It was a typical migration, the one that many an Ontario student embarked upon after high school – Go west young man.
Usually it was to Whistler, or maybe Tofino, but mine was into the heart of Vancouver. I hadn’t yet discovered my love of skiing, or mountain biking, and surfing eluded me then as it does now; despite my many attempts. I wasn’t destined to be a ‘ski bum’ working the hills – it just wasn’t who I was then; but I suppose in many ways I wish it was. Instead I ended up a little lost and wandering the streets of Vancouver trying to figure out what my next move would be.
There I was, $2000 in my pocket, a guitar in hand and no discernible plan, but absolutely no intention to backtrack. I didn’t completely control the circumstances that landed me in Vancouver but I was responsible for the decision to be there, and now I had to navigate (and hopefully shape) the consequences of that decision. The path was not clear, but the freedom was exhilarating and the journey of discovery and contemplation was, at least as I recall, innate and therapeutic.
It was 1992 and the Grunge scene was really just exploding north from Seattle. The movie Singles would be out in theaters shortly and it would capture, and for me in many ways epitomize, coffeehouse existentialism and this emerging new music scene. Singles was a movie about my generation (Gen X), and coffeehouses and music halls was where it played out. These were my defining years – I make no apologies for being a Gen X’er.
Vancouver had some great coffeehouses, and the parallels with Seattle and Singles were many. Money was tight in those days and I was careful to be frugal. I couch-hopped to start, in what could best be described as an early form of Airbnb – which is to say, I called home to get numbers of family and friends that might happen to be in the Vancouver area. There were a few and I had some successes, but many more failures. I did manage to find a roof every night – at least for the first few weeks. A little money was then spent on cheap, and very sketchy hotels but eventually I did end up having to grab the occasional park bench. This was an excellent motivator and great experience that exposed to me some unknown strengths; a certain calm in crisis and an adaptability I couldn’t have foreseen.
Through that entire period I could always find some refuge in one of the many coffeehouses around Vancouver. It was in these coffeehouses that I would while away the hours and consider next moves; enjoying the freedom in my decisions, meeting new people, and yes, staying out of the elements for a bit.
Eventually I spent a little more of my precious money to outfit myself and then I was pounding the pavement until I found a job. I did, eventually, and a room to rent shortly followed. These Vancouver coffeehouses would remain a sanctuary and meeting place where I would seek respite from work and, of course, the weather and rain of the West Coast.