Jimmy Meets Jane Jacobs: The Time Travelling Planner—Can a single naïve urban planner change the direction of growth for an entire city? Maybe if he travels back in time to meet Jane Jacobs—he very well might have that opportunity. This is the tale of Jimmy MacDonald, who grows up overnight and finds himself in a very different Toronto than he thought he knew. What will he do?
The main body of this story is based on events that actually occurred, to the best of my ability to ascertain (minus the time travel—but who knows?). The book explores the planned Spadina Expressway, in Toronto. The story is meant to entertain urban planners who currently don’t have much work-related fiction to read. And it is a fun stab at alternate history.
There is often no categorically right or wrong answer on any infrastructure decisions. The fiscal conservative will say no to everything, and the visionary will put the government in debt, limiting future investment opportunities. There are many sides to every issue, and I hope to show that the decisions urban planners make substantially affect our collective futures.
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Here is a sample from the novella:
LIFE IN THE PRESENT
Jimmy MacDonald sat in his cubicle under fluorescent lights. It was Friday afternoon in the City Planning Department, a real snooze fest. The soft sound of keyboard strokes and chit-chat provided permanent background noise. He stood and then he sat. Somewhere nearby, he heard someone playing videos on YouTube: an abrupt sound, a muffled laugh. It was typical planners killing time.
Jimmy was a glorified paper-pusher urban planner: the type of employee who had an inbox and an outbox. When something arrived in the inbox, he looked at it, squinted, rotated it, and likely stamped it prior to filing it in the outbox. He sometimes wondered if anyone would notice if he didn’t show up to work, and he fantasized about playing video games on his couch all day. Sure they would notice, he realized, crashing out of his daydream; his inbox would overflow. He wished he worked in a paperless office, but that reality was far off in the future.
When Jimmy got into urban planning, he had vast dreams of building a city as if he were a God or a great artist: creating on a whim. The type of power he expected had not been bestowed upon him, but earlier that day he did command that a homeowner tear down a brand new deck because it was 1.1 meters from their side of the property line, and the regulation said that it had to be a minimum of 1.3 meters’ distance. So he did have some power. The homeowner said that they wouldn’t rebuild, because their budget was now blown. Should’ve checked with us first, Jimmy thought, feeling no sympathy for the citizen.
A soft voice warmed him. “Wanna go for coffee? It’s finally nice out,” Jill said while poking her head into Jimmy’s workspace. An impromptu appearance from Jill was always welcomed. She was Jimmy’s type: smart and good-looking. But she had a boyfriend, or was this one of the weeks when she was single?
“Umm, I just have to process this last application—the developer has been emailing Greg and everyone in sight: the Councillor, the mayor, even the damn school trustee,” Jimmy said while correcting his slouched posture. It was primordial instinct to appear more attractive.
“He says I am incompetent and that this red tape is holding up his proposal. These people don’t understand that I have five weeks to give a response. People need to start reading our policies.”
“They should start with our bylaws,” she smiled.
“These people are obtuse.”
“Well, not all of them. But the developers should know better than your average Joe, homeowner. Did he also say that he’d have to re-mortgage his house, and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to feed his family if you don’t approve it?” Jill asked in obvious reference to a recent experience. “Because that’s what the developer I’m working with told me yesterday.”
“Tell him to sell his Mercedes first,” Jimmy joked. Much of what Jimmy said, in any context, was a joke, or at least not serious. “Sure, let’s go for coffee. This guy can wait, I guess,” Jimmy said with conviction as he flung a random piece of paper on his desk in triumph.
He muted the soft music his computer was streaming. Grabbing his jacket, the two headed towards the elevator—taking the long way to avoid possible contact with Greg Butler, Chief Planner.
The fear was that Greg, or one of his senior henchmen, might ask the pair why they had their jackets on when break-time was clearly over almost an hour prior…Now, if the weather was warmer, a jacket would not be needed and then the two might conspicuously travel in the corridor of their bosses just to be noticed. If this was done, Jimmy and Jill would surely have papers in their hands so they would look important. Proper posturing within the Department was important for future promotion potential. They always hired from within, first. The best thing they could do around their bosses was to behave and toe the line.
A pro-development person is a person who always supports real-estate development (no matter how ugly or incongruent it is) over the land sitting vacant or under-utilized. Often, when land is developed, it displaces the local status quo, for better or worse. Often it boils down to a matter of opinion.
