Tom entered his Yaletown apartment, put his laptop case on the hall book case and concluded that Christmastime was a bad time to visit the doctor.
It was December 22, a Monday, and it was nearly 1 PM. He had chosen not to go back to the office after his visit to the doctor. He had text-messaged his staff to say he was afflicted with a bad case of It’s-Nearly-Christmasitis: a good lie that involved them not hearing the tone in his voice.
His wife and two teenaged sons were out: school or work or shopping or something.
Tom looked out his living room window onto the view – a great view, but one that did not give him any pleasure.
It was a rare sunny December Vancouver day. Tom felt he could not stay in and decided to rebel against his doctor and go for a walk. But where? On the coffee table rested a newspaper insert touting what to do in Vancouver at Christmas. Stanley Park. Christmas Train.
The Lion’s Gate Bridge should do fine, thought Tom.
He powered off his phone, put it in his pocket, grabbed a scarf and stepped out the door to the elevator.
His condo was near Homer and Pacific. When he walked to cross Pacific (on the green light) he heard the screeching of brakes and saw a woman, on her cell phone, driving with her left hand that also held a cigarette. She waited for him to walk further into the intersection and then raced through, never looked at him and vanished. Self-absorbed, Yaletown, entitled, rich, empty-headed chick. Tom thought. At least it was a 2008 blue BMW M6 convertible. Nice car. Pity about the driver.
As if spoken by someone right beside him, Tom heard an Afrikaans-accented voice: “You know, Tom, back in Cape Town we used to say that BMW stood for ‘Break My Window’.” Tom never laughed harder than when he had hung out with Boyle.
Tom looked to the right as if Boyle were actually standing there. But he wasn’t of course; Tom hadn’t seen Boyle in 20 years. Not seeing Boyle would continue; he’d been brutally murdered in the 1990s during a carjacking in Johannesburg. They had met doing post-grad work in Cape Town. Tom’s sense that Boyle had been right beside him did not lift until Tom had reached Davie Street.
At Davie, Tom turned left and headed west. The incident with the car made him ponder cars. As a mode of transportation, the car was insane. Usually one person was driving in something 20 or 30 times their weight, burning fuel that, were the exhaust fumes pumped into your house, would make you sick and force you out of your home. Tom wondered who first ever approved the mainstream development of the automobile. Wouldn’t some King somewhere have been shown this?
Officer of the Court: “Your Majesty, I present Herr Karl Benz.”
King: “How do you Herr Benz?”
Benz: “I am vell, your majesty. I vill be demonstrating today zee internal combustion engine as it applies to a horseless carriage. Shall vee proceed outside?”
King: “Why outside?”
Benz: “Safety, your majesty.” (This should have been the first clue.)
Once outside, Tom imagined Benz showing the King a simple car driving around a gravel pathway.
King: “Herr Benz, what’s that smell?”
Benz: “Er, engine exhaust your majesty.”
King: “Will they all smell like that and burn the inside the Royal Nostrils?”
Benz: “Vee are verking on zat problem.”
King: “Hmm. Where does this exhaust go?”
Benz: “The vind takes it away.”
King: “Away where?”
King: “And you envision many hundreds of these on the roads of the kingdom.”
Benz: “Yes, your majesty.”
King: “Riiiiiight …”
Tom was nearing Burrard Street and realized that, despite his sense that cars were silly, he had not seen a bus. Despite all the moaning people do about how horrible cars are, public transit as an option was also insane. One bus ride on a hot summer’s day with a smelly, loud, mentally ill alcoholic was enough to put anyone but the most desperate off transit. In your car you can listen to your music, smell your own smells and talk on your cell phone (until they ban it) as loudly as you want. Buses have leaking noise from iPods, more variety of smells than Marrakesh’s market on a hot day, and drivers with feet that suffer from Random Use of the Brake Syndrome (RUBS).
Tom felt that meeting destiny was best done on foot.
