My first birthday in Vancouver, Trip on the Pacific Starlight, Porteau Cove

Today, for those of you who know me, is my birthday. For those of you who don’t, you’re excused. (Just keep in mind that you now know, and I expect to hear from you next year.)

Today was also day from hell.

Aside from the fact that it was uncharacteristically hot and muggy, it was also the second-to-last day to complete the work I had for the H-Spline group prior to their trip to Siggraph in Orlando. In other words, I hit the floor running at 07:05 this morning, and I haven’t stopped since. I am in a wee bit of pain, and I’m really tired.

Upon getting to work, I quickly started writing the remaining parts of the documentation (beta release, we’re still a ways from finishing the thing) before I was brought before the Almighty Dave (Forsey, the brain behind the H-Splines). Then I shifted work to working on the copy for the Rodin (the name of our 3D Studio MAX plugin) brochure.

Just before 16:00, I bolted out the front door, trying to get to the Skytrain as quickly as possible. Allison had told me not to be any later than 16:50, when she was going to pick me up. I don’t know what it was that she had in mind, but whatever it was, I expected it to be interesting, to say the least.

I got home, doused myself with cold water (in a vain attempt to cool myself off enough to put on some nicer (and inherently warmer) clothes. I shaved, dressed, and bolted downstairs to meet Allison.

Then she took me to North Vancouver, and still not telling me where we were going, pulled into the BC Rail passenger parking lot. This was my present. No, not the parking lot … and evening on the Pacific Starlight.

Several years ago, BC Rail started purchasing vintage railcars (I think the most recently built car was from the 50’s), and overhauled them to function as dining cars. Then they pack a few hundred people on, and take you for a ride up the line to Porteau Cove. The train reverses direction, and goes back down the line.

After a quick sprint to a Shell station to get some money, we boarded the train and took our seats. Allison impressed me highly by firmly believing that if your going to spend money, spend it well — she got the best seats on the train.

The train departed from the station about 18:30, and slowly moved westward through BC Rail’s yard. Allison thought it a little strange that the yard was considered one of the features of the trip, but for rail buffs (such as I consider myself), this is as good a feature as any.

We passed by the building that houses the Royal Hudson and the 3716, which are two steam engines BC Rail uses for hauling passengers and tourists to Squamish and back. It’s a trip I’d like to take some day. (I have a thing for steam trains, ever since riding my first as a little kid … the CN 6060, which ran between Toronto and Niagara Falls. It now rests at the Alberta Pioneer Railway in Edmonton.)

We passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, and entered West Vancouver. Many people on the train probably thought it very strange that so many homes (especially expensive ones — West Vancouver is noted for its very high property prices) boardered on the rails. Apparently, when the PGR was bought up by BC Rail, they had let the line go into disrepair. During that time, many homeowners were told (usually by real estate agents) that they could use the land on the rails. In the mid-70’s, however, BC Rail employees came along and told them otherwise. Many were not pleased.

Today, that’s an entirely different issue. The number of people who waved at us as we passed was very surprising … I had to actually wonder what these people did with their time — waiting for trains to pass by?

We wound our way along the line towards Horseshoe Bay, moving at a relatively slow pace. There were three reasons for which I thought of for the slow speed, but only two seem really appropriate: reducing the motion of the cars so people could eat, and so people can see the view.

And what a view. Wow. I mean that. Wow. It was amazing. It was such a relaxing trip, that I almost didn’t notice the lack of foot room under the table.

We sat at a table with a slightly older couple, Ian and Yvonne, who were celebrating their first wedding anniversary together. We talked a little (mostly on the way back) about everything, including the trip Allison and I are going on tomorrow.

The dinner was absolutely sumptuous. Allison had conned me earlier in the month into telling her what I would like to eat. In fact, the entire present was one big charade (I have to give Allison full credit for being completely devious), but I haven’t the least bit of a grudge for it. We both had a salmon dinner, which to date is the best fish I have ever had in my life.

When we arrived at Porteau Cove, we found (much to our surprise) that the jazz band that had sent us off in North Vancouver had beaten us there (which in all reality wasn’t that hard — the train moved that slow) and was still playing when we arrived. Very classy, non?

We had a 45 minute layover (for us to stretch our legs, and so the nicotine addicts could get their fix), so we wandered about a bit, looked at Porteau Cove Provincial Park (it’s a lot smaller than it sounds), and then wandered back to the train.