Greg Butler’s pro-development agenda had secured him the top spot in the Department, a few years back. He got things done, and getting things done meant that permits were issued, and permits (in the same vein as photo radar tickets) brought in non-tax revenue money to the city. The more permits issued, the more the machine could keep grinding. As a result, to feed the beast, the number of permits required, and associated fees, would always increase.
Greg was not a shoe-in for the chief position, however. He skillfully beat out a capable rival who had a different outlook on development. Like many men of intrigue, Greg shortchanged his rival when and where he could, and had been doing so right from the start, when both Greg and Lucas were planning technicians working for what was then known as the City of Toronto Planning Board, in 1969. Both were hired as interns (in a time when typewriters, tracing paper, and protractors were the principal tools of the profession). Technicians created maps and made information presentable to the planners who otherwise didn’t know what to do.
In many ways, planners still do not know what to do if someone won’t make them a map. As a rule, in map making, the more colour, the better.
The late afternoon winter sun had awakening powers to the two pale planners who surfaced onto the street, via the revolving doors. Jimmy and Jill were free: at least they were on a late-version of their break, but the air wasn’t as clean as the filtered variety that they basked in all day, in the office building. Smog was present, despite the crisp air.
It was a few blocks to the coffee shop, and they took the journey along the narrow sidewalk. The sound of honking horns was loud, and the smell of cars noticeable: a typical Toronto afternoon.
Toronto had become a city of expressways. You could get from Rexdale to Riverdale, and from Etobicoke to the East End, in under an hour.
As more roads became available, more cars were bought. As more cars were bought, more roads were required. Soon roadways and parking lots composed forty percent of all land uses in Toronto, and expropriation of land was the enabling tool. Displaced residents usually found cheaper land on the fringes, further necessitating the need for good roads. The centre of the city contained more asphalt than ass, as Jimmy once heard it described.
After the approval of the final leg of the Spadina Expressway, in 1969, and the Crosstown Expressway shortly thereafter, a host of other complementary freeways were approved, allowing commuters to zigzag around the city with a freedom of maneuverability not known since the Age of Sail.
The hollowing-out of the subway system in 1975 to create a four-lane underground tunnel for cars, trucks, and buses really bothered many Torontonians. “We need to preserve our public transit,” many people cried. “Buses can use the tunnel too,” others responded. In the end, it was decided that the subway wasn’t needed, but the tunnels were reusable.
In the wake of this decision, many of the major complainers fled the city, allowing the remaining like-minded anti-transit people to invoke additional anti-transit policies. Toronto became a city known for winning the War on Transit.
The two planners took a seat in Starbucks, after receiving their fancy drinks from the barista. Prior to brushing away a newspaper discarded by the previous customer, Jimmy and Jill both eyed the headline. ‘Torontonians at Record Levels of Fatness,’ the feature exclaimed.
Subconsciously, both Jimmy and Jill looked around and noticed the other customers were chubby, mostly wearing sweatpants (no Lululemon leggings in sight; in fact, hardly anyone wore clothing from that fringe manufacturer).
“What do you think of Greg’s obsession with drive-through developments?” Jill asked. “The running mantra is for us to stamp every drive-through application put before us. Even Lucas seems to support them now.”
“Well, people need to eat on their way to their destination, I guess,” Jimmy admitted. “I use them.”
“We are building the physical environment in a way which deprives people of real choices.”
“Well…” Jimmy said, while welcoming the feeling of caffeine entering his bloodstream.
“But we don’t properly scrutinize these proposals anymore: not like how we were taught in planning school.”
“What do you mean?”
“Seriously,” Jill said. “We no longer require Traffic Impact Assessments for auto-oriented developments within 100 metres of an existing auto-oriented development. I mean, how can you possibly argue that an assessment for one development is justification for future developments, built years later? The vehicular levels of service change.”
“Projected realities, and averages of use intensifications,” Jimmy mockingly stated. It was unclear to her if the inflection in his voice was meant to mimic Greg Butler’s.
The two sheepishly looked at each other for a moment—was a romance forming? Before anyone knew, the moment was interrupted by the panicked sound of screeching tires, diverting everyone’s attention toward the window, as a spectacle was unfolding out front.
