Day 28 - Tom

Day 28 - Tom (1st person I approached)
January 28, 2015 - It’s been almost a week. I hadn’t planned this time away, and wasn’t expecting to not write for this long either. It’s like when you’re sick from work, and you take it day by day. After three days off, you start thinking how much easier it might have been knowing from the outset, you needed four days to recover. Not that I’ve been sick per se, at least not with a cold or 'flu. I just needed to give myself a break. I called it last week, when I said that sometimes giving myself permission sets me up for failure. A few people sent messages reminding me that looking after oneself is not failure. And so, I took some time to get some other things done, and watched a whole whack of really bad television shows I had recorded.

 

I slept in, met a couple people for coffees, and did some prep work for a couple of other projects that are in the works. I saw some (astounding) live theatre, met with the producer of the 'Not A Stranger' documentary, went floating (LOVE!) and, did I mention watched television? But I’m back now. I missed writing. I also got a message from someone this morning telling me she was ‘missing my morning read,’ so here I am, Judy!

 

Last Wednesday was the first day I didn’t post a story. I had gone out to see a live workshop presentation (a theatre piece that isn’t fully complete, yet ready to be in front of a small audience to feel things out). I walked home, taking about an hour, and ruminating over the performance I had just seen. It had some incredible imagery, combining theatre, dance and soundscapes. It resonated with me, and as good theatre should do, it stayed with me for a number of days afterward. And still it sits right here in front of me. 

 

As I walked along East Broadway, (Vancouver) I saw Tom, sitting by himself in a coffee shop. I went into the shop and walked over to where he was sitting and asked if he would chat with me. I noticed he had a mechanical pencil in his hand, and an open notebook, that had sketches of cartoon like characters on the pages that I could see. Tom was born in Kamloops, and told me he has always enjoyed drawing. He said he drew a lot of action-type hero’s reminiscent of those he read about in comic books as a child. 

 

“When I went to high-school, that’s where I had the first art teacher who inspired me. I got a lot of positive feedback, and started to believe that I could one day perhaps make a living from drawing. I’d do drawings that others might have deemed inappropriate and this teacher would put them up on the wall in class. They were muscle-bound action figure monsters, fighting and battling. That one teacher made all the difference to me though.” he said. 

 

After graduating from high-school, Tom worked in a couple of jobs.

“I worked in a credit card call centre. It was a job, and I was saving money to go travelling. But I could only stick it for a few months. It wasn’t really something I wanted to do longterm. There are some people that I knew from working there, who did stick it out longer than I did, which is great. It just wasn’t for me,” he said. He got another job, and intended to go travelling with a couple of his best friends.

 

“We were going to New Zealand, but my friends both changed their minds,” he said. Tom had been a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, based on the novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien.

“The Return of the King was opening in Auckland,” said Tom. I admitted I didn’t know what that was - and of course, it was the final chapter in the Tolkien series.

“My friends didn’t want to go to New Zealand. I went by myself, so I could see the world premiere of Return of the King,” he said, with a satisfied smile on his face.

“I spent about three months there, backpacking all around New Zealand. I liked travelling by myself. I had taken a supply of notebooks with me, and I sketched whenever I had spare time. I did a lot of drawing on that trip.”

 

Coming home from New Zealand, Tom decided he wanted to go to school and study drawing and animation.

“I moved to Kelowna and went to school for two years. I studied animation, drawing storyboards and stop-frame animation. The program was three years long, but I got what I wanted out of the first two years. The third year wasn't what I wanted to learn, so I left,” he said.

 

Tom got a job immediately after leaving school.

“I’ve worked for the last eight years in drawing and animation. I worked mainly in gaming and drawing storyboards. I’ve been fortunate to work for a few different companies and have worked on some really great projects,” he told me.

“I’m at the point now where the next move might be trying another location, moving somewhere else. I don’t want to get pigeonholed into one dimension of the industry. Moving somewhere else would likely be a good step. I’m just not sure where, or when,” said Tom.

