Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Turn it up - 2.11

Airborne: Auckland to Vancouver, 12 hours 45 flight time. But hey, I’m in the fancy seats. No problem. I can just lay back, relax, and there’s a brand new episode of Top Gear to watch. Noooo problem. Nothing else to think about here.
A “Bing Bong” freezes Jeremy Clarkson on the screen, mid sentence.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, due to the heavy turbulence we’re suspending the meal service for a while. During this time bla, bla, bla…”
SHUT UP WOMAN!! I’m trying to ignore the crazy bucking of the plane, the rising and falling, that my “welcome aboard” orange juice is attempting to make contact with the ceiling.
The pilot promised us a little turbulence after take off, then a smooth ride, but we bounce our way across the pacific like a space hopper on a trampoline.
Eventually the pilot gets us through it and I get a few hours sleep, ready to cope with doing Friday all over again.
I only need to limp to a hotel, curl up and ride out the jet lag and I’ll be ready for Saturday night.
But that would be too easy.
I pick up my “Dodge Avenger” saloon, puzzled by the Mitsubishi logos, and that it looks a lot like an SUV. Hmmm. It also has a V6 badge, and nice seats, so I guess I’ll take it.
I head out of the airport toward Vancouver, then turn right. I’ve got another destination.

Last December feels like a lifetime ago. I was in a bar in Amsterdam when an incredibly good-looking blonde girl (mid-twenties?) walked in. She walked up to me and asked:
“Are these seats taken?”
“Yes, sorry” I blurted, inwardly cursing the temporarily departed occupants. Then I cursed myself. I’d assumed she wanted two seats but didn’t ask. If she’s alone I could find her a seat, give up my seat, whittle a flippin’ seat out of the end of the bar for pity’s sake man!
Another chance blown.
My good friend Kim arrived, but there were still no free seats by me. Kim went to talk to some friends, then spotted a couple of seats open up.
“At the other end of the bar, by that blonde girl.”
“oh, ….OK…..I guess”
Blondie was scribbling in a notebook and half-heartedly glancing at a TV showing football. I summoned up my best smile and with all my wit, flair and panache asked:
“Are you a sports reporter?”

..and that’s how I come to be heading for Port Moody, where Miranda lives.

Sadly we only had a few drinks and a couple of meals together in Amsterdam before life split up our burgeoning friendship. In that time I’d learnt that she’s completely different to me in so many ways. She dresses distinctively, laughs loudly and openly, smiles frequently and doesn’t show any cynicism. We use different language to describe the world, and have vastly different approaches, but somehow we work on the same wavelength, I admire her positivity and I feel energized by her attitude. She also shares my passion for the special things in life such as Scooter, Buffy, and Fisherman’s Friends.
I can only hope that Amsterdam wasn’t a fluke and that we continue to get on so well in Canada. But my cynical nature says she’s bound to be a nutcase in some way.

First, I get to meet her boyfriend, Roland. He’s the manager at a bar called Burrard’s which has hotel rooms, and he’s supposed to be putting a room key in my hand but gives me a pint instead. After a long flight and a long drive through traffic I need a lie down… but it would be rude not to have just one!

I get a room, a power nap and I’m back in the game. Friday’s thirty-eight hours old, but it’s still only 7pm.
Burrard’s is a fantastic Sports Bar. Lots of screens, lots of beers, friendly staff and chatty regulars. I ask a waitress:
“How’s your day going?”
and get the unwitting reply:
“Looong! How’s yours?”

Roland introduces me to the regulars and I’m chatting away when a guy says “I recognize you from facebook”.
I’ve just time to think “What the hell?” before he introduces himself as Sam, a friend of Miranda. Samuel Blondahl, to give him his full credit. He’s a sci-fi author, an interesting guy and I’m looking forward to helping him promote his first book at a convention tomorrow. But we’ll get to that ….hopefully.

“Another drink, sir” says the barman, handing me yet another beer.
“Oh,” I exclaim to Roland, “don’t we need to be going?”
We’re already late in meeting Miranda at the bar where she works.
“Yes. But if you don’t tell the barman you’re done before you’re two-thirds through, he’ll get you another one – that’s how it is here. Drink up”

Eventually we make it to the Irish bar where I finally meet Miranda. She’s every bit as lively, attractive, funny, whacky and loud as I remember, maybe more, and pleased to see me. It’s a shame she has to work while I’m in Vancouver.
“I’ve got the next 5 days off!!!!!” she screams. “What do you wanna do? What do you wanna do???!!! Tell me, now!!”
After 5 weeks in New Zealand. 13 hours on a plane, a 43 hour Friday and many beers, I’ve no fricking idea!!
But Miranda does, and we’re starting with the “Fan Expo” tomorrow.