An SUV, slipping on black ice, came within millimeters of the truck before it. It appeared as though a pedestrian tried to cross the eight-lane arterial, and didn’t quite judge the traffic volume properly. The man could’ve easily been killed, and it would’ve been his fault.
The surprise commotion made a large patron drop her thirty-plus-ounce coffee and splash hot creamy liquid over everyone in the blast radius, including Jimmy and Jill.
“Oh my God, I am so sorry! My latte is everywhere,” the woman said.
The man who got hit the most grudgingly forgave her. A pile of napkins had already appeared, and he patted himself as dry as he could, but it still looked as though he had peed his pants.
“At least no one got hurt,” another man said. Looking embarrassed, he corrected: “I mean outside, at least there wasn’t a car accident… and that’d really jam up downtown traffic just in time for the commute home, eh?”
Jill spoke quietly to Jimmy: “You know I was reading in the Planning Journal that some experts believe it was during the public hearings on the Spadina Expressway, in the 1960s, when this city took a turn for the worse.”
“Try telling that to your average Torontonian,” Jimmy replied, while admiring the way Jill’s nose poked through her thick glasses. What a hipster, he thought.
“Seriously, that was the first major project where the politicians ignored the popular sentiment of the people—I guess the people didn’t argue their case well enough,” she continued while sipping. “The stretch from the 401 south to Eglinton was already approved, and quite expensive for the time, I might add; but the southern extension from there to Bloor was almost stopped by Jane Jacobs and the community-spirited planner types we used to hear about.”
“Why do I know that name, ‘Jane Jacobs’?”
“Jane was like the anti-Robert Moses. She made headlines in the fringe papers. I did a presentation on her in planning school. Champion of the people, crushed by the big-wheels.”
“Oh, her, yeah, I know. Yeah, I remember your PowerPoint. I think I remember—didn’t she stand in front of a bulldozer or something, or was that some guy in China?”
“Yes, she did! She didn’t want the Bloor-Danforth subway line removed, but the Spadina Expressway was designed to feed right into that tunnel. By that point it was fruitless,” she said, referencing the dramatic event that made the cover of TIME. It was great P.R. but ineffective: too dramatic, too late.
“That obviously didn’t work.”
“Lesson learned: when you want to oppose a project—make sure you do so during the first stage, not the last.”
A barista was now mopping the floor beside them. The smell of cleaning chemicals cut through the more pleasant coffee aroma.
Both their eyes moved to her, and then collectively they saw Greg Butler waddle into the coffee shop.
Turning their heads, Jimmy and Jill looked at each other and mouthed in unison: “Time to go.”
They tried to sneak out, unsure if Greg could even pick them out in a lineup, but still they walked with their heads low. It was in vain. Greg stopped them. “Hey you two, taking a late break?”
“Well, we were just discussing a file—and we didn’t take our regular break, earlier,” Jimmy said, trying his best at deference and trying not to look directly at the large scar on Greg’s cheek. “But we’re heading back now.”
“I see. Get going then.”
Outside the shop, back on the narrow sidewalk, Jimmy asked Jill: “Do you know how he got that scar? It looks like he met the wrong dudes in an alley.”
“Ha, well—it’s no laughing matter for us planners, I suppose. I heard he got jumped at a public hearing back in the 1970s. Any nutty stakeholder who doesn’t like what you are proposing could take it a step too far—and draw blood.”
“He got attacked at a public meeting?”
“I guess there was some polarized opposition going on.”
“Was he proposing a drive-through supermarket?”
“Yeah, wouldn’t that be a great development opportunity,” she giggled. “No, actually, I think him and Lucas Reid, back when they were both planning techs, were at one of the expressway meetings, maybe the Crosstown one.”
“Really, eh?” Jimmy asked. “But how?”
“When leaving the meeting, Greg was jumped by a local resistance group, I heard. The gang leader’s turf had been expropriated.”
“Savages… I almost feel sorry for Greg. Almost. But Lucas was fine? I don’t see any scars on him.”
“Lucas doesn’t seem like he would’ve wanted that expressway. I bet he was more humble in his approach, more tactful. But I can bet Greg was pushing for the project, probably being condescending and obnoxious too. We’ve all seen it a time or two, no?”
The clock on Jimmy’s computer struck 5 PM and a programmed cuckoo clock alarm sounded. As he stood up to exit his cubicle for the weekend, Jill popped in again.
