Positively 12th Street


That’s the sound of a ‘B’ string breaking on my Fender acoustic guitar. There was a sound that followed it which issued forth from my mouth which we can’t print here, this being a family blog. In any case, I had no replacement, and with no idea where to find one.

image courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd

So, I turned to Twitter, where a fellow New Westie (well, an ex-New Westie) directed me to where a local guitar/music lessons shop could be found (Neil Douglas Guitar Shop ). It is located on 12th Street, just above 8th avenue. It’s very close to me, a guy without a car. And so, on a cold and sunny day in New West, I was off with my Whistler WordCamp 2009 toque on my head, and with a spirit of exploration in my heart.

After skirting past the guy ‘looking for cash on the ground’ on 11th (Me: Sorry, not seen it, man. He: well, do you have any cash to donate? ), and bathed in the wintery sun, I negotiated my way down the gentle incline towards 12th street. I’d meant to investigate this region a long while ago, with references to it on this very blog – Mom’s Diner, Amelia’s Restaurant, and other local spots for good, and inexpensive breakfast repasts) – firmly in mind.

As explained in another post of mine, 10 notable places in New West, I love a high street, a main drag. And 12th street certainly offers that feel, albeit with a slightly faded veneer. Yet it feels very local if that means something to you, with a seeming defiance to any zoning laws, with residences and light commercial spaces living comfortably side by side. And most importantly, there is a sense that this place is built up due to the efforts of its residents, which gives it a certain charm, almost old-world in the way it strikes me.

The variety of goods and services to be obtained up 12th street, between 6th and 10th, are numerous and decidedly ‘niche’ in some cases. Get your antiques, your second-hand futons and night tables. Get your used cars, complete with the spinning signs encouraging the sale and purchase of automobiles, each sale or purchase entreaty with a dedicated side of the sign depending which way the wind is blowing. Get your comics and pop culture figurines (Tor Johnson featured in Plan 9 from Outer Space, Boris Karloff in 1932’s The Mummy, and many others). Find a chartered accountant. Find a place to groom your pet. Get your palm read, and your future revealed. Get a tattoo.

And watch the people.

The young couple loads their second hand furniture into their car, full of the good feelings of money saved and empty spaces filled. A man walking his dog looks up, and the lady above in the top apartment in a street-facing lowrise says “there’s a handsome puppy”. For a minute, the man thinks she’s talking about him, and he’s momentarily full of hope. A little girl dances on the sidewalk out in front of the Taekwondo dojo. Inside, the sensei is playing bhangra music while the young trainees do their jumping jacks on the inside while she dances outside.

I stood outside the guitar shop while on my way. It is closed today. It didn’t matter. What a day it was for a walk, drinking in the spirit of the place, unique if not entirely genteel. By the time I’d reached the borderlands of Burnaby, it felt like I’d seen an entire town rather than just a single street. It felt as though I’d absorbed its life and taken on some of its spirit. On the day that I was there, a sunny sunday after so many weeks of rain and gloom, there was a kind of peace that pervaded the street, rising up gently from 6th to 10th.

Coming back home, turning off 12th street, and onto 8th avenue, walking by the houses, most of which look as if they were built circa 1950, and thought about how important history is to a place. I thought about how important that that history be sensed, noticed, remembered. There are ways to improve places like this, and make them commercially scalable, and I can certainly think of ways to do so on 12th street. Yet a vital element to any community is the human element, a place where slices of the human experience can be observed, experienced, celebrated.

I came away without my guitar strings, but with a greater experience of my city.

And as is my custom, here’s 5 Songs about streets to finish this up:

Respectable Street – XTC

Across 110th Street – Bobby Womack

Cypress Avenue – Van Morrison

On Green Dolphin Street – Bill Evans Trio

Galbraith Street – Ron Sexsmith

4 Replies to “Positively 12th Street”

  1. We live close to 5th Avenue and 11th Street so I know what you mean about the diversity of 12th. We STILL mourn the loss of the 12th Street Bistro. Nobody, but nobody, can cook like Jamie did! Three cheers for the SPCA thrift store with a cat named Bugs, the guitar shop (where both my sis and I have made purchases…down with big box stores!), and the Kingsway Video store! Oh and let's not forget the used books and the new RC shop!

    Thanks for a great article about a place near and dear to us.

  2. Thanks for comments, Chelle.

    I love places to explore that have some character to them, as opposed to homogeneous shopping malls where, when you're in them, could be anywhere and reflect nothing. Hooray for the main drag!

  3. Hey,

    I used to live on 12th and 4th, and you certainly captured the aura of the "brow of the hill." An important followup post – gyro's after the thristy duck after a few pops.


  4. Cheers for comments, Chad.

    Y'know, the Thirsty Duck is within stumbling distance of the house. Perhaps a low-rent New West Tweetup (for you Twitter-folk) is in order sometime in the future …

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