#284: THE CAFE BY THE SEA
In the summer of 1996, Starcat and I took a trip to Victoria, British Columbia together. Neither of us had travelled much before, and so the power of the two long strings of bus tickets that were going to take us from Cosmopolis to Victoria over a couple of days and several curious stops in towns along the way seemed unbelievable. I was twenty-three years old and had not been further away from my home than a handful of hours since I was fifteen. To me, those tickets symbolized the beginning of a grand adventure.
That trip was also monumental for reasons beyond the fact that it was my first adult foray into territory further than a day's drive. I had been feeling hopeless for months. My seasonal winter depression had not properly abated, the relationship between Starcat and I had been suffering, my creativity felt strangled by fear, and the effects of my few years of living in government-sponsored poverty were wearying to consider. I needed a jolt delivered to my core somehow, and looked toward the trip to BC as a possible ray of hope. If one aspect of my life was even so much as steered in the direction of change, I was going to be thrilled.
I was expecting something poignant to happen, something that would stand out above all the hubbub of existence, point its finger at me, and say Do you see this? This is an opportunity. This is the moment when you realize which direction to put your foot in. Nothing of the sort happened. Of course, their were lesser poignancies along the way: there was an evening spent in a park in Salmon Arm in which we watched an old dog step slowly and gingerly alongside his equally decrepit master and knew that things are not always ending all the time any more than they are always beginning all the time; I went for a walk with my cousin through an undeveloped area of Victoria and felt the wildness that I thought long gone well up against the walls of my bones; at a rave swimming with eight hundred sets of limbs, I watched people move in loose patterns around the room, knowing that my separateness sitting away from the mass no longer meant that I was alone or isolated but just that, separate, and I liked it.
Now that I have started writing about this trip, I realize how much I could say about it. When I began, I was only intending to talk about a particular café we frequented during our stay in Victoria, but now I feel like I could write whole chapters about each instance of memory. You are lucky, yessir, because I am constrained by limits on my time today. All the other stories will have to be put aside for the timebeing in deference to my original intent: the café.
There was a constant influx of hippies, goths, and every group in between. People scattered themselves around the counter, tables, and outside on the sidewalk if they had dogs. Both the front and back doors were left open to let in more sun and allow a light breeze to float throught the large room. The best thing about the place was that it felt like it had been there for a hundred years: there were what had to be twenty-foot ceilings, worn red brick walls, and wooden tables with hand-carved initials and pictures chiselled into the tops by patrons. It was part of an old factory that had been given the slightest of face lifts and filled with a motley crew of pedestrians.
Starcat and I spent hours in that place still sipping coffees long after they had gone cold, writing bits and pieces of poetry and prose, and watching everyone who came and went. It wasn't long before we started to recognize the faces of those who came there nearly as often as we did.
+Those two must be best friends.
=They're always together. They look like they wear each other's clothes.
+Doesn't one of them have a dog?
=It's outside with that guy.
+Oh, him. The dog really likes him.....
And on we would chatter about the regulars, because in spite of the fact that we only spent two weeks in Victoria, we were starting to feel like we were part of that café.
There was one table in particular that was our favourite table to sit at, and we managed to commandeer it on most occasions. It was situated toward the middle of the café along the brick wall, which was perfect, because then both Starcat and I had a decent view for people-watching.
Early on during one of our long afternoons there, Starcat showed me a loose brick in the wall next to our table. It was worn away enough along one edge that he could grab hold of it and pull it cleanly out of the wall. I cast my eyes around the room, anxious that we would get kicked out for wrecking the place, but he told me not to worry and proceeded to pull a small, folded piece of paper out of the hole.
Look at this, he said, unfolding it. We both leaned in and read neat, bubbled writing that is the common high school style. I can't recall what the note said, but it was addressed from one girl to a friend in the form of a question, so we new that this was someone's secret hiding place. I remember wishing that the note had been written in code. So many scenarios rose in my mind: they were unable to meet often and were too poor for telephones; one of them sold illegal drugs that the other was too paranoid to use other forms of communication to attain; they could not be seen together because of complex social issues, perhaps due to boyfriends or parents or an illicit affair, and so they left these missives for each other in order to plan clandestine meetings. I do remember that the note gave little enough away for either Starcat or I to figure out the nature of their relationship.
Each time we went there over the course of our trip, one of us would check behind the brick, looking surreptitiously around the café for fear that one of the two people was actually there, annoyed by our presence at their table, watching us invade their private stash of memos. No one ever approached us about this daily brick removal, so I like to think that we were never caught. We were riding that borderline between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a place that was not ours, even if we had adopted it wholeheartedly for a short while.
It was a space in time that allowed for mystery, collusion, delightfully juvenile sneakiness, and creative storytelling. At a period in my life during which everything I was, had, and felt were straw men at best, those moments when we would hide the loosed brick under one of our bags and lean in together to decipher the connections between new and old facts over the latest bit of paper, those moments felt whole, complete within themselves. I was free of worrying over all the aspects of my own life that I knew were soon to scatter from me.
Life was good, the breeze was warm, the coffee was thick, and nothing was falling apart while we were deciphering a mystery hidden inside a wall in a city far from home.
And one last thing. I present to you the second template I created over my week off work. Click on the picture and pay a visit to Abigail!