Thursday, August 10, 2006

I AM NOW IN CANADA, until the end of October.

The show is currently in Vancouver for another seventeen days, then on to Edmonton for a month, and then Winnipeg for another month.

J. and I had good visits with family and friends in California on our way up here from Arizona, although it was during that horrible heat-wave a couple of weeks ago. But it was great to see everybody, and reconnect with my considerable past history in the Golden State.

We had stopped in Lafayette (east bay), Sacramento and Nevada City. Then after visiting friends in Truckee, our trip to Canada truly began.

Early on Saturday morning, July 29th, J. and I drove to Reno and caught highway 395 heading towards Mount Shasta.

It was a beautiful sunny day, not at all hot up north, and Mount Shasta glimmered with snow above the rich green pines.

There was a LOT of smoke on the CA-OR border; there must have been serious fires in the area. The sky finally cleared up about halfway up the state.

We stayed at a nice RV park just north of Eugene, then continued on our way early Sunday, July 30th. It really doesn't take much time to get through Washington, and before we knew it, we were getting close to the Canadian border!

We decided to go on through the check-point and arrive at the RV park in Vancouver a day early; we were originally scheduled to arrive on Monday, July 31st.

Unfortunately, the traffic at the border crossing was HORRENDOUS because of the week-end at the height of summer season. We ended up getting in the right lane which was a mistake, because there was an entrance ramp ahead of us on the right where many cars "in the know" cut in line ahead of us. But we finally arrived at the booth an hour-and-a-half later.

Since I am working in Canada for an extended period of time, the border agent waved us to the side after looking at our passports, and we had to get out of the truck and walk to a nearby building to show them and the "introductory letter" from the Phantom company to the agents there. Thankfully, that's all the documents they requested and we were processed quickly.

On to Vancouver! We arrived just after the sun set, and all the skyscrapers twinkled with myriad lights. It's truly the most amazing skyline I've ever seen; many of the buildings actually relate architecturally to one another, creating a unified whole. The hills and water and general ambience remind me very much of nearby Seattle.

Since we had forgotten our detailed map, we had to navigate with a tiny inset map of Vancouver included with the Rand McNally atlas page of BC. We wended our way through the twisting, congested downtown streets with the trailer (!!) and managed to find the RV park across the river in North Vancouver.

This is when the "fun" started.

The RV park turned out to be very unpleasant. It seemed to be run by Native Americans, much like a casino; very high prices, poor service, and a "f___-you-all-we're-just-going-to-take-your-money-and-if-you don't-like-it-you-can-go-somewhere-else" kind of attitude!

So we DID leave, the next day.

Since we had arrived a day early, and the RV park was utterly and completely full, we had to park without any hookups in an "overflow area", and still paid top dollar for the privilege.

We were exhausted and J. certainly didn't feel like cooking, so we walked to a nearby mall and found a pub which had a full dinner menu.

It was a very interesting dining experience.

The pub was very dark and there were quite a few tables and booths set apart from the bar, which had two giant screen TVs blaring out soccer (also TVs in each corner of the room, as well) and music from the '70s/'80s was going nonstop. The place was pretty deserted late on a Sunday night, with the surprising exception of a huge family with a bunch of screaming rug-rats, eating dinner at a corner table at nearly 11 p.m.!

J. and I sat at a booth with a big window overlooking an outdoor patio. A young guy and gal obviously on their first date sat at a table immediately on the other side of this window, which was very disconcerting to me. It was like they were sitting at the same table as us, separated only by glass.

There was no privacy reminded me of those "reality dating" shows! I saw all sorts of scenes which were straight out of TV. The young gal was obviously very taken with the young man; had her hands all over him all the time, and they paused often between sips of wine and occasional bites of food and drags off his cigarette to cram their tongues down each other's throats. This happened literally three feet away from me!

This "dating show" theme was taken to a new level when the young guy excused himself to go to the washroom, and the gal helped herself to the rest of the guy's dinner (she had already wolfed down her own). I could just see the caption on the screen: "DATING NO-NO #3: EATING LIKE A PIG".

After the guy returned to the table, looking at his bare plate with perplexity, the gal excused herself and went inside. The guy immediately activated his cellphone and I wondered if he was either giving a buddy a progress report or perhaps lining up another date with a more promising prospect?

Anyway, these young people were certainly not doing anything wrong and were having a good time, but I probably should have insisted that we move to another booth. Oh well -- it was entertaining, in a way!

J. and I got up early on Monday morning to see which lot we were going to be situated at, since a huge group of people had just left (the managers couldn't tell us which lot we were going to occupy; not very organized, just greedy).

We finally parked the trailer at lot #8, tightly jammed between two other RVs -- the place was truly packed like sardines! -- and then we spent the next several hours trying to line up internet service in the trailer.

When J. had first made reservations on the phone, he was told that there WAS indeed service at the park, but it turned out to be two casino-like "slot internet machines", one in the front office and the other in the rec centre/laundry room, which cost $1 for only 12 minutes, and were always occupied by young kids. This was totally unacceptable to us!

So J. spent a lot of time on the pay-phone with both the phone and cable companies, surrounded by screaming kids in the rec room (along with yet another young couple sucking face!), trying to line something up....and it turned out that this particular RV park neighborhood was one of the few that didn't have either of these services!

