Monday, 30 January 2012

CP Rail to Banff

Chapter 4

Finally I was aboard a train and again in touch with surroundings that I could call familiar. CP Rail's stainless steel passenger cars were like old friends welcoming me back after a long absence. I selected a seat beside one of the large picture windows in the smoking section of the forward coach. The aisle seat beside me was vacant so I pulled a CP Rail schedule out of my brief case and placed the schedule on the seat beside me to refer to later. While waiting for "The Canadian" to depart I fired up my favourite pipe with a not too stinky brand of tobacco, pushed the reclining seat back as far as it would go then propped my feet up on the foot rest. I was settled in for the start of the 559-mile rail journey to Banff.

I did not see any logic in bringing along a heavy suitcase full of items that would never be needed or used so my philosophy was to travel light. Everything that I had with me was in my brief case. In addition to a few music books and note pads for writing I had managed to cram in a few English muffins and slices of cheese for breakfast, an extra shirt, a pair of socks, other essential personal items, an extra pipe with a good supply of tobacco and matches as well as a camera and a tripod.

Once again I impatiently glanced at my watch. 18:29. From the window I watched the conductor on the platform. He was looking back toward the station gate for any last minute passengers rushing to board the train. An instant later and true to railway form he bellowed, "All Aboard!"

With a last look back and a slight hesitation the conductor then turned and waved a highball to the head end. The engineer gently eased the train out of the station and I heard the vestibule doors banged shut with a finality that indicated no hope now for any late passenger running after the train. 

The bouncing and swaying motion of the passenger coach was soothing as the wheels beneath were pounding out their familiar message at each rail joint. At times I wondered if train travel had inspired Morse to create his code. Pitt Meadows, Port Hammond, Haney, Albion, Whonock and Ruskin; I wondered about the railway history behind these station names. Train 2 raced eastward through these villages east of Port Coquitlam toward that formidable natural barrier the railway builders had known all too well; the mountains. I felt a certain sense of pride to be making my first train-trip on an employee pass but I also felt some disappointment to be doing the trip alone. Wistfully I looked out the window and watched as the train passed the telephone poles. Each one seemed to flash by in a consistently measured rhythmic pattern and if it were possible to illustrate the ticking of a clock, then this scene would have. The lead diesel's horn blasted out its standard warning of two long, one short and one long retort for another road crossing. At times I overheard older passengers recall their memories of the haunting and mournful strains that a steam engine's whistle would make in the dead of night. The wails from the air-horn up front did not sound any happier to me but I was pleased to be hearing the muted crossing warnings from inside on board rather than trackside as a spectator.

Later on, as the train was pulling out of Mission City, the dining car steward came up the aisle of the coach hollering out his second call for dinner. Hungry, I headed back through a few cars to the dining car. While it appeared to me the train had a considerable crowd aboard, the dining car was nearly empty. The steward seated me at one of the vacant tables, which had been set for four. He must have been more optimistic than I was prepared to be, however, the other three seats remained unoccupied the entire time. As with all the other waiting tables, mine had been set true to the railway's high, exacting standards. The chinaware and silver plated utensils were perfectly arranged on top of a spotless thick linen cloth adorned with a matching serviette. Every item bore the CP Rail name and distinctive multi-mark logo.

Shortly after I was seated, a waiter presented me with a menu and an order form together with a freshly sharpened short pencil. Railway waiters were prohibited from taking verbal orders therefore patrons were obliged to write down on the forms any items for dinner they desired from the menu. This practice was one of those curious oddities unique to railways. Writing while the train was in motion was difficult at best and I am not certain how the waiter managed to read my list. Perhaps years of reading illegible orders made these men experts at deciphering anything. As I waited for my dinner to arrive I was treated to occasional tantalizing whiffs of broiling foods.

While enjoying the delicious and well-prepared dinner, I spent the time watching the scenery outside as the waning daylight faded into darkness. The train had entered the famed Fraser River Canyon and the pace was very subdued. In spite of the slow speed though I constantly felt a need to lean left or right to compensate for the train's lurches and tilting through a seemingly never ending series of sharp curves followed by reverse sharp curves. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my dinner in the diner and watched with fascination the erratic sloshing of the coffee in my cup. The cup was seated upon an expertly folded napkin placed there to catch the dribbles of coffee that spilled over the edge. The napkin also prevented the cup from rattling and moving around on the saucer. Watching the waiters flawlessly and unfailingly deliver trays of plates loaded with meals to the few other passengers was the evening's entertainment. Regardless of the lateral movements induced by the curves or the varying speed of the train, the waiters never fumbled or lost their balance. Their work and ability was an art.

After dinner while finishing either my third or possibly fourth cup of coffee I studied the features of the dining car and wished that one day I would be able to take someone special out to dinner...in a dining car...on the Canadian. Perhaps an unusual choice of restaurant but one certainly refined and steeped in a tradition of romance. I made the dream my own and promised myself to fulfill. Blunt reality though was that I had no one special to take out, not even to a greasy spoon joint in town, never mind a first class dining car on CP Rail's premier train.

Having paid my meal fare I left the dining car and headed forward to the skyline car hoping to find a vacant seat up in the dome. The upstairs section was almost empty. Few passengers were taking advantage of the dome's darkness to see the spectacular nighttime mountain scenery. The Fraser River looked more like a bottomless black abyss running parallel to the Onderdonk route. The headlight of the lead engine constantly lit up the rock walls on the other side of the track while the train was continuously squealing through curves. In railway jargon the squealing is called "pinging" but regardless of the name given, the noise still sounded like squealing. Late in the evening the conductor joined us up in the "glass attic" as he referred to the dome, and regaled the few of us long into the night with tales from his more than forty years as a railway man. The gold bars on the cuff of his jacket sleeve attested to his years of service.

I remained upstairs in the dome late into the night and The Canadian was well east of Ashcroft before I gave up trying to stay awake all night to watch the rails ahead of the train. Returning to my seat below in the forward coach, the lighting had been dimmed and most of my fellow travellers appeared to be asleep. In spite of having heavy eyes and wanting to drift off, sleep was elusive. The seat reclined a fair amount but my body craved for rest from a horizontal position. Fitful sleep grudgingly came.

