I am very proud of me. Ridiculously proud. I have just returned from Vancouver, where I did something I have never done before. I wandered around aimlessly in Vancouver and did not get lost. I repeat, I did not get lost. So here’s what I did. Bear with me, because my pride is very very great.
Okay, so I left my friend Xandria’s place, where I was staying in vancouver, and picked a direction. I’ve never walked much further east than I am, and I drove in with my brother-in-law from the west, so I decided to walk west. I knew there were some streets there. Looked to me from the car that there might be something happening that way. And if all else failed I knew Stanley Park was that way because we drove through it. So off I went.
I remembered my friend Xandria telling me to stay away from a street called ‘East Hastings’, but on the map it looked big and important, so I thought if I walked along it I will get somewhere, well, big and important. So I gravitated that way. I walked and walked and walked. It started to rain. What a shock. Not a lot of rain, just a little. I was wearing jeans and a hoodie, I had no umbrella. Because I am stupid and from Ontario. They put something in the water there that makes us all really dense and slow.
So I walked and walked and I realized that I was not in the best end of town. I was suddenly a bit worried that possibly I was in the industrial end and walking further and further into the industrial end, but I was enjoying the walk so I didn’t so much care. Hey, I could always just turn around and walk back, right? I left my trail of bread crumbs.
Finally I realized that I was getting rather damp by that point, because it was really seriously raining. So I popped into a shop that claimed to sell lots of things determined buy an umbrella. The shop was actually a chinese medicine shop, which was cool. Racks on the walls filled with dried…things. I have studied Chinese medicine a few times during my master’s degree and have a lot of respect for it, so I was hip to all that. I could even walk into the place, though; there was stuff piled everywhere and an entire family standing in the aisle in front of me. I looked around for something that might look like an umbrella.
A tiny Chinese woman looked up at me and said, “Can I help you?” The what are you doing here, big white woman? is not said but is naturally implied, in the nicest possible way.
“Do you have umbrellas?” I asked.
“Umbrellas! Yes!” Everyone tittered. She pointed behind me to a small holder with about eight umbrellas in it. I pulled one out and notice that it is entirely covered with dust. Hey, no problem.
“Nine nine,” the woman said.
“Ninety nine cents,” another woman said.
“Ninety nine dollars,” another woman corrected.
“Nine ninety,” the first woman said. I gave her a ten dollar bill. She gave me my dime and I go out into the rain with my very very dusty black umbrella. Normally I would not buy things in black, but who was I to be picky at that point, it was pissing like an eight year old halfway through Dances with Wolves. My umbrella has a tag on it that tells me it was made in Shanghai.
I kept walking. I had absolutely no clue where I was going. I passed by all kinds of tasty things; a big line up next to a detox centre which I presume is for methadone; a 10:30am crowd having a nice mid-morning weed break. I passed by a few rundown hotels advertising cheap rates and good security. I still had no clue if I was walking into or out of downtown Vancouver, but my ever-optimistic presumption was that there is something interesting on the other side of this.
Finally I turned left and walk up a street. This looks more or less the same, but slightly less gritty. I found a diner advertizing breakfast (always a good way to flag me down) and dropped in for a bite. I was just under the wire for the 11am cut off. I read my book while I ate. All memory is revisionist, all stories are apocryphal, all photographs hang suspended in the present tense. Diane Schoemperlen is a genius. As I was reading I noticed that the buses passing me said ‘downtown’ on them, and went a block south and then turned right. I decided to follow them and hope I end up somewhere interesting. I was already proud of myself; I seemed to be heading in the right direction and I could still concievably make it back to Xan’s place without having to call for directions. Off I went.
The first thing I saw is that I had hit Granville street. This is the only street in Vancouver I have ever actually heard of, so I was ridiculously pleased. I stop[ed in at a drug store and get some vanilla-flavoured lip gloss and more sparkly lip gloss, since my other sparkly lip gloss is in the care of my friend Cassie in New York City. I saw a girl with a starbucks cup and resisted asking her where the nearest starbucks was. I walked out the door and noticed that there was a starbucks next to the drug store. Also across the street from the drug store. I got a coffee and sat down to read more.
A nice man sat behind me and we talk about the weather.
“Do you think it will clear up?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Doesn’t look like it.”
“I’m not from around here,” I said.
“Oh, where are you from, the Okanagan?” I have no idea why he thought I look like I might be from the Okanagan. I wonder if it’s my raspberry deodorant making people think I smell fresh and fruity.
“Oh! Really not from around here.” He then told me all about his aunt from Willowdale and how his parents are from Barrie. I responded in kind and tell him that my parents are from Vancouver Island, and we discussed the strange provincal zoning laws. Also the politics, and the fact that British Columbia is constantly in a state of pre-election; a state that only occurs in Ontario prior to an election, while the people of British Columbia are constantly poised to overthrow their own government. He also told me it’s best to walk northward toward the waterfront rather than southward.
“It’s dumpy down there,” he says. I told him which way I walked in. He said that was pretty dumpy too. Nice man.
I wandered out again and found a book store to fuss around in. Very quickly I find the Canadian literature wall and about 15 books I want really really badly. I wanted Carol Shield’s Unless, but it’s still in hardback. I want Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen and a new copy of Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones, but I settle for Alice Munro’s Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage.
I called Xan. I told her where I was and how I got there. She is terrified and appalled. “You walked through the worst neighbourhood in Vancouver,” she said. “They kill people here, you know. They send you to the pig farm.” I am doubly pleased with myself. “I can’t believe I didn’t give you my ‘where not to go in Vancouver’ lecture”, she says. “I give everyone that lecture.” I realized she’s worried because she has seen me in my flannel nightie and realizes that I have an innate innocence like a five year old girl. She told me how to take the bus home and forbids me to walk back. I was not too tempted to disobey her, because it was raining even harder by then.
I found a bus stop as directed and sat down to wait.
“Bus fare is two dollars, right?” I asked the guy next to me.
“Depends on which zone you’re going to,” he said.
“Zone?” I asked, confused. A girl across from us giggled.
“Oh, you’re not from here, are you,” she said.
“No, not really. I’m from Ontario.”
“Ah…well, at least there’s no snow here,” she said. I shake my head and laugh. They tell me how to take the bus.
I almost made it home without getting lost or confused, but I overshot by a block and had to circle back to get to Xan’s place. But I think overall I did pretty damn well.