Thursday, September 06, 2007

Of Zombies and Lumber

So I never posted anything about my recent travels, and I have a lull in the action at work, so here we are. I spent a few days in Vancouver, which was as beautiful as everyone had said. It's certainly a very desirable place to live, but like everywhere else it is not perfect.

Case in point: I had heard that there was a shady area of the city, known as its Skid Row. Well, seeing is believing. Upon arrival a friend drove us through said neighborhood, which is within a few blocks of downtown. Imagine a street with hundreds upon hundreds of homeless junkies milling around, going in and out of shady bars and "hotels," forming a critical mass at the intersection where the city's free needle exchange resides. The first couple days we were in town we were [un]lucky enough to be staying at a hostel a couple blocks away from this strip. Though I don't think Canadian junkies are nearly as violent as American gangbangers, it was a little unsettling to be around this area and see some of the people, affectionately dubbed "zombies" by a fellow traveler, hanging around there.

One other minor gripe about Vancouver is that it's pretty fancy pants. By that I mean that it's so desirable to live that real estate is apparently very expensive, and there is inevitable fallout when it comes to other aspects of the town. Most bars are in fact lounges or clubs, which tends to lead to hanging out amongst wealthy losers having self-important conversations in tones loud enough for everyone to hear. Most apartment buildings in the downtown area were soulless highrises, looking identical and fairly uninteresting in the spirit of modern luxury living (they all had porches, but even with some rare gorgeous weather I don't remember seeing one person actually hanging out on their porch). On a Saturday night the main strip of bars was crowded with velvet ropes, long lines, and kids on cell phones, talking to their friends who were oh-so-privileged to have gotten "in". Meh.

Don't get me wrong, I very much liked Vancouver. It's just not perfect. I found Vancouver Island to be much more remote and adventurous, with more natural beauty than the city and more options for relaxing. People were nicer (i.e. they are able to help you out if you want to get your hands on some of the famed local cannabis), zombies were rare, the trees were massive, and the Pacific Ocean was lovely. Though I don't ever plan on taking a cruise, I'm a big fan of traveling on the high seas. Taking ferries to and fro the island was good clean fun, as was sea kayaking (see above).

One weird thing about Canadia is the fact that alcohol is really expensive there. I know the sauce is bad for you and the Canooks have to fund their universal healthcare system, but I am not joking when I say that a sixer of cheap beer at a liquor store ran about $12. Ironically, delicious microbrews were $13 or $14 for a six-pack, making me wonder who in God's name would ever drink the crappy stuff in Canada. I'm sure that Canadian hipsters like to wear Kokanee t-shirts, but I can promise you that PBR would not be nearly as cool in the U.S. if its price was virtually identical to Oberon. Mmm, Oberon...

Upon our brief jaunt stateside to Seattle/Tacoma, me and the lady friend were welcomed back to a few fat slices of Americana. Seattle rush hour involved a trailer that had flipped over on its side and a brush fire 2 miles down the road, reminding me of how pathetic an existence the typical American commuter tends to lead. Our gracious hosts in Tacoma work at a wine bar and used to live in Wisconsin, which means we got good and DRUNK at low, low prices. Between some good vino, free rounds at a bar and some good Midwestern/Northwest hospitality, I managed to wake up fully clothed one morning, feeling like ass. Home is where the heart is.

I think I'll end it here, as I've said my peace. Don't think I'm hating on Vancouver, unless you hate Vancouver, in which case run with it. Oh, one more thing. Unsurprisingly, Canadian border patrol officers are way nicer than American ones.


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