fear & loathing in Lotusland

Category: Icons

The Enduring Hustle

by Zbigniew

“Bob Fosse’s Vancouver is a distant suburb of Los Angeles, on the periphery of wealth and fame; a grey and gritty expanse of working class neighbourhoods, strip joints, and fast food outlets.”

Elvy Del Bianco, “Star 80”, World Film Locations: Vancouver


The closure of the Dairy Queen at 2109 East Hastings Street represents no aesthetic loss: the pseudo-milk/sugar product dispensary franchise’s primary features include an interior colour scheme last updated in 1976 and a pervasive stench of rancid oil and low-wage desperation.

Innocuous and quotidian but infamous.

Working a shift at said DQ in the late 1970s, a very young Dorothy Stratten (nee Hoogstraten) is discovered, or targeted, by local hustler/pimp/sleaze/business type Paul Snider.

The encounter is depicted in Bob Fosse’s mostly true-to-life Star 80, filmed at the same location with Mariel Hemmingway and a greasy-perfect Eric Roberts:

Stratten quickly moves from Playboy centerfold, to B-movie maven to aspiring serious actress, but it doesn’t end well. Sratten’s “wholesome, fresh, young and naïve” rising star is utterly destroyed by Snider’s emotionally stunted, cash-and-status-hungry monomania. A loser relegated to the sidelines, he kills her and himself, interfering with her body in the interval.

Star 80 is presented non-linearly, flipping back and forth in time and space, between the Los Angeles fleshpot spectacle and a soggy Vancouver backwater of scumbags. These transitions make for some strange juxtapositions. In particular: a dissolve that takes the story back from the aftermath of Stratten’s murder in LA superimposes Snider’s bloodied face on the Vancouver skyline.

That’s all in the past. The sleazy hustle is upscale. Paul Snider’s ilk have moved on to bigger stakes and ditched the Trans Am for something German, while the humble franchise yields to “secure market rental.”

Paul Snider

Smells Like Teen Sauce

by Zbigniew

Synergy Logo

As I drop below street level –my last glimpse of the surface is a flash of orange and brown. I take 20 minutes for the trip from Waterfront to Marine Drive; stepping outside, I am greeted by the same colour scheme.

I stop to consider this curious set of bookends, a geographic/temporal dysphoria usually reserved for malls and airports, when I catch the whiff of kitchen grease.


A&W was founded in 1923 in California; the first Canadian venue opened in Winnipeg in 1956. The Canadian division was sold to Unilver in 1972, and then purchased by the food company’s senior management in 1995. Although the companies share most branding and product lines, Canadian A&W has no corporate connection to its U.S. counterpart. A&W Food Services of Canada is headquartered in North Vancouver.

While the company ditched its drive-in service years ago, it continues to flog a vaguely “‘50s diner” orientation via a loud colour scheme, cutesy bear mascot, and a nuclear family of products (Baby, Mama, Teen, Papa, burgers etc), augmented and updated for the 21st century through a commitment to market “healthier” toxic quantities of sugars and saturated fats. Industrial foodstuffs, shilled the corporate way, with a generous squirt of “Teen Sauce.”

It’s the second largest fast food chain in Canada, with about 850 outlets and a “strategic thrust” to keep growing.


Exiting the Marine Drive Station into the shadows of Marine Gate, and A&W’s local growth strategy becomes apparent. It’s a player in the public-development-service complex that continues to transform the physical, social and economic space of the city.

Transit hubs are dramatically rezoned, enabling massive residential construction -a giant reef that attracts a supplementary round of deep pocket corporate capital to provide the punters with goods and services, those that can extract enough value to justify the substantial investment and rents.

In addition to outlets at Waterfront and Marine Drive, you can have your notional diner experience at Granville (Dunsmuir exit), Commercial-Broadway, Metrotown, and, Oakridge, with Main Street –and presumably others- coming soon.

