After our first encounter with E Hastings St. (known by some as Vancouver’s Skid Row), my friend and I agreedâ€”no storyteller possessed the ability to successfully describe the habitants without sounding guilty of hyperbole, so I’ll refrain from dragging on with details. Though with that said, a basic summary is in order.
A deprived crowd lines the street, consisting of burn victims, penny-bag dealers (oregano, maybe catnip?), and shriveled bodies decomposing under the August sun, all with a shared affinity for heroin and an aversion to the “conformists” (e.g., myself, along with my associates). Imagine Jodie Foster walking past the criminally insane inmates in Silence of the Lambs, only without the bars and, ignoring redundancy, more heroin.
In honesty, E Hastings is a depressing representation of the consequences of a social hierarchy, exposing how far a life can fall. Weaving through the natives can be a mentally-draining activity, with most barely standing up (really, in defiance of God), and the few able-bodied individuals exhibiting a penchant for prolonged, unsettling eye contactâ€”at which point, you (the middle-class tourist) realize you just may have inadvertently been involved in this injustice, or at least in juxtaposition, are a spoiled, over-privileged slackerâ€”and if you dare return the eye contact, realize they know it too.
But of course, a willful blindness is expected.
If at all possible, E Hastings is avoided by vacationers and functioning localsâ€”though in the case of myself and associates, frugality (as in the desire for a $39 hotel) ranks as a priority unfortunately above sleeping space (105 ft ² for four males) and cleanliness (post-coitus, unwashed sheets).
All this considered, the absurdity of cramming the four of us into the smallest room offered by a Budget Inn is shadowed by the decision to stay on the street for a drink (rather than bus as far away as possible).
Somewhere in the heart of E Hastings, there stands a dive bar known as the Grand Union; and with the addition of cowboy hats and superseding alcohol for heroin, the clientele inside the bar somewhat typifies the people outside.
Upon the entrance of four relatively well-dressed college kids, the remarkably photogenic David Lynch characters all decide to suspend their activity only to stare in confusion. Downing $12 pitchers on stained couches in the middle of the room, the undergrads attempt to appear comfortable, but the crowd is far too observant to let the social-disparity remain unnoticed.
Cue Granny, adorned in a velvet one-piece, as she approaches the table demanding hugs and photos. Her lack of a camera is perplexing, but the students obligeâ€”snapping endless photos with an out-of-place smartphone (example: below).
Cue Granny’s slightly-less-drunk daughter, as she transforms the Kodak moment(s) into an unanticipated drug deal (a reminder of the abject nature of E Hastings).
Though the price is right to smoke with an inebriated Granny (or Willie, as she’s mistakenly referred to for several blurred minutes) and her middle-aged daughter, partaking does not seem to be a good decision (again: oregano, maybe catnip?)â€”so two of the students duck out, while another (who apparently went to the bathroom several minutes ago) still has not returned, and the fourth (present writer) digests the temporary abandonment.
He (the fourth) bee-lines for the door, only to be accosted by Granny & Co. as they attempt to schedule the rest of the night with him, resulting in an overwhelming desire to escape, which causes him to belittle his existing company by informing them that his friend is waiting for Granny in the bathroom, then scampering away from the (understandably) disgruntled response.
After I exited the Grand Union and reunited with my friends, a wave of regret took hold, leading to a series of rhetorical questions which, in hindsight, could all be answered the same wayâ€¦ with the words printed on the street sign above.