 

We didn’t chat for that long. Tom had left his notebook open on the sketch he was working on. I was still going back and forth, thinking about the show I had seen earlier. Now, six days later, as I write this I notice a couple of things. I sometimes amaze myself with how much i remember, not taking any notes from these conversations. I'm also aware that sometimes, I walk away or think later about all the other questions I could have asked. 

 

What this story reminds me of though, is to persevere. We all need to find that teacher, or that inspiration, listen to that feedback, and do more of the things we want to do. I need to keep going forward, seeking my dream. Follow 'what makes my soul sing,’ as Anne-Marie from Day 352 last year said (*Fact Check - see link below). 

 

Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re playing within your dream, until you stop. I had a good week away from this, but it’s time to get my head back in the stars! The connection with others, writing these stories, and this project, feed my soul. It might be unconventional to some, and that's okay too. I’m grateful for the lessons. #notastranger

*Fact Check - see link below - http://on.fb.me/1w4dfMM

Day 27 - *Dee

Day 27 - *Dee (1st person I approached)
January 27, 2015 - Halfway through our conversation, I knew this wasn’t going to one person’s story. The lines got blurred, the situation echoed some of my own thoughts, and tears were shed. No one asked me to blur or darken the photo. I arrived at that decision some time after midnight, hours after our conversation. This is about two people having a conversation. It's universal. This is that moment when you encounter someone, some thing or some situation, that stops you in your tracks and you take a closer look. This is stopping to smell the coffee.

 

I started my day with an early morning meeting. Another interview for that project I’m willing to tease you about, but not ready to share yet. And coffee. Afterwards, I headed to a different coffee shop. One of my favourite places that sits on the edge between the Gastown neighbourhood, and the Downtown Eastside. 

 

It's where suits and shopping buggies weave and trundle by one another. A quiet coexistence, a balance, even though perhaps, only on the surface. What lurks beneath the surface is a fascinating investigation for me, personally. Who are these suits? What’s that person got in that buggy? It may be their only possessions, and if so, why those items? 

 

As a self described ‘deep thinker,’ I tend to go inwards whether there are highs or lows. We hit our Indiegogo fundraising campaign target, several hours before it closed at midnight on Monday. Our documentary is really going to happen. Kate, the producer/director and I, were sending messages back and forth. We each sat quietly in our own homes, while screaming out loud internally. Updating each other on what we knew the other person had already seen. It was magical, surreal and humbling. It was a feeling of deep gratitude, of great emotional fortune, a wealth of moral support, encouragement and, love. So much love. No words, really.

 

So while I went about my day today, I was buoyed by this. I had a great meeting, even better than I could have hoped for. I wanted to go to my favourite coffee shop and write. No real agenda. I stopped in for a quick visit at a friend’s workplace on my way. I went out of my way, crossing the street to take a few pictures of something I saw. 

 

Arriving at the coffee shop, there was a table right at the front, in the window. It’s like scoring the best box at the theatre. Front row seats to the watch the world passing by. I messaged another friend who lives nearby. He dropped in to have a coffee and a catch-up. I sat for a good hour after he left, sending thank you messages to people for the overwhelming support and feedback I've received in the past 24hrs. I truly felt like a writer. Dare I say, a creative person even. I struggle to allow myself these monikers. The smell of freshly ground coffee intertwines with the aroma of fresh baked bread

 

Gathering my belongings to head home, I was vibrating from the grand total of three strong coffees I had consumed this morning. I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’ve been fortunate to have something that started as a little idea of mine, bloom and grow into a passion for me. It’s taken a life form of it’s own. It became a form of therapy, far beyond my personal goal of just getting me out of the house. I was feeling elated, inspired and on the right track. 

 

My ongoing journey of working through major depression. Finally getting to a place where I can talk about it, openly, and even publicly. I have, for the most part, broken out of the chains of my own stigma. This allows me to be better equipped to deal with other’s inhibitions and stigma. Whether I work to change their perception, or feel strong enough to not care what someone else thinks. I control my reaction, not theirs.