That greasy odour? It’s merely the exhaust of the synergistic machine pumping out its special sauce. It’s the smell of money, lining some faceless shareholder’s pocket.


by Zbigniew

BBC-Magazine_Mega-Tsunami-_Sketch31Illustration: Chris Wren/Ken Brown, @mondoart

I don’t know whether the illustrators’ apocalyptic vision reflects a fear of a literal tsunami generated by the inevitable Big One -that is: the REALLY BIG ONE-awaiting us at some indeterminable point in the future, or a present-day metaphorical tsunami of international capital.

Pick your deluge.

Elect Barrett

by Zbigniew

Elect Barrett

“The Agricultural Land Reserve, ICBC, the most progressive labour code in North America, the best consumer protection legislation in Canada, the most far-reaching human rights code anywhere, with full-time human rights officers, rent controls, a Rentalsman, Mincome, Pharmacare, raising the minimum wage by 67 per cent, neighbourhood pubs, provincial ambulance service, the Islands Trust, independent boards of review for WCB appeals, Robson Square, preserving Cypress Bowl, B.C. Day, removing the sales tax from books, community health centres, B.C. Cancer Control Agency, buying Shaughnessy Hospital which became B.C. Children’s Hospital, the SeaBus, banning the strap, scrapping a proposed coal port at Squamish, the Royal Hudson and Princess Marguerite, saving Victoria Harbour from development, the B.C. Energy Commission, purchase of Columbia Cellulose and Ocean Falls pulp mills, providing full bargaining rights to provincial government employees, an end to pay toilets, to the relief of all, and on and on.

“The Dave Barrett government (1972-1975), RIP.”

“The last of Barrett’s electioneers: B.C.’s nasty 1975 campaign,” Rod Mickleburgh,, January 4, 2016


by Zbigniew

Bill & ErniePhotograph: Brian Kent/Vancouver Sun, PNG

My memories of the opaquely sanctioned dog & pony show -destined to remain dormant in some atrophied cluster of neurons but reanimated by the hullabaloo of the 30-year anniversary- are not very coherent:

  • a giant hockey stick
  • an undulating highway cum hazardous concrete playground for kids of all ages
  • being coerced by a monarchist into an up-close viewing of the Prince and Princess (Too much Prince, too little Princess, from my vantage)
  • a Psychedelic Furs concert
  • a CPR exhibit that employed a mime to enthusiastically illustrate the decline in passenger rail service
  • a presentation on British Columbia’s mining industry, complete with a chorus of singing puppet minerals -featuring Molybdenum as the basso profondo (sic)
  • the Power Plant studio, where we recorded a not-too-nuanced cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” after a piss-up at Club ’86
  • the Philippines Pavilion -essentially a front for the sale of imported rattan furniture
  • Canada Geese in high fidelity 3D
  • gondolas
  • monorail
  • McBarge

All in all, nothing, with nightly fireworks.


“The urban recession of the 1980s was still closely linked to the slowdown in the lumber industry, even if its most obvious symptom was a rapid decline in real estate values. But since then, there have been clear signs that the Vancouver economy is both uncoupling from the rest of the province, and becoming more dynamic … it has uncoupled from its interior and become more of a Pacific Rim city, drawing nourishment from its direct links to such centres as Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo.

“Looking at less tangible factors … we could argue that that Vancouver’s recent growth has come from a self-reflexive belief in itself; it succeeds, postmodern style, more because of its image as a place ‘where the action is’ than because of any evident material cause.”

Paul Delaney, “Vancouver as a Postmodern City,” Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City


By 1986 the Lower Mainland was no stranger to foreign capital induced megaprojects –witness the Guinness Family development of the British Properties.

Expo brought this dynamic in from the sticks, to the city’s industrial heart, wiping the economic and historical slate clean -a six-month psychic bulldozing by circus. Beehive burners and Sweeney Cooperage were obliterated by a giant watch and a corkscrew rollercoaster. The world was in motion and the motion was up, an elevator to an eventual stop at a circa 40th floor luxury penthouse.

