To boldly go where…ah, we all know it.
There is something strange about having grown up in a small town. So many of my classmates had disregarded travel as something they would do in their future. The sun rose and set on this small gathering of communities. The western border is marked by Wildwood. To the east, there is Wabamun. A trip into town means heading to Drayton Valley. And, if you were really in the mood for adventure, you could summon up your courage and head into Edmonton for a day. To so many of my classmates, success meant getting a house right across the street from the parents, and getting a job on one of the many oil rigs that surround the landscape. I was one of the few who realized that there was more to the world than this grouping of villages. I was going to go places, and look back at those trapped in those small towns, and laugh. But, sadly, when so many around you are convinced that there is nothing more to the world than a few villages, you come to believe it on some level. Thus, my first day was a blur.
I had never been on an airplane before. After stowing my backpack in the overhead compartment, I got my window seat and buckled up. I looked out the window at my last glimpse of Edmonton International. From my window, I could see the shining chrome of the jet engine’s leading edge. The stewardesses started going through that routine you see on all the TV shows. “Here are the exits. This is how you buckle your seatbelt. The washroom is over there for those who want a quickie.” I was startled when, halfway through the lecture, the plane started moving! We were heading for the runway. There was no turning back. I leaned back in my chair and gazed out the window. Having always had a fascination with aviation, I smiled with glee as I heard the mighty jet engines rev up. We began rolling down the runway, and within a matter of seconds, we were airborne. I looked out the window to see the rapidly shrinking town of Leduc, vast fields reduced to nothing but greenish-yellow squares, and it was all separated by tiny grey lines that were once roads. The plane circled round, and soon we were heading west. I had brought a book to read, but I was just transfixed by the view. I dared not look away from the window. The stewardess even had to tap my shoulder to ask if I wanted the bag of peanuts.
While chewing on the peanuts, I soon saw the mountains coming up on the horizon. I looked at my watch. It had only taken half an hour to get from Edmonton to the mountains. What always took me a day by car had only taken a half an hour. The plan began soaring over the mountains. I saw the mountains from above. Words fail to describe the mountains from above. I tried looking for familiar peaks, but the were all unrecognizable from that angle. Soon, I was seeing isolated lakes that were probably untouched by human hands for years. The mountains just never stopped. While still fixed on them, the captain announced that we were starting our decent into Vancouver. Suddenly, in the middle of all these mountains, this vast city started spreading out before me. It was a large city, larger than any I had ever known. There was a mild thud as the plane touched down. I looked at my watch, and set it back one hour. I had arrived.
Vancouver International Airport is a huge place. I think I was walking for a good fifteen minutes from the gate to the baggage carousel. I had everything I needed in my backpack, but I knew the carousel would be as good a place as any to meet them. I also knew that Chuck and L had never been slaves to the clock, so I wasn’t surprised when they weren’t there waiting for me. I settled in, and began waiting. First rule of waiting: wait in one spot. Your chances of being found are greater if you sit still. Second rule of waiting: make yourself noticeable. You chances of being found are greater if you stand out. I leaned against a wall, and waited. And waited. I went and used the washroom. I came back, and waited some more. As I was considering heading over the Harvey’s for a snack, something possessed me to turn around. There was L, holding a sign emblazoned with my name. We hugged, and made our way to the van parked outside. Standing watch over the van was Chuck. We hugged. I stowed my backpack, and we were off.
We made our way through the streets of downtown Vancouver. Vancouver was having the last of their “best of the Fringe” holdovers, and Chuck and L had managed to secure tickets to one of the plays. It started in under an hour, and we had to make our way to the theater on Granville Island. Again, I was transfixed with the view outside the window. This time, it was a view of unfamiliar skyscrapers, rundown city streets, and hundreds of pedestrians. It was all so different. Chuck and L were telling stories about how their jobs were going and their adventures in getting to the airport, but I was barely listening. I was just stunned.
