Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

New Carnival of Cities (April 23, 2008)

April 23, 2008

The latest edition of the Carnival of Cities is up.  It includes a post written by me.  You can find it at:

http://blogs.bootsnall.com/Seafarer/carnival-of-cities-for-23-april-2008.html

Great job, Sheila.

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Explosion

February 14, 2008

Early yesterday morning an arsonist made a mess of torching a taco restaurant and blew up several businesses, badly burning himself in the process.  Half a dozen stores were damaged on West Broadway, just past Cambie.  Two were destroyed.  An office above them was also damaged.  Across the street, the windows of the London Drugs that supplied just about every thing I use in my apartment were blown in.  Most of the block is now boarded up.

I heard about it on the early evening news, just before I headed out to a seminar at Biz Books, a book store for the entertainment industry.  I’d spent the morning teaching online then reading and responding to all the comments on this blog and the de-conversion blog I posted on.

The number of readers I get has soared this week.  I wasn’t quite ready for it.  I almost doubled my previous best day.  Then I almost tripled it.  Then I did triple it, and today was quadruple.  I’m a hit!  This week’s total is already more than last month,  my first month, and I thought I wasn’t doing too badly before.

There’s a downside to the new attention, however.  It takes up a lot of time and energy, and many of the commenters on the de-conversion site are rather logically challenged Christian zealots who ramble all over the place and change the subject in desperate attempts to prove the bible is THE TRUTH, and the only truth.  I wasted my time responding to people who seemed so naive I wondered if they were children.  Maybe they are, or maybe they’re seminary students practising on me.  Hey!  I get paid for that and these guys are using me for free!  They should pay me to read and reply to their poorly formed arguments.

What I really wanted, and needed, was to sleep.  I’d taught late the previous night, too, and did some other stuff afterwards I probably shouldn’t have.  The end result is that when the alarm blasted in my ear at 5:30, I’d had two and a half hours sleep.  I’d still had two and a half hours sleep when I was listening to the soft spoken producer in the cozy environs of the book store, resting my eyes occasionally.

They said on the news that the explosion was so powerful it could be felt two kilometres away.  I live about two kilometres away.  But, I didn’t feel or hear a thing.  I was deep in the midst of the only two and a half hours sleep I would get.

Whisper Sweet Mortgages In Her Ear

February 13, 2008

How do you seduce a Vancouver woman?  Whisper sweet mortgages in her ear.  Every woman in the lower mainland of BC seems to want in on the property game and sees a man as a way to do it.

I met a woman in The Cascade a while ago.  Within a minute she was talking property.  She’d just returned to Vancouver from Ontario and was staying with her parents while she looked for a place to buy.  Then she asked me where I live.  When I told her she said something like, “That’s come up in the world lately, hasn’t it?”  She was starting to look on me as a potential real estate partner, which is all she really wants.

Sadly, this seems to be the primary purpose of the modern relationship here.  Feelings are secondary, at best.  With real estate prices going up and up, it takes two incomes to even dream of owning a home.  Even with two incomes, I wonder how some couples can afford to buy.  I guess they have to keep flipping them.  That reminds me, I hope the couple down the hall finishes their reno soon.  The noise is getting to me.

Vancouver has been the most expensive city in Canada to live in for most of the seven and a half years I’ve lived here and, based on what I’ve read, most of the last twenty to thirty years.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly the highest wages.  Employers aren’t exactly famous for their largesse.  So, women were in it for the money as it is.  Even a grocery store cashier who I always made laugh had to bring up the subject of money when I suggested we laugh somewhere else.  Sorry, not good enough.  Come to think of it, why can’t we turn the tables?  Where do you find rich women?  Where do they go for happy hour?

If this hasn’t happened in your city yet, get ready.  Vancouver is at the vanguard.  It brought you fusion cooking and mixed race couples.  Real estate partner relationships and marriages are next.

So, if you want to make her weak in the knees, lean in and whisper, “25 year variable rate closed…”  If you really want to show her you’re in it for the long haul, softly say, “40 year fixed rate closed”.  She’ll be yours and you’ll be in debt together until you’re old and wrinkly.

