Tuesday, 16 February 2016


Victoria in the Early Morning Rain

Our mid-winter escape to Vancouver Island did not end well. Packing for home last Friday morning I picked up a pile of folded t-shirts and turned to place them in my travel bag. I felt the nightmare twinge in my lower back. Uh-oh. I was almost immobile for our relay flights back to Edmonton. The ache and shooting pains were exquisite. Ann was miserable, fighting a fever and flu. We were a pair; stop breaking down.

We returned to a grey city. The sky, the buildings and the ground all matched. It was freezing. I sat shaking in the back of a taxi, incapable of lifting our luggage into the rear. Once home Ann and I unpacked and left our empty bags at the top of the basement stairs. Mungo the tabby cat pissed all over them. In bed that night I was jarred awake by the white hot needle of a cold sore tingle in my lower lip. Swell. I lay there seized and seething. Ann spent Valentine’s Day with an ointment-smeared, infected invalid high on painkillers and beer. Come and laugh about our funny little ways

Now that I think about it, our Victoria vacation did not start well either. The 15-minute flight over the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Dash 8-300 really gave us the sensation of flying, heads bobble up, stomachs drop down. We unsteadily deplaned into teeming mercury rain splashing like protagonists in a black and white movie. I wished I was wearing a trench coat and a fedora. I wished I could mutter something existential and profound, a lit cigarette wiggling for emphasis between my compressed lips, ‘Maybe what we have doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this great, wet world. But we’ll always have Ottawa. I remember it well; the Mounties wore red and you wore blue.’

Ann’s brother Jim met us at the little airport. He’s retired now and every day is Saturday and these future days, each one his own, have been well earned. On our first full day in town Jim squired us down to the inner harbour. I was hoping to buy a birthday present for myself in The Turntable, a tiny record shop hidden away in Chinatown’s munchkin Fan Tan Alley. The crowded store smelled like a damp grade school cloakroom, wet woolen clothing steaming on hot water radiators. Bowie collectible 45s in picture sleeves were prominently displayed alongside Lemmy t-shirts and Eagles and Jefferson Airplane LPs. The death for sale depressed me. We chuckled when Ann pointed out Psychotic Reaction by The Count Five, but the $100 price sticker was less amusing.

Stymied, we retired to the Irish Times on Government Street. I’d been looking forward to the pub’s Dublin Dog, a bratwurst garnished with Guinness infused strong cheddar and Guinness mustard. Alas the menu had changed since our last visit. The new ‘Dawg’ was some sort of anonymous local tube steak smothered with bacon jam. Ick. Ann and I split an indifferent corned beef on rye while attempting to summon the zen of Warren Zevon: Enjoy every sandwich.

Everything in life comes with a cost. When the bill came Ann went through her handbag feeling for her pocketbook. She went through it a second time. The third frantic attempt came up empty too. The colour left her cheeks. Okay, okay, where have we been? Credit card, bank card, identity card gone. Okay, okay, we’ve still got our passports, right? We’re still able to fly home. I checked the back pocket of my jeans 17 times, kept touching my wallet, losing my wits.

Jim had parked his vehicle on the roof of an eight-storey parkade on Yates Street, that great street. We hurried back to the lot because Ann remembered fumbling for her phone to answer a text whilst in the backseat. While they waited for the elevator I went into the stairwell and nearly succumbed to the reek of piss. I sprinted up five flights and walked the rest, my legs shaky aspic, awful congealed Sunday salads bloated with mandarin orange segments and shredded carrots. I peered through the tinted windows of Jim’s black SUV and spotted Ann’s pocketbook nestled against a seatbelt buckle. ‘Thank Christ.’ I took a moment to breathe and enjoy the view of more rain clouds rolling through the slate sky into the harbour.

The misty mountain views along the Malahat were spectacular. Give me leafy arbutus trees, creepy Medusa-haired curly willows, moss and fog and rain. Ann, Jim and I drove to Shawnigan Lake to visit their brother Chuck who lives alone in a cabin in the woods with four cats; I don’t think he’s crazy. The four of us convoyed through the drizzle to Cobble Hill for a pub lunch. We ordered hamburgers at the Cobblestone. Whilst chewing my barbecue-bacon-double cheese I realized that Jim must be some sort of hamburger savant, a mystic Wimpy beef seeker, because the one I was eating rivaled the stupendous burgers we ate together last spring at Mojo’s in Christ Church, Barbados.

Jim ate another hamburger in the Beagle, a pub in Victoria’s Cook Street Village. We were a block away from Beacon Hill Park. At the t-intersection of Dallas Road and Douglas Street was a Trans Canada Highway sign that had stopped me in my tracks: Mile 0. Was this the end or the beginning? Are we to count down nearly 5000 miles or count up? Double the kicks found along Route 66 which only wound some 2000 miles from Chicago to L.A. I had the very real sense of being a long way from many places with an ocean view. Across the salt water Port Angeles, WA lay somewhere in the hazy distance. Ann wondered how Donald Trump might go about fencing the strait. Yellow submarine nets? And, anyway, who can stop the rain?

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