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I enjoy the great good fortune of having been born a citizen of the most beautiful and, I feel, tolerant, city in the world. Vancouver is my birth place. Several years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I felt as though there were a large group of people around me when I was born. She, responded by telling me that that there had been a big group at my arrival, largely because St. Vincent’s was also teaching hospital. About the time I was to hit the scene, a group of young medical students showed up and hung around to observe the birth. These dedicated, fledgling angels of medicine bestowed upon me my first of many blessings. They granted me a gift that ensured I would always be welcome among large groups of fellow humans. To this day, if I set out on an empty street or enter a sparsely populated store, I will suddenly be joined by a small mass of humanity. Fortunately, I like people, particularly Vancouver people, and mercifully, they seem to like me.
My Vancouver is a place of rich cultural, social and ecological diversity. Home is riding the Hastings Express, hearing at least five different languages, none of which I speak, but knowing that I’m safe, and secure cocooned on a bus with my extended world- family. Having lived away from “home” for over thirty years now, there is never a day that goes by where I don’t pine for the ocean, or my extended Vancouver kin, and birth family. When I visit and the kid sister picks me up from YVR, I am re-baptized by the welcoming wave of sea air that washes over me. Generally, I fly down for a summer break and also, to run the beautiful route that is the Vancouver International Full Marathon.
My short tale takes place on the buses and Sky Train which make up Vancouver’s amazing transit system.
After enjoying an evening in Burnaby with my sister and brother-in-law, it was time to head down to the waterfront and pick up my marathon race number.
Up Inman Avenue I march to Kingsway followed by quick left turn and then a quick right which brings me up to Patterson Skytrain Station. Upon entering the ticket area, I dig out my coins, and start trying to plug the ticket machine with the goal of purchasing my fare. Not going to happen, can’t get the thing to work. Looking around for rescue, I see a very large, very pretty woman on a pay phone motioning wildly in my direction. I walk over to her and without missing a word of her phone conversation, she hands me her unused, recently purchased ticket. She also declines any offer I make to pay her, and vigorously waves me off with a wide smile.
While heading up the stairs, with the rest of the crowd, we are all stopped in our tracks by an urgent Skytrain message that blares over the PA. We listen. Apparently a “police” incident had occurred on the track west of the Patterson station and that the trains will be forced to stop running until it is resolved. “I bet some idiot tried to kill himself” someone grumbled.
Fabulous. Now what. I turn to a young woman beside me and ask if she knows how to get downtown on the buses. She tells me she does and that she needs to meet a client. We head out together, back down to Kingsway to catch a city bus. Along the way we chat and learn that we are both health care workers. We make it to the bus stop, and continue our discussion. All the while we are very aware that we are being observed by a large bear of a man who is seated on the bench at the same bus stop. Soon a bus arrives, while it was not the right one for me it worked for my pal, and we part company.
While fumbling for my ticket I begin to wonder if I’ve enough on the pass for two zones. So, I turned and asked the big man if my ticket was enough to get me to Waterfront Station. He studied it briefly and said: “No”. Then handed me a Loonie. I thank him and try to return his gift, but he refuses to take the Loonie back. I had the sense he’d been sizing me up since I and my fellow transit refugee arrived at the stop. He appeared to have decided that I required protection as well as firm guidance, and took me under his wing. I learned he was recently from Russia having moved with his family to Vancouver. We chat for some time and then he decided we needed to move to a better bus stop to connect with a different Skytrain line. So we head east up Kingsway at a good clip. “there’s my church”, he remarked. I twist my head around to look for the familiar Russian Orthodox Onion Dome, and asked: “Are you Russian Orthodox?” “No!” he spat, “Pentecostal!”
He then proceeded to quiz me on my own religious affiliation. So, I rambled on about my New Age spiritual perspective. After listening patiently, he concluded that I was headed straight for hell. Eventually we arrived at the new stop, caught the bus and boarded it. He took up a post in the rear of the bus and kept a keen eye on me as I chatted with my new seat mate. When we were near our stop the Russian got up and told me to get off here with him. Once outside he tried to direct me to the proper platform, then gave up, and actually took me there. When he was finally certain that I couldn’t get anything else wrong, he shook my hand and wished me a pleasant farewell.
“How was your day?” My sister asked when I returned home.