Dear Journal (May, 1980):
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An earthquake and ash that circled the earth in the following fifteen days was just the finale to an already bizarre and unreal day.
It was great getting a chance to meet up with Dale again on Vancouver’s bustling Robson Street a shopping Mecca for our girl’s day out.
I had enjoyed the ferry ride over from Nanaimo that morning with blue skies and sun glistening off the calm waters. Dale was visiting her mother in the city for a week after flying in from Fort St. John. Fort St. John was where we first met and became fast friends. Both Dale and my hubby, Whit, worked in the bank together and her husband was businessman. We’d shared a lot of dinners, bank parties, and girl’s lunches together in the year Whit and I spent up north before transferring again in 1978.
Dale has an unusual quirk that used to amaze us all. Dale is approximately five feet eight inches tall with a slender figure, beautiful sapphire eyes and dark rich hair, a very attractive women yet she could eat like a four hundred pound wrestler. Sometimes after hours at the bank the staff would order in Chinese food and the restaurant always asked if Dale was there and if so they would make enough for six extra people. Having eaten with her many times I got used to it but I still often wondered where it all went. Hmmm I wonder if there is such a thing as hollow leg syndrome.
I approached the corner of Robson and Howe seeing Dale’s figure standing there as crowds passed by. As ever she looked very chic in leg hugging black leather pants, a billowing white top cinched tight at the waste with a wide black belt and gold buckle, pricey looking dark sunglasses and a glossy red shoulder bag. The girl had style alright, not quite my department. I always passed for clean and decent with my dark jeans and a nice green top, and I preferred a fanny pack to a purse and no heals please!
As I met Dale’s smiling face with mine we hugged. Then with a twinkle in my eye I asked her if we should shop or eat lunch first. Dale laughed out loud then gave me the look I knew too well it would be lunch first.
We popped into a local tavern for a hearty lunch. Twice we were sent drinks which Dale turned down with distain. She drew men like a moth to a flame. I laughed in response to her disgust but she wasn’t amused telling me that if they had offered to buy lunch she would have invited them to join us, but she didn’t need a drink as it was only an invitation for sex. If the poor men only knew the true way to Dale’s heart was through the stomach.
Fortunately Robson was a more upscale area for shopping so other than a few well behaved panhandlers we weren’t bothered too much. We wound our way through throngs of people, the sun seemed to bring them out, and little boutiques only having to stop twice for tea and desserts (that’s plural) for Dale. I just watched as I’d found over time watching her eat so much made me less hungry.
The Robson shops are unique and interesting but I’ll never forget one unusual event or shop we entered today. Initially we had noticed the window framing lovely designer hand bags too expensive to show price tags so that drew our attention immediately. Although not my style of living I could still appreciate the fine leathers and artistry of the handbags displayed inside. As we wondered through the shop at some point we had separated and were concentrating on different pieces on our own. I noticed a bin in a centre aisle with bags loosely stacked up and thought they might be more in my price range hence I headed to the rectangle holding the treasure trove of purses. Standing over the bags I spied one lovely piece, a split tan over dark brown purse with gold buttons dotted down the dark slanted seam and along the edges of the dark brown shoulder strap, the size was perfect too. This little bag would be perfect with a pantsuit I’d bought for a wedding in the fall I’d thought to myself. I picked up the purse and started to open it to check the interior when a women standing next to me snatched the purse from my hands and started yelling at the top of her lungs, “Thief! Thief! Thief!” I was mortified as I stood there turning a bright red. Thankfully Dale came to my rescue with her usual panache and sneered at the woman while she steered me towards the door looking back to say, “You stupid woman, if you don’t want someone to mistake your purse for a sale item don’t set it down with other purses in the box.” With that we walked out onto the street and Dale went into fits of laughter. Finally I laughed too but I knew my cheeks were still burning from the embarrassment of being suspected as a purse thief. Dale kidded me more about it on and off through the day suggesting I go for a bigger score next time and I saw the humour in it but at the time I thought my feet would shake right out of my shoes. Maybe I did something in a past life because at the time I felt so guilty with everyone’s eyes on me.
Around four thirty I noticed Dale had become kind of quiet. Then it occurred to me that Dale’s stomach alarm bell might be going off again so I asked her if she was thinking about dinner. No surprise she was not only thinking about it but had a place in mind. She had borrowed her mother’s car and wanted to go to the Cannery on the waterfront.
I was quite excited as I’d heard it was one of the best seafood restaurants in Vancouver although not in the best part of town on the docks in the lower east side but I was up for some adventure.
We drove past old buildings and plants as the sun’s rays were starting its’ descent for the day on narrow bumpy laneways. Finally the Cannery came into sight but unexpectedly there were groups of people milling about in front of the restaurant on the roadway with signs. I felt immediately disappointed as I realized we were looking at a picket line and audibly groaned to Dale, “Oh no, a strike!”
Dale pulled into a parking lot to a building beside the Cannery and told me not to worry as we hadn’t come this far for nothing. She indicated we weren’t in the Cannery parking lot so they wouldn’t give us any trouble and we could just walk up over the side step by the veranda and go in the front door. I realized nothing was going to stop a hungry Dale and smiled to myself. I admit the temptation to eat at the Cannery was too much for me too so I decided to go along with Dale and I really didn’t want to disappoint her as it might be another few years before I saw her again.
We were sat at a beautiful table beside a window the candles glowed as well dressed waiters scurried about seeing to customer’s needs.
