Transport Stories.

While I don't perhaps fit the stereotype of the British Columbia hemp-wearing, tree-hugging environmentalist, I have always been very passionate about the environment. In elementary school I helped launch a green schools initiative that saw the school nationally recognized as a "Green School" a year after I left. At Pearson College I was one of the school's "recyclers," who dragged a red wagon from house to house and building to building once a week, picking up recyclable materials to be sorted. As part of the Environmental Law Centre at UVic's Faculty of Law, I participated in a number of pro-bono environmental cases.

Sure, I make bad decisions along the way. I love shoes, like, alot, and books, and consumerism in general. But I try to buy my clothes from local designers and valiantly attempt to eat seasonally as well as locally. London knocked alot of the shopaholic out of me, as 1) I was too busy working to shop and 2) I had no money to shop, and I've since made a conscious decision to be a bit more, well, conscientious about when and how I consume: India Knight of the Times has written a great little book called "The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less" which offered some great ideas on how to reduce my urges to buy, buy, buy, and as it becomes, well, trendy, to care about these things, it becomes easier. Most importantly, I think, I have always made a big effort to live a car-free life, to live and work in one area, so that I can walk everywhere and hopefully reduce my carbon footprint a little bit more.

Living car free certainly wasn't easy growing up in Victoria. Transit was (and presumably still is) infrequent and unreliable, and while I made attempts to bike ride, rollerblade and walk, it wasn't always a feasible option and in 2001 I bought my first (and only) car, an orange 1986 Hyundai Excel that was affectionately referred to by family and friends as "The Drama Queen" (Note: my brother drove the Drama Queen in 2002 and 2003 when I was living in Montreal and was understandably mocked for it). I sadly sold the DQ in 2004 before I left for England, for $50 more than I had paid for her, and to this day, she has still been seen put-putting around town.

In Montreal I got my first taste of urban life and was hooked. I loved having every sort of shop within walking distance of my front door. I loved taking the Metro. I loved urban greenspaces. I loved living "downtown." I traded in my high heels for flats and walked everywhere. I was a converted City Girl and that has never changed. In London, while I took busses, boats and Tubes, more often I walked. I visited local markets on Saturdays and Sundays. It felt healthier somehow, although admittedly less convenient than driving down to my local Thrifty's and stocking up. When I moved to Vancouver for the first time in September 2005, I thought my City Girl ways would be able to continue without a hitch. There's Skytrain, I thought. And busses. I'd be fine.

Wrong. I stuck it out a year without a car, living in the West End, and walking to work downtown, but it wasn't easy. I could never go to IKEA for cheap kitchen goodies, or even Wal-Mart to pick up reasonably priced necessities like toilet paper and shampoo. I was relegated to downtown grocery stores like Urban Fare and IGA, which weren't always cheap. And I got drenched, every day, for 100 days or more, walking to and from work in the pouring rain, umbrella being wrenched inside-out by the wind. I sang with a choir that required me to travel the entire Millennium line every Monday night to get to rehearsals, which often meant I spent the return trip home, around 10:00 pm, avoiding scarily aggressive panhandlers and, sadly, mentally ill people, on Skytrain. It felt so unsafe that I began to dread it and I dropped out of the choir.

When I got called to the bar, as a present to myself I joined Cooperative Auto Network, a non-profit carshare, and life became infinitely easier. I had a car when I wanted it, for going out to the suburbs to visit family (as visiting me downtown often appeared to be too inconvenient), and for the all-important IKEA runs. I could easily get to rehearsals without leaving two hours ahead of schedule (two hours which I didn't often have, due to work). I wasn't exactly living a car-free life, though. So, when I moved home this time, I thought, "Let's give it a go again." I am living an 8 minute walk from my office, which even in the rain I thought I'd be able to tolerate. I'd heard great things about the Canada Line, so maybe transit was a viable option in Vancouver again? I decided November would be my "test month." Could I get by just on a monthly buss pass?

The first experiment went well. I got myself to Main Street to meet friends taking the Canada Line to King Ed, then bussing down King Ed to Main. The new Canada Line was clean, I liked the perky "attendants" in Green gor-tex jackets who checked my tickets. It was certainly speedy. Alright, so the bus doesn't come every 2 minutes as in London, it took 12 minutes to arrive, but that was alright, it wasn't raining too badly. Waterfront station is within spitting distance of my front door, so I was home lickety-split. I thought it was great.