Just after daybreak the train departed from Revelstoke and the New Zealand couple's little girl decided that she had enough sleep and enough of the confinements of train travel. She started running up and down the aisle of the coach. Thump, thump, thump down to the far end, a pause while she turned, then thump, thump, thump back. Inevitably, another child about the same age joined in and the two of them were doing it. Expectedly the train lurched a little more than usual; the little girl lost her balance, tumbled and started screaming. What an alarm clock! If anyone had still been asleep they were not any more. Later I overheard the New Zealand couple mention to someone they were going all the way through to Toronto. I was grateful to know I would be detraining at Banff.

Later on in the morning I was reclining in my seat puffing away on my pipe and watching with amazement the spectacular mountain scenery. A little boy had paused in the aisle to watch me. I recognized him as the other early morning jogger. I continued looking out the window pretending not to notice him figuring that he would go back to his seat. He stood there watching and finally out of curiosity he asked in a rather bold loud voice, "Hey Mister! What's that?"

Removing the smoldering pipe from my mouth with my right hand and pointing at it with the left hand I looked at him and asked, "You mean this?"

"Yeah." he replied in a tone that indicated he was quite pleased he had someone's attention.

"It's my pocket stove." I answered, assuming he would accept my answer and return to his seat.

"Hey Mister! What are you cooking?" he continued.

"Breakfast" I replied without hesitation.

"Oh." was all he said, and after a slight pause he disappeared down the aisle to his seat.

About a minute later the little gentleman returned and very informatively advised me, "Hey Mister! My Mommy said that’s only a stinky pipe."

I heard a few chuckles from the nearby passengers who had heard the little boy's questions. I then instructed him, "Well you go tell your Mommy that I’m not very good at cooking." The young traveller disappeared again and I made a retreat to the skyline car before he came back.

A mountain of words cannot adequately describe Banff and the surrounding mountain scenery. Absolutely awesome! William Van Horne did have the right idea. The scenery could not be exported so he brought in the tourists and he built them a place to stay. Tourists from all over the world continue to visit Banff and many are still brought in by trains over Van Horne's railway. I was just one more visitor arriving on Canada's premiere passenger train that Van Horne's railway no longer wanted. Arrival at Banff was about thirty minutes behind schedule and in spite of CP Rail's disdain for their famous train, the service on "The Canadian" had been superb.

The Banff Springs Hotel is a majestic and rather intimidating immense stone structure located on the far side of the town from the train station. The hotel is every bit deserving of its reputation for luxury and as a choice place for the rich and famous to stay and play. Outside the main entrance was a sea of confusion with guests arriving or departing. Groups of skiers with a clutter of equipment were trying to locate their transportation to the slopes. True to the stereotype, a small crowd of Japanese businessmen in dark suits, white shirts and ties had cameras dangling from their necks. 

Somewhat timidly I entered the lobby and was awed by the huge buffalo head that was mounted high up on one wall. Deep thick carpets, the castle-like masonry and dark-coloured richly grained wood-panelled walls adorned with sparkling polished brass fixtures made me feel adequately out of place. Attired in dark green uniforms with matching green plaid vests and white gloves, the elevator operators called out the floor number at each stop. The lift-drivers looked as if they could have stepped out of a scene in a 1930's movie.

In spite of the snow being several feet deep everywhere almost everyone, visitors and employees alike, was darkly tanned and sunburned as if they had just walked off a sun-soaked summer beach. It took me a while to figure out that the summer look was from skiing on the sunny slopes day after day.

After checking in I remained self-sequestered in my room. I was weary and felt as if I had been awake since yesterday morning, perhaps because I had not washed or shaved since yesterday morning. Long distance coach travel by train had that effect but I would not have made the journey by any other means. My room was located in the back overlooking the roof of a lower section of the hotel structure. This was obviously a room that was held for Canadian Pacific employees on discounts. In spite of the roof though, the mountains seemed to soar upward from immediately behind the hotel to tower far above everything else. I spent quite a while just standing and looking out the window. Darkness came very quickly after the sun dropped behind the peaks.

Not wanting to eat alone in one of the hotel restaurants, I took a look at the room-service menu. If anything was higher than the mountains I had been staring at, then the prices on the menu were. The prices were staggering. I settled for the least expensive entree that was a hamburger with an exotic sounding name and two bottles of imported German beer. The cheapest luxury was the only one I could afford.

Having heard about the supposed beneficial qualities of minerals in the glacial mountain waters of the Rockies I decided to have a long hot bath. The bathtub resembled one of those deep ancient cast iron cauldrons. All that was missing from the vat were those cat-like feet that old cast iron tubs always seemed to have. The steaming water spewing out of the tap was the same emerald-turquoise colour of the Bow River and the other lakes and streams I had seen from the train. Whether it was the minerals in the hot turquoise water or the two imported beers with dinner or a combination of both, sound sleep came within minutes after I lay down on the bed to read.

Early next morning the sky was a sunny cloudless bright blue. The temperature was near the freezing point but the unrelenting wind blowing from the north made the morning air feel colder. Undaunted I was determined to go out for a long walk to take some pictures and to enjoy the mountain scenery. Up close the mountains surrounding Banff were far more impressive than any postcards could ever depict. Banff was quite a bit smaller than I had expected. The town seemed to consist mostly of one main street dividing two rows of expensive shops, boutiques, restaurants and watering holes. The train station was at one end of town and the Banff Springs Hotel at the other end.

Anxious to avoid the main street I elected to follow the first gravel road that appeared to lead out of town. After hiking around a few twists and curves, all uphill, a high steep rocky bluff that overlooked the Bow River, on the bank opposite from the castle on the slopes where I was staying, beckoned to my curiosity. Carefully I picked my steps along the rocky ridges until I discovered a secluded place that was sheltered from the wind. My temporary sanctuary was obscured from the road by a grove of pine trees. Had the snow not been so deep I probably would have explored more and ventured farther. 

One endearing quality I loved about this country was the vast areas of stark silent solitude. Ironically, my life had evolved to become an area of stark silent solitude that I disliked intensely. My travel odyssey would have been far more enjoyable if made with someone else rather than alone. Not just anyone though but with that one special person I kept hoping to one day find. 

Train travel in the mid 1970's was not popular with young adults, especially on CP Rail. My impression was that CP Rail sold space on "The Canadian" as a means to see the scenery...if you wanted to go by train, but...if you did not want to take the train...that was okay too. CP Rail really did not want to operate the train anyway. Canadian National Railways though was still strongly marketing a passenger-friendly railway image. CNR sold the space on the "Supercontinental" as a means to have a good time while journeying across the country. In terms of scenery and train equipment, CP Rail was clearly the winner, however, image was everything because CNR was attracting the passengers. Tragic. How could anyone truly understand Canada without travelling Van Horne's railway from end to end?

