Bike Commute 2009 Version

Summer is back here on the west coast, just in time for the new school year to start. It’s always harder to make the transition back when the weather is still good enough to be playing around and going to the beach. Anyway, I have fired up the bike commute once again for this Fall term. The waterproof panniers have come out of storage, the laptop computer is updated, and the bike wheels are pumped up.  Yesterday, I put the bike on the back of the little red machine and, by 7 am, was on the road for Nanaimo. I parked at the top secret location on Marine Drive in West Vancouver, the best deal going being free, and rode down to catch the 8:30 ferry with my bike fully loaded.

I’m not sure why, but the new super ferries have customer service announcements very similar to those used by the airlines (the old boot ferries never had any such announcements giving cheerful messages from the captain about the estimated time of arrival and other such details). Another new feature was a voice asking customers to see someone, can’t remember who, if they had any questions or concerns. I felt like going up and saying, “Yeah, I have a concern that the Ferries CEO David Hahn is making over a million dollars, of which over half a million is bonuses for who knows what. As a taxpayer who is already subsidising BC Ferries to the tune of 170 million last year, I’m concerned” … but I didn’t. GOL.

The ride up the hill was uneventful but sweaty; I was wearing both a fleece and a shell and the combination turned out to be too much for the climate. After a productive day in my office, I rolled down the Parkway highway to Cedar, a trip of about 20 km which took me an hour. This Fall I will be staying with my friend Maggie, who surprised me with a glass of wine and dinner on my arrival. She has a fantastic huge backyard full of lots of bits and pieces which will serve well as components of installations and I`m looking forward to exploring the possibilities of artwork on her premises.

The next morning I rode back to work along the alternative Holden Corso route, passing through Cedar farm country and over the Nanaimo River where I had to stop traffic to scoot two young turkeys back off the road where they had been in danger of getting squashed as they tried to navigate across the tarmac. Then along Cedar Road, up Tenth Avenue, along Bruce and up 5th to the University; the old Harewood Mall, a fixture on 5th and previously quite a depressing and depressed venue, has been gentrified in the six months that I have been gone from Nanaimo and is now called University Plaza … interesting. And one of the new stores in one of the new pseudo-post-modern-greek-temple-facade components of the mall is a drive-through Starbucks. Since I hadn’t been able to have my usual 3 giant cups of coffee in the morning, I rolled my bike through the drive through and grabbed an extra hot tall cappuccino which I sipped on my way up the hill.

Cruising back to Vancouver again on one of the old ferries sans helpful customer service announcements, I lay on top of a storage unit on the sun deck and enjoyed the beautiful heat and breeze as we made our way across Georgia Strait. Many boats were plying the waters on such a gorgeous day. After having ridden up the deadly hill from Horseshoe Bay, down Marine Drive and into the parking lot, I drove through West Van, famous for being Canada’s richest postal code, and noticed the stark contrast between it and the mid-Island from whence I’d come, Nanaimo not being one of Canada’s richest cities. Interestingly, West Vancouver had what must be one of Canada`s last remaining full service gas stations – I haven`t seen one of those here in many, many years. (As I passed it, I was reminded that all of Turkey`s gas stations are full service, in accord with what my Belgian friend Sophie called their “too many men for the job“ employment policy).

Since the ferry had been late, I arrived at the bridge right in the middle of rush hour and spent a hot half hour inching along Marine Drive onto Lion`s Gate as four lanes of traffic converged into one. While idling in line I looked at the signage trumpeting the BC government`s investment in highway infrastructure, with its oh-so-modest Gordo-driven slogan of “British Columbia: The best place on earth“. Well, what might be the “best place on earth“ for people with wealth and health, like the majority of those in Canada`s richest postal code, might not be so for the poor, drug-addicted, desperate “hungry ghosts“ who populate Vancouver`s cesspit of a downtown Eastside *… (Note: I was reminded recently by a friend who lives in WV that not everyone there is rich; many of the elderly are impoverished as they try to pay the taxes on the homes they`ve lived in their whole lives).

What would have been a horrendous crush of vehicles and noise of horns blaring in Turkey was here a slow, orderly procession onto the bridge. I couldn`t face the traffic on Georgia so I decided on a stately cruise through Stanley Park instead, where I saw the hulk remaining of our beautiful ancient hollow tree stricken in the terrible wind storms of a few years ago. Sitting surrounded with a fence and placards with pleas for donations to restore it, the skeleton of the tree made me very sad. So many old, wonderful trees were destroyed that year and their blasted and chain-sawed stumps and spirits remain in the forest there.

Overall, the bike commute was a success; I really enjoyed the ride into the University from Cedar especially – mostly very peaceful with not too much traffic. So far, so good.

*Note: Dr Gabor Mate, a Vancouver physician, writer and public speaker, has worked in the Downtown Eastside for many years and has recently published a book entitled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Dr Mate, before he became a doctor, was a teacher of English Literature at my high scool in North Vancouver. See an interview with Dr Mate here.

See a few pictures here.

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