fear & loathing in Lotusland

Category: Translunk

From Depot to Bus Stop

by Zbigniew

oakridge_transitcentreGeorgia Straight

On December 20, 2016, Translink announced the sale of its Oakridge Transit Centre property.

Previously an army barracks, since 1948 the 5.6-hectare (13.8-acre) site bounded within 37th and 41st avenues and Oak and Willow streets served as a bus depot. At its peak the Oakridge Transit Centre accommodated 244 trolley buses, 182 diesel buses and more than 1,200 staff. By 2006 most services were moved out to TransLink’s Eburne, Hamilton (Richmond) and the Burnaby facilities.

At $440 million, the sale represents the second largest real estate transaction in the province’s history, behind the $480 Jericho land sale also concluded in 2016.

The property is to be developed by Vancouver-based Intergulf Development Group, Richmond-based Kunyuan International Group -a company linked to China-based investors that has acquired more than $740 million in Metro Vancouver real estate over the past three years- and Beijing-based Modern Green Development Co. Ltd. (Developers of the offshore-marketed-by-MAC “sustainably designed” Yu residential project at UBC; “yu” meaning “jade” and jade being green … get it? Cha-ching!)

Curiously, the closed captions of a youtube video on Intergulf’s “conquest of the Cambie corridor” suggests it’s vice-president goes by the moniker Fascist Bus Stop.



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.

Him & Her

by Zbigniew

Overheard, on the #14, eastbound, morning:

Her: “I hate this bus.”

Him: “Yeah, I hate this bus, too.”


Her: “At least it picks-up.”

Him: “Yeah.”


The Cringe: Plebiscite Hell

by Zbigniew

What the hell’s wrong with kids these days?


by Zbigniew

It’s a cast of thousands!

The story opens with the driver of the 135 and …. whoosh! He thunders past, running roughshod over delicate concepts like ”full” and “bus stop.”

Here’s the operator of the 19, trying to run the red, but stopping short, his ass hanging out in the intersection -blocking pedestrian and car traffic- because an 8 and another 19 already lay claim to the curb ahead.

There’s Cubic, supposedly working on Compass. It’s coming, the stale signage assures, while the budget doubles and other cities abandon the system altogether.

Hey! Why settle for one CEO, when you can have two at twice the price?

There’s also the Board, Kevin Falcon’s gift-that-keeps-on-giving. These Faceless Ones put me in mind of Bill Hick’s routine about the Gideons: “Ever met one? No! Ever see one? NO! What are these people? Ninjas?” Ninjas -with monthly driving allowances.

And the oligarchs, of course. I imagine them perched on generously apportioned bundles of $500 bills, beady-eyed, salivating, ready to pounce. Ready to tear Broadway a borehole, to gut and annihilate and unleash the cranes on the remains.

Speaking of which, even “Expo Jimmy” makes a cameo. And nothing says guardian of the public good like the 86 year-old local chapter president of The Global Elite.

There’s a lot of Fifth Business in this tale, roles being neither Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but for that no (more or) less essential to bringing about the denouement.

And so, enter the Civic Officials, heralded by emails and a stale rehash of recent election tactics: “Will you pledge your support?” What’s with all the pledging? When did we start taking our cues from The Waltons?

But wait, there’s more: politicos and police chiefs, pundits and Podmores, plot twists and skullduggery. There’s a hockey player-turned shill, and a goddamn chorus, to boot.

There’s an admission price, of course. While it seems modest, those of means all appear to have comps.

Nah, I’ll pass. I prefer something with a stronger narrative, and more convincing characters.

Sub-Area Monopoly

by Zbigniew

InfillThe “Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, Nanaimo Sub-Area Workshop.” How it rolls off the tongue and seizes the imagination.

There’s a sizeable crowd at the WISE Hall; to my eye, a good 70 civilians. The Planning Department is in force, too. Estimating a conservative two per table, nine tables, plus graphic interpreters (two), floaters (several), the lieutenant, including volunteer wannabes … circa 25. A platoon!

Name tag affixed (“Concerned Citizen”) I see Matthew waving me over to a seat he’s saved.

“Did you get the email?”

I did. A 30-page backgrounder that arrived in my inbox just the evening before, for those wanting to “get a head start on things.” Oh, and by the by, “we’ll be looking at the specific policies that were proposed for the sub-area.” In other words, back to the soundly rejected 2013 community plan. Just thought you should know.

