Friday, 23 May 2008

Hoboville v Hotel Babylon & A Man With A Short Straw

After the Minneapolis experience and the missing Mississippi Mile we didn’t bother to read the Rough Guide to Vancouver and instead just headed out into the city to explore. It was all going so well – Nice shops (J found another great vinyl store), superb café’s / restaurants and nice cobbled streets. Then we turned the corner ……… BAM ……… HOBOVILLE.

The scene we were confronted with was Shaun Of The Dead meets Resident Evil Extinction meets 28 Weeks Later (minus the flesh eating , although it should be noted that just because we didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening). A whole 2 city blocks of nothing but homeless, druggies and hookers (and homeless druggie hookers!). Groups of people shuffling along the sidewalks, staring into the middle distance as though their life spirit had left them with last night’s vomit.

The following extract is taken from the Vancouver Rough Guide (read on the return to our zombie free hotel):

“It’s a grim sight – Derelict buildings, boarded up shops and battered streets; the domain of addicts, pimps, prostitutes and the homeless. It is strongly recommended that you avoid this area after dark and preferably during the day as well when you should consider a bus or taxi to pass through this area.”

Rough guide karma had kicked in, I will never doubt the Rough Guide again!

On a more upbeat note, the hotel we stayed at in Vancouver was amazing (Opus hotel)! A beautiful room, excellent location and once again a sandwich-man only a button press away. I mention the hotel, not to wallow in my sandwich-man world but rather to note something incredibly surreal about the establishment …. It was just like Hotel Babylon!!! Not just the décor but more the fact that everyone there was beautiful 24/7, from the people on Check In to the Bell Boy to the Sandwich Man (sorry – he had to get one more mention) they all looked like they were just out of filming - All it needed was an Ex-Eastender as hotel manageress and they’d be set.

During our stay we headed out to Stanley Park, a huge natural woodland area on the edge of Vancouver. Unfortunately the day we decided to do this it began raining and didn’t stop. Being weather hardened Brits, we laughed in the face of the torrential rain and headed out on bikes, up and around the 4 miles bike trail. We saw very few people (which was nice after the freaky zombie experience); very few people that is apart from one crazy man with a brolly (that he wasn’t using despite the rain), who kept popping up at various points along the way - Always in front of us, which was pretty odd considering we were on bikes and he was walking.

All in all, it was very pretty (ie green) and we got superb views of Vancouver bay (ie blue). We saw black squirrels (did anyone realise there was such a thing?), big Redwoods, and Janine even insists she saw a bear (although given that there aren’t any bears in Stanley park I’m somewhat skeptical and think this may in fact have just been a large black squirrel!).

Finally, we’ve now noticed it a few times over here – Americans have very defined job responsibilities and their not afraid to stick rigidly to them!

This couldn’t have been more apparent that on re-entering the USA from Canada. We pulled up to the American boarder Immigration / Customs to be met by a large building housing 6 turnstiles all with booths for paperwork inspection. The boarder station had some 15 Immigration Police all lolling around on our arrival just waiting for an opportunity to spring to life and fulfill their “Boarder Patrol Code” as advertised for all to see on large posters in the station. Point 5 of the code: “to process all entrants to the country with speed and respect” …. The operation looked like a coiled spring – At any second due to burst to life and show us all the American efficiency that has conquered the world..... Spring to life they did not!

15 border patrol men – 6 gateways – it shouldn’t take long to process 40 bus passengers should it? Well, no, it shouldn’t … and it wouldn’t if more that 1 of these 15 was actually doing anything other than sitting on their ass. Rather than open up extra gates and get us moving, 14 of the 15 police adopted the stance of “sorry Sir – we only process the US citizens”. This left one poor chap (short straw?) to process the 20 + non-US passengers. As per point 8 of the code “we welcome your comments and opinions in regards to our service” I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to the head of USA Immigration ………… Perhaps once I’ve safely exited the USA!

A & J

Ps: Thanks for all those that voted on the recent "Beard Poll" and especially to those that voted in favour of the furry chin. Given the draw (not quite sure how!) it's now been decided that beard growing will commence in the Cook Islands (ie after passing through USA immigration). For all of you that voted for the "Ginger Tramp" option - All I have to say is this ... I'm homeless and jobless, the beard is en-route - Deal with it! :0)

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