where the lights are at

I was downtown on Friday night. I rode the light rail down to Union and got off to walk to the Rio to meet up with friends. Margaritas in that place are not cheap and they cut you off after three because they’re so strong. I’ve heard horror stories from tequila and it wasn’t a Sunday so I clutched my little green wallet and sipped some tap water while the boys started drinking. Dan (or david? I’m bad with D names!) had a beer which felt very bizarre considering all the tables I observed were littered with those thin legged and whispy little margarita glasses dotted with umbrellas, limes and lemon wedges. I’d never been to the Rio. But I decided I liked it. The hub-bub, the attractive black men dressed up in collared shirts and the ridiculous white girls getting tipsy. It provided for plenty of amusing people watching, and it was colourful. I love colour. I felt like the room was alive and dancing as the boys drank their strawberry margaritas (the only time they can get away with girly drinks and not be made fun of).

And then we went to the show we had originally come down town for. It was a bit of a walk. We had to get to Curtis Street from 16th. It’s not a bad walk, wandering through the sky scrapers. It was almost balmy on Friday night too, which was good since I hadn’t brought a coat–just my vest over the three quarter length black shirt. I should’ve brought my scarf, I moaned at one point when a bus whipped past us and the wind in his wake made me shiver. Dan started laughing as he looked down at me from his height of 6’5″. Brett laughed too. “she asked me if I thought she needed it. I was like, what the heck do you think a scarf’s going to do?”

“My Venetian scarf could double as a blanket or a small dress it’s so big,” I snipped and then laughed as we danced across the streets, dodging the light poles, chess tables and carefully evading men with their rickshaws. I didn’t need the scarf. But I felt like saying something as I wandered through town with the boys.

It was an unexpected night. There was supposed to be a rather large group of us going down, and then everyone bailed at the last minute. So Brett and I broke our rule of no one-on-one time and rode the lightrail together which I would be thankful for later that night when a drunk college kid sat down beside me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Brett would rescue me when he stood up and leaned protectively: “this is our stop,” he’d say and the boy would finally back off with that slack grin so common among drunk college boys in downtown venues late at night. But I digress.

I don’t know how we got to Curtis. It’s not a part of downtown I’m familiar with. I know the route to get to my old internship, and I know how to make it to the 16th street mall. Other than that, I pretty much avoid downtown. I find it overwhelming, though it it sometimes startlingly beautiful. Friday was such a night.

We walked from 16th to Curtis and passed underneath sky brides and below rooflines that you could drop a penny off of and give an innocent passerby concussion. I walked behind the boys and it was almost like something out of a movie. Dan at 6’5″ in his gapping white hocky jersey, Kevin at 6′ in a black coat beneath which peaked the burgundy av’s jersey and finally Brett closed the trio from the right at 6’2″ and wearing a grey hoodie beneath his black leather jacket that is sorely outdated. They walked nonchalantly, happy to be downtown on a fine night, and I ambled along behind. I looked up at the skyscrapers, the great monoliths to modern industry and our prowess as Americans. They twinkled in the night, this one black with green and blue embers glowing in the darkness; that one silver grey against the black sky with bright white edges. The cement was smooth and wide, the streets suprisingly empty but for a few Audis, black and prowling the streets with their thin white dottled line that makes a pair of headlights.

I sort of skipped along merrily with my clutch in hand and laughing at the boys who were being goofy. Someone shouted about the Avs, I think Kevin shook his fist at the heavens as though that might help our ailing hockey team. And then they discussed women. By then I had joined the line of three, my little height a contrast between the three of them. Brett had finally looked around and realized that I stood behind them. He made space between himself and Kevin, who by this point was complaining about women. “Buddy, you’ll find someone,” Brett said, sounding more sure of it for Kevin than he has for himself. Dan nodded, trying to encourage his older brother who has only just lately come out of his shell to embrace life more fully. We turned down a street where the buildings were lower. They were brick here, not the cement, metal and glowing glass that we had previously wandered through. This was an older section, the cars did not shine in the night, and the people we passed by the Greyhound Station would have made me look behind as I went on my way if not for the presence of the boys.

Finally, we spotted the venue and the friends we had come to see. Kyle and Doug waved at us, and we crossed the street as a taxi rumbled by, followed by a backfiring chevrolet. I glanced back once at the way we had come. The skyscrapers stood still, clawing at the velvet black sky speckled with stars. What a great monument to business and money! I thought. What a great monument to everything that fails to satisfy.

It was a very urban kind of night and for a moment I enjoyed the beauty of being downtown. But it was also a good reminder that in those cubicles where thousands work, there is no more life that can be gained. It’s not in a building. It’s not in a job. It’s in moments like laughing with Doug and Kyle about how I’ve given up everything for Lent and what “terrible” idea that was. It’s in moments like praying that my friends don’t go down the roads that have been opened to them. It’s in moments like realizing that I love these kids. But I am also unable to save them. Because I am unable to save anyone, least of all myself.

But the glowing heights! The sparkling stars and the twinkling lights! It was a night to be remembered.

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