L-Street – Appreciation

The elderly woman from this photo can not speak but is fully aware of her surroundings. Her husbands first response to what he appreciates in life is his health.

The elderly woman from this photo can not speak but is fully aware of her surroundings. Her husbands first response to what he appreciates in life is his health.

Have you ever looked at the person across from you on the bus, or the person in the other lane on the highway and wondered, “What’s your story?” Just to have that person get off at the next stop, or turn off at the next exit, never to know the answer? We’re surrounded by thousands, millions of these stories, very few of which we will ever know.

L-Street moves from the goofy street antics to a deepened connection, reaching into the lives of the people in the background.

Today we ask people what they appreciate in their lives.

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“If you don’t plan anything, then nothing can go wrong.”

On Friday the 17th I randomly decided to journey my way to Vancouver Island. A trip so spontaneous and serendipitous it’s hard to believe it really happened, as I ride the 1pm ferry back to the mainland. I can’t help but smile at all the moments neatly crammed into what turned out to be an extremely eventful weekend.

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A Pink Bag:

The idea of a trip to the island had been trickling around in my mind for about a week. I talked it over briefly with my dad and thought I could do it on a hundred dollar budget. He challenged me, “if you do it, I’ll pay you the $100.00”. The idea settled for another couple days until Friday, when a friend of mine from Vancouver Island asked me to pick up a lost bag of hers from the Translink lost and found.

“Hey man, I’m here to pick up a bag for Jordan?” The guy at the lost and found looks at me quizzically, “What does it look like?” Realizing that I didn’t know, “Uhhh, it’s got a bra inside it?” He returns moments later, with a poorly hidden grin and a flamboyantly pink Victoria’s Secret bag.

I don’t really know why, but I decided then, that I was going to the island. I went home and threw a toothbrush, underwear, and $100.00 in cash into my bag and jumped on the first skytrain out to the ferry terminal.

Serendipitous Beginnings:

As the boat started to leave the terminal, realized I had no plans of where I was staying, how I would get to the city from the ferry or what I was going to do with my time there. I made a post on Facebook, and sent a few messages to people I knew in the Victoria area.

“Hey Jay! So… hypothetically speaking… What’s your couch doing tonight?”

“Hey Jordan, I have your bag… Thanks for letting me know that it’s flamboyant pink and containing ladies underwear! When can I get it to you?”

Throughout the weekend, it just seemed like things worked out. The forces of the universe were in my favour as I glided from place to place going with the flow of activity. People accommodated for my almost startling lack of direction and made my stay amazing with wicked personal suggestions and effort on their part to make it interesting. I never turned anything down, whatever was happening I said yes and figured out how later. The first “yes” landed me in the downtown clubbing scene with Jay.

Clubbin’ With @TypicalJay and Girls:

Jay and I jump in old Becky (a middle aged Honda Civic) and head downtown to meet up with some girls, finding absolutely prime parking in the heart of downtown for free. (BOOM!)

The cover band belted all the classics and we danced like buffoons. As everyone bounced and swayed their way around, my gaze falls on the ATM, charging 5$ per withdrawal, sitting lonely in a darkened corner of the bar. In the cash drawer I notice a glint of something reflective. I took three steps over and picked up what had been left behind.

I stood near the machine looking around for disgruntled customers until I was satisfied that the drunk who left it was probably better off without the extra money for his hangover. In a second of sober awareness, luck had doubled my weekend budget by $100.00 in cash.

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We danced on chicks like it was a high school prom night, and I bought the drinks! Before the night was done, Jay informed me that in the morning, we were going garage sale-ing.

Garage Sale Winning:

With four hours sleep, a list off craigslist, and bit of rope, the team rolls out for our morning of treasure hunting. The first spot we hit is run by a really awesome mother of three who was so nice as to take silly pictures of us with her kid’s old Nerf guns.

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It seemed like the woman could read our minds! After packing the single bed frame, working vacuum cleaner and coffee maker into the trunk of the car, the total cost came to a whopping zero dollars. (That’s includes the iconic garage sale mask shown below).

