A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
Why Not YYJ?
Well, gee, last week Ann and I travelled beyond Edmonton’s city limits signs for the first time since covid squeezed our world shut like a crammed suitcase. Greater Victoria isn’t exactly New York or even York but Vancouver Island’s airport is just 537 miles away, tolerable for our first masked flight and distant enough to change the backdrop from prairie to Pacific. Baby steps through the chaos of Canadian airports struggling with not-quite-post-pandemic pent-up demand.
Each successive trip to a familiar place is a different experience. Why return otherwise? There are the constants: family, friends and landmarks. This excursion had a peculiar elapsed time quality because Ann and I had finally disembarked from the Crooked 9’s front porch and not just for a matinee movie or an off-hours meal out. After touch down I felt out of sync and out of place, as if I’d dozed off watching The Flintstones and woke up to The Jetsons.
Victoria, home of the Canadian navy’s Pacific Fleet, is actually an extremely quaint port, more cruise ships than freighters. Yet it is oozing beyond its natural confines near the tip of a hilly island. Ann remarked that there seemed to be too many cars, too many people. Barring traffic, Colwood a separate municipality where Ann’s older brother and his wife live, isn’t that far from Victoria proper anymore. Colwood’s few streets are lined with million-dollar homes thrown up within the past four years. They struck me as conventional starter homes, placeholders for young families with larger aspirations.
Bulldoze half a mountain, build a mall and the condominiums will come. Langford is exploding just beyond Colwood. The sheer retaining walls supporting the overlooking residential units reminded me of the deeply dug defensive fortifications surrounding the star-shaped citadels in Quebec City and Halifax. If the future suggests the past albeit in earthquake-proofed sub-divisions, present and delightful constants remain in the provincial capital.
I called on my longtime friend Peter who lives in an elegant and solid Victorian home in the Cook Street Village. We met in high school. He was a transferee to my semi-private Jesuit institution; his parents tired of his smoking up every morning break in the public system. We bonded over extramural football and music, alcohol and soft drugs too. This particular fine morning in Victoria last week we listened to the Rolling Stones and sipped craft beers. Peter, by virtue of a career which synced perfectly with his environmental activism has probably contributed more to society than he has taken. There remains unfinished business for him whereas I am the enemy Albertan, an ineffectual centrist dandruffed with Oreo crumbs following three decades-o-rama in advertising. But we can still talk about the Chicago Cubs, Chrissie Hynde, Miles Davis and growing up in Montreal.
Peter said, “Please excuse me for a moment.” He left the room and returned momentarily with a squat, shallow jar. I thought of Noxema, Vicks VapoRub or some sort of jellied exotic berry. He unscrewed the lid. I gazed at a marble of blonde hash. “Smell that. Does that not bring you back?”
“Oh, man. I love that smell. God, yeah, it takes me back. You can buy it here?”
“It’s just another form of THC.”
“Whoa. I haven’t smoked in years; I’d just turn into a giggling puddle of goo.”
“We can’t have that – it’s not even noon.” Peter smiled: stainless white teeth, no cigarettes. “I used to hide this stuff from my parents and now I hide it from daughter.” Plus ca change.
And there is always baseball somewhere in the summertime. The Father’s Day attendance at the Victoria HarbourCats game was announced as 3127. My guess the capacity of Royal Athletic Park would allow for just a few hundred more. The municipal facility was inaugurated in 1967. The diamond is 310 feet down the lines and 390 straightaway. If the outfield fence is moved, the grounds can be reconfigured for football, soccer and rugby. This accounted for an awkwardly situated grandstand beyond right field. To my delight, the concession and toilets underneath it became something like my personal fiefdom; my own private ballpark.
The HarbourCats play in the short season West Coast League, Edmonton is an expansion outlier. Their logo depicts some sort of critter resembling an annoyed seal. Just a guess. Still, it looks great on the cans of team branded lager brewed just up the Malahat highway in Duncan by Red Arrow. I was also charmed by a jury-rigged patio behind first base, a red double-decker, open-topped inner harbour tour bus. Various food trucks were parked behind it. Amenities down the third base line were equally as busy and enticing.
I was painfully aware that just a block from the downtown park’s gates were a safe injection site, a storefront outreach centre and a street ministry. However the atmosphere inside suggested a small town fair staged in a less dreadful era. The game itself had a storybook element too. Victoria’s starting pitcher was a hometown man, 35-years-old, a roster round up body. He pitched a complete game, the first one I’ve seen at any level since I played summer slo-pitch. The visiting Coquitlam Angels scored just one unearned run.
Victoria, Vancouver Island was something of a dress rehearsal. We’ve also conditionally booked a longer trip and a longer stay on Prince Edward Island in August. Neither Ann nor I are inclined to patiently navigate the Mobius strip maze of bureaucracy and disease that now constitutes Canadian air travel. Still, I happily paid too much for a HarbourCats cap at the ballpark because I felt good and I was thrilled to be there. I’m now utterly determined to pack it coast to coast, ocean to ocean. Hello, YYG! We hope.
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of travel writing since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.