“Can you help me with this flagstone? …It’s a bit unwieldy”
It was the spring of 2004, and I’d decided to transform my yard into a thing of beauty. Several tons of beautiful flat golden sandstone rocks for pathways & walls, several pallets of pavers for the backyard patio, and enough cedar 4 x 4’s, 2 x 10’s & antique wrought iron lay scattered about for me to fulfill my vision…an inviting 3 step staircase bisecting a low 30 foot wide & 18” high wall, with a lovely cedar trellis archway leading to a winding flagstone path into the backyard, where the patio would await the fun that was to come…and it did.
This was my post-marital home, which I’d purchased a couple of years prior, in the 2800 block of West 17th Avenue in Kitsilano. My ex-wife lived a short 5-minute walk away in our family home at 14th and Waterloo, and we divided parental responsibilities – willingly & comfortably – between us. It was a sweet little neighbourhood that I’d found myself in, with happy, kind – and forgiving – neighbours, who put up with my sometimes overzealous habit of people, parties and late-night jamming…as long as they were sometimes included.
On this warm Spring Saturday morning, several friends, my son, and my partner Cathy were scurrying about with various helpful tasks, as I concentrated on “the vision” and the heavy labour – breaking apart the existing walkway with sledgehammer & crowbar, while attempting to ignore the hangover which had lodged itself somewhere between my Bindi and my Man Bun.
Neighbours Liz & Darren were out doing a little garden work, Simon & Fandy had politely asked what I was doing before they hopped in their car to go shopping, Eros – who lived several doors East had wandered over to see what was going on and to give advice, and Maureen, who lived several doors West, stared balefully at our activities as if it were another imposition coming from “Noisy George”…the guy who parties too much. Which – in all frankness – I did.
In that moment, all was good. Everything & everyone on our little neighbourhood stage was happily fulfilling their small scripted roles, in a busy and predictable manner. Birds chirped, dogs barked, gardeners gardened, neighbourly pleasantries and advice were received and given, and the huff n’ puff of my hardworking “Team Landscape” was filtered through bad puns and good-natured banter.
And then, from down the block, came the unexpected bliss-arresting sound of high-pitched screeching…a noise that even Maureen would later agree was more “ear-itating” than my late-night jam sessions…as the squealing tires of a speeding out-of-control car fought with the too-late application of slammed-on brakes to unsuccessfully navigate the curve in the road heading south on MacDonald at 17th.
Collectively, we looked up, craned our necks, dropped wheelbarrows full of bricks, mouths agape, to watch – as a careening, late-model silver Toyota Tacoma Truck slammed into the curb, leapt up and then, almost airborne, cleared the sidewalk, gouging a path through the front-yard grass, knocking down the ornamental Japanese Maple, only to smash through the pyramidalis hedge on its unstoppable train wreck into the back yard…and beyond.
We stood – momentarily transfixed – as the sound of the truck crash carnage seemed to go on and on, with additional crunching, squealing and crashing happening now out of view. When it stopped, several of us ran toward the accident to see if anyone was injured or needed help. Liz and I arrived together at the opening in the pyramidalis hedge and climbed over the fallen bushes and made our way towards the truck which had continued on its destructive path all the way through the corner properties’ front & back yard, through their back fence and was now lodged under the back door neighbours deck, having snapped a couple of weight bearing 4 x 4’s, collapsing the deck onto the hood of the truck – which, amazingly, was still running at full-throttle, stuck, with blue smoke billowing from the spinning tires.
On my way to the truck, dodging broken bushes, destroyed flower beds, and smashed garden gnomes I noticed that there had been a large plastic multi-coloured children’s play centre directly in the path of destruction, which now lay strewn in pieces about the yard with part of the red kiddie slide visibly stuck under the trapped truck.
When I arrived at the passenger side of the truck, my first instinct was to get on my hands and knees to peer at the undercarriage to see if any children had been dragged along with the slide. Fortunately, my fears were not realized, and all I could see was a snowball of branches, garden plants, cedar fence pickets, and one red, badly mangled ,kiddie slide. Looking inside the cab, I could see that there were no passengers, just the driver who appeared to be having some kind of medical emergency – either a heart attack or a seizure – and was sitting stiffly, rigidly, eyes wide open, hands on the wheel with his foot still pressed down – pedal to the metal – on the gas. The passenger door was locked but luckily Liz was able to open the driver’s side, reach in and turn off the ignition.