“Hey,” she said with a nervous smile.
“Have a good weekend, Jimmy. I just wanted to say that… I was walking by your office.”
“Thanks. You too.”
“I guess I wanted to know if you want to get a drink tonight, or tomorrow?” she said with a defenceless posture.
Jimmy pondered the proposal, but previous ambiguous advice, of his roommates, rang through his head: ‘play your cards right; don’t show that you are interested… or desperate;’ and thus, Jimmy said: “Shoot, I don’t know if I can.” Jimmy had a way of saying the wrong thing at the right time or the right thing at the wrong time, especially around women he was crushing on. “I have plans…” he lied, “… all weekend.”
“Okay, no problem,” she reported, now in an abruptly cheerful tone as she recalculated her approach.
“Maybe another time?” Jimmy offered.
“Sure, I would like that.”
“Wait.” Feeling nervous, he continued: “You’re going to that public meeting next week, right?”
“The one on St. Clair Avenue?” she asked.
“Yeah, about the church redevelopment?”
“Yes, I’m working the door, actually. I’ll be signing in the seniors and offering cookies and coffee.”
“Well, I’ll be there too, doing something equally mundane.” he said.
“I know a pizzeria near there, in Little Italy, kiddie-corner to the Spadina Expressway. Let’s go there for a slice after. Sound good?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. Let’s do that. I look forward to it. See you later, Jimmy.”
Jimmy MacDonald took the bus for an hour to a transit centre. From there, he avoided the buskers, pickpocketers, and panhandlers, and hopped into his car and drove west for another hour until he got to his suburban residence that he shared with three roommates.
They ordered Chinese food and watched reality television. The current rage was a show about hairdressers competing to become the best in the world through cut-throat connivery. While in the middle of a mouthful of spicy Shanghai noodles (thinking about Jill), one of Jimmy’s roommates blurted out: “She’s such a bitch!”
Who? Jimmy wondered as he coughed out some noodles. Oh, they’re talking about the show.
“Let’s watch sports,” one of them said as the credits rolled.
“Denied,” said one of the others. “Ever notice how no one ever breaks a world record anymore? Sports are boring. If I wanted to run around, I would do so. I definitely don’t want to watch that. There’s no backstabbing in sports, anyway. I like backstabbing—take note, boys!” he snickered at his own amusement, bouncing the plate on his belly up and down.
They sat on the couch until past midnight, only getting up to use the washroom and to scoop more Chinese food onto their plates (in no particular order).
Jimmy spent Saturday and Sunday doing the same. Coincidentally, the prior week was also spent in a similar manner, but that weekend they had ordered fried chicken.
Jimmy’s alarm rang earlier than his bones expected. Monday had come early. He laid back down for as long as he figured he could, rationalizing that he would skip breakfast. Surely there’d be donuts in the office. After more ringing of the alarm, he got up and found a shirt that had only been worn once last week. The wrinkles were manageable with a little water and patting. He smelt the armpits to ensure that it was suitable—and it was.
“No time to shower,” he mumbled to himself. “Plus I haven’t sweat in a week.”
Once again, he stayed up too late and his puffy eyes proved it.
En route to the transit station park ‘n’ ride, his little car rattled.
Road construction ensured it was stop and go the whole way. A moment after accelerating, he was braking. Before coming to a complete stop, he was back on the gas. I thought all of these roads were supposed to make traffic flow.
From the transit parking lot, he boarded the downtown express bus. The bus was slow, and packed. People don’t like public transit because it’s full of people, he mused while flexing his arm muscles to steady himself on the pole as the bus jerked forward. He could smell the mixing of cultures and see the common tired-looking eyes and poses of his fellow commuters. The aura of boredom was less than inspiring. A drab way to start a new week.
But wait, something exciting was unfolding. A seat opened up. Jimmy shimmied in to beat out an older lady, and rested his tired legs. Slouched on the hard plastic bus seat, he read in the free paper that the Little Italy community was opposed to the Saint Mary’s Church redevelopment. ‘We should have stood up to this nonsense years ago, but it is never too late to start,’ a community member was quoted saying. ‘This church has been here forever, it’s a heritage building.’
I know Jill hates this type of development proposal. She hates heritage buildings being compromised—fat cats destroying a community for personal gain, she’d say. Well, this might make for a more interesting public meeting. I just hope that I don’t have to talk to too many old people. I can only handle my grandparents.
