by Gazelle Amber Valentine
August 6, 2010
Vancouver, in the neighborhood where all its clubs seem to be, is hands down one of the most depressing places on earth. It’s filled with people in the deepest throes of drug abuse. Now… I’m an advocate for legalizing marijuana, since it’s clearly less harmful than alcohol while offering better effects. And I conceptually get the position that people should be free to do what they want with their own bodies. But Vancouver’s Hastings neighborhood is a vivid argument against making harder drugs legal.
Driving the four or five blocks required to circle the venue we pass legions of shuffling, glazed eyed, filthy, wretched shells that were formerly human. They outnumber “normal” pedestrians five to one. As I’ve often told people when they ask what this city’s like… Vancouver is the only place I’ve been where I saw a hugely pregnant teenage junkie prostitute in a bikini top and sagging sweatpants that revealed her entire asscrack careen over to a dumpster and root through it… after taking a shit behind it.
The first time we toured Canada I did a phone interview for the Georgia Strait and the interviewer warned me about the junkies. He said that bands from inner city Detroit were terrified in Vancouver. I was like, ah, we’ve been to all the major cities, we’ve seen homeless, crackheads, meth addicts. And then proceeded to be awestruck with the horrors of Vancouver streets.
I was talking to Mendozza, one of the bands playing with us, who now live on the island but grew up in Vancouver. They seemed less thrown by the situation downtown — because they’ve seen it for so long — but they did say that was part of why they left the city. And they gave me a piece of information we’d been missing before: that a few years ago, all of the huge provincial mental institutions in the area had been shut down due to loss of funding. Which created a surge of the homeless insane.
Well, at least I’ve never felt so at ease walking down the sidewalk in my grim reaper cloak before the show.
Despite being in the thick of the sketchiest part of town, and despite having a comical enough name that my Twitter friends made fun of it (okay readers, go ahead and make fun of me for being on Twitter) Funky Winkerbean’s is a decent bar. The elderly junkie crowd of afternoon gave way to a punk rock crowd at night, matched by the bar staff. Everybody working including the sound man was awesome. The stage was definitely too small, and with our backline in place, both we and Mendozza had a hard time. The other band Ahna, a really nice sludgy two piece, probably fared a little better since they had the smallest kit and less amps than Mendozza. For me and Edgar the whole show was a battle against gravity — his drums falling everywhere, and my balance constantly being thrown off to the point I did fall into my amps a time or two. Good thing they had my back.
The crowd was a lot of fun, getting into it with us. At the end of the night the bar staff was ready to leave so they helped us get our shit out — which is always much nicer than when staff wants to go and simply stares at us angrily while we frantically pack our shit! It was raining, which sucked, but there was an awning we could load out to. So we made use of that and let the staff go home.
All in all a fun night. We take off from the club because we don’t want to wake up with junkies stuck like barnacles all over our rig… thinking we’ll sleep on the ferry. Then when we’re still not that close to the ferry we spot a glorious Costco parking lot with two other RVs in it. We don’t know if Costco is really down with people sleeping in their lot but considering the sun’s coming up, we figure it’s not camping or overnight parking by any stretch. Pass. The fuck. Out.
August 7, 2010
Woke up in Costco lot surrounded by cars. Could not believe how popular that store was. People were circling the lot in the rain and leering in our direction…. I’m sure incredibly pissed off that we were hogging SIX spaces. (You know parking’s at a premium when you’re at the very farthest back of the lot and people are still stalking your spots.) I started to feel bad, then remembered they all slept in a house last night, got a shower this morning and have today off. So fuck ’em!
Get to the ferry two minutes late for the one o’clock. Take advantage of the break to walk our dogs. The ferry costs us $217 and change each way. I don’t even care because it means I can sleep for an hour and twenty-five minutes.
Trying to fall asleep on the ferry takes a little time even though I’m exhausted. I can hear choppy waves booming against the walls around me. Every few minutes somebody talks over the PA, and it’s always unintelligible. Edgar’s on deck taking pictures, so I just rest in the belief that he’ll come and save us if there’s an emergency. I finally sleep for awhile with both dogs piled on top of me.
Edgar comes in and wakes me up when there’s fifteen minutes before docking. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. Drink some water and lukewarm coffee. Sit in the driver’s seat. Finally the bus ahead of us cranks up its engine and I do the same. Soon after, a ferry crewman motions me to turn it off. Apparently the ramp that we drive out on won’t descend because they’ve lost power and the generator isn’t working. We end up stuck inside the ferry hold for forty-five minutes. I’m just pissed because if I’d known that was coming, I could’ve stayed asleep!
