The rain has come and gone three times and now, it is dark. It sweeps over the water and through the city without ever collecting into puddles. The light blue Olympic signs wave in the night. They're on every other post. There are thousands of them and if it's vertical and it's in the city, then it has something Olympic on it. They're crazy about flags too. Every bar has national flags hung like Christmas lights. One world holding hands and all that crap I guess. They've jumped into the spirit of things. Walking down the street today I saw the whole side of a building dedicated to Olympic hockey. Thirty stories of a padded man with a stick in his hands and next to him was one of about four pavilions on the block built specifically for the games. They must be behind though because some still had crews with cranes and white plastic tarps flailing in the wind to hide them. Word to the wise: the thing is the size of a football field; we can see it.
I'm staying at a downtown hotel and when I pulled up to the door they were tearing down the place. Well, they weren't tearing it down but it looked it. My window looks out at the street below the main entrance and today a man with a drill sat outside screwing in something for about three hours. He had a thick black beard and kept losing the nuts and saying, "Darn," every time he lost one. He'd get another without getting angry and he kept on drilling. Come to think of it, the thing was probably an Olympic sign. I sat for a bit and watched him and than looked across at the building on the other side of the street where an old man with a ponytail was hanging a tie-die blanket on his wall. His building has windows that open like revolving doors. I think it might be a fire hazard but I doubt it's much of a concern for an old man with a ponytail who lives above a sex shop called "Dare to Wear".
I'm not disappointed in the city. I think it's gorgeous for the most part. What I'm disappointed with is the lack of foresight from whoever is running it. The legacy and history of Vancouver is rich. The buildings in the old pictures along the hotel hallway look cool in a rustic black and white way. I like seeing the relics of the fur trade and history in a city. I just don't like staying in one of the relics. Boston has made a living off historical buildings and the old time look and to a degree Chicago and New York as well and, for the most part, they've pulled it off while adding comfort. Vancouver hasn't pulled it off and they shouldn't try. The style they are trying to save is dead in the city. It has been replaced by the cutting edge architecture that makes buildings look like razor blades and homes look like wood and glass blocks stacked randomly on top of each other. And here's the thing, it looks better and has a better feel to it that way.
On the plane into the city, I looked out over the emerald necklace of islands scattered in the watery cut harbor and it was beautiful. It was clean. It was nature collided perfectly with science, fringed by snowcapped cliffs stretching into the low misty clouds. The houses look like condos and aren't so much built into the sloping evergreen hills as they grow out of them. It's a nice symmetry. Al Gore would be proud. I got a taxi through the city and more or less kept that notion until Granville Avenue. Give it up. Change came and you couldn't hold onto the old. It's not your fault. It happened. Move on. Embrace the Olympics without having to show that there was a city in Vancouver two hundred years ago because no one cares. People care about new amenities and sports arenas that are egg shaped and have a hundred foot flat screens, a thousand concesion stands and heated seats for our fat asses.
But the street where my hotel is still has the same structures it did fifty years ago. The marquees hang off buildings made of vertical wooden planks like the ones in old western movies and brick buildings with fading paint remnants on the sides of what they once were. The alleys are narrow and the fire escapes hang off buildings like an old veteran showing off his scars. New York doesn't have alleys anymore. It's nice to see them. They show the dumpsters and puddles of sewage behind it all. The signs on the buildings are neon with bulbs running up and down the sides and there is an old nickelodeon that plays old movies. The historic look of the area is lost though on what has come in to take up residence in the relics of time. Every block has at least two pubs, two coffee houses, a peep store, tattoo parlor or guitar store.
The coffee houses are usually Starbucks or Blenz Coffee and are separated by an assortment of taco and sushi eateries that can barely be called restaurants. The pubs say "Good food, Better Beer". This historic place got a facelift that went wrong. Homeless people stroll along the street picking up used butts and they are hardly distinguishable from the shabby dressed residents in beards and sweat hoods too large for them. It is the epitome of skateboard culture. You can practically smell the weed. I don't know if I like it but I know that it is a perfect host for a Winter Olympics. Nothing like starting your day staring into the eyes of a man with three piercings through the lip and a sweater with a dragon stenciled across it. Retro clothing stores share the same block as urban outfitters and snowboarding gear specialists. You want a city for a competition based heavily around snowboarding and bob sledding? Well, this is it and if you try to tell me that the Winter Games is also about curling, speed skating and hockey you can stick it because the first two are boring and the last one only a handful get paid millions.
I walked around for a couple hours examining the people. I'll do that from time to time. The people shuffle up and down through the Olympic flags and statues as if they have always been there and scattered amongst them are the tourists and visitors. Almost every one of them wears an Olympic team jumpsuit or is bundled up in Patagonia or L.L. Bean jackets with shine still on them. Check the back and you could rip the tags off. They want the section of the city where I'm staying to be a monument to Vancouver's roots but it isn't anymore. The city is a large suburb with spruce trees tucked around the level houses that always have large windows and nooks manufactured into them. They try for a distinctive Inuit feel with the coloring. It misses the mark. Most houses were built within the last twenty years and it shows.
I attempted the metro system today and it went pretty well. I needed a copy of my passport so I went to a FedEx Kinkos. The Kinkos was a little out of the way and I had to take a train and a bus to the other side of the city. It was awkward having to use the Internet at Starbucks to find the Kinkos because I felt obligated to buy something so I ended up walking to public transit with a London Fog tea latte in my hand. The subways are clean and electric which fits the city. The thing that really bangs me up about the metro system though is when you're waiting for the train you can actually smell fresh air. After being in New York you get used to the smell of piss and garbage in your nose and a screeching of metal on metal in your ears. But, here, you're drinking your London Fog latte trying to figure out where the Canada Line goes and then - bam! - the electric subway pull up out of nowhere.
I don't have work tomorrow. No work until I show up with a copy of my passport. No credentials in a terrorist age will do that. I might go out. But, the rain is back for the fourth time and I want to keep my feet dry.
Colin Barnicle is working as an intern for a TV network covering the Winter Olympics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University.
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