|Looking northwest, from Stanley Park|
My family left the Province of British Columbia fifty-two years ago (1960), when I was about five and Annie was six. But my folks' good friends Hermann and Marianne, who moved to Southern California not long after we did but who moved back to B.C. ten or twenty years later (they worried about health care), kept inviting my folks to come north to visit them, first on Vancouver Island (Victoria) and then later in White Rock, just south of Vancouver. But it was always a no-go somehow.
H&M would occasionally travel south, though, which is good, cuz these people are seriously close. My mom (Edith) first met Marianne near Münster, Germany, in 1945, when mom was a 12-year-old refugee, and the two have been the best of friends ever since. They’ve been pals as a foursome going back to the mid-fifties.
My parents and H&M are getting old—they’re all about 80—and my dad, Manny, and Hermann are definitely in decline, healthwise, and so I figured we’d better make this thing—the northern sojourn—finally happen. Besides, friend and ex-wife Kathie and I always wanted to visit BC, which is my birthplace (eh), and so I bought the plane tickets for a non-stop to Vancouver, August 1. I got rooms at the Pan Pacific, which is way fancy, man.
|The ceiling of the lobby of the Pan Pacific|
People seem to eat well in Vancouver, I’m glad to say. Never encountered a lousy restaurant. Plus the town is an attractive mix of various ethnicities—lots of Chinese, Sikhs—and it all sort of works. French is spoken, here and there.The place seemed nice, despite the exterior's construction scaffolding, so we entered. Inside, it still looked promising, I guess, but the aural atmosphere at that moment was awful. We had the bad luck of arriving right when the bottom floor was being used by some organization, which held a pretty wild party—one that featured, anyway, at least one spectacularly loud screaming kid plus a noisy slide show. The din was amazing. My mom kept looking at me as though to say, “Good Lord, that can’t be right, can it?”
Dining is a big thing when you travel. One time, we got the notion of going to a Chinese restaurant, and so we asked the concierge for advice, got a luke-warm recommendation, and then headed just down the street to the "Imperial Palace." I think that was the name. (Update: nope. "Imperial Chinese Seafood")
|Marianne, c. 1955|
For reasons that don’t matter now, we were all hoping to avoid seeking out yet another restaurant, and so we were trying to make this work. The waiter brought us upstairs to a sort of balcony zone, which comprised maybe four or five tables, including the one next to us, which was occupied by the Family From Hell (actually, from Whistler, north of Vancouver). When I took my seat, I looked over there, and the four kids were beating each other with chopsticks. The dad corrected them ineffectually (he was the sort who yelled his parental efforts for all to hear—all except his brat kids, who were irrecoverably wild and who knew better than to worry about dopey old dad). At one point, one kid yelled to the waiter, “Hey, is my chicken ready yet!” I think Kathie wanted to throttle him. We were all relieved when we detected (by reading one kid's shirt) that they were not Americans.
|Silver Falls. Indian Arm of Burrard Inlet|
All of this, of course, is amusing enough, but there was one further element in the scene: the waiter seemed to find it necessary to yell at us. “You want food!? What food!?” he roared. Having inspected the menu, Mom asked for a "number 48." He glared back at her with apparent consternation. He grabbed her menu and looked up 48, saying, “My memory is not so good!” But Kathie and I detected self-deprecation in that remark. Humor maybe? We thought of the Chinese waiter on Seinfeld.
But that unfortunate experience was the exception to otherwise universal good-to-greatness, restaurantwise. Plus they seem to like their waitresses sexy in that part of the world. (Kathie was not amused.) I guess they're not completely "correct" in the land of beers, bears, and botanical gardens.
It’s seriously beautiful, Vancouver is. And, as it happens, we visited during an extremely rare stretch of good weather: it was clear and sunny and warm the whole time we were up there. Nobody has ever encountered anything quite like it, apparently. But, I’m told, it’s been a very wet summer otherwise.
Vancouver is about water, man. The downtown area is on a smallish peninsula—much like San Francisco, and so you can’t go far before running into the harbor. The city is the second densest in North America, they say, and so there are lots—lots and lots—of high-rises full of people. Most of the city is very neat, very tidy, though there’s a visible homeless contingent—residue, they say, of the ravages of the drug trade. Not sure how or why or when that happened.
|Edith, c. 1960|
Kathie kept waiting for the corny jokes, but they never came. There was no exaggeration, no hoopla, no patriotic self-promotion. Very Canadian. Not very American.
Some of the Canadian and American border officials were kind of prickly. One time, some official gal asked my dad, “Any declarations?”, and he heard, “Any decorations?” He muttered something about “Mickey Mouse.” (Don’t ask.) Well, that got the gal interested in my dad as a terrorism suspect. (I get it: Mickey Mouse—> terrorism.) They took him away and checked him all out with a fine toothed radar-comb. Earlier, I had made the mistake of taking somebody’s pic near one of the many stations involved in homeland security, and, immediately, an official told me that there can be no photos! So I walked right up to her and showed her as I deleted that photo. I must’ve done it right (or wrong?), cuz they just spun me out the door after that. Later, at Vancouver airport, I asked a uniformed lady—playfully, I thought—if I’d get arrested if I took her picture. She looked at me levelly. She said: "It’s not illegal, but I wouldn’t appreciate it." Good grief.
