Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. I have just received this missive from her…
I have finally arrived home just now and my boat is bouncing and rocking in a stormlet.
Yesterday, I was on a downtown bus. An insane young man was in conversation with a dog barking in the street.
I stepped off the bus at Main and Hastings, to go to music practice at The Carnegie Center.
Outside The Carnegie Center, individuals sell ‘hard’ drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine etc.
Across the street, against a building, the pavement was lined with lawnchairs (some with umbrellas) and native people, mostly selling ‘Indian Cigarettes’ which are in similar packets to regular cigarettes, but they are a third of the price.
They sell other stuff too, like cannabis, but not so much as there is a ‘compassion club’ (free cannabis distribution center) in the same block.
Whenever I get off at that stop, I have to walk past the crowd and say “No” to the various vendors shouting “Smokes! Smokes!” or saying a bit more quietly “Weed” or almost inaudibly – by nondescript men walking quickly – “Cheese… Cheese”.
Then I walk to the corner and, while waiting for the lights to change, I scan the lamp post which is always blanketed in posters of missing young people and memorial notices for locals who have died suddenly.
Yesterday, as I stepped off the bus, a large native guy seated amongst the tobacco sellers called out to me: “Are you from Bountiful?”
Only people in British Columbia would get the meaning.
It has to do with a perverted Mormon cult who lived in a secret mountain enclave near the small town of Creston, B.C.
B.C’s slogan is ‘Beautiful British Columbia‘ but maybe it ought to be Bountiful British Columbia.
For years, Bountiful has been in the headlines here, because the residents practised polygamy. The ‘wives’ of the religious leaders were usually young teenage girls – underage girls. It went on for decades and somehow the police investigators were not able to make arrests, due to the isolated location and claims that marrying underage girls was part of the cult’s religious practice.
Finally the head of the cult was arrested, on charges of transporting the girls across the US/Canada border, in co-operation with similar cults in the United States.
So a stranger asking me, as I stepped off a city bus, whether I was from Bountiful was completely preposterous.
Do I look like a Mormon?
Sure, I was wearing a fake tweed hat, my black military surplus coat, a short skirt and grey leggings…
Most women in that area near the bus stop are a bit more garish, their hair streaked in vivid primary colours, wearing tight bodices, flashing earings, rings on every finger and tattoos abundant; in lace pantyhose and sexy-looking flat black boots. And many have Narcan kits attached to their belts. (Narcan blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.)
Sometimes they just wander around in pyjamas and sandals, with their wigs falling off, even in this blustery storm…
So maybe, at a stretch, I do look like a Mormon in comparison to the locals.
Still I was a bit thrown, being asked that.
I ignored the comment and ploughed ahead and began crossing at the intersection. But, as I crossed the street, I began to laugh, because it was so ridiculous. I looked over at the man who had said it. Who would say such a thing? He was laughing his head off and, when he saw that I was laughing too, he gave me the thumbs up.
The man who had been going around uttering “Cheese… Cheese” was nothing exceptional.
Other people there call out “Steak!… Steak!”
One time, I saw a lady sitting on the sidewalk with an enormous amount of pickled olives for sale, spread out on a piece a plastic.
Surprisingly, the men around there are often well dressed in the latest brand name sportswear because, being freshly stolen, it is sold for next to nothing on the street.
Because I have a new phone and forgot to switch off my location, Google has now asked me to write a review of my bus stop, which is called ‘Highway 91 Offramp’.
It really is nothing exceptional and it strains the imagination to think why it needs to be reviewed.
Bus drivers often ask me: ”Are you sure you want to get off HERE?”
How would I describe Highway 91 Offramp?
It is a forlorn stretch of highway where much of the traffic is composed of lorries roaring past.
The bus stop didn’t even have a bench until very recently. One time, some builders working nearby built a bench out of stones and boards.
The people who use it are mainly Chinese workers, (ladies from a nearby orange juice factory) and me and the occasional worker at the shipyard whose vehicle is under repair. There is rubbish strewn about – beer cans, candy wrappers and things that fall from garbage trucks.
One day, a chain link fence was put up. The orange juice workers cut a hole in it so we could still use the path to the Highway 91 Offramp bus stop.
A few years ago somebody, most likely a lorry driver, threw a large milk jug with an unknown yellow liquid in it from the offramp and it landed and balanced on top of the chainlink fence near, but not quite on top of, the hole we walk through.
Everybody felt a bit uneasy, walking under the perilously-positioned jug.
For several months it languished there and the yellow liquid changed colour gradually to green and brown. After six months, somebody wrote on it with black marker: JUG O’ PISS.
I told my neighbours about and some of them walked down to see it and take photos.
One lady, whose husband drives a lorry, marvelled: “Holy shit! That piss could have come all the way from Alabama!”
Nearby, along the path, are a few boulders and some pine trees.
A few weeks ago, a couple of guys set up a tent and were camping there. Within days, piles of junk started appearing around the tent. It was annoying because then I was afraid to use that path at night and I thought it must also be worrisome for the orange juice people.
I thought I could add that to my review of Highway 91 Offramp… Camping available, sandy soil easily hollowed into sleeping area, near two bus routes, shade, river view, no toilets.
One morning when I was on my way to the Highway 91 Offramp I saw a man standing near the tent. He called out: “Are you looking for Mike?”
What the fuck, I thought, and I answered crossly: “NO. I am NOT looking for Mike. I am going to the bus stop.”
My other bus stop is called Aberdeen. It is in central Richmond and has two benches, a bus shelter, a pizza parlour and community art. The current art is by Patrick Wong and I like it. It is about migration and the migrants seem to be depicted as aliens.