Dear Brian Williams: You’re Welcome!

Recently, a thoughtfully polite thank you note from NBC Nightly News Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams (pictured), has been making its way across the Canadian Twitterverse. Mr. Williams, after apparently stealing several dollars worth of items from his hotel room, passed along a heartfelt post-Olympic thank you note.

The Daily Gumboot’s online community, a veritable focus group and/or cross-section of Canadians – we do have ideas from everywhere, after all – is well placed to provide some you’re welcome anecdotes in response to Mr. Williams’s class-act of a thank you note. After all, we Hosers are a courteous lot, aren’t we?

Here is our new friend Brian’s note with my responses in italics

Thank you, Canada:

For being such good hosts. No problem, Brian. I mean, when you drop $8 billion on a party, you can be pretty confident it’ll go reasonably well – the rest of the “hosting” comes to us naturally; I mean, have you ever been to a Canadian kitchen party? We basically took that formula and applied it to the Olympics.

For your unfailing courtesy. You’re absolutely right. We even made mistakes – hydraulic-based ones as well as hosting a “winter” event in a rain forest during Springtime – just so other countries wouldn’t feel outperformed in the future.

For your (mostly) beautiful weather. Beauty is subjective, Brian. And some people think soulless gray drizzle is gorgeous.

For scheduling no more than 60 percent of your float plane departures at the exact moment when I was trying to say something on television. Honestly, this was a mistake. The plan was for the float planes to depart when CTV’s Brian Williams was trying to say something, not you. The intern responsible for this catastrophe has been fired.

For not seeming to mind the occasional (or constant) good-natured mimicry of your accents. Wait. Vancouver accents too? Wow. We thought you were making fun of Newfies and/or French Canadians. This mimicry will not be taken lightly, eh.

For your unique TV commercials — for companies like Tim Hortons — which made us laugh and cry. Oh my goodness I first saw the one with the immigrant family from Africa on a plane and embarrassed myself by sobbing and hugging the person next to me. Luckily, she was crying too.

For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon. What’s an automatic weapon? Just kidding. Vancouver actually has a horrible gang problem. Not kidding. Seriously, though, the police went above and beyond during the Games and, in many peoples’ opinions, changed their reputation within Canada’s cultural landscape.

For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games — you’ve made wearing your name a cool thing to do. Agreed. Are you surprised, though? We’ve been toque-making for centuries up here.

For the sportsmanship we saw most of your athletes display. Again, we apologize for winning all those gold medals. Sorry.

For not honking your horns. I didn’t hear one car horn in 15 days — which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting. First, could you really hear anything with all those float planes flying by? Second, everybody got scared of potential traffic and took public transit into town. Third, many, many people honked when Team Canada won the hockey game. These people were probably not from New York.

For making us aware of how many of you have been watching NBC all these years. People from around the world really, really, really liked Seinfeld.

For having the good taste to have an anchorman named Brian Williams on your CTV network, who turns out to be such a nice guy. He says the same thing about you. And someone from this blog may or may not have started a rumour that Canada’s Brian Williams is your uncle.

For the body scans at the airport which make pat-downs and cavity searches unnecessary. We’ve all been to airports and we all know you probably don’t fit the profile of someone who gets their cavity searched, Mr. Williams – but it’s awfully nice of you to empathize with those who do as well as compliment these machines that go for $250,000 a piece.

For designing those really cool LED Olympic rings in the harbor, which turned to gold when your athletes won one. Fun fact: those “rings” were actually the different recycling bins from City Hall with the bottoms cut out and turned sideways. The intern who swam out to the barge and turned the lights to gold 14 times did a way better job than the float plane guy.

For always saying nice things about the United States…when you know we’re listening. Well, people up here really like this Obama guy. Could you tell your countryfolk to stop screwing it up, please? Thanks.

For sharing Joannie Rochette with us. “Glowing hearts” was redefined in a the most beautiful way by her indescribable courage. This was a very, very nice thing to say, Mr. Williams. Thank you.

