Belated 50th Birthday Weekend

As you might recall, I turned 50 a few weeks ago. We had a great party, lots of people, amazing food. But I felt, even before the shindig, that I needed to something a bit more special, the blatantly stereotypical “friends only” getaway to somewhere seedier, more dangerous.

For a weekend, it’s a bit hard to shuffle too far. Spending more than about 3 hours is really pushing the limits, which rules out most places to the east (NYC, as an example). Las Vegas fits the criteria almost exactly: there’s a reason their slogan is “What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas”. And that’s exactly what I was going to do.


Literally the day we were about to book tickets, the United States Supreme Court pulled the ultimate dick move and repealed Roe vs. Wade, completely unprompted. To say that this is causing some crazy destabilization is an understatement – people are literally being arrested for their browser history because their state was so quick to ban abortions after the announcement. And to think that “dystopia” used to mean a possible outcome, rather than a reality.

Suffice to say, we went to Victoria. And by “we”, I mean myself, Duane, and Jeremy. The three of us have had a long-running relationship over the years and they were the right ones for this particular event that I had in mind. Sure, I have many amazing friends, but surprisingly few who are willing to engage in an unannounced, unplanned, but entirely expected drunken bender. It also helped that Jeremy is from Victoria and knows it very well.

Alex drove Duane and I to the airport on Friday. Actually, I drove while Alex ate her breakfast. But at least it wasn’t a taxi and someone didn’t have to go pick up the car (and it wouldn’t be me; I’ll explain shortly). It was the first time either of us had flown the newest discount airline – Flair – and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, given the “arrive 3 hours in advance” notice that we got, along with the “you haven’t checked into your flight” reminder, despite already having obtained my boarding pass.

Having said boarding pass, it was right to security. Which was about what we expected – linear and slow. Not as awful as my experience in Heathrow back in March, but there were still so many people who seemed to utterly forget how to fly.

The Tim Horton’s in the Gate A wing was, bizarrely, nearly out of everything. I debated briefly on getting Chili’s for breakfast, instead, but Duane and I limped along with a lacklustre (for Timmy’s) breakfast sandwich and a coffee. It was enough to keep us going.

The waiting area was surprisingly full. It wasn’t even 8:10 when we sat down, far from our gate (because of so many people), but the entire area was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. (I do wonder, in hindsight, if this is because people are looking for alternatives to Air Canada and WestJet, whose services are desperately poor, these days.) We ate, drank, and waited.

Boarding was pretty much what we expected: slow. Again, too few people having flown before. We were Row 3, which I intentionally selected to get out of the plane as quickly as possible so we could catch the bus into downtown. I didn’t want to miss it.

Being a discount airline (the airfare was less than $100 before taxes and fees), there were no amenities other than a seat and the toilets. No drinks, not even water, and certainly no pretzels. Alcohol wasn’t even an option on the menu. It’s basic, but it gets you there. And unlike my experience with Canada 3000 a lifetime ago, I could actually sit in the seat properly without having turn because my knees were hitting the seat in front.

Ninety minutes later, almost spot on time, we were wheels down at YYJ. The door opened, and we were probably the first ones out of the terminal, waiting for the bus, which arrived about 10 minutes later. That whisked us to an exchange near the highway, where the 72 would soon then arrive, a double-decker.

We hopped off next to Victoria City Hall, walked down the road, crossed the harbour channel, to the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort. Jeremy was waiting for us at the fountain out front. Oh, yeah, Jeremy? He lives in Calgary, but he had flown out the day before with his family, who love being in Victoria. He was free to be with us, though he slept in his family’s room. It made the cot I reserved unnecessary. Oh well.

Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we dumped our bags in Jeremy’s room, and the three of us headed out into the almost-noon day without any plans at all. Other than we were likely to be drinking. A lot.

Knowing Victoria immeasurably better than I (having only been there twice before in the last decade), Jeremy set the pace. (Although his timing was curiously off. A “three minute” walk was a dozen. It would also be the last time I cared.)

