Vancouver visit turns into Hitchcock meets Animal House


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It was a sweltering afternoon in Vancouver and I was doing what I do every time I visit the West Coast — sweating like a Butterball turkey on Thanksgiving.

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It was a sweltering afternoon in Vancouver and I was doing what I do every time I visit the West Coast — sweating like a Butterball turkey on Thanksgiving.

I don’t want to complain, but the only thing I don’t enjoy about visiting Vancouver is that everyone who lives here believes that air conditioning is a violation of their constitutional right to be uncomfortable and perspire heavily.

My wife and I flew here to celebrate a major family milestone — my Great-Auntie Ann’s 102nd birthday, a party we couldn’t attend for the last two years because of the pandemic.

For the record, I enjoyed an extremely emotional reunion with my beloved great-aunt, the highlight of which came when we toasted our Scottish heritage with a wee dram of single-malt whisky.

When we weren’t visiting with Ann, we drove around the city with my sister and her partner feeling mildly depressed because we realized in our heart of hearts that we could never afford to buy property in this sprawling city, home to the priciest real estate in the country.

In an effort to beat the heat, we spent a fair bit of time drinking ice-cold beverages in sidewalk cafes, which allowed me to practise wearing my new pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, which I firmly believe make me the spitting image of an agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

At one point, however, my sister’s partner suggested we should spend a relaxing evening barbecuing on the patio of his brother’s multimillion-dollar condo, which happens to be on the ground floor of a luxurious high rise a few metres from the ocean along False Creek.

It seemed like a brilliant idea because his brother happened to be out of town and the condo, along with having more bedrooms and bathrooms than my home in Winnipeg, also featured something extremely rare in this sun-baked city, by which I mean air conditioning.

The real highlight for me was the fact that as we sat on the patio eating crab cakes and sipping chilled white wine and salted lime lagers — a trendy new beer on the West Coast — I was able to stare about 300 yards across the water at B.C. Place stadium, the home of my beloved B.C. Lions football team.

Watching this stadium light up in the orange hue of the Lions’ uniforms made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but equally thrilling was the opportunity to pretend that we were living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

There I was, a semi-retired Winnipeg newspaper columnist, flipping burgers with one hand on the patio of a posh glass-walled condo, while using the other to wave casually at a never-ending throng of sweaty tourists and pedestrians and roller-bladers and cyclists flowing past our little enclave along the sea wall.

Tragically, we did have to deal with one unwanted intruder who decided to crash the party. I was standing at the grill and keeping an eye on our burgers when, suddenly, I heard the flapping of wings and my sister shrieking, “Look out!”

Which is when, burger flipper in hand, I spun around and was almost bashed in the beak by a seagull the size of a regulation basketball that was launching a sneak aerial attack in an effort to steal a plate of cheese slices stacked up beside me.

It was eerily reminiscent of an incident in 2018 when we’d visited for my great aunt’s 98th birthday and witnessed a seagull the size of Hulk Hogan steal a pizza slice directly off the plate of an innocent tourist outside the Granville Island market.

You will be surprised to hear this was not our only alarming encounter with nature during our weeklong visit to the West Coast. We spent our final day hanging out with my buddy “Jimmy the pilot,” who lives in Richmond just minutes from the airport.

Jimmy spent his career flying jets and he loves things that go fast, so we were not surprised when he picked us up in his new Tesla, which boasts all of the fancy features you would expect in one of these high-tech electronic vehicles.

But the only thing Jimmy wanted to show off was the feature that causes the car to emit a wide variety of farting noises intended to embarrass the vehicle’s passengers. Even my wife admitted she was amused by this low-brow add-on.

In a more elegant moment, we sat sipping wine on the back porch, looking out at my buddy’s sprawling acreage, wherein he and his wife grow enough vegetables — honestly, there was a squash the size of a nuclear missile — to feed a developing nation.

It was around then we heard a mysterious skittering noise on the trellis beside us and Jimmy’s keen-eyed son pointed and chirped: “Look, there’s a rat climbing up on the roof.”

And there was. This uninvited rodent scampered quickly out of sight, but, despite my well-documented history with mice invading our Winnipeg home, I was mildly unnerved by my first close encounter with a swarthy coastal rat.

They’ve never had a brazen rat sneak inside the house, but when their large, friendly dog decided to spend that night lying protectively at the foot of our bed, we found that even more comforting than air conditioning.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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