Archive for the 'driving' Category


Howe Sound Sea to Sky and Vancouver slideshow

After a solid week of rain, the clearing skies reveal the season’s first snowfalls on the surrounding peaks.

It’s easy to forget all that wet when what comes after looks like this:

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I must have driven that highway more than a thousand times over the years, seldom stopping to take in the scenery.  Took it for granted it would always be there.  But it changes all the time with the light and season, and in what’s amounting to a pre-retirement trial run, these days I’m not in much of a hurry.  So I did two things nobody else seems to do on that highway: drove the speed limit, and turned off to look around at every viewpoint.

A bit of a dangerous move nonetheless.  Standing on the new dock at Porteau I had this stab of regret at having left all this beauty behind one day so long ago.

One photo I could not get because there was no place to pull over I’ll just have to describe.  Locals will know what I’m talking about.

Driving south of Windy Point just after the new cut before you go over Deeks Creek you could see a long bank of cloud to the south hovering over the ridge above Horseshoe Bay.

Although the entire east side of the Sound was in still in dark shadow, that cloud bank was acting like a giant light disperser, diffusing the bright sunlight from behind the ridge to bathe that part beneath it on the eastern side in clear, white light.  Trees and ridges popped into view out of the shadow, the shoreline a strange orange glow.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my camera would have captured it.


The blueberry jam backstory

Three humble jars of homemade wild forest blueberry jam sit in the coolness of our apartment thanks to a clash 300km east of here between a bridge construction crew and technology gone wild.

We were staying for the weekend near a lake in a small corner of eastern Germany because an old friend from our Hong Kong days was celebrating his 60th birthday.  It was a huge bash.  He’d invited his whole extended family and everyone he’d known from those days, so there was a good crowd of more than 120 people.  We were all crammed into a discotheque in this tiny town that didn’t seem to have much else going for it aside from being surrounded by wonderful rolling countryside of forests and farms linked by shady roads lined with thick oak trees centuries old.

The party got off well and people danced and sang and talked and drank a bit so that most everyone was well-oiled by the time it was to take our leave.

The next day I had to be at work at 4 in the afternoon, so we tried to time our departure so that we’d be back in Hamburg with not too much time to spare.

We were using our GPS to find our way through the back roads of the former East, but after a half-hour of driving, we’d run into a problem.  The GPS gizmo was telling us to take a turnoff to a road that was blocked for construction work a little further on.  Unable to take the turnoff, we kept driving straight, but after five minutes of the machine blabbering on about how we really must turn around and plow into that construction crew, we turned the thing off, eased to the side of the road and found crammed in the glove compartment one of those things that in the past always proved useful , even if you could never fold them back up the right way.

A map!

TURN HERE! my wife said almost as soon as we got up to speed again, so I turned sharp right onto a narrow, one-lane road leading into a pine forest.  It was paved, with wide shoulders, so we were making good time, but after a few minutes we came upon a couple of cars parked off to the side, so we slowed down.

There were people off in the forest bent over and looking at the ground.

“Hey, I know what they’re doing,” said my wife.  “They’re picking BLUEBERRIES.”

So we parked the car a bit further along and rummaged around til we found a couple of containers, and got to picking some ourselves.  After an hour we’d had enough – about a pound and a half as it turned out – and headed out on our way again.

The whole time I was telling myself I should stop the berry-picking and go back to the car to get the camera, because the scene was so idyllic.  A forest thick enough for shade but leaving dappled noonday summer light on the carpet of berries, stillness except for the buzz of the occasional bee… to heck with it, I said.  Sometimes you just have to carry on with what you’re doing in the moment you’re doing it.

As we got going again I did take the opportunity to teach my wife a word she’d never heard before.  That’s rare, because her English is very good.

Serendipity: the happy accident that happens when you find something good you weren’t even looking for.


Talking to a 14-year-old about Canadians and Americans

Girl: There’s this boy in my class. He’s SUCH a jerk!  All he talks about it how great it is in America and how lousy Canada is.  He even said he was going to do a class report on how much better the USA is than Canada.

Me: He must have been joking about that part.

I guess so.

–Does he know you’re also Canadian?

Of course!

–He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.

I know.

–Has he even been to the States?

Probably.  Yeah, I think they went to Florida on vacation.

–Florida!  They probably saw more Canadians there than Americans.  They all come down to escape the winter.

Girl laughs.

–You know, when I was a kid in Britannia Beach we had American families living among us.  The mine was owned by Americans.  Some of their kids would brag to us all the time about how great it was down in the States.  We used to roll our eyes every time and then talk about them later.

Laughs again.

