It happened the other day. I was rollerblading to work and coming to the intersection of Elizabeth Avenue and Long Pond Road. The light was red. I know jay walking, or in my case jay skating, is a time-honoured tradition in St. John's, but the traffic was too heavy for taking a chance. So I waited.
Across the intersection stood a man I estimate to have been in his late thirties, both hands jammed so deeply into his pockets his arms were straight. He was slightly hunched over and looked at the ground as if brought low by some burden. At a quick glance he struck me as someone down on his luck and unemployed, slim not because he was fit but because he was poor.
The light changed. He stepped off the curb without taking his hands out of his pockets and started to walk. Not even half way through the intersection, he said, still looking at the ground, "That is pattern too."
I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him what he'd seen. All I came up with was a lame, "Oh really?"
He looked up as if my voice had taken him by surprise, flashed a wide, open smile, sang out, "Good morning," and passed me.
The incident stayed with me for the rest of the day. I felt as if I'd missed an important opportunity. I mentioned it to a number of colleagues at work with whom it quickly turned into a bit of a joke. The pattern, eh? Wonder what he was on.
I don't know what troubled me more, that I missed asking the right question (whatever it was), or that on my single-minded mission to make it to work I'd basically brushed him off.
He wasn't at the intersection the next morning, but I heard his comment all over.
I've bladed the short, uphill stretch of Elizabeth Avenue between Long Pond Road and Churchill Square hundreds of times. It's a bit of a grind at the best of times. Numerous curb cuts slow you down as the hill gets steeper. The sidewalk narrows towards the top and cramps your stride just when you need it most. On days with southwesterlies, you're also up against a head wind. But it's routine by now - so much so, there are days when I arrive at work and don't even remember having passed Churchill Square.
This time I made a point of paying attention. Maybe I would even catch a glimpse of something significant. A special pattern?
I counted seven curb cuts with a total of nine driveways. The clock over the Churchill Square shopping mall was stuck again.
There was unmistakable mischief I hadn't noticed before in the eyes of Sheilagh O'Leary as they smiled at me from her election sign. Ron Ellsworth's small, black-and-white poster with nothing but his name on it seemed somehow appropriately modest. I don't know Deanne Stapleton, but she seemed awfully keen on her sign with those wide eyes behind the large glasses and that jingle of hers, 'I'm listening, let's talk.'
Some bird had roosted on Sir Winston Churchill and marked his left cheek with a streak of droppings.
The tightly-clustered signs for Sandy Hickman, Jennifer McCreath, Lou Puddister and Fred Windsor reminded me of a group photo. Paul Sears stood all on his own, full-length, poster-boy-like. Last but not least there was a large Dennis O'Keefe sign showing a completely different man from the one who ran last time. Back then O'Keefe projected seasoned confidence. This time around he came across as deeply pensive, almost a little sad as if he'd seen too much and knew too much but was too honest to hide it.
Unlike the man from the intersection, I saw no pattern. Just shapes.
I'm grateful, anyway. If not for him, I would have seen even less.