September... my favorite time of the year. The bluest skies, the sweetest days, the beginning of fall with the first leaves turning from green to gold ... warm sun on your face, happy people enjoying the late summer, and warm dusks turning to cool evenings filled with stars.
What could be better? WELL!
I got a message last week from "Ma Cousine" "K" from Rosemere and she asked what I would be doing on the 11th of September... As luck would have it I had the entire day off, a full tank of gas, a good pair of runners and a need to break the routine my life has become and live in the moment for a little while. It was her first - and perhaps her last - trip to Vancouver, so she was hoping we would finally get a chance to meet and talk in "real time" instead of over the internet.
We agreed to meet at her hotel; we exchanged private messages over Facebook, traded phone numbers, I got directions and messaged her to meet me in the White Spot on the ground floor. I was so excited I could hardly sleep the night before and tossed and turned in my bed until WELL after 4:30 in the morning, but still awoke at about 8 a.m. feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. Up, showered, dressed, a quick morning phone call to my bestest friend "L", dogs fed, watered and sent out for their "business", pee pads down (JUST in case) and the SUV ready for the road. I left in plenty of time not knowing if road construction would slow me down... and made it into town in RECORD time!
Did you know? City parking meters don't take nickels any more????? I ended up plunking a couple in before I realized, and had to plug the SOB with my "larger coins". Had to laugh thinking how the meter collector would be filling up their pouches with dimes! I literally skipped across the street and stepped into the restaurant, saying "for two, and my cousin will be joining me"... with the biggest smile on my face.
And then, there she was! Smiles, laughter, massive hugs and chatter, and ( really!) misty eyes on BOTH of us. Chatter, catching up, ordering a quick breakfast (yes, I had dessert FIRST) we started on an impulsive itinerary that would make for an incredible day, starting with a drive to Stanley Park! I pointed out landmarks, gave a running commentary on some of the buildings and "K" took pictures out the SUV window to capture as much as she could. We went past the Fairmont Vancouver and down Georgia street, taking the "long road" around the park... past Lost Lagoon, Coal Harbour, the Yacht Club, Rowing Club and the Naval Base "HMS Discovery, a quick glance at the Totem poles that have been moved from Prospect Point to the area of Brockton oval, taking the slowest pace, past the draft horses pulling wagons full of tourists, leap frogging with the scenic buses... Brockton point was our first quick stop, and "K" photographed the shipping barges in the Burrard Inlet as they blew their horns travelling West, to stay at anchor in English Bay just offshore from Spanish Banks and Locarno Beach.
I was able to point out landmarks and works of art; statues of Lord Byron, Lord Stanley; the "Girl in a Wet Suit" just off the seawall near Lumberman's Arch; the hairpin turns climbing beside the Lions Gate Bridge Causeway; and the little overpass just before Prospect Point. We parked, laughed some more, chatted about our children, our favorite snacks, the view, the size of the trees, and the two of us walked down the hill to stand on the overpass and photograph the bridge, the two sentinel lions watching the oncoming traffic with their cement faces impassive. Back up the hill and into the gift shop to troll for the perfect postcards, and out to the actual Point for one of the most spectacular views in the world!
We resumed our "adventure", touring further down the hill and turning into the points of interest on the way; Prospect Point Picnic Area has been devastated by the storms of 2006 and will never be the same, but the Hollow Tree still stands and now we have a photo of the two of us, arms around one another, silly smiles, and genuine happiness on our faces. Further down the road to Third Beach and past the Pauline Johnson memorial. We again parked and bounced to the beach, walking over the sand to smell the ocean water, touch the seaweed washed up at the shoreline, pick through barnacles, mussel shells and clamshell fragments, overturning a couple of rocks (yes, I couldn't resist just ONE more time searching for little crabs!) then stopping to watch a cluster of seagulls before climbing the stairs.