In the early afternoon I checked out of the Banff Springs Hotel and slowly wandered through town along the main street. I was planning to take some photographs of the eastbound Canadian, and any freight trains that might happen to pass, while waiting for the westbound Canadian to arrive and return me to Vancouver. If they were on time, the eastbound and westbound Canadians were due within a few hours of each other. To escape the chilling wind, most of my time was spent inside the train station seated upon one of those wooden benches characteristic of railway stations. CP Rail's transcontinental trains could be relied upon to be behind their schedules but what I could never figure out is why the benches were so terribly uncomfortable. Those benches encouraged both the patient and the impatient to get up and pace around. The station was quiet and no agent was on duty. A large part of the trackside structure had been converted into a restaurant. As train time approached, I went outside and paced back and forth along the platform trying to decide upon the best spot to set up my camera.

The eastbound train arrived close to its scheduled time but the westbound Canadian showed up almost thirty minutes late. The afternoon shadows had lengthened, the wind had increased and the temperature had dropped noticeably quickly. I was glad to be aboard the train again.

I brought out my pocket watch and timed the passing of the mile boards on the telephone poles as the Canadian closed in on Castle Mountain. Between Banff and Lake Louise were several miles of mostly straight track alignment and the stainless steel streamliner was rolling along at a good pace. Train 1 was more than just a few minutes behind schedule and I assumed the head end crew was pushing to keep the consist as close as possible to the speed limits in an attempt to win back a few of those lost minutes. Quite a controversy had erupted when Castle Mountain was arbitrarily renamed Mount Eisenhower. Given the appearance of the massive landmark I thought Castle Mountain was a far more appropriate name, but then who was I to question the wisdom of politicians who had probably never seen the mountain. Several miles had been ticked off in less than 55 seconds per mile. 

Darkness had arrived by the time the Canadian had made its descent from Stephen, a siding at the top of the Great Divide, to Field, a CP Rail division point at the base of the Kicking Horse Pass. The fourteen and a half miles of track achieved a vertical drop of about 1250 feet. The famed train flawlessly traversed the historical Van Horne route through spiral tunnels and snow sheds and along the ledges that had been carved and gouged out of the sides of some of the most rugged of mountains. This daily, taken-for-granted show was the highlight of the journey across the mountain barriers of British Columbia.

The approaching second feature would be the usual double bill. First would be the corkscrew canyon cruise into Golden, through tunnels, over bridges, beside the Kicking Horse River where the river currents moved faster than the train. These events would be followed by a challenging uphill charge toward Roger’s Pass that culminated in a spectacular crossing of Stoney Creek on the famed arched bridge, and followed by a final run toward the Connaught tunnel that had been drilled beneath Roger's treacherous pass. My ambition for the evening had been to fight off sleep and stay awake long enough to witness the two events. I won, but just barely.

Like red steel dogs pulling a long silver sled across cold-rolled parallel strips borne by sleeping timbers, the chortling diesels charged onward with their string of passenger cars obediently in tow. The stainless steel consist rolled along atop its iron route spiked down beside the southern shore of Burrard Inlet and neared the finish of its odyssey from both Montreal and Toronto. Already my seat in the coach had been abandoned in order to conclude the journey by standing in the vestibule. With the top half of the door open I was leaning on the top edge of the closed lower half of the door, occasionally poking my head out to take a peek at the engines in the lead. I was enjoying the rush of warm spring air mixed with the official railway scents of diesel exhaust and creosote while observing the fascinating sights along Burrard Inlet. Surely this was modern railway travel at its best; perhaps something lost on old timers still lamenting the passing of the steam age.

In a few minutes CP Rail's "Canadian" would be home. This Canadian, however, would soon be back in the city in which he now lived but returning to Vancouver just would not feel at all like returning home. I was also feeling the despair of loneliness knowing that no one would be meeting me at the train station and no one would be waiting to greet me upon arriving back at West First Avenue.

The apartment, more correctly home, was as soundless as ever. Half the previous week's newspapers had arrived last Thursday and were piled up outside the door from the bedroom to the basement. Someone, perhaps one of the anonymous, faceless strangers who lived upstairs, had moved the newspapers down from the upstairs vestibule. I had enjoyed my weekend and train trip but returning to the stifling silent stillness was a sobering dose of returning to reality. I was somewhat distressed having to admit to myself that it was possible for me to have never returned, never have been noticed to have been missing and never have been missed. This was the cold hard truth of the obscurity and insignificance in which most people live out their lives, and I was one of these people. Truly, only God notices when little sparrows fall.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Karen McLennan

Chapter 3

Slowly one week was followed by another week but little changed in my life and routines. Vancouver's rainy season gradually transformed into spring and the increasing frequency of dryer weekends and days with more daylight hours made me restless. Too many days passed, especially when it had rained all weekend, when alone and on my own meant far too much time available and too few meaningful activities to occupy the time with. In spite of the drudgery of working for a living, I was beginning to welcome Monday mornings and dread Friday evenings simply because working was better than doing nothing else. An older colleague at work who was approaching his retirement had cautioned me about how short life is, how quickly time passes and how little time remains in which to get things done. I could not grasp the meaning of his thinking nor comprehend the value of his advice.

One particular evening on the bus while heading home after another uneventful day at work I was unusually weary and not looking forward to arriving at my silent living quarters and then having to cook and eat another meal alone. Resting my head against the window I was not really paying much attention to anything. Glancing at a lady with her back to me who was standing in the aisle, I perked up thinking I had finally crossed trails with someone I knew, and thought, "That looks like Karen McLennan." and then decided, "No, it couldn't be. Karen’s in Kingston.”

Although the young lady appeared to have the same profile and the same long dark hair as Karen’s I was uncertain. She was wearing a long dark green duffle coat and I remembered that I had once seen Karen wearing the same type of coat but something about the lady's coat did not look quite right. Perhaps the shade of green was not quite the same. I was debating whether or not to get up and tap the mystery lady on the shoulder to see if she was really Karen but I was afraid to make a fool of myself just in case I may have been wrong. 

