A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the top 5 things I miss about Vancouver. While I admit there were some colossal oversights – such as my love for West Coast sushi and the multitude of awesome coffee shops (including my personal favourite, Our Town) – I think I covered the gist of what I miss about that fair green city.
And now, the two or three people who actually read my blog will have their curiosity piqued as to what I don’t miss about Lotus Land. So, without further ado, here are the top five things I don’t miss about Vancouver:
1) The rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain
Yes, for fuck’s sake. The rain. The endless downpours, the torrential waterfalls that seem to have no end during the months of November, December, January, February, March and, quite often, April, May, June, and during some bad summers, July, August, September, and October. Did I miss a month? I don’t think so.
Now, the irony is, that great aspect of Vancouver’s temperate cold rainforest climate is something I do miss about the city, but for Pete’s sake, I don’t want it all the time. It’s nice to have the rain sometimes – in fact, it’s pouring outside right now in Woburn as I type this – and it does clean up the air. And right now, after many, many days without rain where I’m living now, rain comes as a blessing.
But that does not mean that you, rain, are welcome as a permanent guest. Your hard work in keeping the streets clean is very much appreciated, but once it’s done, once the plants are watered and the trees nourished, please get the fuck out. Thank you.
2) The ridiculous real estate prices
That’s right. I feel no hole in my heart for those $550,000 shoebox apartments in Yaletown, nor do I feel angsty longing for one-bedroom-plus-den specials with dirty smelly-dog carpets and decades-old curtains being pitched as a “TLC needed buyer’s bargain special” by a cheery real estate agent who insists it’s a steal at $425,000. No, sirree, thank you very much.
Now, people will want to know what Boston’s real estate climate is like. Granted, in the posh areas of Beacon Hill and Back Bay, which are trendy to Boston as Yaletown and Kits are to Vancouver, the apartments do go for a considerable rate. But you don’t have to go too far out of the city to find spectacular apartments and houses for what seems like a ridiculous bargain to folks from Vancouver. For instance, many houses in Malden – just a 10-15 minute drive north of Boston’s centre – go for around $300,000. Yes, houses. Two- or three-bedroom houses, with bathrooms and backyards and kitchens and basements, for one-third of what you’d get them for anywhere near Vancouver. That, to a nice normal couple with a kid, like us, is pretty refreshing to see.
3) The lack of true town centres
Wait, wait, wait. I know what you’re saying. Vancouver is loaded with town centres – they’re called neighbourhoods. Kits has 4th Avenue. The Drive has, well, the Drive. Kerrisdale has the lively, upscale shopping streets around 41st and West Boulevard. Mount Pleasant has the impeccably cool Main Street. And then there’s Chinatown! Yaletown! Denman and Davie! And so on!
Yes, I agree, and I’m not arguing against that. But once you go outwards, what do you find? Burnaby’s de facto town centre is one of the largest malls in Canada. Richmond’s town centre is one long stretch of parking lots and strip malls and Chinese restaurants. Surrey’s town centre has… uh… help me out here. Coquitlam? Another massive mall with parking lots.
The one exception that we found was New Westminster. It had a true town centre in its downtown core, a testament to the fact that New West was there long before any of the other urban stuff sprouted up, including Vancouver. Now, you’ll have to admit it – that’s an anomaly in the Lower Mainland.
Boston and its environs, on the other hand, are like dozens of New Westminsters all squashed together. You could go for a half-hour drive and go through more than half a dozen different town centres, all with their own character, their own identity, their own little shops, restaurants and pubs.
At one time, those town centres made up the bulk of the towns themselves, and there were nothing but horse trails and farms filling in the gaps between the towns. Now, it’s all urban sprawl with roads everywhere, but the town centres are still there. I like that about being here. While the malls do exist, cookie-cutter suburban sprawl does not, not in these parts anyway. I’m sad to say that the Lower Mainland can’t make that claim.
4) Homelessness problems
Sorry, folks. As a man of conscience, I could never come to terms with Vancouver’s very sad homelessness issue, and the many interlocking battles that come with it including drug addiction, mental illnesses and HIV/AIDS. There have been moments where I have engaged in heated discussions with lost souls on the streets who stumbled up to me for spare change at the bus stop for the zillionth time, and there have been moments where all I could do was mutter “Sorry, I don’t have anything,” hoping they couldn’t hear the change tinkling in my pocket.
There are days where I could somehow stomach it, but there were many days where I was not able to – or willing to, for that matter – to ignore the problem. It’s been going on for decades and decades. Even esteemed scribe Malcolm Lowry – he of Under The Volcano fame – lived in the area in the late 1940s and penned this excerpt from a poem on the Downtown Eastside:
Beneath the Malebolge lies Hastings Street,
The province of the pimp upon his beat,
Where each in his little world of drugs or crime
Drifts hopelessly, or hopeful, begs a dime
Wherewith to purchase half a pint of piss
Although he will be cheated, even in this.
That was in the late 1940s. Has much changed? Not much at all. I’m not sure what the solution is, honestly.
Boston, on the other hand – I rarely see any homeless people around. In Woburn and the surrounding villas, I see basically none. When my parents came to visit in October, they remarked that they didn’t see any homeless people at all – I was surprised namely because I didn’t even notice. See, when the problem is out of sight, it really is out of mind.
I’m not embarrassed to say it – this is one part of Vancouver I definitely do not miss at all.
5) General transit douchebaggery
Ah, yes. I took the SkyTrain numerous times to and from work every day for years and years from New Westminster to my office in east Vancouver. And often, I took the dreaded #19 bus down the hill to Main Street Station late at night after I wrapped up the paper during hockey night. I’ve seen plenty of rough stuff on the buses and trains that just makes my blood curdle.
There was that one guy who couldn’t get on the bus for some reason or another, and was screaming at the top of his lungs at everyone, including the bus driver who did nothing to resolve the situation. There was the massive fight at the end of a SkyTrain car that involved some 6-7 testosterone-fuelled young men, which only subsided because the train rolled into a station and security intervented. There was blood on the floor afterwards. And there was the time I was sitting there along on the SkyTrain late at night and some young woman screaming right in my face for some incoherent reason while her friends were holding her back.
And on the night of June 15, 2011, when idiots ransacked the downtown core after Game 7 of the Bruins-Canucks Cup final, I was fortunate to have my boss drive me home. There was no way I could take transit home that night – I’m not sure I would have stomached it.
Yes, that’s right. The general douchebaggery on transit. I do not miss that in the least.
Oh, and I’ll throw in a sixth element. Top 5? Rather, top 6.
6) The high price of dairy
Here in Massachusetts, the cheese, yogurt and milk are wonderfully cheaper than they seem to be in Vancouver. I’ve gotten blocks of proper French brie cheese for less than $5, four-litre jugs of milk for $3, and containers of yogurt that go for $4-5 in Vancouver seem to retail for $3 here. Canadian dairy farmer subsidy theories aside, it’s awesome.
That’s all for now.