As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe at Yew and 4th that used to be a convenience store in the 70s. I came here a lot in the middle of the night to grab something to eat on a break from my piecework job off the alley behind here where I wound jute off big bundles into 8 ounce skeins for dieing ... I kid you not ... I am a former jute winder. One time, sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning, the door to my little concrete box flew open ... I had the radio blaring ... and in marched a bunch of large Vancouver cops with straining dogs on their leads ... they were inches away in a split second. The convenience store where I now sit had been robbed; they heard the music and charged in. I convinced them quickly enough. I suppose that my hair and clothes being coated with jute dust had the effect of bolstering my story. Every time I come to Vancouver, I walk past that warehouse on the alley, and this time I took a photo.
Back to yesterday grand loop. I should add about skid row that it is not one jot less filthy now than it was then. There was then and there is now a place called Pigeon Park ... the photo above is of the only mural there that has, in my 'umble view, any redeeming value. I took the photo, and a technical panorama as quickly as I could lest the denizens set upon me and relieve me of my expensive electronics.
When I wander about, I try to look to the degree possible as an unappealing target. Middle-aged white guys often disappear from view, and I rely on that. I don't over-dress ... I am incapable of that, at any rate ... and I try to fix a low-bore scowl on my face that is, by parts, angry, pissy, frustrated, purposive, uninterested. It's a look that one should cultivate to throw observers off from the fact that I am trying to observe carefully everything around me. I look fore and aft, up and down, side to side, and then back again. Somehow, you have to act awake and pretend to be asleep if vaguely threatening and certainly not possessed of anything worth the risk of stealing. It helps in environs such as the unrequited skid row of Vancouver. I have manged to wander around the not-quite-but-nearly-worst parts of cities my entire life with precious few untoward incidents.
But this painting on the wall points our another fact of Vancouver life that is, perhaps, a little counter-intuitive. There is so much less street art here than in San Francisco, and what there is tends to be goofy or government sponsored. I think street art by its nature is entrepreneurial, or at least transgressive. As such, a good effusion of street art requires a population of pissed off artists who don't care what you think. Such an attitude here would tend to be a pose rather than a fact, and the result is less and not so good. Vancouver must settle for other charms.
So after Chinatown, which I briefly described yesterday, I headed to the SkyTrain ... let's go to Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain. There was no SkyTrain when I lived here, and a trip to SFU was a sequence of interminable bus rides. Gary, my lover of the time, was a student there and spent a lot of his life going to and fro. But SkyTrain now seems a great service ... fast and efficient. If you live within walking distance of it, there is no reason you could not work at SFU. It is also a service that is decidedly part of East Vancouver. The western enclaves are well-to-do, insular, cool, even smug. East Vancouver is the local expression of the roiling reality of Canadian life of the masses today ... multiethnic, working class, fevered, but still involved step-by-step with government and being governed.
Simon Fraser itself is another Arthur Erickson creation, one that set everyone to talking, as I remember, in the 60s when it was built. It feels like a concrete and structural steel retake on Italian fascist architecture, but its setting in the mists and rain and brush of the top of a flat mountain softens the only apparent ideology. But inside, it has begun to feel a lot like a community college ... the architecture is too thematic for a great university, too integrated. I wnated out, but when I went out, I tended to be shunted aside. Once you are out of the main embracing core, there does not seem to be a way back in. To torture a metaphor I have used too much on this trip, you are either in the spaceship or you are in outer space.
One other curiosity ... the library had several large rooms of public access computers that were full of students ... does no one have a laptop here? Canada seems to ahve less of a commitment to University-level education ... and a larger commitment to trade education ... than the U.S. does, but that is an impression. I'd love to see a study. In the present context, these computer banks make me wonder whether the average Canadian student is less likely to have a computer than in the U.S. On the other hand, perhaps seeing the privileged students of MRU (where I work) blinds me to a larger reality south of the border. I wandered around, checked out the bookstore, had a coffee, waited in a line to take the second bus back to the SkyTrain where ...
... I took the wrong train on what is a large loop. So, without warning, there I was in New Westminster where I have not set foot in three decades. I got out, walked around real quick, and got back on. New West seems to have changed least of all. It is famously the home of B.C.'s oldest penitentiary, and it a working class town that rises quickly out of the Fraser River. It is old and dumpy. The great tidal wave of urban development that transformed Vancouver never made it here.
Photos by Arod.