10-10-17 – The First Day of Our Northwest Adventure

This is a post from a previous adventure we took to the pacific northwest. A month before we were married, we flew into Vancouver…

The trip really started the day before we left. There were several errands to run and things to do before we left. One of those tasks was to drop off my bulldog at a friend’s house. I’m always a little sad when I have to drop him off somewhere. I know that he doesn’t really enjoy being away from me for any length of time, and that feeling is mutual. Sage and I ran our errands all day and then we went our respective ways to finish packing and clean our respective houses.

I honestly felt a little overwhelmed when I returned back home. I had made a comprehensive list of things that I needed to pack, but it seemed that my packing would never get done. You don’t really want to forget to take something on your trip just because you left it where it was originally. Thus my living room and coffee table became a cluttered mess paying homage to the trip that I was about to embark upon. Soon enough I was satisfied that I had thought of everything, sometimes twice, and I went about closing my suitcases and bags.

That night I tossed and turned. Getting up several times before trying to go back to bed. I just don’t sleep as well without Digby somewhere in the vicinity. Perhaps it’s the calming sounds of soft little bulldog snores that I like, or just the fact that his warm little body is somewhere cuddled up on the floor or bed. If it wasn’t one thing it was another thing that popped into my mind as needing to be done “right this instant before I forget.” When all the must-do tasks were done and I was back in my bed, attempts to enter dreamland were unsuccessful. I was tired and exasperated, but there was no use in fighting what I couldn’t accomplish. And I wasn’t about to take any sleep aids either just in case I didn’t wake up on time. I plopped down on the couch and turned on the Xbox One. I didn’t really feel like playing alone, so I hit up Xbox Live playing Destiny 2. I happened upon two very obvious pocket protectors and they helped me beat the rest of the game Destiny 2. I looked at the time and was shocked. It was around 3am. I’m not sure what I expected, but it still irked me. I was tired and cranky, but unable to indulge in the activity that would remedy this.

I did eventually have some semblance of sleep between 3 and 4 AM, but it was just as fitful as the previous 7 hours of attempts. I was up before my alarm sounded at 4 and in the shower by 4:05a. I guess it was nice to take my time. I texted Sage to make sure she was awake. Having packed the rest of the clutter that junked up my living room, I drove to Sage’s house to pick her up. It was starting to drizzle rain. You couldn’t really tell whether or not the bottom was going to fall out of the sky or not. When I got to Sage’s house I shot a quick text message to Matt to make sure he was awake. Matt being the reliable man that he is almost instantly texted me back that he was indeed ready to rock and roll. After herding Sage and her luggage into the car, we made our way back to my house. Not too long after we had pulled up to my house and gotten inside the bottom fell out of the sky. These were the conditions in which one brave Matthew Balmut pulled up to my house and picked us and luggage up for a trip to the airport. Bless him.

After arriving at the airport and disembarking with our luggage, we made our way to the baggage check, and then begrudgingly to the TSA security checkpoint. I hate the TSA. The cost of every plane ticket includes entry into one of the most famous “Security Theater” shows in the world. And YOU get to participate. I farted on the other side of the “nude picture” machine in their general direction. Our flight was currently boarding and we had to deal with these people. I was stopped by another TSA agent. “Excuse me sir, step over here for just a second.” Some guy wanted to rub on my back with gloved hands because my back was wet. I guess they didn’t know it was raining outside.

We proceeded to our gate. Perfect timing. They were boarding our group about 5 seconds after we walked up. After boarding the plane with ease, we took off through the rain and soon soared above the storm clouds breaking through to the dawning sky. The first flight was uneventful and somewhat enjoyable. That’s saying a lot for a guy with a shoulder span nigh to 24 inches. When we arrived at Houston we had more moments than I first anticipated to find and board our next flight. There was an Einstein Bros Bagel company nearby and Sage and I got some super delish bagels. Sage was on her phone which was only slightly annoying, but I think more I was just anxious about not missing our next flight. It’s funny how that works. I know that I actually wouldn’t miss the flight, and the gate was maybe 200 yards away. But dammit if I didn’t twitch like it was miles away, and we were just sitting there pissing in the wind.