So cleansed, the site’s 83 hectares were sold in bulk to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing at the wholesale price of $320 million dollars. But wait! If you buy now, the Province will throw in soil remediation, netting the good citizens of BC a scandalous $145 million. And so: “Li Ka-ching!”

Grotesque spectacle as marketing strategy, bulk foreign capital dictating urban development and redevelopment: these are the obvious Expo legacies.

But other nasty seeds were planted in the lead-up to the World Exposition on Transportation and Communication (Class II). In the intervening 30 years these have yielded a bumper crop of bitter fruit.


In May of 1986 I was halfway through my undergraduate degree.

I paid my own way, thanks to an affordable tuition -about $1,000 a year for a full coarse-load- and a union job. At Vancouver General Hospital I distributed meals, collected the remains, and operated an industrial washing machine, among other tasks. If there was any “fat” in the system, I didn’t see it. The work was sweaty, dirty, odorous and honest, with daily exposure to the worst a malfunctioning or injured human body can offer, but the best of grace and resilience.

I worked full-time in summer and on-call the rest of the year to focus on my studies. I didn’t exactly live high on the hog. I earned enough to keep my 1977 Volkswagen Sirocco –no functioning heat, radio, or sex appeal- on the road (for extended periods, anyways), graduate debt-free with the vague impression that I had possibly learned something, and scrimp together enough to backpack across Europe -on the cheap.

While the Reagan-Thatcherite dogma was only recently installed by the early 1980s, in BC the neo-liberal agenda was in full tilt under the Social Credit Party and Bennett fils. Having already beaten-up the working public with its proto-austerity “Restraint” regime, Expo opened up new opportunities for the Socreds to dismantle the social safety net and pave the way for dispassionate markets.

In the immediate lead-up to the exposition: six hundred people -mostly poor and elderly occupants of Downtown Eastside SROs- were displaced to make room for tourists, the provincial government having refused to outlaw evictions; university tuition climbed dramatically, as the circus’ deficit grew from $6 million to more than $300 million; and, both against a backdrop of an on-going cold war against organized labour.

These are the other legacies: widespread housing unaffordability and insecurity, massive and debilitating student debt loads, and low-wage employment.

My old union job? Outsourced to an international conglomerate that maximizes shareholder value by limiting wages and providing the worst of goods and services; food is now prepared in Calgary and trucked to Vancouver hospitals, while the poor schmuck that took my place makes less now in relative and absolute terms than I did 30 years ago.


On a late summer night in 1986, I’m ‘where the action is,’ patiently enduring the overture that announces the imminent start of the nightly fireworks display.

I am obviously oblivious to the good fortune of having caught the tail end of a social economy that gives a working class kid some opportunities, but I am uneasy. My delicately balanced world of work, study, and rudimentary independence is starting to slip. I’m in the the hole for my suddenly expensive fall courses, and a pocketbook-destroying job action looms on the horizon.

The elaborate and forgettable configuration of ignited powders builds to a crescendo, accompanied by a hysterical chorus that demands, insists, “Something’s Happening … Something’s Happening … SOMETHING’S HAPPENING … SOMETHING’S HAPPENING HERE!” I look up at the tracers fading away, and as the echoes of explosions diminish and the crowd starts its cheering, I think, “There goes my tuition.”


It is the 40th anniversary of Habitat Forum.

Pseudo Forest

by Zbigniew

The living forest may be in full retreat, but its replacement has arrived on the corner Granville and 62nd.

Digitized, modernized, metalized, and anchored in concrete, as perfect and dead as skeletons picked clean by scavengers.

Mtal Tree - Grove

Metal Tree

Metal Tree - Detail

The Legitimacy of the Narrative

by Zbigniew

Simon Fraser

It reads as follows:

Simon Fraser (1776 – 1862) was a fur trader working for the North West Company; the rival of the Hudson Bay Company. The North West Company sought to control the rich and untapped fur supply of the west by establishing trading posts in central and northern B.C. and to find a viable route to the Pacific.