I’ve got a medical condition. It’s like a broken thermostat: it causes me to get overheated at the slightest provocation. For me, airports are the worst, cuz they’re always humid, hot, and you’ve always got to walk around lost for a while. (Last year, Frankfurt Airport just about killed me.) In such circumstances, I sweat profusely and start feeling lousier and lousier. That happened to me last December in Chicago and I thought I was having a goddam heart attack. Went to the doctor when I got back home, and he said I had to check out, first, my heart, then my blood sugar, then my lungs and such. I checked out OK for the first two and then I started feeling better, so I kind of dropped the ball. I got the chest X-rays taken, but never followed up. Not good.
The problem came roaring back in Vancouver. I’d perspire to an absurd degree, slow down, get overheated, become useless. I’d lose my breath just walking down the street. I’d have to sit down for a while after just a few steps. There are plenty of humid and hot places in Vancouver, as it turns out. Especially on those harbor boats, which are all closed up with plexiglass cuz they’re designed for typically lousy B.C. weather. In good weather, it’s like a freakin' hothouse inside those boats.
So, half way through the trip, I became the Amazing Wilted Man. That was my Superpower: utter and devastating wiltitude. Meanwhile, my dad, whose hearing is pretty lousy (he has a hearing aid, but he seems never to have it on right), was the Amazing Lost Man. He was generally two steps behind the rest of us, and I don't just mean geographically. He’d catch up, though, whenever we settled in one spot—say, for dinner or lunch. Then, with perfect lucidity, he’d hold forth about the old days, when Vancouver was B&W with only dirt roads and pompous, unpleasant English people who disliked immigrants.
Kathie, of course, was Super Enthusiasm Girl; and mom was The Amazing Anxious Woman, though she’d occasionally morph into Zany Party Girl for a while, melding with Kathie. When things settled down, like on one of those boat tours, she’d fix upon the physical beauty around her. She’d ooh and ah, though somewhat mechanically. She was distracted, I think, keeping track of her Lost Man.
|The west shore of Stanley Park|
So we were like wacky cartoon characters in a Super Green lost world of Milquetoastian strangers, forever bouncing into things but generally getting where we needed to go. Getting back to our hotel rooms in the evening was sometimes a relief. I often watched the Olympics on the big HDTV.
I love to drive and, in particular, I love to drive where driving is crazy, and it’s pretty crazy in downtown Vancouver. We had rented a nice little Toyota Rav-4, which permitted zippage and spinnage and swiftulosity. Such maneuverings, however, especially when combined with one-armed guerrilla camera work, are not always appreciated by elderly parents or ex-wives. Still, I had fun. (Inside the Rav-4, the powerful AC kept me fresh ‘n’ frosty.)
There are no left-turn lanes on the roads in Vancouver. Nope. Once in a while, somebody would need to make a left turn, and so they’d just stop, waiting for opposing traffic to clear, bringing everyone else in their lane to a complete stop. I got pretty good at avoiding those backups. Zip, zip, zip, swoosh.
We had a great time visiting our old neighborhood on Copley Street. The pics tell the story. Too bad Annie wasn't there to tell us how she remembered each brick, twig and ant. "Yes, I remember that crack in the sidewalk!" And we are enjoyed our time with H&M. Kathie loves those people. They're pretty cute, both of 'em.
For some reason, at 9:00 p.m., those Vancouverians always shoot a cannon, a very loud one, out there in the harbor. Maybe to wake people up, dunno. We first encountered this phenomenon while in the bowels of our hotel, down in the parking garage. Suddenly, there was a loud and distinct thud, like an enormous boulder landing on the roof. Earthquake? "It's the cannon," said my dad. I didn't ask him to elaborate. Such are Bauer conversations.
The next day, we encountered the explosion while outside, near our hotel. You’d see the white smoke first, on an island in the harbor; then, two or so seconds later, you'd hear the massive report. You’d think such explosions would make these Canadians crazy, but they didn't seem to notice. We saw fireworks, too, on a Friday night, on the way home from the “sunset” harbor cruise. Very nice. That town can be like a carnival.
Well, we went to the usual places: Stanley Park, museums, harbors, shops, odd little islands, old friends. Everybody had a great time. My folks visited with H&M for two solid days. One night, Kathie got grumpy with me and I got mad at her and so things weren’t too good for a few hours. But, otherwise, it was smooth sailing. Kathie was a huge help.
So that’s my report.
Very one-sided, I’m sure.
See also Copley Street: 1959 and 2012
So that’s my report.
Very one-sided, I’m sure.
See also Copley Street: 1959 and 2012
|I'm writing a screenplay: "Posies on a plane." It's about Canadians.|
For a fascinating interview of Chinese-American actor James Hong (1929- ), go to Archive of American Television.