Our first stop was Spinnaker’s, which can be pointed at as the first brewpub (selling liquor made in-house) in Canada, having challenged quite a few perceptions (and laws, provincial and federal!) in the mid-1980s. It’s an institution in Victoria, and for good reason. The beer, which is difficult to get outside of Victoria, is ridiculously good, even the stuff on tap. All of us started with flights. And as lunch was pretty much upon us, I tucked into a delicious bowl of seafood chowder, the first run of many seafood meals this weekend.

Then we made the mistake of trying one of the bottled beers. And I don’t mean one of the regular ones in a bottle – these are cask-conditioned, which is basically beer at another level, wedged somewhere between beer and brandy. It’s aged, it’s got flavours you won’t find anywhere else, and you drink it slow because it tastes so damned good.

We were a bit hazy as we departed for our second destination, Driftwood, a few blocks away. I knew Driftwood pretty well, as it’s readily available in Calgary. One of the best beers I can recall was an accidentally-aged Driftwood Ale that Jeremy had given me years earlier. And they did not let us down, providing some very tasty on-tap brews, and some of the best bao I can recall ever having eaten. Duane and I both walked away with additional bottles.

From there, it was off to Moon (formerly Moon Under Water). I’ll admit that I don’t particularly remember the beer there, though I do absolutely remember the Shaft. Shaft is a coffee liqueur that, when blended with equal parts half-and-half, is straight-up deliciously deadly. Duane and I each bought two bottles of gin and the Shaft. We were getting heavy. We stopped at the hotel, only a few blocks away (we’d basically walked in a triangle) before we headed back out.

I don’t remember the Drake. Well, I remember being there, I remember the esthetic and the ambiance, but I have no fucking clue what I drank. Or ate. If I ate anything. I assume I did, but I don’t know. Nor can I recall how long we were there.

Then we went to Local, which is a clubby-restaurant just off Bastion Square. Jeremy had been told that it was the place to be, and we seemed to get there early enough that the line to get a table wasn’t too bad. Sadly, the line was about the only decent thing. We were seated for nearly a half hour before even being recognized. At least the fish tacos were decent.

We weaved our way back to the hotel, deciding we’d hade enough for one night. I’m sure Duane was unimpressed, perfectly capable of going longer, but Jeremy and I were packing it in. That’s when we lost Jeremy for the night.

I woke not long after 7am. Besides the light (the curtains were drawn), there were the seagulls. According to a card thoughtfully left by the hotel, there’s about a million of ’em. I was amazed not to be hung over. I wasn’t even feeling off. I was, however, starving.

Having both showered, and Jeremy silent, Duane and I headed off for breakfast at Frankie’s Modern Diner, which Jeremy had recommended the night before. It was a good 20 minutes to get there, which was exactly what I needed. Even more so was the breakfast, which is quite good, and very reasonably priced. (We’ve come to the conclusion that maybe Victoria isn’t such an expensive place to live, compared to Calgary; the houses might be much more expensive, but everything else seems to be very reasonable.) Jeremy caught up with us not long after our breakfast arrived.

We ran into Jeremy’s wife, Melody, and their kids as we headed out of Frankie’s. Duane had reminded me of Alex’s request to find a geocache for her while we were there. Both Jeremy and Duane were in for the walk – Jeremy needing to clear from the day before, Duane needing to clear the breakfast – and it was a gorgeous day.

We walked up Government, periodically looking in stores, before we got distracted at Pandora Avenue, and ducked into Chinatown. We found a Dim Sum restaurant and I immediately half-regretted breakfast, Dim Sum would have been just that much better. But we’d eaten, it was still early, and the Dim Sum restaurant wouldn’t open for another half hour.

At the foot of Swift Street, we found the soon-to-open Craft Beer Market. But not open soon enough, as it was still under construction. COVID has caused many delays, including denying us a Craft experience. One day…

We went down Store Street until it turned into Pembroke, and we started heading east. We passed the Phillips Brewery, and were rather shocked at how big it is. I knew Phillips was large, but they’ve well exceeded “micro” at this point.

We were aiming for a marker on Google Maps that Alex had sent me, the location of a geocache in some small, dry park wedged in between a bunch of middle class (for Victoria) houses. It was a long walk, taking us through some interesting little neighbourhoods, many with interesting quirks like telephone poles being painted with murals for the bottom six feet. Jeremy would periodically interject with some of his personal history (none of which I will repeat here).