For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society. You know, we don’t actually hug each other this much on non-Olympic days. Hey, you’re welcome. It’s not easy being so community-minded. But the hugs, friendly police and smug sense of Europeanish superiority help us get through it.

Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us. Amazing. So, since we’re friends, can I stay with you in New York? And, um, do you know Jon Stewart?

To all the Canadians out there, I encourage you to let Mr. Williams know how much his thoughtful note meant to our national community! You can email your You’re Welcome note by following this link or send a hand-written card to this address:

NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10112

Now get out there, get writing and have fun with it!

- JCH

The Last Olympic Neighbourhood – Merville

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!



1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly, and how do I get there?

JOHN: Merville is a mysterious and secret neighbourhood that exists between the West End and Stanley Park. Few Vancouverites have ever truly found this hidden gem of a community. Unfortunately, it is unreachable by public transit, although a quick hike or bike ride through some of Merville’s amazing trails will get you into the community’s heart in no time at all!

KURT: If you want a real answer, I’d suggest typing in Courtenay, BC into Google maps. Then go a little into the bush and presto, you’re there.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

KURT: My favorite part about Merville is the streams. I can remember several happy occasions where I had the opportunity to A) float down them and B) dive underneath the rocks and through carved holes in the riverbed. No, I’m not on acid. There is such a place and its called Nymph Falls.

JOHN: The Merville General Store is probably one of the coolest, most eclectic places in Vancouver. Colourful local characters who never, ever leave this hidden community pull up a bar stool and engage as many tourists and newcomers as possible in conversations that run the gamut from inspiring to downright weird. Merville also yields spectacular beeches, lush pastures and forests, as well as one of the most diverse mushroom populations in Coastal British Columbia. Finally, it’s the gumboot capital of Canada, which may or may not have inspired a couple of editors back at the beginning of this project.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: As I said before, there are mushrooms galore! But if fungus isn’t for you, I recommend sampling some other amazing treats from the 100% local bounty of Merville. A lot of people here live off the grid (and some don’t like strangers shooting film on their porches, apparently), so their diet consists of truly local beef (we saw two or three cows during our trip), chickens and other fowl, pigs, goats, sheep, small-to-medium-sized-rodents, shellfish and non-shellfish, and a wide variety of roots, tubers and berries. The culinary highlight was probably stumbling across a gentleman who was harvesting some winter squash that he was planning to serve with heaping portions of rabbit stew. Yum yum!

KURT: Another great place to check out is the Atlas. Make sure you order their chicken focaccia sandwich. And also make sure you bring an appetite. John once finished second in an international hot dog eating contest (at least that’s what he tells me) and he still has trouble eating the whole sandwich.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood.

JOHN: Merville has one of the weirdest community traditions I’ve ever seen in my travels – which include history books, television shows and face-to-face adventures around the world. The locals love to rock fight. I don’t know how to explain it more simply, other than to write this: find someone else in the ‘hood and throw rocks at that person. Typically, the first rock is a warning shot and might not actually hit the person. After that, it’s game on! Like I said, it’s weird.

5. What are your three favourite things about Merville?

1) It’s a real place. If you’re only in town for a few more days, forget the Olympics and try to find Merville. This unique, hidden and quaint little community has a lot to offer and is a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. In exchange for my telling you the community’s location I would accept hockey tickets. It’s worth it. Trust me.

2) Adventure. Whether it’s getting in a rock fight, evading curmudgeony locals or careening through a breathtaking forest, Merville has all sorts of spectacular outdoor sights to experience in a myriad of different ways.

3) Olympic Spirit. Did you know that 100% of Mervillians support the Olympics? Also, Canadian Hockey Defenseman, Brent Seabrook is actually from the tiny Stanley Park hamlet of Merville! True story. Before moving to Delta/Tswwassen, Mr. Seabrook honed his hockey skills by shooting rocks against trees with his grandfather’s hockey stick.