Approaching the line to board our plane to Vancouver, we realized that we would have to check our carry on bags. This came as some relief because its just a burden to lug an extra bag around. As we scanned our boarding passes on our phones and were walking towards the plan on the ramp, Sage thought it a great time to call customer service for Wifi that she just “could not use” on the next flight. While we were giving our checked baggage to one of the attendants, Sage was standing in the middle of the hallway (actually on the side) refusing to move while she called customer service of the Wifi provider. I didn’t know if I should linger with her or go on. I voted to go on towards the actual plane. It irritated me to great lengths that she couldn’t have just waited until we got uncomfortably seated to deal with this or wait until another time. But as with most things I get annoyed and mad at, it was in reality a much smaller deal than what I made it out to be in my mind. I sent her no less than two furious texts to “Come on!” (Which don’t really sound all that furious, but if my fingers could spit they would have.) Perhaps it just made me anxious and perhaps it was just foreshadowing that second awful flight.

For four hours we were crammed in a flying tin canister like cattle. I was crammed up against the window, but also invading Sage’s space in the middle seat in a big way. (pun intended) She really puts up with a lot that one. I love her to death. She also had some Xanax, of which I partook. (For which we give thanks.) It made that second fly nigh to bearable. When we boarded the plane, it felt stuffy and the temperature was between 78 and 80 degrees. These are not ideal conditions when cramming 150 full grown American adults in a small space. I was already uncomfortable and I was wearing shorts and a polo. I tried my best to ignore my current circumstances by watching TV shows on my kindle fire or as Sage refers to it as a “cow machine.” (She plays this game on hers that is similar to Farmville and Harvest Moon.) Sage would whisper close to my ear while I was wearing my noise cancelling earphones like I could hear when she spoke. I’d take them out and listen to what she said, respond, put them back in, then have to remove them again when she tapped my shoulder 5 seconds later. It makes me smile when I think of that. It was a little bit of a hassle to mess with my earphones even though they were wireless. Taking them out required unfolding my shoulders which was a feat in and of itself being that the seats were a foot and a half across.

What seemed like forever, finally passed and we began our descent into Vancouver. On the ground and out of the gate, we made our way past the giant Inukshuk on the wall down the stairs to customs. I’ve got to say, Canada has this customs thing figured out. We spent a total of 8 minutes going through customs, and 4 of those minutes was spent in the pre-customs bathroom visit. The process begins with a queue (obviously), then leads you to a bank of kiosks. When a kiosk is available, you punch in your information, scan your passport, grab the little print out, and head towards the next available customs agent. After asking you several awkward questions about why you are in Canada and why did you steal that guy’s parking spot that one time, they give you a look like everything you just told them is bullshit and surprisingly send you on your way. I waited around for Sage for a few extra minutes. Apparently, they grilled her pretty good. She probably laughed and smiled too much. “Why are you so happy? Are you turning red? Why are you embarrassed? Ma’am I’m gonna have to ask you to step over here….eh. Are you afraid of rollercoasters? Have you ever drank Bailey’s from a shoe? Ok, have a nice day.” (That’s the way I figured her interview with customs went.) Past customs we stepped over to our baggage claim area and spent about 90 seconds until we found our bags. Then we entered a line that consisted of asians and two white people. Those white people being us. I thought that we had to have our baggage claim tickets to be released into the wild, and I had Sage frantically searching for hers as well. It turned out that the only slip of paper we needed was the one provided by the kiosk printer. Luckily, we had both stuck those slips into our passports. We passed the guy who really didn’t even look at our slips of paper, and were suddenly released in the wild world of Vancouver, Canada.

