Friday, July 31, 2009

...And the Living is Easy

We just don't DO heat in Vancouver. For most of my time here I've brought sweaters with me to the beach even at the height of summer. Outdoor sports are always an option. Venturing out for a walk after dark requires a coat. Period. Popsicles are this thing they had in my previous life where Ontario temperatures demanded a diet of frozen food to the exclusion of all else. And so when the recent record-breaking heat wave hit our lovely coastal city no one was prepared. The heat was akin to a great natural disaster and emergency rations in the form of ice cream and fans were suddenly required.

For my own part, I definitely didn't see it coming and the oppressive heat was a shock to my system. I didn't want to eat and the only sustenance I could manage for lunch yesterday was a Canadian Colada with soy milk from Booster Juice. If it wasn't cold I wasn't going to eat it. Before bed two nights ago M. and I were forced to cuddle with an ice pack between us, because it was just too damned hot for skin-to-skin contact of any kind. I'm betting that we haven't been the only ones resorting to desperate and insane sounding measures. The problem is that there's just no where to escape to. No one has air conditioning. M. and I don't even own a fan. And so the intense heat has driven people a bit batty as their brains begin to swell in their sweat soaked heads.

I'm currently hosting a guest from Windsor who has been dismayed to find that the deadly Ontario summer has followed her to the West. Last night we sat on my balcony praying for a breeze to stir up the heavy air. As I sat in the dark trying not to let any of my body parts touch each other and thus generate more heat, I suddenly found that there was something rather pleasant, or at least somewhat amusing about this touch of real summer. There was very little movement outside, very little noise. There was something slow and plodding about the atmosphere as everyone was forced by the heat to take a time out from their lives and just sit still, perhaps talking, perhaps sipping cold drinks, but doing very little else. Lights were mainly off in an attempt to maximize coolness and the streets were emptier than usual. The city had dropped out, exchanged its normal hustle for long summer evenings, ice cream floats, and hushed conversation. There was something about it that appealed to me, despite the sweat soaking my clothes and the feeling that motion of any sort would be a huge mistake.

Modesty has also been dispensed with as, really, it's just too hot for clothes. Don't worry, I've been wearing clothes anyway, but I can't say the same of all of my neighbours. As my Windsorite friend and I stared out from my balcony we saw a man emerge from the apartment building next door. After a moment of confusion it became clear that he was not wearing even a scrap of clothing. He stood in the slight breeze for a few moments letting everything hang out, not caring that he was exposing himself to whoever else might be out on their balconies that evening, not caring that social decorum demands that you cover yourself to some extent when you venture out in public. It was hilarious yet somehow poignant because it spoke to the animal nature in all of us. We respond to our environments and the environment says clothes are a bad thing when the humidex reaches 38 degrees. And so I sit idly and watch the summer, engage in the sedentary, listen to the hum of mosquitoes flying in my open window, embrace the slow drip of my kitchen faucet that I am too hot to get up and fix, exalt in a few days where it's okay to do absolutely nothing because it's just too hot for judgement.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Motels, and Hostels, and Bears. Oh My!

M. and I recently took an eight day vacation to Banff to see the Rocky Mountains. I was incredibly excited about the trip because, though I have been in the West for three years now, I had never ventured East of Oyama. Trying to keep costs down we opted for camping at Lake Louise but decided to splurge modestly and stay in a motel our first night in Kamloops and a hostel our last night in Jasper. I'm a planner by nature so I booked both of these accommodations well ahead of our trip so M. will undoubtedly blame me for the outcome. I figured that the comfort of an actual bed would be ideal for the beginning and end of the trip--the beginning because we would want to be rested for the long drive to Lake Louise, and the end because we would want to be rested for the long drive back to Vancouver and would also be craving a respite from camping. What I didn't anticipate was that our campsite would turn out to be more luxurious, clean, and classy than either the motel or the hostel turned out to be. I had no idea that a motel could somehow manage to be dodgier than sleeping on rocks on a thin camping pad while the temperatures plunge to nearly freezing even though it's the middle of July. But Kamloops managed to produce just such a motel, which M. described as "more ghetto than ghetto."