This post appears in the March 30, 2008 edition of the Carnival of Observations on Life.

Death of the Cool

February 2, 2008

A few nights ago I was walking through the cold, wet streets in the area of downtown that straddles the shiny business district to the west and the grotty downtown eastside.  This is the area around Cambie Street.

A guy started following me and called after me.  I knew I didn’t want to know.  I kept walking.  He kept calling and following.  I kept walking. When he called for the fourth time, I finally turned and said, “What?”  He asked if I wanted to buy any weed.  “No!”, I snapped.

He’d followed me for two blocks.  Two blocks!  What kind of asshole follows someone at night for two blocks trying to sell him drugs he hasn’t expressed any interest in?  Remember when grass used to be ‘cool’?  We’ve come a long way since Kerouac.

This is nothing compared to what you’ll encounter just a few blocks to the east.  After walking past people shooting up in the street, when you reach the corner the twenty or so humanoids standing there ask you in series if you want rock.  You say, “No” to the first then the next one asks, despite being only three feet away.  They couldn’t have not heard you say “no”.  Then the next one, another two or three feet away,  asks.  All this happens in broad daylight, even in plain view of the police station.

Returning to the dealer over on Cambie, even if I had been looking, what should I think about his product if he has to chase me through the streets to push it?  Be cool, crusty, be cool.  I know it’s a lot to ask…

The area attracts a certain type due to the presence of various organizations and businesses promoting the legality and use of marijuana.  One of them is the aptly named Amsterdam Cafe, just around the corner from where Crusty McDusty finally realized I wasn’t shopping; an oasis of indulgence where customers smoke joints and pipes despite a smoking ban in public places.  Cigarette smokers in bars have to step outside, but an aromatic cloud hovers over Amsterdam.

Is there a connection between the intrepid bush pusher and the ‘cool’ people at the cafe?  He didn’t seem smart enough to be in business for himself.  Then again, how smart do you have to be to figure out that if the crack and scag dealers can get away with selling under the cops’ noses, a grass mover is probably safe enough?

Meanwhile, the gangsters fighting over the BC bud industry are shooting each other in restaurants, cars, and homes.  Innocent people have been killed in the crossfire.  Connect the dots.

Eating Out Is Getting Dangerous

February 1, 2008

There is a gangland style killing for every wallet.  It doesn’t matter where you eat or socialize, you may be a witness to – or victim of – the latest episode in the gang wars that have broken out in greater Vancouver.  These killings could have been lifted straight out of the movies or the Sopranos finale.

A few months ago, just four blocks from my home, gunmen walked into a Chinese restaurant on East Broadway, approached a table, and opened up.  Two people were killed and others were wounded, including young girls.  I assume they were the girlfriends.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve passed that restaurant.  I used to be a regular customer at a bakery directly opposite it, before it closed, and have used the bus stop outside the former bakery many times.  The bullet hole in the window of the restaurant is enough to make you think about the possibility of innocent victims of stray bullets.

A few weeks later, gunmen fired shots through the window of a more upmarket restaurant on West 4th.  It has a reputation as one of the more romantic restaurants in town, I believe, but love wasn’t in the air that night.  A known gangster was killed.  It was only by luck that no one was killed by stray bullets, again.

A few weeks ago, a man with a past was gunned down outside a well known downtown steak house that’s so expensive I had to win a contest to eat there the one time I did.  It happened in full view of other diners inside, including the rest of his party who were waiting for him.

It doesn’t seem to matter where you go or how much you can afford to spend, there’s no guarantee you can escape it.  You’re not safe anywhere.

What are restaurants supposed to do – screen customers to keep out the targets?  How?  Should they ask customers, “Are you now, or have you ever been, involved with a criminal gang?”  I don’t think they’ll volunteer that information.

There is talk of the police working with restaurants as they did with nightclubs.  They visited the clubs, identified known criminals, and made it clear they were not wanted there.  I don’t know how they’ll adapt that to restaurants.  There are a lot more restaurants than nightclubs.  Maybe they’ll just distribute names and pictures of criminals so the restaurants can refuse entry.  That would take a pretty brave Maitre d’.

