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Riding ramblings

Fall in the air
A fall chill hangs in the morning air and September is just a day away. Anyone indoctrinated by the school system -- i.e. all of us -- can't help but associate September as the true start of the New Year. I have felt anxious and stresed all week, both preparing my kids for their return to classes and myself for the gearing up of my professional life once again. I've been tying up loose ends, getting to nagging duties I've let slide over the summer,  writing story proposals for editors and, ramping up on a radio documentary I am doing for CBC Ideas this fall.

I had planned to ride the pedicab two or three times this week -- enjoying my last few days of freedom and summer --  but as one item was tackled on my to do list a new one took its place. Cabbing would have released my stress, but my conscience nagged: okay now Annie dear, fun is over. Enough of this pedicabbing shenanigans, back to real life.

But I don't want to stop just yet. I still plan to ride Saturdays now until at least the end of September. I love the workout, I love the time away from my desk and computer, I love the fresh air and the human interaction.

Over the last three months some memorable incidents have occured that I haven't told. Here are a few highligts.

Most surreal ride 

Brent Gleason and I, one weekday morning in early August, picked up a well dressed, handsome family of four outside the Empress. Originally from an Asian country, they consisted of the dad, mom, 5-year old daughter, all now living in Vancouver,  and the petite aunt, sister of the mom, visiting from their former country. (The reason for my vagueness will soon to be revealed... read on.) All was run of the mill as we took them to Fisherman's Wharf, where they delighted in feeding Sammy the seal. We then "up sold" them on a longer, hour tour, to Beacon Hill Park.

But it was standing outside the goat petting corral of Beacon Hill Childrens Zoo that things got decidedly interesting. Brent, the dad, and I stood by the fence waiting while the tiny perfect daughter and aunt were brushing the comical pygmie goats and the mom was wandering the little zoo grounds. "What brought you to Canada?" I asked.

And so began, in a slow, rambling and non-chalant delivery, the most bizarre and jaw dropping story of his former life a decade ago as a high placed government official close to the seat of power. Around him included a murderous raging despot who killed with impunity, others being blackmailed and framed or enduring rigged trials and false imprisonment on "morality" issues that would nary raise an eyebrow in Canada.  He told stories of a mileau marked by lusts for power and corruption.  Brent and I said repeatedly through all this:  "You're kidding? No way!"

Yet we knew he was serious. The upshot was that, as an innocent, his life had been in danger. He came to Canada under something akin to an international witness protection program, with a new life and a new career. ("So I guess you don't want me blogging all the details, huh?" I said. To which he blanched: "What? You have a blog. Oh God, no details.")

Now all the turmoil had settled in his former country and he had been invited to return home, perhaps to take up political office or the role of an ambassador to another country, but he had declined. He had built a successful business, his kids and wife were happy. "Canada, relatively, is very boring," he said. "But this is the place to raise your kids, get them  a good education. I don't need that kind of excitement any more. I'll take boring anyday."

Sun was streaming in dappled light through the pines. Children were squealing and laughing at the antics of the tiny goats. All was serene; the picture of peace order and good government. 

Back outside the Empress he took out a huge wad of bills and paid Brent and I $140 each, gave us his phone number and offered to help us if we ever needed anything, and even said he could give Brent a job when pedicab season ended if he wanted. "I'm always looking for good hard workers, self starters," he said.

Brent and I regaled the other drivers with our story over a beer back at the barn. "He was having you on. It can't be true," some said. But Brent and I shook our heads. "No, we believe him."

"In fact, I think I'm going to call him for a job," said Brent. 

( One detail: when we rode, strong and strapping Brent, who usually pulls a big tandem cab, somehow took the tiny kid and the stick-figure aunt, while I hauled the 6'2" dad and healthy-sized mom. The trip to Fisherman's Wharf was easy, but the long gruelling hill into the park was brutal. As I panted I felt deflated: two months of riding and I am still struggling on this dang hill. I even made  the dad get out and walk the final, excrutiating stretch. Finally, I yelled to Brent: "Hey! You gotta give me the kid!! I'm dying! I'm 20 years older than you!! Have mercy!" We did the switch and the rest of the ride, for me, was a breeze. And Brent hardly noticed the difference.)

Most recurring irritation

That's easy: aggressive,  time-strapped drivers.

Anyone who has lived in Victoria for more than a week will know that the Inner Harbour, particularly in summer, is a swamp of slow moving traffic. Gawking lost tourists in rental cars try to find their hotels; slow trodding clip-clopping horse carriages plod at 3 miles an hour; heavy breathing pedicab drivers grunt up Government at 4 miles an hour (at least we are slightly faster than the horses); hop-on-and-off tour buses belch exhaust and stop every block;  more lost, disoriented tourists in cars stream off the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles, Wash. twice a day.

So why, in god's name, do some locals try to zoom through the Inner Harbour, and get warped with tension and865312-1012460-thumbnail.jpg
Horse carriage backlog
vein-throbbing rage when they meet the predictable congestion? Yet, routinely, day after day, they do. They gun their engines,  yell out open windows "get off the road! They ride their horns, or give the finger to those impeding their progress. They refuse to let pedicabs into traffic or yell at us when we take up a full lane, such as we are required to do rounding Suicide Corners, to ensure we don't get pinched or killed by yahoos like them.

I don't want to dwell on this -- too negative -- and in the scheme of things only a tiny fraction of the hundreds we interact with daily. But here are two stories of lost souls.

