Friday, February 05, 2010

Vanhattan? More like Vanhassle!

Last spring, I’m waiting for the #3 Downtown bus at the corner of Main and Broadway. I’m on my way in for a 12-hour shift, on a Sunday, so I’m not in a great mood to start with. The bus, unreliable at the best of times, seems to follow no schedule at all on Sundays. So I’ve got to get out way ahead of time just be on time. I’ve got to hustle like a keener just to keep from being a slob.
But here comes the bus, I can see it way down the street.
During the week, the #3 is like any other bus I’ve ever been on in Vancouver, packed. By the time I get on, no more than ten minutes from the city core, it’s standing room only, usually with the pleasurable view of the sleeve of someone’s wet raincoat. But Sunday mornings before 8, it’s mostly shift workers like me. Security guards in turbans with shopping bags full of groceries from the 24-hour supermarkets, nurses in their colourfully printed scrubs, and the occasional straggler from Satuday night’s revelry. Sunday mornings, I can count on sitting down on the bus.
The bus stops at a red light across Broadway, and I can’t believe my eyes. The digital display reads “Sorry. Bus full.” The light changes to green and the bus carries on in the centre lane.
As it goes by, I see them: Sun Runners, in their T-shirts and shorts. Chipper with their power shakes and lattes. Laughing, ha ha. As I watch the bus make its way down the hill, I quietly pray for rain. Hail, even.
Another bus passes by. As if!
Finally, I get a break. The third bus is no less full, but the driver is at least a reasonable human being.
I edge on to front of the bus sideways, like a Tetris block. I can’t even get in far enough to validate my Faresaver. Upfront we’re elbow to eyeball, but craning my neck, I can see empty seats at the back. Lots of them.
The Sun Runners, these fit folks who ride the bus maybe five days a year—to hockey games or fireworks—are bogarting their personal space. They’re doing stretches in the aisles.
And I’m late for work.

To live in Vancouver is to deal with frustration. If it's not the Sun Run--an annual 10km race sponsored by the city's broadsheet publisher of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle--it's made-for-TV film shoots, infrastructure mega-projects, Victorian-era zoning bylaws, or gang-related shootings. It's not the awe-inspiring natural surroundings that lead so many Vancouverites to yoga, it's the hope of learning to cope with constantly thwarted plans.
The Olympics will just be an extreme manifestation of this essential Vancouverism.
What's saddest about the Olympics as an event--aside from the 800 teachers the province might lay off to help pay for it, or the dozens of innocents who will inadvertently read a Shelley Fralic column--is that visitors are going to miss out on the best parts of Vancouver. Parking restrictions and transit priorities will leave little opportunity for tourists to see what daily life in the Soggy Apple is really like. It won't be impossible, but it won't be easy for the determined to get to the other side of Gastown and drop in on Robert at Solder & Sons, the Downtown Eastside's coffee and books emporium (the coffee is new, the books are used) where you can challenge the regulars to a match of Scrabble, or just hang out with the fixed-gearheads from Super Champion, the bike shop next door. Or take your Americano down the street to Crab Park Fight your way back to the Downtown side of Gastown for a Najib's Special at Nuba, arguably the finest lunch in all of Vancouver. Or, how about Cambie Village? The area paid a dear cost during construction of the Canada Line, and now, in the hinterland between City Hall and King Edwards stops, will they reap any benefit?
Of course, the real best parts of Vancouver have nothing to do with the city itself. Without the bridges, without the SkyTrains, without the souvenir shops, without the people, the mountains and ocean would still be here. There are wild parts of the city, such as the steep banks of the Millennium Line at Commercial Drive, overgrown and lush, that remind us how we've changed the landscape to suit our needs. Raccoons and coyotes, great blue herons even, roam the city streets before dawn. Many progressive agencies in the Downtown Eastside acknowledge the idea that Vancouver sits on unceded Coast Salish territory, and the persistence of these nocturnal fauna is a reminder of our late arrival here.

Gary Stephen Ross, editor-in-chief of Vancouver magazine, wrote an essay on "the idea of Vancouver" for the current issue of The Walrus. It's accompanied by brilliant photos of Vancouver by Grant Harder that capture the range and depth of Vancouver life. Also in the issue, a powerful piece by Marian Botsford Fraser on the Canadian penal system, and a fantastic report on Rush by Jason Anderson. In fact, my favourite part of the issue is on the Contributors pages, where it says that Anderson is working on his second novel, about the Canadian film industry. It's a hell of an issue, you should buy it.
Ross compares Vancouver to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in the film Owning Mahowny, which was based on the book Stung, written by Gary Stephen Ross. Hoffman, you'll remember, also played Lester Bangs in that terrible Cameron Crowe movie about ten years ago, and Bangs, who died in 1982, wrote that The Bells is Lou Reed's best solo LP. Bangs didn't live long enough to hear Mistrial, but I don't think it would have changed a thing. Bob Seger is reported to have written a song about Lester Bangs, called "Lester Knew." Bruce McCulloch definitely did write a song about Bob Seger, called "Bob Seger." It's on his album The Drunk Baby Project. It is also better than anything on Mistrial.

mp3: "Nobody Can Turn Me Around" by the Sojourners
mp3: "Bob Seger" by Bruce McCulloch

mp3: "I Wanna Know Girls" by Lambchop

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