A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
A Rainy Night on West Georgia
An old friend once remarked, ‘There’s nothing like a visit to Vancouver to remind you that where you live sucks.’ This is especially true if you’ve just arrived from Edmonton in January. The saturating coastal rains imbue the entire city with a mossy hue. Pansies bloom in gardens and window boxes, the lawns and cedars are a rich British racing green. The encircling mountains are a radiant white, the fir trees on their slopes a cloak of indistinct dark velvet.
Impractical fashions course through this Pacific urban jungle. If Edmontonians dressed in Robson Street rags the result would be haute mode hypothermia. In Brown’s I examine a pair of what seem to be hi-top running shoes with gold fasteners: $1360.00 or $680 a foot. Very tasteful, they’d go nicely with a pair of M.C. Hammer sultan pants. Meanwhile, beggars hunched in hoodies in the downpour hunker on their haunches along the sidewalks facing the storefronts, their backs splashed by passing tires. Many have dogs. Shaggy men rifle the garbage cans and recycling bins, cigarette stubs clamped between their lips. Everybody else in the streets appears to be talking to themselves. They’re either attached to some discreet digital device or completely deranged. A twilight drive along East Hastings into Railtown offers a glimpse of an apocalyptic aftermath. It’s embarrassing and shameful to gawp at the milling, wretched throng of the addicted and infected but impossible to look away. There but for the grace of God…
My past couple of visits to the city had been mostly business, press checking art gallery catalogues. It’s good to be back without obligations even if our stay is brief as we’re just passing through en route to the provincial capital. There’s a record store in Vancouver we’d hoped to visit after reading about it in the Edmonton Journal, but foolishly I never did make a note of its name which may or may nor contain the word ‘Red.’ That’s all right; we’ve already planned to poke our noses into The Turntable in Victoria’s Fan Tan Alley.
Our hotel is situated at the west end of Robson, a themed place attached to a modern art gallery. It does not have a decent bar. That’s okay; Ann wants to walk some turf familiar to her anyway. We stroll down Denman Street to English Bay Beach. We trace the seawall until we reach Pacific Street. From there we wander uphill from the viscous water and the moored boats into Davie Village. I keep pausing at the windows of pubs and bars we pass: the Montreal Canadiens are playing Columbus but even with my glasses on I can’t make out the score on the flat screen TVs. Ann suggests we take a load off. No. We must push on to Granville Street, my turf.
I love the ancient two-storey theatre signs. I get a weird kick loitering outside the entrance of the Commodore Ballroom; it’s not 2120 South Michigan Avenue, but, wow. I want to eat dodgy schwarma, pizza wedges and hot dogs. I want to buy a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Some sort of surgical steel facial, nipple or scrotal piercing seems like a good idea. Maybe a tattoo of a rainbow unicorn with frilly Japanese anime eyes surrounded by barbed wire with a dagger and my mother’s given name on an unfurling ribbon. Transit cables sway in the wind and the rain above Granville Street, a certain magic hovers an inch or two above the wires.
We retire to my second favourite Vancouver haunt, Doolin’s on Nelson. The Habs aren’t on the TV but we order pints regardless, mainly because I know from past experience that the pub’s toilets are immaculate and private; the stall doors go from floor to ceiling. As my old friend might say, ‘They’re like a home game.’ Indeed, travel to a familiar place provides its own peculiar rewards and relief.
The Lennox at the corner of Robson is our next stop. The Canadiens are on TV. We manage space for two at the bar. Ann takes a stool, I stand sideways. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d live here a lot. I look around the room for Rob, the dean of The Delete Bin music blog (link bottom right), wishing our fates had collided on this day. We first met over pints in this joint about a dozen years ago. There’s no reason for him to be here now. Besides, our own pre-ferry schedule is unscripted and I’d no desire to contact Rob with mere vague ifs and maybes. Habs win. Cheers, man.