The geocache was not found. Although I had the right location, it had gone missing, having been DNF’d several times. I was a little annoyed, but in honesty it was a walk I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and Victoria really is a beautiful city once you get off the main roads.

On a suggestion from Jeremy, we headed to Hillside Shopping Centre, about ten minutes further east, to pee and to get a cab back downtown (none of us wanted to walk back). We got stood up by the taxi, however, and ended up having to take the bus.

Upon returning downtown, we had the “well, now what?” moment. And Jeremy’s comment the day before about having taken a harbour tour came to mind. At 13:00, our little harbour ferry – same as the ones that ply False Creek in Vancouver – took us on our a guided viewing of Victoria’s inner harbour.

The ferry’s captain – apparently they hire only actual (retired) sea captains – knew the waters very well. We went under the new Johnson Street Bridge (a bascule lift bridge that, regrettably, we never saw open), then along the north shore to West Bay, offering up his take on the harbour and its history. We stayed on the inside of runway.

Yes, runway. Victoria Harbour is one of the largest aquatic runways in the world, and one of the busiest water airports. The runway has to be kept clear of all boats less than 65 ft in length (and I suspect those over 65 ft have to declare and schedule their transit through the runway). We saw a lot of float planes while we were there. I seriously considered taking one to Vancouver.

We saw many large boats, some very fancy houseboats (“floating houses”), seals basking on rocks, before we cut across the taxiway (the landing strip is in the inner harbour, the takeoff is in the outer harbour, the taxiway connects them) before stopping at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Once upon a time where all the fishing vessels docked (there’s still a few there), it’s now mostly pleasure vessels and a number of not-as-fancy houseboats … and restaurants. Needless to say, there were also a lot of tourists. And some really stellar fish and chips.

We returned to the docks near the Empress and determined our next course of action: beer. It had been nearly eighteen hours since our last beer, and Jeremy and I were finally ready for more. And that meant checking out Phillips, which I’d been very curious about since we first decided to go to Victoria.

Although we had one stop in between. Jeremy knew of a local photographer, Sean Schuster. He wanted us to see some of Sean’s work in a nearby gallery. And Jeremy continued to direct us well, for the first thing I saw when I walked into Sean’s gallery was a gorgeous picture that I was convinced was backlit. Lo and behold, Sean himself was there, and promptly informed us that it wasn’t.

Thus began a lesson, not in photography, but in printing. Sean had a mentor whom I would possibly kill for – Sean has learned more about photography by learning the act of printing than most people will ever learn by looking through a viewfinder. And it shows with his work. And his work is printed on old school papers that are so awesome that when the colour of the light changes you might as well be looking at entirely different photograph. (Sorry, it’s been a few days and my mind is still blown by his demonstration.)

My mind was still reeling by the time we got to Phillips, which – for the record – has a great tasting room. If you’re in Victoria, go. The beer is good, the staff is good, and it’s a really neat room. But I’ll admit that I still wasn’t feeling the need to drink, let alone as much as we had the night before. A flight, a pint, and a gin and tonic, and we were done.

And hungry.

Our next stop was dinner: Sen Zushi, on Fort Street, between Quadra and Vancouver streets. And I will state, for the record, the best Japanese I’ve had since I was in Japan. Utterly blown away. And, interestingly, left wanting for more.

During dinner, our waiter – clearly an immigrant from Japan who hadn’t quite mastered some of English’s rather stupid nuances – informed us that the kitchen had to close because of a possible gas leak. It almost broke my heart (and maybe Jeremy’s, too) because we were still expecting nigiri and sashimi and OMG the rest of it was so good that it felt awful not to get any. But we had actually eaten enough that we weren’t hungry when we left. I will be returning.

But the night for us was winding down, and we headed back to the hotel. We went to the hotel’s restaurant patio, which I was very disappointed to find was a narrow, walled off (in glass) area. We were seated next to a woman who had zero clue how to be a parent to her five year old boy (boy was loud, shirtless, threw his toys everywhere, and the woman could only complain about the food that her child refused to eat). We chatted and nibbled.

Breaking for the night, Jeremy went to his family whilst I took the opportunity to take a few dusk pictures of the harbour. I had only my iPhone, so they’re not great pictures, but the best camera you have is the one in your hand.