Whatever they do, I hope it works.

Enough Snow For One Winter, Thanks

January 31, 2008

The snow is finally starting to melt.  I can see the deck and roof outside again.  The familiar Vancouver puddle is returning, and not a minute too soon.

I’m not a winter person, as you’ve probably figured.  The fact that California and Arizona are on the wrong side of the border is nothing short of a travesty of international justice.  I’m still waiting for our government to take action at The Hague.

Sure, winter snow is great for the skiers and boarders, but I’m not one of them.  Besides, there’s still plenty of snow on the mountains over on the north shore.  At least, I assume there is behind that low cloud cover obscuring the view of the top half of the mountains.

The season has its benefits, of course.  I love hockey enough to endure the kind of abuse I took from some idiot on the Skytrain yesterday for wearing my Canucks toque after they lost again, continuing their current bad stretch.  But, if I’d wanted a ‘Canadian’ winter I’d have moved to the prairies.  Prairie people know what I’m talking about because half of them are here.  Every other person you meet in Vancouver is a climate refugee from Alberta, Saskatchewan, or, occasionally, Manitoba.

It’s only the end of January, and we’ve already had more snow on the ground down here near sea level than we usually get in an entire winter.  Several days of snow cover and freezing temperatures is just not natural here.  I know we have it easy compared to everywhere else in the country – except Victoria, maybe – but I still expect the worst precipitation induced obstacle I encounter to be a puddle.  Damn you, El Nino!  Or is it Nina?

Normally, I say I could do without the rain and puddles but, after the cold spell of the past week or so, they now seem pretty palatable.

Crisis? What Crisis?

January 23, 2008

So, the world is in crisis.  A global market meltdown has stocks tumbling on exchanges all around the world, like dominoes.  Obscene amounts of money have simply evaporated.  There is talk of recession in the U.S.  So what?

The sun was out in Vancouver in the middle of winter, yesterday.  In this, the week including what is supposedly the most depressing day of the year, it shone gloriously and gregariously on us, permeating everything, penetrating even the most sullen eyes in an orgy of retinal stimulation.  It had to be enjoyed.

Coming out of a seminar, I had a couple of hours to kill.  Under a cloudless sky, I walked through downtown.  I decided to walk past the construction site of the new tallest building in the city, to take a look.  Did I need to?  Had I never seen a highrise under construction?  Of course not.  Vancouver is a forest of construction cranes.

Then I decided to look for a coffee and wandered a bit, before remembering I had no cash.  That required a detour to the bank and it’s cash machine.  A direction to go in for a while.  Sights and sounds.  Girl in extremely short skirt and high boots.  Those legs must be cold.

Cashed up, I casually meandered in the direction of a coffee shop, looking in some shop windows and bars along the way.  When I reached the coffee shop, I looked in the window and found all the comfortable chairs were taken.  An excuse to keep walking.

At the corner of Granville and Drake, facing the open space over the bridge, the sun was blinding.  I had to avert my eyes, it was so good.  Crossing Granville Bridge, I could see Mount Baker, in Washington state.  Another country!  Miles and miles away!  Visibility was fantastic.  I looked down at the boats below, over at Bowen Island and the mountains on the far side of Howe Sound.  A decadent feast for the eyes.

Cold?  What cold?  I didn’t want to be anywhere but outside, in the sun.  The crisis would either solve itself or still be there tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s here, now, and there’s frost on the roof outside.  The puddle off to the right is frozen.   Cold, by local standards, but there’s not a cloud in the sky over the north shore mountains.  I might just take another walk today.  The crisis will still be there tomorrow.

Move Over Chicago, There’s a New Windy City

January 15, 2008

Another wind storm tore through the city yesterday and into the night.  They seem to be happening more often than usual.  I don’t recall the weather being as windy as it has been lately, in general, let alone the kinds of storms we’ve experienced over the past year or two.