Unexpectedly the lady turned. She was Chinese and definitely not Karen McLennan. I was disappointed, thinking the moment would have been wonderful if she had been Karen but at the same time I was relieved about having stayed put. Again, I looked over at the Chinese lady and this time noticed she was strikingly attractive. "Was it because she had reminded me of Karen?" I wondered. I had never really paid close attention to Chinese people before other than mentally noting they were Chinese.

The bus bumped along, or so it felt with my head against the window, and my thoughts drifted back to Karen McLennan. Only a year ago both Karen and I were studying music at John Abbott College. We attended many of the same classes and were competing against each other for the top mark. We kept trading places for first and second place. Karen and I eventually met each other at the location where assignment and examination results were posted.

On that day we both happened to be checking the postings at the same time. She recognized me from the music classes and asked, "Do you have any idea who student 7019235 is?"

"Why?" I asked but I was not really expecting her to give me an answer.

"7019235 beat me by one mark." she answered with a certain tone of frustration in her voice.

"Don't you think 97 is a good mark?" I asked.

"How did you know my mark?" she questioned in a surprised manner.

"You just told me." I stated.

"I did?" she asked.

"I read some Sherlock Holmes stories a few weeks ago." I replied cleverly.

“Oh really?” she answered, sounding very unimpressed.

“Only one student in the class had a 97, right?” I continued.

“Right.” she concurred.

“Well then, if 7019235 beat your mark by only one point then you had to be the one with the 97.” I surmised

“Yes, but how did you know I’m the one with 97?” she asked, her voice betraying a hint of curiosity.

“Easy. I’m 7019235.”

"Right." she said quietly and then added jokingly, "Come on Sherlock; let's see if you can pick up the trail to our next class. I'll walk with you."

"Well I know one mystery that Sherlock Holmes never solved." I stated, hoping to entice Karen into asking me which one.

"Oh yeah? Which one?" she asked.

"Do you know that musical piece by Arthur Sullivan? I asked.

“No.” Karen answered.

“Well as far as I know the lost chord is still missing." I replied. 

Karen and I became good friends but no less competitive. She knew and understood music history better than I did and had a far better ear for interpretation by listening. I had an edge in written music theory and analyzing music scores. My instrument of choice was the piano and hers the French horn. 

Karen had sent me a card and short letter at Christmas. I wrote back to her shortly afterward but never received any further word from her. Karen went on to continue her studies at Queen's University in Kingston. She once told me that going to Queens was what she had wanted and planned to do and now she was doing it. I was happy for her and perhaps slightly envious too. Karen always seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do and she was just as determined to go out and do it. Contrarily, I didn't have a clue as to what I wanted to do nor could I define even for myself a single personal goal or objective to strive for. 

Probably our friendship could have developed further had circumstances been different, had I been different; but circumstances were not different and I was not different. Silently I sighed and wondered about what might have been. Curious, I once more glanced over toward the Chinese lady but she was gone.

"Why am I seeing familiar people in complete strangers?" I questioned silently then added, "What am I doing in this city?"

Again my thoughts drifted back to Karen McLennan. Almost a year had passed since the last time I had seen her. I conceded to myself that if Karen had told me she was planning return to CEGEP for another semester then I too may have returned to CEGEP and not moved to Vancouver. 

Last year near the conclusion of the spring semester the Montreal Symphony Orchestra was to perform a series of special concerts at the Montreal Forum. Emil Gilels was to appear as a guest soloist to perform Beethoven's E flat major piano concerto. The "Emperor" concerto was my favourite and Emil Gilels was, as far as I was concerned, the definitive interpreter of the work. Besides, he was the soloist on the recording in my collection. I had really wanted to ask Karen out on a date but did not know how to approach her on the subject. Determined to overcome my fears I purchased two tickets and vowed that I was going to ask Karen to go with me to the Beethoven concert. During the preceding weeks there were quite a few opportunities to ask her but the words just would not come out. I could talk at length about the weather or music homework assignments, or ask her about the other subjects she was studying, but I was unable to find the courage to ask her to go with me to the Beethoven concert. 

Time finally ran out and I ended up going to the concert alone. I despised myself for being a coward but I think what hurt the most was unexpectedly spotting Karen in the crowds at the Montreal Forum. She was seated about a dozen rows below from where I was seated. She was with her sister and her mother but Karen never knew I was there. Is the anguish of longing but doing nothing more endurable than the pain of reaching out and asking and then being rebuffed by a refusal? Again I wondered about what might have been had I not been afraid to ask, and then again, perhaps nothing.

At the intersection of West Fourth Avenue and Arbutus Street I exited the bus. I waited a moment to listen to the fading whistling sound the poles made as they travelled along the overhead electric wires while the bus disappeared along West Fourth. I recalled hearing the expression "singing wires" and wondered if it referred to electric trolley buses on the move.

Upon arriving at home I checked to see if any mail was waiting for me. Nothing. I walked up to the end of the block to the corner store to buy a newspaper. After returning I still did not feel like cooking anything. I placed a few slices of cheese and salami on a couple of slices of rye bread and placed them under the oven broiler to melt the cheese. While waiting for my dinner to heat I sat on the couch and began reading through the newspaper. An article about CP Rail's latest failed attempt to discontinue passenger train services in eastern Canada caught my attention. In a matter of minutes I could smell something burning and it wasn't pipe tobacco. The food in the oven had been forgotten and supper was converted to coking coal or so it appeared.

Giving up on any further attempts at cooking I headed downtown and visited a few of my favourite stores on West Hastings and Granville Streets. My first stop was a music store that had an ample selection of pocket music scores. After spending nearly an hour looking through numerous possible choices to add to my growing music library, I finally selected Schubert's Symphony Number 8, better known as the "Unfinished" symphony. Having spent numerous hours listening to recordings of Schubert's symphony I remained undecided about whether or not the work really was left unfinished or if Schubert had intentionally written only two large movements. Also chosen was the score to Beethoven's Piano Concerto Number 4. Beethoven's first three piano concerti were definitely influenced by Mozart and sounded like Mozart, however, the fourth piano concerto written several years later was uniquely Beethoven without the Mozart influence. 

Also available were copies the scores for most of the late Beethoven string quartets and I finally selected a German publisher's version of the A minor quartet. I recalled having read what I thought were interesting details about the finale of the A minor string quartet during my music studies research. Beethoven had toyed with the possibility of using the music in the quartet's last movement for thematic material in a planned tenth symphony. He had even made some musical sketches but Beethoven died shortly after completing his last string quartets and any plans he had for a tenth symphony died also. Anyway, I had big plans and designs for writing out an orchestrated version for the last movement of the A minor quartet but after a few feeble attempts soon realized how little I knew about orchestral arranging. And what did I really know about how Beethoven would have done it? Well If Schubert could have an unfinished symphony then my claim to fame would be my unstarted symphony.

