Vancouver At Night

Have you read that book "Snow Falling On Cedars"?  No, not seen the movie.  The movie, which got mediocre reviews, ruins the experience.  The real truth is in your mind.  A great book is fully fleshed out in your brain, you can not only see it, but FEEL IT!

About a decade ago, after a long Christmas holiday, I petered out.  It was New Year’s Day, a Sunday I believe, the last day off before people went back to work, before the year began.  I could not move, could barely get out of bed, the deafening silence, the lack of connection, it had finally become too much.  Trying to figure out how to entertain myself within the confines of my abode, my eyes stumbled on a copy of the book someone had given me months before.  I was in one of those moods where I could dedicate myself to plowing through the first twenty pages, and I got hooked.

I love books.  But what everybody recommends, they don’t reach me.  I need something immediate, something not caught up in description.  And therefore my previous attempt at "Snow Falling On Cedars" had failed.  Because it’s not my kind of book.  But like an album you don’t like the first time through, after spending enough time with it I became enraptured.  The mood resonated, of a cold silent night when too much snow brought a village to a crawl.  I knew the feeling, from my college days in Vermont.

At the last meeting Ted was peeling stickers off a hat.  He told me he’d bought it at the Roots store on Robson.  And that’s when I realized that I could be in Vancouver and not SEE Vancouver, that I had to get out of the hotel, preferably before the sun fell.  And after calling Bruce Allen, that’s what I did.  Exit the Sheraton in the waning light.  Towards what I thought was Robson.

But after a couple of blocks without stores I got worried.  I summoned all my courage and asked the young man at the corner.  Who grudgingly informed me I had it all wrong, that I needed to turn around, backtrack and then go off on a ninety degree angle.

Actually, he didn’t tell me to backtrack.  But I did so.  Figuring I’d better start from the hotel, so I could remember the cross street, so I could find my way back.

Now I didn’t only ask about Robson, but the water.  Which way was THAT?  Turns out I was 180 degrees off on that.

Although Robson was felt to be too commercial in our little discussion group, it satiated me.  Because it was ALIVE!  There was a beat, a pulse, that you don’t find in Los Angeles, where nobody walks.

And turning at the HMV, I started to stride towards the agua, even though only concrete was in sight.

It was funny.  You had emporia.  Selling the unnecessary items of an upwardly mobile society.  And TONS of ethnic restaurants.  Mostly Asian.  And Asian is my favorite.  I could live here.  And I noticed there were high rises just off the boulevard.  That people DID live here.

And then the stores ended.  It was fully residential.  But I pressed on.  Slipping and sliding in my Nikes on the frozen sidewalk.  I went down a hill, then up one.  And just when I felt I had it wrong and was about to turn around I saw a yellow sign off in the distance, in the middle of the road.  This had to be a dead end.  This had to be the water.

But it turned out not to be the bay.  But a river.  Off in the distance, high in the sky, I could see the lights of Grouse Mountain, where people were night skiing.  But down at my level…  There was fog.  Across the river were evergreens fading in and out of sight.  It was just like "Snow Falling On Cedars".  There wasn’t a single other soul there, but I felt so ALIVE!  It was just me and my thoughts.  L.A. is fun in the sun, Vancouver is people.  Three-dimensional.  Not dieted down for photo shoots, but human beings.

You think you’re at the center of the universe.  But then you realize how many crazy components make up a society.  Everybody’s got to have shoes, everybody’s got to eat, and not everybody likes the same thing.  Individuals posit what others might want, and then open stores.  Peddling these wares.  Which sometimes grow into chains and other times go out of business and still other times stay just the same, in the original location.

And I stumbled onto a library.  Crowded in a way bookstores NEVER are.  People are hungry for information, for experiences, not everybody can afford the price of acquisition, but should they be shut out of the system?  If the price is lowered suddenly do record stores become hubs of action once again?

And after making a left turn, I end up at the bay.  Off in the distance…  Could it be a ship?

And I’m walking by the water.  Until I’m afraid the lack of traction on my shoes will leave me stranded, quite possibly on my ass, far from another human being.  So I head back into the city.  Where I come across a fast food restaurant entitled "Steamrollers".

I couldn’t believe this.  Wasn’t steam the ENEMY?  I had to check it out.  Obviously I couldn’t see inside, since the windows were all fogged up, so I opened the door, to try and figure it out.  It was burritos and bowls, and there was a steam table, but it was healthy, and I thought how people in Vancouver probably didn’t think twice when they saw this fast food joint, but if you were from California you’d never HEARD OF IT!

Yup, everything in Canada is oh-so-similar, yet different, a little twisted.  And it’s just that twist that fascinates.  It’s like discovering there’s a whole new world, when you believe you’ve experienced it all.

And I’m thinking of the five hours Barbara flew from Toronto.  Canada’s one-tenth the size of the U.S. in population, but even BIGGER in area.  What’s going ON as you go further north?

And the population is full of ethnicities.  Yet you don’t seem to have the race issues we have in the U.S.

Then again, they do have Starbucks.  I encountered four on my journey.  Near Steamrollers there were two at the same intersection, diagonally across from each other.  Different design, but the same coffee.  I thought of "Best In Show", and Parker Posey connecting with her soon to be husband through the windows of opposite Starbucks, and how I hadn’t seen Christopher Guest’s new movie, and contemplated how the world was so vast, how there was so much to take in, how it was so EXCITING!

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