I’m writing at my regular table at my third favorite café in my ferry-dependent community. Yes, I’ll admit to liking and frequenting six or seven cafés here. They do cafés well. Shopping, restaurants, the arts? Not so much. Anyway, here I am writing and sipping a nonfat latté from an oversized mug when I see the woman at the table beside me tip her newspaper upward just enough for me to see the nameplate: The New York Times. Well, that gets me excited. A New York Times available here? Is it today’s? A Sunday New York Times?! It takes great restraint not to snatch it out of her hand. And despite a stir of excitement I’m too shy to ask where she got it. Instead I stop writing and conduct an urgent Google Search: “new york times sunshine coast”.
Maybe it’s just as well. It would be heartbreaking to discover after almost ten years that I could have been more informed and culturally connected just by stopping by the local gas station on Sunday mornings. The woman probably came over on the ferry this morning. A Vancouver purchase to pass the time while unwatched tots yell and play tag on the boat ride over.
My search does lead to an article I click on. It’s a 2008 travel piece about the Sunshine Coast in The New York Times. “Basking in the Sunshine Coast”. And the place sounds lovely. A great place for a weekend of kayaking and hiking.
On the 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, the geographic and mental shift happens quickly, taking passengers from an urban, glass-walled landscape to one dominated by snowcapped mountains and wide-ranging swaths of green.
Yes, I recall my vacation getaways before I actually moved here. It always felt like I was being transported to another world. Peace, serenity and all that. Notably, the writer states that she only encountered one person on a three-hour hike, an experience I find each time I venture into nature here. When I go, it always feels like it’s mine and mine alone. And therein lies the reminder. At some point, “alone” trumped “serenity”.
The other internet article that is currently open on my screen is glaringly different in tone and subject matter. It’s a CBC report about a Vancouver incident last night. “Double stabbing leaves two dead”. Okay, big city. Crime happens. But this particular happening occurred a block and a half from the building where I’m moving. And even though it’s a quickly released story, there is no chance that a reporter could ever get a quote from a neighbor saying something like, “I’m shocked. You always hear about this sort of thing happening. You just never think of it happening here. It’s just not that kind of place.”
Truth is, it is that kind of place—rundown hotels converted to housing for the most destitute people in Canada; rampant drug use; under-treated persons struggling with mental illness; assorted crimes associated with addiction and the basest efforts to survive.
Two articles. The differences between where I’m leaving and where I’m going couldn’t be starker. One portrays my current surroundings at its best, a vacation paradise. The other depicts my pending environment at its worst, a chronic urban blight. If ever I were to have second thoughts, these articles would be the impetus.
But, really, I’m aware of the extremes. I may very well once again retreat to the Sunshine Coast on weekends when I need to decompress on the ferry and wander alone along rocky shores and on canopied forest treks. My new home is true urban grit, trendy restaurants and shops coexisting with inebriated entrepreneurs hawking stolen goods on the sidewalks out front. I am stubbornly naïve in thinking I can gain a better understanding of the problems, maybe even make a difference. I am also wary, knowing that my desire to be sympathetic and supportive won’t matter if someone wants my wallet or seeks to find spare change in my parked car.
Life will be different. That is certain.
For now, I’ll savor my latté and the local color as a dozen chatty seniors pull tables together, the men with lumberjack beards and rubber-banded greying ponytails, the women still wearing socks and crocs. Time stands still here. Unfortunately, I cannot.