 

As I left the coffee shop, I saw Dee, sitting alone, at a small cafe table on the edge of the sidewalk. I asked if we could chat. Dee thought the premise of my project is incredible.

“I’m not sure that I can talk about myself though. And if I did, I don’t know that I’d want my picture taken. I could only talk if I were going to be honest, that’s important. Sometimes my truth is too much for others to hear. Let me think about it for a moment.” I sat, allowing time, watching Dee’s face and body language. The internal weighing-up of the decision, what happens either way.

“Ok, I’m good with it. If there’s something that I don’t want to talk about, will that be okay?” Dee asked. That has always been a ‘yes’ for me with this project.

 

I listened as Dee talked about being born at Grace Hospital, is the second of four children, and was not so happy in school.

“Going to a private, Catholic school really harmed me. The uniforms, the rules, the conformity, the restrictions. I wanted to take art, which was offered. But only in a technical aspect. There was no room for creativity.” 

 

Feeling like an outsider, Dee turned inward.

“I worked hard trying to form who I thought other people wanted me to be. So that I could be accepted. I wanted everyone to like me. I wasn’t able to allow myself to be me. I struggled with anxiety and insecurity. When I did make a friend, sooner or later, they would turn away from me. I was so concerned about being who and what I thought that friend wanted me to be, that I exhausted them. They never really knew me at all.”

 

Dee travelled to Central America soon after turning nineteen years old. There’s a school of thought about travel to foreign locations. Some believe that immersing oneself in an environment completely unfamiliar has a unique effect. New surroundings, different culture, non-verbal communication and an unfamiliar diet. This can all lead to heighten the senses of the mind. One reads tone, and body language and gestures, in an effort to interpret anything that might be familiar. Alone in a crowd. It can be a frightening experience, yet Dee stayed for two months. 

 

We talked about the exploration of healing, finding what fits best. Pharmaceutical companies push out pills with labels that talk of being the latest and greatest concoctions. More and more people are exploring viable alternatives. Plant remedies, ancient practises, and the wisdom of centuries-old medicines. Looking inward, to be able to break out. 

 

Meeting Dee, at that exact spot, our paths had just crossed. We both had that amount of time. We had no agenda to talk about our deeper, most personal internal dialogue. Given advanced notice, I’d likely put up barriers to avoid talking about some of my innermost thoughts and emotions. To bare all, to be brave. I have a therapist for that. Still, the  universe unfolds just as it’s meant to. 

 

Sharing intimate fears, with another person, and to not feel the need to run. To be comfortable in an open exchange, a conversation, about what can sometimes be almost unbearable. And yet, I forgot about my caffeine jitters. I didn’t give thought to the life-changing decisions that are before me. And I felt at ease. I felt privileged. There’s a safety with strangers. A strength comes forth, and a kind of bond happens. When you hit that spot in the exchange that maybe isn’t a direct part of your past or present, but it’s similar enough, that you get it. You each understand. You have and give respect freely, and without question or reservation. You acknowledge the moment shared. Unexpected gratitude permeates.

 

For many people, comfortable means not looking inward. It’s adapting to a perceived "normal," or fitting in. Some people can push things down, and drift through the day without thought of the deeper questions. Denial repackaged as acceptance. I’m glad that’s not me. 

 

For all the pain, the discomfort, all the questioning and uncertainty, I am who I am, because of the questions I’ve asked. And the answers I’ve found. Good and not so good. We can’t learn if we don’t make mistakes. 

 

As I write this, some twelve hours later, I realize by this point in the conversation with Dee, I was oblivious to everything else. I wasn’t aware of anything going on around us. It’s just Dee and myself. I can only assume that the world just kept passing by.

 

Dee is moving forward.

“I’m going to live in Scotland. I leave in six weeks. I figured that if I feel alone in the city I’m from, and it feels odd, perhaps it will feel better if I am somewhere that I truly am alone. I feel that it will drive me to make connections.” Walking through the difficulty, rather than around it. 

