Thursday, April 30, 2015

Oh Canada, It's Been Real...

Despite the fact that the weatherman assured me a storm was a brewin' until after my departure back to the US of A, I woke to a quiet Wednesday in the Westend with clear skies and a fresh perspective.

Two steps forward and one step back - not just a catchy song with an infectious beastiality inspired music video by the illustrious Ms. Paula Abdul - but the way of life. I have been making concerted efforts to be more positive in my life. I have been fortunate enough to rely on some vintage loved ones and newly acquired friends for assistance in that category - but when those voices quiet and I am alone, I sometimes forget just how to do it. Today was going to be different.

As I pulled on my spandex lesbian Pacific Northwest workout gear for a morning bike ride I had fantasized about taking, I chose to take note of the things for which I was grateful - turn that frown upside down if you will. I am grateful that I have the perseverance to, even when in my darker hours, pick up and travel across this globe - as I have done many times now. I am grateful that I have people in my life who support my decision to do so, but most importantly I am grateful that I have a killer ass. No really, its amazing. Better than ever. I don't know if it is these rapidly decaying running tights or the glimmer of the morning light - but  it has NEVER looked better and I think we all know its what on the outside, or, more specifically, on the backside that really matters. Ah, it felt good to get that off of my chest. Moving on...

Making my way down to Robson to get a bike for the morning I saw a Xerox copy print out for bike rentals on a phone poll and decided to take the side street and see what there might be to rent. What there was was a kind young Asian man I can only imagine majored in hydroponics at Uni who, after a long conversation about my being a triathlete (yep, that's right!) and what sort of bike I might need, rented me a bright green hybrid, designed for both speed and comfort.

Before long I was off to circumnavigate Stanley Park alongside my boo for the morning, Donald Glover. Navigating my way around tourists teetering on their bikes built for two was the most precarious endeavor on this journey - with a paved path along the sea wall easy to follow and made for smooth sailing, or riding as it were.

Looped around and back into the city, I took the path downtown and circled back, realizing just how bike friendly Vancouver is, with wide, lime green paths designated on almost every major thoroughfare. Bonus - after a 2 hour ride to get my blood flowing and my Scarlett O'Hara cheeks flushed and I was only out 6 bucks - what a deal!

After a quick stop at a little known cafe called Starbucks for green tea and scones I made my way back to the hotel (beep beep).

While dressing I had an epiphany (I know, I seem to be having a lot of those) - I now see why old people always look like shit - it feels good.

After a long bike ride and a hotter than he'll shower I slipped on my brightly colored, geometric fleece lined leggings , buttoned up my chambray shirt and though both my boots and chucks had served me well, the Sauconys were calling. Dirty, beat to hell and covered with green gum on one side that never resided in my own mouth, they simply felt good. My legs ached from my two days of non-stop walking and my feet thanked me, as I chose function in conjunction with my own brand of fashion.

A left on Denmar as another on Davie and I was really getting my bearings, which is much easier when the land is surrounded by water on 3 sides. Though I was headed to Leo's Camera Supply on Granville, London Drug caught my eye and served the purpose of camera store, drug store and grocery store all in one. Essentially a suburban haven in the heart of the city!

The further I walked up Davie the pinker the trash cans got and I realized I was in gay country - certainly not the place to liberate your feet from canvas for leather functionality.

Needing to taste at least something native to this land, and not thinking this was the right part of town in which to find a date, I ducked into the local Tim Horton's and channeled my not so inner Robin Scherbatsky, when ordering a Vanilla Dipped. It was both fluffy and dense, smooth and crunchy. It was heaven, and I thanked my lucky maple leaves I'd taken the chance and gotten my mid-morning sugar rush.

Ducking into Wildlife Thrift Shop on ChampagnePapi, i.e. Drake, and Granville solidified two things for me a) I now actually enjoy the housewares section of places such as this and  b) I am past the point in my life where used footwear and previously pit stained t's appeal to me. My sister had said Vancouver was great for shopping - I'm just guessing she didn't mean overpriced and overly loved goods like these.