At my second to last stop I picked up a copy of the latest edition of a railway magazine and then wandered over to a restaurant with an Italian sounding name. Having decided upon pizza and beer for dinner I wanted to spend an hour or so reading the latest news about my other favourite interest. Much to my surprise the waitress was Chinese, but unlike the Chinese lady I saw on the bus earlier, she did not in any way at all remind me about Karen McLennan. The waitress spoke very little English and kept repeating back to me what I ordered to make certain she had it right. I had to ask her to repeat what she repeated because I had difficulty understanding what she was saying in her limited and very accented English. After she disappeared into the kitchen, I wondered, "Why isn't she working in a Chinese restaurant?"

Deciding to walk home instead of travel on the bus I proceeded westward along Robson Street toward Burrard. Vancouver was a “friendly city” because the streets were safe to walk at night. Not surprising considering the streets were virtually deserted. The downtown buildings looked so silent so desolate but in some manner they did not look all that different from the way I felt. On my way I met Curtis Beale, a colleague from work, and we paused to talk. After a few moments of discussion he asked me to join him for a drink. He was heading over to his favourite bar. I was undecided but after some prompting from Curtis I agreed to go along. Only silence awaited me at home anyway. 

Jack of Spades was the name of the bar. "What are they shovelling in this dig?" I asked, but if Curtis heard my question he ignored it.

Curtis was well known in the bar and all the employees greeted him by name. Intentionally rhetorical I asked him if he was the king of the club but I don't think he caught my drift. He did not have to tell anyone what he wanted. Over the noise and thumping disco music Curtis shouted, "My friend will have the same." assuming I would have the same.

"Okay. I'll settle for dealer's choice or jokers wild" I remarked as an aside thinking it would go unnoticed as well.

"What are you talking about?" Curtis asked. He had heard my comment.

"Cards." I replied.

"Cards? He queried in a manner sounding as if he had not understood a word I said.

"Isn't this place the Jack of Spades?"

"Bridge. That's it! You've walked over that bridge once too often." Curtis countered.

We talked at length about everything from work to politics while we had a few drinks. I had a few and he had quite a few. Curtis was in his mid-thirties, unmarried and did not have anyone special in his life. His father had worked for the railway and had been transferred to Vancouver from Manitoba quite a number of years ago. The family had dutifully followed. Curtis now lived on his own in downtown Vancouver just a few blocks from the office. During the course of our bull session I had mentioned that I was from Montreal. Curtis told me that his last girlfriend was French and, while he did not directly say so, his reminisces about her left me with no doubt that he never got over her after their relationship had ended some ten or more years earlier.

The bar scene was definitely not my style and I really did not want to stay and drink late into the night. Had I wanted to I certainly could not have afforded to. After saying good night to Curtis I resumed my sojourn homeward via the Burrard Bridge. Pausing on the center span for a few moments to watch a large yacht proceeding inward from English Bay to False Creek I could hear music and a woman's laughter coming from inside the luxury vessel as it passed beneath the bridge.

"It must be nice to be able to afford such luxuries." I thought slightly enviously, but wealth I could live without and I had a lifetime of experience to prove it. 

All I truly wanted was to find the right person to share the rest of my life with. 

Instead of returning directly to my closet-sized suite as first planned, I detoured over to Kitsilano Beach for a late evening walk. I stood on the bluffs overlooking the edge of the water and leaned against the white wooden fence resting my hands on the top rail. Reflecting upon my trip home on the bus after work I thought about Karen McLennan and wondered again about what the outcome might have been if I had asked her to go to that Beethoven concert last year. 

As I stared at the shoreline I wondered if I should write to Karen once more but decided not to. Nobody under thirty bothers to write letters any more. Letter writing is too much work and takes too long. It is easier to use a telephone but I was uncomfortable using a telephone. I did not have her telephone number anyway. Karen was most likely too busy with exams I rationalized. She knew my address but she probably had other interests and no interest in me.

"Good-bye Karen." I said aloud. "We never really did say good-bye, did we? Well, if you ever go back to Quebec after Queen's then I guess a French horn should be okay there. Anyway, keep on blowing that horn of yours."

While walking home from the beach my thoughts shifted to the approaching holiday weekend. Working at Canadian Pacific had its advantages. At work I learned that I was entitled to certain pass privileges on CP Rail's few surviving passenger trains and, as an added feature, entitled also to significant discounts at the CP Hotels. A perfect incentive for a very inexpensive trip somewhere, especially considering that I had a passion for train travel. Easter was approaching and the holiday weekend would be an ideal time for a getaway from the drudgery and perhaps an opportunity to place the burdens of life into a better perspective. I thought about Calgary, but escaping from one city to go to another was not what I wanted. I chose to visit Banff.

After turning on the radio I sat down at my desk, leaned back in the chair and stared at the backs of the music books that were lined up against the wall at the back of the desk. Remembering Karen, I did not feel much like reading about music and all the books were music books. A few moments later, I reached over and pulled one of the pipes out of the tin on top of the books. I fiddled with the pipe and then stuffed it with tobacco. After I was satisfied the pipe was spouting sufficient clouds of pollution I picked up the CP Rail timetable and studiously read through the passenger train schedules. 

Over the last few years CP Rail's system timetable had become pitifully thin as train services were terminated and station names eliminated from the index. Reading train schedules was relaxing and the schedule for "The Atlantic Limited" evoked snippets of pleasant memories about journeys made on that train several years earlier. I concluded with a browse through the schedule for "The Canadian" and then placed the timetable beside the pipe tin on top of the books. While most people regarded reading railway timetables as a waste of time I looked on timetable reading as a lesson in Canadian geography. I could recite with accuracy where dozens of little unknown towns and places in Canada were located, however, because they were virtually unknown no one ever needed to know where any of them were.

I turned off the radio and pulled out the music score to Beethoven's fourth piano concerto. I picked up a pen, put on the earphones, turned up the volume a little higher than usual and played a recording of the same Beethoven opus. I followed along with the musical score and with my pen conducted the Imaginary Symphony Orchestra through a flawless performance of the concerto’s first movement. 

