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Window on the world

Sitting on my pedicab on the Inner Harbour causeway gives me a front row seat in the theatre of humanity.865312-915185-thumbnail.jpg
Front row seat

Some couples scowl, arms swinging, not talking nor touching, marching by with a determination that seems to say: travelling is damned hard business with crooks at every turn. I say a cheery hello but they don't even acknowledge me. Or worse, put their hands up in front of their faces as if to shield themselves from any persuasive sales job penetrating through. They don't believe we pedicabbers, or anybody catering to tourists, can be helpful just on principal and rather must be motived solely to extract their hard earned dough. I remember adopting that scowl once surrounded by beggars in Southern Italy and I vow to never travel like that again.

Others stroll by laughing, holding hands. They greet my smile with a smile. We exchange pleasantries; they ask for directions or advice. They are not afraid of me trying to sell them something they don't want, but it is clear they are open to any and all experiences. Sometimes they get in the cab, more often they don't, ( some say "maybe we'll be back later") but we have a pleasant exchange all the same. I give them information on the city happily for free. And all leave the encounter smiling.

Shoe choice is a dead give away of ride potential. Couples wearing good fresh new runners are out to walk and they are not likely to get into a pedicab. Hiking boots, ditto; good sturdy walking shoes, nope. Any of those foot wear choices combined with a walking stick, binoculars and bird book, no bloody way.  It is easy to spot the travellers heading for Vancouver Island's arduous and world-famous West Coast Trail. They come off the Seattle Clipper or the Port Angeles Coho - hiking boots, big heavy packs on their back, walking sticks, sleeping bag tied on their pack top, pots hanging from the pack strings. The only chance they will ride a pedicab is if they sprain their ankle on the hazardous footfall on the trail and need help getting from the bus station to the Clipper for their return trip home.

Hey, love those shoes!
 I have come to adore, however, women in high fashion, impractical footware. Cute strappy summer sandals? They'll be cutting into the heel by mid-afternoon. High heels? Toes will be killing by 1 pm. A couple sitting on a bench, the woman massaging her feet, is a perfect opening for a: "Can I help you rest your feet and still see the town?"'   

I am developing the carny skill of watching the crowd, looking for clues to ease later interactions, a name on a sports jacket, an alumni t-shirt for a university I know. A man staying at the Empress Hotel on July 15 tells me that morning he is in town for a wedding, his third cousin. It's at the Laurel Point Inn later that afternoon. More than a hundred guests are in town.  Around 2:30 pm I see a nicely dressed couple ( woman in impractical walking shoes, yes!) walking in the direction of Laurel Point. "Hey, you must be going to the wedding! Let me help you arrive in style." They jump in.

You get to know familiar local faces, too. The guy selling the Mini-melts ice cream by the Wax Museum, the hostess holding the menu outside Wharfside Eatery and a few metres down, the competing Chandler's Restaurant hostess giving out smoked salmon and cream cheese tasters, the gals selling double decker tour rides and their drivers, the workers at the Legislature, Royal BC Museum and Empress. We all nod hellos each time we pass.

I am standing one morning on the causeway early in my days pedicabbing and a very old man comes up to me.865312-929599-thumbnail.jpg
Causeway a popular stroll

"Hey, you are new. I've not seen you before," he says.

His name is Alfred Trueman and he is 96 years old. He tells me every morning he rides the bus from his James Bay apartment to the Bay Centre Mall, rides the elevator to the 5th floor to have a cup of coffee in little department store restaurant and flirt with the waitresses, then walks down Government Street back home, where he still lives on his own.

"Exercise! That's the key to a long happy life," he tells me.

 I  nod in full agreement.

"I walk every day. Was a postman for more than 35 years. I had the first postal route in Langford," he says. He shakes my hand warmly and walks on his way.

I look for him on other shifts, hoping to take his picture for my blog but I keep missing him. I'll post his pic here when next I see him.

On Saturday June 30th   one silent Inner Harbour drama moves me to tears. I see way down at the end of the causeway a man whose face jumps out because it is so jaundiced and sunken. It is impossible to tell his age. He shuffles as he walks, ever so slowly, down the causeway. As he gets closer I can see his belly is hugely distended but he has skinny, cachetic, arms and legs. End stage cancer with liver metatases. I have seen that doomed look too many times before.

A small coterie anxiously hovers around him- a wife or sister and brother, perhaps, in their early to mid 50s,  close beside
 him. A  tall man, late 40s, behind him pushing a wheelchair. And beside the wheelchair guy, four or five hale and hearty middle-aged men -- looking like former rugby or hockey team mates, are walking slowly along, too. Some have cameras around their neck, as if they had travelled from afar to be here. All of them, except the sick man, seem unsure of how to behave during this slow painful stroll.

Yet he walks, head high with immense dignity, unconcerned about anything but the beautiful day, his hand trailing for support along the stone causeway wall. He stops, bends over in pain. The coterie stops, too. The friend with the wheelchair comes forward motioning for him to sit, but he waves him off, gathers his strength, straightens up and continues. They all move with him. He walks this way for the entire length of the causeway, a final afternoon stroll to enjoy the warm sun and the fresh breeze coming off the ocean. 

Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 07:28PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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