In keeping with the weekend’s theme, an interaction with the woman running the sale summed it up perfectly: “Dyou think it’s all going to fit in there?” she asks helpfully. I turned to her and said, “We’re twenty… it’ll fit.”

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VIP Sight Seeing:

From epic garage sale-ing, to city sight-seeing, my journey flowed seamlessly from the treasure wagon with Jay, to the private-island-tour-truck with Jordan. I felt as though I was being whisked about the country-side on a guided tour. “All I want… ” teasing Jordan as she drove me around, “is to ride one of those double decker busses! They are so cool! ”

At some point as we drove, the winter clouds parted and the sun beamed down on our majestic journey. My tour, hosted by a Victoria local, was full of hidden beaches, spectacular views and wharf neighbourhoods otherwise unknown to tourist mobs.

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Victoria, and the Island in general, is so spectacularly beautiful. There were moments of reflective silence as we gazed over the rolling hills and oceans with colossal mountain ranges peaking in the distance. There is a reason why west coast rhymes with best coast.

Shark Club Catch Up:

Our adventures came to an end with the sunset, and Jordan drops me off at a pub on her way home where I meet an old friend from another time. Camron and I spent the majority of our childhoods together in sports and in school. After a few moments of conversation, we established that we had not spoken, one-on-one, in over 6 years.

The Shark Club has a game where you pick a puck from a basket with a player’s number on it. If that player scores you get free shots and the house Stanley Cup on your table. I chose a third line defensemen, number 6, Yannick Weber. Despite his scoring odds, I called it, “We’re gonna win this shit!”

After a random opening brawl, 4 defenders are kicked out of the game and Yannick gets put on the first line. Just like I said, Yannick went on to score two goals that game awarding our table two rounds of shots. The Canucks won the game, and we won the Sharks Club Cup.

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The game was a backlight to what I found amazing about that dinner. I met with a friend who I hadn’t seen in 6 years and carried on 4-hour conversation like nothing had changed. Being able to connect with an old friend shows you the value of your relationships and the importance of keeping awesome people in your life.

As the game wrapped up and our evening came to close, I reconnected with Jay. We discussed awesome deals found at garage sales, views and vistas around town, and the awesome existence of double decker busses. Around 1:30 a.m. it was established that an early breakfast was to had at Floyds Diner downtown with Breanne.

Breakfast OF Champions:

Floyds is a renowned restaurant in Victoria, I had been told on many occasions of the legendary “Mahoney” meal. A feast concocted by the chef’s inspiration of the moment. There is no telling what you will receive on your plate, and no idea how much you will have to pay for it when it arrives. The odds are fifty-fifty, a coin toss to see if you pay double the price, or nothing at all.

From the moment “The Mahoney” hit the table, until we forced it into a to-go container, we could not stop laughing at the insanity of this meal. The triple-decker breakfast enchilada hung over the sides of a full size dinner plate. Inside was chorizo sausage, seasoned chicken breast, bacon, cheese, onions, red pepper, banana peppers and a mountain of fresh salsa, sour cream, and guacamole on top.

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And then… A completely unnecessary (but also really awesome) side of potato wedges with hollandaise sauce. I managed to get through a quarter of the meal before tapping out. The waiter comes up to us then pops the question, “so how’re you paying?”

I pulled a loonie from my pocket and handed it to the man responsible for the monstrous meal in front of me and called tails. Yeah… the meal I just described? FREE.

I proceeded to pay for both Jay and Breanne’s meals and tipped generously, including the winning Loonie on top.

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Last Words:

We laugh our way out of the restaurant making sure to shake hands with the owner. Some tearful goodbyes and a thousand thank-you’s later, Jay went home and Breanne walked me to where I would take the bus to the ferry. On the way she casually points out “one of the funkiest thrift places in Victoria”. I casually take note and imagine the jeans I would love to buy from such a place. We share a big hug of celebration being able to see one another, and Breanne gets on her bus.

