I’m not big on street festivals but since the Junction Arts Festival is in my neighborhood, I felt like we should go. Like any other street festival it suffered from all the things that people look for in a street festival — too many people, too much loud music on stages too close to one another, colourful but not genuinely interesting things to look at, makeshift patios without enough wait staff to service not quite enough tables. My friend Glenn once called me a “friendly curmudgeon” when I told him (during a discussion on transit disruptions) my views on street festivals. I suppose that’s about as accurate a description of me as one could hope to coin.
The festival wasn’t a waste of time though. As we walked towards Dundas Pizza, we began to notice a lot of people saying the word “fire” in hushed, excited tones. Then there was a slight whiff of something plastic burning and a faint smear of smoke in the sky above Underworld. An electricity imbued the air as people tried to spot the fire. Eventually, in the doorway between the pizza shop and the lingerie store flames could be seen licking out of the mail slot. It didn’t seems like that big a deal. A mild curiosity for the crowd who’d gathered. That’s when the sirens started and suddenly police and event volunteers wearing headsets seemed to materialize out of thin air to usher people off the road to make way for no fewer than six firetrucks.
The crowd’s reaction was three fold. A battalion of gleeful rubberneckers armed with cell-phones and cameras were huddled in a phalanx inching forwards as firefighters broke down the door. Other people were on the verge of tears with panic when the doorway turned into a flaming vault belching fire and smoke into the street. One woman seemed to be trying to plow a path through the crowd with her stroller. It was one of those off-roading strollers with the knobbly tires so it worked quite well. We followed in her wake.
On the way out of the crush, I noticed that a third segment seemed to have less of an interest in the fire but stood in defiance against the authority telling them to move along. They had a right to be there, god-damn it. One typically hard and wiry Dundas West resident had his terrified dog with him and was yelling at one of the shepherding volunteers who’d apparently touched the canine in the process. He was being told in no uncertain terms that touching the dog again would bring his life to a rapid conclusion and would involve the migration of his teeth down his throat.
I had to give both men a mental tip of the hat. The volunteer was unflappable and calmly reiterated to the irate man the need to move off the street for everyone’s safety, including the dog’s. A man with less fortitude might have been concerned with the distinct possibility alcohol fumes on the dog owner’s breath might ignite at any minute and engulf them both in flames. If this thought crossed his mind, it did not show on his brow. Well done. One also had to acknowledge the passion for which the scruffy gentleman was defending his pet’s safety. Though his concern didn’t seem to include removing the pooch from a dangerous and terrifying situation. It was the principal of the thing and, in the absence of any other apparent redeeming qualities, you have to admire a man who stands by his principals.
The panicked woman with the stroller, having carved a swathe for us to follow, soon disappeared into the crowd on the other side of the next intersection. Crossing the street we too were soon surrounded by people who were blissfully unaware of the conflagration of emotions just a few yards away.