I'm not so sure after today. I had to return a piece of computer equipment to a shop on Broadway and Burrard. It's been bugging me all week that I need to return it, so I checked Translink's website to see how long it would take me to get there by bus from my office at Waterfront Centre. 20 minutes: I could either take a 17 bus, or take the Canada Line to Broadway-City Hall, and then a 99 B-Line down Broadway.

It all started out fine. The Canada Line really is great. I had no wait for the train, it was exceptionally clean, and I had somewhere to sit down. When I arrived at the station, I crossed the street and hopped on a passing B-Line. Unfortunately, Translink had steered me wrong: as my bus sped past my destination, across Burrard, I approached the female bus driver. "Excuse me," I asked. "Are you going to be stopping anytime soon, as I've just overshot my stop." "Nope," she barked at me. "Next stop is Macdonald" (translation: really really far out of my way). "Oh," I said, a bit confused. "Translink told me I should take this bus." "Well then you should have got off at Granville," she said (translation 2: walk the 8 blocks to the store). No customer service here. No hope that she would take pity on me and facilitate a "red light exit" for me (where the driver flashes open the doors as a red light so you can flee before the night stop. Forbidden, but nice when it happens). I got off at Macdonald, sighed, crossed the road, and waited for another bus to take me back to my location. After 10 minutes or so, a 17 bus came, so I hopped on it (after checking with this driver that I could get where I needed to go). All in all, including the 10 minutes that I spent in the store making my return, my trip, from office chair to office chair, was 96 minutes. This included walking to and from Waterfront Centre (6 minutes), waiting time for Canada Line trains to arrive (0 minutes), travelling time on Canada Line (14 minutes) waiting time for busses to arrive (36 minutes), time actually spent on busses (30 minutes). Not good enough. It's a distance of 3.7 kilometres. Google Maps says I could have walked one way in 48 minutes, ie, I could have walked there and back in the 96 minutes it took me to take transit.

This had me muttering all kinds of things under my breath. Vancouver is apparently the most "livable" city in the world, according to a number of surveys, but if transit, and other kinds of green transportation were included in this study, and if people who can't afford (or like me, choose not) to have a car were surveyed, I find it very hard to believe. Every tourist coming for the Olympics would need a rental car, I thought. There is no way this transit system, which in BAU (that's lawyer-speak for "business as usual," sorry, I couldn't help myself) cannot get me, a person who *kind of* knows where she's going 3.7 kilometres in under an hour, there was no way it was going to be user-friendly for people with no working knowledge of the city's streets. On my return bus ride, I found myself calculating monthly car payments. I was prepared to throw out my green principles for the sake of convenience: it seemed ridiculous that I not be able to use transit on my lunch breaks to run errands and, uh, live my life. I don't get to take hour and a half long lunches, I get the normal hour. I don't have time to leave at 5 pm to meet someone for 7. Vancouver is a world-class, cosmopolitan city, I thought to myself. Why is its transit system still in the dark ages?

In attempting to answer that question, I thought about my fellow passengers: on the first bus I took, there were two people in wheelchairs, several very very very elderly people with varying degrees of mobility, two people who had some kind of mental disability, a gaggle of students, and more than one person (not identifiable) with a personal hygiene issue. This is a marked difference from London, where a) people with disabilities are hardly ever seen, and b) the average cross-section of riders yields much more of a variety of people, in terms of demographics. In London, transit really is for everyone (only the really ridiculously super wealthy don't take it; even super wealthy people I knew in London got everywhere by Oyster card). On this bus today, I was reminded that transit here really does seem to be used, generally speaking, by people in the lower economic classes (Note: I'm not making a judgment here, I'm just observing). I can't speak for commuter transit, as I don't take it, but even on my return bus through the core of Vancouver, it was just old people, sick people, and poor people: more wheelchairs, more people with disabilities, and more old people barely able to climb onto the bus.

So why aren't more people like me, who can afford cars but live in the city, not taking transit? Sure, it was lunch hour, so my rough ethnography may be skewed, but I've taken the bus in the past on weekday mornings and it's the same type of people. Nary a yuppie in sight. The norm seems to be, if you can afford a car, you drive. You drive to avoid the inconvenience and hassle of taking transit in Vancouver, like I experienced today. As a result, the people who are left to use transit and who should be demanding more user-friendly trip-planning interfaces, more frequent stops, and more busses on the road (not to mention another Skytrain line or two) are those who don't really have the resources (and in some cases, the capacity) to make their voices heard.