My performances were always flawless when conducted this way because these performances were similar to watching a movie for the third or fourth time and knowing how the ending would turn out. I sometimes wondered how famous conductors could continuously wave their arms through entire performances of lengthy works. Arm waving was rather tiring. Perhaps this cardio-vascular exercise was the reason orchestra conductors tended to live a long time. Anyway, the first movement was exercise enough and I was content just to listen to the second and third movements of the concerto as an audience of one while waiting for sleep to bring the end to another day.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Vancouver March 1974

Chapter 2

March 1974

Early Friday evening and heavy rain was falling; straight down from a lack of wind to slant it. Pausing briefly at the doors of the main entrance to the office building where I worked, I fiddled with my umbrella to ready it just before venturing outside. 

“Oh God, please, not another wet weekend.” I silently sighed, pleading for dry weather.

Living in Vancouver during winter sometimes made me feel like a swimmer trying to decide about whether or not to plunge into a pool of cold water. Going out into a heavy rain had that effect. In spite of the downpour, sidewalks were crowded with people hurriedly heading home, or possibly elsewhere, after work. Reluctantly leaving the shelter of the foyer, I too became one of those seemingly unremarkable, nameless, insignificant and forgettable faces in the rush.

Pushing my way eastward along West Georgia Street was a game of constantly dodging umbrellas pointed in my direction. Some inconsiderate person could always be depended upon to be travelling the opposite way. With their umbrella tipped forward like a bayonet, he or she would shove their way ahead as if they were the only person on the sidewalk or as if he or she owned it. Maybe one of them did own the sidewalk and I was travelling toll-free.

Finally reaching the shelter of the canopies outside the Hudson Bay store at Granville and West Georgia Streets, I waited for my bus to come along. Not in any great hurry to arrive at my abode I ignored the first bus that showed up, choosing instead to continue standing under the canopy, avoiding the rain and contemplated some of the recent major changes in my life. 

Winter in Vancouver was certainly different from any winters I'd known in Montreal. A Vancouver winter was definitely different; not anywhere near as cold as winter in the east but not anywhere near as dry either. 

Months had passed since I heard or overheard a conversation in French. In fact, I hadn't heard a single word of French since having said adieu to Montreal and Quebec. The "Maitres de chez nous" debate wasn't even a relevant social issue in Vancouver. 

People here were different and many looked different too. Very few Asians lived in the Montreal I had always known, but in marked contrast, the Vancouver I was discovering was home to many Asians. Out of curiosity I watched and occasionally listened-in on others waiting for their buses. Chinese, at least I assumed the language to be Chinese, was the most common other language I overheard in conversations. Chinese was very different from French. Chinese was very different from any language I ever heard before.

I glanced over at Burrard Inlet and North Van's mountains, visible only as narrow strips between tall buildings. The early evening sky was grey; light grey, dark grey, every shade of grey in between and more shades of grey than anyone can imagine possible. No other words could possible colour a typical March evening in Vancouver. The rain had paused at least, but everything was still wet, damp, moist, misty, dank and of course dripping. All week the rain had persisted without a break and at times I felt like too many weeks had passed since the last pause in this so called, "Liquid sunshine." 

Someone had recently given me an accurate weather forecasting formula for Vancouver, "When it’s raining, you can’t see the mountains; when you can see the mountains, it’s going to rain." 

The formula hadn't been wrong. Incredulously, I recalled some of those glowing descriptions I'd heard from other people who had verbally painted wonderful pictures describing Vancouver as the best place to live in Canada. Supposedly Vancouver was one end of that proverbial rainbow, but the reality I was living was much more like a cold soaking.


A bus with the correct route number eventually followed and observing that the bus was nearly empty I decided to board and take advantage of the luxury of having a seat on the way back. After a few more stops the bus quickly filled with passengers to standing room only. The windows fogged over the way bus windows always do when packed inside and wet outside. A small circle near a lower corner of the window was wiped clear for an occasional peek outside. Being new to this city, I easily lost my way when I could not see out. Some of the bus drivers would call out the names of the streets, but too often the drivers could not be heard over the din made by a busload of people.

Buses in Vancouver were unlike any that Montreal had. These buses were electric and powered from a system of overhead wires. Attached to the rear of the buses were two sprung poles with cables. The ends of the poles ran along the overhead wires. Once in a while the poles would bounce off and when they did, power was lost. The bus would come to a quick forced stop making it necessary for the driver to exit, run around to the rear of the bus and place the wayward poles back on the wires. I often wondered how the drivers regarded this task in heavy rain. In spite of the idiosyncrasies of electric trolley buses they did seem to be just as reliable as diesel buses minus the fumes, but when the power failed nothing would move those electric buses.

The bus continued following its route of stops and starts but I had stopped looking at the people getting on and off. I was not going to find a familiar face. I stared ahead at an imaginary fixed point and drifted into reflective thought about my life. The sense of adventure in moving from Montreal to Vancouver had waned and first pangs of homesickness were surfacing. The excitement from a first full time job had subsided and the drudgery of eking out a living began to set in. Only now were the realities of the consequences of the changes in my life becoming all too uncomfortably apparent.

Daily I was fighting off the urge to just give up and return to Montreal. Continuously I told myself that a return move to Montreal would just be an unconditional surrender; an admission of having really failed. I was not prepared to swallow my pride and make any such admission. Not yet! Months earlier I had believed it vitally necessary to head west out of Quebec to find my raison d'etre, but now that I was here in Vancouver, the reasons were becoming difficult to recall. Before leaving home and Montreal, those reasons had seemed so overwhelming, so monumental, so urgent, so compelling but now they seemed less relevant. Exactly what was it that drove me to come here?

Unlike high school and far worse, drug use in CEGEP was rampant, openly visible and seemingly so natural and accepted. Constantly having to confront substance abuse at CEGEP left me discouraged and totally disheartened. I knew where a few of the teachers stood on the issue of drug use from what they had said and they were not the same side I was on. Sure life was difficult and events beyond our control could make life miserable but I just could not comprehend what may have driven too many of my peers to use those substances. Far more incomprehensible to me was the importance students and teachers seemed to place on the conflict in Southeast Asia. What was the relevance and what possible connection did substance abuse in academic West Island have with an American military mess? The latter was supposed to justify the former but the logic was beyond me. I did not want to hear about drugs and Vietnam any more and I was not under any circumstances prepared to join in and blindly follow along. Having drawn my line, the fear of not fitting in and not belonging was crushing.