Our first order of business was to exchange some currency. Sage was very excited to acquire some currency that looked and felt like monopoly money only larger. She handed the guy at the currency exhange a 10-dollar US bill and said she wanted to exchange to Canadian Dollars. The guy explained to her that after the fee it would be a very odd amount. I handed the guy a 50-dollar bill to exchange instead of the 10-dollar bill. It kind of felt like magic because the guy handed us back a slightly larger amount of money. Even after the fees I believe we got 60 Canadian dollars in various bills and magnetic coins. (That’s a quick way to separate American coinage from Canadian in your pocket is to throw a magnet in there. Canadian coins are magnetic, American coins are not.)

We wandered around past the taxi drivers and went out into what looked like a parking garage. We were looking for public transit, but not just any public transit. Vancouver and the surrounding cities have a light rail system that is akin to a traditional subway system. We followed signs up two flights of stairs in a structure that appeared to be a parking garage to the third floor of the structure. Now we were getting somewhere. Turning right after we got up there we were greeted by a subway platform and a waiting crowd of commuters. The kiosks selling transportation cards were only a bit confusing. Sage and I both held up the line of people buying metro passes because we didn’t realize that instead of one screen, we had to deal with 2 separate screens. (There was a separate screen and keypad for the credit cards.)

The subway was about standard as far as subway systems went. There weren’t a whole lot of folk traveling into Vancouver downtown this time of day. (It was around noon.) Sage and I lugged our bags to the very last car in the train and found some secluded seats in a back corner so we could have our luggage out of the way. There were around 11 stops between the airport and where we needed to get off. We listened to the conversation of what I assume were flight attendants. One lady sounded Australian. The rest of the flight attendant women were obviously Canadian. (Pretty evident through their speech patterns and accents.) They were discussing apartment sharing between flight attendants and various other flight crew and how it was a nice setup. When one was usually there, the rest were usually out on assignment somewhere. It was the most interesting thing happening at the time. Along with answering some of Sage’s whispered questions and neurotically checking my phone to make sure we didn’t miss our stop, (Which is funny because our stop was the terminus for that particular line.) I passed the time by looking out the back window wondering what Vancouver looked like. The landscapes outside the windows abruptly changed as the train moved underground. There were several stops in which all manner of people got onto the train and got off. All these people had stories and lives of their own. I’m sure they were very Canadian stories. “Oh Canada,” I thought to myself.

Our stop eventually came, and Sage and I disembarked ready to take on the whole of Canada. Canada would have to wait a second because we had to lug our baggage up the surface level. We emerged from the very Canadian tunnels onto a busy city street in downtown Vancouver. The temperature was a nice 55 degrees F or so. I was wearing shorts and a polo. It felt pretty incredible. Sage did not share this sentiment. I checked my phone and oriented myself in relation to the streets around me. We only had to walk about 200 feet to get to the bus stop we needed. We didn’t wait too long before our patience was rewarded with the 20 bus going directly into the neighborhood in which we were staying: West End. We got onto the bus, awkwardly swiped our metro cards, and moved towards empty spaces in the bus. This went over about as well as a pregnant pole-vaulter. Sage was very nonplussed through this whole experience. I was pretty impressed and relieved. I was already on edge and I hated feeling intrusive with all of our baggage in people’s way on their daily commute. Eventually, enough people cleared out of the bus that we could make our way comfortably towards the back. I kept a close eye on my phone for our stop because I knew it was coming up quickly and I didn’t want to miss it. As soon as our hotel came into view, I pulled the stop cord for the next stop. (I didn’t realize it at the time, but the next stop was the exact one that we needed to get off at.) We quickly exited the back doors with what seemed like our 200 lbs of luggage each and set about on the sidewalk towards our hotel. Finally, I could breath. I don’t know where this anxiety comes from. I don’t think if I was alone I would feel this way. Sage is a completely capable adult, but I think when we are together I feel fully responsible for her. She does me the courtesy of looking in my direction for leadership. However, sometimes she is panicked and comes at me with a barrage of questions when I am trying to juggle or sort through other problems. Men are very good at solving problems. However, being simple creatures, we can only solve one problem at a time. I am a man, we have one track minds. Therefore, I am no different.

