Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Miles for Millions Adventure

When I was a boy, there was a fundraiser for third world nations, called the Miles for Millions walk. I believe it was around for several years before the year that I walked it, but I do know that I was ten years old when this adventure happened.

The schools had encouraged everyone to get pledges and raise some money, so I had gone around and got a few pledges (I don't think I had very many, but I was determined to do my bit.)

On the day that the walk was to happen, my father dropped me off at the starting point. I was a Cub Scout and had gone on numerous hikes, so I already had a day pack and a canteen (real army issue), a rain coat (it was a normal, overcast, Vancouver day, I think in May.) I got my checkpoint card, and someone saftey pinned it to my pack strap so I wouldn't lose it, and I started out walking with a large group.

Now there was a big group of people all walking together, and I was in the middle of it, but I really didn't know anyone, so I walked quietly, by myself, in this big group. I was comfortable with the large group and enjoying the independance. As I reached each checkpoint, I would stop and get them to check off my checkpoint card.

It was somewhere about the middle of the walk, I remember being about the middle of the checkpoints, and they had one in a fairly large park. As I was walking up to it, I looked at my pack strap where my checkpoint card should have been, and it wasn't there!

I was devastated! I stood there for several minutes, trying to figure out what I could do. It never occurred to me to walk up to the checkpoint and tell the adults my problem. Looking back now, if a crestfallen ten-year-old had turned up at my checkpoint having lost his card, clearly having hiked that far, with pack and raingear, I would have found a way to get him on his way, but I was convinced that this was the end of the walk, unless I could find my checkpoint card with all it's previously marked off checkpoints.

So I started retracing my steps. I walked back quite a ways, looking for my card, and then realized that there weren't very many people anymore, so I realized I'd have to continue, if only to meet my parents at the end point.

I returned to the park, still looking for my card. I actually found someone else's card, but it had their name on it, so it was no good for me, and I left it.

I didn't bother going to the checkpoint. But now I had another problem. There were so few people walking, I was a bit anxious to not get left too far behind. Again, it never occurred to me to talk to any adults. My wife tells me that I'm too independent, and I guess I was, even then, as a ten year old. I saw a couple with rain ponchos on, clearly walking the walkathon, so I followed them.

After about 8 blocks, they turned into an apartment, and I realized that I was in big trouble. My frustration at losing my checkpoint card was now being superceded by an unpleasant, anxiousness in my tummy. I was now on King Edward (25th) street, and I knew what parts of it looked like but wasn't really sure where I was. I walked another block or two, and saw a familiar sight. It was Helen's Grill at Main and 25th, which is still there. As soon as I saw it, I knew where I was.

I had brought a dime with me, and had it in my pocket. Now, back then, a child's fare on Vancouver buses for one zone was ten cents, so I had enough to get to somewhere on Boundary road. I figured from there, I could walk to my home in the Jubilee neigborhood of Burnaby (behind where Metrotown and Sears are now - it was Simpson Sears, back then.) Now it was also the amount you needed to use a phone booth, but phone booths were pretty notorious for eating dimes, and since no one had answering machines or cell phones, there was a good chance that I would lose the dime and then really not have a way out. Again, it never occured to me that I should walk into a store and tell them I had a problem. I'm sure that I could have used a store's phone to call home. Most people would have helped out a stranded little boy, but that never occurred to me.

Anyways, I decided that I would wait for a bus and ask the driver what bus I could take that would get me close to Central Park so I could walk home.

Having come up with a plan, I was feeling a bit less anxious. I don't recall coming too close to tears at all this disappointment and trouble, but I suspect if I'd had a sympathetic listener at one or two of the worst moments I might have dissolved into a puddle. Anyways, I was alone and had to get myself out of this, like a good, resourceful Scout, so I stood there waiting for a bus to come, at the back of the line of people, so I wouldn't block them while I asked the driver for directions.

A few minutes later, the bus pulled up, and several people climbed down off the bus. One of them was an oriental man, who walked up to me, handed me an all-day pass and said "Here, you can use this, I'm done with it." I don't know if it was legal for him to pass that off to me, but at the time I was so relieved that I think I half squeaked my "Thank you" to him! I sometimes wonder if he was an angel, sent to rescue me. Whoever he was, he solved a serious problem for me, and I instantly changed my question for the bus driver. It was now "What bus will get me to Jubilee in Burnaby?"

The driver told me that I could get there on his bus, with a transfer, so I climbed aboard and sat down. Now, the only available seats were all next to occupied ones, so I picked a younger adult man whose face I liked and sat beside him. He probably noticed my gear and asked me what I was doing. Before I knew it, I'd poured out my whole unhappy story to him. I can't remember his name, but he told me he was a scientist, and was just off work, and that if I stayed with him, he'd get me to my home. OK, that was angel number 2. Looking back I have my doubts that his route really took him past Jubilee station. I think he said that just to help me out.

I don't recall what all we talked about, but we chatted all the way. Despite all the talking, it felt like one of the longest bus trips I had ever taken. It was now well past the point where my parents should have been picking me up, and I knew that they were going to be frantic with worry.

The scientist made sure I switched busses at the loops and got on the right ones, all the time insisting that he was going my way, although I had this nagging, but grateful feeling that he was doing this to make sure I got home safely.

Finally the bus pulled up at the stop nearest my house. I thanked the young scientist who had helped me, and climbed off the bus, waving at him as it pulled away. Then I walked to my house.

