Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Inverted City

I make one last stop in the park to take a picture of Wild Goose Island. I’ve had a strange interest in this island ever since I realized where I recognized it from. The movie The Shining opens with a helicopter shot across a lake and over this island as Jack Nicholson drives up into the mountains to the overlook hotel with the Going-to-the-Sun road standing in for a road in the Colorado Rockies. So as you look at the photo: cue moog-synth score, roll up “A Stanley Kubrick Film”. 
After this last stop I head into Canada towards Calgary. This time I’m not as lucky getting across the border. I’m pulled over into the dock and taken inside to be interrogated in a back room by a 7 foot tall Canadian border officer. I’ve gotten used to explaining my travel arrangements and employment situation casually so I suppose this seemed a bit odd to the border patrol. Everything checked out and whatever they did to my car while they had me inside didn’t raise any red flags so I was allowed to proceed to Calgary.

Calgary approached from the south seems to be an inverted city. At first everything appears normal; the wheat fields start to be plowed for expanding suburban sprawl, the giant box houses with no yards peek over sound barriers onto the highway, the shopping centers supply the neighborhoods and a sign announces “Calgary, heart of the new west” with a stylized cowboy hat logo. You know you saw skyscrapers over the fields from the country highway and they must be over the next hill. You drive under a pedestrian bridge and the suggestion that walking is preferable to driving assures you that you are a block away from Memorial Street but the next block is a square of chain restaurants with large parking lots and you wonder why people bother with the bridges. The traffic builds and you think that you’re hitting downtown rush hour but just as quickly as you find yourself in traffic it dissipates to highway exits taking it back to the suburbs. In fact the only way to know that you are closer to the city is the gradual increase in the gas prices.

You finally see cranes on the horizon pulling up high-rise apartments; so many cranes and new looking buildings as if the city realized too late that it had started to sag around the edges and tried to pull itself back into shape all at once. It seems that this has only created a vacuum at the center as the storefronts at the bottoms of the high-rises are vacant and the only people you see walking on the sidewalks are carrying briefcases.

The road ends unceremoniously at the river and traffic splits. It isn’t immediately obvious how to cross the river but you eventually find your way and cross over onto Memorial Street where the city finally comes to life. Cyclists zip by coffee shops, bars and eclectic clothing stores that are a block away from small old houses with little yards and little gardens.  Public sculpture appears in the green spaces at corners and the crosswalks are given priority to encourage pedestrian traffic over cars. You look back at the skyscrapers and high-rise apartments over the river and you no longer see tall buildings but instead a pit surrounded by the tall city of the two story coffee shops and bookstores and bars.

Leaving the city on Memorial it doesn’t sprawl; the storefronts end and rolling green hills appear holding the Olympic ski-jump and bobsled tracks set against the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. Then it’s all green towards Banff.

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