Step by Stop

I’ve been walking to and from work these days, a practice that will likely continue through summer. That isn’t an especially intriguing boast. Many people walk to work and back. I suppose I could brag about the distance: just shy of 7 km each way. But people the world over walk this kind of distance out of necessity. I walk it by choice; enjoying the luxury of an hour or so of nothing to think about other than how to stay in the shade. I’m enjoying an increasing familiarity with the twin cities I call home Kitchener and Waterloo. I’m starting to recognize people on the street; the odd “Hi!” punctuating a passing by. In some ways this is an extension of the St. Olaf’s Way pilgrimage that I finished with my wife and four other fellow pilgrims a month or so ago. My walk replicates that sweet feeling of the brain emptying and the soul filling as foot follows foot repetitively; prayer in motion. But in other ways, this daily journey is altogether different. The pilgrimage was a “what’s around the corner” kind of venture; not knowing what our sleeping quarters would look like; not knowing what we would next eat, etc. My daily walk, by contrast, is rather repetitive, same streets, same businesses, same route. I am not charting new territory. I’m taking time to chart the familiar. The other day, for instance, I discovered Budds on my path.

Budds is a Kitchener institution. It is an old fashioned department store. The women’s wear is on one side, the men’s on the other, bargains are in the basement: everything in its place. The men who helped me wore dress shirts with ties and seemed to exude that measured ease of knowing how to make a sale: not too much help yet enough at just the right time. The store is 86 years old. For some reason related to parking I have never been in it. It has been in the same location since 1926, when it opened. I needed some new socks, and thought that this was a fine task to break up my walk home.

As I paid my bill, I noticed a pair of water-pipe-like tubes beside the till. “For water, perhaps?” I asked the sales clerk. He explained that they have been here for 86 years. When the store was built, the sales staff would write up the sale on a sheet of paper, add the cash rendered to the bill and put the two into a cylandrical container, which would then be deposited into what I discovered to be a “vacuum tube.” This bill and the accompanying bills would then be whisked away to the office in the back, where change would be made and returned in like manner. I asked how many years this system was used. “86” was the answer. I looked curiously at the gentleman. “It still works?” I asked. “Yes, it’s a back-up system we would not be without. It is a part of the heritage of the building and business” he said, as he gave me my change the new-fangled way. I was dumbstruck, and left the cool store to step out into the sun, reeling with the realization that there was a place in town that was not absolutely dependent on the good will of the world wide web.

I made my way home with my socks in tow and my thoughts on the past and future: what was the store like in its heyday? How often is the tubular till used? Will future owners respect this bit of the past? I was intrigued, but soon my feet found their rhythm and once again I entered that sweet trance, feeling rather like a tubular container being swept down a now vacuous King street; glad for the opportunity to have this one thing to do in this moment: to make my way home and to know it to be enough.

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18 thoughts on “Step by Stop

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    I remember as a child going to the department store with my mother and seeing the vacuum tubes in operation. They disappeared here sometimes in the late ’50’s. I like how you wove the walking theme into this image. Walking meditation is my favorite way to travel. well done. Marie

  2. dianerivers says:

    Fascinating little journey I just took through your words! Thank you for that respite! I can relate to the tedium of walking as (in my case, part of) the commute. I did a lot of praying and contemplating and drafting poems in my mind when a boring walk to the train was in the regular mix of the day for me. It’s restorative, in its way.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, indeed, it is restorative! Making the walk longer than I used to do when I travelled by bus (I’ll likely return to this in a month or so) has been quite interesting, because my brain lets go of the need to be busy after kilometre two, or so.

  3. diannegray says:

    I loved taking this journey with you, Allen. Little stores like this are a real treasure to find. I’ve seen those vacuum tubes before and it was such a great idea in it’s heyday. Lets hope any owners of this lovely store keep the tubes and continue to use them long into the future 😀

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, I surely hope these tubes are never tied! I had never heard of this system and so was intrigued by it. i grew up in a small town, and this would have been “cutting edge” for my home community!

  4. I know a family in Montreal that manufacture and install such pipes still, for use in stores around Canada. Thank you for bringing us into your pilgrimage walks, and for finding the new in the familiar for us, too.

  5. agjorgenson says:

    Really!! That is so cool. I guess the folk at Budds would give them a call if they needed a repair. The story behind that business still in business would be worth writing in your (spare) time!

  6. jannatwrites says:

    That sounds like a unique store. I haven’t seen anything like that around here. Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the car. It’s amazing what new things we see when we have a different point of view.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, I agree. Getting out of the car is the best, although I am looking forward to the new car we are buying! Walking is really a low stress, easy, cheap and environmentally friendly way to enrich your body, soul and mind!

  7. I had a summer job at the Globe and Mail in 1970. I worked as a proofreader in Advertising during the day and as a tour guide one or two evenings a week. We had three vac tubes in our office – two went into specific offices and one went into the mailroom from which messages could be forwarded to other offices. I remember the constant sound of air rushing through those tubes and the ffffip-tschunk of the tubes when we popped them into the highwind-way

  8. agjorgenson says:

    What a great memory! Did you read Matt Anderson’s comment? He knows a family business in Montreal that still deals with these. I’d be interested in knowing how many businesses still do this – obviously enough to keep their business afloat.

  9. Miranda Gray says:

    My local Zellers had the vaccuum tubes in use up until they closed earlier this spring.They were in a mall less than 20 years old.

  10. agjorgenson says:

    That is amazing! I told Matt Anderson that there was a story in this, and yours is another piece he can add to it. I assume that they weren’t using it to make change though!

  11. shoreacres says:

    There still are stores here that use the tubes, and even some banks. I no longer use the Bank of America branch here, but their drive-up windows are stations connected to the building by tubes. You put your paperwork in the tube, click the button and it whizzes off to the nice ladies who send you money (or whatever) in return.

    And for your inner walker, here’s a wonderful NY Times article about a fellow who undertook a blockathon!

  12. agjorgenson says:

    “And he still won’t go? Damn.” Now that’s a memorable ending! What a great story. Thanks for this, I’ll be sure to share with Matt, my pilgrimage friend. He’ll love it. I’ve heard from a few people talking about recent memories of the tube. Matt also wrote about a family that is still in the tube business in Montreal. Now I know why!

  13. shoreacres says:

    And did you happen to see the news today about the billiongazillionaire who has designed a new form of transportation that is, in essence, this very same tube, writ large? I just laughed and laughed. Here’s the Twitchy Team’s collection of information and smiles.

  14. agjorgenson says:

    That is too funny! I loved the Jetson’s picture in the comments below. I think I’ll wait until they have the wrinkles out of it before I give it a go.

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