Some bus stops offer much more than transportation. Not all, mind you; just this one, at Cook Street and Fort, at the edge of downtown Victoria. Just about every time I go there, weird, wonderful and surprising things happen. The first incident happened about a week ago, at 1.30 in the afternoon on a breezy , sunny day. As I’m limping towards it, I notice two half naked young men, cavorting around a large case of beer teetering on the bench. Maybe 20 years old, one of them with a lot of tattoos, they’re taking up all the space in the little glass hut that offers shelter and a place to sit to weary and generally old Victoria dwellers. Outside the shelter is a group of worried looking onlookers, and I have to make a decision: join the worried bunch or the drunks. True to form, I march right in and sit myself down next to the beer case and the guy with the tattoos. Meanwhile, the other kid is cavorting around the trash can outside and periodically tugging his shorts into his nether regions. He is clearly planning to go nude, any minute now.
Meanwhile, the tattoo guy talks into his cell phone about meeting up on Gonzales beach, and he is bringing the beer. I decide to risk a comment: You know, in 55 years of living in Vancouver, I’ve never seen anything like you at a bus stop, I say casually. Tattoo guy turns to me and grins.
Oh yeah, he says, we wouldn’t do this in Vancouver, no way. We know better! And pointing to his almost naked friend, he observes that he is actually a good kid, and he is looking out for him. I nod wisely, and then the good kid comes over, hitches his shorts back up, and proudly announces he is ‘a social menace’.
I have to laugh, and tell him that he’s about as close to being a social menace as I am to being young and beautiful.
This gets his attention. Hey, you’re a cool old lady, he offers. And we get into a conversation about social issues like drinking in public places, honesty and other philosophical issues of the day. Pretty soon, we are the best of friends and when the bus arrives, they offer to sit quietly in the back. You can sit in the front, okay? I say okay, and we all board the bus, with the beer, in perfect harmony. The Bus driver doesn’t even blink. That’s how I discovered that Victoria is a drinking town, and when I mention it, everybody agrees that yes, there’s a lot of heavy partying going on here. Who knew. The policeman I questioned today insisted that Victorians drink no more than anyone else, and yes, there is actually a law against public drunkenness. And there is a drunk tank. You could have called us, he said, and we would have taken them in.
But that would have ruined a good story and a rare friendship.
A few days later, I’m at the same bus stop again. It happens to be a Sunday, and there’s nobody there except me. After ten minutes, a wiry looking man with pitch black hair and an air of impatience arrives. Do you know when the bus gets here, he wants to know. I have to admit that I don’t. He’s got a cell phone and says, Jesus, it’s going to be an hour. Then he talks to somebody. Do you want a ride? I’ve ordered a taxi.
Great, I say, and we begin to chat. Turns out we’re both headed to the Cook Street Village. He is meeting a client at the pub there, and then he’s going to Thailand to get married and live in Bangkok. Really? Yes. He’s getting out of Victoria, the worst place he’s ever lived in. Can’t stand that island mentality, he says. And where is he from? Chile. The taxi finally arrives, we get in, and he tells me how he met this beautiful Thai lady at the local university. And yes, this is his first marriage. He looks to be in his forties, so he has waited. I’m going to get on that plane and just do it, he says again. Before we part, I wish him a very happy married life. I think everyone should get married once, I tell him. He agrees and disappears into the pub.
I wonder if anything unusual will happen the next time. I’m going today, and honestly, I’m looking forward to it.