A quick left out the door brought me to the Granville Bridge, a long cement structure that brings you over the water and deposits you on Granville Island where a public market and brewery offer a charming and DIY vibe. Leather Lucha Libres, hand blown glass and artisanal beer can all be found on this strip of land. I procured one of the only hand made goods within my price range and made my way to Cat's Social House where I sat at the bar and eagerly consumed a Pink's Hot Dog inspired meal, replete with onion ring garnish.

Watching the perfect shot of Jameson poured right before me stirred something I've never experienced before - a longing to spend money with reckless abandon, drink too much and make unwise choices with alcohol as my alibi. Luckily hearing sooory and eh in real life snapped me out of it  and I turned back to my book. 

Another glass of what seems to be Canada's own interpretation of iced tea and some eaves dropping and reading left me properly recharged to make the journey back to the mainland. I thought about taking the ferry, or the bus - as I often like to take the public transportation in places I visit, but I felt with a burger and donut under my belt, or confined by my spandex, a few more kilometers on foot might do me some good.

I took the Burrad Bridge back over, giving me the perfect view of steel structures to my right and smokey topped mountains to my left. The dichotomy of Vancouver.

Another stop at a cafe, this time with Billy Joel melodically taking me to evening and, somewhere between "Tell Her About It" and "Lullaby," I felt a pang.

I ache for my father. There is not something I hear, read or experience that I don't want to share with him. I suppose that's the price you pay for being so close to someone when they are around - acutely aware of their absence in every moment when they are no longer. Its a daily battle and one I will never win, but will always endure.

A circuitous route home made sense as I knew this would be the last time I traverse these streets and I tried my best to enjoy them as the evening cold covered the city. 

A flight in the morning will take me back to LAX and straight away to work, so the chance of anything else noteworthy or culturally significant happening on this particular journey is slim, but with me, one never knows.

I found, unlike many of my more exotic travels, Canada did not offer me anything dangerous or sexy or unknown. What it did offer me was a safe place to be introspective and think for a moment - something I do domestically as well. Though I should be a black belt in reflection at this point, it never hurts to give your current situation some space and give yourself the opportunity to think about what really matters, what you really want, what feels good, and what is acceptable. 

Going to Vancouver, if only for a few days, gave me the opportunity to do something healthy and good for myself. That, coupled with a brand new stamp in my 2nd ever passport, and I am satiated by this trip.

Thanks Canada. Until next time, which will likely be never.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Uncomfortably Numb- Blue Skies and Pain, Eh

After disloding myself from my new favorite place in the world - my hotel bed - I managed to throw on some already odiferous clothing and head back out to Stanley Park in the gloom of a Vancouver morning, for a run. Good for the mind, body and spirit.

This morning I decided to do what my sister claims I have done in my life - and take the road less traveled - or, at least a path different than the one I had taken the day before. I am not sure if pop music is profound or if sadness lends itself to seeing meaning in sappy songs and Instagram memes, but J. Cole was dropping some serious knowledge on me as I rounded the Inuit Totem Poles and gazed lovingly at the Lion's Gate Bridge. A long, if chilly run left me as it does this city everyday, reborn. My sins washed away from the morning baptismal rains as clouds part to reveal a new, clean afternoon, replete with clear skies and the warm glow of the sun. A brand new start every single day.

It was in this glow I made my way back down Robson to check out the Vancouver Art Gallery, listed amongst the must see things in this fine city. Of course this cultural institution was only considered after locating the real treasure of Vancouver - Amy's Loonie Toonie Town Dollar Store, in which I found everything I've ever wanted and nothing I have ever needed, including an Oh Canada sticker set used to create my daily artistic endeavor at Cafe Breka down the road where blueberry bran muffins are divine and smoothies served far closer resemble radioactive material than anything derived from a bush or tree. Thirst quenched and sticker art complete it was gallery time. 