We pull into Victoria about fifteen minutes later than we’d expected. They’ve actually had a guy park cars to hold spaces for us, which is amazing and saves our ass. Then the two dudes in Mendozza popped up from somewhere and helped us load in. They even helped us place the amps on stage. Bina, the drummer, told me they just like to move gear. I can relate!
The rest of the night is pretty blurry. I haven’t been eating well enough or getting enough sleep. I feel like a zombie before we play but then the fire comes into my veins for the show. We have a good crowd, up front, headbanging, lots of fist-bumps after the show. Awesome sound guy too. I meet the club owner and he’s super stoked on us, which is awesome, because we’re super stoked on the club. It’s a really good time. Then we find out we have forty-five minutes until we have to be out… because if we’re not, the alarm will go off!
Nobody’s around to help us so we just go as fast as we can. I can’t count the times it’s like this, when suddenly the customers are gone from the bar and we’re under pressure. Neither one of us can stop to change out of our wet clothes or even to pee. Clubs almost never factor in how long our loadout should take, so they have us go on late and then rush us out. It’s not malicious or anything, it’s just that bands don’t have the kind of gear we have. Anyway, we get it all out with maybe five minutes to spare. The bartenders split and it’s me against gear mountain.
Usually I’m still amped for awhile after we play and it’s no big deal to load the trailer. Not tonight. Tonight it’s the torture that people probably imagine it would be. So even though Edgar and I split up duties and this is my particular job, tonight he helps me a lot, bringing me the pieces of gear as I need them. We get it done and gratefully realize we can just move across the street into legal parking. Crash.
August 8, 2010
Seems hard to believe but once again we’re only able to sleep a couple hours if we wanna make it to our show in time. Vancouver – Victoria – Whistler looks really close on the map, but ferries and mountains and Jucifer amp rigs take a lot of time to get through. We leave our peaceful shady Victoria street at ten and get on the eleven o’clock ferry. This time I have less trouble falling asleep. I’m having some weird ass dream by the time Edgar wakes me up. Roo (the chihuahua) and I have both drooled in our sleep.
This time we don’t get stuck in the ferry. Too bad, because I would’ve liked more time to sleep. We drive out of the hold and back up the road to and through Vancouver. Getting through the city takes forever, but we FINALLY understand why so many friends have been shocked at our descriptions of street-sweeping, needle-seeking junkie prostitutes. Turns out there is a whole other downtown Vancouver that’s upscale and lovely, and a ritzy hilltop neighborhood with some of the most beautiful houses, trees and hedge walls you’ll ever see. I tell Edgar it’s like if our friends were only seeing the area by the Mall in D.C., and we were only seeing Southeast.
After several turns and a whole lot of city, we finally get a sign for Whistler. Take a turn for the Sea To Sky highway and immediately are confronted with about a 10% upgrade. I’ve gotten conflicting reports on this route and I’m a little terrified it’ll turn out to be more than our rig can handle. But the road never gets too crazy and it’s an incredibly gorgeous drive. We take a break in Squamish at a handy Wal-Mart (the only one along the route) and pick up a couple of essentials. Then back on the road to Whistler, gaping at breathtaking rock cliffs and white capped mountains cloaked in cloud. The clouds up here actually hug the mountains so it looks like they’re consuming them. Really cool.
Pulling into Whistler is an acid trip. Even knowing the Olympics happened there, I’ve kinda been picturing a little logging town. Instead, the place is freaking Disneyworld. It’s like a prefab paradise for rich people that like extreme sports. Every building is new and every surface looks immaculate. Everywhere are people wearing high dollar fleece and walking high dollar dogs. Even the tottering elderly have beautiful tans that they show off with safari shorts. This is wealthy suburbanite fantasy taken to extremes.
We follow the directions from google maps and we can’t find any sign of the club. There’s nowhere legal for us to park in sight. We pull into a bus stop and I try calling the promoter and the sound guy. Neither one answers. We’re starting to think this show might not happen. Edgar jumps out and makes an extensive reconnaissance while I stay in the driver’s seat in case we get harassed. He manages to find the club’s customer entrance, but no sign of the underground loading dock we were told to expect. Returns to me looking pretty hopeless. Tells me the club entrance is part of a pedestrian mall. We still don’t know if we’re supposed to drive into it, but he doesn’t think we can fit if we are. We trade places so I can go see for myself.
I figure out a path I can drive if I have to, but it’ll mean somebody walking in front helping to herd people away from my front bumpers. All kinds of people are out with their dogs and little kids. It seems crazy to drive into this. And the only way I see into the club is down a steep staircase. And nobody’s there even though we got to town right in time and now are late for load in. I go back to the RV and Edgar jumps out again. As I’m trying to call the sound guy, my phone rings and it’s the promoter. He’s telling me how to go to the very well camouflaged entrance to the underground lot. Meanwhile I see Edgar come around the corner with another guy, obviously from the club. Whew… crisis averted.
