First person: Adding up all the quirky numbers in Centretown

There is a 176 Florence Street in Centretown, but that number is completely missing on the nearby Flora Street. (Marit Quist-Corbett/The BUZZ)
There is a 176 Florence Street in Centretown, but that number is completely missing on the nearby Flora Street. (Marit Quist-Corbett/The BUZZ)

Marit Quist-Corbett

My phone rings and when I pick up, I hear my friend, sounding harassed.

“You told me you live at number 176. There is no 176.”

“Where are you?” I ask. “You should be between Bay and Lyon.”

She sighs, exasperated. “Yeah, well, that’s not right either.”

I take a deep breath. I know where I live. And I know I gave her the correct address. “OK, are you on the right street? When you get to the corner, look at the name please!”

A couple of minutes later, I get the answer. “I’m on Flora. That’s your street, right?”

Aha! Mystery solved.

“No, actually,” I say. “I’m on Florence. Number 176.”

Quirky numbering

It’s one of the quirky things about Centretown. We have a Flora and Florence Street three blocks apart. What genius thought that one up?

Later that day, I walk down to Flora. She’s right. There is no 176 Flora. At Kent Street, the numbers stop at 138. Across from that busy artery, the first number you encounter is 198. Thirty numbers missing on that side. Go figure.

I’m curious now. I walk up to the next crossroad and start comparing numbers on McLeod. Weirdly, the first number on the Kent-Lyon block is 428. How did this happen? How did one street end up with such a wildly different numbering pattern? A city historian might be able to tell me.

Maybe McLeod used to be longer? Maybe Flora was added as an after-thought? Or used to be a laneway? However it happened, the result is a baffling number schema, a challenge to anyone not directed by GPS. Someone biking or walking might have to call their friend and ask for clarification.

Numbers can confuse, or lie

Sometimes, numbers don’t make sense, in spite of what we assume. Lying with statistics is a long and well-practiced craft.

With the same statistics, a study can scare or reassure people. If a percentage doubles, we have to ask what the base percentage was in the first place. Was it 50 percent? Wow! In that case we’re now at 100. Now I’m really listening. However, if I’m told I have an infinitesimal chance of shortening my life if I drink two cups of coffee and double that infinitesimal chance if I make it three, I can live with the consequences and I’ll probably continue to consume whatever risky product they’re trying to warn me against.

Yes, numbers are exact, but we have to ask questions to establish the story around those numbers. Then we understand better what we’re talking about – and we can draw conclusions.

Baffling global numbers

At the beginning of January each year, we are exposed to baffling statistics on global wealth. Studies tell us about the one percent of people who own basically everything – and the other 99 percent working their heads off to stay alive and cater to that one percent who rule them.

Elon Musk scraping billions of dollars together and managing to pay the minimum in taxes, while the CRA goes after my friend whose income lies just above the poverty line. How is this possible? How is this fair? How can we continue like this?

Canada may not have a lot of billionaires, but we have our own hard-to-swallow numbers. On the morning of January 3, Canada’s top CEOs had already earned the average worker’s salary for an entire year.

I hear this kind of news and I am dismayed, to say the least. I think of my kids, each one of them bright and hard-working, who can barely make enough money to pay the rent or – if they managed to buy a property – a mortgage.

I see the young people preparing my latte at the Art House, or Oat Couture, or Arlington Five. They bring so much more joy into the world than any of those billionaires. We don’t pay them enough for that joy.

I think of those much less fortunate than my children. Those of our neighbours who can’t afford any proper accommodation, who have to make due with a shelter or rooming house. Those who have to work two or three jobs to be able to make ends meet.

This situation is a national shame. Yet, one feels pretty powerless faced with the enormity of the problem. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the gaping abyss in between continues to grow to grotesque proportions as we look on.

Positive numbers

So, is there anything positive in our number-filled world? Of course there is.

How about age? My grandkids proudly hold up three or four fingers to show how big they are. My own age? I’m in my seventies now. It seems old and yet I don’t feel it. In fact, I am proud of what I can still do. Last month, I signed up for one month of personal training for a bit of fun.

At the gym, everything is about numbers. Good numbers. Numbers that are improving.

Lift a weight. Five pounds? Not bad. Next time, we’ll do 10.

Punch this bag. Give it your all. 20 seconds. 30 next time.

Hold the plank. 30 seconds. Can you do 40?

Okay, let’s do the biceps curls again: 12 this time. Three repetitions.

This feels good. I count, and nothing else matters. And I feel good and in control. The numbers sit right in my mind. As does solving the Sudoku puzzle every day at breakfast. Those numbers make sense.

The next time a friend comes to visit, I’ll warn them about the confusion of Flora and Florence. I’ll tell them about the quirky numbers in Centretown. And they’ll know where to find me.

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