Share | | More

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How we go to meetings

Living Oceans Society's head office is in the small island community of Sointula, B.C. (we also have a satellite office outpost in the wilds of Vancouver). Life in Sointula is pretty easy. Your morning commute, for example, is only a few minutes long and of the few interruptions that do occur, many are due to various hoofed mammals who are intent on doing their commute first.

C'mon buddy, keep it mooooooving

Not many people live in Sointula - only about 800 or so. And one reason why it's so lightly populated may be because it's so bloody difficult to travel between Sointula and the rest of the world. This is great most of the time, because it keeps the riff-raff from visiting. But sometimes, us Sointula staff people have to go to meetings or conferences or whatever. And this is when it gets difficult.

How difficult? You'll be sorry you asked. Here's a synopsis, written in the second person for some reason, of the process I followed to get to Vancouver for a series of meetings this week.   

The day before: You get on the 4:30 p.m.  ferry from Sointula to Port McNeill. You're going to try to catch the last transit bus up to Port Hardy - it's only a few bucks. Otherwise, it will be a $60 cab ride. The ferry docks and you walk off. It's raining sideways. It's also dark. You trudge off to what you think is the bus stop. You watch the bus sail on by. Maybe you're in the wrong spot, maybe not. The result is the same either way: you're soaked and now you've got to pay $60 for a cab.

Fast forward through the rest of the night. Suffice it to say: you get to Port Hardy, you pay $80 for a hotel room, and you go to sleep. The next morning:  

5:35 a.m. You get up a few minutes earlier than necessary solely to drink all of the coffee available in your hotel room. You do this because you are not a rookie anymore and therefore you know that the next several hours are a coffee desert: there is no coffee in the hotel, Port Hardy airport, or the plane. Well, there's coffee at the airport, but it's the ground crew's coffee and in order to get some you have to ask the check-in agent in a sufficiently pitiable voice, and while you've done this several times in the past you now have the strange feeling that it should be a bit beneath you to beg for coffee. So, there will effectively be no coffee for you until the Vancouver airport.

And so you wake up early just to absorb what caffeine you can from the cheap stuff in the hotel room.  

6:12 a.m. You leave the airport hotel. The airport is 0.7 km away as Google measures. There is no shuttle and it is, of course, raining sideways. You pull your hood down and off you go into the darkness, the rain pelting your laptop bag. You begin to reflect on the pluses and minuses of living in this part of the world. At this hour and in this weather, the minuses come to mind more readily than the pluses. Then you remember the time you saw a wolf on this exact same stretch of street while you were on your way to the airport. That was very cool. That outweighs a dozen rain-soaked mornings.

6:18 a.m. You check in. It takes 45 seconds. Say this for the Port Hardy airport: there's no coffee and lots of rain, but there are wolves and no security screening. These pluses and minuses are now, to your mind, perfectly balanced

6:50 a.m. Time to board. The line of passengers trudges head-down and single-file across the tarmac, under the driving rain. Like prisoners of a low-key war.

Prisoners of war who haven't had coffee.  

6:53 a.m. You're still outside the plane, because someone at the front of the passenger line is holding everyone else up. You're eight feet away from being inside the plane. The rain is perfectly horizontal. You have exceedingly dim thoughts of the person creating the backup. They're probably in there testing each seat to choose the exact right one. You have had no coffee - the stuff from your hotel room has long since been absorbed without a trace and therefore doesn't count - and you're cold and you're wet. You find that you are about to yell something, but the line starts moving. You go up the steps and commence the strenuous and awkward process of boarding the Beechcraft.  

6:54 a.m. The Beechcraft is like 3/4 scale model of a real plane. Boarding it, you feel like toothpaste trying to get back into the tube, like a nearly-newborn baby trying to climb back. To move down the aisle you're forced to move like someone doing some sort of strange religious penance. The plane is just really, really tiny. You make it a few feet and then realize that your bag is hung up on a seat two rows back. You untangle yourself. Everyone near you hates you. You finally make it to an open seat and you hurriedly slide sideways into it, still facing backward, in the stance of someone who is expecting a thorough police search. People are struggling past you and it's so cramped that you can't even turn around, and you have to wait until they're all past before you can sit down. Every remaining person in the line makes their way past you, and each one bumps into your head. Bump. "Sorry". Bump. "Sorry." You endure. Nobody gets hurt.  

6:58 a.m. Everyone is settled. The flight attendant doesn't even try to give a safety demonstration. On cue, a baby in front starts crying. It's the kind of cry that sounds like a very small engine repeatedly trying to turn over, and the message is clear: the kid plans on crying for a while.  

