Heart of the City

The hustle and bustle of back-to-school shopping for the September term is gathering momentum and the converging streets and the never ending flow of traffic amidst the penetrating hum, appear to be a kaleidoscope  of colours  and a ball of bursting energy loosely rolled together  and splattered on to a canvas of shimmering asphalt.

The midday sun looms high in the sky, as the heavy traffic from four directions crawls to the intersection.  Drivers of minibuses and cars, and motorcyclists impatiently honk their horns. Pedestrians pour in every direction, jostling with the street vendors for the limited space on the pavement. Here, at the heart of the City, where the future is quickly discarding the past, is the junction of Regent and Camp streets, two of the main arteries.

A three-member percussion group comprising of two drummers, one on a traditional drum set, the other accompanying him on an African drum, and a young boy struggling to keep cadence with a pair of shak shaks, provide the pulsating rhythm of drum music for the junction.  The band is in residence from Monday to Saturday, under the awning of the south west corner of the intersection. The leader, beating on the African drum, deftly makes eye contact with passers-by and motions with his head in the direction of the cardboard box on the pave with the slot on top.

The band soon draws competition from a speaker set up outside of the store on the south east corner blaring pop music and a ‘music cart’ hawking pirated CDs which stops directly in front of the speaker. The steady ‘dup-dup’ of the group still permeates the din of the blast from its competitors.

 A huge billboard, belonging to one of the three nearby commercial banks, looks down on the parking lot at the north-west corner provided for the bank’s customers, advertising financial assistance.  Those who happen to peruse the sign are advised to contact the entity via its website or via email.  Telephone numbers are not provided.

 A modern three-storey mall, with an escalator and an elevator occupies the north east corner, the site of a former well-known commercial firm and a roof top restaurant.  Directly across from it, is another glimmering five-storey glass front shopping centre. Two North American fast food franchises occupy the lower level of the south-west building. It’s likewise foreign originated competitors lie a stone’s throw away to the north and the east.

A northern glance reveals the presence of two very large drab multi-storey commercial buildings, whilst a stroll in the opposite direction leads to the discovery of a sign announcing that the next lottery draw is for $26 million and a racehorse betting shop whose roof is adorned with satellite dishes and aerials. Losing bettors would have to seek solace elsewhere since the doors of the solitary religious building within the immediate vicinity are closed during the day.

The intersection is guided by traffic lights which manage to maintain a high degree of order, unlike the next intersections in all four directions, which are devoid of lights, and progress in traffic becomes a battle of wits between drivers and riders. As traffic moving west obeys the signals and stops at the red light, the high stepping green stick-figure appears on the monitors and pedestrians spew into the mid-section scrambling to cross before the signal changes again.  This order is quite unlike what occurs at the City’s nerve centre, the Stabroek Market Square where chaos is the rule of the day.

The light changes, vehicular traffic is on the move again, a pedal cyclist appears in the intersection from nowhere, he swerves from two vehicles, changes direction twice, tempers flare for a split second, horns are honked, he smiles ruefully and continues on. Two men carrying a large flat-screen television take their chances with the moving traffic and scuttle across Regent Street away from the intersection.

Vendors seated under brightly coloured umbrellas line the pavements,  offering all and every manner of item for sale. Clothes, fruit, watches, shoes, shoe polish, dye, hair products, umbrellas, to mention but a few. Vendors are everywhere. A basket perched on a kid’s stroller displays plastic bags of sliced fruit; ripe mango, green mango, with and without pepper, pineapple, and mittai and ‘chicken foot.’

A group of foreigners lugging very large heavy bags are moving along at a brisk pace. They speak rapidly in their native tongue, it is difficult for the untrained ear to discern whether it’s our Brazilian neighbours, or Cuban visitors on a shopping trip.

Clues of the intersection’s past are sprinkled very carefully along Regent Street. Heading east from Camp Street, a plaque on a building on the southern side reads AMEX House, Founded 1958, whilst in the opposite direction one can wander into a time vault at The Royal Jewel House, which seems to have been around forever, and witness the usual display of watches and clocks.  The names of some Indian nationals still grace the fronts of stores selling cloth, clothing and haberdashery.

On a telephone/electricity pole at the north-west corner, a manual cardboard notice of yore is affixed. The 50” x18” sign is attached like its predecessors of yesteryear, by nails driven through a metal bottle cap. The cardboard has been sprayed in white, and bright glowing colours announce the date, the DJs and organizers for a dance at ‘Transport.’  A digitally printed poster for a reggae concert pinned to a nearby post keeps its company.

The names of famous landmark businesses at Camp and Regent streets are long gone with the passage of time. As the city reaches the milestone of 175 years, we can stop and reflect on the ever changing face of our capital, and treasure the few edifices and entities which have survived.

The next time you are at the intersection at the heart of our City, which is controlled by solar powered traffic lights, take the time to savour it.  It’s forever changing.

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