Tales of the City: November 2009

Fair Trade

The bike rack was empty. Disconsolate, I shuffled down Hastings muttering to myself. I had the crazy idea that I would see my bike. Suddenly, there it was: stationary, under the ass of an emaciated woman. “That’s my bike,” I whispered, shaking. “That’s my bike,” I repeated more loudly, outraged, crying, entering her space. She ignored me, then called me names, saying she’d bought the bike. Maybe she had, minutes before. “Give me $50,” she said, eyeing me. “But it’s mine,” I argued—my only argument. “Twenty, then,” she said. I checked. I had $10. As soon as I touched the bill, my outrage evaporated: she’d have taken anything. A five. A loonie. She grabbed the money and threw my bike on the sidewalk. Ashamed, I picked it up. It had already been adjusted to suit the DTES riding style: seat low, handlebars high. Kneecaps pumping around my ears, I peddled off Hastings as fast as it would take me. —Marguerite Pigeon

So Metro

I was riding the SkyTrain when I saw two young men in dust-covered jeans and hard hats arguing with a transit official on the Main Street platform. After a heated discussion with lots of swearing, the two men boarded and sat behind me, still complaining about the way this particular SkyTrain security officer had targeted them as potential fare evaders. “We’re just regular working guys,” they huffed at each other, “not criminals.” Then, apropos of nothing, one of them said to the other, “Hey, have you ever used those pore strips for the blackheads on your nose?” His friend responded, “Yeah, but those things are so expensive. I just use duct tape.” The first guy sounded doubtful. “Duct tape? Isn’t that too heavy-duty for your skin?” The other fellow enthusiastically replied, “No, dude, it totally works. Lifts everything out. Makes me feel fresh.” —Jen Sookfong Lee

At Last

In 1981, we carpooled in from the Valley in a van stuffed with kids and hand-painted peace signs. Blocks from Jericho Beach Park, I hoisted the baby onto my back where she kept swivelling to see the people streaming past. My 11-year-old led the way, smiling as if to remind us that peace marches were old hat to her. A knot of teens swept by chanting, “One two three four, we don’t want a nuclear war! Five six seven eight, we don’t want to radiate!” Our kids joined in. Just as I wondered if I’d see any Vietnam-era comrades, a hunched figure crossed ahead of us, his gait so familiar my heart shattered. Suddenly I was running like a madwoman, calling his name, the baby bouncing on my back. A decade-plus disappeared as he turned and smiled that sweet brown-eyed smile at me. “I’ve been looking for you for years,” he said. —Mary Tilberg


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Today’s Special

I have lunch regularly at Cactus Club, and once we’re settled into our booth the server always says, without fail, “Today we’re recommending the spinach salad.” Or the tuna tataki. Or the rocket salad. I always ask, “Why?” One server replied, “Because they tell us what to recommend when we come on shift.” Another said, “It’s part of what we do—we’re supposed to up-sell.” But the best answer I’ve had so far to my “Why?” was a cheerful, shrugged, “Why not?” —Jesse Spencer

Hello, Sailor

My girlfriend asked if I wanted to tour a Canadian warship. The HMCS Calgary was docked at Lonsdale Quay and she’d met the crew the night before at a pub. We dressed in our sexiest outfits, and as we walked down the dock every eye was on us. My friend was wearing a miniskirt, which made it interesting for the sailors when we climbed ladders. We were escorted to the mess hall for cocktails, then off the boat for a pub crawl. As daylight came upon us, I woke to discover I was lying on top of a sailor on a very small couch. When I got home I realized I’d lost my diamond ring. I think I lost it down his pants. —Shirley St. Pierre

Professional Distance

I ran into my doctor at a bar on Davie Street and we ended up having a few drinks together. Suddenly, mid-joke, I felt his hand on my ass. This was unexpected
but not entirely unwelcome; I laughed it off. But the next time I went in to see him he told me he could no longer be my physician. “I crossed a line,” he said, ushering me out. “But it didn’t offend me,”
I said. “And it’s impossible to find a doctor in Vancouver.”
“Sorry, can’t,” he said.
“You’re firing me?”
“Because you hit on me?”
“It’s an ethics thing,” he said.
It took me four months to find a new doctor. When I did, he asked why I left my old one. I told him the truth. “That’s a shame,” said the new guy, and then booked me for a complete physical.
Tom Little

Half A Sandwich

I was enjoying a cheap Chardonnay on a Gastown patio when I became distracted by a gaunt gentleman across the street. With questionable success, he was making his way in the world by opening the door for folks passing in and out of a parkade. My attention was caught when, in lieu of spare change, the uneaten half of a submarine sandwich was thrust into his hands. He squinted and brought it up within inches of his eyes, his doorkeeper duties quite forgotten. He unwrapped it, letting the wax paper fall and crumple beneath his feet. The plastic bag floated away. Then he squeezed the sandwich, hard, with both hands, as if convinced it would spurt out something he desired. —Sylvia Leong

Last Stop

Driving my bus route through the Downtown Eastside and over to Burrard Station I had a regular with a penchant for confusing the other passengers. He’d climb aboard at the beginning of the route, settle in near the front, and every few blocks call out the wrong stop. “Hamilton!” he’d shout as we crossed Carrall, and ding! the little bell would go, indicating someone wanted off. As we approached Cambie he’d call out “Granville!” and nearing Richards he’d holler “Howe!” One day, tired of dealing with angry passengers, I pulled over and, in front of everyone, towered over the man, who was scruffy and smelled of alcohol: “You!” I said. “Quit calling out stops! I’m sick of it and I’ll kick you off this bus.” His sheepish look satisfied me so I returned to my seat and pulled back into the traffic at Hastings and Main.
“Burrard!” the guy called. And ding! went the little bell. —Scott Hardy


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