A Dérive to the Airport: Part One

August 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

 

These proposal calls are too much work. But now it's done and ready for drop-off at the FedEx depot on Sargent Avenue. It’s early afternoon on October 11, 2013, so I had plenty of time before the seven o’clock deadline. Normally, such a trip would involve a quick drive through the no-man’s land of near-airport industrial complexes but I have time and I need to unwind. So I’ll walk there. Why not? Distance-wise I guessed it would be well within my daily walking quota. Geographically, it would take me through territory not meant for mere pedestrians, unprotected by the thousands of pounds of steel armor we usually wear to such places. I sniffed a challenge but smelled a larger conquest: the Fedex depot was not that far from Winnipeg International Airport. Was it conceivable that I could walk to the airport? Had not Will Self walked from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan in his 2007 book Psychogeography? I had to try.

 

Thus began my dérive. For the uninitiated, a dérive is one of the key practices related to the Situationist movement. To be brief, a dérive involves an un-mapped, un-planned walk, driven as much by sensory attractions and encounters of all types (people, sounds, vistas, etc.) as it is by physical streets and paths. Situationists refer to it as a psychogeographic experience. 

 

My experience begins at the front door of our house and, although I have a good understanding of the various available paths close to home, beyond that I would be in unfamiliar territory. Yes, I had driven down many of the streets between home and airport but the driving experience is vastly different from the walking experience, primarily because our urban spaces are designed for the former and not the latter. Details matter when you are a pedestrian. Broken sidewalks, no sidewalks, curbs, menacing intersections, even available public washrooms are such details.

 

 

I can point myself in several possible directions to start my journey but, starting in the idyllic Wolseley neighbourhood, I am drawn to a pleasant path that parallels the Assiniboine River, across Omand's Creek, behind historic St. James Anglican Church. Trees and quiet residential streets abruptly give way to restaurant parking lots and the misnamed Portage Avenue. Surely this eight lane wide strip of asphalt has no right to be called an avenue. Portaging that, I find a promising route northward, a pleasant two block long strip of small working class houses sheltered in an urban forest. Here people may live modest lives but there is a sense of comfort and belonging as witnessed by the vest-pocket parks and decorated yards. 

 

 

But the two blocks are gone and now I find myself in the industrial surrounds that will define the rest of my dérive. Not that I am complaining. This is where the challenge starts. I look around for something amid the boxy plain buildings in front of me. A goofy sign, some attempt to dress up a massive blank concrete wall, a discarded shopping cart, a lost piece of greenery. I head for the Chicken Delight headquarters. What carnivore can resist fried fowl? Then it's off to the massive aerospace plant, followed by repeated rows of long industrial park buildings, almost Soviet in their starkness except it would be wrong to assign any sort of political motivation to buildings defined purely by cheapness and base functionality. Yet there is something almost poetic in this stripped-down aesthetic with rare flourishes of super graphics or lone trees. At this point, all sidewalks have disappeared and I am now relegated to rutted grass paths or dirt shoulders. A true wilderness experience.

 

 

 

Then comes destination number one: FedEx. It would be unremarkable if it were not for the huge cargo jet parked just beyond the parking lot, looming over the puny cars and it's sole pedestrian. I am close enough that I can imagine seeing Tom Hanks, a decidedly unlucky FedEx executive boarding his employer’s doomed plane, soon to be cast away. Poor Tom. My adventure seems so trivial in comparison.

 

 

Part Two, the conclusion to A Dérive to the Airport will appear in the next post on WalkClickMake.

 

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