There we were, paying top-dollar to stay at this RV park, not only with no internet access to our site, but they were charging us $2/day to keep our cat, who never leaves the trailer -- later we found out that this was NOT any kind of Canadian ordinance, it was just at the whim of the RV park management.

So we called the other RV park in the Vancouver area, a bit further away from downtown (it's actually in Burnaby, east of Vancouver), who said that there was plenty of space there and that they DID have internet access at each site! So we drove out there to check it out, and it is the cutest RV park imaginable, and cheaper than the first one.

We returned to the bad park to hitch up the trailer and leave, and I received a full refund of my money. I explained to the management why we were not staying, and they were not at all apologetic or sympathetic. The Native American man who seemed to be running things just stood stoically with his arms akimbo in the background, looking like a chief carved in stone, while I firmly but politely told him along with the native receptionists that this is the 21st century and that they need to have internet access at each site like most RV parks do across North America, and that they're charging too-high prices for very little service in general. I also complained about the $2/day pet thing, and the guy said that it was some sort of "law". Later I found out that this was NOT the case, so he was just being greedy. Ugh, and double-ugh!

At the next RV park, the manager was supposed to set aside lot #121 for us; she assured us that it was ours. But when we arrived there a few hours later, we discovered that it had been rented to someone else in the interim. Uh-oh! Not more problems!

However, there was another available site with phone service, although it wasn't as nice as the first, and a bit farther away from the wi-fi tower in the main building. Well, was still much better than the previous park.

We finally got settled in around six o'clock Monday night. I practiced a bit of horn, took showers and then we crashed early.

I forgot to mention that when we checked out the second RV park, we took the SkyTrain system to downtown Vancouver and back to see if I can take public transportation to work. It turned out to be pretty nice, but the trip can take up to 50 minutes each way. If J. shuttles me back and forth, it's an 11-mile, 20-minute drive. Gas works out to be over $4.00 a gallon here, so it's probably best that I take public transportation as often as I can. The stations are pretty near both the RV park and the theatre downtown.

We've been in Canada only a few days, but already see that it appears to be a bit more polite than the States, at least here in the Vancouver area. People don't seem to be quite as much in a rush, and they're very helpful and friendly. They're sort of innocent in a way. Also very serious and earnest. There's a lot of ethnic diversity here, except for a lack of black people. LOTS of Asians and a few Middle Easterners.

A friend who has visited Canada frequently made the observation that she thought that Canadians' behavior is very similar to ours back in the 1950s, and this does ring true for me as I observe these low-key, courteous people.

I was surprised to find that the SkyTrain tickets are on the "honor system"; you buy the tickets at a machine but don't insert them anywhere later; an agent may check for this "proof of purchase" on the train at any time, but chances are, they won't -- so conceivably, one could ride the rails for free.

Certainly some Americans would take full advantage of this, but it doesn't seem to occur to the Canadians to abuse it -- at least, as far as I can tell at this early stage. Very, very interesting difference here.

A couple of days ago, J. finally had to buy gasoline here in Canada for the first time since we arrived; the tank of our Chevy "hog" truck was nearly empty. Guess how much it cost to fill up?

$138.51! A new record.

Good thing I'm taking the train to and from work. Hopefully we can last on this tank of gas for our remaining time in Vancouver.

Last night on the way in to the show, there were several interesting characters to observe on the train.

A very proper, squat elderly man sat primly across from me, stocky legs squeezed together. He was wearing a black suit with checked shirt and typically British collar, tie, sensible black shoes....and he had some sort of Knights of Columbus or Masons pin affixed to his left lapel. It had that Maltese cross kind of look. He sported a short grey beard and had black bushy eyebrows; the right one was way up his forehead, while the left one scowled just above his eye. His dark eyes popped out of his head in an eternal look of surprise, while his mouth was fixed in a permanent grimace. Perhaps he'd had a stroke.

The young obviously college-age girl sitting next to him was fresh-faced and earnest in that Canadian way, dark pigtails, zip-up grey hooded sweatshirt, jeans and flip-flops. She was studying out of her notebook with all sorts of scientific scrawls and diagrams, while reaching into her knapsack periodically to eat mushrooms! Whole, cleanly white large mushrooms. Yummy!

I got off the first train to make my transfer to the second; waited at the platform along with a few other people. Some weird emanation of energy made me look at the man at my left, and I suddenly realized that he was the SAME crazy guy who'd been on the train over the weekend, yelling at a father with two pre-teen girls, warning them to stay clear of the doors. The father had yelled back at him that he "had the situation handled" and it escalated into a heated arguement until the little family disembarked a few stops later.

Then the crazy guy started talking to everyone in general, insisting that he "meant no disrespect"....."if those little girls want to kill themselves, just go ahead; I don't care anymore!". Later, he asked me what time it was.

He looks to be in his late fifties, possibly a Vietnam vet (didn't seem quite Canadian), maybe an alcoholic or reformed drug user. In any case, it looks like he's lived a hard life. Maybe he's made a career out of riding the trains. What are the chances of encountering the same person twice in such a big city?

It's been raining "frog piss" style for two days now. The air feels very heavy and moist here, which zaps my energy. But at least I'm not broiling in 100-degree-plus temperatures as I did in the States!