Standing on the corner of Broadway and Main, waiting for the light to change. A man trundled up beside me pushing a shopping cart. "Wieners! Get your Wieners!" He bellowed this hoarsely to nobody in particular, an edge of ernest fury to his voice. The woman next to me evidently misheard him. "Happy New Year," she said, with a tone and volume that spoke of a cautious politeness, a kindness tempered by fear. He went on: "Bacon! Hot bacon! Pork chops! We've got it all! Yeah, you're a whole lot of woman! Whole lot of bacon!" With this he was off, cart veering on two wheels as he plunged into the mid morning traffic of Kingsway, almost dancing around the trucks and cars that sounded their horns half-heartedly, as if knowing them to fall on uncaring ears. The light changed. I crossed the street.
I arrived in Vancouver just shy of midnight. The flight from Toronto was fairly uneventful save for one little bit of excitement that has served as my go to anecdote in the past forty-eight hours. I was among the last to board, a habit stemming from my pathological impatience. When it comes to flying, 'last on, first off' is my motto. I cannot stand the feeling of sitting on an idle plane, waiting for my fellow passengers to tackle the seemingly Herculean challenge of stowing their sundry possessions. It is something akin to watching an infant trying to to jam the square peg into the round hole, with the key distinction being that the infant doesn't forget how to do it once he's figured it out. It is far better to smugly sit in the departure lounge watching people jump into line as if to try and get the "good" seats in a theatre. One last breath of less-recycled air.
By the time I got on the plane, following a couple with small children whose hyperactivity had ruined their chances at pre-boarding, everything was settled. The mother and son next to me were already getting ready to sleep, which they did shortly after takeoff. I watched bad television on the seat back in front of me, toggling hazily between the fleshy rolls of Dog the Bounty Hunter, the filth of Hoarders, and the Montreal Canadiens' home ice massacre of the Winnipeg Jets. I was too tired to do anything else and too tired to just turn it off. The turbulence we had been promised was underwhelming.
Midway through the flight, somewhere over Idaho, I happened to glance down at my neighbour's carry on bag. It took me a moment to realize that the top of the bag was moving rhythmically, like something inside was striking the top over and over. My first thought was that he had some kind of device, a toy maybe, that had switched on. As I watched, the zipper where the movement seemed to be focused came open ever so slightly and a series of claws emerged. It looked like the talons of an anteater, some dread creature like a gremlin that this kid had decided to smuggle home from God knows where, that he had stuffed in his shirt to clear security. I was frozen with disbelief as the claws pushed further out and revealed the furry little paw that owned them. It was then that I noticed that the front of this carry on bag had a mesh screen, that it was in fact a dog carrier containing one very unhappy wiener dog who was exerting every fibre of his weird little being to escape from captivity. The zipper opened some more. I woke the kid next to me and told him his dog was escaping. It didn't help that he at first looked at me like I'd told him I was his father; for an instant I thought I was just hallucinating from exhaustion. He crammed the animal back in its box and promptly slumped back onto his tray table.
I watched more television. The shows began to repeat as different stations proceeded with their timezone appropriate programming. David Cronenberg was telling a saccharine George Strombolopolous about his "bromance" with Viggo Mortensen when I felt something bump against my leg. I looked to the kid next to me. He was out cold, drooling a little on his sleeve. I looked down. The dog was making a break for it. Disoriented and terrified, it had stumbled into my leg. I grabbed it around its writhing rodent-like body and elbowed the kid rather abruptly. His mother woke with a start as well, had a minor panic attack, and thanked me profusely for preventing what likely would have precipitated an emergency landing under F-16 escort in Butte, Montana. Once again the thing was crammed back in his box, and we flew on.
The night air was warm, by recent Ontarian standards, and smelled like cedar and moss. As I stood waiting for a ride from my ever-so gracious host, it began to drizzle lightly. We rode over the misty ups and downs of East Van, quiet streets at this time of night, empty save for the low clouds brushing the rooftops.
I suppose every first time visitor to this city is struck by the sight of the mountains looming over the city. It was the first thing I saw when I stepped out the door on what will likely be the only relatively clear day that I am here. The hills looked ready to converge on the specks of human development at their feet at a moment's notice, in the same way that a large animal shrugs off flies.
I made my way downtown following no particular route and found myself at Coal Harbour on the shore. It has been a while since I have been a proper tourist, and I had forgotten that strange sense of lacking any purpose that comes with being entirely at leisure. I took to discreetly following other tourists who seemed to have a better sense of where they were going.
I ended up at Hastings and Main, and had lunch in a Chinese fried chicken shop around the corner. Five dollars got me a heaping plate of chow mein and sweet and sour pork on a foam plate with a plastic fork. The woman behind the counter seemed startled when I dropped some change in the neglected tip bowl, and quickly spirited it away. The other diners were a fairly gaunt crowd, dressed in layers of cheap sweaters and worn sneakers. I got the distinct impression that the man next to me was eating fries and gravy as his first and only meal of the day. Everyone seemed to know each other, exchanging greetings as they ferried between the counter and the booths. I stuck out like a sore thumb, but the food was pretty good.
I wandered through Chinatown, which reminded me a great deal of the one on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn, albeit quite a bit smaller. In a strange city these neighbourhoods tend to serve as a reliable constant, in the same way I suppose that chain restaurants do to bewildered suburbanites. Everywhere the same barrels of dried goods. Ginseng shops. Stores overflowing with cheap house ware and ill-fitting clothes. Obscenely cheap produce piled high on the brink of the sidewalk. Condemned sea creatures staring out from murky tanks. Flocks of glazed birds slowly pirouetting under heat lamps. I could have spent all day poking about but already the sun was beginning its retreat and my feet ached. I hopped on the Skytrain and headed home.
I like this city, it is quite pleasant. I can understand the appeal, but I don't think I could ever live here. There is something disconcerting about the lack of explicit density, which I suppose is part and parcel of the "laid back" feel of many west coast cities. Even the pervasive decay, from the rotting leaves in the gutters of quiet residential streets to the rotting fire escapes of derelict downtown hotels seems a bit too orderly, too easily absorbed into the vast sprawl of the grid. The miscreant in me cries out for something more gothic, for narrow winding chaotic streets and noisy screeching subway cars.
It rained today, so I took it easy. Venturing no further than a dozen blocks for a hangover breakfast at a Japaribbean place called the Lion's Den. Ken, the owner, introduced us to Junior, a stuffed lion that once roamed the plains of the African Lion Safari in Cambridge, Ontario. Junior stands watch over the diners from a precarious perch on the wall, as Ken serves up some mean fried potatoes and veritable flagons of coffee. I was almost tempted to have goat curry for breakfast, but my accomplice needed to get to work.
I am here until the 10th, and then I board a flight to Sydney via Shanghai. My final destination is Melbourne, where I intend to take up residence in an old friend's garage and serve as a sort of live-in chef. I have been relishing the cool damp weather here because it is just like early spring in Ottawa, a perfect preparation for the heat and sun of the land down under. This trip has been a long time coming. Stay tuned.