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.