Continuing down Davie Street and crossing Burrard was like changing worlds. The cultural diversity expanded. Old, young, Asian, straight, gay and more. Tom thought he always had good “gaydar,” but in the West End he simply assumed that men holding hands was a key indicator. He couldn’t help but laugh at the recent US election where a (sort of) Black/African American President was elected and at the same time the African American population in California voted to define marriage as being between boys and girls only. Tom’s mind was jumping about like a frog on a hot plate and he recalled one of his many recent sick days at home on the couch. On Halloween Wanda Sykes was a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Tom couldn’t recall how she had led into it, but Sykes argued that it’s harder to be gay in America than Black because one did not have to come out of the Black Closet or reveal a hidden Black Lifestyle. Tom started snickering and realized that it was funnier to remember this than it was to watch the first time. In some ways he felt that he didn’t deserve to find this funny; he was white, straight and could only consider him self middle-aged if he planned on living to 102.
Unsurprisingly, at Thurlow Street, there was a Starbucks. Tom felt that his journey would be better with a latte. His feet were starting to hurt and he hadn’t even got to Stanley Park yet. He joined the line up and stood behind a woman in yoga gear who had a spectacular butt. Tom wondered just how much money that Chip guy at Lululemon had made dressing women in pants that made almost any ass look good.
It also seems, Tom thought, desperately unfair that I can’t pat this bottom or say, “Jesus, your ass is fantastic, can I see more?” Or perhaps something less threatening like, “Thank you for showing me your ass; it makes me feel better by dumping the right chemicals into my brain.” Ironically, were he caught looking, he would be considered a pervert when in fact he was just highly heterosexual – or at least he was until he got sick.
At the counter she ordered “A tall soy milk latte with a shot of sugar free vanilla.”
Tom took extreme effort not to laugh but stay focused on her ass.
When she turned to leave, and head to the pick up counter, she smiled at Tom and said “Merry Christmas.”
The Starbucks barista said, “You were looking at her butt, right?”
“How could I miss? Grande Latte extra hot.”
“Sure. She knew, you know.”
“They all do.”
“I guess it’s not just Santa Claus who’s watching.”
Continuing down Davie Street, Tom reached Broughton Street and saw the first clear view of the ocean and the mountains. He stopped, partly to catch his breath, and partly to admire the view. The road started downhill and so did some of the people. There was a crazy guy holding his hand in the shape of a gun, using his index and middle fingers as the barrel. He was “shooting” at something, but Tom could not figure out what. The nutter had a salt-and-pepper beard, work boots, blue jeans, a sweater that could not possibly be warm enough and the stiff-neck posture of a man who is off his meds. Tom kept walking.
Further west there was a police car and a paddy wagon in the process of rousting a young couple who had “drug dealers” written all over them. Tom felt they could not have been more obvious had they had Buy Heroin Here tattooed on their foreheads.
When Davie met Denman, Tom crossed the street and moved onto Beach Avenue, which led straight into Stanley Park. He found a sign saying he was in Stanley Park; at this point Tom realized he wasn’t sure what direction to go. He could have taken the Sea Wall route practically from his apartment’s back doors, via False Creek, but he’d wanted a more direct route. He dimly recalled there being a small playground and a road that went around Lost Lagoon Lake. It took only a few minutes to reach it. On his way there, he found a group of tourists admiring four raccoons.
Better be careful, Tom thought, they’ll take you hostage for your food. Remember what happened in Germany!
Tom was recalling an article he had read that raccoons had become a menace in Germany after their deliberate introduction. Apparently a moron had asked a crazy guy, specifically Hermann Göring, for permission to release raccoons to “enrich the local fauna.” The concept of Nazi raccoons made Tom smile.
Upon further observation, Tom noticed the tourists were feeding the raccoons; the critters were stationed almost directly below the sign that instructs people not to feed the wildlife. Tom veered away from them so that they would not see him laughing. He then found a map of the park and he figured out a way to get to the Causeway, which was a kind of mini highway that cut through the middle of Stanley Park, giving access to the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
By the time he had walked over to the pedestrian underpass that let him gain access to the sidewalk on the Causeway, Tom realized two things: this was a longer walk than he thought and his feet hurt.