It was about a year ago that the wind devastated Stanley Park, blowing down thousands of trees and causing a landslide that closed the seawall.  Then, in September, just after the seawall finally reopened, there was another one that closed it again.  I wonder what the damage is this time…

Downtown, Georgia Street was actually closed at rush hour because a window pane was flapping around in the wind on an office tower.  A couple sheets of plywood were blown off a highrise under constructon and landed on cars below – one of them occupied.  People trying to get home to the north shore had serious problems, since Georgia Street leads to the causeway through Stanley Park that leads to Lions Gate Bridge.

My own inconvenience was limited to the incessant flapping of the plastic sheet that was tied down over my bicycle where it’s locked to the railing on the deck outside my window.  This was my ingenious design to allow me to store the bike outside the apartment this winter, rather than inside like last winter.  A great space saver.  I guess a couple of the strings broke.  I try to help the environment with pedal power and what does it give me in return?  It’s a good thing the whole thing didn’t break free or who knows where it could have gone or what kind of damage might have resulted.  Can you imagine a big sheet of plastic landing on your windshield while you’re driving? 

Something like that happened to me once years ago in London – on my MOTORCYCLE.  But it wasn’t even clear plastic.  There I was just riding along and, suddenly, THWAP!  Where is everything?  Where did this plastic bag come from?  Fortunately I managed to pull it off before anything else happened.

Oh, there was another noise that I heard last night.  I heard something falling on the deck.  That’s not unusual – things fall off the balcony above me every once in a while.  I went outside this morning to see what it was.  This one was a little unusual.  It was a table leg.  I wonder where the rest of it ended up…

The Nuts Are Out

January 10, 2008

As convenient as online banking is, there is still the odd occasion when you have to go to the actual bricks-and-mortar bank and deal with an actual person.  One such occasion occurred the other day.  I set out, cheque in pocket.

Walking along Broadway, I heard a car horn and shouting.  I looked up the street and saw a drunk, stoned, or maybe just crazy guy in the middle of the road, in front of a stationary pickup or SUV that was blocking the intersection.  As I approached, I got a better look at the guy in the road.  He was wearing an old light blue parka style coat.  As I passed them, I got a better look at him than I wanted.  The moon was out early that afternoon…  Beneath the coat, his pants were hanging below his ass.  Apparently, he doesn’t dress in layers for the winter.  A siren blasted and an unmarked police car appeared out of nowhere.  I guess that’s why they’re unmarked, no?

Continuing along Broadway, I heard another siren blast.  I turned to see two women getting out of the unmarked police car and another unmarked car pulling up from the opposite direction, followed by a police cruiser.  A pretty impressive display of force for a guy whose pants were falling down.  I felt safer already.

After doing a good deed at the bank that caused me to wait far longer than necessary and, therefore, to begin to regret my own niceness, I headed back the same way.  One of those square police vans for prisoners – a modern version of the old paddy wagon, I guess – had joined the other three vehicles.  The guy was surrounded by cops.  I thought they were searching or cuffing him but, as I passed, I saw they were trying to keep his pants up.  One of the women grinned good humouredly as she put some kind of belt on him and told him that should hold them up.  She must have thought, “This isn’t what I signed up for”, before the pants were up.  I wonder who drew the short straw.

And not a taser in sight.

Less Than Humble Beginnings

January 4, 2008

They say a new year is a new beginning and this one has me thinking of my first beginning.  On New Years Eve I met a woman from the Scottish town where I was born, who happened to be standing next to another woman from the Canadian city I grew up in.

I was in the Cascade, a fairly new pub-eatery with a friendly enough vibe on Main Street here in Vancouver, where I exist.  She was asking about Absinthe.  Do they have it?  Is it the real stuff, like she’d had in Budapest, or the imitation?  I pointed out the two bottles behind the bar and that one looked like the stuff I’d had in Prague, which was unavailable in the west at the time.  I asked her what part of Scotland she was from, cleverly deducing that she was by her accent, and she said “Cumbernauld”.  Well, what a coincidence – that’s where I was born.  Apparently, Craig Kilborn, of Late Late Show fame, was too.  Or his mother was – I can’t remember, there was alcohol involved.

