A long time ago, when I was briefly married, my wife and I used to talk about places we’d like to visit. For some reason Vancouver was always near the top of the list. I knew nothing about the place save for an aerial travel magazine type photo which portrayed the place as paradisiacal confluence of sea, skyscrapers, mountains, and blue, puffy-clouded skies.
Sometime last year, my father floated the idea of a cruise to Alaska to mark his 70th birthday the following summer. Both my brothers and their significant others were quickly on board, whereas I wished them bon voyage with no intention of coming along. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than be stuck on a boat for a week. The one thing that tugged at me a bit was where their ship was departing from.
I decided I’d fly to Vancouver for a few days at the end of June to see them off. They were touring Victoria Island the morning I flew in, so I had the day to myself. Unfortunately, having bartended the night before the 7:30am flight, I was in an unknown city on virtually no sleep. I took the subway in from the airport and wandered around Gastown, trying to get the lay of the land. Thinking I might grab a nap at the Airbnb my folks rented so I’d be awake for their evening arrival, I walked the half hour or so to the highrise we’d be staying in, but was informed via intercom that the apartment wouldn’t be ready till 5pm. I had about four hours to kill. With no energy left and at a loss for any better idea, I lurched around for awhile until I found a movie theater and sat through one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. (Everyone else seems to love it so you’ll have to judge for yourself; I was just grateful for the darkness and air-conditioning.)
In my sleep-deprived stupor I didn’t realize that the Airbnb highrise was literally next door to the theater. I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the roundabout route I took to get there if I tried. But I was at the intercom promptly for the 5pm check-in. Our place was on the 18th floor, had three small bedrooms, no functioning A/C, and decor which had to be seen to be believed. Evidently, our host was a bodybuilding fitness guru who dabbled in porn on the side. Magazines, DVD covers, and other promotional materials featuring his flexing image were prominently displayed throughout. An amateurish triptych of a tiger’s face took up the space above the couch, while a roaring lion painting guarded the folded-down futon I’d be sleeping on. Stickers of roses, fleur-de-lis, and various fauna were affixed haphazardly on the walls of every room. By the time I finished taking it all in, it was time for my family to arrive, so I went downstairs to the lobby to wait.
It was about 7pm and there was a steady stream of humanity in and out of the doors. Many races, ages, and types were represented. A good number were obviously tourists which made me wonder how many of the dwellings in this 21-story tower were devoted to Airbnb and other short-term rental schemes. A doorman showed up while I waited but didn’t even bother greeting arrivers; there was an unspoken understanding that his role was now mostly to look the other way.
The idea of staying overnight among some stranger’s belongings can be a bizarre experience if, like me, you’re not used to it. My folks and my siblings are all much more seasoned travelers so it’s old-hat to them, but even they were taken aback by the unique decor of this place.
The one unassailable feature of the apartment was the floor-to-ceiling windows which afforded spectacular views north and west. Watching the light from sunrise to sunset in that living room over my three-day stay was quite an experience. It felt a bit like being suspended in a glass bubble way up in the sky while the world spun its daily revolutions below. Three days of wandering about Vancouver made me want to spend more time there. Between the amazing variety of contemporary architecture and the care with which so much of it was incorporated into its natural surroundings, my short trip was barely good enough to scratch the surface. To contrast the beauty, there was a visible homeless junkie contingent wandering about. This town isn’t all paradise but a longer visit might reveal a bit of what makes it tick.
It turned out that July 1st was Canada’s 150th birthday and many of the main thoroughfares would be closed. But that night, from our celestial perch, we were able to take in twin sets of fireworks set off to the north and the west which continued for a good 20 minutes.
Vancouver lived up to all my travel brochure ad expectations. I’ll have to come up with a reason to return some day.