What's the solution? I think it's to force people onto transit. I know it's been hugely unpopular, but the congestion charge in London got people out of their cars and onto transit. Make it cost to drive in the city. We've already got the Westcoast Express and express commuter buses from Tsawassen and Delta for the people who would have to drive *really* far, but the focus shouldn't just be on long-haul commuters. You need to get people from Marpole and Kerrisdale and Commercial Drive and other parts of East Van taking transit, and not just into the downtown core for work. Anywhere. Anything north of Broadway, anything west of Main, to, say, Macdonald, there should be a congestion charge. Public parking should be prohibitively expensive. Throw in more of a tax incentive for transit passes (there is already a rebate available, but it's not much). Get more workplaces offering transit passes as benefits. Get more people taking transit and Translink will have to throw more resources at it. In short, they'll have to build a system worthy of Vancouver's reputation.

The Farewell Tour Begins.

The weather this weekend was about as perfect as London gets in October: crisp, but dry. The perfect climate for wandering around London as the final countdown begins.

The weekend started early on Friday, with lunch with friends in Spitalfields Market...boozy for them, but not me, as I have trapped a nerve in my back and am taking many a narcotic to deal with the pain. Lunch turned into wandering around the market, saying hello and so long to some of my favorite local designers who display their wares on Friday afternoons. Market wandering turned into meeting friends at a wine bar for more drinking (sigh) later Friday evening.

Given my non-hungover status, I was up and fresh as a daisy quite early on Saturday morning. As letting agents are still trooping through the flat, I decided it was best to get gone as soon as I could. I took the boat to London Bridge, and as it was early enough to avoid the crowds, nipped into Borough Market (any doubts yet that it's my favorite place in London? How much do I talk about it?). I bought breakfast and plunked myself on a rock on Winchester Walk, a side street that runs behind the market, from which one can view the hustle and bustle, and gaze at Southwark Cathedral, relatively uninterrupted. The only people that passed by were a few uniformed traffic wardens, and a butcher from the Ginger Pig, in his striped red and white apron, white shirt, and black trousers.

I tried to get into Monmouth for a flat white but the lineup was by this time snaking out the door and around the corner, and so I nipped instead into Konditor & Cook, the famous pastry shop, which happens to be next door to Monmouth, and doesn't make a bad cappucino. To my surprise, the chalkboard listing the day's specials proudly proclaimed, "Pumpkin pie! Delicious and spicy!" I immediately told the cashier I needed a piece, as it had been Canadian Thanksgiving the week before. He rolled his eyes. "I know," he said. "Four of our staff are Canadian, why do you think we're even selling this?" "Oh," I said, a bit deflated. "Well, it makes me very happy to see it so please box up a piece for me anyway." I popped the box into my extra large handbag and was off again.

I continued to wander along the south side of the river, on the Thames Path. I passed a large group on a walking tour, standing in a semi-circle around their tour guide, near the Clink Prison. I stumbled upon a family standing on some stone steps leading from the Globe Theatre down into the Thames, who were holding each other tightly while someone read from a piece of paper. They were obviously grieving; I had stumbled upon some memorial for a loved one. I hurried past, not wanting to intrude on a private moment.

My next destination was Tate Modern. There is currently an interactive installation in the vast Turbine Hall called, "How It Is," by the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka. He has constructed an immense metal shipping container several stories tall, which visitors are encouraged to enter via an enormous ramp. I stood at the foot of the ramp and looked into the container, which is as wide as it is tall: all I could see was a yawning blackness that seemed much larger than the dimensions of the container, which I had walked around. Don't get me wrong, it's mammoth, but it ain't infinite. Still, the darkness seemed to continue forever and somehow, I began to believe that it did go on forever, that it stretched beyond the confines of the box. I strode up the ramp and into the container, towards the blackness. After a few steps, when I was out of range of the faint light at the entrance, I began to feel somewhat nervous and claustrophobic, afraid I would bump into someone, or a wall. I couldn't see more than a foot in front of me. I tentatively edged to the right side of the container, and placed my hand on the wall to guide myself. It was covered in black velvet. Using my hand as a guide, I confidently moved forward, until I unexpectedly hit a wall in front of me. Startled, I put my hands out. The infinite abyss? Well, it was only more black velvet. I felt disappointed that it was over, that I hadn't reached whatever imaginary destination on the black horizon I had felt I was moving towards. At once, the reality of the container and its dimensions returned and I felt silly for not having anticipated the wall. I turned and made my way out of the container feeling a bit like I had been had.

I continued to skulk around Tate Modern, and of course paid a visit to their store, which I think it one of the best museum stores around. Then it was out again into the fall air, and down to Royal Festival Hall, to peruse the acres of card tables holding used books for sale, trailing my fingers over the book spines as I leaned down (painfully) to read their titles. A bit of lunch, and then it was time to head to the Young Vic to see Jane Horrocks in "Annie Get Your Gun."