Cars hurtled past him as he walked up the grade toward the bridge. His mind was becoming less focused, but somehow he could only think of absurd things. He caught a whiff of skunk, and he wondered if someone on the newly elected Parks Board would try to argue that Stanley Park was a wild space. This ludicrous debate had kicked in when a massive wind storm had damaged the park in 2006. Tom imagined himself at a Parks Board meeting trying to argue for the reintroduction of native species to the park, namely bears, wolves and deer. Tom could imagine the cricket players of Brockton Point whacking black bears with cricket bats. He also wanted to argue for shooting permits to eliminate black and grey squirrels that had been imported from Ontario and Quebec. In fact, forget shooting the squirrels. Let the wolves and coyotes eat them.
As his feet continued to pulse painfully in his shoes, and certain tender areas were starting to chaff, Tom wondered if he was going to make it to the bridge at all.
He focused on one step at a time and let the noise of the rushing cars put him in a neutral mental state.
He reached the Prospect Point off-ramp that goes into Stanley Park – the spot where the tow truck always waits for someone on the bridge to break down – and Tom said, “Oh for Christ’s sake!”
Tom realized he was on the wrong side of the road. He had no intention of contemplating his ultimate destiny looking into Vancouver Harbour from the Lion’s Gate Bridge. He wanted to look west, to see if he could see Vancouver Island (it was a clear enough day) and imagine the open ocean beyond.
The cars on the Causeway were running two lanes north and one south, and were all going no less than 60 km/h. Even if he could sprint across the road, he’d be road kill before he could take his first deep breath. This was not a fitting end. Tom imagined the comments at the funeral:
Mourner 1: How’d he die?
Mourner 2: Tried to cross the Stanley Park Causeway on foot.
Mourner 1: What a goddamn idiot.
Then Tom remembered he could leave the Causeway via the off-ramp and go over an over pass, which was in plain view in front of him, and cross over to the other side.
He trudged up the road, which was not meant for foot traffic, and traversed the overpass, from where he caught a glimpse of the still-under-upgrade-construction Prospect Point café. The tricky part was walking down the west side off-ramp road. It had a very sharp curve to it; he noted that cars were not paying attention to the 30 km limit as they blasted past him.
It was dark in the woods and he realized, although the sun had not set, it was low in the south west. It would be a terrific view from the bridge – if he ever got there.
Back on the correct side of the Causeway, he finally got onto the foot path on the west side of the bridge and made it to mid span. He leaned against the railing, panting, sweating and wondering what the hell he thought he was doing.
Tom reached took a breath.
He looked from left to right. His first view showed the trees of Stanley Park, the Sea Wall path, and in the distance, he could faintly make out Vancouver Island’s mountain range. Only one freighter was anchored, looking forlorn.
Looking straight ahead, he identified the point of land behind which Horseshoe Bay hid, with its ferries to Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
To the right, of course, was West Vancouver.
Suddenly all Tom could think of was the Mayor of West Vancouver, who had recently been re-elected with a margin of only 635 votes. Completely without control, Tom’s mind flooded his visual memory with this image:
And Tom could not stop laughing. Ever since the mayor had been embroiled in allegations that the West Vancouver Police had had drinking parties in the police station, she was on the news nightly with her astonishingly retro hairdos – ones that made Tom recall his mother’s friends. His memories came from being six years old and Tom the little boy wondering: how the hell do they sleep with hair like that? Doesn’t it break?
Tom leaned against the Lions Gate Bridge railing and laughed until he was in tears and finally spent.
Once his breath settled, he heard Boyle’s Afrikaner voice. “Laughter is certainly the best medicine Tom, but I recommend laughter and beer.”
Tom wiped his face with his sleeve and noticed the sun had just started to touch the trees of Stanley Park. He figured he’d better hurry if he was going to get somewhere useful while it was light out.
With a distinct limp – his feet felt like two squashed watermelons – he walked back to Stanley Park and the exit to Prospect Point. He pulled out his cell phone, powered it up and rang his wife’s number.
“Hi Honey,” she said.
“Hey,” Tom replied, “I need a favour. Can you pick me up at the Prospect Point Café?”
“Really? How’d you get there?”
“Yep. Could you also find the boys and bring them? We need to talk about my last appointment at the doctor.”
“Jesus. Tom. I might be an hour by the time I round up the guys. Are you OK?”
“I’m as OK as a second medical opinion and beer will make me. I think the café is still licensed. Take your time; I’ll rest my feet and enjoy the view.”