Whenever I walk-dance down the sidewalk to a Great Big Sea’s “Ordinary Day” I’m struck by how much it could be a Jamaican song:
I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’ve got four walls around me.
I’ve got the sun in the sky, all the waters surround me.
Oh you know, I win now but sometimes I lose
I’ve been battered, but I never bruise,
it’s not so bad
And I say way-hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day
and it’s all your state of mind.
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say,
it’s all right.
The truth is, an ordinary day in Kingston is both extraordinary and familiar. It’s hitting snooze one too many times. It’s 8 (ish) hours of work and struggling against the distractions of the Interwebs. It’s wondering what to make for dinner or whether to just grab something on the way home.
It’s also ‘crab-walking’ to get across Waterloo during rush hour. It’s getting a phone call at 2:15 to say I have a committee meeting at 2:30 and I’m at the wrong office. It’s overpowering smells and surprising spots of light and beauty. It’s friends who rescue you from a long commute, or catching the wrong bus, or chatting with a 12-year-old girl at the transit hub for 10 minutes because she thinks your hair looks like an angel’s.
I tracked an ordinary day (working at the National Volunteer Centre, which is slightly different than working downtown) in this extraordinary life so you could see how amazing and normal it truly is:
7:00 am – alarm goes. Hit snooze.
7:09 am – alarm goes again. Hit snooze again.
7:18 am – alarm goes. Get up slightly panicked that you’re now going to be late. Put the kettle on for fresh delicious Blue Mountain coffee. Start the shower. Count the mosquito bites gotten overnight. Realise you forgot to turn the hot water heater on. Decide to shower after work.
7:30 am – pour boiling water over black coffee grounds and watch the beauty of the dark swirl in the French press carafe. Stop and smell the coffee. Thank God for the Blue Mountains. Eat yogurt & local fruit while coffee brews.
7:43 am – realise you should be on the road already and scramble through the rest of the dress/prep/eat routine, taking into consideration which office you are going to, how much walking you’ll have to do to get there, what meetings you may need to consider in choosing your outfit, if someone is likely to pick you up at the end of the day, whether you’ll use your dying laptop or the office’s dying laptop, and whether to pack dress shoes or just wear sandals all day. Take coffee in a travel mug. Forget lunch on the counter. Don sunglasses & one ear bud (just one, so you can still hear anything you may need to hear but have plausible deniability in not hearing what you don’t want to hear).
8:05 am – unlock three locks, unlatch security grate, pinch finger in the grate latch for the thousandth time, relatch grate, relock three locks, use remote to exit through parking gate.
8:08 am – be brought to a stop outside the gate by the vivid beauty of the magenta and white bougainvillea against the bright blue sky; listen to the children at the primary school down the block singing either the Jamaican national anthem or Sunday School songs depending exactly what minute you pass; marvel at the ‘Dr. Seuss’ plant’s exuberant whimsy.
8:13 am – prepare for the onslaught of Hope Road, including dodging other pedestrians, ignoring or responding remotely to ‘greetings’ that range from innocuous to revolting, and the aforementioned game of Frogger at Waterloo & Hope Roads.
8:32 am – wonder once again if there isn’t some alternate route that allows you to avoid the outdoor urinal that is the block delineated by Parish Place – Hope Road – Constant Spring Road. Breath shallowly. Step carefully.
8:42 am – jostle and bump across Constant Spring Road at one of the few controlled pedestrian crossings in Kingston. Find the first bus for either Crossroads or Downtown, sit down with relief and a smile. Put second ear bud in.
9:07 am – decide whether you’ll take a route taxi from Crossroads or walk that extra 15 minutes through a questionable area. Take the route taxi. Arrive at the office and make co-worker giggle inexplicably.
9:15 am – get whichever tired laptop you are using for the day up and running. Check emails. Thoughtlessly open Facebook.
10:20 am Chastise yourself for wasting time online and do the work you meant to be doing.
11:35 am – ask co-worker about lunch. Find out what the nearby delivery places are offering today. Choose the one that seems most likely to be gluten-free. Pay JA$250 to the delivery guy when he arrives. Shock him with a JA$50 tip. Celebrate the glory that is Jamaican Curry Chicken.
1:45 pm – notice goings on in the workshop room. Poke head in and see a man with bags of skirts, tights, underwear, t-shirts and bras for sale. Buy the Jamaican skirt you’ve been coveting on hoardes of Kingston women and wondering where to find it (despite not having the generous bottom it’s designed to highlight).
2:56 pm – work on your priorities for the day/week/time remaining while wondering A) how you’ll get it all done B) why more things keep being sent your way. Respond to requests for meetings, fit in ‘just a little xyz’ etc.
|OPTION A:4:07 pm – start thinking about going home. What’sApp with friend.5:10 pm With luck, catch a ride and head to Redbones to wait out the traffic in peace, comfort and good company. Laugh. Drink Appleton’s and soda water or a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Wonder why you never do things like this in Canada. Enjoy the breeze,the protection from evening rain, the good and varied company. Rhapsodize about the spicy glazed cashews and attempt one more time to mentally reverse engineer the recipe.
At some point: go home smiling.
|OPTION B:4:35 pm (a.k.a without luck) head out onto Camp Road and start walking, hopeful that a route taxi will come by with room to pick you up. End up walking the 15 minutes to Crossroads.4:50 pm Reward yourself with a peanut cake and choose which route you want to take you home, depending on if you need to do shopping or just want a change from the regular route.
5:30 pm Arrive at Half-Way Tree, wander the shops at Constant Spring to see what’s new. Go home smiling.
And then, the evenings. Equally familiar and foreign – sitting at my desk writing while every note from a roots reggae concert fills my living room. Sitting on the patio reading until moths or bats chase me indoors. Eating at a restaurant as friends and strangers come, visit, leave. Or meeting up with friends to attend one of a hundred music, poetry, or theatre events and parties that happen in the course of a Kingston week. Some nights are lonely. Most nights I collapse into bed exhausted and smiling.
Through it all, life is both familiar and fantastic, and I ponder how I will sustain my sense of wonder at it all when I get home-home. As the boys from Saint John’s say,
(Go ahead and click the link to hear the song. It’s fun).