Duane had an early flight on Sunday, so he was off before 8:00. I’d said my goodbyes to Jeremy the night before. I checked out after I showered, heading for breakfast, which ended up being the Irish Times Pub. Jeremy had hinted it was a lacklustre chain, and he wasn’t wrong. But it was coffee and breakfast. From there, I walked down Government to the Parliament buildings to catch my bus to the ferry.

No, I wasn’t flying home. Remember that bit about picking up the car? This week, we’re in Ruskin. Alex is driving out with the girls today (they left on Sunday), I’ll see them this afternoon. But I had to get from Victoria to Ruskin on my own, and my route was … not exactly direct.

Bus from downtown Victoria to Schwartz Bay. Ferry from Schwartz Bay to Tsawwassen. Bus from Tsawwassen to Bridgeport Station near the airport. SkyTrain from Bridgeport to … well, at that point, I didn’t really have a plan, other than get off somewhere around downtown and wait until I could catch up with Jen and Rob, which was where I would spent the night (and am right now) in North Vancouver.

The trip was wonderful, in all honesty. I mean, it was nearly five hours to get from the first bus stop until I got off at Olympic Village on False Creek, but there were no delays and I even had a travel buddy, a 40 year old woman from Guelph (whose name I neither learned nor asked for) who had just completed a solo hike of the West Coast Trail and was herself going to downtown Vancouver. We crossed paths numerous times, joking about it the whole way, until we finally parted at Olympic Village.

Thwarted in Victoria, I had lunch at Craft Beer Market in Vancouver. The beer tasted better. I was relieved to finally sit to eat, mostly because I’d been carrying 15 kilos (or so) of booze. Remember those bottles that Duane and I bought? There were six of them: two large beer bottles and 4 liquor bottles. And my hands were in agony hauling them around.

I was in no rush to eat. Two beers and two waters later, I was ready for my next bit of … wasting time. I wasn’t to see Jen and Rob until nearly 19:00, and even with five hours of travel, I had four hours to spend, lugging around 15 kilos of booze. And my laptop bag.

Opting for a False Creek Ferry, I headed to Granville Island, where I hoped to spend a couple of hours wandering. But it was a hot Sunday in almost post-COVID Vancouver – I had never seen so many people on Granville Island before. There were easily twice as many as the most busy I’d ever seen it, with more cars than I thought possible on every inch of roadway (they really need signs to warn people away when it’s that busy, people were probably trapped inside for an hour, trying to get out).

But it wasn’t a total waste of time: one does not go to Granville Island and not walk away with a dozen Siegel’s Bagels.

I ferried back to Science World, walked to Main Street station, and took SkyTrain to Waterfront. Still having time to kill, and I was still hungry, I went to Steamworks, next door.

Steamworks has been a Vancouver landmark for decades. I don’t know when it was opened, I just know that it’s been there a long, long time. The bartender was Irish, from County Kerry. I had (more) seafood chowder. It wasn’t as good as Spinnaker’s, but I would happily have it again.

Finally close enough to time, I walked down Water Street, hooked onto Alexander Street, and took a table at the Alibi Room. I secretly hoped to run into someone I knew, but I ended up in a room of a few strangers. I stalled, not really wanting to start without my cousin and her husband, drank water, and looked at Instagram.

Suddenly, I was caught in a bear hug as Jen apparated next to me. And the evening officially began. And I do wish I could relate all the things that we talked about, but I can’t, because there was just so much. But the beer was great, the food (mussels and clams) were fantastic. Then we headed back to their place, where we continued chatting until the wee hours, before I was approaching collapse from exhaustion. We might have covered 15% of all the things Jen wanted to do.

Which just means I’ll have to go out there again.

And that brings me to now, sitting on the couch I slept on (which is insanely comfortable and I want one of these very, very badly), sitting at my laptop, getting ready to plug in my 7+ hours of remote work, which will be my pattern for the rest of the week (although I’ll be in Ruskin). Jen and Rob have graciously offered to drive me out to Ruskin, which is partly so they can also visit with Allen and Jean, whom they haven’t seen in a very long time.

It’s been a wild three days. It’s hard to believe it’s only three days. But then, these kinds of trips are the ones I love most.