 

For me, the conversation represented balance. A good day. The excitement of raising the funding for the documentary. Marching forward against the grain to pursue what I have become passionate about. In no small way, yet again, the result of talking with a complete stranger was profound. 

 

Unwittingly, when strangers are willing to share their stories, it helps me to look at my own. I could just be goofy, elated and mindlessly happy today. But, I’d rather understand every nuance, every nook and cranny, and all the emotions that have carried me to this point. 

 

There's an amazing community building around The Stranger Project. We’ve joined together and are creating something magical. Connection and community. I am filled with gratitude, and know, that I’ll sleep well tonight. #notastranger

*Dee - not this person's real name

Day 26 - Patrick

Day 26 - Patrick (1st person I approached)

January 26, 2015 - Patrick was halfway through eating an avocado, and was trying to extricate the stone using a plastic knife, when I first approached him. He seemed hesitant, yet he told me he’d be willing to chat. 

“I wouldn't normally do something like this. Anyone pointing a camera at me usually makes me suspicious. I guess I’m becoming more relaxed as I get older,” he chuckled. He had managed to remove the avocado stone without snapping the plastic knife; no small feat.

 

“I’ve enjoyed music a lot, all my life. I’m, well I guess what you’d call an artistic type. I just bought an amplifier for my guitar. It’s just a single box. You can get them nowadays where they stack and connect with one another. That’s a lot of money. But when you buy a small amp, it has less bells and whistles. Less things you can do with it. It’s not just about volume,” he said, diligently eating avocado remains off that stone. 

“I play tennis too,“ he says, gesturing at a tennis racket sitting on top of a sports bag on the chair between us.

 

“I was born up in northern BC (British Columbia). Born in Smithers, and grew up in a small town called Telkwa,” he said. Telkwa is about 15kms southeast of Smithers. Patrick is the middle child of three. 

“I have an older sister and a younger brother. My father, who was from Germany, always wanted everyone to see what a tough guy he was. A tough man who liked shooting guns and hunting and being macho. He used to take my sister out with him, while he was shooting his gun. She would stand at his feet and watch. When she was about six years old, her eardrums ruptured, on account of the noise from the gun. They figure she lost about twenty-five percent of her hearing almost immediately. She never said anything to anyone. It must have been hard for her suffering through that alone. About a year later, she told me that she was having trouble hearing. I told my mother, who didn’t believe either of us. They had her hearing tested, and that’s when they found out. It deteriorated until she only had about ten percent of her hearing left,” Patrick said.

 

“My younger brother was born with developmental disabilities. My mother tried her best to raise him, but it was too much for her. If she turned her back for a minute, and he spilled something, or fell. He went to live in a care facility. I used to go visit him. The stench when you walk in those places, is wow, it’s overwhelming. He’s permanently like a young child. That’s his ability level. I was a kid myself, it was a scary place to go. I didn’t visit many times,” said Patrick, looking down and shaking his head. 

“I guess I’m the one who came out of it the most normal. But really, am I? Who knows. My father figured because of that, and because I was the middle child that I should look after both my older sister and my younger brother. I was too young. I haven’t seen my brother in, oh. Let’s see. Maybe thirty, could be closer to forty years. I don’t think he’d even know who I am now.”

 

His parents separated when he was seven years old. 

“My mother moved us down to Vancouver (BC). We lived in Kitsilano at first. I liked it a lot. My mother has always been very sweet. It was wonderful when we lived with her. The kids at my school seemed more sophisticated, and cooler. I spent time going between living with my mother, and then living with my father. I’d go back up there for a chunk of time, then come back to the city. I loved sports, especially hockey, and tennis. I wasn’t exceptionally good at hockey. Not like my cousins, they’re mad for hockey, and the Canucks (Vancouver hockey team), but I played enough that I became okay at it. I liked music too, and guitars. I wanted to be a musician,” he told me.

 

When he was sixteen, Patrick was at a school dance here in Vancouver. 