Van Art Gallery was easily located, with an upper Haight crowd lingering on it's steps. When the woman at the front desk politely asked for the $21 admission fee she sensed my hesitance, and insisted, gesturing to the other side of the double doors, that it was sunny and beautiful out and that I should go an enjoy the day and return, after 5pm, when admission is donation only. Maybe the friendly Canadian thing is true - or maybe when you volunteer at the local museum you just don't give a shit. Option 3, my travel clothes and makeup free face make me look even younger and more down on my luck than I do in my every day life and, if that vagrant appeal results in discounts and helpful hints - that is just fine with me!

Taking the kind woman's advice I exited the gift shop doors and headed left, my only plan to walk in the path of the sunshine for as long as possible. This led me downtown to the hustle and bustle of a city not unlike San Francisco, but without it's inherent enchanting appeal. This also offered the opportunity to do one of my favorite things - people watch. 

I've said this about other places before - but fuck Paris - Vancouver is a city for lovers. Old, young, Asian, that one black dude - everyone is holding hands nuzzling into one another's neutral toned fleece, gazing lovingly into one another's eyes. It's like the setting for a romantic comedy, only set in the 90s, where they wouldn't even have to alter the Perry Ellis ads or the Birkenstock adorned feet.

I'll admit it - I had been looking forward to being able to utilize my very limited LA wardrobe by layering cotton blends and relying on work out wear if necessary when visiting this town. I was quite certain my fashion fortitude would not be tested - and it was not. As I perused the downtown shops of San Francisco and Lake Tahoe's illegitimate love child I could not help but feel the pangs of childhood memories and unresolved emotions, familiar in a city in which I had never before stepped foot.

Making my way through Gastown and past Smart Mouth Coffee, where I should most certainly buy shares, I crossed an idyllic bridge to a park/beach on the other side of the tracks - literally. Here I opted to enjoy the late afternoon cancer causing rays and relax with Billy Joel in my ears and the breeze in my just untethered glorious locks, thanks to the surprisingly wonderful conditioning shampoo all on one provided in miniature by the hotel. 

Perhaps local Canucks or your standard Eastern European tourists don't notice his or her surroundings, but though I may be out of New York it is most certainly still in me.  Therefore, when disheveled homie #1 split from his partner and  tried to creep up behind me, no gorgeous view or Piano Man lullabies were going to distract me. He is messing with the wrong girl. Don't get thrown off by the sophisticated Trader Joe's tote or standard white person Chucks - a true gangster lies just beneath the surface. And by true gangster I mean loving aunt, loyal friend and perpetual smartass - but still! A quick turn of acknowledgement, and not the good kind, had him scurrying back to the rock from under which he came and left me feeling far more dangerous than appropriate.

I don't believe in soul mates. I think there are a series of people who one can connect with at the right time, can choose to make inexplicable chemistry and hard earned respect turn to love, and eventually commit. Now don't get me wrong, I am not getting on one knee for Vancouver, but I can't help but think I met her at this point in my life for a reason. She is up, she is down. Tears from heaven soak her skies every morning, washing her of her sins and soot, allowing for a glorious evening of natural beauty, just before it turns cold, then dark, and then it happens all over again. I can only assume her mood swings have existed for decades longer than mine, but I can relate to her cycle and appreciate her malleability.

Back at the Art Gallery there was a very long line of cheapskates like me and, after paying my generous $9 donation I entered the ground floor, perused the Cezanne watercolors and headed toward the elevators in the back. When I exited on the 4th (and top)  floor, I took quick inventory and moved fluidly through the exhibition rooms. And then I found it.

