Stranger things.

My mother always told me never to accept rides from strangers.

This, in general, seems like sound advice.

Until it’s 8am on a Monday and you’ve been standing for an hour and a half out in the snow that forecasters swore up and down was going to melt overnight, waiting with zero success for a bus, ANY bus, that maybe perhaps might have the most remotely conceivable potential of getting you to a Skytrain station so you can make it in to work.

That’s when your priorities start to shift…when your fingers and toes are starting to scream at you in the early stages of frostbite despite several layers of woolens, and you can’t move around to get your circulation going because if you step even one inch out of the lineup at the bus stop, your place will be immediately assimilated like the Blob taking over a small Pennsylvania town…when the lady behind you with the complete lack of regard for your personal space keeps periodically deciding to shift closer and jostle you yet again because she spotted a few spare atoms’ worth of room she thought she could squeeze into…when the heavenly aromas of people passing by with sugary seasonal lattes and greasy McDonald’s breakfast items encourage your stomach to do its most convincing Chewbacca impression for the restless throng…

Suddenly, the idea of being stuffed into an axe murderer’s trunk doesn’t sound half bad. Gotta be warmer than the street corner, right?

So when a random woman pulls over in a large SUV, rolls down the window and calls out, “Anybody need a ride to Cambie?” you say, “Yes please!” and you and the four other strangers who responded in kind swarm into her vehicle like ravenous locusts before she has a chance to reconsider.

And because you have all the luck, she turns out to be a thoughtful saint of a person who drives skillfully and safely, is pleasant and easy to make small talk with, and doesn’t bring out a chainsaw to lop off all your heads at the first red light.

It’s a Festivus miracle!

Seriously though, to my mystery chauffeur – and all the other kind souls before her who stopped and offered lifts to various places to our sorry stranded crowd – my sincerest gratitude. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t a million times over rather be at home in my pajamas sipping hot chocolate than sitting here making awkward eye contact with a big dying poinsettia in our drab little beige office, but okay yeah, showing up to work and getting paid like a responsible adult has its merits too, I guess, and I have nobody but you to thank for making that possible today and reminding me that awesome people do still exist.

I will pay it forward. Promise.

Anyway, enough of this gooey sh…show of emotion. Back to our regularly scheduled sarcasm.

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Beauty and the ginger beard.

I saw it coming.

I willed him to just keep walking; the man with the flannel shirt and shocking red beard and the joint perched jauntily in one hand. Move along, move along, nothing to see here. But he was slowing already, drifting over to where I stood with my camera and bringing with him the acrid stench of cheap weed and stale body odor.

I tried to ignore him. The sun had set and I was losing light fast. I adjusted my settings and snapped off a few more shots.

But when I pulled back from the viewfinder, he was at my shoulder, staring at me expectantly. “…Eez eet beauteeful?” he asked in a startlingly thick French accent.

When I didn’t respond, he gestured toward the rapidly dimming scene and then at my camera. “Eez eet beauteeful?” he repeated. I paused, weighing my options; I didn’t need a repeat of Angry Tree Lady. Eventually I shrugged noncommittally and said “I think so,” and returned my attention to the camera.

He nodded and turned away – I assumed to leave – but he only wandered a short distance before stopping again. I could see him in my peripheral vision standing some feet away, looking intently back and forth between my subject and I as if trying to solve some sort of advanced mathematical equation.

A few more shots and adjustments later, I finally arrived at an image I was happy with. Red Beard perked up visibly as I began packing up my gear. I could see the anticipation in his eyes before the question was out of his mouth.

“Eet eez beauteeful?” Such hope infused into the words.

This time I didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” I replied, smiling despite myself.

At that he grinned, and threw his arms outward as if to embrace the sky. And he strolled away down the darkening road, whistling into the evening air.

This Bud’s for you.

It’s 2 in the morning. I am sitting on a bench in the shadows of a dark street corner, staring up at the stars and feeling the wind.

It’s been a long day, but thanks to my life partner Insomnia, I’m still wide awake. So I came out here, to let the starlight and the rustling of leaves fill my eyes and ears. To smother my incessant mental background chatter with a blanket of organic calm.

Beats lying in bed staring at the ceiling.

Out of the darkness, a guy in his twenties stumbles up over the curb and makes for the bench opposite mine, shooting me a rueful grin. He’s holding two unopened cans of beer in one hand, which he uses to indicate the bench while forming a question with his eyebrows. I start to nod but end up shrugging awkwardly at the last second, exhibiting my usual tenuous grasp on normal human interaction, but it gets the point across. Beer Guy saunters the last few steps to the bench and flops down with a prolonged sigh.