–Americans are always shooting their mouths off about something, but Canadians don’t like it when people brag.  Actually, it used to be that way, but now I’m not so sure.  Last time I was in British Columbia I noticed how they now put The Best Place on Earth as a slogan on their license plates.   Canadians always used to be so modest, and now they’re trying to tell everyone that BC’s the best place on earth?   I mean, when you know you’ve got something special, you don’t go around bragging about it.  That’s the way we grew up, anyway.


Routers, rug doctors, and getting inside my head

Have you ever had your router die on you?   I spent hours and hours on the Netgear user forum last month just trying to get some help on how to get it working again, because it was running perfectly for two months when suddenly – nada.  After re-setting and reconfiguring and calling my own ISP and being told that no, they can’t help me because I don’t have the router that THEY sell – I just gave up on them and ordered up a new ISP.

That’s the prelude to the apple story.

Midst that hassle I at least had two weeks off work, time enough to drag some dusty power tools out of the basement for a thorough sweep through the apartment taking care of various odd jobs that I’d neglected and were long overdue – a laundry list of sanding, varnishing, hole-drilling, screwdriving, stuccoing the ceiling, sawing, hammering, spackeling, painting – even rug shampooing.

Anyway, March 9 I took K. to the airport because she had a flight to Nice.  Little holiday by herself with a retired friend who goes there every year around this time.

She loves France and French culture as do I, and it would have been nice to be there with her, but as I said I had all these jobs to do and quite frankly all I wanted to do was stay in Hamburg and do some stuff with the little red-haired girl.  We ate at Mickey-D’s twice, made pizza, spareribs, popcorn and french fries, went to the zoo, the world’s largest model railway – yes, it’s right here in Hamburg –  watched a few movies, listened to music and generally hung out.

After taking K. to the airport I went home, turned around and biked off to a clinic for an MRT scan – I don’t know if that’s a CAT scan in real English but you’ve probably seen photos or even had one yourself.  They’re trying to find out why the smell of metal – more like copper – keeps wafting through my head since we got back from New York.

They put you on a narrow bed on a sliding tray, coo soothing words into your ear that it’s going to be a wee bit noisy, but not to worry dear, you get some ear protection and are shown a button to push should you find you just can’t stand one more second of its screaming, scraping, throbbing, grinding, pulsating bursts of pure aggravation.  It goes on for 20 minutes and my head was ringing even more than usual afterward.

Biked home from the scan with printouts showing bizarre slices of my head for the Ear Nose and Throat guy to hum and haw over some time later, plopped them down on the desk long enough to go to the router forum and get some more info, try it out only to bang my head on the chair in frustration.  Routers!  Why are they such a hassle?

But by then it was near closing time at the hardware store where I’d reserved a rug shampooing machine, so I dashed off to the car and fought rush-hour traffic to pick it up.

Paid for the rug doctor, packed it in the car, drove back through the narrow streets into our building’s underground parking lot so I could unload the thing right close to the lift instead of hauling it from a parking spot several streets away.  We don’t rent a space, you see.

Anyway, I took it upstairs, went online to the router help forum because something I thought of asking on my way home I didn’t want to just forget, had some dinner, kissed the little red-haired girl and headed out that evening to meet a friend from the writers’ group who’d invited me to join her weekly improv theater workshop.  I had a lot of fun, even participated in a couple of sketches, then went out for beers.

During the improv the little red-haired girl phoned three times, a little annoying but she said she was afraid, being all alone in the house and having someone first ring the doorbell and then knock on the door 10 minutes later.  I told her that because we weren’t expecting anyone, not to open the door.

Got home after midnight, hit the sack, and woke up around 5:30am for some strange reason asking myself how far I’d have to go to pick up the car again when I brought the rug shampooer back, because I could just carry it to the… OH FUCK!

Suddenly it dawned on me though a late lingering beer buzz that I had absolutely no memory of driving the car out of the underground parking garage after unloading that damn rug doctor.  Pulling on some clothes I threw myself downstairs, flung open the door to the garage – and the car’s gone!   At least it’s not in the spot it should have been.  Oh man…

I head around a corner and to my enormous relief it’s only been pushed a few yards down the way a bit.  Must have left it unlocked.

I get in, turn the key and it doesn’t turn over, because – cue Simpsons’ HA-HA –  I’d left the hazard lights on.  So I go upstairs and haul the little red-haired girl out of bed – it’s before 6 am – because she’s got to help me push it into an empty parking bay.  We struggle to edge the car through the crowded garage without scraping any BMWs,  I lift up the hood, disconnect the battery and pull it out.  I’ve got a charger and want to get it hooked up right away, because who knows how long it’s going to take to get the thing juiced up again?