I entered a light filled with only patterned light in which two grown women were shamelessly taking a selfies. I say, I watched. After the first change of imagery I became entranced. And then it dawned on me- why don't I put in my headphones, pull up my knees, turn on some Pink Floyd and really enjoy this. I sat for nearly 20 minutes in a white room with occasional patterns that changed, listening to "Wish You Were Here" on repeat - and man, did I wish he were there. After feeling adequately engrossed and fairly certain that life is better with the beautiful melancholia known as Pink Floyd,  I moved to the plaque with information and saw it was "Wallpapers in Dialogue with Emily Carr,"  which I'd been asked about downstairs, as the artist was doing a talk on their work at 6:30. When I had heard wallpaper I immediately thought of the embossed atrocity hanging from my mother's dining room walls in the late 80s, not this transient and hypnotic experience that, if you asked me at the moment, could most certainly be the long-awaited cure for cancer. I was sad I'd missed out on the artist presentation, but so glad of decided to be the soberist stoner I knew how to and witness some truly beautiful art.

As I left the gallery, finding absolutely nothing worth spending my Canadian dollars on in the gift shop, it had turned cold. I made my way back down Robson, flanked with Asian men in shorts and souvenier shops, at which I made a few more purchases for my bound to be ungrateful nephews. Having turned in so early the previous night I decided to go crazy and take myself out to dinner. Seeing that I was in the Great White North, I thought I should get an authentic experience and located none other than - Indian. Finding  a decent Indian restaurant situated above Robson street with candles on the tables and wifi at the ready, I languidly consumed my spicy cuisine and poured over my nonfiction paperback with endless cups of chai tea. Bougie as it may be I needed to eat and I needed to stay out past dark so, for me, it was a success.

Feeling full and satisfied after having listened to the entire restaurant chew on their respective vinadloos (thanks again Mom and Dad for teaching me table manners), I paid my bill, made my way down the staircase and headed home. Having made note of the weather pattern it seemed pointless to rise early and give another glum morning my attention,  so the pressure to adequately rest for an early morning was not a concern whereas finding warmth beneath the covers who had server so well the previous night was.

And that is just what I did. 

And that I did.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Misery Loves Company, But I'm Rolling Solo: The Vancouver Files

Quick, cheap and easy.

No, this is not the headline to my online dating profile, but the criteria for my latest, if not most exotic, international endeavor.

Never having visited our Northern neighbor and currently resting my head atop a mattress made of air on the West Coast, Vancouver seemed like a good escape from life and a viable new notch in my ever growing lipstick case. The 34th notch to be precise.

It's a bit of a chicken or egg situation in terms of life falling apart and international journeys  for me and my LAX to YVR  voyage was no different.

Knowing I have to get up at the crack of dawn always seems to allow for a "Keeping Up With The Karadashians" late night marathon watched directly on my ever aging iPhone 4, followed by fitful rest. Up before the sun and driving myself to the airport for the first time in I don't know how long, I found myself winding around a dilapidated parking lot guarded by construction workers I like to think were named Dumb and Dumber, both of whom insisted there was no possible way I had entered the structure, due to their construction, despite the physical evidence of my actually standing there. Once inside Terminal 2, I was greeted with a winding road of fellow travelers making their way up to the Air Canada counter. With a crowd like this, one would have thought the Great White North had suddenly become the sexiest destination on the planet, when in fact the airline's computer system has malfunctioned and now those of us wise enough to pack a single army navy surplus duffle were benefitted no speedy entrance to US Weekly and Chex Mix heaven, known as the interior of the airport, and instead were left with the plebeians this side of security who brought their entire winter wardrobe on their travels. Amateurs.

Security was its usual shit show , highlighted with a security guard telling me he 'detected' my sarcasm as if it were the Anthrax of the mouth, and witnessing a nun in full habit AND seated helplessly in a wheelchair asked to remove her orthotic shoes to be inspected for harmful materials. Is this not just a little ridiculous? As soon as I turned around I was met with a young mother trying to fold up her stroller and carry her newborn, a difficult task for anyone, especially when 4 TSA agents are standing idly by and insisting they can not legally offer any assistance. Not knowing how to finagle a quick fold up with the stroller I instead held a stranger's baby - totally normal right! When the less than helpful TSA agent commented that I looked good like that, with a sleeping baby in my arms, I knew it was time to get my dose of radiation and get the hell out of there before I either burst into tears or made a run for it with the lady's baby. Both seemed like less than desirable options.