The production was delightful. The "orchestra" was four pianists, in western gear, playing at upright pianos built into the stage. The MD was wearing a sheriff's badge, which any musical theatre bunny can tell you is oh-so-appropriate. Jane Horrocks was, as usual, amazing as Annie. The ensemble was fantastic, and it was kitschy and glitzy and tassled and fringed and everything you expect this classic to be. It was so great that I found myself tearing up, when there is *nothing* to cry at in "Annie." I immediately phoned my mother when I got home and said, "I have to do that. Enough of this lawyering business, I need to do that." She agreed, but until the student loans are paid there will be more lawyering than theatre-ing, and that is just my reality. Still, I was singing "There's No Business Like Show Business" for the rest of the night.

Sunday morning was another early start. My friend Ben and I argued over text message about where we would meet for brunch, I was eventually persuaded to meet him on Marylebone High Street, where he lives, so I once again boarded the early boat and found myself wandering through Covent Garden by 10:30 am. Covent Garden is always subdued on a Sunday, as the theatres are dark, and especially at 10:30 on a Sunday, as shops aren't open and the tourists have not yet arrived; for this reason it is one of my favorite times to visit its cobblestoned streets. I stopped in Neal's Yard for a coffee and to read the paper, and then was off walking up Tottenham Court Road, through Fitzroy Square, to Marylebone. Ben and I sat outside in the fall sunshine at Le Pain Quotidien, nursing coffees in cups large enough to be soup bowls, and then popped in and out of shops along the street before heading to Selfridge's as Ben needed wine for a dinner party that evening. Selfridges' Food Hall is always an experience; not as extravagant as Harrods' but a treat nonetheless. It was already festooned with Christmas trees, garlands and red and green lights.

A slight flaw in the perfect London weekend when I entered Bond Street tube station, on my way to Waterloo and the Old Vic to see Kevin Spacey in "Inherit the Wind." Bond Street and Waterloo are both on the Jubilee Line, so this should have been an easy jaunt. However, Transport for London had once again shut the Jubilee Line for construction work and so I was forced to squeeze onto a Central Line train to Oxford Circus where I could switch to the Bakerloo Line. The platforms and the trains at both stations were absolutely packed, which always puts me in a bad mood: I hate it when people stand directly in front of you on the platform so they can push onto a train first, I hate it when people try to stand on the same step as you on the escalator, I hate it when people are in such a rush they feel it absolutely necessary to almost knock you down to get to the "Way Out" before you. Anyways, the journey was somewhat longer than anticipated and I was afraid I'd be late, but I still made it in time for curtain. Anything with My Kevin in it is fantastic, so no more needs to be said about the play.

By the time the play ended, I was tuckered out from a weekend of walking, and felt a wave of exhaustion hit me as I walked onto the pier at Waterloo only to see my boat pulling away without me. I sighed, and sat down on the dock. As anxious as I was to get home, I had to admit that this was the perfect place to rest for a minute and be still: the London Eye towered above me, but the dock was empty and silent. I stared across the water at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, illuminated. I watched party boats cruise up and down the river. All alone, I silently contemplated London, stretched out before me. To be alone and to feel this view is a display just for you, is a rare gift in this city. Sometimes missing your boat can be a blessing. I felt echoes of that old London excitement as I sat there, excitement that had mellowed into fondness, and a quiet appreciation.

So, now there are 11 days left for me in London. I have to admit that now I am anxious to go. I just want to be home and start this next chapter.

Currie is Ready to Go Home.

Currie is Ready to Go Home.

Animal websites advise that you get your pets ready for travel by putting

their carriers out where they can sniff them, explore them, get used to

them. Currie has always hated her Sky Kennel, but I dragged it out when

Orange Kitty was here and haven't put it back yet...and Currie is spending

alot of quality time inside. Last night I walked by and she had shut

herself in there with the door shut. At first I thought that maybe I had

knocked the door closed when I walked by, so I bent down to undo the

door-she batted me with her claws and told me to leave her alone. I felt

like the mother of a teenager barricaded in her room. Currie might as well

have put a sign on the door that said "No parents allowed!"

Yes, It Really Is That Simple.

