Eat, eat as fast as you can: lunchtime in Centretown

OConnor and Queen 0915Downtown workers rush to food trucks and coffee shops on their lunch breaks, quickly lighting cigarettes and making personal phone calls on street corners. No one wants to spend their time talking to a reporter.

“That smells really good,” I say to the man sitting next to me. He looks up without smiling, his mouth full of fries, then turns back to his food, filling his mouth—within seconds he chews the last bite.

He’s wearing a neon yellow vest, a hardhat sits next to him on the bench, and he balances a small cardboard box filled with a hot dog, a can of Coca-Cola and French fries. The smell of ketchup and grease comes as much from his meal as from the nearby food truck, The Best Fries in Town.

The corner of Queen Street and O’Connor Avenue is a stopover point at noon on a Thursday. The line-up at the food truck has a short, stocky man in military uniform, a businessman in a dark pressed suit, and construction workers with bright vests. Small groups of government workers from nearby buildings stream past, wearing summer skirts, sandals, short-sleeved dress shirts, polos, and pressed trousers. Their ID tags are tucked into pockets, hung around their necks, or clipped onto belt loops.

The construction worker sitting next to me leaves as soon as he finishes his hot dog, carrying a paper bag of fries and his hardhat up O’Connor toward Parliament Hill. Cranes and scaffolding loom ahead and new copper roofs shine in the sun.

Steady lines of cars and pedestrians create a white noise of voices and engines improbably blending together into a single sound. Aside from an occasional car horn and a pedestrian yelling, “It’s my right of way, asshole,” to a passing truck, the sound is constant.

Another man sits down and sets down a tall Starbucks coffee beside him. He’s bald and tall, wearing a dark grey, well-tailored suit, with a lit cigarette in-hand. I try to talk with him, and he smiles, but angles his knees and torso away from me as he finishes his smoke.

More workers stop, consume and hurry off, unwilling to talk for more than a moment.

At The Best Fries in Town, the staff have even less time to talk than the people on break. Between taking orders, the woman at the window gives me a smile and a nod before turning to lift a fry basket.

As 1 p.m. approaches, the streets start to empty.

“Alright ladies, I’m out of here,” says one woman in a groupitting nearby. They’re each wearing brightly-coloured knee-length skirts—green, orange, yellow—and they’ve been talking about a wedding in Quebec.

“It was more like a commitment ceremony,” the woman in the orange skirt says.

They each get up, not quite letting the conversation go, as they continue talking and walk toward the World Exchange Plaza.

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