With 20 minutes to wait, I wander over the consignment shop with a pair of Levi jeans in mind. I walk into the store and make my way to a sale rack of denim where I found a pair of 514 Levi Strauss jeans. I took them to the change room, realized they were perfect in all ways, and then wore them out of the store… A rare and perfect fit for $25.00.

The smile could not have been bigger, I literally skipped across the street back to my bus stop just in time to catch a DOUBLE DECKER BUS to Schwartz Bay.

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Heading Home:

I think it was at this point that my inspiration boner was biggest. I got on and immediately found my way to the top deck where I sat for the duration of the trip. The bus took a scenic route, and soon I found myself sitting in a fishbowl 20 feet off the ground, looking out over fields and little country communities with the ocean spanning out behind.

On the freeway, we passed the scene of a tragic car accident where someone had lost their life. On the ground, medical crews loaded an ambulance as the silent bus rolled past. The roadways into town were backed up for miles, thousands and thousands of cars lined up at a standstill at the scene of someone’s death. I found myself looking at the scenic beauty during the rest of the trip with a deeper appreciation.

Final Ferry: Closure

I was silent for much of the ferry ride home as I wrote this entry. I realize now the amazing impact this trip had on my psyche. I wrote about depression on my way to the island, having just recovered from a recent funk, and composed this uplifting story on the way back… wearing a garage sale mask.

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This trip meant a lot to me beyond the relief of my daily tasks. The connections I found with people, and the passion of living in the moment made me happy. After something as freeing as my experience this weekend, it makes me excited for the future. There was a point in my life when I was not sure if I would ever be able to do anything fun, or spontaneous, and this weekend I proved it all wrong.

To all those who I saw in my time there, and those who I missed, thank you.

Victoria now has a special place in my heart.

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“If you don’t drink, why do you go to parties?

This is what drunk people look like to sober people. Still doesn’t remove from the fact that this was an awesome night, and the love I have for all the people in this photograph. Sober partying is all about perspective.

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“If you don’t drink, why do you go to parties? Isn’t it annoying having drunk people yelling in your face all night?” Whenever I am asked this I laugh, then I explain my appreciation for the occasional drunken yelling match. As a newly sober party attender, I have come to grasp and appreciate the inner workings of the drunken human condition.

The Pretender

The best way to not hate partying with drunk people is to pretend you’re drunk yourself. Immerse yourself in the party culture, and as Ron Burgundy once said, “When in Rome…” In what other circumstances do we greet each other with a shriek of happiness and a big bear hug? Divulge our appreciation for someone in a sentimental heart to heart? Recount tales of greatness with full gusto, and animated hand gestures? This is the stage of the evening that you connect with old friends to reminisce the good old days and make bold promises to hang out in the future.

I love this part of drinking, the passion and enthusiasm for the little things. Finally I have a group of like minded people willing to throw down on the dance floor and fill the airwaves with giggling gibberish. However, this is just a stage, because unlike genuine happiness found without alcohol, there is a always a crash, and suddenly the sober person’s role begins to change.

The Protector

Drunk people are vulnerable. All night they have been saying how they feel, and acting on impulses usually stifled in the office cubicle, and now the night is coming to an end. This is the part of the evening when the euphoria of the initial buzz wears off and the desperation to keep the feeling alive takes over. Fights break out, people hook up, and the final round of drinks are drunk. In this moment, a smart sober person knows to step to the side and let nature run it’s course.

Once the dust has settled and the arrests have been made, you can’t help but feel responsible for these now completely incapacitated, stumbling drunk, helpless people. And so, “The Protector” role develops into the, equally responsible, designated driver.