This is only the second time we’ve been able to fit into an underground lot. At twelve feet clearance it’s exactly two inches higher than our highest point. I’ve been promised we’ll have room to turn once we’re inside, but that’s coming from someone who hasn’t actually seen how big we are. Unnerving. But once we get to the right spot, I can immediately see we’re cool. It’s an incredibly weird sensation to be inside the floor of the city.
The sound guy helps us load in which is a godsend because there’s a very steep ramp to push everything up followed by a long path of smaller ramps to the stage. It would’ve taken Edgar and me over an hour, maybe two just to get stuff inside if not for his help. He’s a fun guy to talk to too, so the load in is remarkably pleasant. We’re the only band tonight so we set everything up ahead of time for once, including our drums and lighting. The stage is fairly small and round with a round permanent drum riser. But it works out pretty well. We set up while hanging out with the sound guy and the promoter, who we’d met when he lived in Philly about ten years ago. Really nice people with interesting stories. By the time we’re set up it’s not that far from when we’re supposed to go on. There’s no food in the venue and I’m starving, so I go out to the RV and have a small cup of cereal. Even though I’m ravenous it’s too close to showtime to eat much.
The door between where we’re parked and the loading entrance is the same kind of door they have on submarines. It’s an airlock, waterlock, whatever. Apparently the volcanic cap could go, and if it does, the underground lot will quickly flood. So they have to have this door locked when customers are in the club. City code. I’m getting dressed and hoping this catastrophe won’t happen while we’re parked here. I don’t want an action-movie death!
To get into the club to play I have to make a circuitous path to an elevator which lands some distance away from the club’s top entrance. The sound guy escorts Edgar to get me and make sure I get in safely. Once again I’m exhausted, but once again the fire comes when we start to play. The crowd is small, only fifty or so, but they are AWESOME. Just totally freaking out with us the whole time.
We’re whipped after we play and all we have to do tomorrow is cross the border. So we arrange to meet up with club people at 10:30 in the morning for loadout, which is easier for all of us than staying up an extra three hours would be.
Everybody’s ready on time and we load out. Going down the ramp takes two for everything heavy, because stuff runs away from us otherwise. But once all the big stuff is out we finish with the rest pretty quickly. It’s an awesome thing to know your gear is secure… as long as the volcanic cap holds, that is. There’s no rain inside this cave. No sketchy people around. The weird thing is there’s also no difference between night and day. I now know I would not enjoy living in an underground bunker. It’s good to have these moments of self-discovery.
While I load the trailer Edgar investigates above ground. We both expect there to be some amazing vegetarian restaurant up there, but after walking through the whole village, he returns disgusted. Everything is upscale but nothing is vegetarian. We both think it’s weird that the town is so health-conscious (we see only slender people and joke that people get kicked out if they gain too much weight) but has no vegan food. WTF? Instead Edgar makes sandwiches for us. Then he shows me the ski hill. On the way up I’m seeing people with shin guards pushing muddy mountain bikes and thinking, wow, they’re walking around this shopping mall with their gear on. I guess they want everybody to know they ride. Then we round a corner and see the hill, filled with people biking down it, and I understand. It’s so strange to have this going on in the middle of a fancy shopping district. And the money presence is just colossal. Bikes for sale on the street start at three grand. Here are two hundred people on bikes as good or better, with only the best outdoors wear. Somehow they’re all related-looking too… tall, lanky people with great hair. Meanwhile shorter, plumper people in ‘Whistler staff’ uniforms bustle quietly around picking up trash and cigarette butts and glossing surfaces.
We get our fill of the surreal environment and return to our underground lair. Get back on the Sea to Sky and realize the way back south is almost entirely downhill. Stop at the Wal-Mart again and spend an hour or so cleaning for the border. Which is a good thing because when we get there, they pull us aside and search the RV. On the pretext of a pineapple we bought in Canada, which we unsuccessfully offer to hand over to be trashed. After sitting in the waiting area for about an hour (with sad squirmy dogs on our laps) we get released. Hilariously the pineapple is still in our fridge. You know they just thought we were gonna have drugs.
The first exit in the U.S. is for the town of Blaine, where there’s a Cost Cutter grocery we know we can hit. We’re so excited to find certain foods we’ve been missing the whole time we were in Canada that we’re DANCING in the aisles showing each other our finds. We always look forward to leaving the states, but after being gone for a month or so, it’s a big relief to be back in our own country. Tonight, there will be a lot of eating and sleeping. Mmmm. Next, we’ll conquer the American northwest!