The Yates Hotel had a wide marble staircase at the back of the lobby which led up to the second floor. Poppy gave my sister and me each a quarter and said we could buy ourselves a soft drink upstairs and watch some TV. This sounded like fun, so up the stairs we scampered.
The shiny, white marble steps and dark wood panelling gave the lobby a touch of class that hinted that maybe the Hotel Yates had once been much more grand.
Up on the second floor, we found that the hallway opened up into a large living room-like area containing a couple of old chesterfields and large armchairs oriented around a large colour television – the kind built inside a massive wooden console. Kim and I had entered what was essentially the Yates’ communal lounge. A few old people sat motionless on one of the chesterfields, watching a game show. We spotted the pop machine against the wall, about six feet to the right of the TV, and half walked and half-ran over to it. A quick inspection revealed that Tab was my best choice, and so I dropped in my quarter, opened the little glass door, and pulled as hard as I could on the bottle of Tab. It came out suddenly, with a loud heavy clinking of glass as the other bottles shoved their way into position for the next Tab drinker. The label on my bottle had a large scrape down the side, evidence of this violent little machine. Man – I didn’t want my hand to get caught in there!
Kim pulled out an orange Fresca and we cranked off our bottle caps on the bottle opener on the front of the machine. Self-consciously, we crept over to find spots to sit in front of the TV. The old armchair I settled into smelled of dust, and the glow from the TV was practically the only source of light. Neither of us said a word as we sipped our drinks. It felt like we had snuck into someone else’s living room, but all the same, it was kind of comforting at the same time.
Sometimes Poppy would give me magazines that the Hotel maids would find in the rooms. These were not comic books, with which I was very familiar from the corner store or the magazine stand on the BC Ferry, but larger, more complicated books that seemed quite different to me. One of them was MAD Magazine, which introduced me to the concept of satire, sarcasm and dark styles of humour. The other, which made an even greater impact on me was monster magazines such as Eerie or Creepy. These were black and white comic magazines dealing with horror, science fiction or fantasy subject matter. It was serious and complicated material compared to the Road Runner and superhero comics that we had often bought in the past. It was fascinating, grown-up stuff to my young mind, and I would remember these publications years later and would collect them in one form or other for the rest of my life.
On a later visit, Poppy introduced us to an old Black woman who lived in the Hotel. I wish I could recall her name, but she was so kind and friendly to Kim and me.
She impressed us with her collection of artificial flowers. She seemed to have a close familiarity with these materials: they were used to pad her mattress because, she said, of her chronically sore back. She showed us how to make a nice rose using some wire, and red and green felt and thin strips of foam rubber.
She spoke to us in a warm, friendly voice that had maybe just a hint of southern drawl. She described places and people from her distant past, all of whom were probably long since gone. She seemed genuinely happy to have a couple of curious little visitors for the afternoon. Her room looked so small to me. I couldn’t quite grasp that someone could live by themselves for so many years in such a small place.