I shook off my soaking wet jacket and sat down across from Camp, Campbell Roberts, recently elected Alderman and owner of ‘Coast Books’, right on the harbour here in lovely Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. Camp refers to his bookstore as a non-profit business without any of the perks. Just non-profit.”
“They have this new Craft Beer for sale, maybe I’ll deviate from my usual pint of Guinness and try one of these Black Bear brews,” Camp suggested.
“Ok, I’m in, let’s try this new beer, there seems to be another craft beer brewery around every corner. It’s either brew beer or grow pot. There is a certain amount of security in both those commodities,” I said.
“No shortage of customers, that’s the key,” Camp pointed out the obvious. “Not like in the book business. Today I’ve had six people use the washroom, one old gal wanted to photocopy a recipe out of a cook book and two people tried to return their books which were obviously dog eared and used. How’s your day? You were in the city, dentist or doctor weren’t you?”
“Yeah, dentist, haircut and Costco,” I replied and related the incident that had been bothering me all day. Actually it wasn’t even an incident, more just a chance encounter but it bothered me nonetheless. I was getting on the elevator in the high rise on Davie and Burrard where my dentist is located and there were about half a dozen people already waiting to go up when this older women, dressed in Salvation Army fashion, maybe between fifty and seventy, hard to say, squeezed past the closing door into the elevator. “How is everybody?” she cheerfully announced to all and sundry, “what floor is everybody getting off?” she asked standing purposefully with her index finger extended in front of the floor panel. Everybody ignored her, staring at the ceiling or at a blank space on the chrome wall.
“Nine,” I said and she promptly entered it. “That’s my floor as well,” she said brightly. “That’s a nice jacket you’re wearing, must have cost of pretty penny.”
“What this,” I said, looking at my bright green rain jacket. “Oh, it was on sale in Lunenburg.”
“Where is that?”
“Nova Scotia. Last year”
‘Oh, that’s nice”
The elevator stopped at almost every floor letting one person out, sometimes taking more passengers on, but during the whole ride up to the 9th floor not one person said a word or acknowledged our funny old lady who was eager to punch in the floor number for them. They all acted as if she didn’t exist or at was at best an embarrassment or an inconvenience. I felt ashamed, not for her but for the rest of us. All she was looking for was a human response. A word, a smile, an acknowledgement that she too was human. Camp, I tell you, it bothered me, this non-responsive attitude of all these people. They acted as if she didn’t exist.”
“What do you expect,” Camp said, sniffing suspiciously at his Craft Beer. “Everybody is so wrapped up in themselves they don’t have time to acknowledge anybody else, especially if they seem somewhat off the mark and don’t dress like they do.”
“Oh yeah, I guess I’ve been away too long. I tell you one thing, this wouldn’t happen in Mexico. I’ve seen plenty of vulnerable and challenged people all day long but they somehow belonged, there was dignity even in the most depraved of souls. People didn’t ignore them even if they told them to go away and not bother them but they weren’t aloof or disconnected. Rich and poor, lame or blind, they co-exist, they’re all human, some more fortunate than others but I never saw this kind of detached response. And there was a second incident this very morning that falls into the same category.”
“Wow, you had an exciting day. Get out much?”
“Ok, this was different. This old skinny girl with a wild head of curly grey hair holding on to her rolator sat across from me on the bus, giggling and grinning at everybody, obviously somehow compromised but she did know how to get on and off the bus so she wasn’t a complete basket case. The bus stopped, she got up and waddled to the front and that’s when I noticed that her gray, stained sweatpants were hanging halfway down her butt. Not unlike the meathead rapper dudes we used to see with their pants about to fall off so they could expose their boxers. In this case all she had on under those sweat pants were her diapers. And nobody said a word. By the time I was gong to say something she was already off the bus and people were grinning and chuckling behind their hands. Nobody had the guts to point out to the old girl that she should pull up her pants, which I’m sure she would have done. It was just so undignified and again, no normal human response from anybody. This was Davies Street for chrissake Camp. I felt like a stranger in a strange land, I tell you.“
“Welcome to the brave New World,” Camp said. “It’s the big city, it eats everybody up and nobody has got time for their fellow human beings. That’s why they call it the rat race. Rats racing for the piece of cheese, just as long it’s not my cheese.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that but still it bothered me. Everybody is so wrapped up in themselves and their busy lives.”
Neither one of us said anything for a beat, both looking out at the choppy water and the gray clouds hanging over Keats Island.
“How do you like that beer by the way?”’
“A bit to hoppy for my taste,” Camp said.
“Well the price is right and I don’t mind the hops. By the way did you know that Guinness uses a fish bladder by-product called isinglass to clear up their murky brew?
“Too bad for all those Irish vegans.”