Olympic Neighbourhoods: the Punjabi Market

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…the Punjabi Market!

punjabi market

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: The Punjabi Market is easily found at the corner – the nexus, if you will – of Main and 50th Streets, although this Googlemap will tell you that it exists here, at Main and 49th – the neighbourhood lives between 51st and 48th streets and is a must see stop on your Olympic visit. Rumour had it that this was the proposed location for The India Gate, a superawesome design meant to be an homage to the pioneers of Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian community. Problem is, the gate wasn’t there – or it was really, really, really small. According to our friends at Translink, you can get to the Punjabi Market in 24 minutes from the Robson Square Olympic Celebration Headquarters. Hop on the Canada Line or Expo Line and then look for the 003, 025 or 049 buses.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: This neighbourhood yields the highest number of jewelry stores in the entire country. So, if you like things that sparkle, that’s reason enough! Speaking of things that sparkle, the authentic Indian clothing stores sprinkled throughout this neighbourhood cannot be missed. Whether you’re going to an Indian wedding or not – maybe you just really, really hope you get invited one day – this is the place in the Lower Mainland to get your saris, suits, kurta pajamas, salwar kameez, shermanis, dhoti kurtas, turbans, dupattas and more!

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: Look, friends. When it comes to a good curry, don’t mess around in the “Indian” or “Asian” section of your local conglomerate of a grocery store. Book off an afternoon and travel to the Punjabi Market to collect all the best spices this side of Delhi. While collecting these culinary staples, stop for lunch, a snack or dinner at one of the Punjabi Market’s fantastic restaurants. The All India Sweets & Restaurant is a popular community-destination for locals and tourists alike. Kurt and I also got four amazing samosas for two dollars from a very nice man in a parking lot. Delicious.

KURT: To get a little more specific I’d like to recommend the samosas. When John and I were last down there we bought four for only … wait for it… $2. That’s right – its South Asian prices right here in Vancouver. Can’t be beat.

The India Gate is just a block away...trust us...
The India Gate is just a block away…trust us…

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: Check out the Sunset Community Centre during the Olympics (and after, if your flight gets canceled) for all sorts of supercool cultural events. Kurt and I were lucky to do our walk-though of this hotbed of community-minded-activity during a rehearsal for the Vancouver Parks Board’s Community Happenings, a celebration of Vancouver’s cultural landscape that will be happening in a neighbourhood near you throughout the entire Olympic experience. Get out there and enjoy yourselves!

KURT: If you happen to be around the neighbourhood in April, make sure not to miss Vaisakhi. It’s a massive festival that tens of thousands of South Asians (from across the Pacific Northwest) take part in. During Vaisakhi, dozens of floats, marching groups, Khalsa school attendees, politicians, and gawkers mingle in the middle of the street. On either side are dozens of small kiosks (some manned by grandmas) all giving away thousands of dollars of free food. It’s an amazing smorgasboard of delights from curry to prakoras. All homemade. Well worth the traffic jam you need to navigate to visit it.

5. What are your three favourite things about the Punjabi Market?

1. The Food. Best. Samosas. Ever. And they were two bucks. The difference between curry and real curry are the spices. Do the right thing. Visit the Punjabi Market.

2. Celebrating Bollywood Hindi Cinema. A nice chat with some folks in one of the many, many, many Bollywood-specialized video stores in the Punjabi Market taught me a valuable lesson about the pitfalls of accepting Bollywood as the only expression of Indian film – it’s just the most popular and internationally renowned one. After all, in a country of over one billion people that recognizes over 15 languages as “official” ones (Editor’s note: seriously, Canada, stop pretending it’s hard to manage two) can there really be just one kind of Indian film?

3. Bright Colours. I live on the Drive, man. People wear black a lot. It was a pleasure to see some brightness for a change, especially against the eternally gray backdrop of the wintery West Coast.


Coal-end

Last week I printed google-map directions from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Media Centre to their National Convention Centre.  I then followed these directions.

At 10:23am, I left the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Media Centre/Convention Centre and using only the times and directions on the map from Beijing, I ended up at the point at which Stanley Park meets English Bay and the West End at 11:17 am.

