Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Sitting in a driveway, waiting for a bag to arrive. This is my day. Deep, deep in the suburbs of Vancouver, on a tidy treelined street, quiet and motionless in the mid afternoon, smell of cut grass, gas stains on the cement; skies are dismal, occasional weak sunshine peers through the cloud cover, then darkness returns, and the veiled threat of rain.
Maybe I’ve got this travel thing all wrong. Every place I go, I’m busting my hump to get to the middle of things, the centre of the action; eat the things to eat, see the things to see… But really that stuff is all for the visitors. Want to see how the locals live? Out here on the driveway, in a padded chair dragged from the living room, a faded, mildewy garden gnome for company, I’ve got the best seat in the house. Watch that old guy wash his practical, efficient, family car! That’s Van-City style! Man I wish my bag would show up. In between delaying and rebooking my flights, Air Canada left my poor battered travel-weary case two-and-a-half thousand miles away in Toronto, alone and scared in some bleak featureless holding cell, spinning its wheels to keep from crying… And I’m here in a beige wonderland of trimmed verges, Sunday barbecues, and clandestine sexual perversion. How now, brown towels?
With not a bite of food in the place, and unable to leave, I ordered Taiwanese beef noodle soup, delivered from No. 1 Beef Noodle– a deep bowl of meaty broth, chewy noodles, and fat chunks of tender beef and squishy tendon. I rocked back in my rickety chair and inhaled noodles, washed down with cheap local beer pilfered from my hosts’ fridge. The pungent exotic flavours fought in my mind with the bland suburban outlook; my imagination desperately trying to dart off to hypnotic chaotic heaving sweating South East Asia, while the manicured lawns and sensible family wagons hung onto my pants hem for grim death. That night, on my way to the gig to present myself to an audience in my smelly, wrinkled travel clothes, the airport delivery company dropped off my bag and sent me a photo to prove it.
On a sodden Saturday afternoon, unable to cope with the soul-crushing surroundings, I dragged myself, jet lagged and hungover, in the general direction of the nearest train station. The leafless driveways and identical mailboxes eventually spat me out onto an undulating highway, bordered on one side by dense forest, only an occasional car disturbing the peace. The thick organic smell of wet wood and decomposing leaves hung in the cool air and lifted my spirits, and I breathed deeply as I followed the gentle lift and drop of the road. At a river crossing a pair of strutting, puff-chested Canadian geese kept a close eye on me as I stopped to watch their dozen or so fluffy tumbling chicks, cheeping stupidly as they tipped over on each other. As I neared the station, greenery gave way to blighted, bleached commerce; abandoned office blocks and shuttered restaurants in various stages of demolition. After thirty minutes of walking, the first sign of commercial life was the Starbucks by the station, but the promise of burnt coffee and sullen staff was not quite enough to entice me. Outside, unfortunates asked for money or ranted wildly; I joined the crowd, averting our eyes and bustling onto the zippy modern Skytrain, polite Canadians apologising whether they bumped into me or not.
On Commercial Drive, crowded on a Saturday, hipster coffee shops nudged cannabis dispensaries and veggie markets for attention; restaurants– Malaysian, Middle Eastern, Cuban– whispered sweet nothings into passing noses. I stopped in at a weed store where a patient young woman explained the pre-rolled variety on offer– strains with blustery college-boy names– Crazed Viper and Orange Scuzzball… Did she have anything called “An Evening on the Couch with Somerset Maugham?” Or “Digesting a Lovely Dinner of Roasted Wood Pigeon?” I settled on something relatively nonthreatening, pocketed the plastic canister, and slipped guiltily back onto the Drive.
At a crowded bar, I nabbed the last stool, ordered half a dozen oysters and a beer, and tried to keep my elbows in. Eyes slipping in and out of focus I half-watched hockey on the big screen; it’s fast and violent, and actually quite diverting, although I haven’t the faintest idea what’s happening. The previous night’s excesses combined with jet lag-induced confusion sending waves of unease from one side of my beleaguered guts to the other; I wondered if I would regret these oysters. I gripped the edge of the bar tightly until they arrived, balanced proudly on their ice bed, fanned around a pot of fresh horseradish. I slugged them down in seconds, and let them sink into the beery depths, and felt the fear subside.
At Frankie’s Jazz Club microphones lurked about the stage, trying to remain inconspicuous as they sucked up our efforts: three nights of stonking, horn-fronted organ grooves, recorded for release in the dim dark future. Smiling Vancouverites filled the room, eating, drinking, applauding… I like playing here- they don’t seem to have too many hangups about their music, not worrying if they’re supposed to like something, just listening, appraising, accepting or rejecting. Packing away my horn for the last time, I eagerly accepted a ride back out to the suburbs, where I sat in a dark backyard and smoked my joint, peering into the inky murk, tennis racquet in hand, waiting for the mountain lions to attack.
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