7:02 a.m. Takeoff. The tiny plane gets airborne and is immediately savaged by winds off of the ocean. It feels like being in an MRI machine during an earthquake.  

7:03-7:54 a.m. You are blacked out. Your head lolls at a right angle to your shoulders; drool makes its way down your chin with the speed and consistency of pine sap. You are aware of having a body only when your head is bounced off the cabin wall by the occasional turbulence.   

7:55 a.m. Landing. You awaken with a snort.

8:20: Americano. Five shots of espresso. 

9:00 a.m. You reach the meeting room. Everyone else looks fresh and on-task. You make a tremendous conscious effort to give the appearance of being equally sharp.

9:01 a.m. You go to get your notebook out of your bag and you knock over your coffee.


  1. hahaha... i'm about to move to galiano island and this made me think twice. :)

  2. Ah, memories. The winter commuter plane from Port Hardy to Vancouver is actually on my top ten list of things that terrify me most in this world. And you have yet to experience the power going out in your hotel room at 5 a.m....ask Jennifer about that. I hear laptops can be used as a crude flashlight...a little unweildy but such emergencies.

  3. You know the people from Vancouver probably just had to drive 12 kilometers through a parking lot that took them and hour and a half, live in apartment where they don't know their neighbor's name. Have never seen a cow on a road, let alone a wolf,never got to fly in an airplane that doubled as a roller coaster, what fun. They probably just paid $27 to park till noon and had to walk 10 blocks to get to the same meeting. I like sideways rain.

  4. HAHA who wrote this? It's friggin' brilliant, I laughed throughout the whole piece. Love you guys at LOS and all the work you do!

  5. Let's not forget the price of that airplane (I mean pop can with wings) ticket, equal to the price of a ticket to Toronto from Vancouver.

  6. Hilarious! While I've never lived in Sointula, I can relate...Substitute Bella Coola (Hagensborg) for Sointula, the Hill for the ferry to keep the riff raff out, the same culvert with wings trip to Vancouver and back (except when can't find a hole in the fog and land in Anahim Lake and are shuttled down said Hill)...but have to admit I miss it terribly. I agree with Anonymous - I like sideways rain!

  7. Thanks for your comments everyone! Dorthea, I knew this would job some long-repressed memories. They are repressible, right? Right?

    I agree with the person who said that the Vancouverites at these meetings live spiritually impoverished lives, or at least have had spiritually impoverished morning commutes. I wouldn't trade Sointula, even with its aggressive precipitation, for Vancouver and its police sirens and literal and figurative cardboard box neighborhoods.

    However, I strenuously call B.S. on anyone who says that they like sideways rain. Nobody can like sideways rain. That's like saying you like flat tires or headaches. I'm open to having my mind changed, though, so I challenge the sideways-rain lovers: explain what you like about it - the coldness, the dampness, etc. - and I'll eat my words.

  8. Sorry, that last comment sounded a bit harsh. It is just that I consider myself a connoisseur of bad weather, having lived most of my adult life in places where nasty weather keeps the cost of living low, and I have zero love for sideways rain. So to those who say they do, I say: account for yourself!

  9. John, I think you just have to change your perspective on sideways rain. Maybe you could lie down? OR imagine you live in a desert that gets a total of 12 inches of rain a year and winter precipitation means the difference between flowers or no flowers. In the desert we don’t persecute rain just because it’s a little funny, or not like other rain. Maybe if you think about this you would be more accepting of rain, regardless of its orientation.

  10. Hi Lindsey,
    OK, while I think it may be easier for a person to be philosophical about rain when they only see 12 inches of it each year, I get your point. I'll try to be more understanding.

    By the way, guess where I am at this moment? In the Port Hardy airport hotel. Night before a meeting. You get one guess as to the weather...

  11. Great reasons to live where we live and protect it! I like the minute by minute time frame and almost shot coffee out my nose at the five espresso shots in a wee bit o water!
    I live on Denman (a bit less hassle than Sointula). I went to a reunion in NY last summer and NY'ers would literally not believe the night-before ferry, drive to Nanaimo, float plane to Vancouver, bus back to the airport and THEN actually start the 12 hour three-stop cheap flight to the east coast.

  12. Johnny, I totally enjoyed reading your account of your trip. Especially because the second person you, really was you, and not me. I gained even more of an appreciation for all the hassle you and Emma go through to get...well...anywhere from there.
    Big hug, Mom