Copyright 2017 E. John Love
The whole lot was all torn up. Watching from behind a rusted yellow temporary fence, Jack saw familiar contours: chimneys that had once looked taller, and sagging rooflines that used to mark the boundaries of his little neighbourhood. Jack was glad to recognize a couple of old trees that still stood back in a rear corner of the property, protected by two-by-fours, plastic mesh, and mounds of dirt. The motel units on the western edge stood nearly intact, yet dusty, coated in grime, and moulting layers of paint off of their old wooden frames like so much dead skin. It was enamel and oil, stripping away, decade by decade. Makeup removal. Reverse facelift. Inevitable chemical peel.
The guts had been cleaned out too – old appliances, tables, chairs and brass fixtures would have been salvaged and sold for scrap or auctioned off for pennies on the dollar. Metres of copper pipe or wire, and maybe even some steel ducts would had been yarded out. Windows were smashed, either for fun or out of disdain. They were now black eyes that no longer needed to be covered up. Passers-by could throw a rock or a chunk of asphalt to show their open contempt for what had been reduced to no more than a neighbourhood eyesore.
The east side of the lot was being demolished today, and the units closest to the road had already been totally flattened. A large tractor named Hitachi was taking giant bites from the roof of the unit two doors down from where Jack used to live with his Dad and sister. As the giant steel claw swiped down, a roof and a wall would collapse into dark rotten wood, snapping and cracking in weak little shrieks of final protest. A refuge was becoming refuse, and it was too late to cry about it. It was all coming down now, Jack thought.
Seeing chunks of the parking lot broken and overturned, he marvelled at the soil and persistent tree roots showing through after so many years. Nature asserts herself still. He felt a wave of gratitude ripple through his chest. He pictured swarms of carpenter ants, spiders, and silverfish scurrying for new shelter, with the snakes, mice, and rats following in hot pursuit. Would nearby restaurants get over-run with these new customers? And where did all the people go anyway? What had happened to all of his old neighbours from years before? Would the faces he’d once recognized here all just disperse into the crowd and become like anonymous strangers again? The idea of anonymity made him wince.
The Mountain View Motel had once been a reasonably bright and well-tended tourist accommodation, at least back in the Forties or whenever it was originally built. Even though today the asphalt surface under the trailer park looked like it had been repaved in the past five years, the motel units themselves were much older and had been well-worn, shabby, grey, and mouldy by the time his Dad had moved them there. It was nowhere to be proud of, but it had once been his home for quite a few years.
The whole place was an old idea from a different era, back when gas, rubber, and wheels ruled Vancouver even more than it did today. He pictured the motel lobby postcards and how the sun used to shine down in Kodachrome hues, lighting up the cardboard caucasian faces in permanent smiling self-assurance. Bliss in a photo. The faces of the real residents showed the diverse, cracked reality of their highs and lows, and the burdens of living in Heaven on Earth each and every damned day. Dozens of wrinkles caused by smiles and sorrow, embedded in every tone from alabaster, tan, and gold, to copper, mocha, and dark chocolate. Blood vessels broke on old noses from too much wine. Haunted eyes, deeply-set in the faces of scruffy, hungry young men. A black finger nail. A smile missing a tooth.
Builders know about entropy and decay, but the Marketers act like time is unchanging. They sell the blissful perfection of the unattainable moment. Fuck that. The real estate developers still own Vancouver today, Jack knew, and even with their breathless gales of immutable words like green, eco-diversity, and densification, he knew that nothing had really changed. It was all still driven by profit and loss, and when a property became unprofitable (or maybe just not profitable enough), those folks with the least to bargain with would be the ones with the most to lose, and the first ones to go.
Before European immigrants farmed and logged the shit out of the area a hundred and fifty years back, it had been creeks and hunting ground of the natives for thousands of years. Jack looked over his shoulder at the Coast Mountain range, and the view that had given the Mountain View Motel its last name. The blue-grey shoulders he had loved for so long were getting harder to see through the near-forest of high-rise condos that had infested the area over the past ten years. But at least the mountains were still standing. The zigzag ski runs on Grouse mountain and two glacier-carved shapes that the English settlers had named The Lions, or The Sisters, as they’d once been called by the First Nations. Developers could never tear those things down.
It had been years since he’d ever lived there. Back in the day, Jack and his Dad had decided to move out months before anyone else. In fact, they’d planned it and started searching the moment the gossip had begun to spread through the motel’s trailer park. Gossip on wheels was one of the fastest methods of transmission he’d ever seen. Soon enough, motor homes started motoring away, and trailers started getting towed out. By the time half the lots were empty, Jack’s Dad had found them a small two bedroom apartment a few kilometers down Kingsway. They considered themselves to be damned lucky too. Now, regarding the withering remains of the Mountain View Motel was kind of like visiting a friend you used to know but who’s become almost unrecognizable through distance and time. It was a damned deathbed vigil, over an empty bed.
Jack wiped the dust off his glasses and left them off, letting a blurry view give a breather to his broken heart. It was hard to watch. He blinked out some tears and quietly cursed himself. He could tell himself it was the Developers who were to blame, but really there was nobody else he could get mad at, really. Time was the real villain.
He looked to each side to see if there were any old neighbours he recognized, but then he wondered what he would say to them now if there were. Some friendships need the shape of a place to define them. Things like relationships and camaraderie don’t occur in a vacuum – they grow in a particular time and space. Well, all the time had passed, and the place was now being deconstructed before his eyes, and the community he’d once known was gone. What would he say now to the neighbours who used to joke about what a dump the motel was, how old the plumbing was, how drafty the doors and windows had been, and how long it took to get anything fixed? Well, yes, he decided, it had been a dump, and now it truly looked like one.
And before long, the whole lot would become bright new shops below and densely-packed, modern undersized condos above, designed for a new class of people to barely afford, and they would live here for another forty years or so, raising kids and buying groceries, and laughing and getting into fights, and bitching about the water pressure or the thin walls.
Jack decided to come back later in the year and see if those trees in the back were still standing. They would wave hello to him again if the breeze was right.