If the world was going to have a second Beethoven, then I wanted to be that person. At times I almost believed that I was destined to be that person but such was the world of self-delusion. The truth was that the world did not need or even want a second Beethoven; in fact the world did not even need a first me. Reality began to sink in; making any sort of living from music composition was impossible. Prior to awakening from my delusions, it had never occurred to me there might be a need to prepare for the possibility of requiring a plan B so there never was one. Disillusioned, I had absolutely no desire to waste any more years in higher learning.

The increasingly vocal language issues in Quebec were gaining political momentum and the French fact, or threat depending on how one perceived the issue at the time, was becoming more real. The truth is that I was completely ignorant of the issues the French in Quebec were so terribly upset about. The whole issue was of absolutely no interest or of any value to me and, as far as I was concerned, the debate was totally irrelevant. Nonetheless, reality was clear enough for me to see that my lifelong dream of working on CP Rail’s trains in the Eastern Townships was beyond any hope of grasping. Trains and railway jobs were disappearing. Working for the railway in Montreal or anywhere in Quebec would never happen as far as I was concerned.

With more apparent reasons to leave than reasons to stay, I believed myself to be ready to leave home and strike out on my own. I had always been comfortable in keeping to myself when I lived with my parents, in fact I even preferred being left alone, but nothing; neither parental advice nor advice from friends had prepared me for the complete separation and aloneness that independent living in a distant city would entail.

Instead of finding happiness and a sense of contentment that my expectations had led me to believe would automatically follow from successfully achieving the few modest goals that had been set, I was terribly miserable. All that I had managed to accomplish was to cut myself off from my immediate family and all lifelong friends, to severely distance myself from everything familiar and to completely turn my life upside down and make myself very unhappy in the process. Many times I would ask myself what were to become two familiar questions, "What went wrong? Did I miss something out somewhere?"  Over the next weeks and months I would have many hours in which to consider these two questions and possible answers, if there were any.

Pulling the cord to signal the driver to stop, I exited the bus a few stops early and walked the remainder of the way. The northwest corner of West First Avenue and Arbutus Street was an excellent location to live, particularly for my needs and requirements. Kitsilano Beach was only two short blocks away and the bus route over Burrard Bridge to downtown was even closer. The office was a fifteen-minute bus ride when it was raining or a half-hour walk when it was not raining but it usually seemed to be raining far more than it was not. Most of the nearest stores and businesses were located a few blocks north on West Fourth Avenue.

The doorway to my residence was dark and I fumbled around with the key to get it into the lock. I had turned off the light when leaving for work in the morning without remembering that it was going to be dark upon returning. As I unlocked and opened the door I silently prayed that someone special would be there to greet me; if not today, then some day. Darkness and silence were the only companions waiting to welcome me back to my dwelling. I was reluctant to use the word home because my new dwelling did not yet feel like home.

My dwelling was a sparsely furnished apartment in the basement of what was an older house in one of the longer established areas of Vancouver. Judging from the well-maintained solid hardwood floors and high ceilings of the upper levels, this structure must have at one time been home to an upper class family in the post Victorian era. In later years the building had been converted into five small apartments. My suite was more like a three-room closet. Size was definitely not this suite’s strong suit, however, the rent was low and affordable for someone just starting out. The only luxury was the private side entrance complete with coat hooks on the wall just inside the door.

The living room was small to say the least, but did have a trio of small, double hung windows that faced the front lawn and street at ground level. The windows were adorned with yellowed blinds and white curtains. The walls and ceiling were a dark shade of beige and what I could see of the floor was covered with a beige-orange and brown patterned linoleum. The furniture consisted of a well-worn, chocolate brown couch, which was positioned beneath the windows and faced the kitchen alcove. At one end of the couch was a small brown, almost black, wooden end table with the room’s only lamp upon it. A small, dark-brown, rectangular-shaped carpet covered most of the open floor area. Everything was well worn and some shade of brown.

The kitchen was small and very much smaller than the kitchens I had seen in the dining cars of the train that had brought me across Canada. The walls were a light shade of what would best be described as mint green. Seated in the back right corner was a small, white gas range, with four burners and an oven, with just enough room for the oven door to drop down without hitting the opposite wall when fully opened. A small built-in counter and sink, with a cupboard beneath, occupied the remainder of the right side. A few additional small cupboards were located above the sink. The counter and cupboards were made of wood, had been stained dark brown then covered with several coatings of what appeared to be polyurethane. The metal fittings betrayed the probable age of the cabinets but the wood-finish had stood up well over the years. Against the left wall was a tiny wooden folding table complete with a matching small wooden chair. These two looked as if they were made of pine and both had seen numerous layers of varnish over their many years. I could stand in the center, stretch out each arm and just touch the opposite walls at the same time. This was the length of my kitchen.

The bedroom contained a large, ancient, brown, metal framed double bed. The mattress surface must have been at least three feet off the floor. The only other furnishing was a large, brown, wooden, double-door wardrobe that stood against the wall facing the foot of the bed. From the floor the wardrobe almost touched the ceiling. I often wondered how the wardrobe had been moved into the suite. On the far side of the bedroom from the doorway was the only other window in my dwelling. The window was a pair of double-hung wooden-framed panes hidden behind a well-worn dark green blind, which was always kept pulled-down and obscured by a pair of curtains.

The bedroom also had a second door that was at a right angle to the opening to the living room. A key was constantly sticking out of the turn-of-the-century lock on this door. On my first visit to see this place I thought a closet was behind the door. The second door turned out to be an exit into the basement where my refrigerator was located as well as the route upstairs to the main entrance and foyer. The floor on the outside of the door was a step higher than inside, so I left the key in the lock where it was found. I am certain other tenants before me must have done the same. Leaving the key where it was, was a sure way not to lose they key. Anyone who may have given thought to gaining entrance by retrieving the key from poking it out of the lock on to a paper pushed under the door would have been stymied. Sometimes out of boredom I would try to think of a possible solution to this puzzle but gave up. Such a feat was impossible at this doorway.

Nothing in the entire apartment could even remotely be considered new, however, the place was clean and everything did work. In Vancouver rental units were difficult to find, and affordable ones even scarcer. This was my first home and I had finally made that exciting but terrifying first step of making my own way in the world. I was truly on my own now and responsible to pay my own way. Yes I was free, but free to do what? Yes I was independent, but independent from what? Yes I was also alone, but now what?