When I unlocked the door and walked in, my brother Wim was there, looking really concerned. He told me that the rest of the family was driving around looking for me, and they had the police looking, too. He had stayed home in case I showed up or phoned. He called the police to let them know I had showed up on my own, and they found my parents and told them I had been located.

When my family all arrived, I had to tell the story to them. I was told next time to find a grownup and explain my problem. In fact, I was told I should have gone to the people at the checkpoint and they would have taken care of me. I discovered in a very real way that God sent angels to take care of little boys, and that those angels were disguised, or perhaps just were, ordinary people. And I discovered that my family were really seriously worried about me, and actually loved me. I guess I knew that all along, but my brother actually looked stressed when I walked in the door. It was kind of nice to know that you'd be missed if something happened to you.

And that is the story of my Miles for Millions adventure!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My First Orange Crush - Five Cents

As I ride Vancouver's skytrain through Burnaby to my office in New Westminster, I pass by the Jubilee neighborhood that I used to live in. Sometimes just seeing the place brings back memories, although so much has changed. I only need a few cues to bring back the memories.

One of the cues is a small building that used to be a corner store with a house attached, but now is a computer place. I have a particularly poignant memory about that place.

I was just seven when this happened. It was a very hot summer day, and I was playing in the back lane in just my shorts. The lane now is paved with blacktop, but then it was a gravel lane, that got a fresh layer of tar every few years. On a hot day, the tar absorbed more of the sun's heat and made the middle of the lane unbearably hot for a child's little bare feet, so I was inclined to walk along the edge. The edge of the lane had less tar, always seemed to be cooler, had patches of grass you could step on to let your little feet cool, and it seemed to have a less even distribution of rocks, so there were more patches of just dust that weren't as hard on little feet. If you could find a thick patch of dust that hadn't already been stomped, the dust was fun to plop your feet on and feel it gush out between your bare toes. I guess we got a lot of tar on our bare feet in the summer!

Somehow, while playing, I spotted a nickel on the ground. Now a nickel today is not a lot of money, but back then, a nickel, for a seven year old, was a serious haul. I was standing there, with the sweat trickling down my little bare back and tummy, standing on a tuft of grass so my bare feet wouldn't burn, feeling the hot sun baking my bare skin, and I realized that this nickel would buy me a pop.

At seven years old I had never gone alone into a store, without either family or friends, and bought anything, but being a very independent little boy, I decided it was time I did so. I hadn't ever been told I couldn't. So I walked down the lane towards the corner store. Our lane ran behind the house, parallel with Imperial St., and to the East where I was walking, ran into Jubilee St. I made my way down the lane, walking on the concrete parking lot of the Laundromat at the end (King Coin Laundromat - still there, too!) I crossed the street, stepping gingerly over the rocks on the side of the road.

I hesitated a bit outside the store, screwed up my courage to overcome the slight squirming sensation of nervousness in my tummy at doing something new by myself, and, with the nickel clutched firmly in my sweaty little hand, I stepped onto the wooden step, opened the door and stepped in. I clearly recall the feel of the step on my feet, rough wood, hot with the baking sun. They didn't have air conditioning, so it was fairly warm and a bit stuffy inside, but they had a fan and the old linoleum floor inside the store felt cool to my little bare feet, after the hot gravel and pavement.

There was an older lady at the till, wearing glasses (I suspect she was a lot younger than my recollection, but at 7, anyone older than 25 felt ancient), and she smiled at me, so I smiled back. Her smile ended the nervousness in my tummy, so I walked up to the soda cooler, which was right next to the counter, and pulled it open. It was one that had a lid on top that you had to lift out of the way. I believe that there was a little step-stool there, so little ones like me could reach in more easily. I leaned in, my bare tummy right against the cold edge of the cooler. It felt delightfully cold on my bare skin! Then I had to choose.

There were lots of different flavours, but the one that jumped out at me was the Orange Crush. I had never had one and the thought of something orange-flavoured and cold and fizzy on a hot day appealed to me, so I grabbed an Orange Crush and closed the lid of the cooler. I handed it to the lady and asked her to please open it for me. I gave her the nickel and told her I would drink it there. It would have cost 1 cent more for deposit if I wanted to leave the store with it, but if you were willing to drink it there, it cost only the nickel. The lady opened the bottle for me, and handed it back, still smiling (I was probably a very cute intrusion into a quiet, boring day for her.)

I tilted the pop back and began to drink. I had never had an Orange Crush before, so I was delighted with the explosion of tangy, fizzy, cold, sweet flavour in my mouth. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and drank. As I gulped the first mouthful down, I felt its coldness going down inside me. I felt the coldness from about the bottom of my breastbone down to the middle of my tummy, where it spread through the middle of me. At the same time, I clearly recall feeling a bead of sweat running down the outside of my tummy, cooling and drying in the breeze of the fan. I would take a mouthful of pop, swirling it around in my mouth to get the most of the cold, fizzy, tangy-sweet flavour, then gulping it, feeling it going down cold to my tummy, with my head tilted back and my eyes closed. I had to pause once or twice to catch a breath of air. It tasted so good I was neglecting to breathe while drinking it. Finally, much too quickly, it was gone. With a big breath that was half sigh, I handed the bottle back to the lady, smiled, said "Thank you!", and wiped my mouth with my hand. Then I turned and left the store.

I don't recall anything else I did that day, but that little episode has stayed with me over the years. Orange Crush is still one of my favourite drinks. Now, when I ride past that corner store on the skytrain, the memory of that day comes back to me.