We were talking about hitchhiking. I asked if you ever had. I thought it was illegal now, but it’s not. But still I would never have tried it as a teenager. I was always too afraid I think. Had the dangers of it reinforced in my thinking at a young age. I always listened about the serial killers in the news, and thought I’d be attacked by some axe murderer. Then when I was older I heard great stories from people older than me who had hitchhiked down to London in the early ’70s to see the big rock shows and not worried about a thing. So now I think I missed out somehow, and wonder how that happened. They camped out in farmer’s fields. I think of laying out in a field like that in the countryside, the hard soil under my sleeping bag with blades of grass poking at my face as I tried to sleep, knowing that all I have to do is wake up with my friends and stick my thumb out again to find my way into the big city.
Here I don’t have to hitchhike, as you know. I walk to work and I walk to anywhere else, or sometimes I take the #19 or the #20 bus. I imagine though, if I was going to hitchhike anywhere, I wouldn’t go somewhere like work. I would be on a wide open road somewhere with nothing to do that day, and the weather would be hot, and I’d be going somewhere I hadn’t ever been before, there would be big green road signs with white arrows, the kind that say how many miles to such and such a place. And the sun had my back as I waited.
At first I wanted to live downtown. Then I learned that nobody lives downtown, you live outside of downtown, so then I didn’t. Even Kuznetsov, when he was interviewed, said that the right thing to do was to live ten minutes out of downtown Washington. And I never thought I’d be living downtown Vancouver like this. I tried to find places near Commercial, on East Hastings, I even pondered about places near the stinky chicken plant farther out. I looked at lofts in Gastown but they just never happened.
It used to be, in the 80’s and ’90’s I always lived one bridge away. The bridges were always separating me from downtown. When I was in Kits or near Oak Street. Now I don’t want the bridges getting in my way. They make everything take longer and they are hard to cross when they get icy. Here my apartment is almost the same shape as downtown itself. I face towards the East. The kitchen is Stanley Park. The bathroom is Coal Harbour. My bedroom is the West End. Plus, if I look out to the real Coal Harbour there is a small chunk of water that I can look out at, like a pale blue ice-cream cone of ocean between two other buildings. I think of it that size but really there is more when I actually look. The cone is actually a big chunk, a watercolour of water with the North Shore behind it. On the other side of the building in front of me, I can even see some of the boats moored in the harbour. I look and the mist is drifting down over the north shore mountains. Again, I underestimated everything. There are not just boats moored, there are ocean liners and cruise ships farther out.
I didn’t even notice this piece of water until the day I moved in. The night I looked at the place, I think it was rainy and dark and the blinds were shut. The building also has a ‘moat’, or close enough to one, with a front door and buzzer instead of a drawbridge. This means I can pretend I live in some sort of castle, which I find is always a good thing for me.
I like walking, but sometimes, I wish there was a monorail between here and Main and Powell. Not the skytrain, a monorail. Like they have in Seattle. When you can go on something in a city, that’s only comparable to something you’ve been on in Disneyland, that’s a good thing. The monorail moves slower than the skytrain, if I remember right. It squeaks more, and looks metal and shiny blue. Blue like this piece of ocean I have. And you don’t go to work on the monorail, you do things like visit people or go shopping, or go to the donair place to get something to eat.
At night it’s like someone has taken a broad brush with black sticky ink and dragged it over everything thickly until it is all dark crowding in, cutting away the corners around each apartment light. But as each month went by, for me the streets and places are like pods of time, which I revisit in my mind. Different days and weather and music we listened to and things I brought in from takeaways for dinner.
There are buses. Ones that start here or there and sometimes I just want to walk. I don’t know why I feel like it on certain days. Those days I take the bus though I see everything a bit faster, how the business district suddenly changes to Carroll, the sidewalk on both sides changes from suits to the people who don’t try to hide anything, and I see the writing of the Balmoral, as a sign I need to get off soon.
It was true. One night before I moved downtown, I lay there annoyed I couldn’t sleep. My adrenaline was racing. Then my mind got going on thoughts. I was mad at myself. Then I decided I was hungry. I got up and dressed quietly, walked down the hall and out onto the streets of the Downtown Eastside without too much of a disturbance.
My apartment in Coal Harbour is fairly empty. My cat likes the space. He likes to watch out the window at the seagulls. He likes the room so that he can run around, as long as he doesn’t slide on the hardwood when he is at peak speed, going too fast, right into the wall, as he turns the corner into the hall. He’s not really used to the speed of the hard wood, there’s always been carpet in other places which allows for some tread control. He hasn’t crashed yet, but I keep warning him to slow down. Not too much, I don’t want to spoil his fun.
I said, I thought my new apartment would be like this. A little empty, more rent than before, but the emptiness, I don’t seem to mind so much now. Sometimes I do sit in the bath and do laundry at the same time, things I missed when I wasn’t living anywhere for real. You didn’t know this but at one point I decided it was a good thing that I stopped expecting this apartment to mean something, or transform into anything. I let it just be what it was on whatever day.
Now I use it for what I want it for. Microwaving. Sleeping. Baths. Hanging my clothes up and somewhere for my cat to sprint. Looking out at the piece of ocean. Looking across the way to the penthouse with the white giant pancake flipper roof.
That night when I walked, past the market awnings, then walked through Gastown. Not late enough to be early morning. Cool but not raining. Nobody around. Thinking I would find something to eat. Frustrated that I was out walking around at that time of night. I did wonder what was driving me, and why I just couldn’t lie there and go to sleep. The next street corner is the same as the last, dark and cobbled with a gentle breeze. Walking as far as Granville and not finding anything I felt like. Then walking up Granville till I reached a burger place. I wished the street was empty actually. I didn’t feel like dealing with the drunk people in crowds. I wanted them to disappear, because I felt like being quiet, I wanted peace.
I just wanted to hide somewhere dark and eat a burger. Perhaps a crypt of some sort. But the Burger King was there. The lights felt like they were blaring. Somehow after I sat there eating my food, I realized I had no ketchup, so I had to go ask for it. I was still too awake. There was someone there talking in a fake french accent, which was bad. I wonder why I am there, at Burger King, on my own in the middle of the night.
But I ate my food and left the bright lights, walked back feeling better, my demons gone somehow, no monorail, no hitchhiking, just walking, and crawled back into my place in the bed and drifted off to sleep. Even now I have faith that I was always underestimating the good things.