As part of Transport for London's initiative called "Art on the Tube" (an unsuccessful attempt to render our daily stampedes through the underground tunnels of London a little less dreary), I have been regularly passing a huge poster that exhorts, "If you don't like your life, you can change it!" In fact, here it is:

My consistent reaction has been to mutter under my breath and remind myself of all the reasons I couldn't just change my life: "When I commit to something, I commit. I chose this life in London, and dammit, I just have to make it work. I have to make it a success. And oh, yeah, it's so easy to just change your life, isn't it? I bet that goddamn artist didn't have student loans they had to pay off," I'd think, storming up the escalator in a worse mood than when I'd descended.

On Friday I gave my notice at work. And, epiphany time: yeah, it really is that easy to change your life. And although I know it sounds really Pollyanna and nauseating, and closely resembles an Oprah soundbite, once you choose to recognize unhappiness for what it is, consciously choose to seek the alternative, and refuse to compromise in the quest for a life that satisfies you, the results are profound and immediate. Here is my testimonial (I am imagining a Baptist congregation standing behind my desk at the moment, waving tambourines and jubilantly urging me on - "


Sister Lemon!"):

1. My shopping mojo has returned in full force. No, look, you don't understand. I've felt so gross and disgusting from sitting behind a desk for a year, I haven't been able to bring myself to shop. At all. This has been a loss.

Call me shallow, call me superficial, I'll agree. But I freaking love to shop. And express who I am with clothes. And have felt no inspiration.

Well. Saturday morning I wandered out to get some things for Currie Cat and ended up coming back to the flat loaded up with two new boyfriend blazers, a very vintage-y dress that simply called to me and said, "I'll look amazing with your forest green patent leather shoes and that gorgeous patent leather green belt," a lovely, mod-ish red winter coat fully in keeping with my whole "I love the sixties and I just can't help it" aesthetic, new earrings, a few new tank tops, a funky blingy necklace, and some serious fabulous shoes.

Ohhhhh yes. I'm like a parched traveller finding their way out of a desert.

2. I blog, therefore I am. Seriously, haven't I blogged more in the last week or so than, err, a year? My friend Ben and I wandered all over Oxford in the sunshine today, talking about every subject under the sun (to be more precise, God, gay rights, ice cream, adoption, biological clocks, sex, architecture, our childhoods, parenting, Canadian identity, the extinction of the Beothuks, Jewish culture, California, Kabbalah, Pierre Trudeau, tourists and real estate, although not necessarily in that order), and I said at one point, when he asked how I found the energy to blog, given how I've been working, I said 'I have to write. If someone said, "You can't sing anymore, but you can write," I could take it, but the reverse would be unthinkable.'" And as I said it, I realized how true this statement was. So...ahhhh. It feels nice to be inspired by my own life again, to have the energy to wish to reflect upon and share my experience with all 4 of you who read this.

3. Inspiration cylinders are beginning to fire again. I'm drunk with ideas, about just about everything. In Oxford, I made a pilgrimage to the Oxford University Press bookstore, which Ben patiently endured (note: I made a similar journey to the Cambridge University Press store last week, with similar disastrous effects on my chequing account). As usual, I came out loaded up with critical texts on my two favorite stand-bys, Jane Austen and John Donne. I tried to explain to Ben how I could love a repressed spinster English novelist and a metaphysical lawyer/poet turned religious zealot who wrote about sex or God, or, frequently both in the same breath. I wistfully said, "If and when I do my PhD in literature, my dissertation will be on one or the other, although I love them both, and they're so totally different." And then, WHAM! My mind was racing with thoughts about how these writers could be compared, and what kind of research I'd need to do, and then the title of the dissertation hit, and then, several excited Facebook posts with a friend and fellow literature student later, and, I can't stop thinking about it.

4. Fuck the sad ballad and bring on the up tempo. My iPod is smoking: all I want to do is listen to music that makes me dance. Waiting for the boat on my way out these past few days, I've been skipping past the melancholy melodies that have reflected my mood, instead hitting repeat on the songs that put a spring in my step and bring a smile to my face, dancing on the dock, waiting, literally, for my ship to come in. Here are some highlights that should be on your playlist, too:

- MGMT: "Time to Pretend"

- Sam & Dave: "Hold On, I'm Comin'"

- Vampire Weekend: "Walcott"

- Matt Costa: "Mr. Pitiful"

- Alphabeat: "10,000 Nights"

- Badly Drawn Boy: "Something to Talk About"

- Billy Elliott Soundtrack: "Shine"

- The Coasters: "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart"

- Chicago Soundtrack: "We Both Reached for the Gun/The Press Conference Rag"

- Yann Tiersen: "A Quai" (from Amelie)

- Dean Martin: "Ain't That a Kick in the Head"

OK, that might be enough joy for now. Must dole it out in doses you know. I'm a little breathless. Until tomorrow's gleeful update!