Stepping off the bus, he slipped on a candy wrapper, and rolled his ankle. Damn! damn, damn,… damn. That hurts… and I’m late! Great. He ran to his office tower with a slight limp, only to wait behind an exceptionally slow person in the revolving door—he then ran (the best he could) to the open elevator but it closed just in front of him. Damn.
Up he went. He took a deep breath.
“Jimmy MacDonald, you’re late! One more time and you’re fired,” Greg Butler barked, his scar puffing out. Jimmy recoiled at the surprise of being suddenly yelled at—as the elevator doors to the Planning and Development Department had not fully opened.
Oh, he knows my full name.
Lucas Reid (who also happened to be in the lobby area) said, “Oh, Greg, go easy on the boy. We were like him once. Traffic, for a Monday, was horrendous. I was almost late myself with all the idiots on the road.”
“It won’t happen again,” Jimmy managed addressing both senior men who nodded in both response and dismissal.
Greg Butler, Lucas Reid, and a few other suits intertwined in what appeared to be an impromptu meeting, continued their discussion. As Jimmy walked away, he overheard some of their discussion: ‘The community is upset…’ ‘bunch of old Italians who don’t know what progress is…’ ‘they always oppose what they don’t know…’ ‘of course the developer is showing a larger proposal than he’ll ever build—it’s a negotiation tactic…’Then he heard what was clearly Lucas’ voice:‘…but maybe the old folks are right’.
Meanwhile, Jimmy bee-lined for his cubicle.
Almost out of earshot, Greg’s distinctive voice ended the conversation by saying: “The Planning Act says we have to hear them. We will listen and pretend to care. Let them fill out as many comment forms as they can. All we have to do is tell Council that the Open House occurred—then we can proceed with our redevelopment recommendation.”
“How was your weekend?” Jimmy asked Jill during their first break. “Get up to anything exciting?”
“Yup. I went to the new farmers’ market. It was awesome. I bought some organic honey. How about you?”
“Well, it was uneventful. Watched TV and went to the grocery store…”
“Well, it’s good to veg-out every once in a while.”
Shifting his weight to his better ankle, Jimmy corrected himself in effort to seem more appealing. “Actually, I got a lot done this weekend, and hung out with some friends, too.”
“We’re still on for pizza tomorrow after the public meeting, right?”
Saint Mary’s Church was packed. It was coloured orange and brown inside. Winter jackets came off from the over-heated space.
Jill was screening preliminary questions and signing in ‘members of the public’ to record those in attendance.
“Holy jeepers, there must be two hundred people here,” an old lady exclaimed as she entered.
“I know; it’s great. I’ve never seen so many people at a Public Meeting,” Jill responded. “Put your name here. Council will want to know how many people were in attendance.”
“It’s a great old building,” the lady said. “I want it to stay.”
“I agree. So much history.”
Jimmy was assisting at the coat rack while also making sure the coffee and cookies remained stocked via glances over at the stash every few minutes. His foot hurt from slipping the day before; his stomach growled, and he wondered how many more cookies he could snag for himself, without being caught. Only slight consideration was given to saving his appetite. Pizza with Jill was coming later.
Greg Butler, Lucas Reid, and several senior planners were roving around the display boards depicting the proposed development. Blobs of colour, maps, and artistic renderings were on easels. The planners answered questions from curious members of the public, no matter how ridiculous or rude those questions were. Semi-circles of retirees leaned in. Usually, these older people allowed one to do the talking and the others nodded their heads in vicious agreement. There was definite consensus of disapproval among the attendees.
The developer stood off to the side, quietly observing the scene in his three-piece suit, while letting his team of consulting planners do the talking. He had hired a powerful firm to work alongside the municipal planners. They better sell this redevelopment to these geriatric fools. I don’t want to be made an idiot of when this gets to Council. Public engagement, public engagement—I’ll show them public engagement—here eat these cookies, look at these plans, fill out this form saying you like the proposal and now shut up, he snickered to himself.
When Jimmy had a chance, he shadowed some of his planning colleagues and listened in on their discussions. He noticed differences in discourse between the better-dressed private sector planners and his public sector colleagues. Jimmy was not yet trusted to interact with the public as such, and so he drifted and observed. So this is the real deal, I suppose. I have never heard these senior planners being so nice and willing to chit-chat before. They don’t laugh in our office.
