People scatter when car arrives at 6 am at Queen and Sherbourne
One fine, bright summer’s morning, I make my way out to Sherbourne Street to have my first “gasper’ of the day. NLeaning on my good friend the telephone switch box, I get to watch the glorious sun break over the ValueMart and shine on the brick facade of the hockey rink across the street.
After my first coughing spell, as the sun makes the tops of the trees in Moss Park glisten in contrast to their still-shaded lower boughs, I have a sense that life is good.
Two joggers cruise down the street as a clutch of dog-walkers make their way through the sleeping forms of the street people in the park, hands encased in proctologist gloves to hygienically retrieve the residue of their charges.
Six am seems to be the time for rewards at Queen and Sherbourne. All the girls who’ve been working the streets gather for the morning dispensation of bits and crumbs of crack. There’s much yelling, laughing and squealing.
I don’t know the accounting system that’s used to regulate the trade, but there’s surprisingly little animosity in these transactions.
Some are too anxious to wait any longer and slip into a nearby doorway to enjoy (if that is the word) the fruits of their efforts. Most stroll, laughing, occasionally skipping, over to Moss Park, where the grass still not touched by the sun is dotted with little stars of flickering bics as the bits are melted, ignited, smouldered and then inhaled.
The women will soon issue forth again, back to the street, with that pecular walk of the very stoned. They move like people who’ve never walked before but have read and studied a How To Walk book. Their movements are correct — just slightly exaggerated and proper, rather than fluid.
It’s into the middle of this milling band that a battered blue Chevrolet pulls up.
The driver, with four quick words, eight syllables, empties the street of dealers and clients, leaving me and the switch box as the solitary inhabitants of the concourse.
He isn’t a narc, and anyway there appears to be an uneasy truce between the locals and the cops. The law is after fatter cats than those at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne, and the dealers and girls don’t bother anyone who doesn’t approach them first.
No, he just leans over to the passenger widow and bellows, “Anybody wanna day’s work?’
The thought of wage slavery is enough to drive the throng away. The uproar dies immediately, to be replaced by mumbles of “No, man, no! I got important shit going down today.’ And similar protestations of vital engagements.
Nobody runs. Yet somehow, within 30 seconds the sidewalk is left to me, the switch box and the quizzical-looking driver of a battered ex-taxi of a Chevrolet.
As I’m the only candidate left, he looks up at me and again asks, “D’ya wanna work?”
I take the job, and at the end of the day he drops me off at that same spot. The switch box remains as before, as the dealers shuffle by.
I take the proffered money for the day and, as the car disappears toward Shuter Street, one of the dealers comes up to me and asks, “Yo, man! Ya lookin’?’
And within 30 seconds I’ve melted away from there, murmuring all the while, “No, man, no! I got important things to do.’