The Designated Driver

If you are really lucky you will manage to pull a few friends from the wreckage and lure them to the safety of your vehicle. This will take hours of drunken negotiations and perilous scavenger hunts for purses and missing people. Once everyone is in the car and the directions home have been surreptitiously drawn from the slobbering mouths of the semi-conscious, you are a fully legal, driving super hero. This is the grunt work, volunteer, shit shovelling part of the evening, but just like the girl at the Wendy’s pickup window, you have to suck it up and do your job. Throw on some pulsing house music and play the role of the cool limousine driver. You will be showered in compliments, thanks, and  maybe a tip if you play your cards right.

You should expect to be out later than the people whom you took home. You should expect to feel awful the next morning, but you should know that with great power, comes great responsibility. You have the power to enjoy yourself without getting drunk, and therefore it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of those who cannot.

The Observer

At the end of the night you are left to your thoughts. No drugs or fading effects of booze to lull you into a induced, dreamless sleep of respite. This is what I love about going out sober, and probably the same thing that most hate. I get to have these memories and learn from them, take in and appreciate those drunk minds speaking their sober hearts. It’s hard to imagine the positive outcome amongst the mayhem of the last few hours, but as you drive home in silence, or lay in bed before sleep, you run through the events of evening and, for once, you remember them.

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15 Days Down… (30 Day Photo Challenge)

By the 15th day of the project I have discovered a very simple fact. I can only take pictures of things that I care about. Originally I had thought:

“Carrying this camera is like cat sitting. It’s a simple addition to your daily routine but you have to go out of your way to take care of it.” 

My mindset on this point has changed somewhat because I realized that even taking care of a cat reveals subtle things about your life you would not normally be aware of.

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The camera has been a great way for me to connect with people, and so far they occupy the majority of my photos. It’s amazing how willing people are to be vulnerable when I’m holding this camera. Whenever I am thinking of my photo of the day, humanity seems to come to the forefront my attention. Some of the best photos I have taken have been of, or in the presence of, another person. With every day that goes by, with every photo I take, I realize that people are a huge part of my life.

One of my favourite moments from the project so far (that I REALLY hope turns out) is a woman sitting on the street curb covered in blankets, writing the word “homeless” on a piece of cardboard. I stared, frozen on the street corner, as she scratched in the “H” and kneeled down beside her as she scribbled the rest of this heavily weighted word describing herself, in fading black sharpie. I asked her if I could take her photo as she wrote. She looked me in the eyes and held my gaze for a moment before nodding. I laid down on the cold forbidding concrete where she lived her daily life and took the photo as sunlight silhouetted her hair. I gave her 4 dollars and left.

Even if that photo turns out to be shit. That moment I shared with that person will always be with me. A written confession of shame and a plea for help, made by and for herself. The fact that she was willing to have this documented. That she trusted me in this moment of struggling reality in her life. It humbles me.

If you could only take one more photo before you died, what would it be? Your expression and feelings have to be concentrated and represented in a single “click”. That photo has to mean something. It has to be something that you really care about and are naturally drawn to. Our project is less severe than that, but we try to tap into the meaning of photography in a similar sense. What has meaning in your life? Taking the act of photography beyond the arbitrary motion of snapping a picture and focusing it into a harnessed moment of reality that speaks to us on a personal level.

And for me? It’s people. People fascinate me.

This old man got on the train and rode the entire time staring out the front at the approaching tracks until he needed to get off.

This old man got on the train and rode the entire time staring out the front at the approaching tracks until he needed to get off.

 

We Met In The “Self Help” Section of Chapters

“I made a new friend today, a friend named Angela. We started as complete strangers and over the course of a spontaneous 2 hour long conversation in the self help section of Chapters, we became friends.

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After leaving an uplifting psychologist appointment I wandered over to the book store to pick up “The Mindfulness Solution” recommended by my therapist. After finding my book I sat down in a bamboo woven chair near a woman reading on an iPad. Without thinking on the implications of what I was saying, or taking into account the given circumstance I asked, “whatcha reading?”.

Angela’s Story

Angela (who I would only know as the-lady-in-the-self-help section until near the end of our conversation) was reading a book about autism, to gain a better understanding for her diagnosed 11 year old daughter. As I would soon learn, everyone has their story. You never know what others are going through.

