towards Carling Avenue, earbuds in and podcast on, the sun in my eyes.

I had the sidewalk to myself. This is Canada, after all, most people drive to places they can walk to.

To be fair, taking a leisurely walk down this stretch of Merivale Road never occurs to anyone. Most people walking up or down the street just missed the #80 OCTranspo bus or got tired of waiting for it and assume they will have a better chance to catch an express on Carling Avenue—incidentally, it was what I was hoping for that day.

The only exception is the dude who lives in the Carlington residential neighborhood and spends his days pacing the street, looking for cigarette butts and loose change. I think he missed the bus a long time ago.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this part of Merivale Road but it feels old and slightly shady. There’s a pawn shop, two pizza joints, a coin laundry, the old-fashioned “House of Lasagna,” two convenience stores, a gas station, a few auto repair shops, and a legit “Capital Drugs” pharmacy across the questionably legal “Hemp Company” cannabis dispensary. The tattoo shop, “Blue Blood Custom Tattoos,” is strategically located close to Amigo’s sports bar where you can pick up a fight or some drugs. To balance things out, for all your redemption needs, you can choose between the Church of God of Prophecy, St Elizabeth Church (with mass in Hungarian) and the very lively St. Teklehaimanot Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

I had almost reached the end of the road when I saw two people walking towards me. I mentally prepared myself for that awkward little sidewalk dance because most Canadians have never read the Guide to sidewalk etiquette. Parallel parking in a tight spot or backing out in a busy parking lot? No problem. Following the rhythm of pedestrian traffic, making room for others or simply looking where you’re going? Oh boy. No situational awareness whatsoever, I’m telling you.

Many Canadians behave like kids when they walk to places. They stroll four or five in a row and seem annoyed when you’re trying to pass them—worst offenders are government employees and their informal lunch break walking club. People walking their dog are surprised when you don’t feel like petting the man’s best friend. People ride their fucking bike at full speed on the sidewalk.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who make a point of stepping on the road so that you won’t pass them too close, as if two people couldn’t fit on the sidewalk, as if they could catch an STD—a sidewalkally transmittable disease.

The couple, a man and a woman, were sidewalk experts. I moved two steps to the right, they moved two steps to the left and we passed each other like normal people.

That alone was noteworthy.

But then, something strange happened.

And as we passed each other, the woman kind of waved at me and smiled.

I smiled because hey, why not. Besides, they looked friendly.

She slowed down and for some reason, I did too and turned around.

“Hi,” she said, as if she knew me.

“I’m sorry, I…—”

“—You don’t know me but I know you,” she explained. “I’ve been reading your blog for… like, years.”

I’ll spare you my predictable reply—no way, what the chances are, on Merivale of all places, etc.

Once she gave me some background, I actually remembered her too although I don’t think she ever posted pictures of her. She used to blog. She is Canadian and she lived in France for a long time with her French husband. They had just moved back to Canada.

We chatted for a few minutes and parted ways.

And by the way, they weren’t taking a leisurely stroll up Merivale Road—they were meeting someone to buy a car.

Believe it or not, this is the second time someone recognizes me on the street. The first time was in Nantes, two years ago—Bee Ean spotted me in the crowd with Mark on the Île de Nantes, watching the giant spider. My mother was very impressed.

It’s funny to realize that there are plenty of people who read these articles and I have no idea they do.

Over the years, I’ve met a few bloggers. Gail in 2009, Stephanie in Ottawa (… and we are once again overdue for coffee…) and Lynn at Blog Out Loud. I called Hélène a few times in the spring when she went through a major life change. Mel is a friend in real life. I met readers who don’t blog as well, like Gagan and his wife when they settled in Ottawa, Clothilde with whom I’m still in touch even though they didn’t pursue their immigration project and Martin who often comments here and one day stopped in Ottawa with his giant truck.

This is why I chose not to be anonymous online. I’m glad I had the chance to meet cool people along the way.

If you ever see me somewhere, say hi. Apparently, I look the same in person and in pictures!


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