Our hotel was a sight to see. The English Bay Hotel was clearly marked on the awning with the name also appearing in Mandarin Chinese. We were greeted by two nice ladies at the front desk. Surprisingly, we were able to check in early. (It was around 12:30 to 1p at this time.) We headed up to our room on the 2nd floor the establishment and found that our room was all the way at the end of the hall. For the part of town it was in and the price that we paid to stay there, it was a good deal. It had heat/air conditioning, a little kitchenette with a stovetop, microwave, sink, fridge, and a few other things. I’m pretty sure what had once been an 80-year-old apartment complex had recently been turned into a hotel. Our room’s large windows faced an alley which provided as much city noise as we could handle when one of the windows was open. It was incredibly hot in that room. We opened the window and turned the A/C on full blast. I flung all of my belongings haphazardly in several piles and laid down across my bed. It felt so very good to lay down. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, Sage descended from the heavens with an elbow drop directly to my stomach and/or solar plexus (whichever was more convenient). The future Mrs. Johnson made it clear that no matter how tired I was, there were no naps to be had this day. We were in Vancouver, and she was ready to wom about town. I got up and got ready. However, to be so “ready to go,” Sage took an awfully long time to get ready for our outing. This is the nature of things and I have accepted that.

There was a local coffee shop across the street from the place which we were staying. The place was nestled between an Estonian grocery store and a nail salon with a clever name that wasn’t clever enough to recall. Inside the shop was decorated with dark rich brown wood paneling and a variety of seating options. They served the standard fare for any coffee shop: sugary drinks resembling coffee, actual coffee, sandwiches, and various other small café items. The only regret I have from our visit to that place is drinking that wonderful coffee from a paper cup. My preferred method is from a large ceramic or glass coffee cup.

Once again brandishing our metro cards, we boarded a bus headed somewhere. After riding the bus for a short way, we decided to hop off and try our luck walking around. We discovered what looked like a bus stop except it was a boat dock on water. It was a stop for a water taxi to Granville Island. After paying the fare, we boarded the water taxi towards Granville Island. Turns out it was frustratingly short ride across the small harbor. I’d say maybe 800 to 1000 feet.

Granville Island Public Market was filled with permanent shops and rented booths much like any bazaar or farmer’s market. Noteworthy occurrences on that island were a visit to a hat shop where I found a hat I very much liked but did not buy, and Sage finding a dessert shop which she very much liked. The sweets were the only purchase made on Granville Island that day.

Back on Vancouver mainland, we strolled down the beach park lining the west side of downtown. It was combination of sandy shore and rocky bank. People were jogging, biking, pushing strollers, and sitting on benches on various paths above the sand and rock. The setting sun’s reflection was blinding over the water as we attempted to pause and take a few pictures here and there. Because the day wasn’t foggy, we were able to see all the way to Stanley Park from our vantage point.

As dusk turned to evening, we found ourselves in need of a good meal. Unfortunately, we did not find that which we needed, but rather a decent substitute in a local chain location of Public Houses. The service was decent, however, the local beer was disappointing to the taste. (I don’t suppose Vancouver is famous for it’s local brews anyhow.) Sage busily told the waitress our life stories as she is wont to do. Sage was fascinated to learn that her beloved honey mustard sauce for chicken tenders was non-existent in it’s mixed form in the country of Canada. It was only available as its individual components. Had something to do with food laws I reckon. Probably good for your health too.

With full bellies and merry hearts, we returned to the beautiful English Bay Hotel. (Which was anything other than English.) I didn’t spend a whole lot of time awake when we returned to the room. I was able to locate the shutoff valves for the radiators to our quarters. For which we gave thanks. Sage opened the window to let some fresh air into the place. I guess she shut it at some point, but I don’t remember. I do recall the various scents that drifted up from that alleyway into our window. The unmistakable odor of a left-handed cigarette was the last smell I recall before sinking into one of the more satisfying slumbers of recent memory.


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