When they’re not on fire, Washington and Oregon are beautiful in the summer. 2019 was not a wildfire year, so we enjoyed the blue skies, the trout-filled lakes and the simple fact that we were — and are — very fortunate. The team of people I’d employed to take care of our renters and the property back in Costa Rica began to report issues, but it being early days I pushed that out of my head and enjoyed the views.
Somewhere along the way my wife heard from a friend in San Francisco who offered up their place in the Castro District if we wanted to make the drive. My bride jumped at the chance. I decided that Wilson and I would hole up in an Airbnb in a Portland suburb – bowing to the advice from my doctors that the last thing I needed was long car rides and, potentially, more blood clots. Bride #1 (no plans there, just keeping it spicy) and our boys left Wilson and I in a quaint little house in a neat little area close to a park, and off they went.
There’s an old joke about a place being so small that you have to go outside to change your mind. That fit the description of the partial basement that was my Airbnb. What it lacked in size it made up for in noise. The owner got up at 5:00 a.m. while her ward went the other direction and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning. I now believe that when people say “character house” they mean a place devoid of insulation. Wilson and I took long, slow walks at the park as much as we could and did our best to catch naps in between the action above.
My gang had quite the time in San Fran. There was the obligatory trip to Alcatraz and the replica prison cup which is still part of our glassware (tinware). There was the viewing of a man naked except for a sheath of some kind, a death in the building, and Thing #2’s major find: a coin commemorating a man giving another man oral pleasure which was apparently linked to a festival in the area. As a side note: that coin, after a thorough washing, ended up in our random coin collection. Being roughly the same size and color (ok, colour) of a Loonie, I accidentally attempted to use it in Canada when trying to ride my last few days out via change. The cashier was at a loss for words, as was I.
At some point during these wild days in The Castro, Bride #1 developed an ailment. She never fully disclosed the details, replying with a whole lot of “nunya”, but it seemed serious and a check-up in Portland did not help matters. We scrambled to come up with a plan. The most likely place to go was Canada – where the state run health system was close to kicking in for her as a student and out of pocket expenses did not involve having to declare bankruptcy.
We had several angst-ridden days attempting to figure it all out while waiting to hear from our Canadian immigration attorney – the one who had pushed us on the journey so we did not “land” early. He eventually replied that we should just “land” in Canada and seemed a bit surprised at why we had bothered to ask. Grateful, and a wee bit irked, we returned to Canada and went through the immigration process in about an hour at the ferry landing. No problems were encountered, and the never-to-be-named health issue went away soon after as well. Our couches arrived at our rent house so we had somewhere to sit besides our beds. Life was good.
Our landlord had promised to fix a variety of things in our absence. None of that had happened. Having lived in rural Costa Rica for a few years, I volunteered to do the work myself. For free. I think the concept of free made the landlord nervous, but since none of the tradesmen she claimed to have called showed up she gave in. Canada as a whole and BC in particular has a severe shortage of electricians, carpenters and even painters — all the more concerning when you look at the amount of new construction. I routinely tell Things #1 and #2 to think about being electricians versus working in a cubicle. Thing #1 states that he is more of a “user” versus a generator in terms of electricity. Thing #2 immediately takes it too far and posits how this career could aid his desire to build remote controlled devices powered by the homemade fuel we’ve developed. Sometimes things get a little out of hand.
Looking back, I probably should have forced the issue on other fronts, like the fact that you couldn’t use the microwave while the TV was on without flipping a breaker, or the fact that the bathtub’s porcelain finish was so far gone that it was bare metal, or that the same tub had a leak that caused moderate-to-heavy rainfall in the garage. As my local friend said, it was the only house available — what was my other option?
Things started off ok. Bride #1 struggled to adjust to the reality of being a student again, but liked the campus and the people. It is perhaps not coincidental that her favorite part of being a lawyer was lunch. Things #1 and #2 liked their school which, with 400 students, was nearly four times the size of their school in Costa Rica. Wilson and I enjoyed our slow walks in a new environment where people went out of their way, and sometimes a bit overboard, with their affection towards dogs. Tico dogs are not allowed indoors, period, and quickly learn to run when someone picks up a rock. Dogs in British Columbia can go to the bank, the hardware store, the liquor store and just about anywhere except a grocery story.
It was early on during one of our walks down a nearby alley (a “lane” in Oak Bay vernacular) that Wilson and I encountered a cute little dog and his owner, a smartly dressed woman in her late 70s (considered young for the area). As dog people do, we complimented the character and demeanor of our respective pooches with the implied confirmation of our own qualities and obvious taste.
She took things a step further and asked me where I lived. When I said we were renting a house on a nearby street her attitude soured. I came to find that saying the word “renter” in Oak Bay evoked the same reaction that “pedestrian” did in Houston – there was obviously something wrong with you or you would own your own house, which you would reach within the comfort provided by your own truck, or Suburban.
She then asked me where we were from. In many future encounters I confused the issue by stating that we had just moved here from Costa Rica. Many Canadians didn’t know how unlikely it was that I was a Tico. On this bright, peaceful morning, early days in our Canadian adventure, I went with the unvarnished truth.
“Well, originally we’re from Texas.”
She pulled her dog closer. “Well, I hope you didn’t vote for that f*cker, Trump.”
This was the moment I realized that the Canada I now inhabited was a wee bit different than the one portrayed in Strange Brew.