It was a Saturday morning. A Chinook had rolled-in and the snow was melting. The sun shined on the blue cloudless prairie sky. I was meeting Rick for brunch and I was running late. I jumped on my bicycle and headed downtown. The bike path to downtown extends along the Bow River; the iridescent meltwater ran quiet underneath the ice. Sadly it was one of my last bike rides of the year. I’ve been in Canada for eleven years now; still, I cannot get use to the cold and any to outdoor activities. During winter I hibernate.
Rick Northey had run for city council in Airdrie one week before, and I had invited him for brunch. I wanted to know all the details from Election Day. We met around 1 pm at the corner of 10th avenue and 12th street. We walked a few blocks until we found a place we both agreed on. Along the walk we had dodged the puddles of water the melting snow had created yet our socks were damp. The bistro was located on 17th avenue, a busy street with restaurants, coffee shops and stores.
Rick held the door open while I took the last drag of my cigarette and tossed the butt in an ashtray. The door was raised a few steps, and from the street I could see Rick’s outfit. His impeccable blue dress pants, his black polo shirt, and especially his polished dress shoes. Rick indicated with a gesture for me to hurry, I put away my aviator’s sunglasses inside pocket of my jacket, then removed my bomber jacket, and rushed up the steps.
We choose a table against the wall; I sat facing the entrance door as I always do. A paranoiac habit (a strategy), which I haven’t been able to shake off after growing up in El Salvador in the mid-eighties, when the heavy and merciless tentacles of the civil war scratched all Salvadorian minds.
The waitress came holding the wooden menus. I ordered an Americano (black) and Rick ordered a café au lait. When the coffee arrived; she placed the cups gracefully on the table. I noticed her name clipped on her shirt. Her name was Lauren. She was tall, blonde and had deep blue eyes.
“Rick,” I said, when Lauren left the table, “what happened with the election?”
“You know…,” he said after sipping his coffee, “during the campaign most people I spoke to told me they wanted to vote for change. However, most of the councilors where reelected; at the end there was no change”.
“Certainly,” I said, while observing people sitting around the different tables.
Technology has not help to overcome any social problems, and many of them which we though they have been dealt they still persist
“Well, in my case it was the low voter turn-out, which is normal in city elections.” Rick said while accommodating his glasses. “People vote for names and faces they recognize. Remember this was my first time running for council, and even though I understand policy really well I did not know the nuances of a campaign. For example I lacked exposure, the technical details of voting. There were twenty people running, but the top six win. People thought they had to select six candidates, instead of two or three. I failed to understand how the voting process influences how people vote, and to communicate that they could vote for only me, if they wished.”
Through the window next to the entrance door I could see people lining up to come into the restaurant. A young couple with matching sweaters, a man reading the newspaper, a group of women in yoga outfits and the mats hanging from their shoulders. Traffic was building up on the corner. The red light changed to green, the trucks moved forward slowly.
“Also,” Rick continued, “I had the option to run a nasty campaign against my opponents, but I decided to run a campaign on values and not to attack city principals. In hindsight I could have been more divisive, but that’s not the point. I am satisfied with the campaign I ran; I had a lot people vote for me.
Lauren came to the table holding the plates. Rick and I stopped talking. The food smelled good. I was starving. When I said thank you she looked at me and smiled. Her eyes made me feel fragile. People kept coming and going from the bistro. The noise of the cutlery and intelligible conversations saturated the place. In the line, outside, now, there were a group of guys, laughing, all wearing almost the same baseball hat and similar sunglasses. Probably they all drive a truck or a BMW; they all are outdoorsy, play hockey and work for an oil company.
Lauren came around again. “The food is delicious,” I said. I had eggs benedict with duck confit. I sipped the last of my coffee and ordered a Cesar (double); Rick got another café au lait.
“Rick,” I said after lapse of silence, “what where the changes you wanted for Airdrie?”
“There are many,” he Rick said, “but essentially, the councilor’s plans for the city development opposed my fundamental beliefss of how the city should be progressing. The city wanted to be its own property developer and contractor for a massive downtown redevelopment that was being pushed forward with a minimal public consultation and input. There is a small circle of decision makers and few people asking questions, so it’s easy for decisions to go off the rails. Our democratic system allows for dissension and debate and I think I helped fill that role.”
After paying the bill we made our way out quickly. Outside the line of people had grown and it would be rude to linger. A couple was directed to our table. The noise of the place continued until the door closed. Rick and I parted ways after a warm goodbye. I jumped back on my bicycle. As I peddled I remember Lauren’s smile and the discussion with had with Rick about the daunting and atypical situation of the United States political affairs, and the increasing social polarization that has reborn. I rode on 4 street until the Bow River, then turning left I went on the bike path, the river was calm and the sound of the running water reminded me of home.
I stopped in the middle of the bridge, got off my bike and leaned on the bridge rail. From here I could see Calgary’s downtown, all the corporate building. Down on the river a woman threw a stick into the water that her dog retrieved. The conversation with Rick lingered on my mind still, technology has not help to overcome any social problems, and many of them which we though they have been dealt they still persist, and it’s heartbreaking to acknowledge that we live in a very divided and hateful world, that has seen very little human progression. Rick and I have been friends for three or four years. We have opposite political views, but our friendship finds common ground on mutual interest for sports, politics and literature. The acceptance of our political difference caused a stronger friendship between us. Suddenly, I was interrupted by the laugh and jokes of a group of diverse teenagers; kids from various ethnicities. They were skipping stones and having a good time monkeying around. I felt glad to be in Canada and thought to myself, “adults have still a lot to learn, and the world needs a rapid change of wind”.