Sure enough, the hall is surrounded by the very same “emerging directions” propaganda prescribed 14 months earlier, although a few placards now sport an “I Heart GW” sticker. Emerging, like a flower, or a turd.



The 11th hour plan is for Matthew and I to do the initial session together –to get the lay of the land and compare notes- before splitting forces.

It’s a tight agenda.

And we’re off, and there’s no room to consider the destructive forces that hover just beyond the walls or even discuss the problematic math of population projections. “What do you like about the neighbourhood?” “What do you dislike?” We spend a lot of time on built form, and very little on social form, on the possibilities of tenancy -except ownership, of course.


I feel herded directed lured towards more and higher. Wait! There are discrepancies between maps: does the plan stop at the alley behind Nanaimo or go on to Kamloops? I’m thankful for the vocal people at my table, asking pointed questions, repeating apparently misunderstood statements, and expressing frustration with staff’s tone deafness. At his table Matt is calling for votes and, more often than not, finds unanimity.

Over the course of the afternoon I hear a majority opinion calling for a modest approach: two-lot aggregation limits, the amputation of “the fingers,” and height restrictions to respect the current scale of the neighbourhood -to preserve the Grand View.




The bureaucratic forces are diligent. Dissenting opinions –from the invested and/or deluded favouring more and higher- are meticulously reported. It’s just the cover the development troops need for flexibility and interpretational wiggle room. At the development sign up ahead … a Policy Twilight Zone.

And then, out of the blue, a foray: the closure of Templeton Pool because Britannia. So: more density, with fewer amenities? Less for more -is that what you’re saying? The speed of the retreat would impress the Italian Army.


For the last table exercise a set of colour-coded cards are distributed, indicating the planning/development-friendly generic components of a neighbourhood. They evoke the cards signifying ownership in that real estate board game. We’re asked to place these on a map.

StoreThe Monday evening following I’m standing near the corner of Main & Hastings, being passed over by the not full Sorry Bus Full 135.

I opt for the next local heading east. It’s an old school diesel, from the ‘90s, from the era when our transit system won international awards. It’s a rarity, a functional piece of history.

It looks at capacity. But the driver gets on the blower and encourages everyone to move back and remove backpacks, to make room for those still on the street, and we do.

Maybe it’s the mild winter evening, or a collective relief at the conclusion of a Monday, for the crowd is buoyant. I’m surrounded by conversations, some between apparent strangers and others from the chance encounter of friends. I take note of the little kindnesses, the youth giving up seats for the elderly and people gently squeezing by others.

With every stop -starting already at Gore- there’s a steady exchange of fresh passengers for those alighting. I picture a motorized needle making a detailed stitch along East Hastings.

From his seat a pensioner, a little guy, uses his cane to ring the stop. Only when the bus comes to a standstill does he get to his feet. More or less steadily he works his way through the crowd to the exit, deploying a Buddy Hackett/Jerry Lewis shtick to keep the doors open: “Thank you Mrs. Driver! Good Job! Watch out for me! Sometimes I fart and stink! Watch out!” I admire the laughter-inducing effectiveness of his routine. One day, it might come in handy.

By the time things settled down, I’m already at Renfrew and aware that I could’ve missed all this theatre for the dull, if speedy, SFU Express.

I think back to a card dealt out at the workshop, a blank “Wildcard” we were asked to fill in. I had left it unmarked.

What I want -for Nanaimo Street, Grandview-Woodlands, and Hastings Sunrise, for myself, my family and my neighbours- is far too fine, ephemeral, and grand for the confines of a Monopoly title deed.



Testing, Testing

by Zbigniew


The Drill

by Zbigniew


NB: What follows is not meant as an indictment of all Translink bus drivers. Many are professional, courteous and skilled and do their best to move the public to their desired destinations as efficiently as possible. Sadly, other drivers are strangers to such traits.

The events related took place some seven years ago, before policies promoting density strained our public infrastructure and the scam had yet to burst its seems. A time when catching a bus on a spring morning was a reasonable proposition.


