Vancouver, Day 1: Reuniting with an Aussie whom I met in Estonia who now lives in Canada


I arrived in the customs line in the Vancouver airport after a brief (for international, that is) 4-hour flight from Chicago. The hall is massive, with giant wooden totem poles greeting you at the foot of the escalator, on the landing where the indoor waterfall drains its stream. Yeah, it’s pretty majestic.

Customs is a breeze for a US citizen, with the line moving faster than I could keep up with, and culminating with a customs agent on foot checking my passport, asking where I was staying, then letting me go. I got more questioning returning home to my own country from the Transsiberian than when I am received in foreign ones.

I tried hard to pinpoint a general vibe of Vancouver, but it was difficult. So, first impressions… the tiling in the bathroom of the airport was just magnificent! Truly beautiful. Also, free airport WiFi! Again, better than I can say for the USA.

I got on wifi and let Tom know of my arrival, and began my journey. Maybe Google maps did have this info, but I could have sworn that I had to take two buses and a ferry to get to Tom’s. But no, it was a train, a ferry and a bus. I guess I get a sampler of the transit this city offers!

When I was on the train and ferry, I again analyzed the demographics of the city, and again found difficulty. There seemed to be a lot of transplants as I heard Spanish, Mandarin, German, French and other languages among the Australian and British accents. There was a thirty-something sharply-dressed businessman with perfectly-coiffed hair on the train standing beside a twenty-year-old with dreadlocks wearing snowboarding gear and a low-slung backpack. I initially tried to peg this city as something similar to Seattle or Boise with the prevalence of outdoorsy people, but there was just too much of a mix to categorize it that way.

After the ferry to North Vancouver and a short bus ride, I found myself at Tom’s doorstep. We’ve kept in touch digitally since I met him in Tallinn, but its still a whole different feeling when you see someone that you just haven’t seen in so long. I remember this feeling with Anna at my friend Carolyn’s wedding, which was a whole seven years of distance. Or seeing Chris after a year of distance, although that was such a rushed night there was barely any time to think about it. And this was a mere five months and yet the feeling was the same. The voice, the face, the person behind the digital interaction was standing before me. It’s a great feeling.

I dropped my things, and after my multi-transit journey to his house I was ready to eat something. We walked up Lonsdale Ave. and after being far too indecisive, settled on Donair Dude (they spell it weird here) for some kebabs and falafel. I ordered way too much food but saved some of it for later. We sat there and ate and caught up and stared out the window at the Vancouver passersby who just can’t conform to a single stereotype.

From there we hopped on a bus to the Capilano suspension bridge. The air here was so freshly crisp. When Tom first told me about this place, I thought we were just going to look at some bridge, but it was actually a massive park with a huge pedestrian suspension bridge over water, with tons of waterfalls and wooden walkways wrapped around trees that made me feel like I was one of the Lost Boys from Hook. According to the signage, the braces strengthen the trees, and no trees were harmed in the creation of the walkways and lookout points. Well, except the wood used for those walkways, pointed out Tom.

When we got to the park, we arrived pretty late, as the Vancouver public transit doesn’t have the efficiency and speed that I've grown accustomed to in Chicago. We paid a discounted entrance fee due to it being later in the day, which was nice, albeit still over $30CAD ($23 USD). We did see all there was to see, however, since several paths were closed off due to ice and snow.

At some point we realized we were being followed by the park staff as it was nearing closing time and they want to make sure you don’t pull a “Night at the Museum" moment in the park. As we exited, they gated off the entrance behind us.

The staff all wore red plaid coats with toggles that were so fashionable that it made me want to get a job there for the coat only. As we left, Tom and I pondered ways to take down a staff member to steal their coat for me. As our imaginations ran towards the violent end, the bus arrived to luckily spare any coat-wearers from pain.

It was drizzling all day today so it was nice to head back to some sheltered warmth at Tom’s place, but not before running to the local liquor store (or bottle-o as Tom calls it in Australian) for some cider. The cheapest option we decided upon was two 2-liter bottles of cider, which was far too much for us to drink, as you may imagine. It was comical pulling them out of the fridge. Why did we think this was a good idea at all?

At Tom’s place, we played several rounds of Crazy Eights as I finished my other half pound of kebab from lunch. We researched on Yelp and Google before deciding to go to Roxy for some nightlife in downtown Vancouver.

However, plans changed when our ferry arrived on the shore of Vancouver, where we ran into Tom’s coworkers Danny and Macauley. They were heading to A&W before going to the Cambie Bar and Grill, a bar where Danny works on his off days from the ski resort. Tom and I only had loose plans ourselves, so we happily joined them on their journey instead.

A&W, the American fast-food restaurant (known for their root beer) that I haven’t visited in far too long, had a location in the Sea Bus station, and at eleven PM on a Friday, it was filled with all of the non-sober people of Vancouver. A fifty-something year-old Irish man, swaying side-to-side, told Tom through slurred sentences that he liked his red pants. He made his way back to his stool beside the window as Tom and I talked to Tom’s friends, but then shortly returned, interrupting our conversation. This time, five minutes after our first interaction, the Irish man insulted Tom’s pants, asking who would wear red pants--no, are they orange pants?—out on a weekend night. But, he tells Tom, “You’re hotter than her” as the Irish man swings his thumb in my direction. Tom just responds, “Well that isn’t very nice!” as Tom inches himself more into Danny’s group of friends. Some of the friends present don’t know Tom and just assume we are a couple of strangers attempting to assimilate into a little social circle away from the Irish man. Pretty much.

After the gang gets their food, we head out to the Cambie Bar and Grill, a short walk from the station. With Danny in tow, we get to skip the line and enter immediately to the too-well-lit bar. Seriously, this place looks like it’s at closing time, but the night has only just begun. The music plays from a digital jukebox, which people have fed coins to play Rihanna and other R&B-tinged Top 40. The place is packed, but there doesn’t seem to be a good place to stand since you’re either in everyone’s way near the bar, in everyone’s way near the entrance or in everyone’s way near the cocktail tables. I felt like I was stuck in a life-sized pinball machine. Just around the time we finished our first drink, Danny and Macauley came over to suggest we head out to a nightclub called MIA. Tom’s immediate response was “I’m keen!” Aussies.

Either the rest of the group didn’t hear, or they wanted to play more human pinball, but just Danny, Macauley, Tom and I left for the club on our own.

We walked a few blocks towards the steam clock, a local landmark that runs on steam and electricity, and arrived at MIA. We were at the front of the line and paid the $12 entrance fee before stepping through the red neon-lit hallway that opened up to a small dance floor. The DJ played a mix of Top 40 and EDM, remixing the former into more clubby, danceable beats. It was better than the generic beats of the Riga and Bucharest nightclubs and there was more room to move without the place feeling empty, which was nice.

In the front of the dancing crowd was a girl leaning against the DJ booth, with her crutches propped up against the side, as her boyfriend held her hips and danced behind her. You can break your foot and still enjoy the nightclub, as proven by this girl, here, right now.

Best thing about clubbing in North America? Free water from the bar. And the best thing about clubbing in Canada, or just being in Canada in general? People are just so nice. A couple of times someone would come up to me and just ask if I was having a good time. Yes, thank you!

The DJ hypes up the crowd every once in a while, one time getting on the mic to tell the crowd that he’s getting a flood of Drake requests. Does Drake even have that many singles? I later realize that Drake is Canadian (duh, Degrassi), and maybe his stuff is just more popular here. We dance and dance and dance until the lights go on at three AM, indicating that the club is closing.

Tom and I hail a cab as public transit doesn’t run at this time of night, and ride back home to go to sleep.