“We were outside and someone had some wine. I didn’t really like the stuff, but you know, someone offers it to you, and I’m trying to be a grown up. Sure, sure give me some wine, and as soon as I put the cup to my mouth, the school's vice-principal comes walking by and catches me,” he says. Patrick got expelled from school. 

 

“My mother said that I had to go back up north and live with my father. I had grown my hair really long. It was the sixties and everyone who had long hair was thought to be a dirty, smelly hippie. I was about sixteen. I wasn’t a hippy. My mother was always saying ‘cut your hair. Cut your hair,’ and sometimes she’d chase me around the house trying to catch me to cut my hair off. Funny enough though, my father, the big tough guy, it didn't bother him. My mother stopped nagging me about it eventually. Then I cut it off,” said Patrick.

 

That summer, up in Smithers, he got a job working in a small local lumber mill. 

“They went kind of easy on me for the first little while, I was a new kid. Then they’d put me on the green belt. In the summer they’d speed up the process to bang out as much lumber as they could. I had to take the wood off the line and stack it. And it was in several different stacks, depending on the grade. If you didn't move fast enough, it would pile up. It got to be dangerous for a kid to be working there. It was hard work. I made $3.65 an hour then. I thought I was rich. Now I know they were using me!” Patrick had finished his avocado and was working on a cup of soup. When I’m chatting with people who are eating, I make a point of telling them to please continue eating. And most times, they don’t. I was happy that he wasn’t letting his soup get too cold.

 

Patrick finished school without graduating. He spent most of his life working in lumber mills, construction and house painting. 

“I never had that one job, that one thing I loved to do. I never had the career,” he said. 

“When I was twenty, I quit my job to become a musician. I was pretty serious about it. I had a few really good Fender guitars, and a fair bit of equipment. But I guess really I was too much of a baby. I wasn’t prepared to go hungry for music. I didn’t have the drive or willingness to suffer any hardships for it.” He did go to the Vancouver Vocational Institute (VVI) to study auto-mechanics. Before completing the course, he decided he didn't want to be a mechanic.

 

“I play tennis almost every day. It gets me outside, keeps me active and reasonably fit. I’m careful about what I eat and I exercise. I’m smaller now than when I was younger. I’m shrinking, and now I think my head is too big for my body.” We both laugh when he says that. Of course I tell him that’s not true. 

 

“I used to be really good at tennis. I’m still accurate and precise with the direction I can move the ball, I’ve got a decent serve and good hand eye coordination. I just don’t have the same power anymore. But I still play. Health and fitness is important to me. I think everyone should be exercising and looking after themselves,” he said.    

 

“I could probably put together a kick-ass group of older musicians, and form a band. And I bet we could compete with the best of them. Now it’s just about enjoying playing and the music. I just don’t know where anyone is these days,” he said. Patrick has never married. 

“I didn’t want to. I’ve always been too scared of having children. Not that I’ve got anything against children. I just didn’t want to repeat the things that I endured in my childhood. I wouldn’t want to be that guy.” #notastranger

Day 25 - Charlie

Day 25 - Charlie (1st person I approached)

January 25, 2014 - A couple of friends that I haven’t seen for a while, invited me to get together today. We all had news, personal updates and excitement to share and time seemed to fly by! I love those situations when you see someone that you’ve not seen in months and the conversation flows like it was yesterday! Afterwards, I told one of my friends that I was going to walk down Main Street (Vancouver), and head towards Chinatown to look for today’s story. We walked and talked and before I knew it, we had made it almost to the Gastown neighbourhood. I realized that I was missing opportunities to connect with strangers. My friend, inadvertently was cramping my style! I laughed at the irony of thanking him for buying lunch, and then telling him I had to be alone! My friends are very supportive, and understanding.

 

I saw Charlie making his way west, down Hastings Street towards Pigeon Park. The Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver is considered the ‘skid row’ of the city. There’s an energy there unlike any other part of town. Yes, a lot of it is fuelled by drugs and alcohol. But on Sunday afternoons, it’s a buzz of activity with people from all walks of life. 