The noise stopped and the blue smoke abated as we tried vainly to communicate with the driver – who was barely responsive. Neither owners of the two damaged corner properties were home to provide quick calls to emergency services, and cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now, but fortunately, Liz’s husband Darren had made the call while Liz and I were running to the crash scene, and the sound of approaching ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles could be heard. We began to shed some of our adrenaline.
The ambulance took away the driver, we gave some brief statements to the cops, and a tow truck arrived with the awkward task of extricating the Ford from the mess.
“Good thing that didn’t happen on a weekday” said Liz, “Carnarvon Elementary is just a block away, and a lot of kids cross right there at that corner”, “God yeah”, I said, “that would’ve been a disaster”. “And a good thing the family wasn’t home too”, I said, “I hate to think what might’ve happened if their kids were playing on that playcentre” … We both paused to reflect on how the magnitude of this accident was so random before we wandered back to our respective lives and chores.
That was the south west corner…The First Corner.
“Ahh” I said, taking a sip of my 16-ounce dark roast – with a bit of milk – and settling into the comfy faux-leather armchairs at Bruno’s Corner Cup Café, at 4th and Blenheim in Kitsilano, “best coffee on the West Side”. “Can’t argue with that” said Jordy, a good friend and regular at the Cup’s morning coffee crew, “what else ya got?”, he added whimsically.
Twelve years have elapsed…It’s Autumn, 2016, and the habitués of the morning coffee shift were congregating at Bruno’s for their daily hot cups of Sumatran and oft good conversation. The cute little house on 17th Avenue with its beautiful landscaping job are gone, sold during the economic downturn of 2008, and replaced with a rental bungalow at the corner of 6th and Blenheim – making Bruno’s the closest, and best, coffee shop of choice. Hangovers are just a memory as I (and almost everyone I know) celebrate my 4 years of continued sobriety. The Advertising Sales Job of ’04 has been replaced by a Gallery Café business on Mayne Island, and at least one – if not more – of the faithful “landscaping team” have, sadly, tragically, passed on.
The iPhone 3 of 2004 has evolved into a 6+ and I’m adjusting to the larger size. “Don’t you find it awkward?’, asked Paul, another coffee circle regular, “I like to stick my 4 in my pocket.” “Not really, I’ve gotten used to it”, I replied, “In spring & summer it fits nicely into one of my cargo shorts pockets, and in colder weather I always find a coat pocket large enough…and I like the larger screen”
Jordy and another regular, Chris, sipped their joe and listened politely to our mundane, everyday conversation. We are the morning crew, the early shift if you will. Music played softly from the overhead speakers, competing for our attention with the ear-damaging coffee grinder and high-pitched espresso machine…with it’s steamed milk attachment kicking it up a notch to give staff long-term hearing loss. Other locals appeared, looking for muffins, breakfast sandwiches & newspapers. We were not readers or eaters, we were the comfy Naugahyde armchair coveting, coffee guzzling, conversationalists….and, from our strategic vantage point, we had the best view of 4th avenue, with its increasingly heavy traffic volume at its controlled pedestrian crossing at Blenheim and the South East Corner…. The Second Corner.
I don’t remember what we were talking about, and in fact, it likely wasn’t important, nor germane to this little story, but what we all agreed upon was that the distant sound of sirens seemed to be getting louder and louder and was soon to pass our field of vision – racing east on 4th.
Events unfolded rather quickly. Moments before the police car appeared, a light metallic green late-model Toyota Corolla burst onto the scene, careening impossibly fast for the 90-degree corner turn it was attempting to make, up Blenheim Street, lost control of the vehicle, jumped the curb, and crashed through the 5-foot high cedar fence which ringed the entire 4 story apartment. Speed and momentum kept the auto-projectile crashing through 3 or 4 of the small 10’ x 8’ ground level patios, with their planters, blue vinyl Adirondack chairs, knick-knacks, bicycles & barbeques. Everyone at Bruno’s – even Bruno – stopped what they were doing, whether mid-sip, mid-pour or mid-opinion, got to their collective feet and rushed outside – as the prospect of a terrible, live-action accident incident, seemed for the moment, vastly more interesting than dissecting Donald Trump’s latest verbal indignity…although, as we were all soon to sadly discover, Trumpian indignities would get far more mileage than the now totally totalled Toyota, smoking on a patio across the street.