For the sake of Angela’s privacy I will not disclose all the details of the amazing conversation we had, but I will say that the music playing in Chapters that day was at times, potently appropriate, and at others laughably disconnected.

Angela is a fighter. Sitting in front of me, a survivor of breast cancer and a double mastectomy, the mother of a mentally challenged daughter and an adult from a childhood in a broken home. Angela had fought the odds to obtain a life worth living. Everything that she achieved she did on her own and in this moment, everything she worked for was being challenged. Only the night before her daughter, recently diagnosed with diabetes, collapsed in Old Navy having a seizure because of a diabetic reaction. Angela at one point said. “I don’t think I have had this much stress in my whole life as I have had in the last 6 weeks.”

It seemed that our paths had crossed at the crescendo of what has been the most stressful 6 months of her life. Personal health problems with her husband, her daughter and herself. From the immediate details of her current situation, to tales from her past. As her story developed and her human struggles became more clear, our connection began to take purpose. I was originally shocked by her forwardness and her willingness to share. Then I considered that she may be sharing because she needed the support.

What Makes You Happy?

Our conversation took a very unconventional trajectory, drifting from our mutual struggles and personal details, to stories about how to find clarity and positivity in the face of adversity and change. We became a team at this point, and this was truly where the conversation started to get inspiring for me. Suddenly we were brain storming about how to improve our situations in life and speaking to the opportunities ahead of us. We we’re in the “Well Being” section after all.

At one point I asked her, as cliche as I possibly could. “What makes you happy?. She turns and looks at me, ‘You know a co-worker recently asked a similar question to a group of us and everyone around me could list a number of things but I couldn’t think of anything.” After a possibly overblown reaction and a lot of calling “bullshit”, I stubbornly opposed this statement and began badgering her to find something in her life that gave her happiness.

It started with little things, we realized that we both had the dictionary.com app and got “the word of the day”. We hummed and hah’d over the dogs in our lives, and she confessed that she and her husband quite look forward to their Saturday morning walks at the dog park. I then proceeded to tease her about being an old lady. ;-P

She found a smile in saying that she loved to ski, but regretfully explained she hadn’t done it for a very long time. I began listing the world class ski resorts in the area when she interrupts that her  husband couldn’t go with her because of a recent hip replacement. “This isn’t about your husband, this is about you. If it makes you happy, then you will do it on your own, and he will be happy to see you do it. ”

The Human Connection

Angela and I talked about some pretty heavy stuff. Heart disease, disability, depression, domestic abuse, mental health and rehabilitation. The dialogue had started with her opening up about her autistic daughter and was reciprocated with my battle with heart disease. Not exactly a picture perfect first impression. In a way though, this facilitated a flow of dialogue that most human interactions never achieve. Trust and emotional investment was the first step with one another, and from then on it was a supportive, non judgmental relationship.

We shared a very human experience in that little corner of Chapters. Each of us open and vulnerable in our own ways, drawn together by the forces of nature. Angela reached out to a random stranger in the most personal of times in her life and I was just so lucky to have been that person. She trusted me with details of her life that I feel many who know her on a daily basis do not know.

Near the end of our talk I showed her one of my most beloved and intimate coping mechanisms, my journal. As I brought out the leather bound book her expression changed. Turns out Angela graduated from UBC with a degree in English. She used to write every day in journals throughout her childhood and has not written a word in over 3 years.

After animatedly spit balling the benefits and holistic qualities of journaling, I insisted that we go downstairs and pick her out a brand new journal for her to start writing in again. The whole time we looked she smiled and laughed looking through all the various shapes, sizes and styles. Until she laid her hands on a simple yet beautiful, brown leather journal. She held it in her hands and smiled, taking a breath as she ran her hands over the lined paper, feeling the pages in between her fingers.

We bought our books together, hugged a very long, thankful hug, and laughed at the miraculous way that our lives had brought us together… and added each other on Facebook. ”

"She's a Fighter"