A great night and an epic day concludes back at Burrards. As everyone sidles off in taxis I’m grateful I only need to climb the stairs.

In the morning I just need to get my stuff and my car to my downtown hotel. An easy enough task, except downtown’s gridlocked.
The Vancouverites are celebrating the date 4/20 by gathering to smoke marijuana openly. After a year in Amsterdam this seems like an odd thing to get excited about, so I fume in my car.
Eventually I reach the hotel, and head for the Expo. I know I’m getting close when a large woman in a superhero costume bounds past me on the street.

I’ve heard about Fan conventions before. I’ve watched a fair bit of sci-fi and recognize some of the star names and know the movies, but I’m still taken aback by the sheer enthusiasm of the fans. I walk around the show, smile at the stalls of witty T-shirt slogans, peer from a distance at the celebrities:
Uhura, Spike and Dru from Buffy, that scary bloke from Prison Break, David Prowse, Elvira….
But it’s the paying customers’ outfits that make the show special. People haven’t just bought a plastic uniform and a poxy light-sabre, they’ve gone the whole hog and made outfits of their favourites from sci-fi, manga, cartoons, video games…
“How long did your outfit take to make?”
“Oh. I spent hundreds of hours……. just on the holster”

Speaking of outfits, Miranda is dressed as Rainbow Bright. I’ve no idea what that is, but the outfit’s fantastic, and helping draw attention to Sam’s booth.
“Mercury” is Samuel Blondahl’s first book. He has the second ready to go and the third of the trilogy almost done. There’s a pile of books on the table so I skim-read the prologue and find myself torn between telling people about the book, looking at more people’s outfits or sitting and reading Mercury.

A couple more of Mir’s friends turn up. Les is quiet, Chris is anything but. He loves to talk to people, so drags me round the room, introducing us to anyone in an impressive outfit and posing them for pictures. I finish the afternoon with a camera full of images of green-skinned people.

Sam has a dinner date with Darth Vader. Roland has gone to work, and Chris is busy, but Les joins me and Mir for a nice dinner. Then we have drinks at the posh hotel where Miranda used to work: The Fairmont.
It’s turning into another big night. Sam rejoins us, but he has to be alert tomorrow: there’s a whole ‘nother day to go at the expo. Mir reluctantly also departs, leaving me and Les. I’m battered after lots of standing, and quite a bit of drinking so I’m only ready for one thing.
“Shall we go to the After Party?” asks Les.
“You betcha!”

…and what a party. I’ve never been in a club with so many people looking so happy and so willing to talk.
“What’ve you come as?” is usually an insult, but here it’s a great opening line. I meet Ghostbusters, Manga characters, some girl called “Faye Valentine” and several Doctor Who’s.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not up in time for breakfast.

Sunday, and expo again. No Chris today, but Roland’s here and dressed as, er, “Tuxedo Mask”? Miranda’s come as “Sailor Moon” today, which is a big hit with any Japanese people we encounter. Her dad is also here, and meeting him explains where Mir got some of her whacky, engaging, inspiring and puzzling nature from.

Sam is still working hard, pressing the flesh and smiling, until it’s time to pack up.
We head to some more great bars. Roland helps me work my way through seemingly every beer ever brewed in Canada. Eventually we arrive at Goth night. I’m expecting all kinds of madness, but it’s Sunday and pretty quiet. We dance to a fairly eclectic selection of music. It seems like anything’s OK as long as it’s not happy. The others leave me again since they have to get up early, but they don’t miss much.

