When I heard Monday that the city had decided to allow limited parking along the closed-off section of Quinpool Road I decided to get my ass in gear.
I had to get down there and have a look, because I have been going up and down that stretch for most of my life, and because I may never have the opportunity again to see one of the busiest sections of city street east of Montreal empty and silent.
Old habits die hard; when I stepped off the traffic island, just past the Armview Restaurant, I did so tentatively, even though I know that all of the traffic that normally went up Quinpool had been diverted to Chebucto Road — because I was used to the way that the commuters, cabbies and 18-wheelers careen up and down there, despite the cop with the speed gun, perpetually parked in the lot at Horseshoe Island.
The news that up to 75 cars can now park on Quinpool, from the rotary up to Horseshoe Island, was just hours old. But not a single car had arrived yet. So, though noon was approaching, this section of street seemed like a movie vista after some end-of-days plague had passed through it.
Monday’s bleak weather, it must be said, may have influenced my mood.
Yet, where were the seagulls that always banked and dove over the Northwest Arm?
Why was only a single light visible in one of the apartment buildings across Quinpool?
What had happened to the people who had been sitting on the now-empty wicker chairs on the lawn in front of the nice yellow house?
The noise of the traffic receded as I followed the dotted yellow line between the lanes heading downtown.
When I looked back the cars seemed far in the distance. Since I couldn’t see a vehicle or a human up ahead, I felt emboldened and started walking right up the middle of Quinpool, where I have never walked before.
From here on in, when the commuters race for those coveted parking spots a person acting like this will be taking their life in their hands.
But Monday, the strangeness of it all got the better of me: I turned and back-pedalled for a few steps like a CFL deep-back. I stopped for a second, and sang “Oh the year was 1778,” letting the words roll like tumbleweeds through the empty street.
When a vehicle — a Halifax Water truck — finally passed by, the driver eyed me cautiously, I thought, as if searching for visible signs of derangement.
You notice things when traffic and noise and other human beings aren’t there to distract you.
By then just water, empty of vessels, was on my right. To the left, the trees of Flinn Park gave the scene an old-time feel, as if this was how it would have looked and sounded in the days before the city stretched this far.
At Armview Avenue, where the construction zone begins, some Stalinist fencing brought me back to gritty reality.
I just kept walking down Armview, where the land, I knew, was blessed country back in the late 1800s when Sir Charles Tupper, the Father of Confederation, lived on his Armdale estate.
In time the city of Halifax grew up around it, in particular in the mid-1930s when Lloyd Shaw, the founder of the Shaw Group, started building a subdivision that included houses designed by such well-known architects as Andrew Cobb and Sydney Dumaresq.
As I walked I noticed Shaw brick along Armview and along Tupper Grove, as I took the roundabout way back to Quinpool.
You notice other things when you’re off your regular beaten track and are seeing the world, perhaps just this once, from a different angle.
Up Prince Arthur Street, closed as well to traffic on Monday for Halifax Water repairs, where I noticed how a modern-looking house seemed to be balanced precariously over the train tracks.
But also on Quinpool, just beyond the repair zone, a place I had come to think of as nothing but a blur of traffic and a din of grating noise.
Monday, though, I selected five minutes on the timer on my iPhone, hit start and counted the cars that drove past me.
After four minutes and 45 seconds I had seen my 11th, a maroon minivan that had turned left off of Quinn Street, a manoeuvre that normally requires the skill and guts of a cat burglar.
I saw two people walking, who crossed Quinpool at a sauntering pace.
I also saw a runner, lean as a greyhound. He appeared from nowhere to my right. Then, on loping strides that seemed to eat up the pavement, he stepped out into a road that was as empty and silent as the landscape in The Walking Dead, and just kept running.