 

When I approached Charlie and started to tell him what I’m working on, he looked at me and pointed straight ahead. I took that to mean ‘I’m walking this way,’  and sure enough, I was right. Charlie agreed to chat. 

“As long as you can walk with me,” he said. He was using a stroller/chair mobility walker. 

“I’m heading down to the corner to buy cigarettes,” he said.

 

“Why did you ask me?” he wanted to know. I told him I approached him because he was walking by himself. I also said I thought he had an incredible face, and that I was sure there was an amazing story there. He smiled, and started to share with me about his childhood. 

“I was born in Kenora, Ontario,” he said. Kenora, originally named ‘Rat Portage’ is located in northwestern Ontario, about 200km east of Winnipeg.

 

“I’m the second oldest of eleven children. I got eight brothers, and two sisters. There was never a time that we all lived together and got along, but we all have the same parents,” he said with no uncertainty. 

“I’m half first nations, and half black. So I really stood out and that made things harder too,” he told me. Both of his parents were alcoholics. 

"My father was abusive. Not physically towards us kids, but he was with my mother. He would get drunk and beat her. For such a young age to see that, I was maybe this tall,” he said, putting his hand out at waist level. 

"Kids aren’t supposed to see that kind of thing. It fucked me up.”

 

From about the age of eight years old, his mother told Charlie that he looked like his father. He reminded her of him, and she told Charlie she hated him because of that. 

“I would go up to her to tell her I love her, and she would physically push me away. I was just a little kid,” he said, again using his hand to gesture the height of an eight year old. 

“It hurt. It became an abuse to me.”

 

His father died when he was twelve years old, and his mother moved the family to Alberta. Charlie had only completed Grade seven in elementary school. 

“I never lived on a reserve or went to a residential school. I went to a regular everyday school, until we got to Alberta,” he said. 

“My mother threw me out of the house when I was thirteen years old. She hated me and I never knew what I had done wrong,” Charlie told me. I said that I knew of the pain that I’m sure he endured, he looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. There were no words needed. We walked like that for about fifteen feet. Silently.

 

“I left home and jumped on a railcar,” he said. I was amazed at the idea of a thirteen year old kid travelling across the country, alone. It was 1970. I remarked that he would be ‘Boxcar Charlie,’ he laughed and said 

“Yes! Exactly!” I wanted to know if he was afraid, doing that alone. 

“Never. When I left home, I was filled with so much anger and confusion. It was easier to be alone on the railcars, than be back there dealing with that crap. it was freeing.” Charlie couldn’t quite recall how long he did the railcars for. 

“I travelled that way for years and years,” he said. “It was my transportation.”

 

We were heading to the corner Charlie had pointed toward, telling me he was going to buy cigarettes. We walked past a small grocery store. I thought maybe he had forgotten where we were heading. 

“No, I’m heading over there,” he said, pointing across the street to Pigeon Park. (I only just learned it’s actually called ‘Pioneer Place.’) 

 

He stopped at the corner and as we waited to cross the street, he looked at me, and said gently, 

“Why are you asking me these questions again?” I told him I was exploring connections and relationships. I said I believed just because two people are strangers, it doesn’t mean they can’t have a good conversation, establish a connection and have it be meaningful at the same time. 

“Yeah,” he said. 

“That's good.” We crossed the road towards the square. 

 

On Sunday’s there is a block long, bustling, tented market, filled with people selling all kinds of stuff. Some people might call it trash, others can find real treasures there. Either way, it is always busy, come rain or shine. (*Fact check - see link below.) 

 

When we got the other side of the street, I realized that Charlie was looking to buy ‘discounted’ cigarettes from someone, anyone on the street. As soon as we got to the other side, a woman approached us, asking ‘Cigarettes?’ 

Charlie said “Yes. $3.50.” The woman told him they were $4.00. Charlie had pulled some change out of his pocket, and turned to walk away from her, saying, 

“Nope. $3.50. That’s all I got, and all I’m paying.” 