So I’m downstairs carrying this heavy car battery with my daughter beside me and we’re waiting for the elevator to take us back up to our plac when my downstairs neighbour – a big, beefy guy with 3 kids who’s kind of the unofficial Hausmeister – comes lumbering down the stairs followed closely by two Hamburg cops – a police man and woman – who all look down at me from the stairway above.

My neighbour stops and, looking straight into me while taking a deep breath to pause for effect, slowly says: Huge problems in this house yesterday evening, Herr InHamburg.

Uh, yeah, well, you know I was just, uh, well…. you see it’s…. God, I wanted to melt to a puddle and trickle through some crack in the floor, never to be found again.  I apologised the best I could and he accepted it very well, adding that beyond the immediate problem of moving the car away so that neighbours could park theirs for the night, they were all worried about what it could all mean.

Was I somehow injured?  Had I suffered a sudden heart attack or stroke and for that reason could not answer the door?   You don’t just park a car in the middle of the garage and then leave it – it doesn’t make sense!  It could have been really serious, so that’s why he called the cops.  It also explains my daughter’s hearing the doorbell ring and the knocks late the night before.

I consider myself lucky nobody had the beast towed away, the router works perfectly with the new ISP, and that I’ve had a chance to take my own little holiday in the meantime.


Egypt’s gas shortage up close

One of the things we try to do on holiday is stay out of the tourist bubble.  We buy at local shops and take public transit, for example, to try to get more into the streets and get a taste of what the locals are going through in their daily lives.

But one day we ran into a problem that is so acute in Egypt that the day it happened to us, someone actually got killed fighting over it: a shortage of fuel.

We were at the half-way point on our way back to Cairo after two unforgettable nights in the White Desert.  Having said farewell to our 4×4 driver and guides and shoved our grimy luggage in the back of a big, white mini-van, we settled in for what we thought would be a quick three-hour drive back to the city and a warm, hot shower.

But as we turned a corner down a side street before leaving the oasis town, we knew something was up.

“Petrol-e-um,” our new driver said.  “Tank empty.”

We arrived at a gas station to find a huge tanker truck parked at the entrance and a few people milling around the pumps.   After getting in line and shutting off the engine, our driver explained that we’d be on our way again in a half an hour.  First though, the tanker truck had to fill the gas station’s reserve tanks before they started fueling the waiting vehicles.


No gas?  Not good.  Besides, we’d learned by then that Egyptian Standard time ticks at least three times slower than ours, so it would probably be closer to two hours by the time we got going again.

Thirsty, we took a walk hoping to find a teahouse or a cafe, but that was useless.  We were in the middle of the outskirts of a very basic town, and there was nothing.

So we turned back and sat down on building blocks in the shade for a while, swatting flies and contemplating how nice it was to be stuck in the noonday desert heat amid garbage and rubble with dust and oil fumes wafting around, the little red-haired girl passing the time playing Nintendo while we ate the last of our dates and oranges, wishing our tour company was just a little bit better organised.

“I mean, when you come to a foreign country, you expect things to run differently, that’s a given,” I said, “but what I can’t understand is, why didn’t they just  tank up on the way down from Cairo?  On the way down here we filled up at Giza within sight of the Pyramids, remember?  And then half-way down he topped it up with only 20 litres.”

Then we looked over and realised things were getting pretty testy around the gas pumps.

Our van had been third in line when we arrived, but only a half-hour later there was no more line, just a gridlock of cars, vans, trucks, motorcyles and men on foot carrying gas canisters as word got out that there was fuel in town and you’d better come down and get some.

By now we’d wised up and had been sitting watching it all from the air-conditioned comfort of the van, but we all piled out for a closer look just as the first screaming matches were breaking out.

I don’t speak any Arabic beyond Salaam and  Inschallah! but you don’t need a dictionary to figure out nobody was happy:

The man who drove us through the desert for two days, the same guy who helped set up camp and cook our meals, came through for us in the end.  He’d driven up about an hour after we’d arrived because he needed gas for the next group he was taking out.  He fought for our place in line along with our van driver.  When our turn came, he grabbed the nozzle and filled our tank.

I asked him earlier why the driver waited to get to the far-flung oasis instead of tanking up along the way.

“It’s a problem all over Egypt,” he said.  “There’s no gas.  The van driver wanted to fill up, but the town where he usually does it 100 km away had none, so he had to wait until now.”

Ah-hah.  I felt a bit stupid just then. Coming from a country where people bitch over a few cents’ rise in prices, the thought that such a basic commodity would be in such short supply had simply never occurred to me.


Skiing at Whistler: you looking for these?