The trip back has us facing backwards (passengers are guaranteed to face forward during one half of the trip), but it was no less spectacular. We had dessert, which was a chocolate mousse-like (albeit much denser) quasi-cake, the name of which I completely forget.

Upon arrival back in North Vancouver, we returned to Allison’s car, and headed for home to finish packing and get ready to leave on our next great journey.

Canada Day in Vancouver, Lee Aaron, Fireworks on English Bay

Last Wednesday (1 July 1998), I celebrated my first Canada Day outside of Ontario. Until that day, I had always had the luxury of being in the same time zone (and twice being in the same city) as the National Canada Day celebration. I will say one thing — the celebrations out here just don’t come close to what Ottawa puts on show.

Allison and I rose late that morning, opting to catch some extra sleep. We then tried to figure out what it was that we wanted to do. Both of us had the day off, but with nothing particular in mind, we decided for a three-fold attack: IKEA, Canada Place, and Granville Island.

The first stop was IKEA, where we bought a few things that we needed around the house (a couple of picture frames, a second set of dishes, and a few kitchen utensils), and ate a quick lunch.

Then it was off to Canada Place to find some Canada Day cheer and celebration. It didn’t take long to find it — our first indication was a formation of World War II fighters buzzing the Burrard Inlet, laying smoke trails with each pass.

We walked right down to the hotel lobby, and wandered inside. While we were in there, we noticed a sign on the wall for the Canada Day celebrations. As tradition held, a large number of new immigrants were sworn in every July 1, and that day was no exception. Following the ceremony was a long list of performers. One in particular caught my eye…

Lee Aaron.

That’s right, Lee Aaron, Canada’s “Metal Queen” from the late 80’s. I hadn’t heard anything out of her in years, and I had periodically wondered what had happened to her (usually when listening to furnaceface’s “Ballad of Richard Iomi”). Allison and I thought we’d stop in and see if we recognised any of the songs she played.

One thing that I noticed right away as being odd: Her band was introduced as the “Swinging Barflies”.

It seems that Canada’s former “Metal Queen” now sings swing. It was, shall we say, a rather major change in her style. A rather discomforting change. We didn’t stay too long.

We went outside and started wandering down the pier (Canada Place normally functions as a dock for cruise ships). Along the way, we looked at some of the little presentations that had been set up. Allison (and I) found it very annoying that there was almost no uniquely Canadian presentation. We found a Mexican marachi band (who were almost completely drowned out by the singing swarm of Latin Americans surrounding them), and a Carribbean steel-drum band. Several food stalls, almost none of which featured a “Canadian” dish.

Aside from the RCMP demonstrations (nothing as fancy as the vaulted “Musical Ride”) and the infamous “Beaver Tails” (which, concidentally enough, the last time I had one was with Allison when we were in Ottawa four years ago), there was almost no Canadian identity floating around. It was a little annoying, but I reminded myself that Canada isn’t a melting pot, and we do our best to showcase each culture as best we can.

I still would have liked to see something made from maple syrup though…

Afterwards, we went down to Granville Island to get something for dinner. It was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but the traffic was still worse than usual. We didn’t stay long, just enough to buy some chicken, pork chops, and vegetables. Then it was off to home.

As we were making dinner, we made plans to meet with Tyler, and Mike and Michelle downtown to see the fireworks that night. It was a simple little process that we would have to change a little as we went along.

All the walking we had done that day had done a number on Allison’s feet, and she had a blister on her foot that could make most people break down in tears. So we ended up changing plans, and meeting the other three downtown.

No sooner than we had run into the three of them than I noticed something missing … my car keys. They were still in the ignition in my car. I ended up having to jog back to my car (Mike came along for the fun of it, so it seemed) to retrieve them.

The fireworks were nothing overly spectacular — the Symphony of Fire is much more impressive. But all things considered, it wasn’t that bad. On the way back towards our car, we ran into an old friend of Allison and Tylers — John Paul (known as JP). JP dragged the lot of us into the Hotel Vancouver for over-priced drinks. Allison and I didn’t get home until almost 02:00.

Late on 980705, I passed an important mark in my new life — I have now been in British Columbia for six months. I can’t believe that so short a time has passed since my arrival … all the things that I’ve done, all the things I’ve seen, all the things I still want to do, and it’s only been six months.

Of course, it’s been six months of me being without friends or family. It’s pretty rough at times. Allison’s the world to me, but even she can’t make up for my closest friends. There’s just something about the way people who know me. After the barbecue Allison and I went to on the weekend, though, things might change later in the future. But that’s yet to be seen.