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Victoria Rules

20 Sep 03

Ferry Terminal
Victoria, BC

As I arrived in Victoria, the sun was shining for the first time in days. When it shines, it really shines. Despite the best of intentions and the advice of friends, I entirely missed Ft. Victoria RV Park. The number got me. 340 Island Hwy. Sounds like it's close to the water, right?

Well, if I was perfect, I wouldn't need guidance. I ended up on Douglas, did a bit of panicky dancing to avoid being funneled directly into Parliament, and found myself unexpectedly at the ferry dock. It looked like fate to me. Mo from the newsgroup had mentioned that I could stay the night there if I arrived late, so I enquired about it.

Sure enough. "Come back around 4. You can park free along the waterfront, meanwhile. You're from Texas, right? It's called Dallas Road."

I spent a couple of hours walking around the neighborhood, which is called James Bay. The whole place brought a smile to my face. I've kept my eyes open all through this trip for the sorts of things that might make a good retirement place. There are a lot of them here. A clean, relatively modest neighborhood, near a human-scaled downtown with plenty to do. You can walk to a grocery, or a bakery, or a large library. The sea air blows through the houses. It is near a great University, with all that implies. This could be the place.

I didn't see anything for sale. Chances are, this near Parliament, these small stucco houses are a half million apiece. Who knows? People living in them don't look any more prosperous than I do. Perhaps they are all house-poor. Around the middle of the 3rd block of Menzies I watched for a while as a large frame house was jacked up 12 feet in the air, to make room for a new first story. Shows the land must be expensive, anyhow.

But I liked James Bay, if only for helping me discover a bit what I'm looking for. What I like most is the lack of a need for the daily use of an automobile. As a bonus, the Olympic Peninsula is only an hour away by ferry. Maybe I'll come back and check it out with a realtor, after the house in Georgetown is sold, and after I've seen a bit more of the world.

I walked all over downtown Victoria. It's a walker's town. Start out across a street, and autos reliably stop for you. Try that in Austin, and you may end up in a wheelchair. I snacked on some oysters, with a gin martini on the side. Later I supped on a variety of sushi, at Hime Sushi. I shopped a couple of bookstores. When I eventually arrived back at the quayside information booth, it was closed. So I went in to the desk at the Empress Hotel, and asked what there was to do in this burg on a Friday night. They handed me a 5 page list.

What struck my eye was "Ladies of Swing" at the Royal Theatre, a singer named Dee Daniels giving homage to Peggy Lee, Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald. Four blocks away. Did I mention I like the scale of this town? I got there about 7 for the 8 o'clock performance. I sat across the street for a while at Caffe Teatro, sipped a double machiatto, and watched the crowd arrive. Most of them were better dressed than I was. One couple, notably, arrived in a green and grey Bentley.

Heck, there were panhandlers better dressed than I was, but there was neither the time nor inclination to walk all the way home to the ferry and change. Shadows darkened and cooled the evening streets. I was still wearing what I wore on the beach in Port Renfrew that morning: scuffed shoes, white socks, bluejeans, and a pullover shirt. Hard to feel elegant, with this crowd for contrast.

What the hell. Elegance has always been a matter of selective blindness, a mix of arrogance and imagination. I'll just turn up the juice, and do the best that I can. So I slipped into the nosebleed seats while everyone was watching the orchestra warm up. It was a creditable performance. Speaking of elegance, my favorite number was an old Duke Ellington tune:

"My heart's so romantic,
Not made of wood.
O I've got it bad.
And that ain't good."

The Royal Theatre dates from the last half of the nineteenth century. It's obviously been lovingly restored, for the most part, the rococo plasterwork set off in salmon and gold. I stood up to take a picture during intermission. A lady behind me spoke up.

"You like the theater?" She had a proprietary air.

"It's wonderful. Shame about the seats. Looks like they came out of a school auditorium."

"Why, these are new. They are much better, much more comfortable than the old ones."

"But they're navy blue. You want to bring back the Gilded Age, you've got to have plush red, or maybe a deep rose. Or salmon, like the walls..."

"I was on the committee. The old ones were really shabby."

Uh oh. Er. "But why blue? What color were the old ones?"

"Ahh. Well. I think they were rose..."

Ah ha. I'm not alone. It's petty, I know. But such tiny triumphs make my day. She really was a nice lady.

I walked home around 10 pm. Downtown Victoria feels extremely safe late at night, despite having few people about. Part of it is the plentiful lighting, with lamps every 20 paces. Part is the calm clean quietness. No squealing tires, no stink of open dumpsters from the shadows. As I said, a walker's town.

While getting coffee before the performance, I asked the waitress, "Where do people here go after the show?"

"They go to bed," she said primly, with a look that said I would too, if I was decent. So I did.

Next morning I got my ticket to Port Angeles. With the trailer, truck, and all, it came to $128 Canadian. One handy thing is that they took all my left over Canadian currency as partial payment, and put the rest on a card. You can make the trip as a walk on passenger for $8.50 US. I highly recommend this to those of you that may find yourself tired of driving or camping out, while in the Port Angeles area of Olympic National Park.

What a great way to break up your trip.

An hour's cruise away from the woods is a fine clean city, full of things to do. If you want Canadian cash, there's ATMs everywhere. Within blocks of the dock, you can eat any cuisine in the world, see an ballet or a movie, go to a museum or go whale watching, watch pontoon planes take off and land, see the great cruise ships docked at Ogden Point. For a few dollars more you can take a cab up to Victoria University, and get yourself some culture, if you are so inclined. Anything is possible.

And everything is comfortable.

Maybe 30 minutes before the ferry was to leave, while it was waiting to load a semi, a fellow came up and told me I had a flat on the trailer. Good grief. A nail. Two guys volunteered to help, and in record time we had that baby changed. People can be great, if you just let'em.

As the docks diminished in the distance, I was sorry to leave Canada. Sunlight sparkled on the water. A seagull flew up and perched for a long time on the rear railing, occasionally lifting to hover, wincing his eyes in the wind of passage. Perhaps he was an expatriate also, sneaking a ride home across the strait.

So long Canada. I've hardly known you.



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