After a few traffic snarls, we got to Granville Island and made our way to the theater. Just two short hours ago, I was boarding an airplane in Edmonton. Now, I was sitting in a darkened theater in Vancouver preparing to watch my first play. It was called Sabotage 2001, a rather plotless piece. It was more like sketch comedy, as over the next hour we were presented with recurring characters, witty one-liners, and just plain absurdist humour. I liked it. It was funny. And it gave Chuck a whole new wealth of one-liners to be quoting for the next week.
We had a whole afternoon to kill before the next play that evening. L casually asked what we wanted to do next. I spoke the truth. I was still stunned at what I had been through over the past few hours, and needed a place to sit down, and maybe have a drink. We roamed the streets of Granville Island and found a little cafe on the water’s edge. I had a chocolate milkshake. As we sat at the water’s edge, drinking our drinks, I couldn’t help but repeat aloud, over and over, “I’m here.” “I’m here.” “I’M HERE!” Chuck and L looked at me with amusement, as did most of the other tourists walking by. I had arrived.
Chuck and L pointed out that the water was the ocean. I had a hard time comprehending that. A lot of the ocean in Vancouver comes in by way of bays and inlets. To the untrained eye, like mine, it could easily be mistaken for a river. But still, there was a little part of me going, “Woah, dude, that’s the ocean. THE OCEAN!” “But there’s land on the other side. It can’t be,” the majority of myself kept saying. Upon L’s urging, we did head straight down and I touched the Atlantic Ocean. It was warm. It felt like I could go for a swim. It was the ocean.
Another hour or so was spent exploring the rest of Granville Island. It’s a real tourist trap. I tried to avoid buying mementos on my first day, as I didn’t have anything to remember yet.
We had a lot more time to kill before the next play, so it was to the downtown district for L to show off some of her favorite shops. It was here that I discovered one of the greatest aspects of Vancouver culture: 99¢ pizza. Are you aware of this? A huge-ass slice of pizza, for only 99¢. That would just be enough, but add to it the fact that it’s good pizza. When you’re a pizza fanatic like myself, this is heaven. It required a conscious effort to not gorge myself, and trust me, pizza is the one food where I have no self-control. 99¢ pizza is one of the greatest inventions of humankind.
After a few more hours of wandering downtown, we made our way to the theater for the second play: Edmonton’s infamous Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. For those who have never heard of it, it follows the adventures of a diverse group of Edmontonians as they search for love, satisfy their lust, and dodge a serial killer (although, that description is rather simplistic). It’s one of those weighty plays that deals with topical subject matter and sticks with you for a while. But, it’ll stick with me for a while for quite a different reason. Longtime readers will know of how I obsess over my virginity, so who thought that a play in Vancouver would bring me first glimpse of a naked woman? I had heard of the play, but I didn’t know that it entailed topless women simulating sex acts. The trip was all downhill from there.
When the play ended, it was getting close to midnight. We finally decided to head back to L’s place and settle in for the night. There was no doubt that I had had a big day. First plane ride…first big city…first play…first glimpse of the ocean…first naked woman…first trip. All this, and add in the fact that I had just seen one of those plays that makes you think deep thoughts, and throw in a pinch of homesickness. I was starting to feel overwhelmed. As I sat on the floor of Chuck and L’s inner sanctum/bedroom, I had to turn and ask if they were glad I came. They said yes. As I sat there, trying to digest my day, that made me feel better. But, there was one thing I knew I needed: sleep. I said my good-nights and retired to the guest room.
As I lied there in bed, staring at the ceiling and waiting for sleep to come, I couldn’t help but think back to all those classmates of mine, who would never leave their communities. I had done more in one day than they’ll probably ever do in their lifetime. Suddenly, the small towns that I had come from seemed to be just that: small. Things go farther west than Wildwood. They go farther east than Wabamun. Drayton Valley isn’t the be all and end all of civilization, and there are destinations a lot bigger than Edmonton. I had been imagining doing something like this for my whole life, and now that I was doing it, I was starting to realize how small my life really was. And the adventure was just beginning.