Lucky I went back for the third ski lesson at that crappy hill.  By the time I was 12, my initial hatred of the sport had changed into such a passion I can clearly remember a friend  out on a summer hike screaming, “Will You Please Shut Up About Skiing!”

We used to pile in with friends into the old man’s 1970 Plymouth Satellite and head up to Whistler on the weekends at least 10 times a season.  Brother Gordon would drive until at 16 I got my license.  We’d get out at first light for the hour-long drive to be ahead of the Vancouver traffic and be the first in line for lift tickets so we could be first in line for the Gondola or Olive Chair lift and, of course, first down the runs.

It looks like a joke now, but the first lift ticket I ever bought at Whistler Mountain cost only three dollars.  When I turned 13 I had to pay more than double that – a whole seven bucks!  You can’t even get a whiff of a sandwich for that these days at Whistler.

We’d pack lunches and throw the bags in the trees near the Roundhouse at the top, making sure they were tied up well so the Whiskey Jacks couldn’t steal our food.  We’d come back to fetch them near noon so we could eat on the lift.  Why stop for lunch when there’s so much skiing to be had?  Near the end of the day we’d time our runs so we’d be at the very bottom for the last ride up the Gondola, then scoot over to the Red Chair for the ride up the top.

If I ever find a decent photo from those days, I’ll post it, but for now, this one from about 10 years before will have to do.

And so to the story of the day everything went wrong.

The weather had been iffy on the drive up, but on the hill it was shit.  Foggy, a  mixture of wet snow and rain, and so windy…  I’m not surprised that they’ve had to postpone the Downhill ski event at the Olympics, and don’t hold your breath until Monday.  Because it sits amid a coastal temperate rainforest, Whistler weather can be awful for days on end.

Anyway, that day brother Gordon somehow LOST the car keys.  We used to split up into two groups – he’d go off with his friends, I’d go off with mine.  While picking up our lunch that day, we cross paths and he gives me the news.  “But don’t tell Dad!” he warns me.

His telling me not to tell Dad gives me the idea to phone him in the first place.   So I fish out a dime and call the operator from the payphone at the top of Whistler to make a collect call home.

Nobody there.

So I pull out another dime and make another collect call to where I’m sure my father will be, because it’s  a Sunday: at the office.  Working.  My old man worked a lot, and when he wasn’t working, he was driving his car.

“Gordon’s lost the keys Gordon’s lost the keys!” I bark into the phone.  He swore, I think, but then says, OK, no problem – I’ll drive up and give you guys the spares.

So at the end of the day I meet up with Gordon and his friends at the bottom of the gondola and Gordon’s foaming with rage at me that I’d phoned Dad behind his back.

To me it made perfect sense.  Keys lost. Dad has spare set.  Dad drives Mom’s car to Whistler.  Then we have keys.

So we’re walking to the car in the parking lot and we see Dad’s bright orange MGB parked behind the Plymouth.  Just as we’re coming up to the car we see him bend over by the driver’s side.  Straightening up, he holds up the keys in his right hand and with a big grin on his face, says to us: you guys looking for these?

They’d been lying on the ground right by the car the whole day.

I told that story near the end of a speech I gave to those who gathered in early May, 2000 for his funeral, ending with: Dad had a temper and let it loose sometimes, but he was always able to see the humour in things.


Drive the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler in less than a minute

What you are about to see is a road that no longer exists the way it’s shown here.

The skiing and Nordic events for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are going to take place 110 km up the road from the city at Whistler, so since this video was shot they’ve widened the road in most places and straightened out others.

Still, it is an amazing stretch of highway.  Clinging to the side of a fjord, you are constantly rewarded with ever-changing views of ocean, mountain and sky.  Hold on to your seat!

Sharp-eyed viewers will catch a glimpse of my mother, who after picking him up at the airport is driving her drowsy son to Squamish, half-way toWhistler during my trip home in 2007.  Those who know the road will recognise the hair-pin turn we all used to call suicide corner, now bypassed and spread out to four lanes in the upgrade.  It also shows a stretch along a sheer cliff at Porteau Cove that they couldn’t widen even to three because the old British Columbia Railway line – now Canadian National – runs alongside between the road and the ocean.   When I was 4 years old in 1964 there was a huge landslide there that blocked the road for several days, once again cutting off our tiny village from the Big Smoke of Vancouver.

Unless something major gets in the way – like chronic procrastination – from now until the Winter Olympics are over I hope to post about this road. Every member of our family has had at least one near-death experience over the more than half-century we’ve been driving it.

I’d also like to post a couple of stories of skiing during the old days at Whistler, and anything else related to the Olympics that happens to cross my path.  For the few who come across this blog I hope it will offer a personal historical supplement to the show-off glitz that’s overtaken the event.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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