Although I have said nothing, Beer Guy decides he owes me an explanation as he cracks the first can open. “Hope you don’t mind. Gotta finish these off before…” Except I will never know the reason for his compulsory beer consumption, because he simply trails off there, assuming I understand where he is going with the thought. I suppose this is flattering, as it indicates I’ve successfully passed as someone who knows how today’s after dark society works, but in reality I’m just left unfulfilled. Before what? Before you turn into a pumpkin at 3am? Before catching the bus? Before your 12 step program sponsor sees you? Before the impending zombie apocalypse? Don’t leave me hanging, man.

Beer Guy interrupts my Before what? musings by grunting something in my direction, and I look over to see him holding out an unopened Budweiser. “Want one?” he asks, as casually as if we were hanging out in someone’s living room watching football and not total strangers on a dark street corner. “No thanks,” I laugh, and realizing the absurdity of the question he chuckles sheepishly back and quickly looks away.

Just FYI.

I return to my stargazing, but it’s immediately apparent that Beer Guy does not do well with sitting in silence. He scuffs his shoes against the paving stones and restlessly taps the side of his beer can. He begins looking around absentmindedly, peering down the sidewalks as if wishing someone else would show up. I start to wonder if he sat here hoping I was the talkative type, up for a late night chat. If so, he has chosen poorly.

The frequency of his tapping increases. He graduates to drumming the fingers of his free hand on the bench. He leans forward slightly and rocks a bit on the edge of the wooden seat. And then– we have liftoff! In one swift motion he is on his feet and disappearing down the road, tucking the unopened Budweiser under his arm as he throws his head back and chugs the remaining contents of the other.

I’ll never know if he turned into that zombie pumpkin.

The Ukrainian glassblower.

The mall kiosk was laden with dangling, glittering things. Blown glass in forms of both achingly beautiful simplicity and fantastical detail, all clearly wrought by skilled hands. A fledgling collector of unique glassware, I stared in unabashed awe as I walked slowly around the display, hands clasped firmly behind my back to avoid the temptation to touch. “Look with your eyes, not with your hands,” I recalled reading on a sign somewhere once. Advice worth following. I would not want to break any of these masterpieces.

The artist approached me with glowing eyes and warm smile. “You like?”

“They’re great,” I replied truthfully. I was 16 and as shy as shy gets, but I could admit that much before retreating back into my shell.

“I am from Ukraine, and these are all made by me with my two hands.”

I nodded politely, suitably impressed. “Wow. Well, they’re gorgeous.” I turned my attention back to the glass, but The Ukrainian Glassblower’s eyes stayed on me.

“You are from here?”

Sigh. Please just let me look at the pretties. “All my life.” I forced a chuckle.

“Your city Vancouver, it is gorgeous as well. I have not been here long, but what I have seen, it is beautiful.”

I smiled and nodded again, not really knowing what to say. I’ve never been a good acceptor of compliments, even when they’re not about me.

“Tell me, what is good to see here? Someone yesterday tells me I should rent a bike and go around the Stanley Park seawall. Have you done this?” He reached up to adjust the position of one of his glass pieces and used the motion to casually move slightly closer to me.

OH SHIT, IS HE FLIRTING WITH YOU? HE IS DEFINITELY FLIRTING WITH YOU. ABORT. ABORT. “Um, no, but I know people who have and they say it’s great. You should definitely do it!” I began inching backward in the direction of the food court. “Anyway, uh…”

Too late. The Ukrainian Glassblower was already leaning in and turning up the smolder. “But this is perfect, you can come with me then! Are you free next weekend? Saturday, Sunday? We can get lunch, spend whole day in the park!”

Oh man what have I gotten myself into I just wanted to look at the pretty glass I can’t afford and now this guy wants me to be his tour guide slash date and okay so he’s cute and has an accent and he smells good but he’s like thirty and I’m only sixteen and- “Um, well, actually I have a boyfriend and I’m pretty sure he’d rather I didn’t go off cycling around the seawall with every Ukrainian glassblower I meet. But, uh, thanks for asking?”

The Ukrainian Glassblower’s face instantly fell. “Oh,” he said sadly. I thought I detected the slightest hint of a pout. And I was just starting to feel irrationally guilty about how crestfallen he looked, when suddenly he shrugged, beamed at me and said, with a wink, “He can come too!”

So much for guilt.