It was a fine morning, and I was walking the streets amongst the paper-weight industrial buildings that bleed from my tree-lined, suburban neighborhood in East Vancouver.
There is this odd transition that happens just a few blocks west of my house. You walk, pleasantly surrounded by Hydrangeas and Cherrys and elegant Japanese Maples, and all at once you cross an invisible threshold and you are mired in the squat, severe architecture of construction, industry, and trade. Then you cross another such threshold and you are back amongst the Japanese Maples.
I like walking this transitional divide, wandering from corrugated metal-and-concrete to tree-lined utopia and back. It provides for an intriguing tableaux, as if drifting back and forth across the same terrain, but in entirely distinct parallel universes.
On this particular morning, the streets were empty, save for a couple of early-risers walking their dogs. As I rounded a corner, a cyclist riding a sleek blue road bike, dressed all in blue, whizzed passed me like a speeding blueberry. I smiled. He blinked. In Vancouver, you rarely get smiles from strangers. Mostly blinks, and somber nods. I have found this to be true in Seattle, also, although I have never been able to figure out why.
It seems that the further South, and East you go (at least here in North America), the more smiles you gets from strangers. Perhaps it is the climate. Or perhaps it is just some secret social more that I never learned.
On a recent trip to Vancouver Island to buy a bicycle, I passed another cyclist while waiting for the ferry. I made a remark about his bike, and we got to talking. We stood at the small bike-rack in the cavernous belly of the ferry, surrounded by towering cargo trucks bound for the mainland. Each truck seemed like a Goliath compared to our dinky little two-wheelers. We talked about bike-packing, about bike security, about bike modifications, and about many other bike-related topics. We talked for nearly ninety minutes.
Later, he opened up to me that when we had first met, my presence had annoyed him — and had I not made that remark and started our conversation, he would likely have never initiated one. He even called it “city mode.” He was moving from the island back to the city, where he had been a bike courier for ten years. He said he would miss the laid-back vibes, but was excited to once again be where the action was. He thanked me for breaking him out of city mode, for the little poke that he had needed to shatter his cold shoulder. When we departed, we exchanged Facebook profiles, and I went on my way having made a new friend.
I sometimes wonder if this is how everyone is in this part of the world — just a little frosted over and needing of a poke. Yet, one cannot go around poking everybody one meets, if for no other reason than because doing so would be exhausting.
But sometimes it takes a poke to make a friend. And I suppose that is the essence — the icy linchpin — of the problem of being a settler in any city in the Pacific North West, and to lesser degrees, anywhere else. If you don’t make an effort, who will?
For now, in Vancouver, maybe the warming weather and flowers will help. And who knows? Maybe with a poke or two, I will make a few new friends. It’s hard to be grumpy when the world is exploding in pink around you.