The 135 Burrard Station was my preferred ride. An express for its home stretch through Vancouver along Hastings, it made but six stops between Renfrew and my desired disembarkation at Pender & Howe. This self-powered option was ultimately preferable to the various trolley incarnations of the slow-boat-to-China -the #14 and the #16, particularly in the frequent circumstances when one of these were stuck immediately behind the other in an interminable public transport hell.

But with one driver in particular, the trick was getting on the 135. He was old codger, but built like a brick shithouse with a shaved head, graying mustache and aviator sunglasses. He looked every bit a sadistic drill sergeant.

The first time he drove past me –those mirrored eyes focused on some distant point far down Hastings- I stood there, dumbly watching the backend of the quickly retreating vehicle. Was it possible he could not see me in the clear light of a sunny spring morning? Was it possible it was out of service, with passengers? Was it full? Not even close.

The next morning: I spotted it cresting the hill at Lillooet. As it approached I detected no flagging of speed and brought my arm up in the universal sign for “Hey!” But it roared by with such force that I had to step back from the curb. I flash-registered the stony profile of the driver -my newfound nemesis, Sergeant Shithouse- before shutting my eyes against an induced windstorm of dust, cherry blossom petals and exhaust fumes.

A few days without incident gave me hope that the matter had been an aberration. I was wrong.

I started strategically varying my commuting routine, with the hope of finding purchase on some more welcoming sprocket of the local transport infrastructure. As often than not, however, I instead found myself standing at the curb, passed over by the 135, dismissed by its bald pated and impassive pilot.

I would try to attract his attention. I would wave semaphore-style, or raised my arms palms-up in a “what gives?” gesture: nothing; not so much as a turn of that taciturn head.

Another morning, with no change in the sound of the engine as the 135 came up the hill towards Renfrew, I played the only card left to the resigned-yet-fucked-off: I focused squarely on those mirrored lenses and gave the Sarge a salute -of the one-fingered variety. As he drove past, he turned to look at me.


A week had passed without incident, when the 135 pulled to a stop and I alighted and I found my friend at the wheel. Up close he looked like a slab of beef. Three other men, younger skinny guys in maybe their early 30s, stood clustered around him.

I paid my fare, and the bus pulled from the curb.

“You look familiar to me,” said he.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. You look like somebody who flipped me the bird. You flip me the bird last week?”

He turned his head towards me, a big, round heap of granite, with a hairy lip. I saw myself reflected in his sunglasses, looking calmer than I felt.

“Last week?” I said. “It couldn’t have been last week.”

The guys standing there start laughing. Sarge turns his attention back to the road and I take a seat near the front.

Sarge is talking -brakes, speed, stoplights.

It hits me: he’s training them! Jesus Christ!

As we pull up to the stop at Nanaimo, Sarge announces, “It looks full back there. I’m giving this one a pass.”

One of the trainees looks around and sees what I see: a few empty seats. He passes this crucial bit of information along.

“Well,” says Sarge, “it looks full to me.”

And on we went.


by Zbigniew

The weather warms; thoughts turn to the garden, to the spreading of manure and the turning of soil.

Our burghers have caught this strain of spring fever in a big way, evident in their generously apportioning of bullshit all along Broadway, from Commercial Drive to UBC.

A city-commissioned KPMG report is their slender almanac, and a $2.8 billion subway the fix for the standing-room-only busses running down “North America’s busiest bus corridor.”

The only fix: it’s already a given that tram and light rail won’t do the job, while the bolstering of the lackadaisical bus timetables of 4th and 16th avenues isn’t even on the agenda. And the real head scratcher is that the subway proposal comes without a land-use plan.

As soil prep goes, the city’s approach is decidedly unorthodox, like tilling a raised garden bed with a pickaxe, blindfolded. It looks crazy, unless destruction itself is the intended goal.

Busses, trams and street rail would barely ruffle the surface, but a subway is pure disruption, a literal loosening of the soil, an undermining of roots and foundations by giant metal Chaffer beetles. In its wake will come the weeds: increased land value, taxes, and rents, closures, permits, and the inevitable podium/towers. The lack of a land-use plan isn’t an oversight, its intentional. It’ll facilitate the chaos, allowing the growth to find its own opportunistic path.

All the planning that’s necessary is to demarcate the plot:

Broadway Corridor

The UBC-Broadway Corridor: Unlocking the Economic Potential, KPMG, p. 9