B-line to Armageddon if No prevails?

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 22, 2015

The $7.5-billion transit plebiscite coffin should have so many nails in it that it may require a second coffin.

There’s a note of desperation in the Yessirs’ plea-cum-threat to Metro Vancouverites to lend approval to the 10-year plan, funded by a half-percentage-point lift in the provincial sales tax. (Temporary? Permanent? Who knows?)

Vote Yes, or — Armageddon. Babies, moist at both ends, and their weeping mothers stranded in the rain, packed buses stonily sweeping past them.

Cynical manipulators with thick Langley accents evilly chuckling that they’ve foiled Vancouver Island pro-Yessir sages. UBC students going mad in bulging B-line buses, mobile Black Holes of Calcutta.

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe is, at this writing, the latest to spoil the well-heeled Yessirs’ party. What, she asks, is the Yessirs’ source of money?

Bafflegab reply: Metro mayors’ council had agreed to spend up to $6 million on “the education component to promote the benefits of mayors’ plan for regional transportation.” (Those ads plastered on bus sides, pro-Yes radio plugs and mass phone calls, are educational?) Translation:

Taxpayers ultimately are paying. Further questions “will be considered” — not necessarily answered, note — when “the campaign period is complete.” Until then, peasants, just zip your lips and tug your forelocks.

As of a couple of weeks ago the Nossirs had raised a starveling $30,000. Jordan Bateman calculates the Yessirs are outspending his ragged band 200-1, something like the Team Canada score against Volcanovia at the second-period intermission.

• • •

Vancouver Sun columnist Malcolm Parry’s nostalgia gland was squeezed by my recent utopian bus fantasies, especially the “club car” proposal.

Mac recalled travel with chums on the train from work in Birmingham to his Walsall home. Heady days. Possibly not clear-headed. A teetotal pal who worked at the Aston brewery would ascend, bearing two flagons of his daily free-beer allowance. This enlivened the group’s card games.

“I often won enough in the games to buy 10 Senior Service cigarettes at journey’s end,” Mac recalled. “Given that, the free beer, and the low cost of a day-return railway ticket, I was, as the British say, ‘quid’s in.’ ”

Memories aside, Mac also sent a CNN story proving great minds think alike: In March San Francisco began a luxury bus service that has resemblances to my ideal bus.

Running between the wealthy Marina district and downtown, the buses have leather and reclaimed wood appointments; LED and Wi-Fi and mobile device outlets; an app offering pre-boarding orders for food and drink (sadly, non-alcoholic). An attendant serves drinks, adjusts the temperature, and chooses the music.

Normal bus fare is $2.25. Headline: “Would you pay $6 to commute in a bus that looks like a cafe crossed with a Virgin America plane?”

Certainly. See, grey-souled TransLink, my proposals aren’t bizarre — they’re sensible. Think!

• • •

The North Shore Zone Festival of Plays is a happy, friendly week, requiring some stamina: An ice-breaker party Sunday, followed by six nights of plays. I made four, sending trusted agents to the other two. Beats the Stanley Cup playoffs without the Canucks.

The winner, off to its own playoffs in July in Kamloops: Rabbit Hole, with Peter Zednick picking up best director. Tightly written. Excellent cast. Gripping. Confession: I left at intermission. I didn’t care to watch a couple’s marriage unravelling, unable to handle the grief of their four-year-old son’s death. Call me sissy. Call me jaded. I know enough about life’s wounds.

Shallowly, you may say, I want entertainment, a few jolly laughs. And I anticipated the ending — a life-affirming birth of the spinny unmarried sister’s child. Was I right?

Short notes: Sue Sparlin — who didn’t begin acting until age 60 — would make a fine Madame Arcati if someone, please, would stage Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit. Nigel Vonas was a festival standout in an unpleasant play. And Kieyella Thornton-Trump, 10, won hearts in W.A. Troyer’s Grandpa ’n’ Me.

• • •

Still more stage: Roger Nelson is as durable as the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, which this area’s oldest theatre company, North Shore Light Opera Society, has performed for 67 years. This year Nelson is staging H.M.S. Pinafore.

• • •

West Vancouver is the Flip City of real estate, its prices maddest in the mad Vancouver area — which is yoked with London and Manhattan for the priciest property on the planet.

Last Saturday’s Sun — anyone who doesn’t read at least one Vancouver daily is badly under-informed — listed 23 West Van flipped property prices that would knock your proverbial socks off. Example: 910 Braeside St., sold April 7 for $2,098,000, listed six days later for half a million higher.

The champ: A bare lot at 1424 Sandhurst Place, sold a year ago for $3.7 million, listed last month for $6.18 million. (In April a typical detached West Van home sold for $2.23 million.)