Past the Teahouse, Ceperly Park and Lost Lagoon, I turned the SUV back onto the central road and parked in the Miniature Train lot, and the two of us walked to Stanley's Park Grill for lunch in the shade of the specimen trees on the patio. "K" wanted photos of the Pavilion and I literally took time to smell the flowers and toss my last "lucky" penny into the pond surrounding a gunnera in a raised pot, watching a large dragonfly hover over the ripples then dart away, and making a "wish"... we walked, still chattering and laughing, to the rose gardens with their last blooms fading. Still fragrant, last clusters of petals still clinging, and both of us taking in the perfume of a last warm summer day with deep breaths... and tasting the rose's fragrance on our tongues. A jog across the road, beneath the arbours, past the ginko, lilac, yew and close enough to the Vancouver Mounted Police stables to mix the smell of fresh horse manure with the roses. Then back to the car and back into the city.
Down Georgia street once more, the black glass of the Toronto Dominion tower showing the reflection of the Fairmont Vancouver. Further down the hill and into Gastown in a wide loop so "K" would be able to see the Gastown Steam Clock firsthand. I remember when it was first installed back in 1977 and the trouble they had tuning the damn thing! I looped past Harbour Center and took us East on Hastings to Main street and we poked into Chinatown, past the Dr. Sun Yat Sen gardens and turning back towards the mountains to take Hasting street all the way east... into my old neighbourhood and so into my childhood.
We took a left onto Renfrew where the skatepark at the old Hasting Exhibition grounds stands in place of the old buildings that were demolished years ago, to the juncture of Wall street and Renfrew... past new homes planted where I realized the offices for Western Gypsum and the overpass to Commissioner Road no longer exist. I drove past the homes of childhood friends - and enemies - and stopped in front of a sign that said "Dusty Greenwell Park" to walk down and listen to the train on the rails and stand where the grain elevator stood when I was small. Past the home I lived in until I was 12 with the rest of the family; the hawthorns in Burrard View Park looking sadly dead, the tree where my two best girlfriends and I hid and ate chips and candy nothing but a dead and still-standing skeleton, and the old "bad boys home" razed to create an off leash park for dogs and a gentle Hospice center in the midst of the park. The tennis courts still stand, but the pool is completely dry, and I felt a passing sadness.
We drove back towards Dundas and went West to Commercial Drive... and I parked up near Gravely (with a damn PERFECT parallel parking job, I might add!) so we could stop for iced latte at Cafe Calabria and sit in the warm evening air until the sun was nearly down... me talking non-stop with my glasses off my face when someone approached us to ask why did we pick there??? And it was an unexpected and wholly welcome Facebook "Friend"... and "L" I know you are one of my GREATEST fans! who called the "Tall Lady" to sip coffee and chatter with us... and a stroll along both sides of the street, looking in the windows at shoes and glass bongs and second hand furniture... and getting the chance to chat with a gentleman about his lovely dog, a very large and very sweet Brindle Cane Corso who leaned against me while a petted her and made much of her.... and made me feel like a little kid again for just a moment.
Dinner took us to Nick's Spaghetti house for their wonderful pasta, followed by a single large slice of what I had assured "ma Cousine" was the PERFECT cheesecake, and TWO forks! Then off on one of my "adventures"... but eventually driving up Commercial and Victoria to 49th, down Main street and along 44th to Fraser so we could glance at the shops selling Saris and fabric in Little Punjabi town... and south, south, south... to Marine Drive, New Westminster past the Heritage Grill filled with people enjoying the live music and waving at the Paramount Gentleman's Club on our way, north ... North Road to Lougheed, all the while relating memories of childhood and family and past experiences, good, bad and indifferent; making wrong turns in the dark, getting lost and turning around down Fraser and back to Clark Drive... driving west and down Venables through Strathcona, the Georgia Viaduct past Rogers' Arena and BC Place Stadium with it's "crown" lit against the warm night sky... and finally turning into the drop off point back at the hotel, happy and regretful all at once, hugging one another, kissing each other's cheeks, waving madly... and then the drive home in a daze of holiday happiness, and already missing her company, her voice, her smile..
Home to small dogs, a warm shower, a cool bed; hungry cats and puppy "pee time", checking messages.. and glad. So glad. Glad for finding family, and for living in the moment for a day without worry. For sharing common sorrows and common joys, for sharing stories and histories and personal secrets with one another. And for connecting with another much loved person, even though we have been far apart in distance, realizing we have always been close to one another in caring.
A day of joy... an adventure...