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Bright Lights, Big City – Vancouver

That’s the title of a Michael J. Fox movie from the 80’s. I never saw that one, but I liked the name for this blog post about Vancouver, British Columbia. I was actually thinking of another movie of his where he plays a young college graduate from Kansas who wants to leave home and go to New York to make it in business. He finds a rat-infested apartment and begins his job search only to find himself in the all too familiar conundrum of not having any experience, but he can’t get hired to gain the necessary experience. He finally prevails on a distant second cousin who lets him start in the mail room at the big corporation he runs. He starts reading the interoffice memos to learn about the business and then sneakily takes over an empty office and pretends to be an executive. Through some magic of flipping through numerous 3-ring binders and drawing stuff with colored markers on big pads of paper, he revamps an entire mid-west supply chain, falls in love with the one female executive on staff, and in the end, with the help of some investors, takes over the company.

It was 1987’s The Secret of My Success and they didn’t have white boards yet, I guess. I actually owned the soundtrack on cassette tape and in addition to the ever-popular “Oh Yeah” song by Yello, I loved the title track, Night Ranger’s 80’s rock anthem about holding the world in the palm of your hand.

“Worlds collide and hearts will be broken. Over and over it’s the same every day. How can I say what has never concerned me. The secret of my success is I’m living…” insert 4 dramatic guitar chords, “25 hours a day!” Followed by some “nah na-nah’s” that you can really belt out.

220px-The_Secret_Of_My_SuccessThe message: if you’re really smart and you work your entire ass off, not just the right butt-cheek, you’ll succeed. I guess Ali and I both took that to heart and had good careers to show for our effort, but it was Allison that really lived that whole story-line best. From small town Willows to San Francisco (and for a few years in Boston), she rode her intelligence and hard work toward the top in the big city. She walked 2 miles every morning from her SF apartment to the office in high heels, up and down the crowded, steep streets. Can’t you just see her now, the confidence in each of her quick steps, her young, optimistic face turned upward and full of purpose? A wisp of steam from a manhole cover floats behind her and then 4 dramatic guitar chords, “25 hours a day!”

Despite her return to the values of small town life, Allison is completely enamored with big cities. Always has been and always will be I guess. Not so much for me. I’m usually very excited to see them up front and then quickly I find myself worn out by the crowds and all the noise and hustle. It’s a very fast drop off from agog to ugh. Ali on the other hand is energized by it all. She would probably balk at a 7 mile hike in a forest, thinking she couldn’t make it that far, but wouldn’t blink an eye about walking 7 miles around a big city, trying to see everything it had to offer. She’d measure it in handfuls of blocks which are much less daunting than miles.

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So there we were, Agog and Ugh, on Canada Day in Vancouver along with 2 cruise ship’s worth of tourists from Asia and half of British Columbia’s residents. We drove our car in from our campground which was out in Burnaby, a half-hour outside of downtown and spent a good twenty minutes fretting over parking. We even got ourselves stuck down a driveway in a garage that wasn’t open and we, along with three other cars that came in behind us, had to finagle some multi-point turns to get back out again. Finally we found an open garage that had late enough hours for us to leave the car until midnight which is when we expected to be done with our day after the big fireworks show. We walked the 2 miles along the harbor toward Canada Place which is where all the entertainment was happening; a live band on a big stage, several other smaller shows along the street and lots of booths.

Olympic Torch 2010

Olympic Torch 2010

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Once we made it to the crux of it all, at the site of the 2010 Olympic Torch, we stopped and took in the melee for a little while. Allison was given one of the small free Canadian flags they were handing out and stuck it in her ponytail for the day. We stood near the big stage and watched a Canadian version of the Glee crew perform half a song before we decided to wander out into the rest of the city.