Starting on May 28, 1808, Simon Fraser became the first fur trader to explore the river that would one day bear his name. He set off from Fort George (now Prince George) in four birch bark canoes with his clerks John Stuart and Jules Quesnel, nineteen voyageurs and two First nations interpreters.

Along the way, Fraser and his men met many First Nations people; sharing food, trading goods, exchanging gifts and listening to their expert knowledge. They urged other routes on Fraser, “But going towards the sea by an indirect way was not the object of the undertaking,” Fraser wrote. “I will therefore not deviate.”

But the Fraser River – “is terrible to behold the rapidity and turbulence.” he (sic) wrote. “The rocks are amazing high and craggy … whirlpools and eddies surpass any thing of the kind that I ever saw before.”

Fraser and his men were frequently forced to portage, risking the hanging walkways, spindly scaffolds and dangling ladders built by the local First nations to traverse the steepest cliffs of the Fraser Canyon.

In the fertile Fraser Valley, Fraser and his men encountered the Musqueam people. The day before he reached his goal, he noted, “We arrived at a large village … the chief invited us to his house and served us with fish and berries … the chief consented to lend us his large canoe ….”

On July 2, 1808, Fraser wrote, “We came to a place where the river divides [now New Westminster] into several channels. Seeing a canoe following us, we waited for its arrival. One Indian of that canoe embarked with us and conducted us into the right channel. At last we came in sight of a bay of the sea.”

From the north arm of the Fraser River he could see the open Straight of Georgia beyond. Fraser had fulfilled his quest but the route he discovered to the Pacific was too difficult to serve the North West Company’s commercial needs.

Yet Simon Fraser’s historic adventure was a triumph of spirit and exploration. He challenged the dangerous river traveling more than 900 kilometres in 36 days. Amazingly, his entire crew survived the expedition. Fraser’s discoveries mark the beginnings of modern British Columbia with the Fraser River as a vital commercial hub and transportation corridor for our region.

Perhaps Simon Fraser, seen here in deep thought, is contemplating the incredible changes his journey of exploration set in motion. This evocative sculpture is the work of noted British Columbia artist Ken Lum.

Marine Gateway

Simon Fraser - Ken Lum

Stó:lõ -Halq’eméylem for “river people”

S’olh Temexw is the traditional territory of the Stó:lō people.  According to our swxoxwiyam, we have lived here since time immemorial.  The Stó:lō traditional territory extends from Yale to Langley, BC.”

Stó:lõ Nation

“Respected Stó:lõ family historians (ská:sls, or ‘those that keep track of everything”) strive to document for their audiences exactly how they came to know what they know, and how they have preserved what they know unadulterated from those from whom they learned it. Sloppy or questionable oral footnoting calls into question the legitimacy of the narrative itself, the worthiness of the historian and, by extension, the status of the historian’s family. Indeed, information collected among neighbouring communities indicates that it is a Coast Salish belief that to intentionally modify or alter ancient historical narratives will actually result in physical harm coming to members of the listening audience.”

A Stó:lõ-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, “Introduction,” Keith Thor Carlson

“[Charles] Borden’s regional chronology for the Lower Fraser Delta was organized around the larger distinction between prehistory and history, the boundary separating them coinciding with the arrival of the North West Company explorer Simon Fraser to the Fraser River in 1808. Aboriginal people also use the period of first European exploration –‘the coming of the white man’- as an organizing principle in their histories. But this is less to cite by date a specific turning point than it is to refer to the larger and ongoing processes of colonization. In fact, Musqueam oral tradition regarding the community’s encounter with the explorer highlights Fraser’s theft of a canoe from an upriver village.”