In the morning I’m knackered. I miss breakfast again. The long good Friday plus a weekend of drinking, dancing and standing around has taken it’s toll on my legs. I wonder what Mir has in mind, maybe we could do some cycling to give my legs a change and get a bit of exercise.
I get a text:
“We’re going cycling round Stanley Park”

Miranda proves to be a demon on a bike. Sam and I are struggling to keep up. Though that could be because we’re trying to enjoy the view. Then:
Kerchunk! tinkle, tinkle.
That, of course, is the sound of my chain falling off.
I could fix it in seconds but I’m trying not to get covered in oil so it takes a while. Sam texts Miranda, who’s disappeared ahead.
I restore my chain to it’s rightful place and we set off again. Fortunately, the path is one long loop around the park so we don’t have to worry about losing Mir. Which is good, because she’s miles ahead.
Eventually me and Sam decide to stop and call her. I get Sam’s side of the conversation:
“Can you hold up?”

It seems Mir got Sam’s message and came back for us. Somehow we missed each other on a 3 foot wide bike track, and now she’s back at the start!
We stay put until Mir catches up. She’s been biking for ages but doesn’t complain, so we carry on, staying together this time.

The path is a beautiful ride along the water’s edge around the park, offering views of the city and out across the Pacific. We bike on to find a café and have a nice lunch. The weather’s fantastic so we sit outside and enjoy a wonderful day.

Later we go for a drive. First we stop at Tim Horton’s, a Canadian fast food institution, to collect what I’m told is fantastic coffee, though I’m no expert. Mir shows us the scenery north of Vancouver, which is spectacular. As it’s Spring here, there’s snow on the mountains, the only thing New Zealand was missing. We turn back as the sun sets and from a hilltop we get a wonderful view of the city at night.
There’s one more special treat this day. I take Miranda’s packet of Fisherman’s Friends to discover: They’ve made them resealable!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, and I finally make it to breakfast!! Miranda is picking me up and driving us to Whistler. It seems silly that my rental car is sitting at the hotel, sillier still that I still have a room at the hotel and we’re heading to a different one, but hey, that’s the cost of not planning ahead.
Roland is dying of the flu or something, but proves what an awesome guy he is by not objecting to us going without him.
As much as I love driving on an open road, it’s a pleasure to let Mir do the concentrating, so I can enjoy the sights, and the sounds.
Oh the sounds!
I mentioned that we both love Scooter, and to misquote one of their songs:
“Miranda, believe me, she likes it LOUD!”

We arrive at another Fairmont hotel in Whistler at around 4, still time to get to the pool and soak up some sun. It’s bizarre to be sunbathing in April with snow still around us, stranger still to realize we’ve actually got slightly sunburnt!

Dinner is very posh and very nice. Our waitress, Nicole, is fantastic and after one strong cocktail wants to get me “between the sheets”.
I’ve no idea what was in it but it was another nice drink.

I finally get to have a really good long talk with Miranda about what makes her tick, and what makes me tick. She’s like a Mickey Mouse alarm clock, all bright colours, expressive hands and character. I’m a Sony LED electronic model. Dark, black, with digital accuracy, cold and scary at first, but with hidden depths. We express ourselves in different ways, yet somehow, we agree what time it is.

Whistler’s pretty quiet tonight. The ski season is ending, there was a big event at the weekend but not much tonight. Everyone who is out is at one nightclub, but they’re playing dubstep, so we stay away. A barman suggests we could just go to one of the quiet nightclubs and make our own fun.
We head into Buffalo Bill’s Nightclub and find about four guys sitting at the bar, the rest of the place deserted. There’s a dancefloor though, and a pretty decent selection of tunes playing. Mir persuades the barman to turn up the volume (what did I tell you?) and we attack the dancefloor.
Soon a couple more guys walk into the club and join us on the floor. It’s weird, because the sound is more “loud living room” than club level, so we can actually hear each other.
One guy is French, the other Dutch, and they’re impressed I can understand both their native languages. (As am I!). Frenchy is attempting to dance close to Mir, but she’s practicing some form of Kung Fu dance moves, all fists and elbows, deliberately to keep him at bay.
Another guy joins us, but he doesn’t seem to realize we can actually talk, so just dances with us like we’re in a loud club, and everyone is too amused to tell him.

We have a great time, dancing to everything from hip-hop to classic rock, to reggae. Eventually the electronic DJ is strangled mid-tune and it’s time to go.
“Hey man, I thought you danced really well” says Frenchy… to me!!
Nobody’s ever said that to me.
“Er, thanks.”
“No, really. It’s rare to see a guy who can dance well.”
“Cool, thanks”

As we head outside the mute guy joins us, introduces himself to me and says:
“Your dancing was really good”

That’s it. I’m not going to go back to work. No more blogs, I’ve found my calling. I’m off to join Kylie on tour….