The derive, or ‘drift’ was an essential method of urban exploration for the Situationist movement (1958-1971).  A ‘drift’ is a day or multi-day long wander through a city, directionally random, yet with a strong focus on the poorer and thus more invigorated neighbourhoods.  Psycho-geography is the method of recording such wanders, and involves the division of the city into non-cartographic sectors, based on such non-specific criteria as ambience, emotion, authenticity, and welcome.  Today, many romantically-inclined urban aficionados might include these terms under the umbrella of ‘community’.

Coal Harbour is a distinct psycho-geographic community from the West End, and they are divided by Robson St.

no dogs in parks; keep your bikes away; control the lanes; keep those evil-deors out of the parking garage

COAL HARBOUR

  • The architecture and landscape of Coal Harbour are very authorized (read: planned + manicured), making a true ‘drift’ difficult, as the body is directed along a very specific set of paths and journeys
  • It is possible to have the awkward hallway you-go-this-way-I-go-that-you-go-my-way dodging game in the middle of cross-walk, with only two people present.
  • Coal Harbour is a place of hierarchical spectacle.  This ranges from the spectacle of the mountains and the voyeurism of viewing people on the seawall from your glass tower; to the micro topography of the seawall’s successively higher grade of walking path, benches and bike path
  • Your presence in Coal Harbour on a weekday must be authorized: this can be demonstrated through: conference name tag, business suit, olympic dog-tag, construction vest and work boots, landscaping or rent-a-cop outfit. Servant or served, you cannot be neither without being actively observed and questioned by those with the correct clothing mix
  • North-south penetrations of the city are difficult, roadways, signs and pathways consistently direct you on the west-east axis

name tags are carefully tucked away along with safety vests

THE WEST END

  • Predominantly low-rise, residential architecture, combined with a few key commercial strips, filled with drift potential; alleyways, small streets and through-passages abound.  A heterogenous built environment means the body is constantly intrigued by its’ surroundings
  • Also a place of spectacle, yet it is a dinner-theatre event to the formalized national opera house of Coal Harbour
  • Mobility scooters and/or short haircuts are requirements for inhabitation
  • Rent-a-cops take the time to coo at small babies, without looking askance at your loitering
  • Name tags are removed with care and stowed in re-usable shopping bags

The ‘drift’ is a non-judgmental journey, rather the experience is to simply allow situations to happen to you and you turn cause situations through your very presence.  Based on these observations and your personal experience, what do you think of these nieghbourhoods’ psychogeographic feel, or community Have you drifted before?

Olympic Neighbourhoods: The North Shore

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhoods” series. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…The North Shore!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: Do you like boats? I hope so, because getting from Downtown to the North Shore means crossing one of two bridges or, if you go car-less, taking the Seabus to Lonsdale Quay. Here is an interactive map that really ties it all together.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: People from the North Shore will tell you that this community represents the pinnacle of a “West Coast” lifestyle. Truly, no other place in the Lower Mainland possesses the combination of nature, suburbia, urban-chique, and small-town-friendliness. This is the place where a traveler can realize the purest of West Coast experiences: catch a gorgeous view of the cityscape over a steaming cup of fair trade, locally roasted coffee and then move on to a day of skiing, golfing and kayaking or mountain biking and then wrapping it all up with a micro-brewed pint of delicious beer. It’s a beautiful thing.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: I defer to Kelly White’s performance for this one. But, if you’re like 72% of our readership and sneak peaks at the Gumboot during free moments in your cubicle at work, then you might not be able to watch the video. If this is the case, there are, allegedly, super-popular, must-try cheese sticks at the Queensdale Market and the mysteriously fantastic sandwich makers at La Galleria in the even more mysterious Edgemont Village.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: Ummm…everything! Again, I encourage you to watch this in-depth video about the secrets of the North Shore. Of all the places that Kelly took us, the Lynn Loop was the most inspiring. It reminded me of being back on Vancouver Island (where I grew up) and the idea of being able to do everything from a two hour round trip to an overnight camping excursion where, according to the locals, “you need to know what you’re doing” is what makes Vancouver an absolutely unique urban experience.Check out trails and a full list of other west coast activities here.