Upon entering the pocket-sized suite, I chased out my two unwanted companions darkness and silence by turning on the lights and the radio, then I hung my hat and coat on the hooks just inside the doorway. Water requires time to boil so I started the pots going on the stove before going upstairs to see if there was any mail. Nothing. No letter from home; not a single edition from any of the three daily out-of-town newspapers I subscribed to; not even a bill and I think I would have been grateful even for that.

While waiting for the water in the pots to boil I peeked out the window. The rain had not started again so I decided to pass on making my own supper, shut off the stove and dumped the water. I found that making dinner was far more convenient when I walked around the corner to the far end of the block to the little Chinese restaurant to pick up something that was already cooked and was going to taste far better than anything I could possibly prepare.

During rainy evenings and through wet weekends the silence in my three-room closet could be excruciating; silence was noiseless torture. How else could quiet and alone have been described? If anyone lived in the four upstairs apartments, there was little evidence from sounds heard and lack thereof. Not once did I ever meet or see any of the other tennants, even in passing or when I was looking out front window. The other tennants were silent, faceless anonymous strangers, but they did not remain nameless. Mail was shoved through the slot in the front door and dumped on the floor inside the upstairs entrance. One of those unwritten rules was that the first one in sorted out the mail and placed it on the small table by the stairs leading to the top floor. On occasions I was the first in.

My telephone rarely rang. When the telephone did ring, the caller was almost always a wrong number or somebody trying to sell something, and that was just as good as a wrong number. On the odd occasion, the receiver would be lifted just to see if there was a dial tone. Acute shyness coupled with an inability to understand people in general made it paralyzingly difficult to take the initiative to reach out and call someone on the telephone. And who would there have been to call in this new home city? I found it difficult to meet new people and the few people I did meet were already too busy with their activities or too occupied with their relationships to welcome interference from an outsider. Very few of the attempted calls ever made it to the first ring.

Shortly after moving into the three-room closet, my first major purchase was an inexpensive stereo. Having managed to save some money out of the little that was left over after paying the bills, again being able to listen to Beethoven, Mozart and others was a joy. Music was also some relief to lessen what often seemed like endless silence. My purchase required a rearrangement of some of the furnishings in order to find a place to put the stereo. The folding table and chair were moved out of the kitchen into the living room and set up to use as a desk. The lamp from the end table was placed on a corner of my new desk. The end table was just the right size for the stereo and speakers. The now empty leftover carton was turned upside down to become my coffee table. In the process of moving things around, I gave up sleeping in the bedroom and permanently made the couch my bed so I could listen to music at night. The move was a wise choice because the couch turned out to be more comfortable than the bed. The bed in the bedroom became my place to spread out books, sort and file newspaper clippings as well as any and every other piece of paper that was of an esoteric value. In other words, the bed was soon buried with junk.

Laundry was one of those chores given no thought at all until I was on my own for the first time. Doing laundry became a weekly ritual that usually fell on Monday evenings or Tuesday evenings or any evening later in the week if it was raining on Mondays and Tuesdays. Hauling bags of laundry uphill to the laundromat was not remotely exciting the first time and became drearier each successive trip. Later, a classical music record store opened up right beside the laundromat so I timed my trips to coincide with the store's open hours. Waiting for clothing to wash and dry became more bearable as I looked for new recordings to add to my Beethoven collection.

Food shopping was another chore given little thought until I had to do it for the first time. A rule quickly learned from having to walk was, "Never buy more than you can comfortably carry." My learning was all done the hard way. Food shopping eventually fell on Thursday evenings because the food stores were open late on Thursday evenings and paydays fell on Thursdays too. As with the other chores, the grocery-shopping schedule would be altered if it was raining.

Dinner was quickly finished and the few dishes had been washed, dried and put away. Sitting at my desk, I began fiddling with a pencil and scribbling down notes on a sheet of music paper. I soon placed the page aside. Several months had passed since I last looked at a sheet of music. Picking up the sheet again and taking another look at the marks that had been scribbled down, I closed my eyes, tipped my head back and then tried to imagine what sounds the notes were supposed to produce when played. I just could not hear the music in my mind. I could not be certain that what had been written on the paper were the melodies heard in my thoughts. Opening my eyes I pushed the chair back with disgust. Perhaps Beethoven and Mozart could compose music without the aid of a musical instrument but I could not. Tossing the sheet on to the desk, I gave up wasting any more time with music. "I need a piano,” I muttered aloud. 

Reaching over to the tobacco tin that was perched on top of the row of music books that lined the wall at the back of the desk, I pulled out one of the half dozen plus pipes kept there. Removing the odd little pipe tool I usually carried in my pocket, I began scraping out the cinders and clinkers that had accumulated on the inside of the pipe's bowl; a task much like chimney sweeping without having to climb on top of a roof. When that was done and like a judge with his gavel, I banged the soot out into another empty tobacco tin that had now been relegated to ashtray duty. Satisfied the pipe was now suitably prepared for another burning, I stuffed it to the brim with one of my favourite mixtures of tobacco. Striking a wooden match afire I waited first for the chemicals to burn off and then set my little stove alight as I had done so many times before. In no time at all clouds of smoke billowed upward to the ceiling and shortly afterwards the upper half of the living room was blue with smoke.

Pipe smoking certainly wasn't a healthy activity nor was it even remotely useful, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and almost regarded the habit as a different type of art form. Choosing a pipe or a tobacco mixture was a matter of personal taste, however, packing tobacco into the bowl had to be done just right or the tobacco wouldn't burn quite right. And getting this far along was to no avail if the pipe wasn't properly lit. Firing a pipe with a lighter was almost sacrilege. Lighter fluid gases always ruined the flavour of the tobacco not to mention leaving an awful aftertaste in the mouth. Cardboard book-matches weren'ot much better because of their short lengths; they didn't burn long enough to properly set fire to a packed pipe without burning fingertips in the process. Wood matches were best and the longer the better. Even these could completely ruin a smoke if the match's chemical-laden head wasn't completely burned off first. Except possibly for lighter fluid flavour, nothing tasted worse than puffing away on sulphured tobacco.

Before turning in for the night I took a last peek out the window. The street wasn't dry but it hadn't rained in the last few hours. 

"Perhaps there's a chance it'll be dry tomorrow." I thought optimistically.

Here in Vancouver, I think people's winter prayer on a Friday is for sun on Saturday. If not, then it should be.


The Oddblock Station Agent