After being herded directly from security into a Starbuck's line where I was not only forced to purchase pastries, but also witness their caloric content on the helpful notecards placed beside them in the display case. It was then that I realized I had forgotten my father. Creepy, perhaps but you too will understand "Six Feet Under" in a new way when you lose your Nate. Overcome with guilt I tried to justify my oversight by explaining to myself that Dad had been here in life and, therefore, didn't need a repeat - though I knew the argument was weak. Not having officially repeated a country yet I already begun to think about a quick Toronto jaunt or Quebec getaway to make sure Dad gets to leave a piece of himself in every country he can. Sigh.

Luckily it was while experiencing this inherent Catholic guilt that I glanced over at a fellow patron. I wish I could apply this to life in general more often, but occasionally when I'm feeling low, I will see a very unfortunate looking woman, as I did in the line at Starbucks, and I'll think to myself - things could be worse. But then again she seemed to be married with children so who am I to judge...

Shallow, perhaps. Judgmental, maybe. Necessary to get through the day, occasionally. Human, absolutely.

I hope each and everyone of you gets the chance to board an Air Canada Rouge flight so you too can admire the flight attendant's kitschy plaid fedoras (part of the uniform - no joke) and visible panty lines while receiving safety instructions in both English and, what I can only imagine is a good healthy 8th grade education Francais. Oh La La.

My standard operating practice for flights is to fall asleep, open mouthed at take off and miss out on the complimentary beverages and, as was the case here, free WiFi, to be woken up by the captain announcing our final decent. This bilingual experience followed suit.

A nice Indian man who has been in Vancouver, by way of Houston, for 16 years deposited me safely at Hotel Buchan, my humble housing for the next few days and I immediately dropped my duffle in room 427 and headed to Stanley Park.

Stanley Park is a huge nature reserve in the city of Vancouver, and just a couple of blocks from my hotel - chosen for that reason. It seems to be on all of the googleable lists when searching the day before your departure on what to see in this city and it is the ONLY thing one of my besties Simone recommended I see. Hotel Buchan backs up to Lost Lagoon - all too fitting, I know.

Speaking of fitting, as I wander the wet and moody town I cannot help but think how fortuitous that I land in a city reflecting how I feel inside. Grey and gloomy, tears drenching the once blooming bushes and fruitful trees. Fresh fuchsia flowers bending under the weight of bullshit and rain. Depression make me poetic - I know!

Consciously, I chose Vancouver for its convenience; the bodega of destinations- but maybe the it's old adage that you attract what you are - beautiful and melancholy all at the same time.

As I began my umbrella accompanied walk around Lost Lagoon I felt a powerful presence. Here I must warn you I am entering some real #oprahgranolashit territory, but I felt my Dad. Before I had lost someone this important in my life and involved in my existence I sort of discounted people when they said things like that, or at least let it go in one ear and out the other - but here, I actually felt it. I felt it like a smack in the face - something my real Dad would never do but maybe my ghost Dad (copyrighting here for any future young adult novel I may want to pen and then option as a feature film) would. As I meandered down the muddied pathway and sat and watched a single swan prune itself with complete accuracy (also something my father would never have done in life) I felt him. It was visceral, and it was the definition of a happy sad moment, smiling through the sobs.

When in the quiet of solicitude, you witness the songs in every movement of nature. When in the presence of Maxwell, you witness the songs of lovemaking.