 

We walked ten feet to our left, and suddenly we were surrounded by people offering cigarettes. One man had a backpack that people were peering into. I felt like an outsider, and suddenly felt out of place. That feeling didn’t last long. Charlie went into the huddle and not only bartered, but was looking for a specific brand. He turned around and pointed in the direction we had come from. He had his cigarettes. $3.50 for the pack.

 

We crossed back to other side of the street from where we came. Charlie motioned towards a bus-stop bench. I wondered if he was planning to get on the next bus that rolled along. 

“No. We’re still talking. I just thought we could have a seat." He parked his mobility walker and sat down on it. He suggested I take seat at the bus stop next to him. I preferred to stand. 

 

I watched as he opened his cigarette package. Without any thought, he dropped the first piece of the plastic wrapping on the ground. I held out my hand and he instinctively gave me the remaining wrapper and inside paper. We flagged down a guy walking by, to borrow his lighter for Charlie’s cigarette. He lit it, and then broke half the filter off.

 

Charlie told me that he wasn’t proud of some of the things he had done to survive. 

“I robbed people,” he said drawing in closer, lowering his voice to share his dark secret with me. 

“And I pimped for a little while too. That was all so many years ago. I stuck to robbing people,” he told me. Much to my surprise, he starting robbing people at the age of eight years old. I think he was steering, not actually holding people up, He never used a weapon. He told me he pimped for a short time, when he was fourteen years old. When I asked him why he thought anyone would want a fourteen year old to be their pimp, he chuckled lightly, and said 

“I really don’t have a clue. I honestly don’t. I didn’t even have a beard back then." We never defined what he meant by 'pimp' either. Charlie would get off the trains and stay for a while in whatever town he happened to jump off at. 

“I was robbing people, so I had to always be moving along. I had made enemies with people,” he said. 

 

He got caught twice. 

“I was arrested in Alberta and was locked up for twenty-eight months,” he said. That meant it was a federal conviction, which is more significant, and generally means a tougher group of long-term inmates. Once he got out of prison, Charlie made his way down to Seattle. 

 

“I spent time robbing people around there. Travelling a circuit,” he said. 

“I got caught in Washington (State), and did five years there,” he said. The American penal system, at that length of sentence, is far more rigid and strict in guidelines, with less prisoner rights and freedoms, to my understanding. Charlie agreed. 

 

I asked when the last time he had robbed someone was. Without hesitation or even thinking about his answer, he replied 

“Years ago.” I asked what his motivation to stop was. 

“Five years in an American prison,” he said without any doubt in his voice. 

 

“I started to look toward God, I wanted to figure why I was doing the things I was doing,” he told me. 

“I can read you know. I looked at the Bible, but I couldn’t address the anger and frustration I felt toward my childhood, with any way to accept God. It was confusing. Why would he allow me to be treated that way?” he said, a tone of anger and resentment in voice. He turned to his right and spat on the ground. 

“I’m working on that.”

 

Charlie was ‘banned’ from the United States after his release and came to Vancouver in the 1990’s. 

“I was homeless for eight years. Sleeping rough, staying in hostels. Then I got a place down the street here, he said pointing towards the waterfront. 

“It was so noisy, and dirty. There were drunks all around, people sleeping in the hallways. I found syringes in the hallway every day. It was a living nightmare,” he said. 

“I used to complain about it. This was my home. I didn’t want to live like that. I wanted it to be quiet and clean and not have to step over people in the stairway. And you know what happened?“ he asked me. 

“I made it to number one on their list of people to kick out, because I complained too much.” 

 

“I’ve never used drugs. I swore I’d never be an alcoholic because of what I saw my father do. He drank himself to death. But here I am, an alcoholic.” There was no self pity in voice. He now has a room in another SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Hotel. 

“I’m on the lower floor. It’s quiet, and it’s clean and there aren’t any nutters having loud parties and I don’t see syringes in the hallways. It’s a really nice place to be. I can be home and watch television. I like to read books too,” he tells me.

 

I notice that Charlie has what is clearly a rough, unskilled tattoo on his lower arm. At first I thought it said ‘Liar!’ I don’t even remember how we got to talking about it. 