We ordered steak and lobster which came with an appetizer salad starter. My mouth watered through every delicious bite as we ate, chatted and laughed.
As we literally licked the last morsel off our plates I looked up and sensed an old familiar feeling and decided to voice it.
“Dale, are you still hungry?”
“Well, yes,” she replied.
“What would you like to eat?” I asked.
“The same thing I think,” she said.
“Well order it again.”
“They’ll think I’m crazy,” Dale said with a smile.
“So what, you are the customer so go for it I say,” smiling back at her. I was thinking I could hardly wait to see the surprised look on the waiter’s face.
As the waiter approached to take away our dishes Dale quite brazenly requested another order of the same. The waiter looked quite stunned for a moment, repeated the order as if to be sure he heard right then said, “Yes Mam, thank you, Mam,” before awkwardly stumbling away with our dishes. Then we laughed so hard tears rolled down our faces.
Quite suddenly another man in a full suit was standing at our table and introduced himself as the manager. He asked Dale, “Excuse me, but were you unhappy with your meal Mam?”
Dale looked at him as if he was from mars she really should have been an actress and stated, “No, it was quite good.”
Looking perplexed the man said, “Oh good, but you did order another meal Mam?”
Dale stared at him as if he was quite dull headed, “Of course that’s what I told your waiter I wouldn’t have ordered it unless I liked it.”
“Oh, of course well we do want our customers to be satisfied Mam so if I may I would like to offer the second dinner to you at half price,” he said smiling at Dale.
Dale accepted this of course before the manager excused himself. However, we soon noticed that something had changed in the restaurant. The staff, every waiter, waitress, busboy, or otherwise seemed to be either staring at us or making some occasion to go by our table to have a look at us. Dale was becoming a little exasperated with it all. I found it quite humorous as Dale was so slim and I was more on the plump side. When her dinner came Dale did justice to it as the staff did justice to watching in astonishment as she ate every bit of it. I noticed a few costumers seemed to be taking note of our table as well and all the attention coming our way.
When Dale was almost finished I told her I needed to find a payphone and check out the ferry schedule for the ride home, however I felt like having some dessert now so I asked her to order me a piece of pecan pie if the waiter came by while I was away from the table.
When I came back to the table I could see Dale was looking quite angry so I asked what had happened.
Dale practically snorted, “That waiter is a cheeky ass, when I asked him for two pieces of pecan pie he said they only had three pieces left so was I sure I didn’t want all three pieces? What a jerk!”
I laughed, “I’m sorry Dale but yes he was being a jerk I guess it will reflect in the tip then but we will still enjoy this pie.”
As we left the restaurant and walked to the car it was dark and the stars had come out to sparkle above us. It had been a great day however we were both ready to go home yet fate still had some tricks up its sleeve for us.
As we started down the darkened back lanes again I started telling Dale that my Uncle a fisherman had once said this area of the docks is one place you don’t ever want to be alone at night in Vancouver it was a very dangerous place.
Just then I heard Dale swear under her breath and could feel a definite thumping sound on the right front side of the car as she pulled over to the shoulder. A light hanging on a building played a shadow across the dashboard as Dale announced, “We’ve got a flat those dam picketers must have put a hole in the tire, shit.”
“I don’t know how to change a tire,” I exclaimed, “do you?”
“If I had to but I’m not about to in these clothes so we’ll have to wave down a car with some men in it.”
Hmmm why hadn’t I thought of that? Dale was nothing if not resourceful I just hoped our rescuers’ hurried up it didn’t feel too safe at all in the darkness with a lone light illuminating a side of a building.
After about five minutes Dale managed to wave down a car with two men and two ladies on their way to the Cannery for a dinner date. The fellows were in cream coloured suits so I had my doubts they would change a tire. Yet some somehow Dale first managed to get them to pull out the jack then she turned it upside down and asked which way it went. By the time Dale finished smiling and cajoling these two guys with questions they had changed the tire and left feeling like heroes I think. Either way it was a relief to be on our way.
Dale managed one drive through a MacDonald’s for a Big Mac on the way to the Bus Station that would take me to the Ferry. I still couldn’t figure out where it could all fit in a human body that size, but we had enjoyed each other’s company and our adventures that day and gave each other a hug goodbye as I stepped onto the bus.
The water on the way back to Nanaimo was again calm that evening. As we neared the terminal I went downstairs along with a number of other people walking off the ferry standing as the doors opened so we could view the approach and docking of the boat. Bus passengers were already boarded and sitting in their seats while others had returned to their vehicles. I could see the dock looming with the tall booms when suddenly there was an ear piercing bang as the ferry lurched into the side of the dock. I had taken hundreds of trips on the ferry and on occasion the ferry would bump into the dock but I’d never seen anything like this. Most of the people standing were now thrown forward and lying on the deck. Somehow I had maintained my balance and watched everything like a movie in slow motion. The bus had jumped over the blocks that hold its wheels in place. Pipes up in the high ceilings burst and water was coming down in showers like rainfall on decks below. Crew members were running and loud speaker sounds could be heard but hardly discerned as the crew tried again and finally docked the boat. People were helping each other to their feet and looked shocked. No one seemed to know or care why what happen occurred it seemed more important to just get off and away from the scene.
When I arrived home however and saw the news that evening it all became apparent what had happened. A five point one earth quake under the centre of a mountain had triggered a volcanic eruption. It was the day Mount St. Helen’s erupted. The consequences devastating for many much closer to the mountain yet still odd in that it affected my life too in a day filled with bizarre twists and turns it became the finale of my eventful day with Dale.