We talked some more and, as it turned out, she’d not only lived not far from the house I was born in, she had also lived in the Maryhill district of Glasgow, where relatives of mine lived.  Pleasantries aside, she then told me how lucky I was not to have grown up in Scotland in general, and Cumbernauld in particular.  If I’d grown up in Scotland, I would probably be an alcoholic, drinking whiskey for lunch, she said.  I recalled stories of visiting relatives for her, in which I was hospitably fed whiskey like it was beer.

She would later say something that reminded me of another unpleasant aspect of life in Scotland.  She asked about my religious origins, making an assumption on my name.  Apparently, in Scotland, people can, and do, guess your religion based on your given name and treat you accordingly.  This is just one aspect of the religious divide there, particularly in Glasgow, where soccer violence has been fuelled by religious affiliation.  The two rival teams – Celtic and Rangers – deliberately encouraged this to build fan support, thus profiting from religious hatred and violence.  I let her know that I rejected all religion as nonsense.

But Cumbernauld, she said, was a bad place within a bad environment.  In fact, it was a bad idea.  A great place to get raped, I think is how she put it.  With pedestrian underpasses replacing crosswalks, it seemed designed for crime.  All part of the ‘new concept’ design of the time.  The lack of foresight is astounding.  Even a child would instinctively know they were a bad idea.  My sister may be the proof.  I’m told her claim to fame is that she was the first person to be hit by a car in Cumbernauld, a town designed to prevent people getting hit by cars.  Probably thinking, “That tunnel looks scary”, the little girl crossed the road instead.  The driver of the car, probably not expecting a child to be crossing the road because he would have been led to believe there wouldn’t be any, hit her.  So, this ‘people friendly’ design actually seems to have been more car friendly, as it kept traffic moving, and put people at greater risk by creating a criminal friendly environment.  Maybe the drugs really were stronger in the old days.

Curiosity led me to visit Cumbernauld, once.  During a visit to Glasgow, where I drank much whiskey, I decided to go see the place of my birth.  For anyone who has never heard of it, Cumbernauld is one of five new towns built in Britain after the second world war.  Others include Eastkilbride, also in Scotland and home of postpunk pop band The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Milton Keynes, in England, which has a reputation for being rather dull.  Anyway, after waiting at least an hour for my connecting bus, I finally got there.  The driver, who had clearly been in no mood to explain the delay earlier, dropped me off at what I initially assumed must have been the wrong place.

Most cities and towns are established and grow in a location for a reason – there’s a good harbour, a river, or a useful resource or good farm land nearby.  Cumbernauld doesn’t appear to have any of these.  It sits in the middle of central Scotland, roughly at the centre of the triangle created by Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling, but not close enough to any of them to be considered a suburb.  I could be wrong, but there doesn’t appear to be any water nearby.  If the land surrounding it is arable, it seemed it wasn’t being farmed.  I know this because the place I was dropped off by the side of the road was also beside open land, empty except for a power pylon near a hill.  On the other side of the road were buildings.  So there it was, in the middle of nowhere with no apparent purpose.

I looked at a map and found I was not only not in the wrong place, I was actually near the street I was born on.  It was just on the other side of the road which, as it turned out, was the main road.  To create the people friendly town that wasn’t actually very people friendly, it seems to have been designed with the main road going around the town rather than through it.  Now there’s a way to create a vibrant, people friendly atmosphere.  I left the emptiness of the main artery and walked into town.  One street in I turned into Lennox Road, walked a short distance and found it.  The house I was born in was a little pebble covered townhouse, identical to all the others around it.  A bit dreary, really, and hardly worth the pilgrimage.  Be careful what you look for, you might find it.  I came, I saw, I left.

This trip planted an idea in my mind that was confirmed on New Years Eve by the woman I met.  I am the product of a failed, terribly misguided social experiment.  This explains a lot.  But, on the bright side, look what it did for Craig Kilborn.  Alchemy?

As for the other woman, we agreed that Windsor is a place people come from.  More about that fabulous metropolis will no doubt come.  In case you’re really wondering, one is married and the other has a boyfriend so, no, I didn’t get my tongue down either throat.  However, it may come as no surprise that the Scottish woman is the one who stood on the bench against the wall and counted down the new year for everyone.