These Mysterious People: Shaping History and Archaeology in a Northwest Community, Susan Roy

“Consequently, when they arrived at Musqueam they were considered enemies. Villagers ran to fetch their warriors. Curiosity overcoming caution Fraser went ashore to examine a huge community house 457 metres in length. Warned to return to their canoe, they found it abandoned high and dry by the ebbing tide. Their armed Kwantlen pursuers, seeing the group’s predicament, closed in, joined by the Musqueam warriors who “began to make their appearance from every direction howling like so many wolves, brandishing their war clubs.” The crew desperately dragged their canoe to deep water, threatening their opponents with their firearms. Unable to continue they were forced to turn back up the river. “

Greater Vancouver Book, “Simon Fraser – Explorer,” Barbara Rogers

“He knew he was at the Straight of Georgia from Vancouver’s map, and wanted to continue to what he called ‘the main ocean’ but, feeling threatened, decided against it.”

British Columbia, A New Historical Atlas, “A River Not the Columbia,” Derek Hayes

Simon Fraser verso


by Zbigniew


The ouroboros –the image of a snake eating its own tail- spans millennia, faiths, and cultures. While it’s usually associated with cyclicality, birth and rebirth, or infinity, these impressions are not universal.

The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann suggested the ouroboros depicts the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child. In some cultures it represents self-destruction and transition –a vicious circle.

It’s a matter of interpretation.


According to the Strata Property Act, the sale of an entire condominium building, the dissolution of the corporation, requires the unanimous consent of the owners.

However, a proposed amendment to the act, currently before the provincial legislature and expected to come into effect by the end of the year, will see that threshold reduced to 80%.

For developers, it’s a toe in the door, a beachhead, just enough to sell the riches of higher density rezones: “The option will likely result in a higher price being paid because the value is in the footprint that can accommodate a 20-storey building, rather than the existing three-storey building.”[1] just enough to seize the advantage of rezoning that allows for higher density, ie. most of Burnaby:

“Most of the action [will] be focused around aging and smaller low-rise condominium projects where it would be easier to get most owners agreed to a sale.”[2] Prime targets include Skytrain corridors and pretty much all of Burnaby.

It’ll be a windfall gain for owners; or, a loss, of friends, neighbours, home.

It’s a matter of interpretation.


1. “Old condos eyed as lucrative new development option,” Frank O’Brien, Business in Vancouver

2. “B.C. offers flexibility for development,” Erin Ruddy, Canadian Apartment Magazine



by Zbigniew

Beeba BoysBeeba Boys

Deepa Mehta, Canada, 2015, 103 MIN.

“Vancouver finally gets its answer to Goodfellas and it comes from a somewhat unexpected source. Internationally renowned for thoughtful dramas such as Water, and having previously made a successful foray into comedy with Bollywood/Hollywood, Deepa Mehta now seamlessly transitions into adrenaline charged crime cinema.”

Vancouver International Film Festival, 2015

Alas, a slap-chopped clump of cliché, under-seasoned, under-cooked, and underwhelming.

However: featuring obliquely motivated and unsympathetic characters acting out a coke-fueled consumerist fantasy punctuated by violence and bad dialogue against an attractive vista of golden hues, with an incoherent sense of both local geography and social realities -in its own, inadvertent, way -a quintessential Vancouver film.

For the Birds

by Zbigniew

In recent years the City of Vancouver’s department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture has presented the Vancouver City Bird competition, wherein the public is asked to select a favourite amongst various feathered candidates.

The competition seeks to raise awareness about the importance of birds in Vancouver, including endangered species that were once common locally, and to promote the city’s Bird Strategy.
Past winners include the Black-capped Chikadee and the Northwester Crow.

There are four contenders for 2016: the Barn Owl, the Barn Swallow, the Peregrine Falcon, and the Western Grebe.

While the contest closes tomorrow (May 9th, 2015), I humbly advocate for a late entry: the Cooper’s Hawk. While a lowly common woodland hawk found in Mexico, the United States and southern Canada, a local representative enjoys a particular distinction: a Cooper’s hawk in Langley has been designated the most polluted bird on the planet, with a contamination level a whopping 105 times above average.

I propose that the selection of the Cooper’s Hawk would not only support the laudable goals of the City Bird Competition, but also appeal to that Vancouver desire to be “the most,” at both ends of the scale.