But in the haphazard circumstances, a citizen approached Jimmy and rifled off some concerns.
Citizen [speaking to Jimmy]:This church is over a century old. It may not be used as much as it once was, but it’s a staple of our neighbourhood. I was baptized here. I don’t like these plans.
Jimmy: But this is progress.
Citizen: This ain’t no progress; this is bonkers. This is throwing away our past, our heritage. How is it progress?
Jimmy: Because… it will be new…
Senior Planner [interrupting Jimmy]: I think I understand your concerns, sir, and that is why we are here—to hear from the people of the community. No decisions have been made. Do be sure to fill out a comment form before you leave. That’s how we’ll record your input.
Citizen: Comment form? Why can’t I talk about it now? I don’t even know why I come to these things. You guys haven’t listened to me once in the 50 years that I’ve been coming to meetings like this.
Senior Planner: Okay, okay—what specifically do you not like about the proposal?
Citizen: I don’t like that the developer wants to knock part of the church down! Can the whole thing not remain standing? It’s our heritage, damn it. No one will build a church like this again!
Senior Planner: I understand. But the church has been sold. The developer is proposing large-scale box retail, which would be great for the community, as goods will be cheaper and the monies saved can be invested into the future.
Citizen: Give me a break!
Senior Planner: Well, we are here today to receive input from the public, as I already said. Urban planning is a field of great importance to citizens which—unfortunately—very few fully understand. Let me explain: the proposed ‘use’ is ‘discretionary’ in this zone; however, this structure can accommodate the proposals once upgrades such as increased washrooms and a loading dock are constructed. Subdivision is not required, and with the passing of our new Land Use Bylaw, rezoning is not required—just the relaxation of some regulations. There will be a binding Development Agreement. The church does not have any historical designation, municipal nor provincial. The developer is entitled to do with this freehold as legally permitted. He has exercised his freedom and has submitted plans to the satisfaction of the Development Officer, paying the appropriate application fees, of course.
Citizen: Phhh [frustrated breathing noise]
Senior Planner: We’re here to listen to your concerns, as the proposal could be reversed, but more importantly we want information to help inform the Building Permit stage—that is, what will the development ultimately look like? One concern I’ve been hearing is that the community is unsure about the alterations to the church building itself. As an example of the developer’s willingness to meet—or even exceed—community expectations, he is prepared to preserve the stained-glass portion of the church, where the new loading dock will go—on the west side just over there behind those display boards [he motioned with his hands in that direction]. And this is the same developer who built that VIP parkade where your car gets washed while you park. The cornices on that structure are similar to what the ancient Greeks used, you know?
Citizen: This is all nonsense. The mayor, and you, and every one of you bureaucrats are all in the developer’s pocket—profiting from this crap. Oh, you think you can just come here and host a farce of a meeting, just to say you’ve met with us?
Senior Planner: Oh, no, we want to hear your concerns—the community’s concerns. Let’s not overreact. You know this neighbourhood better than us planners. We sit in our downtown offices and you live here… so we are here to hear.
Citizen: It’s all about money.
Senior Planner: But if the developer only cared about money, he would knock this whole thing down. Right? It would be much cheaper to start from scratch, but he wants to preserve the character of the site. Plus, you don’t get nice brick and stone like this, anymore, anyway. [The senior planner took a bite of the cookie, which was in his hands the whole time.]
The PA system crackled as Greg Butler’s voice came on. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready to begin.” Everyone looked toward Greg, who was standing by the altar.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming out to this important Public Meeting. I am the Chief Planner of Toronto. Hearing from the public is an important component of the planning process, and we value all of your opinions. I invite you to take your seats now…”
Jimmy and Jill sat in Franky’s Pizzeria and with a bottle of red wine open. The two were doing their best to decompress from the noisy Public Meeting. A sip of wine and bite of pizza would now seal the relaxation deal. They casually flipped through the menu to decide what type of pizza to share. She wanted veggies and he wanted meat. They had to work on a compromise.
“What a bunch of crap that was tonight,” Jill said when she became momentarily bored with the menu.
Jimmy nodded in agreement, and the skinny waiter, who had brought them their wine, snuck up on them to encourage a food order. “Every pizza on the menu is delicious,” the waiter offered, unconcerned about his interruption. Jimmy wondered if the waiter actually knew about the pizza, as he appeared too skinny to be a connoisseur.