We arrived in Kamloops late and had a bit of trouble finding our motel. Upon arrival I was immediately suspicious. There were strange folk about. People in large, souped up vehicles, who despite their fancy cars looked destitute. Or perhaps they were destitute BECAUSE of their fancy cars. When we rang the bell for service at the desk, a woman in her pyjamas appeared from the back and gave us our key and dispensed with any pleasantries. When we opened the door to our room we found what, I can only guess, was once a prison cell that had been tastelessly transformed into cheap accommodations for unsuspecting travellers. I knew I was in trouble when the only decoration on the white washed concrete wall was a framed sign proclaiming the supremacy of Jesus Christ. This was positioned across from a bare light bulb and a clunky old air conditioner. We also found that our bathroom faucet leaked, the extra lock on our door had been broken off entirely, and our refrigerator was so noisy it was impossible to sleep with it on.

M. and I decided to go straight to sleep and get up early to escape the dodginess. We also decided against showering since neither of us wanted to come in contact with any surfaces in the room. I checked the bed and sheets thoroughly, and though they weren't what you would call immaculate they seemed acceptable enough for sleeping on. So I climbed into bed and proceeded to spend much of the night feeling itchy and believing I was being devoured by bed bugs. I was relieved to escape quickly the next morning and have a decent breakfast at a diner down the street. I gave a nod to the Jesus sign as we left assuming that it was in place as a charm against the serial killers, zombies, and vampires who presumably frequent the motel. Seeing as I hadn't been hacked to bits with an axe, eaten by the living dead, or had all the blood forcibly removed from my veins, I figured that the charm must have worked. I wasn't even really attacked by bed bugs, which was a great relief.

In comparison to the motel camping seemed down-right cozy even despite the fact that it poured rain for two days straight right after we arrived at our campsite. We had sunny skies from Vancouver to Kamloops, Kamloops to Radium, and Radium to Lake Louise. We set up our tent on a gloriously clear summer day in the mountains and as soon as it was up it started to rain. The nightly temperatures were frigid, and the damp made making a fire near to impossible. But our tent didn't leak and we had the foresight to bring thermal underwear so we made it through the nights in relative comfort. Alcohol helped this. As did the joy of roasted marshmellows, Jiffy Pop, large quantities of Kettle Chips, and of course the sausages and bacon required for any real camping trip. It did eventually clear up and we had a few days of sun at the end of our camping adventure, but I was still looking forward to sleeping in a real bed at the hostel in Jasper, in a room that wouldn't feel like a freezer by midnight.

Okay, the hostel room didn't feel like a freezer. It felt like a sauna. And there were massive holes in the screen that had allowed in scores of mosquitoes the size of Chihuahuas. If there were no vampires at the Kamloops motel there were certainly vampires here--tiny little flying blood sucking insects that were buzzing all over the place. Our room was also the location of a mosquito graveyard. A windowsill near a closed window contained the bodies of over a dozen mosquitoes who presumably roasted in the sun trying to escape. M. and I procured duct tape from the front desk and proceeded to do a DIY job on the holes in the screen. We intended to come back later in the evening and kill every mosquito in the room before going to bed but in the meantime we decided to escape the cooking hot hostel and tour around Jasper until nightfall.

We were both feeling tired and discouraged, though my spirits were lifted slightly by the discovery of a yarn store in town. I happily perused a children's book about animals receiving knitted gifts from a beneficent sheep. The book had tiny pieces of knitting that you could touch. I wondered if it would be a bit premature to buy it and was almost on my way to the counter with the book when M. made me put it back.