A calming melancholy poured over me as "Pretty Wings,"  began to play - a song to which I used to openly weep over a love lost. A love for which I no longer shed tears but from which I gained knowledge and wisdom. Through which I became a woman. My hope is one day, in the not to distant future I can hear another melodic tale of heartbreak and think of this period of time with nostalgic warmth as opposed to the deep blues of sadness with which I am currently consumed.

Everyone wants to believe Maxwell with he soulfully spills that someone better is gonna love you - but I suppose that is open to interpretation. I've lost many loves in the past 12 months. Loves of all sorts. Loves in all shapes and sizes, colors and cadences and I can say with absolute certainty that some will never be eclipsed by the shadow of another. It simply isn't possible.

Rounding the bend at Second Beach was a breakthrough moment. Not only because I was suppressing the whoa is me moment I was having, but I began to channel the pre-pubescent me. I could almost see the dimming light as the disco ball descended, almost smell the damp carpet and processed cheese. Sunrise Rollerland housed a lot of good memories, but not until this moment did I realize it held a lesson as well. Firstly, of course, always go to the bathroom in pairs because there are no doors on the stalls and you need your homie to mind the gap, but also a lesson in love. It was during those couple skates, clammy hand in hand that I listened to former beauty queen turned silky songstress Vanessa Williams and she told me that he went and saved the best for last. Though no one likes the be the last kid chosen for dodgeball, maybe all I need to do is be patient and pay the proper amount of homage to 90's adult contemporary, and everything would be ok.

The sun also came out.

Feeling like some light reading and light lunching would do me some good, I wandered the West End until I found a place - Central Bistro.

The feel of a British pub with the menu of the persnickety Pacific Northwest, this was the spot.

I ordered a chicken club sandwich, not exotic but also something I have never eaten before and cracked open a book, ready to settle in for a bit.

A lengthy break for iced tea, wifi and social commentary and the outdoors beckoned. I'm happy to spend endless hours in cafes reading, writing and watching but the clouds had parted, the drizzle ceased and, as I set out along the waters edge I saw what people spoke of when they called Vancouver beautiful.

The water sparkled like a sea of cz's off of the home shopping network while couples jogged, evidently no one walks in Vancouver - everyone runs - perhaps to free healthcare, and new mothers pushed strollers in unison with their mommy pals, all against a background of lush green mountains and Bob Ross happy trees.

I circumnavigated the peninsula in the late afternoon sun, taking off several layers of clothing and basking in the bright warmth. It was peaceful and lovely and exactly what you expect Canadian metropolises to be. Cute dogs and clean streets paved the way for me to literally walk the perimeter of the city. Only heading in when Robson Street - the main drag as I have been told, beckoned and the chill of evening set in. 

I managed to find a couple of Canuck souvenir stores while walking down Robson, which I had been told were littered with shops and cafes - translations: Old Navy's and Starbucks - its like America, but worse. Managing to pick up some obligatory souvenirs from my travels for those back stateside, I felt like my day had been productively unproductive and it was time to head back home. 

Cool, calm and quite is how I would characterize my first foray. With the exception of a homeless man in need of help telling me to fuck off and a fat fuck yelling at the gas station attendant for having to waddle his big behind INTO the station to pay, insisting he will never being his business back to this hell hole, it was easy like Sunday morning - on a Monday. 

With my 'foreign' candies  - another travel tradition - in hand I ascended the stairs to room 427 and set in for a quiet evening of television, writing and relaxing. For anyone from the states trying to do this in Canada please make note that A) hockey is ALWAYS on here and b) the pride of the Canadians is so great that it is mentioned in every advert and promo on television. Literally. I never hear - visit American Honda or watch American E! News - but these maple leaf loving maniacs love themselves some Canadian product placement. 

Drowsing off to sleep after some Instagram stalking and old repeats of of "How I Met Your Mother" - sexy, I know - and I was out like a light.

I woke to the dripping of the bathroom faucet and the disappointment of another day. It's amazing how one night of sleep can wipe away all the Wonder Woman shit and just leave a lonely little girl twisting in stranger's sheets.