“We need a few more minutes.”
“Your wish is my command,” the waiter said with inflection while walking backwards in a semi-bow movement, miraculously avoiding butt-contact with other diners. Jimmy and Jill shuddered at what they considered eerie and odd mannerisms.
Jimmy poured a few more ounces of wine in each of their glasses and tried to restore their conversation. He noticed that Jill was taking in the atmosphere. The pizzeria was aged and in slight disrepair: authentic. “That was an intense meeting; so many people,” Jimmy said when Jill’s eyes returned to his. “These older communities get fired up over everything, eh?”
“Well, I don’t blame them. The proposal is ridiculous.”
“Oh, yeah, I agree, of course,” Jimmy said, having no strong opinion one way or another.
“The heyday of good planning was in the late 1960s,” Jill said, picking up on a similar discussion they had the week prior. “That’s when politicians and planners really listened to the people. They genuinely cared. Now whatever crappy project is proposed gets built—the crappier, the easier to build; therefore the more money in their pockets; therefore the crappier the developments.”
“Why do you say the ‘late 1960s’?”
“Remember what we talked about before: it was in 1970 that that stupid Spadina Expressway extension was approved. Everything went downhill from there,” she said.
“You think that was the tipping point?”
“I truly do.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what—if I could go back in time, I would go to the public meetings and hearings and explain to everyone that the project would be no good. I wish I could do that,” he said, trying to be funny.
“I wish you could do that too,” she said with a hint of seriousness in her voice. That would change the future.
The two young planners devoured a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Jimmy regretted that they had not ordered more, and started thinking of dessert possibilities. “Best pizza in town,” he stated in triumph.
“And I won’t argue that.”
“Are you watching that hair-dresser reality show?” Jimmy asked. He wanted something to talk about, but instantly knew that his question was dorky.
“Are you kidding me?”
“…of course I’m kidding… What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know, Jimmy. I just want to know more about you. Tell me about your childhood,” she said in a tone that surprised herself. It wasn’t her intent to overtly flirt.
“Well… I was born… a long, long—” Jimmy paused while deciding how to end his joke while taking a second to reflect on his joy that the conversation didn’t hover completely around urban planning topics. The two planners discovered that wine was a better medium than coffee to explore their commonality.
They talked until closing, covering many biographical topics and pop-cultural preferences, excluding reality television. Eventually, it occurred to them that there was no longer any background clatter and that the pizzeria was deserted. The restaurant floors were wet everywhere except under their table. Somehow they didn’t notice the mopping.
After splitting the bill fifty-fifty, they exited onto the cold uninhabited street.
“That was great,” Jill said, “and delicious. Thanks for sharing a pizza with me. It was yum.”
She leaned in and kissed his cheek, and he awkwardly clasped his hands around her torso. Her thick winter jacket prevented the embrace from being more intimate.
“It must be late. I’ve got to catch my bus still,” Jimmy said.
“That’s why you should live downtown,” she said.
Looking at the time on her phone, she exclaimed: “Jimmy, it’s past midnight. With those recent public transit cuts, there might be no buses running west on St. Clair at this time…Maybe across the expressway you’ll catch the last westbound one.”
Jimmy blushed, “Damn, you might be right! I gotta go—I’m running. I can’t afford a cab to the ‘burbs.”
“Okay, bye, see you at work tomorrow. Be careful.” He started walking backward, to prolong the ‘good-bye’ and to be goofy. Finally he turned and ran. Missing the last bus was a real concern.
She watched him go, his winter jacket flapping. She smiled.
His ankle hurt from slipping earlier, and he felt ill running on a full stomach, but he kept going—taking a diagonal across the eight lanes that made up St. Clair Avenue. No cars were in sight.
The road was wet and reflected the street lights. He hopped the small barricade that made up the Spadina Expressway, and slowed to a jog once he could see that there was no immediate bus at the empty bus shelter. No point exerting unnecessary energy.
And then he began to walk. He figured there were no cars around—but there was a car. It hit him hard. It hit him in the hip and he flipped over the windshield (shattering it), rolling over the roof (then hearing the car tires shriek);he smacked the trunk with a thud, and faintly heard Jill’s far-off scream. He was now broken, on the other side of the car, on wet pavement, and it was peaceful. He closed his eyes.