“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
“I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” – Alice in Wonderland
Have you ever done that thing where you imagine the end of a conversation you half catch as you walk along a street? You know, you briefly hear “I said, if she ever …” and your mind automatically fills in “uses my mountain climbing gear” or “buys another puppy”. Well, travel is a bit like that. You pass through places where people live, sometimes as an onlooker, sometimes as a participant, but you always move on before you get the full story.
We’re back in Vancouver. We’re also about to part company with Wayne and Cathy, who are off to cruise to the wilds of Alaska while Nanette and I spend some family time. What can we do to wrap up five weeks of wanderings? Tourists go downtown. Locals go to White Rock. As usual, we’ll do both. So, mid-morning and we’re all aboard the SkyTrain headed for Waterfront Station.
I love these rides. If you look out the window, you see little vignettes of suburban Canadian life – someone jogging, a truck unloading furniture, log rafts floating in the river waiting for milling and the thousands of other little things that happen in someone’s life, somewhere, every day. Or, you can just sit and watch the human dramas unfolding in the seats around you – there’s um – oh – everyone’s staring into their cell phones. Ok, back to looking out the window.
Waterfront is the place to be if you’re a tourist. Within three blocks, you can Fly Over Canada on a virtual ride, see one of the world’s few remaining steam clocks (which toots the Westminster chimes through steam whistles) or shop for anything from diamonds mined in the Canada’s Northwest Territories to cheap souvenirs made in China. One of my personal favourites is watching float planes dodge between the jet-skis as they try to take off or land on the harbour. Where are they going? Where have they been? Maybe they’ve just delivered vital supplies to some remote community. Or, maybe just another joy flight over the city.
We walk, we look, we shop (not for the diamonds) and soon it’s time to head back to the station. Hey, there’s a guy playing a piano in the middle of the park. We sit to listen. He plays something classical that I think I should know, then, when he finishes, simple smiles, gets up, and walks away. Before long, another guy wanders past, sees the piano, sits and starts to play. Kirsty explains – “it’s called Keys to the Streets. They just leave the pianos. Some people play, other people just listen.”
… Fast forward a few hours. Our little travelling band has reconvened for one last dinner together at the bay-side suburb of White Rock. We’ve fought the good fight for a car park, walked the boardwalk between the beach and the train line, and are currently chewing our way through some halibut and chips. There’s a seemingly endless stream of fancy cars rolling along the road that sits between us and our view of the sun setting over the opposite side of the bay (which also just happens to be across the nearby US border). We speculate what hidden force motivates people all over the world to get in their cars on a Saturday evening and cruise up and down a short strip of road. Our conclusion? We reckon they just want to be seen, and our job, as tourists, is to provide an audience.
Ah well, time to join the crowds again for one last stroll to the end of the famous pier before the sun (literally) sets on this chapter of our travels.