For I Love Transit Week, I’m happy to share a contribution from Dave Olson, who is a prolific and talented local writer, podcaster, poet, Canucks superfan, and much more. You can find all of his work on his Feasthouse blog. Find more of Dave’s podcasts, essays, presentations and documentaries at his archive: http://daveostory.com.
So without further ado, here is “Rolling to the End of the Line,” an essay about transit by Dave Thorvald Olson.
P.S. Dave has also put together a related podcast here, tracking his transit trip from North Vancouver to Kitsilano (it’s not the same text as this essay, btw):
Brother Bob and I would mimic the airhorns on the way to elementary school – same as we’d do for truckers and fire trucks, pulling the string down, hoping the bus driver would notice and honk. Seemed like a blast to me, tooling along in those big buses, filled with interesting people coming and going. I’d trace routes around Vancouver maps, then memorized provinces, states and countries – imagining myself at the wheel of some kind of bus. My 4th grade science fair exhibit extolled the wonders of Trolley Transit, complete with the proposed ALRT route traced off in felt pen on a GVRD map plus a stack of Buzzers to give away.
Later, transit became my escape. In the early 80s Vancouver was growing up – so much newness everywhere it seemed, except in my neighbourhood. So buddy Brad and I would skip out errr … wait until after … school and hop the 312 or 316. We’d roll down Kingsway, over an hour all told, to tromp down Granville to Odyssey Imports for records or Black Market for t-shirts. Then maybe skateboard over to that crazy new domed stadium place and hang out on the steps, trying to imagine would Vancouver would look like in 20 years. Then warm up in the law courts or the Vancouver Art Gallery before hopping a bus back home to the ‘burbs.
My forays stretched later into night and ventured further afield – wherever there was an all-ages punk show or a sweet girl with busy parents, I’d find a bus route – navigating to shows at the York Theater on Commercial Drive or tracking down some old church or community hall on some route I’d never heard of charted out in a battered paper schedule. I remember missing the last bus to Surrey from downtown and hoofing all the way down Hastings to the PNE to catch another – a long walk in the cold Chuck Taylors before ending up at Whalley Exchange in the wee hours.
In 1986, Vancouver changed. A lot. The SkyTrain (or Airbus as I preferred) was running for a few years to New West. We’d hop a #319 and whisk downtown on the ALRT in 22 scant minutes for the barrage of international events in shiny teal buildings. Suddenly Vancouver was modern and everyone came to watch. I’d seen most all of Vancouver from Ambleside to Crescent Beach by then, so I got my own bus – a VW camper bus – and set off travelling.
Twenty-two countries later and countless bus, trains, trolley and trams rides later, I returned and moved high up Lynn Valley – “Just ride the 210 ‘til the driver turns off the engine,” are the instructions to visiting friends. Living on the Baden-Powell trail also means I ride transit – a lot. Currently to Kitsilano – that’s two bridges of patience. But now, I am more prepared – I strap on oversized headphones, grab iPhone for live Twitter updates, snacks in pocket, and travel mug with tasty bevvie. Importantly, a Moleskine notebook, inky pens and an audio recorder in my lunch sack allow me use transit as a creative space.
Creation works best aboard the Seabus – the views stunning, you always get a seat, and if you are waiting, its your fault as the Seabus boasts punctuality the Germans would envy – indeed, “Otto and the Beav” rarely stumble whither windstorms or traffic jams (digression: i was hoping for “Sockeye” rather than “Breeze” for the third vessel’s name).
On my commute and weekend excursions, I mix up the routes for exploration and documenting the curious. I look to old-timers who rode routes toting heavy film cameras just to document the ordinary goings-on on 1930s Vancouver for inspiration. What I see goes into notebooks, snapshots, video clips and audio podcasts – sometime in the back seat recording a Canucks Outsider podcast, riding the SkyTrain end to end for a Choogle on podcast or documenting the SeaBus on Car-free day. Maybe writing freeverse and Twitter updates describing the scenes of life from the transit journey then co-mingling the spectacular and mundane of metropolitan Vangroovy into literary dim sum.
I love you, you’re perfect, now change
|change my route to think about the neighbourhoods
March 30, 2007 – Dave Olsoni change my route
from time to time
to think about
the neighbourhoodsswitched Cambie 15
for Main Number 3
or Fraser if i don’t mind
cutting across Kingswayskirted schoolgirls Xavier-bound
in rowsdowntown exchanges
spake in broken halts
occasionally sleet, hail or ice
Aboard these cooperative transport pods are keys to a civil society – you mingle with strangers, you guess their stories, you accidentally eavesdrop on conversations, or hope for the character who amuses you to come on board. Tolerance and translucency abound onboard. For me, I roll with a load of billeted foreign exchange student chattering away in Portuguese, Japanese or practicing English. You begin to notice the same people and sometimes recognize your bus buddies at a store or a bar as “ahhh it’s that guy from the 228”. At least I do.
I tell myself I am helping reduce greenhouse gases and getting one more car of the road, but it ain’t always easy keeping it that way. Like any relationship, me and transit have rifts and differences – ask me about my issues another time. Despite my policy conundrums, I ride because efficient transportation is key to a pleasing living experience for more of us. So the escape, exploration, creative space, collective experience and chance encounters still get me running down the block – with a warm beverage, giant headphones and notebook – to hop aboard, flash my two-zone pass, and say “hello” to the driver while heading for the good seat in the back.