14. A Stopover and a Popover

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Ah, Vancouver. At once hip and conformist, flakey and staid. For years Vancouver has jousted with my home town, Melbourne, for the ill-defined and less understood title of “Most Liveable City”. One could be forgiven for concluding that a city’s “liveability” requires it to have exorbitant housing costs, one of many traits Melbourne and Vancouver share. (Note that San Francisco is often the USA’s “Most Liveable City”.)

Melbourne has won the worldwide title five years running, while Vancouver is has faded a tad, recently yielding its runner-up position to Vienna. Nothing is more certain than change, which dictates that Melbourne and Vancouver can only grow less livable, at least in relative terms.

We found ourselves visiting with Lauren and Peter in their uber-efficient one bedroom apartment smack dab in the middle of downtown Vancouver. Yes, the same Lauren and Peter we had seen married only days earlier on the prairies of Alberta. IMG_2689We were going to skip Vancouver, but then realized that we hadn’t actually spent any time with Lauren, despite having spent four days at her “wedding that kept on giving”. For a couple that had just written, directed, produced, cast, starred in, built the sets, promoted, and swept the theatre for an eighty-four hour production, they were remarkably well rested and relaxed. Our overnight stay did not appear to disrupt their honeymoon in the least. To be sure, honeymoons aren’t what they used to be.

Peter had recently and permanently arrived from Australia, impressing all by shoe-horning himself into Lauren’s apartment and heart.  For the first time ever, he and I shared a quiet forty-five seconds alone together.

“You’ve never lived in North America before, have you?” I asked.

“No, it’s a first for me.”

Having moved in the other direction, I felt obliged to offer some advice.

“I think you are going to find it most interesting – surprising in some respects.” I began.

“How do you mean?” he asked.

“Ah, well, um – North Americans tend to say what they think a lot more than Australians do. Certainly that is true for the east coasters, whether they are Canadian or American. In Boston, where I was raised, and New York, there seems something of an expectation of it. Some take offense — considering it almost rude — to NOT say what you are thinking. Australians – especially Melburnians – are quite the opposite, they almost NEVER say what they are thinking. Moving to Melbourne I had to learn to hold my tongue – which I still don’t do nearly enough. And when I’m back on this side of the Pacific, I fall right back into blurt mode.”

Peter’s face lit up with a smile of relief. “You know, I was just noticing that this morning at the supermarket. The check-out girl was making fun of a customer’s shirt, right to his face. I reckoned they might be friends, but even then – wow.”

“Well, get used to it, and don’t take it personally.” I advised. Then I blurted “And where did you get that god-awful shirt?”

Other than catch up with Lauren and Peter, here’s what we did in Vancouver: Nothing. [For more commentary on Vancouver, you’ll need to buy my best selling Smiling Kodiak Circles the Globe and read chapter 14.] In fact, much as I enjoy Vancouver, I arrived looking forward to nothing more than leaving. That’s because we had booked to fly from Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet to Victoria, BC harbor on the seaplane. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was very excited about flying out of Vancouver’s very busy harbour, over Stanley Park and all the other notable landmarks.

The morning greeted us with a driving rain in a thick fog. We said our good-byes to Lauren, Peter and Daisy, and then stood under the awning in front of the apartment building for a half hour for the “next available” taxi that never showed up. Is it any wonder that Uber has been so successful? The taxi industry seems broadly dysfunctional on a global basis. With time before our ten o’clock flight running out, we set out on foot, each of carrying a sizable backpack and dragging a massive wheelie-bag in the intermittent rain.

My twelfth campaign pledge: The Smiling Kodiak will eliminate all taxi industry regulation, with, if necessary, a constitutional amendment to cancel all taxi licenses without compensation to owners. Screw. Them.

We should not have worried. We waited in comfort in Harbour Air’s lounge under the Vancouver Convention Centre while several flights, including ours, were delayed and then cancelled due to the fog. IMG_0976After several false alarms we were informed that our flight would depart at two, leaving time for an unexpectedly leisurely lunch. Over lunch we explored our options. We decided that if the two o’clock flight didn’t go, we’d take a taxi to the ferry to the bus to Victoria – which would still get us there by six o’clock.