The Second Corner – after all the repair work. The corner post has been replaced by a brick pillar – good idea
The police car – lights flashing & sirens now silenced – screeched to a stop, blocking Blenheim, as two officers flung open their doors, jumped from the vehicle and raced toward the crash scene – obviously in pursuit of their prey – in what now appeared to be the getaway vehicle. And indeed, from the far end of the apartment property, we could see a youngish guy – maybe in his early 30’s, climb over the cedar fence, run east on 4th and then duck into another property half a block down, in an effort to avoid capture. More sirens wailed in the distance as other patrol cars raced in response to the “event in progress”.
Because we had great window view seats, and the cops seemed to have everything in hand, and none of us had “the jaws of life” to help remove the second hoodlum who was apparently trapped in the getaway car, we went back inside to watch the drama in comfort, to speculate, and, most importantly, to get back to our coffees before they cooled off any further. We definitely had our priorities sorted out.
“Probably two guys fleeing from a robbery in a stolen car”, said Chris, “this city is getting edgier”. “Looked like two guys out for a joy ride that went wrong” said Jordy, “not a lot of robbery going on in Kitsilano, we live in a bubble”. “Good thing there were no pedestrians at that corner”, I said, “or anyone hanging out on their patios – wrong time of day I guess – reminds me of a car crash I witnessed at 17th and Macdonald back in ’04…” I began, as Paul interjected, “Maybe it was a guy racing his friend to the hospital because he’d had a heart attack”. This made us all pause and reflect for a moment on the various places our minds had gone…and not gone. “Naah, I doubt it”, said Chris, why would he be running away like that?” We all nodded our heads in agreement. “Did you hear what Trump said last night on CNN?”, asked Chris, “There’s no way he’s going to win the presidency next month…he’s such a dick…”
This was the south east corner…the Second Corner
It’s November 30, 2020 – a Monday – and we are 9 months into the global Coronavirus pandemic. Canada has just had one of its worst “Daily New Case” load days at 6,103 cases, and numbers appear to be rising everywhere. Governments worldwide are attempting to respond to the real or perceived health crisis with business closures, mask mandates, distancing, science & sanitizers and God & guesswork. It’s not a fun time to be running a little coffee shop in Kitsilano. Staff layoffs, no indoor seating & “take out only” made for drastic income reductions but, thanks to Government largesse, a supportive clientele, Bruno’s “roll up your sleeves” work ethic, and a small, slightly covered outdoor seating area, Bruno was optimistic that he’d be able to keep the “Corner Cup” sputtering along. “Thank God I’ve still got covered outdoor seating”, he said, “people still want to go out, grab a coffee, sit somewhere that’s not wet, and socialize”.
We are 3 weeks into a Biden presidency, but this win will not come easily, with recounts, challenges, and allegations of ballot rigging and fraud coming from the former President and his followers. “Stop the Steal” will soon enter our lexicon, with much worse to come.
Despite all of this distraction, and perhaps, more importantly, it was Bruno’s 50th Birthday. Now, many lesser men may have taken a well-deserved Birthday break after 9 gruelling months of ever-changing Pandemic rules & restrictions, the dreary and furtive uncertainty, the 8, 9, or 10 hour fully-masked retail shifts, with diminished income and life-threatening work – a kind of barista hell. But Bruno was committed to his craft – he had loyal customers, who still needed his coffee and his muffins, so he would get out of bed, kiss the wife goodbye, hop in the car and drive the 40 km, hour long commute from Coquitlam, to open his Corner Cup Coffee House in Kitsilano. And we, his loyal and appreciative customers…nay, his fans…were glad he did.
But today was to be a different kind of day, not a day of cakes & candles, gifts & Best Wishes, but a day that will take Bruno’s mind off Pandemics, presents & Presidents – today was the day of The Third Corner.
The drive in from Coquitlam was taking a bit longer than usual, traffic was bad, there was a light rain, and a fender bender on the Barnett was adding 15 or 20 minutes to his usual 1 hour slog…but Bruno wasn’t worried, his trustworthy nephew Matteo was working with him now and had agreed to “open up the Cup” so Bruno could have a slightly more relaxing start to his “Special Day”…plus, he was listening to some chill tunes on his favourite radio station, Jack 96.9, and he knew that his wife had some kind of birthday surprise planned for when he got home later that night…it was all good.
