Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Our company moved to a new office. We went from a seawater location to a freshwater one. Normarily I consider myself more of an oceanic person (and I already miss the Barnet Highway and all the turn-of-the-twentieth-century houses along the way).

But there are a few good things about the new office. I see airplanes. Yesterday, in a meeting, I was listening to Gwen the account manager speak. I tried to concentrate on her face. Behind her I could see the planes, having just taken off from the Vancouver International Airport, like flies swarming above her head.

An errand after work took me in the direction of the airport. I would even have gone to the airport, had it not been for my appointment. One of these days I'll go there and hang out in departures and pretend I am about to go back to some major city whose name starts with the letter B.

When I first returned to Vancouver, I thought I was here to stay. Eight months of travelling always culminates in a desire to stay put for a long, long time.

I thought I was cured of the travel bug. I'd look at airplanes and was glad to be planted on the ground. I grew up in Vancouver and I had come back to stay. No more suitcases, no more hasty friendships, no more walking aimlessly through London or Taipei or Tokyo or Addis Ababa or Helsinki. Many of my friends and the greatest concentration of relatives reside here. I have a big house. All my books are in one place. The libraries have pine tables and fireplaces. Nothing was going to make me budge.

Then something started nibbling at my strength. First, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement that I was going away for Christmas. The moment I walked out the door of my office on December 19th, even though I had just been told I might not have a job waiting for me when I returned, I was happy. I drove fast, as if it would somehow speed up time.

Minor tremors of fear before I was at the airport...what if I missed my flight? What if I got into a car accident? What if the taxi driver sneezed and swerved off a cliff? What if I was arrested for trying to smuggle a pomelo into the United States? What if the travel agent sent me to Wyoming instead of Illinois?

I did make it to Chicago, though U.S. Customs insisted the pomelo go into quarantine.

Chicago was not exactly a Budapest. It was good enough, though. Strangers would peer over my book and ask me if I liked the Maginificent Mile. Whether I was watching an instructional video on joint-rolling or snorting at a Medusa postcard in gift shops, men and women would turn their heads to smile at me. And, most unusual, people vied for my time.

In my absence, Vancouver suddenly turned brown. The sunshine on Vancouver magnified the wrinkles and liver spots, just like the bright light above a bar bathroom mirror.

Vancouver also suddenly shrank. Do I really know every street? Today I tried out new routes from the office. Yet I had been on all those streets before. Not one of them was completely new to me. I try to lose myself in the maze of streets. Every strange street merges with some well-known street. Even worse, I now have to drive past my first high school,* the White Trash High School. The demographics seem to have shifted towards a different race, but the ghosts of my past overlap with the present day.**

And the language here! It never changes! I like weird accents.*** Yesterday, before I could stop myself the following, in a faux Scottish accent that would have film critics lambasting my efforts, came out of my mouth: "Aye, when ye crowlin' ferlie be a-hoistin' the Jolly Roger, I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee wi' murd'ring pattle..." I stopped myself too late, a victim of the aghast Vancouver stare. And English everywhere! Mandarin has largely disappeared from our shores. The wreckage of Romanian has long sank under the Patullo Bridge. English even diluted the French on cereal boxes into a weak concoction of random letters.

The travel bug is stirring. I have invitations from Sal to visit New York; Beth as always tells me I am welcome in Chicago; Arizona Cheryl promises me lots of frybread on the Navajo Reservation; there is an urgency to see Shirley while she remains in Calgary and then the promise of a lengthier jaunt to New Zealand hangs before me.

Something fun and exciting had better happen soon.

*I attended three different high schools: the White Trash High School, the Maoist High School and the Woo Hoo Acid High School.

**At this point I got a phone call from another alienated Vancouverite.

***My caller hypnotically repeated my rendition of ci-teee.

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