Well, we’re here! Now let us never speak of the shortcut again.”— Homer, The Simpsons
Since my feet are my main source of transportation, I’m a big fan of the shortcut. In movies and TV shows whenever someone takes a shortcut, bad, scary, deadly and/or hilarious things always happen to them. In real life, shortcuts are just a more efficient way to get around a city… most of the time.
Halifax was the best city ever for shortcuts. In my 20-minute walk to and from work, I could go the whole way with only ever having to hit sidewalks for the last couple of minutes. Halifax has shortcuts bisecting the city in all directions. Some of the shortcuts get so popular that the city paves them and turns them into official walking paths.
Aside from the time-saving aspect of shortcuts, the best thing about them is that you’re away from traffic and get to see some extraordinary parts of the city – the backs of buildings, wooded areas, hidden community gardens, broken-down and abandoned stuff. And, you often meet the most interesting people clambering over railroad ties, under fences, through parks or over and through structures. (Such as Parkour kids [traceurs], which I blogged about in one of my very first blog posts ever, in Halifax, back before I was XUP. I’ve never seen a traceur in Ottawa, though I suppose they must exist — probably downtown where I don’t spend that much time.)
Anyway, Toronto is also a good short-cut (and Parkour) city. Although there’s not a lot of green-space to cut through, there are a lot of good back-streets, city squares, parking lots and other accessible spaces to shorten and enliven your walk.
In fact, the only place I’ve ever lived where shortcuts are few and far between is Ottawa. Ottawa is a very, very car-centered city. Shortcuts are rare. Pedestrians are barely allowed to have sidewalks to walk on. Sometimes a bit of sidewalk gets slapped alongside a road if the road construction guys have some leftover asphalt or something; but the sidewalk never lasts very long and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of traffic with motorists honking and yelling at you.
Ottawa has the much-touted Riverside bicycle paths, which could be considered as sort of city-designated and sanctioned shortcuts. They’re really for bicycles, but pedestrians are tolerated as long as they can figure out which side they’re supposed to walk on – which is not the side facing traffic, interestingly enough. Which means pedestrians that walk on the correct side are constantly being surprised/scared by cyclists whizzing past from behind them. Also, the Riverside paths are actually take longer than just walking on the side of the road, so they’re not much good as shortcuts. They’re probably great for cyclists, but for pedestrians they’re really only good as scenic strolling areas.
Walking through the Experimental Farm is a pretty good shortcut, if you happen to live near it, which I don’t.
I’ve tried a bunch of different routes to work. If there were shortcuts it would only take me about half an hour to walk there. But there are no shortcuts. Ninety percent of the trip is alongside a frantically busy 4-lane street. So it takes 50 minutes at best. I don’t often walk all the way to work.
I have found a few parking lots and fields to walk through in the city that cut my walking time. It’s always fun to find and follow a winding footpath through the snow or through a grassy area.
I’ve always wondered why exactly these paths are winding? You’d think if someone was trying to get from point A to point B by the most direct and shortest route, they would forge a straight line. But that’s never the case. Shortcuts always meander. Is there something about humans that disallows them to walk in a straight line?
Maybe they’re walking and then their mind wanders and suddenly they look up and see they’re too far over to the right, so they veer left and lose focus again until they realize they’re too far over to the left, correct themselves again, and so on and so on??? It’s the only thing I can figure.
Anyway, the only time I’ve ever had a zany or hair-raising adventure whilst shortcutting was when I was about 8. I’d gone to town with my mum because she was going to the hairdresser. After a while I got bored and so, while she was under the dryer, I yelled at her that I was going outside. “Do NOT leave this block!” She yelled back.
Being a farm kid, I didn’t know what a block was, so I just wandered through the small town, cutting through shops and playgrounds and back alleys. I was about to turn into one of those alleys when I saw two guys having a knife fight. One was stabbing the other in the arm – not very hard. They were both pretty bloody and there was some blood on the ground, so probably this was not the first stab.
They didn’t notice me, but I decided not to cut through that alley afterall. I just made my way back to the hairdressers. I don’t know if the whole fight thing didn’t seem real or what, but I forgot all about the knife fight as soon as I left the alley. I didn’t think of it again until later that day when I was home eating supper with the family. “Hey, you guys!” I yelled over the general din, all squirmy with excitement. “Guess what I saw today?” So I told them my story and, if I know young me (and I think I do), I told it with plenty of gory detail and a with a tad of embellishment. Of course no one believed me.
However! The following Wednesday, when the town’s weekly paper came out, right there on the front page was a story about the very knife fight. “See!” I said, proudly vindicated.
Then I got big, long heck from both my parents, not only for leaving the block but also for a bunch of other quasi-related stuff.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I found out what a block was.