China Town. (Vancouver 1971)

So now my first morning in Vancouver was about to begin. It’ was about 7:30 and daylight revealed sights and sounds that were new to me.  The smells of the waterfront and the sounds of seagulls reminded me that I had started a new chapter in my life. I realized at this point that all I had grown to know was about two thousand miles behind me. Mom and Dad, siblings and Nanny  were not there. I was a free bird.

A slight tinge of home sickness tapped me on the shoulder as if to say, “well what’s next bucko?”.

All these memories came back to me as I stood on the shoulder of highway 1 , outside of Brandon. Something brought me back to reality, but for a brief moment my mind pulled a blank.

Just then a beer bottle exploded just in front of me.  This, as a pickup truck flew by with its passenger laughing,  as he lobbed another empty in my direction.

Shit I wasn’t in China Town anymore! This was Manitoba  during the “we hate hippies era”. Now by this time hippies were not really in existence as this was 1980. As it was back then, the hicks on the prairies still had major issues with hitch hikers and they felt that it was their civic duty to be assclowns.

This was when I came to figure  out that using the cover of the ditch was my best option. The concept of getting stomped by any Howdy Doody wannabe was not on my bucket list. Hell I didn’t even have a bucket list,but the ditch was my final answer.

I crawled into the ditch and opened up my green canvas, wood framed, old trappers backpack. This was a thing of beauty. Heavy as all get out but reliable. The frame was constructed of wooden slats and the bag was heavy army type,olive green canvas.

I pulled out my harvest blanket and covered up, using the pack for a pillow. Now mid September in Brandon can be a tad on the chilly side. As I drifted off to sleep my mind took me back to China Town.

China Town,in any city,is like a different world situated in the midst of the world you know. The sights, sounds, and atmosphere, to a kid fresh from home, can be overpowering. The dirt, open air fruit and vegetable stands, restaurants, and the general bustle are exciting to any explorer.

Now I was looking for a place to eat cheaply. The White Lunch Cafe, at least I think that’s what it was called, seemed just the place.  It was what nowadays would be called a dive. Seriously, I’m sure many a poor  soul ended up with the trots or something worse, as the reward for patronizing this dump!

There was a breakfast sign, hand printed, in the window. I still had some cash left over from last nights roach clip making adventure , so into the dive I dove.

Once inside I looked around and decided the counter would do. This place was rough to say the least. As you entered the first thing to hit you was the smell of burning grease, stale tobacco, and coffee.  The walls were off white. Not by design,  but from years of grease and tobacco smoke.  Tables lined the right side and the counter welcomed you on the left. The place was fairly busy.  Workers getting coffee to go, some eating greasy eggs and bacon at the tables and counter. Thick white cups, with green pinstripes around the brim, lined the counter, in front of tired looking men who sipped vigorously.  Every one smoked.

Once I claimed my seat a gruffy looking, middle aged man asked me what I wanted. His Chinese accent was strong enough to confuse this kid. I think I replied, “huh?”.  Hop Sing then appeared to get pissed as he barked, “what you want ?” Feeling a bit exposed I ordered.  This ambassador of good will then demanded, “you pay now!” Guess he didn’t trust that I had the cash to pay. In all fairness dine and dashes were common place and he most likely had been the recipient of such in the past.

Well I paid and got my grub.  I would have called it food but that may be considered an embellished fact.  Two eggs over hard, three shriveled rashers of mystery meat, soggy spuds, toast, and the freaking worst coffee ever served in the free world. Not bad for around a buck twenty five.

As I was sitting at the counter I saw something truly inspirational. This long haired fellow paid for his meal with one of three white slips of paper. Very weird!

This guy saw me looking and inquired as to what my problem was. I told him I was interested in the slips of paper he had. To my surprise he told me they were meal tickets. I asked him, ” what the hell is a meal ticket?”  As it turned out there was a mission up off of Cambie Street that gave out voucher daily to those in need. You got, if my memory serves me right, three vouchers, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each had an amount value. Well let me tell you this, I was stoked!

I quickly scarfed down my breakfast and made a b-line to this emporium of good fortune. It was a Long, yet scenic walk consisting of quite a few city blocks and a cool bridge.

Eventually I reached my destination, and to my amazement and glee, scored the prize meal tickets. Chalk one up for the new kid in town!

A plan came into my devious mind. I had noticed that my teacher of the freebie vouchers had paid for a pack of “Export A” smokes, with a voucher! I was down to about five butts and that wouldn’t suffice. It was a gamble but what the hell. My Uncle Doug always told me that nothing tried, nothing gains, or something like that

I reached Hop Sings dive, slid inside, and reclaimed my counter stool. I, for some unknown reason, ordered another breakfast, and paid in advance with my new found breakfast voucher. So far so good.

Eventually, after playing out my strategy in my mind, I blurted out my simple request. “Smokes?”. My remaining vouchers were on the counter and Hop Sing grabbed the higher priced one faster than a hooker latching onto a twenty spot. Next thing I knew a large pack of “Black Cat” cigarettes magically appeared on the counter where my voucher had been. Holy shit, this is great was all I could think.  I did however, as has become a lifelong habit, press my luck. I asked if I could exchange the Black Cats for Sportsman’s. “You go now!”. Oh well, the day was still young and I had a new world to explore, so off I went.

Day one on the streets and I had learned how to scam free food and smokes, make roach clips, and that Hop Sing was not someone to piss off. Tomorrow I would learn that yelling “Muka Hiya Ding Ding, or something sounding like that, will get you chased out of the White Lunch Cafe by a crazy cook wielding a very large meat cleaver. Yup I had a lot to learn, but that’s another story!


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