As we headed up to Robson Street, known for its shopping and restaurants, we ran into another celebration. An entire block in front of the Art Museum had been cordoned off for booths selling cannabis. Apparently, there are a couple of days a year that Vancouver sanctions the public use and sale of marijuana. July 1st is shared by Canada Day and Cannabis Day. The police were on hand to see that no one got out of control, but I don’t think they really needed to worry. Inside that one block of the city, everyone was VERY happy. Big smiles and lots of smoke.

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We motored on and found Joe Forte’s, a nice seafood restaurant, which we choose for lunch. We had tickets for later that night to a new IMAX movie ride and special seating on their balcony for the fireworks display. A hamburger dinner was also included, so we kinda figured we’d have a nice meal for lunch and hope for the best at dinner. Joe Forte’s has fantastic seafood. It’s a nice place, but very expensive. Ali tried a few of their fresh oysters and then continued with a pot of mussels and I had scallops.

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Fortified by our meal and a glass of wine, we merged our way back into the fast-moving stream of people on Robson street and swam-walked toward the Gastown District to see the Steam Clock. Built in 1977, when they were renovating the area, the clock was an attractive solution to a steam vent that was part of the centralized heating system in Vancouver. It’s beautiful and it whistles on the quarter hour.

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We did a little shopping in Gastown, walked several more handfuls of blocks and finally decided to head back to Canada Place to plant our tired bodies in one of the outdoor bars we saw there since we had another 2 hours to kill before our evening event began. We’d purchased special nighttime tickets to see a new IMAX movie/ride called Fly Over Canada! which included premium seating up on their top deck for the fireworks show and a BBQ dinner. Of course all the restaurants were stuffed with people, lines out the doors for dinner seating, but we saw two seats at a tall table in the bar where a young couple were waiting to be seated for dinner. We asked and they graciously allowed us to sit with them. At first all of us were quiet, but then the young woman asked Allison, “So why exactly do you like being Canadian?” I guess the flag in her hair was sending out mixed signals. We explained that we were actually from California and the conversation was launched for the next half hour. She and her brand new husband were struggling with their decision to live in Vancouver since she was a born and raised Londoner and missed it terribly. They were impressed and envious of our adventure and the four of us chatted about all of it, their life and ours, right up until the time their coaster-buzzer went off.

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Finally it was time to head inside Canada Place toward the far backside of the enormous facility and up a long escalator to our Fly Over Canada! ride. We had a small wait in line, but were entertained by some comedian-actors and the sun was starting to dip toward the ocean which provided an opportunity for both photos and staring into the orange glow with goofy smiles on our faces.

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We entered the 4 story tall theater equipped with IMAX projection and 4 stories of seats. And by that I mean the seats were stacked on top of each other, one row of 15 seats on each level. We were sorted, led up various staircases to our rows, seated and then belted in. Without much warning the floor beneath each row dropped away and the entire set of us moved out closer to the screen. There we sat dangling, all 60 of us mumbling with excitement. I leaned out slightly, looked up and was able to see all the feet of the people above us. Then the lights cut off and the screen came alive gradually with stars. We picked up speed and careened past planets through the universe toward a blue Earth and then dove into a spectacular mountain range and across a vast forest. We tilted and lifted over peaks and down canyons, water misted in our faces when we buzzed over raging rivers and past waterfalls. No narrator, just wonderful music and a few subtitles on the screen to help us identify where in Canada we were soaring over in that moment. It was a short 20 minutes, but an absolutely thrilling ride.

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We exited the theatre to the BBQ area, waited a short bit for our burgers to come off the grill and then wandered up to the top balcony to find our place for the fireworks. We had plenty of time to sit and eat and watch all the people below us. I thought it would never actually get dark, but at 9:30pm the previously quiet barge floating in the middle of the bay started to sizzle and suddenly the sky was full of colored sparks.

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All of this happened in just ONE DAY, it’s no wonder the big city exhausts me. We spent four more days seeing all that the greater Vancouver area had to offer which we’ll summarize in a flurry of photos. But in my mind I was already singing a verse from our Zac Brown theme song: [We’ll] drive until the city lights, dissolve into a country sky, just me and you.