After the knitting store, which I believe M. was happier to escape from than he was to escape from the mosquito infested hostel, we decided to sit in a park by the train tracks where we could see the mountains, and wait for sunset. What we saw instead was about thirty people standing on the ridge overlooking the tracks, seeming rather rapt. I figured they were looking at the view and wasn't keen to investigate further, until someone said "it's a bear!" So M. and I mustered up the energy to climb to the top of the small ridge and look at the bear that was snacking on something unidentifiable on the tracks. Our spirits were infinitely lifted by this extremely cool wild-life sighting and things got even more exciting when park rangers came out in a pick-up truck to fire at the bear with flares and scare it back to the forest. After that we were so thrilled that the mosquitoes didn't seem so bad. Our room was cooler when we returned, and after successfully massacring the remaining mosquitoes we had a decent sleep. And though I had a wonderful trip (which I will likely write more about in subsequent entries) I was overjoyed to return to my own bed, in my own apartment, where I'm warm, and clean, and safe, and happy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bouquet Hunting

It is true that for the past year I have been trying unsuccessfully to catch a bouquet at one of the many weddings I seem to be attending. M's friends are getting married in droves ("dropping like flies" says M.) which has afforded a number of opportunities to catch the bouquet and declare myself the next in line. I did actually catch a bouquet about 5 years ago at a friend's wedding, but clearly that one didn't work or I should be married with a brood of screaming children by now. One of my friends made a valient attempt to catch that particular bouquet and I snatched it out of the air in front of her. My theory is that she was meant to catch it, because she actually got married this year, and I remain unwed, so I can only conclude that the bouquet magic all fell off on her even though I caught the physical item. So that has meant needing to catch another bouquet cleanly enough that no wedding fairy dust sprinkled off on other bystanders. And so I have become a ruthless bouquet hunter.

There have been three WN09 weddings since last year as well as another wedding for a childhood friend of M's. This has meant a whopping FOUR opportunities for bouquet catching. The first WN09 wedding last spring involved a creative "first date" toss consisting of a package of gift certificates reproducing the bride and groom's first date. This was a really cool idea, but alas meant that there was no bouquet to be caught. The second WN09 wedding last summer did indeed have a bouquet toss and I was sure I was going to catch it. But sadly I wasn't even close. At the childhood friend's wedding I was again certain of success, and even felt the bouquet breeze by my head. But no luck. Though disappointing, these misses allowed me to quietly hone my bouquet hunting techniques, unbeknownst to M. of course, drawing myself ever closer to my goal.

Here I share with you the secret to catching a bridal bouquet:

1. Position yourself near the front of the crowd of eager unmarried girls. Chances are that the bride isn't going to toss the thing that far and standing in front means that you can take a home-run style dive for it if it falls short or a slam-dunk style leap to catch it if it looks like it's going over your head.

2. Position yourself next to girls that are shorter than you, girls that appear to actually not want to catch the bouquet, or girls that are wearing very high heels that will impede their movement. Thus positioned you give yourself an advantage in mobility.

3. Wear flat shoes, which will allow you a better burst of speed than those cramping their feet into 6 inch stillettos.

4. Make eye contact with the girls around you and look deeply determined. This will intimidate your competition and make them less likely to fight you if two people get their hands on it.

5. Make eye contact with the bride and beg her silently to throw it directly to you. This is a bit desperate but has now worked for me twice. Brides are generally happy to pass on engagement bliss to someone who clearly desires it.

6. Get yourself into a wide legged stance to improve balance and put your hands in the air so that you take up as much potential catching space as is humanly possible. Cooincidentally this is also how you should stand if you encounter a bear in the forest and so it might make you look scarier to those around you.

7. Grin like a maniac at your boyfriend if you have one and watch how uncomfortable he becomes while he hopes to God that you won't catch the damned thing.

8. If you manage to catch the bouquet, a short victory dance is required.

At the third WN09 wedding this past Sunday I was able to implement all of these steps and acheive bouquet catching success! With my hunting trophy in hand I danced over to M. who was wearing a rather stunned expression. The wedding photographer took a picture of us--me grinning gleefully and M. wishing the floor would open up and eat him. The photographer than offered M. his card!

