Thursday, October 27, 2016

#18: Canada.The Layover; Second Edition.

My journey is now winding down to an end. The countries that remain on my list to which I’ve ventured (excluding those other countries in which I didn’t leave the airport such as Taiwan, the UK, and Texas, for example) are few. The next is one which I can barely count, but since I have a passport stamp, I will. Layovers are interesting birds. Do I bother exploring? Should I just rest in the airport? Should it be as short as possible? An extended stop; even a destination in and of itself?

Just as it would be unheard of to live in a neighborhood your whole life and not bother to pay a visit to the family next door, our decision as to this matter on this particular trip was equally as obligatory (and influenced slightly by Air Canada’s offering the cheapest flights to Portugal). Las Vegas to Lisbon. By way of Vancouver, Glasgow and London. Yes. We truly do hold out for the absolutely cheapest flight. But hey, free(ish) trip to Vancouver! So Canada, here we come!

Yes, I’ve marveled at the Discovery Channel specials about the Canadian Rockies. I’ve spent many an hour veg-ing out watching Ice Road Truckers… and a good bit of my childhood prospecting for gold in the Yukon Territory in one of the few computer games available to me from the tiny shelf dedicated to Mac users of the 90’s (problems of your mom being a graphic designer) – oh and yes, you heard me right, I had a Macintosh before it was cool... But I digress. While I did all these things, Canada has always remained to me as… well quite frankly… just the leftovers for the British of what didn’t fall within the purview of USA’s “Manifest Destiny.” Stuff that we could have had if we wanted, but it was just too damn cold so we didn’t bother. This is how Canada lived in my mind for most of my life. And as I considered the prospect an extended layover in Vancouver, my main thought was “I’ve been to Seattle, so what could be the big deal about Vancouver?” A typical American superiority complex, I admit. And so with this in mind, our short trip began.

But as this fabulous election season has reminded me… sometimes, you just need a break from the ‘ol US of A. No, not the Alec Baldwin, “I’m moving to Canada if so and so wins” break, but just a break from the assumptions and judgments we as Americans tend to pass on our fellow citizens; from the constant concern over what this politician is doing, or how this policy is affecting my city. To put it bluntly, walking around Vancouver was great because I didn’t care about any of this here, because hey, I got no skin in the game. You want to legalize crack Canada? Super! I’ll be gone before the crackheads wake up for the day! You want the government deliver your Pizza Hut? Maybe I’ll just steer clear of pizza the next few hours! You want to require citizens to pay tribute to the Vancouver Canucks? Imma just get back on this plane!

As was the case with my brief Amsterdam layover a few years back (and those of my avid followers will remember from a former poetic blog post), not much can be said of an entire country from only a few hours. Stereotypes can be confirmed or shattered, first impressions can be made, and a few snapshots can be taken to help pause the blur if only for 1/1000th of a second at a time. In Amsterdam, this indeed was a time of confirmed stereotypes; not long after I had got off train, the sweet, skunky smell of Mary Jane was drifting up my nostrils, and I was passing wooden shoe shops by the dozen while munching on my fresh pickled herring sandwich and dodging the bikers who dominated all the streets. All that I had imagined about Amsterdam was confirmed in the course of my first hour. True? I don’t know. But it sure seemed like it in the first few minutes. Vancouver in a way was no different. No, I didn’t encounter mounties eating gravy fries, or a hockey player offering free healthcare, but it was about the people themselves: they are freaking nice. Like a whole difference category of nice. Awkward nice.

We got off the subway in downtown Vancouver with that slight look of perplexion which I suppose evident in every first time tourist’s face. Where should we go next? I wonder what’s cool to see around here? Well, no sooner than these thought danced in our heads for the first time than they were met with:

“Hey! What are you folks looking to see?” Oh great, I thought, I wonder what he wants.

Begrudgingly I said something like, “Oh I don’t know”, and started to move along and with a Pavlov’s Dog like reflex reached out my hand for the flier I was surely about to be handed. But it didn’t come.

A big smile came across his face, “Vancouver’s such a great place! You folks just looking to walk around? Eat? Go to a museum?” he asked like an eager dog.

I was a little taken aback. “Well, all that seems nice, and we are hungry, but we’re only here for a few hours, so…”

He cut me off. “OK, in a few hours, here’s what you can do...” As if reading off the introductory section to a Rick Steve’s guidebook, he rattled off several possible itineraries which would work within our time constraints, complete with restaurant recommendations, suggestions of parks, even bicycle rentals.

I was still slightly worried that he had some ulterior motive. I’ve been to too many places where someone won’t give you the time of day except for a buck or two.

“Well, Joey’s sounds good,” referring to one of his several restaurant recommendations, “and then we could walk around and watch the seaplanes, I guess.”

“Excellent choices!” He said like a waiter satisfied with some solid meal recommendation he’d made. “Well have a good one, eh?”

He must have been a tour guide, or at least obviously somebody in the hospitality industry, I thought. One of those guys who is just wired to behave that way even when they’re off duty. Nope. A few strides to the side and he got into a UPS truck. Curious, I thought.

We got on our way toward Joey’s but after about a block, heard a shouting behind us.

“Hey, Hey!” Up was running UPS guy. OK. Here it comes, the flyer, the solicitation… whatever.

“So… I forgot…” He said, out of breath, “Joey’s. You see that white tower down there? The one with the curvy top?” he said, pointing down the street to the west.


“Joey’s in just off of the lobby of that building, just wanted to be sure you’d be OK finding it!” He said with a wink. Then he ran back to his truck and was on his way.

My wife and I looked at each other, and couldn’t help but just laugh.

We didn’t do much in Vancouver. We watched seaplanes take off and land in the harbor, strolled down the sea wall and napped in the shade of a maple tree in Stanley Park, and of course, Joey’s (all per UPS guy’s itinerary). In three hours we were headed back to our plane. Out of YVR, over the Canadian Rockies (startlingly close beneath us on our ascent, I might add), and on our way to Scotland, then England, then Portugal. A short stay, but not one without memories.