After all of his regular staff had either been let go, or resigned during the mass Pandemic Purge of employees during the closures of 2020 (a Canada Wide, if not Global phenomena), Bruno had managed to convince his nephew Matteo to pick up some shifts as the Café slowly sputtered back to life. We were no longer at the “fearfully hand coffee – wearing plastic gloves – through a plexiglass hole at the front door of the café, to equally fearful, masked, sanitized and distanced customers using only credit cards because touching money might mean instant death” phase….no, now, customers could actually enter the café – masked, sanitized, distanced and fearful – but get their coffee at the cash register, rather than in the rain at the front door, and go and sit outside in the cold and rain – a vast improvement.
On this day, Matteo had arrived at about 6:45 to get the ball rolling for an 8 am open, he didn’t expect to see Uncle Bruno until about 8:30…”Don’t forget to wish him a Happy Birthday” he thought, “and don’t say anything about the surprise party”. It was the same drill everyday…turn on heat & lights, hot water & espresso machine, grind the dark & medium roast for the drip machines, turn on the drip coffee machine and put enough coffee into the filter for the process, make sure bathroom is clean, remove covers from the baked good display case, get milk & cream containers ready, turn on the music…it was somewhere around this moment in the hour long opening process when Mateo’s concentration was broken by the sound of a car, tires screeching, as it tried – unsuccessfully – to navigate its turn from 4th Avenue, north onto Blenheim – and turned just in time to watch the 15 foot shade tree on the small boulevard beside the café crash through the large plate glass window beside the front door – knocked down by an out-of-control, white 2015 BMW i3.
“Jesus!” gasped Matteo, as he ran towards the door, dodging shards of glass that spilled over the floor of the café. He scanned the sidewalk, as he reached for the glass door, to see if anyone had been hit by the car or the falling tree. Several people that had been waiting at the nearby bus stop also ran over to see if the driver needed help, or if anyone had been hit. The driver of the BMW, shaken but uninjured, emerged from the vehicle, shaking his head and feeling his shoulder where the seatbelt had given him a jolt during the sudden stop.
“You OK man?”, asked Matteo, “Yeah, good thanks, I think”, he replied, “better than my car…or your window” as he surveyed the scene of the accident. “Not sure how I screwed up that turn, I’ve done it dozens of times”, he continued, “roads a bit slippery, might’ve been momentarily distracted”, he said (which is code for “looking at cell phone but am reluctant to admit to anything that might engender a ticket”, as he got his story straight before the police arrived – which would be soon judging by the approach of sirens). “Well, you and our regular customers are lucky you didn’t arrive half an hour later,” said Matteo, “there’s usually a small line up of regulars at the café before we open at 8…which is like right now”, he said as the usual coffee zombies were making their way to Bruno’s, rain or shine, for their daily cup ‘o joe. The lovely little shade maple lay forlornly, branches poking through Bruno’s window, and covering one of the outdoor tables – where we habitually sat – having also knocked over the outdoor metal chairs. “People sit right there”, said Matteo, “Jesus”, said the driver as he rubbed his chin and pondered circumstance.
Broken window at Corner Cup Café, The Third Corner
I arrived just as the tow truck was removing the BMW, and a City Crew was cutting up and removing the tree. The driver, after giving his statement to the police and turning down any need for medical assistance, walked the last few blocks to his home on 2nd Avenue.
“Well, this isn’t the surprise I expected on my Birthday”, said a familiar voice. “Oh, hey Bruno,” I said, turning, “little fender bender, car lost control and knocked down that shade maple onto your outdoor table…no one’s hurt…oh, and hey bud, Happy Birthday”. ”Yeah Happy Birthday Bruno!” chimed in Matteo and the other regulars who were standing around gawking. “As if running this joint during a pandemic isn’t shitty enough, now I gotta spend my day getting a new window” “Geez, I’d give you a hug Bruno, but I think it’s against the Law”, I said, as everybody laughed. “Matteo, you got the coffee up and running? asked Bruno, “let’s get these monkeys their coffees so they can get on with their day – just like we hafta do”. “Great idea Bruno” we all chimed in, “Hey”, said Jordy, “Maybe talk to Karly’s partner Matthew, “I know he does window repair”
This was the north west corner – the Third Corner.
This story is an illustration and is not meant to give you a fear of corners. Despite sensing that I am – on occasion – standing on my own allegorical 4th Corner, there seems little need to worry or obsess. Living without fear certainly seems preferable to the alternative.
That being said, whatever corner we find ourselves on, at any time of life – allegorical or otherwise – looking in all directions, for greater clarity, would appear to be wise counsel……except, of course, for that North East corner at MacDonald and Broadway in Kitsilano, The Fourth Corner…it’s the beast and should be approached with utmost caution, fear, and loathing. You’re welcome. 😆