One busy touristy day, I was stopped at the light at the start of the Government St. incline among a group of cars. More than 40 tourists were crossing the wide intersection from the Tourist Centre to the corner of the Empress Hotel. One  elderly woman was mincing with a walker and when the light changed to green was still in the middle of the intersection. We all waited patiently, except for one driver who put his hand on the horn and held it there, as if somehow that respectful considerate gesture would speed up the walk of an aging woman with mobility issues. All eyes turned: who is the offensive jerk?

I expected to see a young man in a souped up car, but, astonishingly, it was an elderly man, looking almost as old as the shuffling woman,  who held his hand on the horn so viciously. Everyone around stared and yelled: "Hey! Stop it! Get a life!" One fellow on the sidewalk beside the car slapped the man's car hood with his hand. "Hey, a**h***!  knock it off!." But, undeterred, the old man kept his hand on the horn until the shaken woman cleared the intersection. (I'll bet that's one enchanted tourist who will return to friendly Victoria!)

Twice I was aggressively cut off --almost to the point of injury -- by drivers who were angered that I was taking the whole lane in the area of Yates and Wharf streets -- a place where pedicabs have to turn or race across a bad narrow intersection at the same time many cars are rushing to get on or off the blue bridge to Esquimalt, a busy commuter route. Both times in that locale, drivers pulled around me and slammed on their brakes in front of me, both times forcing me to veer and brake suddenly to avoid smashing into their bumper. I lookedup to see them giving me the finger in the mirror. Both times I burst into tears  (unfortunately that's my too common reaction to feelings of anger and dismay - damn being a woman of a certain age.) How could someone be so twisted as to want to cause physical harm to another because they were delayed four or five seconds or missed a light?

My first instinct was to lash back - ram their car with my cab -- but only one reaction was right and would really do: I breathed in deeply and tried to find a well of compassion that said: "Man, do I ever feel sorry for you and your rage at minor transgressions! It must be awful being you." And I would hold my head high, (despite adrenalin-racing pulse) and ride on.

Most feel good ride

 The long rides with the big tips always made me puffed with glee, many, many rides were with lovely enchanting people the world over, but the most enduringly satisfying moments were my gifts of free rides. I've written about a few of them in this blog, but one favourite was my hour-long James Bay Heritage Home Tour that I gave to a dear girlfriend, Sandy, on her 50th birthday.

Sandy and I had our first babies on the same day a few hours apart in the same hospital -- we joke they cleaned the operating room from my C-section and then wheeled her in. My daughter and her son were fast friends in the early years (when kids made no distinct among sexes) and we carpooled everyday to pre-school.

I will never forget the day 10 years ago, when our postnatal group of about 7 mothers who had hung together for almost five years, all met at her house for morning coffee. Most of us had two kids each by then, some breastfeeding babes in arms. There was laughter and talk, mothers all in the living room, older kids playing in the den while the  younger ones toddled or crawled around us.

And then Sandy, who we all noted had lost a lot of weight from her always slender frame the last few months, cleared her throat and dropped a bombshell: "I have incurable non-Hodgkins lymphoma," she said. We all spent the rest of the morning crying, hugging, sobbing, trying to wrestle with the  injustice that a young beautiful talented and gracious women, with two kids under five, should be dealt such a bitter, unfair hand. 

A few months later, all the moms got together again at a community kitchen and cooked a months' worth of meals all at once to help her through the  rigours of chemotheraphy. With Sandy sitting as guest of honor in the middle of this big industrial kitchen, we drank wine, danced to tunes on the boom box and worked in teams chopping onions, dicing vegetabes, stirring pots of lasagna noodles or simmering soups and sauces to make four or five dishes of what we hoped would be easy eating comfort food. It was a raucous cooking party. (One of the meals we made, however, we all thought was a yummy pureed curry squash apple soup. Alas, now it is so associated with that difficult time that Sandy can't even smell something vaguely like it without feeling nauseated.)

Back then, she was told she might have 7 good years if she was lucky.  But now she has had 10 and looks to have many more. She lives and loves full and well. She is physically active and strong. She was able to go back to work as a nurse part time, and  now heads an important program to help deter teenagers from drinking and driving and making other stupid choices. She has been by her husband's side as his medical career has advanced, been a loving and attentive mother to her two sons and watched them grow. And she, more than many I know these days, understands and values the preciousness of the moment.

And that is one of the reasons I always like spending time with Sandy. She is real and deep and grounded. So this sunny, warm Friday afternoon of her 50th birthday, we met outside the parkade on Yates St with a hug. She climbed into my cab and I gave her a thermos of non-alcoholic sparkling wine and poured it into a wine glass I produced from my hold. She sat back and sipped as I pedalled slowly and leisurely through the Inner Harbour and onto the James Bay streets. We ohhed and awed at gingerbread barge boards, Queen Anne turrets, Italianate roof lines, and enchanting paint schemes. We chatted and caught up with the doings of our lives. It was one of the most relaxing and pleasurable hours I had all summer on a pedicab seat (and petite Sandy was easy to pull.) 

I didn't make lease that day, but I didn't care. Some days it really strikes home that some things are much more important than money.

Posted on Friday, August 31, 2007 at 04:22PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

You have some really great stories and tell them well. I can't believe those stupid drivers. And your story about Sandy made me cry.
September 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

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