Day Eighteen … String Bikinis and the Sky Train

Well, what can I do?  Today is Sunday and I haven’t even written about Friday yet.  And memory is not my best subject.  Oh well, I’ll give you an approximation of my life.  Because it’s uncertain business at the best of times.

The front desk clerk at the hotel in Delta (maybe 2o km south of Vancouver) told me how to get to a Sky Train station that would take me downtown.  I got lost, which actually I enjoy doing.  It gives me more chances to talk to people.  Scarlet and I wandered around until we came upon a FedEx office.  In I went, with no valid FedEx purpose.  And the two employees – a man and a woman – were perfectly helpful.  In no time at all, I was zipping along towards the Vancouver skyline in search of some of my favourite haunts.

As I emerged from the underground on Georgia St., there stood the classic Hotel Vancouver looming above me.  I found the row of big windows at the top of the building and remembered.  The winter of 1970-71, bartender’s assistant in the Grand Ballroom (or some such lofty name).  The band playing “Tiny Bubbles” every night as the older crowd danced the fox trot.  Trying to keep my face pleasant, or at least neutral, as the Lawrence Welk tune dampened my soul.  Plus the main bartender was plain mean.  A slave I was.

Next I strolled down Robson St.  I looked up at a second floor restaurant that Jody and I enjoyed when we came for Expo 86.  Farther along was the Landmark Hotel, a very tall fellow.  I had walked Jody up the same side of Robson as the hotel so she didn’t know what was coming up.  “Let’s go in here.”  As so began a breakfast in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Landmark.  We both loved surprises.

On Friday, I hurried towards the front door of the Pacific Palisades Hotel, where I worked as a bellman during the winter of 1973-74.  Reminiscing, please.  I grabbed the handle and pulled.  Locked.  A fellow walking by told me that there is no hotel anymore – just apartments.  (Sigh)

Then it was down the street to the tiny house I lived in, at Bidwell and Alberni.  I already knew that the cutesy one was gone, replaced by layered condo units.  Still, I just had to stand there near the intersection, looking up at the unique deciduous trees that still lined the street.  The trunk went straight up for eight feet and then spread into four or five thick branches.  Cool.

I used to get off my shift at midnight and walk down to the McDonald’s at Robson and Bidwell and enjoy their smallest cheeseburger, smallest fries and a tiny drink.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about Friday’s luncheon choice.

And then there was English Bay Beach.  In the middle of September, 1986, Jody and I walked onto the beach at sunset and sat down, propped against one of the huge logs lying there.  The freighter lights were twinkling out in the harbour.  We huddled together.  A ring was burning a hole in my pocket.  I got up.  I knelt down.  “Jody, will you marry me?”  “Yes.”  (Pause)  “Wow, you sure answered quickly.”  (Smile)

On Friday, I sat against what I guessed was that very log, ate my chocolate peanut butter waffle cone, and thought of my dear wife.  Glistening eyes.  Beside me, in front of the next log, three young women were sunbathing, two of them in string bikinis.  Naturally, I averted my eyes.  As I got up to leave, something inside moved me to say to the covered up one, “I have to tell somebody.  Twenty-nine years ago, I asked my wife to marry me in just about this same spot.”  Their eyes softened.  After I painted the picture a bit more, one of the skimpily clad girls said, “You should bring your wife back here.”  Choking up some, I told them that Jody died in November.  Tears flowed from two of the girls.  “May I give you a hug?” one of them asked.  “Yes.”  And I held a sweaty, barely clothed 20-year-old.  Two more hugs followed.  Was it exciting, hugging those young women?  Yes.  Far more importantly, it was a communion.  They each gladly took one of Jody’s books.  And then we were gone from each other.

On the Sky Train heading back to my car, I faced a full house.  That’s fine … I’ll stand.  After the car emptied some at a station, there was one empty seat.  A young woman motioned with her hand for me to sit down.  I did the same to her.  “I’m getting off at the next stop,” she replied.  I smiled and sat … next to another young woman.  She looked at me and said, “I love your T-shirt.  I want to get one.”  “Well, it’s one of a kind.  It’s poetry that my sister-in-law wrote.”  Shine a light upon my day  We talked.  I told her about Jodiette.  “Would you like a copy of our book?  I just gave away the ones I had in my backpack, but I can mail you one, if you like.”  “No thanks.  I’ll just remember the moment.”  “Okay.”  As the train rolled along, we were getting close to my station, and I didn’t know where my friend was exiting.  I don’t remember what she said next but the gist of it was “May I have a book?”  So she wrote down her name and address and will be receiving a package once I get back to Ontario.

How can all this be happening to me?  From which woodwork are these folks emerging?  Actually, it doesn’t matter.  I’m just glad they’re coming to see me.

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