5. What are your three favourite things about the North Shore?

KELLY:

1. Being so close to trails and forest so that anyone can get away from the hussel and bussel of city life and enjoy the fresh air on weekends.

2. The friendly community-feel of the North Shore~ residents care about their community and it shows.

3. My favorite outdoor summer festvial, Caribbean Days! Every late July, Waterfront Park hosts a Caribbean Days event with music, a parade, food, and a beer garden. It’s the one event I never miss every year, it is awesome!

JOHN: I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly’s answers above (although I didn’t try the pizza at Taylor’s Crossing), but will just add that my Aunt Julie Ann lives in North Vancouver, so I’m always happy to visit her and get up to some shenanigans.

Listed Community Tips

One of my favourite stores at which to consume things is Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade and mostly organic business founded in 1946 after now famous Mennonite Edna Ruth Byler took a trip to Puerto Rico and taught sewing classes with the hope of raising awareness for women’s rights. Much has changed since Edna’s trip in 1946 and thanks to Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Wayne Gretzky, and people like me who shop at Ten Thousand Villages, the world is pretty much equal. Utopiatic, even.

Not convinced? Well, if you think we can do better, I challenge you to consider a simple strategy from the Syracuse Cultural Workers, which outlines How to Build Global Community:

  • Think of no one as “them”
  • Don’t confuse your comfort with your safety
  • Talk to strangers (editor’s note: see, mom!)
  • Imagine other cultures through their art, poetry and novels
  • Listen to music you don’t understand and dance to it
  • Act locally
  • Notice the workings of power and privilege in your culture
  • Question consumption
  • Know how your lettuce and coffee are grown
  • Look for fair trade and union labels
  • Help build economies from the bottom up
  • Acquire few needs
  • Learn a second (or third) language
  • Visit people, places and cultures – not tourist attractions

    Think about re-defining our global community.

    Think about re-defining our global community.

  • Learn peoples’ history and re-define progress
  • Know physical and political geography
  • Play games from other cultures
  • Watch films with subtitles
  • Know your heritage
  • Honour everyone’s holidays
  • Look at the moon and imagine someone else, somewhere else, looking at it too
  • Read the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Understand the global economy in terms of people, land and water
  • Know where your bank banks
  • Never believe you have a right to anyone else’s resources
  • Re-think wearing logos
  • Question military/corporate connections
  • Don’t confuse money with wealth or time with money
  • Have a pen/email pal
  • Honour indigenous cultures
  • Judge governance by how well it meets all people’s needs
  • Be skeptical about what you read
  • Eat adventurously and enjoy vegetables, beans and grains in your diet
  • Choose curiosity over certainty
  • Know where your water comes from and where it goes
  • Question nationalism (editor’s note: cheer for everyone during the Olympics!)
  • Think South, Central and North – there are many Americas
  • Assume that many others share your dreams
  • Know that no one is silent though many are not heard; want to change this

Now. One of the more important points above is to “be skeptical of what you read.” I don’t believe in everything above to say the least. But I will say it’s a great conversation starter. So, read it off at your next party and see what people think!

Most importantly, have fun with it.

- JCH

Olympic Neighbourhoods: The Downtown East Side

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…The Downtown East Side (with special appearances by Chinatown and Gastown)!

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhood” segment. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

JOHN: Well, I will once again leave it to Kurt to create and deliver an amazing Googlemap. This neighbourhood is part of the “Olympic Corridor,” so you will be walking to it, my tourist friends. As mentioned in the video, many a tourist has aimlessly wandered or bicycled into “Canada’s poorest postal code” while trying to navigate their way from Gastown to historic Chinatown. Many tourism bloggers will tell you to be wary of such misadventures. We say “explore all communities” and “talk to strangers” here at the Daily Gumboot; just be sure to bring common sense along during your exploration.