After so much partying this week we’re both feeling the strain in the morning, so decide to have a relaxing detox day. There’s time for another hour in the hot tubs before checkout. Then we have a posh hotel lunch of salad and a sandwich, before hitting the road back to Vancouver.
It’s another beautiful day, and the snow-capped mountains look incredible. It’s an odd ride back for me, as we pass through Squamish. When I came here on RTW1 I was at a real low. I was weary of travelling and feeling lonely, happy to be meeting so many interesting people but sad that I didn’t get to know them.
This time it’s one of the highlights of the trip. I wasn’t even sure if Vancouver was a good idea, didn’t know what I’d do here, and fully expected Miranda to turn out to be a nightmare.
Yet here she is, taking me for a drive through stunning scenery, with my favourite music blasting. Perhaps I should be less cynical and open to…

“Do you want to come to Laughing Yoga?”


Laughing Yoga, is apparently a real thing. With classes all over the world. There’s not the bending and stretching you might expect from the title, it’s about making each other laugh for an hour. This makes you feel better, happier, and is good for your health, since your heart and lungs are getting a workout. Even if you’re faking the laughter you still get the benefits. It sounds like something my mum would love.
But me?
Making silly faces and prancing around with a bunch of strangers?
Pretending to laugh manically and out loud?
Looking people in the eye while I’m doing it?
Not a chance.

“So do you want to come?” asks Miranda.
“Yeah, sure” I squeak.

First we stop off at Lighthouse Park to enjoy a walk – healthy day, remember? – then fight through the traffic to reach the class.
And it feels like a class, since we’re in a kindergarten schoolroom.
Miranda’s dad is here. As an expressive, creative, extroverted soul he loves this. Miranda, of course, also loves it. There’s three other people with us. The lady in charge, who acts like I imagine a kindergarten teacher to do, a lanky guy, who looks like he loves this stuff too, and a small Asian lady, who looks slightly scared, and somewhat perplexed.
But you know what, this is not so bad. Away from the judgement and mocking of everyday life, it’s nice to be in an environment were silliness and foolishness are allowed to spout freely.
We’re encouraged to fake-laugh until the laughter comes. So I’m laughing as hard as I dare. The cynical, unswitchoffable, part of my brain is fighting back:
“This is ridiculous. You’re making the sound but you’re not really laughing are you? You can smile, but your eyes give you away!!”

But that’s the genius. Because fake laughter is encouraged from the outset, it doesn’t matter if people know I’m faking it. I’m joining in, I’m having a go, I’m ….playing!
Miranda appears to be loving it. Her dad’s laughing like crazy, and the other guy has fallen to the floor in hysterics. The laughter’s infectious and at times I’m giggling for real. Sure it’s not as funny as say, reading one of my own blogs, but it is fun.

Surprisingly soon the hour is over and we’re asked to express our thoughts:
“That was one very weird hour” I say, “but I enjoyed it, thank you”. It’s definitely a workout, and if a miserable cynic like me can enjoy it, they must be onto something.

Roland’s clambered off his deathbed and come to join us for dinner at a nice Greek restaurant. We then bid farewell to Mir’s dad and head to another swanky hotel for one last drink.
I’d love to stay out late with Roland and Miranda but I’m tired after such a manic week, and with a flight to catch in the morning I have to call it a night. We head back towards my hotel, still blasting Scooter. And to the emotive high-pitched refrains of:
“Friends, we’ll be friends…..”
…it hits me.
I’m tired because I’m sad.
Sad to leave Vancouver.
Sad to head off on my own again.
Sad to leave Roland, as cool a guy as I’ve ever met.
And sad to leave Miranda. In Amsterdam I thought she might be an incredible person, but was bound to be crazy in some way. In Vancouver I found out in what ways she is crazy, and I like her all the more for it.
I really hope that, despite the distance, “we’ll be friends”
A block from my hotel there’s one last stop to be made. Roland and Miranda leave me in the car briefly, a sadness in my heart, a tear in my eye, until they return with a cup of Tim Horton’s finest for me.
But you know what?
It’s too late for coffee.

1 comment:

  1. It was a pleasure to meet you, I hope that the fates cross our paths again. I wonder still what you are looking for - out there in the world you travel so freely, may you find it well and soon. Until next time, cheers.