Friday, November 9, 2007

Routine Variation

Somewhere, a long time ago, I remember reading that an established regular routine is common among people who live very long lives. I also remember an article that talked about altering your regular routine, and how it can inspire new ideas, creativity and a youthful mind.

On Tuesday nights from Fall, through Winter, and through Spring, I would go to the Bells Corners Academy of Music to take piano lessons and play with the Tuesday night jazz ensemble. Parking my car in the lot shared with the Nepean Creative Arts Centre, I'd walk out back behind the building and cross a small wooded lawn to the back lot of a Tim Horton's drive-through. There were hardly ever any walk in customers, and although I never got to know the staff by name, they got used to seeing me pop in on Tuesdays, around 6pm. With my double-double in hand I'd scoot back to BCAM, crossing the pavement, over the lawn on a hint of a footpath, and if I was lucky and the door was slightly ajar, into the back of the large class-room where I had my lessons.

My teacher, Yves, was also a coffee drinker. If I passed by the office on my way to Timmy's, he'd often drop a buck seventy-five in my hand and ask me to pick up one for him. "Medium regular". Same very time.

In the winter, I'd still cross the back lot and pick my way over to Tim's. The light would be fading by the time I got there, but after December, the days got longer. The wooded lawn was covered with snow, and I often saw the footsteps of someone who'd gone there before me. I was pretty sure that would be Yves. Sometimes, when the snow was especially deep, the footsteps would find another way around the wooded lawn. There was the back of a strip-mall to one side, and a narrow, paved border that followed along the wall, which was made of white-painted concrete blocks. For some reason, it never had much snow on it, apparently because it faced the afternoon sun, which warmed the dark, sheltered asphalt. After a little way, the footsteps would appear again, crossing the grassy meridian at a narrower place, steps like post-holes.

I don't know why, but I smiled as I thought of Yves post-holing his way across the snow. Scuttling into the Timmy's drive-through. I pictured him in the windowless office of the Bells Corners Music Academy, poring over music sheets, schedules, and lesson plans, and nursing a medium regular with all the relish of someone who's given up smoking and found a new habit in a hot cuppa joe. It made the cold dash to Timmy's a bit less unpleasant. In fact, I came to look forward to it.

The Bell's Corners Academy of Music was also home to the Nepean chapter of the Sweet Adelaines ladies' chorus on Tuesday nights, who met in the large auditorium adjacent to our classroom. An unfriendlier more self-absorbed gaggle of middle-aged women you would be hard-pressed to find. Religiously dressed in red, and bustling about in the hallways with their big puffy coats, bags full of what-not, and music binders with pokey corners, they formed a veritable gauntlet of "Mrs. Santa-Clauses", as the fellows in the jazz band dubbed them. The jazz band were all men, and we were definitely the minority. We would arrive just as the Sweet Adelaine's were reaching full pre-chorus bustle. Each of us would arrive in the class-room after threading our way down the hallway like a pachinko ball, with a look on our faces somewhere between fear, relief, and hilarity. Its not that the Mrs. Santa-Clauses were hostile, its just as if they have been behaviorally conditioned to completely and totally ignore the presence of a man. Or anybody not dressed in red and wielding a poky binder, for that matter. I doubt that passing through the hallway, dodging one frizzy white-topped red bumper-car after another, we men ever caused more than one or two synapses to fire in the gray depths of their song-addled minds. Same fellows, same jokes, week after week... oh we had endless fun.

Last weekend, I decided, more or less on a whim, to substitute what has become my regular Saturday morning routine of breakfast in the Glebe, with a quiet walk along the river to Old Ottawa South. I'd look for another breakfast spot. I'd go for a coffee afterwards in a different coffee shop. I'd purposely stay away from my regular spots.

What a beautiful day; the walk in the crisp fall air was refreshing. I came across a beautiful and cozy little bistro perched over the sidewalk in the heart of Old Ottawa South with food that was several notches above anything I've had before - the kind of quality you can only find in meals that have been prepared almost lovingly - and only in small, low-traffic well-kept secrets of a joint. Stopped in at the Glebe Meat Market to see if they had any grass-fed organic beef and instead walked out with a frozen bake-at-home strawberry rhubarb pie. Had a coffee in a newly renovated 2nd Cup, a place that brought back lots of memories from visits over the years but which I hadn't been to for ages. On the way home, I dropped in at, of all places, the public library, where I got a card in about 2 minutes flat and went home with a DVD of Keith Jarrett called "The Art of Improvisation". I'd seen it before, but I watched it again anyhow. Ate fresh baked strawberry pie. Felt like I had lifted the lid off a bottomless box of curiosities.

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