KURT: Here’s the map. The big red icon  (surprise, surprise) shows roughly where the neighbourhood is.

MainandHastings

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: Well, there are a lot of problems in the Downtown East Side; addiction, abuse, poverty, neglect, violence, and injustice are right out in the open. In spite of many political and business leaders’ best efforts to “clean up” the DTES before the Olympics, the homeless remain in this neighbourhood. And so does hope. Believe it or not, a lot of good people do a lot of good things in this neighbourhood. From Tradeworks, a woodworking cooperative, to United We Can, a collection of social enterprises that create employment for disadvantaged folks, to the Potluck Cafe, see the video, the DTES possesses some fantastic stories of human innovation. Look. Go to the West End, Yaletown and Kits and strike up a conversation. Then go to the Downtown East Side and have a chat with a local. Which conversation is more interesting and memorable? Yeah…that’s what I thought.

A tough life on the streets.

A tough life on the streets.

KURT: There are also a lot of terrific places to see. Some of Vancouver’s best heritage sites exist in the Gastown area (right next to the DTES). There you can see dozens of turn of the century (and older) buildings. The brick buildings with wood ceiling beams are fascinating to see and not duplicated anywhere else in the city.

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: Chinatown is full of unique things, such as duck, which is a favourite of my editorial partner, Kurt Heinrich. With the delicious restaurants of Gastown just a stroll away, you will be in position for good eating.

KURT: Good places to check out include Nuba (for healthy middle eastern and Mediterranean food), the Potluck Cafe (mentioned in our video), the Carnegie Cafeteria (if you’re all tapped out after paying thousands for Olympic tickets and want to buy a meal for just 2 bucks), the Cambie (great for burgers and really cheap beer), and Hons (a Chinese cuisine experience like no other).

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

Gastown - chock full of heritage...

Gastown - chock full of heritage...

JOHN: People watching is always a good bet. Many Canadians affiliate altruism with fun, so lending a hand and helping out at one of these fine establishments would certainly add an interesting and meaningful chapter to your Olympic visit.  I also highly recommend taking in some kind of performance at the Firehall Arts Centre (if you have time you can check out the Vancouver Police Museum, too). And, if you’re lucky, you will be in the ‘hood on a day when the Portland FC street soccer team is playing a game.

5. What are your three favourite things about the Downtown East Side?

1. Holy crap, this is hard. I will forgo one answer to just say that, in the eyes of the world, what does it say when a country as rich as Canada lets people become marginalized in such a way? It doesn’t say much. And we can do better. We must do better.

2. Bus rides on the Number 20. A return trip on the last bus to my neighbourhood, Commercial Drive, from Downtown is, well, an experience. I’ve had my fortune told. Been asked to sell my girlfriend. Intervened in what was possibly a gang fight. Held a baby. Sang carols. Debated the meaning of life. Been educated about micro-lending and community currencies. And had my hair brushed. If you really value personal space, perhaps take a cab.

EastHastings3. The DTES Bazaar. Nice try, Marrakesh, but Vancouver has a pretty darn good street bazaar where you can find all kinds of stuff – sure, mostly none of it is obtained legitimately and the whole bartering economy serves to provide temporary fixes for people who are holding on to some sort of life by the skin of their grubby and malnourished fingertips. Or something less dramatic. Besides, where else in Vancouver can you come across this delightful – and possibly not hypothetical – scene?

DTES BAZAAR WHOLESALER: Anyone want to buy a bike? Nice bike here. Good price.

DISTRESSED TOURIST: Hey! That’s my bike!

DTES BAZAAR WHOLESALER: No. No it’s not. It’s my bike. But I’m selling. Wanna buy it?

DISTRESSED TOURIST: I’ve had this bike for three years. My wife and I rode over from Victoria yesterday. I left it for a few minutes outside while I went into a grocery store to buy some fruit. That scratch – right there – that happened riding the Galloping Goose trail in Saanich! It’s mine!

DTES BAZAAR WHOLESALER: No, that didn’t happen. And these two guys say that it’s my bike.