As feared, at two our flight was cancelled again. Enough was enough. I stood in line for the fourth time that day, this time to get a refund and retrieve our checked bags. IMG_0975Reaching the desk, I got some double-talk from the customer service agent, who then disappeared, leaving me perplexed and those behind me in line more than a little angry. Twenty minutes later she resurfaced, explaining that our bags were nowhere to be found but sure to turn up.  Then an announcement was made that everybody on our flight was going by bus to their Richmond departure point on the Fraser River, which was thirty minutes to the south and not fogged in. From there we would pop over to Victoria. Off we went, clambering aboard a small bus.  Progress.

Eaves-dropping is dangerous. On the bus I listened silently to two businessmen, strangers to one another, recite inaccuracies about public transport, and curse the province of British Columbia for subsidising the ferry to Victoria. As we boarded the seaplane, one of them was behind me in line and redirected his diatribe at me. This was actually something of a relief since it afforded me the opportunity to set things straight. “First of all, the ferry subsidy, as you call it, may be less than the cost of maintaining a road of that length.  It certainly is cheaper than building a bridge. That is your capital out there you know. Secondly, contrary to what you have said, there is not a public transport system in the world that operates without subsidy. I spent several years working for the Department of Transport benchmarking such things. Lastly, one of the great advantages of public transport is that it creates community. People mingle with those they’d never mingle with otherwise; they see how the ‘other half’ lives. You, for example, are listening to me, and I am talking to you. That’s a very good thing for you.”

Richmond was fog-free, as promised. The Fraser River was as still as glass, at least until our plane plowed out into the middle of it. We circled on the river for about ten minutes awaiting clearance from the immediately adjacent Vancouver International Airport. Eventually it came. At full throttle the plane used surprisingly little waterway before we lifted into the sky.

IMG_1178Okay, not exactly “the sky”. Seaplanes aren’t pressurized, so can’t fly higher than about 10,000 feet. Every indication was that they haven’t a very sophisticated radar system, either. We flew the entire distance under low-hanging clouds, following the maritime channels below, lest we run into another plane or get lost. It made for some intimidatingly close-up views of the islands of the Strait of Georgia, some of which had hills higher than we flew.

Flying on a seaplane was a worthy experience, but I won’t be doing it again. Seaplanes are expensive, unreliable, dangerous, cold, cramped and damp. And in the time it took to fly, I could have swum. And I never got to fly over Stanley Park. Once again anticipation trumped reality.

Victoria, on the other, greeted us with great promise. The harbour has a Disneyworld feel to it. Miniature tugboat water-taxis dodge the incessant parade of seaplanes landing and taking off. IMG_1245A fishing fleet of unconvincingly pristine vessels shines in a tangle of docks at Fishermen’s Wharf.IMG_1242 No fewer than seven whale-watching stinkpots come and go in between the US-bound ferries, all with passengers eager to board and even happier to go ashore.

IMG_1224Onshore, the picture-perfect Parliament of BC dominates with its sister in grandeur, the Empress Hotel. Victoria’s endless summer-long festival of festivals was underway, “International Buskers” being the flavour of the week. That Friday afternoon there seemed more buskers than people, but if the temporary infrastructure was any indication, that would soon change.

IMG_1226I was relieved and delighted to find our bags had “turned up”, as promised, somehow having preceded us hours earlier. We walked a couple blocks to our next AirBnB accommodation where our hosts were waiting to meet us. This was a first, as our previous hosts had been content to give us the key-box code so we could let ourselves in.

These folks were an exceptionally friendly, good-looking and well-quaffed couple in their late-forties. They were not about to let us into their flat without giving us the once-over. I understand that.

Still, it was, um, creepy. They were brimming with smiles, and suggestions, and answers to questions we hadn’t asked, and questions that could have been answered in any number of ways. “What do you do?” and “How do you like it?” and “Are the sleeping arrangements okay?” and “Do you fellas swing?” Well, maybe not that last one.

Finally, they left. Frank assured me that my apprehensions were the result from the characteristically pertinacious wishful thinking, vivid imagination and Catholic guilt that dwells in the mind of this bald, stocky, cross-eyed fifty-five year old. He had a point.