Summer Sketches Along Eighty-Second Avenue

Sitting on a park bench along Whyte Avenue sipping on a takeout coffee just watching people on a Saturday afternoon with not much to do. Beside my feet lay my knapsack with the DJI drone, all three-spare batteries and a novel by Louise Penny.

This weekend the wife was training others how to be better Life Guards or something like that. She’d been participating in these weekend training sessions for a few weeks now. I missed our time together on the weekends but knew she was an important and integral person in her workplace. I tried to look the other way and not be judgemental. Sometimes it was difficult because when you are married you want to spend time with your best friend. But sometimes “adult life” takes over a person. I knew this, as I just worked another fifty-five hour work week.

Sipping on the Americano, I spotted two women in bright dresses exiting a bath and body shop chatting each other up. Their wavy hair spinning in the slight breeze as they exited the calm of the shop onto the sidewalk of 82nd Avenue.

The street was bustling, as it usually does on the weekends.

Today, I decided to take the hour stroll from our condo heading due North, up through Empire Park, Pleasant View, Allendale and Queen Alexandra until reaching the afternoon crowds along this always busy thoroughfare. It was the right mix of contemporary, cosmopolitan and University District. It combined forces of nature, personalities and characters. At any moment you could spot a  guy or gal driving a yellow Lamborghini down the road whilst other people gawked at it, a slightly dirty homeless person standing amongst the stopped traffic begging you for spare change, or a lifted dually diesel pickup truck on overly large rubber tires. It was the truest of true melting pots along this stretch of roadway in the Capital City.

Sipping on the coffee my eyes darted back to the left and slowly scanned to the right.

Sitting across the street people mingled at cafe tables on the sidewalk. Laughing, shouting, eating and drinking. The place was busy. Waiters and waitresses flew up to tables, welcoming their guests, talking rapidly to get their name out of their faces and the day’s specials out of their mouths. Another brought a full pitcher of red something-or-other. Probably a delicious alcoholic elixir to south those Saturday afternoon blues.

Stretching a long winded yawn came out of nowhere.

Espresso… it never has the affect I was looking for.

Setting down the cup, I withdrew a small drawing pouch and a 5×7″ sketchbook. Propping open the sketchbook to any random section. I pulled out a .07mm mechanical pencil, depressing the eraser head to let a slim piece of pencil out the bottom. My hand and eye measured up the scene as my eyes took in the background and foreground which I was composing.

As I sat penciling in the sketch a familiar noise began ringing off the sides of the brick buildings. You could hear the tail pipes from a few hundred yards away. It was approaching quickly without any traffic before it. Sliding into position he pulled his maneuver just to my left and wiggled backwards resting the rear tire against the concrete lip of the sidewalk. He leaned to his left after kicking out the stand and proposed a beautiful Triumph Bonneyville Cafe Racer into a parked position.

My hands flipped a few pages to the left to a new blank page.

Fingers reviewed the angles with my eyes adjusting for the position of the motorbike. As I continued my quick sketch of this beautiful motorbike he removed his riding bag, then unzipped the jacket. As he worked on completing his transition from rider into person to wander the bustling street my hands quickly moved across the page.

As the sketch came into view, the Cafe Racer turned and pulled their helmet up off their head. My eyes twitched when the locks of red hair kicked out of the helmet. The skinny leaned guy was actually a skinny legged gal.

I nearly lost my composure.

Ducking towards the knapsack, I withdrew the Fuji X100 Rangefinder camera with its 18mm pancake lens attached as I had been exploring new lights, and shades of black & white with a hint of gum drop processing recently. It was new age digital but still the blues were perfect hues once finished.

Uncapping, and without looking in the riders direction, I snapped off three or four quick shots without lining up the camera. I was literally shooting from the hip. With an 18mm this was totally possible. And I would try to get a couple beauty shots of the motorbike once the rider dispersed elsewhere with their day.

Stopping, I placed the camera back into the knapsack, stuffed the sketchbook and pencil bag back in too and picked up the takeout cup. Lifting it to my lips I found a pair of shoes approaching from my left. I froze mid-sip.

I saw you looking my way,” she said with a light accent that I could not recognize. “Oh, me? I’m unsure what you are referring to,” I retorted. Are we really going to do this? Your going to pretend you didn’t just take a few photographs of my bike?” She sounded annoyed that I would not fess up to what I had just literally been doing.

Smiling gingerly, then I sipped my coffee and responded, “If you like, I can show you what’s in my knapsack. But you’ll have to trust me when I say I don’t have a camera. This will prove it.” She smiled, then a little giggle escaped her. “You sure seem confident that I won’t find a camera in that back of yours.” 

The knapsack was handed to her.

I sat watching her every move, knowing that I had actually stuffed the rangefinder into my coat pocket as I wanted it ready for when she departed so that I could capture a few photographs of her motorbike and be on my way.

“Huh,” I caught her saying to no one in particular. “A drone, a pencil pouch, a sketchbook but no camera!” 

I shrugged my shoulders and took another sip of coffee, even though I was nearly finished.

“You weren’t taking my photo?” she repeated in what I took to be a rhetorical question and left it alone. “Are you certain… you don’t have a camera on you?” She said looking at my steal blue eyes looking back at her.

“Sorry, as you can see all I have with me today is a sketchbook and a drone. No camera.” She stood, shaking her head looking back at me then without a word she reached out towards my side. Immediately I jumped to my feet and turned towards her, confronting her small five-foot something frame with my six-foot one. “Hey, what are you doing?” I said down at her.

“You are much taller than I was expecting,” she said without an explanation of her intentions. “I’m sorry miss, but I am married and I do not like your insistence that I was doing anything wrong except sitting on this park bench sipping coffee and sketching in my sketchbook.” 

She frowned mostly at herself. Then thought better of it. Smiled sheepishly and apologized than spun on her heels and walked on down the sidewalk.

I watched her go down the sidewalk her red hair pined back in a pony tail as she wandered away from my location. Then she spun around on her toes seeing me watching her and waved her middle finger. I tilted my hat and she was gone.

~ James Curtis

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