FIRST BAZAAR BYSTANDER: Yeah, it’s his bike.

SECOND BAZAAR BYSTANDER: He rides it all the time. I seen it.

DTES BAZAAR WHOLESALER: So, do we have a deal?

[and scene]

So there it is. In 2006, when I landed at the airport in Nairobi, a gentleman named Mohammad gave me some good advice; he called it the Two Rules of Africa: “never underestimate peoples’ kindness and don’t trust anybody.” The same might apply for your visit to this Olympic Neighbourhood, too.

Olympic Neighbourhoods: The Drive

Your Olympic Neighbourhood this week is…Commercial Drive!

As a key media outlet for the 2010 Olympics, the Daily Gumboot is excited to bring you our “Olympics Neighbourhood” segment. Here’s how it works: each week, Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, and Editor-in-Chief, John will profile a different Vancouver neighbourhood with a specific focus on things that might interest out-of-town visitors who arrive in The Couve for the Olympics. We will do this between now and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and the story will be told be the Gumboot’s editors asking and answering the five questions below. These are the straight goods that you can’t get from VANOC, the Ministry of Tourism or the City of Vancouver. Let’s get to it!

1. Where is this neighbourhood exactly and how do I get there?

The nexus of the Drive: 1rst and Commercial

The nexus of the Drive: 1rst and Commercial

JOHN: Since Kurt’s “sense of direction” is one of his superpowers, I’ll leave it to him to create the Googlemap that shows Commercial Drive – “The Drive” – to exist in the Grandview Woodlands community, roughly, between East 12 and Hastings Streets. You can get there from downtown or the suburbs by hopping on the Skytrain and getting off at the Commercial/Broadway Station. If you’re coming from downtown and would like to combine your trip with fun adventure, take the Number 20 bus, which travels through the Downtown Eastside and always yields conversations that are as entertaining as they are interesting.

KURT: Click here to go to the Googlemap.

2. Why should a tourist/traveler be interested in it?

JOHN: The hipster culture and eclectic mix of people are great reasons. But the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, in my opinion, boasts some of the highest real estate prices in the city for two reasons: the food (so much local organic goodness) and the sense of community. People here really, really care about where they live and behave with a true sense of pride about it. The. Drive is the perfect place to start your night – most places close at midnight, so arrive for a delicious dinner, a few drinks, good music, and great times and then continue on with your Olympic exploration!

3. What good and/or unique things are there to eat?

JOHN: See our video. It’s spectacular. For breakfast, I like Cafe du Soleil and recently had a fantastic experience at Theresa’s. For lunch, it’s all about Cafe Wazubee. For dinner, I love the no-utensils-sensual-dining-experience of Addis Cafe. Everyday favourites are Pane Vero cafe and The East End Food Co-op; if you are picking up groceries during your trip this is the place to go!

KURT: I’d like to add that my favorites in the area include the Bump and Grind (for some of the best coffee in the city). For a bio of the owner, check out our Get To Know Your Community section on owner Joe Peterson.

4. What can I do for fun in this neighbourhood?

JOHN: People watch and people talk. There are all sorts of “performers” skipping and dancing and twirling around The Drive. Such folks are great to watch – you can’t help but smile at the stick-twirling antics of Cloud Man – and even better to chat with. Their stories will give you a true sense of the neighbourhood, especially if you ask people what they think about the Olympics.

One of many sites to see.

One of many sites to see.

KURT: Another groovy thing about the drive is the wealth of street and mural art that adorns its walls and sidewalks. There are a number of great murals. To learn more about the murals in the area, check out this earlier post on the Gumboot about the Eastside Mural Project. In addition to the murals of Richard Tetrault, there are a ton of other great ones all along the street.