"The stars are all aligning" said WN09 member RR and then proceeded to give M. the gears about impending proposals.

My job now, so far as I can tell, is to wait... :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Day at the Spa

When imagining deep relaxation, luxury, and pampering, people (okay, women) will often think of a spa massage, complete with almond scented massage oil, hot towels, and soothing music. So when I found myself headed for a Stagette at a resort on Salt Spring Island I immediately decided to splurge and booked a 1.5 hour full body massage. My therapist was a middle aged Indian man with a thick moustache and an even thicker accent. I was having a bit of trouble understanding his instructions as I stood in the massage room. I eventually pieced together that I had a few options in terms of my state of undress during the massage and that my decision about this state would impact the type of massage I was going to get (purge all dirty thoughts now! That's not where this is going!). I could either wear my own underwear, put on these really weird paper underwear that were provided, or suck it up and take it all off in front of a complete stranger.

I carefully considered my options when the therapist left the room. After inspecting the paper underwear and deciding that I wouldn't be able to figure out how to put them on even if I wanted to I opted to go nude, seeing as I had paid for a FULL body massage after all. I pushed aside shyness and climbed under the provided sheet. For the next hour and a half I was doused with what I imagine to be about 6 litres of massage oil. This guy was a little trigger happy with the massage oil dispenser he had by the table. I began to feel that even a slight push would send my slick body flying off the massage table and down the hall. I was pretty sure that with the amount of oil on my skin I would produce absolutely no friction and slide forever kind of like Chevy Chase on his snow saucer in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Thankfully I managed to stay put.

The massage itself was quite relaxing but there were definitely some oddities. For instance, the illusion of modesty that the therapist attempted to create for me. He would very carefully drape the parts of my body that weren't being immediately massaged, but let's face it, he saw everything. He might drape my lower half while massaging my chest, tuck the sheet under one leg while massaging the other, cover my calves while working on my glutes. He definitely saw everything. Just not all at once. It was truly bizarre. I wanted to shout "look, don't bother with the stupid sheet. We both know you've just been massaging my pectoral muscles, which, I'm sure you've noticed, have boobs on top of them. So quit with the pretenses and get on with it!" I stayed quiet though and listened to the flute music that was playing softly in the background.

At one point he asked if I minded if massage oil got in my hair. I figured that I didn't mind if a bit got into the hair at my neck while he was massaging it, so I said "no problem." Instantly I found my head doused in hot oil! It was like a whacked out baptism. First I was anointed, then the oil was rubbed into my scalp, just to make sure it would be extra difficult to wash out. It was really too late at that point to do anything about it, so I resigned myself to a very long shower and enjoyed my scalp massage.

When I finally returned to my cabin wearing nothing but a bath robe I assume I looked as if I had gone through a blender. My hair was soaked with oil and sticking out at odd angles reminiscent of Medusa. The girls assembled on the porch laughed, and I hit the shower. Three hair washes later I had most of the oil off. I would be a bit hard pressed to say that my massage qualified as the lap of luxury, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Critical Mass

I had the following published as a letter to the editor in the Vancouver Sun today. I'm providing a link to the article as well as the full-text.

I am a regular cycle commuter and, as such, believe in the need for bicycle visibility and awareness. That said, I am disappointed in the approach Critical Mass participants are taking to bicycle education.

The Critical Mass Facebook page suggests that the group's goal is to "reclaim the road," and it did just that by causing gridlock on the Lions Gate Bridge last Friday. Pictures from the Facebook page show masses of stationary cyclists, many not wearing helmets, blocking every lane.
Any environmental benefits of this event are negated by forcing hundreds of cars to idle for more than an hour. The only thing being accomplished here is the further angering of motorists who find their weekend camping trips being delayed.

We cyclists have a duty to obey the rules of the road, which include wearing a helmet and riding single file. We cannot expect motorists to respect our presence if we're not respecting theirs.