I shared a J and smokeless pipe outside a hostel in Vancouver City with an older chubby guy. He told me that for the Winter Olympics the local government had cleared all the homeless out from the streets. He said that the government put the homeless on buses and just shipped them out of town. I didn’t think that sounded legitimate. I may have only been in the city a day, but besides getting ripped off a few times, I hadn’t noticed a street urchin problem. I thought Canada was one of the most humanitarian countries going, but okay; some people just like to have something to say.
It was a Saturday night and all the city clubs had massive lines. They ran down both sides of the street. We’d been drinking big, cheap jugs of beer watching hockey. I guess we we’re getting cultural. We don’t have an East Hastings Street in Brisbane; a spot littered with drug abusers waiting to score. A place hookers’ stand on corners and doorways exceptionally under dressed. A place mysterious types haunt in realms where a knife could be under any coat; for protection or provoking. And that’s East Hastings in daylight. After midnight it’s crazy worse. We went down after midnight on a fool’s errand.
Leaving the glittering lights and lively lined people behind, we gradually moved east. We were too bored with waiting on the cold street, so we went from the safety of numbers towards the deep shadows of East Hastings Street. In search of snow, our quest led us into the night, passed the sunken eyes of addicts and prostitutes. We followed our noses and guarded our pockets,
Scattered along this street the homeless and addicted hold and wait for an opportunity, the next fix. Dark glazed eyes follow our movement, we stand out like a dollar among cents. The third member we met, a man who knew the streets like home, said we had to go further down if we wanted powder. He looked years older, but was only 17. Just out of juvie and apparently off crack for the first time in a long time, he had big yellow bags under dark sunken eyes. He was of Canada’s original people. He hollered at passing cars that crackled sound systems. The cars were full of his boys, cruising the street. He guided us deeper.
Addicted dealers slowly replaced the harmless homeless. The grey of the night sprawled across the faces of the people, making us uneasy and impatient. Everyone around us was a contrast to our foolish confidence in a place we didn’t belong. Rock is the only answer we got for a long time; crack is the ticket here. Finally, the snow arrives. We pass a twenty across and receive a small plastic covered ball. Our guide bites it open, revealing nothing inside. We turn to find the ragged dealer but he’s flown into the darkness. With many curses we continue the search.
Our young street guides offers to have his friends find the guy and sort him. We declined the offer. We finally found the lady of snow. She was wrapped in rags and looked like Pocahontas’s Grandmother after years of crack consumption. Wild white hair around a brown face and black eyes, she had a full-length thick shawl wrapped tightly around her, almost as if she were intending to sleep wherever she fell. We paid the lady and were on our way back to the city lights. The light and warmth of people not rotten with addiction is kind.
The club we found eventually closed, so we went around the corner to sit and smoke. A homeless man told us we’re in his spot, but that he’d share for a cigarette. People called him Frenchie and he spoke with an accent. He told us street born tales, the wildest of which was seeing a machete wielding man chop off the hand of another man. Around 5am he introduced us to a dealer so shady we weren’t allowed to look at his face; we made the second deal of the night around a corner in darkness.
With the proceeds from the arranged deal, Frenchie hobbled off into the early city light. He came back and sat where he was. It was his spot. He excused himself in a most charming accent and removed a glass pipe from his jacket. We got off the porch and left Frenchie to smoke his crack. His face was lit up, like a child with a bag of lollies, lighter held inches from his face as the white smoke from the glass pipe funneled inward.
We saw much of the same on the way home. The multitudes had escaped from East Hastings Street. They, like Frenchie, sit in the doorways and on the corners still working for something. We agreed we were lucky to get through that night without an untoward incident. I told my companion about the chubby smoker that afternoon and he had no trouble believing my tale.