5. What are your three favourite things about The Drive?

JOHN: First, it’s all about the sense of community and how people are so passionate about preserving their businesses, homes, parks, and public spaces in a way that reflects their collective values. Second, the cultural history of the neighbourhood (did you know that English, while the most commonly spoken tongue, is a minority language in the Grandview-Woodland area?); during a visit to The Drive, a friend of mine from Calgary was heard to say, “this neighbourhood reminds me of New York City, and we have nothing like it in Calgary.” Third and finally, I love the struggle – for me it is both external and internal because of who I am and what I represent – for the future of the Grandview Woodlands community: will it succumb to Yuppification or retain it’s grunge and edginess? Only time will tell!

Blades of Community!

It started with a text message…led into a weird/uncomfortable appreciation of Gordon Campbell and the 2010 Olympics…and then I did a triple axle! So, let me explain the whole story of the public ice skating rink at Robson Square in Vancouver and an odd group of friends and family who got to partake in a Canadian past-time fairly unfamiliar to those of us on the West Coast.

Here’s the thing about having cool friends. Sometimes, they send you a text message suggesting activities that you would never think of. Things like ice skating outside in Vancouver. On this special day (Sunday, December 13), our group itself was a pretty unique little community. My mom was in town for a quick weekend visit. My Special Lady Fiance, Michelle, was finished school and actually had time for things other than studying on the weekend. And Captain of the Estronauts (and soon-to-be-Gumboot-Correspondent), Stephanie Bowen, is now a full-time member of Vancouver Team. The first ingredient of a fun afternoon was that we had an eclectic and superawesome team in place.

And then there’s the Robson Square Skating Rink. Located in a giant hole right next to the Vancouver Art Gallery, it’s, quite literally, open to everyone who can skate – and even some who can’t. For example, you will be rented a “cleat” if you struggle putting blades to ice. Speaking of renting, skates only cost you $3 – helmets can be rented for $2 (I know this because my mom, quite wary of the fact that I haven’t skated in nearly 10 years, offered to rent me one). Oh, and if you own skates you can circle the ice free of charge.

What a great way to embrace community!

Sure, the popularity of the rink just being open made things incredibly crowded. I mean, people from all over the Lower Mainland were there. Senior citizens wearing trench coats and Bogart-esque chapeaus. Young couples on first dates. Fighting couples on last dates. Singles circling whilst puttin’ out the vibe. Hot skaters showing off their wicked skills. Wee munchkins clinging to their parents’ legs, other staggering behind “cleats.” Inspired by the dozens upon dozens of snowsuit-wearing children, the young women in our eclectic group felt some warm pangs from their biological clocks, too. And who can blame them? Babies in snowsuits are pretty frickin’ cute. Like I said, everyone was there. Needless to say, this made things slightly sketchy for yours truly, someone who skates not unlike a newborn horse or deer…that is trying to skate. A product of the Saskatchewan ice fields I am not. And there were quite a few folks not unlike myself. My mom even got clocked in the face by a flailing young lady (mind you, this happened because she wasn’t paying attention when the “Skating Attendants” told everyone to switch directions) – don’t worry, “the real Pete,” she was okay!

It felt great exercising muscles – skating muscles – that I never use. Everyone there, I must say, were in pretty great moods, which meant great side conversations during our trips around the ice. And when Stephanie got her picture taken with my mom (first time they met, just to remind you) and Santa (for the record, this was the third time Steph met Santa), well, it was a beautiful thing.

Did I do a triple-axle? Maybe I did. And maybe it was truly awesome. Or perhaps I pulled off something a little more low-key and casual. Nonchalant, even. Like holding hands and going in a circle. I did deliver on some solid C-Level ice skating, great conversations, risk-taking, people watching, and helping others overcome unintentional physical violence; it all made for a pretty spectacular afternoon of community exploration.

Ice skating at Robson Square also did much to reflect British Columbia’s catchy and “street” new slogan: you gotta be here. And it’s posted in no fewer than 7,892 places around the rink. Vancouver, you’ve come one facility closer to joining the likes of New York City as a world class, cosmopolitan location! Only a subway line or two, a real financial district and a few more sports franchises and we’ll be there!

When it comes to skating, you just gotta. Have fun with it!

- JCH