I first reacted with shoulda/woulda/coulda: Why hadn’t I got in on this feeding frenzy?

Confession: Because at heart I believe there’s something indecent about treating a house — with its unrecorded history of families, of birth and growth and death, of talk and laughter, of murmured love and bitter quarrel, of secrets kept by its discreet walls — as just another commodity to be flipped up the financial food chain, like barrels of oil or railway stock.

That’s the kind of chump I am.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Just take the No. 250 Utopia bus

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 8, 2015

This may be a unique reason to vote against the big interests’ Metro transit plan: It doesn’t go far enough.

Universal rule: All transit systems stimulate the authorities’ Stalinism. The business, bureaucratic, political, academic and union elites — the now and future car-driving class — treat transit riders like store-window dummies. Here’s a wild entrepreneurial idea: Aim to attract riders. Not just move them a little faster, more frequently.

At no cost to the public, I offer 13 real innovations:

1. Plainly, more buses (and trains and SeaBuses) — but far more.

2. Every major artery in Metro with a dedicated bus lane. Some buses-only all day. Others only at peak hours. Yes, including the middle lane of the Lions Gate Bridge. (If traffic through the twinned George Massey Tunnel can switch to three lanes at rush hours, anything is possible.)

3. Satellite bus centres, where riders can be driven or picked up near their homes. Think of our North Shore slopes where public transit is out of reach. Think cold, wet nights. Think women. Think the old, the unsure of foot. Think!

4. A guaranteed seat for all. You read that right. Otherwise, except for short rides, standees would pay half price. Allowing for a transition period, that would force TransLink to sit up and take notice, so to speak.

5: Much longer hours of operation. Overnight shouldn’t be impossible.

6: Ticket-punchers (cum security guards) on every bus. Drivers should be free to drive. Not distracted by freeloaders, drunks, rowdies or even change-offering, transfer-taking thee and me.

7: Now the buses. Their technology hasn’t changed in my lifetime. The 10-year transit plan may quickly become obsolete. (Robotics, perhaps?) Read on:

8. Individual heating/cooling vents for each rider.

9. Quick attach-release seat belts.

10. One or two toilets. If aircraft have them …

11. All this just basic sense. Now for some innovation: All Metro buses double-deckers.

12. Madly unconventional wisdom: Drink, by which I mean liquor, offered on the upper deck, what I think the English still call “outside” from the days when it really was outside. Smart! Natural draw for those who have imbibed (small joke) the wisdom of “If you drink, don’t drive.” Nothing like a (non-spillable) cocktail on the bus after a hard day of money-making to drop you off home cheerful-like. Where’s our vaunted salesmanship?

13. Some readers may have left in scornful disbelief. Others, bold pioneers, will still be with me. Now the test. Stay for this one: Dedicated dog-and-owner buses, serving dog-permitting parks.

Crazy, eh? Not at all. Solid good sense. Observe the dogs hanging out of many a car window — again, especially on this shore. At present the only means of transporting your best friend to a place of exercising legs and bowels is by a ton or two of costly, air-fouling private motorized vehicle. Think of the savings. Think of the happy socialization among dogs and owners. Think, love could even bloom. Again, think!

Of course all of the above would cost far more than the mayors’ council’s paltry $7.5 billion. But the long-term returns would pay off socially, individually.

Objections? Off the top, from Vancouver’s taxis, a ridiculously protected species. The auto business likely wouldn’t clap hands. Never mind. We’d still buy cars, but go back to the 1950s habit of keeping them in the garage for the family Sunday drive.

• • •

All praise for federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who had what has become the courage to say: “Once you legalize something, you normalize it. When you normalize it, the message is that it’s safe and marijuana is not safe for young people.”

Thus the rise to power of the young of 40-odd years ago, mesmerized by the likes of madman Timothy (“turn on, tune in, drop out”) Leary. Starting with the “medical marijuana” stalking-horse, pot is the thin edge of a huge, ultimately destructive wedge. Little notice was paid two years ago to a Canadian Drug Policy Coalition report — by “academic experts” based at Simon Fraser University — urging decriminalizing of all drugs.

Unsurprisingly, the Western world in manifold ways is eagerly embracing what someone has aptly called “declinism.”

• • •

Among the many misfortunes of my life is that I met Yulanda Faris only once. It was at a Vancouver Opera function last November. What natural, unaffected charm. She was a generous benefactor, of opera and much more, especially through supporting young performing artists. Gwyneth Westwick, president of the VO Guild, was much more than perfunctory in noting her kindness and generosity.

A service will be held next Friday at 11 a.m. — fittingly, at West Van’s Kay Meek Centre.

• • •

This column first appeared in the North Shore News 25 years ago this week. Hold the party, no pictures, no autographs! A tasteful bronze plaque over the News entrance will suffice.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015