Wednesday, January 07, 2009

walking in windsor

Phog Lounge
Just before Christmas, a notice for an upcoming activity in Windsor caught my eye:

On December 28th, when your body is overstuffed with food and in need of a good evening walk, head to Phog Lounge and take one with some friends and strangers. When we move through cities we tend to stay on the beaten path, rarely diverting. We see Windsor from the same perspective each time. Psychogeography is a way of breaking out of that routine and paying attention to and getting excited about the locations in the city.

Two of my favourite Windsor websites, International Metropolis and Scaledown, had teamed up with Murmur/Spacing/Toronto Psychogeography's Shawn Micallef to organize a walk. I brought Amy along to sample a slightly more formalized version of what has occupied many a night for me over the past few years. The night lived up to the billing, as I discovered parts of downtown Windsor I didn't know mixed among the familiar, even if the familiar is starting to look alien to me with the passage of time.

Walls of Phog Lounge
Inside, the walls at the front were lined with t-shirts, bags and a variety of locally knitted items. I may have seen the wheels in Amy's head turn. After wandering around to see if there was anyone I knew (and being introduced to the organizers), Amy and I settled down at a table at the front, where we were soon joined by another Toronto walking veteran. The room gradually filled, with an estimated turnout of 40 to 45 curious souls.

Shawn Explains It All
Shawn provided an introduction to concept of psychogeography, from its origins with radical French intellectuals (whose fate made the crowd laugh). Once the introduction was finished, the room split into small groups. Each was given a slip of paper with an algorithm to follow for 50 minutes before returning to Phog. Here's a recreation of what ours looked like:

Windsor Star Ferry Street Entrance
The first line of instructions led our quartet (Amy, Liz, Shawn and I) to the Windsor Star entrance on Ferry Street. As we followed the directions, long-gone places I passed by all the time in childhood came up in conversation, such as the Trolley Restaurant at University and Victoria. Dad often parked in front of the Trolley for our Sunday morning newspaper run, though I don't recall ever going in (the only downtown eateries I remember going to during early childhood were Tunnel Bar-B-Q and a once-in-a-blue-moon bite at Kresge's lunch counter).

Back Alley Warning
A warning from a construction project in a back alley. One backyard we passed along this alley looked as if it was prepared for riots or nuclear attack, thanks to the bunker-style placement of concrete blocks. Each of us pointed our personal landmarks as we zig-zagged through an area roughly bounded by Ouellette, Elliott, Pitt and Bruce—places where relatives lived, headquarters of employers, spots with a birds-eye view of street fights, etc.

Alley Behind Ouellette Park/Pelissier Parking Lot Entrance (2)
Two views looking north from Park Street: the alleyway behind Ouellette Avenue and the adjoining entrance to the Park-Pelissier parking lot. Note the traffic light inside the lot, designed to maintain order between this entrance and one off Pelissier. I forgot to check if the main stairwell still bears the sweet smell of urine. There once was a connection to Ouellette from the garage via an elevator into a long-gone Big V drugstore—the ramp to the elevator appears to be there, but I have no idea if the public may still use it.

Final Clearout at Turek Camera Shop
Heading north along Ouellette, we noticed longtime businesses that were for lease (Coffee Exchange, on the move) or cleared out (Turek Camera Shop). These made me think of several stores that vanished over time along the the block from Park to University—McCance's English Shop, Birks, Dack's Shoes, Sam the Record Man and Whittington's newsstand.

What Kind of Solutions?
Hey, if it works...

Drawing Their Route
Upon returning to Phog, each group drew their route on a chart overlaid with a satellite map projection.

A recap of another group's trek. Full set of my photos.

UPDATE: More videos and tales from the evening.

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