My interests during my early teens were an odd mix: girls, Bob & Doug McKenzie, and my lawn business (pulling my mower behind my bike with a weedwhacker, rake and gas can perched atop as I made my rounds). The lawn business boomed, which made up for a complete lack of success with the ladies. Bob & Doug McKenzie, first with their Great White North album and then their cult classic of a movie, Strange Brew, helped as comic consolation.
As I sweated away with my mower in the Texas heat, I often dreamed of being so cold that I’d need a toque, drinking an equally cold beer (preferably free as our friend is a cop and he said if there’s a mouse in it it’s free, eh?), and eating the curiously alluring thing that is back bacon.
Unfortunately, time passed and I grew up. Mostly. I never had much success in getting anyone else to watch Strange Brew — Things #1 and #2 were unmoved when I put it on last month — and at some point I even sold the album. Those losses were mitigated by newfound success with the fairer sex which was no doubt aided by what the twenty hours a week I spent mowing lawns did to my physique.
Canada, a tick on my brain, never quite let go of me. This connection was strengthened when we met Canadians (well, an American who’s been in Canada most of his life and his now former bride) in of all places, Nicaragua, and began visiting them on a regular basis at their place in Victoria, BC. Anyone who has been to Victoria can attest that it is special. Too pretty to be real. Too good to be true (more on that). Every time I left I wanted to come back. Permanently.
Life, however, delights in messing with your dreams. In my case, the woman I love needs a parka and thermal gloves with an EMT on standby if the temperature is below 68 Fahrenheit (yes, Canada and the rest of the world minus the US, Myanmar, and Liberia — 20 degrees). Canada’s tree is of the maple, not palm, variety. I was out of luck.
For better or worse, I refused to give up. Before we decided that my sabbatical in Costa Rica was going to be a permanent move, I insisted that we go to the warmest spot in Canada (Victoria) to see if we could, at last, make my dream of toque-wearing a reality.
Our 2016 tour of available Victoria housing, led by our good friend and Canadian realtor, was brief. There were no homes to buy. Everything that came on the market lasted less than a week and ended in a bidding war between folks from Vancouver (the mainland) who had just sold their homes for crazy amounts of money, to wealthy newcomers (many from mainland China) who were looking to put as much money as they could anywhere but China.
The few kooky, ugly homes we managed to view were crawling with groups of people wandering the halls or pacing outside awaiting their turn. Many a stink eye was delivered by these folks, who did not appreciate competition. The quality and appearance of the house made no difference to these eager buyers. At the end of the first week, just about everything listed would end up in a bidding war. The seller’s agent — probably puffing on a Cuban cigar — would field multiple offers far in excess of the asking price, often in cash, with no requirement of a pesky thing like an inspection.
That experience helped push us toward making our temporary stay in Costa Rica into a permanent home. A few happy years in Pura Vida later, I came down with a bit of cancer, blood clots and a dose of knee failure for giggles. We were left at a crossroads – stay in our house in Costa Rica, four hours from a hospital (a hospital you would want to frequent) — or find another location where I could recuperate in better proximity to healthcare.
As luck would have it, my bride applied to a graduate program in Victoria and was accepted. We found a family from the U.S. coming to Costa Rica who wanted to rent our place for one year, perhaps two. Things were coming together.
Life, however, was not done messing with me. Our Canadian immigration attorney insisted that we could not “land” in Canada too early before the start of my bride’s Masters program in August. The renters for our Tico house wanted to move in at the end of May. So, we packed up and prepared to go to Victoria – for a week – before wandering the western U.S. until August.
Wait, I should back up. The housing situation in Victoria had cooled a wee bit since 2016, but my attempts (online from Costa Rica) to find a home to rent were mostly a waste of time. A house came on the market on a Tuesday, and thirty families would offer to rent it by Wednesday morning. Using various websites, I spent a couple of fruitless months trying to find a home.
I managed to be online on Craigslist or a local equivalent when a rental home was listed in an area known as South Oak Bay. This little niche is famous for good schools, quaintness, and a propensity for tall hedges linked somehow to a desire to appear British.
I immediately messaged the owner that I wanted the house. The landlord, a rich person from Vancouver (a theme), put me through the ringer. We had owned our own homes for twenty-plus years, and were willing to pay six months’ rent in advance, but she insisted on viewing tax returns, bank statements, calling the CFO from my old partnership and even called my Tico neighbor (who’s house we had ended up buying a few years before) to get his take on me as a renter.
We survived this screening process – barely. Another friend of mine did a quick walk-through of what would be our new, temporary home. His verdict: it was not far from a tear down, quite a bit run-down, but in a good location and, by the way, there was nothing else available to rent so what exactly am I hoping to achieve?
We “landed” in Victoria after a connection in Toronto where our small quantity of dry dog food was seized (we were threatened with fines as if we intended to plant and grow said dog food). Wilson and I had a long, midnight walk searching for a meal that ended up in gas station hot dogs that Wilson happily accepted. When we arrived at our empty rent house the next day we scrambled to buy mattresses and a couch so we would have someplace other than the floor to lay our heads (we were saved by local friends who let us stay in the basement of a rental they owned – it’s worth noting that the tenants above had a very vigorous lifestyle that hopefully included a safe word).
A few days after our arrival we took delivery of our new mattresses. A couple of days later we packed up and made our way back to the US to appease our Canadian lawyer and his apprehension at an early arrival. For the record, all of our Canadian friends thought our Canadian lawyer was nuts. In a rental mini-van full of dreams and, increasingly, dog hair, we returned to the nation of our collective births to see what it had in store for us.