We’re in Vancouver, getting ready to board the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Canadian rail system. It runs over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and points west.
The Rocky Mountaineer does things with a nice touch of class. We were greeting by a guy playing Beatles music on a baby grand when we entered the terminal, got complimentary coffee and juice, and were piped aboard the train by a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia. Now we’ve been given a “sunrise toast” with orange juice and bubbly to start our journey.
We’re in the top floor of a two-story train with more window glass than you can possibly imagine — the better to gawk as the landscape rolls by. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular, and we’re eager for our trip to begin.
I don’t know much about him, other than his work in Schindler’s List and his hard-ass role in the Taken movies, and his getting to utter the memorable line “Release the Kraken!” in the remake of Clash of the Titans, but I’m guessing that, deep down, Liam Neeson is a pretty nice guy.
Why? My admittedly off-the-cuff conclusion is based solely on one recent incident. Neeson is up in Vancouver, filming a movie called Hard Powder. Because Neeson’s arrival in town got some local press, the proprietors of the Big Star Sandwich Company put up an outdoor sign that said “Liam Neeson eats here for free” on one side and “Come in and get Taken away by our sandwiches” on the other, and they apparently served up a few sandwiches to the movie’s production crew. And then, to their surprise, Neeson actually showed up at their little shop, walked up to the counter, and asked the staffer there, in his best gruff, hard-ass voice, “Where’s my free sandwich?” It was a pretty cool move on his part.
Neeson didn’t actually take a free sandwich due to his schedule, but he did pose for a photo with the happy guys who put up the sign, and as a token of their respect they’ve now named a special sandwich after him — which I have to say looks pretty darned good. And with the photo with Neeson in their pocket, suddenly their choosing the name Big Star Sandwich Company looks like it was a prescient move.
Normally, the celebrity culture in our modern world makes me sick, with its worshipful treatment of cloistered celebrities who get special treatment everywhere they go and seem to have almost no idea of what the lives of normal people are like. It’s refreshing when a big film star like Neeson is willing to do something that will make the day of some everyday guys who are trying to make a go of their business. It says something nice about Neeson that he would do that — and it also reminds you of how many other puffed-up celebs who’ve read too many of their own press clippings just wouldn’t take the time.
Last night Kish and I were at a dinner for the conference I’m attending here in Vancouver when we noticed an odd sensation. I looked up at one of the hanging light fixtures and saw that it was swaying noticeably from side to side.
At first, I thought it was the overly vigorous dancing of some of our fellow attendees, who were stoked with alcohol and out cutting a rug to a live band. After all, when dozens of apparently well-lubricated people are twisting, gyrating, stomping, shimmying, and mashed potatoing to their maximum capability, it’s not unreasonable to expect the light fixtures to feel the impact. But it wasn’t the dancing — it was an honest-to-God earthquake, coming in at 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, that set the light fixtures to trembling. And then it was over before we realized it.
I’ve been in very mild earthquakes before, but this one made our visit to Vancouver special. Having lived through a noticeable tremor, we feel we can truly say that we have experienced the west coast.
This afternoon Kish and I walked along the waterfront and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Cardero’s. We decided to share a seared yellowfin tuna appetizer, but I had a hankering for a cheeseburger for my entree.
“I’ll have the burger medium rare,” I told the waitress.
“Sorry, sir,” the waitress replied. “It’s against the law to serve any hamburger that isn’t cooked to be well done.”
“Yes, but don’t worry — it will still be juicy.”
Yeah, right! But I ordered my burger anyway, even though I normally would consider any beef cooked to be well done to be a colossal waste of good meat. And, despite the reassurances of our waitress, when I got the cheeseburger it was overcooked and on the dry side — certainly not as juicy and delectable as a medium rare burger.
When we got back to our hotel room I checked — and sure enough, in Canada provincial statutes and health codes require ban medium rare hamburgers. I was shocked, but perhaps I shouldn’t be; it’s just the nanny state notion run amok in our neighbor to the north. I wonder, though — how do the health regulators who have insisted that burgers be grossly overcooked to avoid bad health consequences explain the reality south of the border, where bloody red and dripping medium rare burgers are the norm and the happy people consuming them don’t seem to be keeling over as a result?
Vancouver’s Chinatown has probably seen better days. It’s right next door to the street where there are throngs of homeless people, vagrants, beggars, and other vaguely menacing types, and many of them apparently wander over to the Chinatown district — giving it a distinctly seedy, low-rent feel.
There is, however, a small oasis of peace, quiet, and beauty in Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park. With its water lilies, small pagoda, bamboo shoots, and picturesque trees, it is a fine place to sit. Dr. Sun — who helped to overthrow the Qing dynasty and found the Republic of China — no doubt would be proud.
There is a float plane dock across the street from our hotel in Vancouver. When I was down at wharfside this afternoon one of the planes taxied along the water, reached skimming speed, then took off over the top of one of the freighters in the Burrard Inlet. Very cool, and fun to watch — although I’m not sure I’d want to be one of the passengers.
I was up early this morning, trying to adapt to the Eastern-to-Pacific time zone change. It was black outside as I worked to get my mobile devices connected so I could catch up on the Eastern time zone world.
As the pre-dawn darkness turned to a dim and overcast gray, I heard the cry of a seagull. It’s a unique combination of high-pitched squeal and squawk that immediately tells you that you are very near a large body of water — in this case, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and the Straits of Georgia, the principal bodies of water on which Vancouver sits. That seagull sound is one of those sounds that is so closely identified with a location that, when you hear it, you can almost smell the sharp tang of salt water and the wafting odor of seaweed decaying on shoreline rocks.
For this landlocked Midwesterner, who doesn’t have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of oceanic birds, the sound of a seagull is a welcome, pleasing sound. I sat for a while at the predawn minutes ticked by, listening to the seagull cries and the sound of the water slapping against the dock below and watching the birds wheel over the bay.