A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Chieftains Block The Shortcut That Was
Friday, July 24, 2009

My city has changed a lot since I first got to explore it in 1975. I was working for Tilden Rent a Car on Alberni Street. Before I was “promoted” to counter clerk I washed cars and jockeyed them to other Tilden locations includign the one at the airport. I had never driven automatic cars so my first experience with rental cars at Tilden was that I drove them with the right foot on the gas and the left foot on the brake. This did not work well and the car would jerk around. Nobody bothered to correct me. I guess they thought I drove like that. Eventually I caught on that one used only one foot.

It was driving to the airport that I discovered the few shortcuts that a city can have when it is a grid of north/south and east/west streets. Those shortcuts can be diagonals like Kinsgsway (impossible now with all those traffic lights) or Puget. Fir and Hemlock are shortcuts at certain times of the day when one wants to avoid “the little old ladies” that cross Granville as one of my buddy car jockeys used to comment. But on Sunday Granville is an easier way as Hemlock allows parking so only one lane each way is in operation. And we knew not to speed on the Arthur Laing Bridge. It was a Federal jurisdiction and tickets were much more expensive. It was at that time that learned to open any locked car in under three minutes with a coat hanger wire. Renters constantly lost keys or locked them inside.

Ultimately it was my knowledge of back alleys and how to avoid bad traffic intersections that allowed me on any given day to get to places more quickly (yet driving at the speed limit) than most people. Once, none of that helped except for that back alley savvy. Rosemary’s Audi 5000 (the one that was supposed to accelerate all on its own) would not do so even with my help. I found myself stranded on Cambie and 7th Avenue. I managed to get home (41st and Granville) by driving the Audi through most of the back alleys that I knew, in reverse gear, which was the only operational gear of the Audi’s automatic transmission which had given up the ghost.

And there was another time when I arrived late to a party. It was around 1980 and when going to town and specifically to West Van or North Van I used to take a shortcut which avoided the congested afternoon traffic to the North Shore. This was the road that hugged the waterfront and began in Gas Town and and paralleled the CP Rail tracks and ended on Georgia, right before Stanley Park. The road no longer exists now as it is all high rises and is traffic calmed. But back in 1980 taxi drives knew the trick. There were a few speed bumps one had to be careful and every once in a while a train would block the way.

What blocked my way for close to an hour was not a train but the loading of British battle tanks (Chieftains) that had arrived to our harbour in a British Navy freighter. They were being loaded on to flat cars and railed to the Canadian Forces Base at Shiloh, Manitoba. NATO and particularly the German Army liked to have maneuvers in Shilo as the terrain imitated the plains of the Ukraine which is where the world thought WWIII might have to be fought.

It was a few weeks ago that driving to the Shaw Tower (I was going to be interviewed by Fanny Kiefer in her Studio 4 TV) where I almost could not recognize where I was. There were no landmarks left of the old road. The CP barge was long gone as were the railroad tracks. I could not even discern the ghosts of those tanks that had made me fume about arriving late to that party. I am only glad that I did have a camera so that the fading memory of those Leopard tanks (they weren’t Leopard tanks) that crossed my path 29 years is a memory of actual events. I remember telling my host, “I am late because some Leopards crossed my path.” Alas, they were Chieftans and if Kinsgsway is impossible now, Puget is a shortcut that still works just fine.


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