"No, I know it looks like liar, but it says ‘War.’ When I was a kid, a friend and I were messing around with a needle and a bottle of ink. You know, where you put ink on your skin and then your friend keeps stabbing you with the pin to make the tattoo? Well the ‘W’ isn’t connected fully so it looks like an ‘L’ and an ‘I’ but it’s a ‘W,’ “ he says. I wonder to myself if that potential ‘Liar!’ tattoo caused him any grief in prison. I never asked. 

“It spells WAR! W-A-R. They’re my father's initials.”

 

The next thing I know, Charlie is standing up and a bus has pulled up to the stop we’re standing at. He had already let two busses go by without getting on. I have a moment of panic as I ask Charlie if he’s getting on this bus. 

“Yeah,” he says reaching into another pocket and pulling out more change. I had wanted to get a few really good close-up’s of his storied face, instead I snap three panicked shots. I move to the open bus door, so that the driver waits for Charlie. 

“Let me have a look at those,” Charlie says, about the pictures I’ve just taken. I notice the bus driver just watching us. I show the pictures to Charlie. 

“Oh, those aren’t bad. Nice talking to you. Thanks,” he says. He’s manoeuvring his mobility walker onto the bus, so we don’t shake hands. I thank him, and turn to start walking towards home.

 

I get about two blocks away, and the bus with Charlie drives by. He’s seated at the front, right behind the driver. He see’s me and fully extends his arm up to the roof of the bus, and gives me a lovely ‘goodbye wave’ as you would when saying goodbye to friend embarking on a long journey. I smile and wave back. The same thing happens a block further up the road, when the bus is waiting for a traffic light. Charlie extends his arm out fully, and gives a farewell wave, with gusto. #notastranger

*Fact Check - Pigeon Park Market, Vice Magazine - http://bit.ly/1zLGHyp

Day 24 - January 24, 2015

Day 24 - January 24, 2015
On Saturday, we hit a milestone in our Indiegogo campaign. 154 contributors had taken us over the $11,000 mark! We have until midnight tomorrow (Monday) to reach our goal of $12k. These funds will help with post-production costs of our documentary 'Not A Stranger' which explores my experience during 2014, meeting a stranger every day of the year. Thank so very much to those of you who have already contributed. And for those you have yet to make a contribution, there's still time, but hurry, the campaign ends tomorrow at midnight! http://bit.ly/1yhzsYx
#notastranger

Day 23 - Caroline

Day 23 - Caroline (1st person I approached)
January 23, 2015 - Whenever I give myself permission to fail, I sometimes feel I’m setting myself up to do exactly that; fail. Okay, so fail may not be the best adjective or category in this sense, after all, this isn’t a life or death matter. I posted Thursday’s story on Friday, and here I am on Saturday late evening writing Friday’s story. Which in turn means I didn’t go out to meet a stranger today. I went out, I just never sought out any strangers to connect with. Last year, I diligently went out each and every day, and wrote and posted that day’s story on that day. At the start of this year, I allowed for the possibility of taking one or two days off, perhaps. It becomes a slippery slope at times, like not eating cookies. I either have to not eat any cookies, or accept that I’ll continue binging on them from time to time. That said, here is yesterday’s story, and I’m committed to getting back on my daily wagon. For now. I think. Maybe?

 

Caroline was born in Vancouver, and grew up on the west side of the city. Her father is from China and her mother is from Victoria, on Vancouver Island (British Columbia).

“I’m the youngest of four, with two older sisters and an older brother. I was pretty close to each of them as a child. I was always the baby in the family. I think that I probably got away with more being the youngest. My parents knew more about what to expect,” she said.

“If I look back I think I was close to each of them in a unique way. I had a special relationship. If you asked each of them (siblings), I think they’d each say they were closest with me.”

 

She was spotted by a casting director at the tender age of two years old. 

“She asked my mother if I could be one of the babies in ‘Look Who’s Talking Too.’ Since elementary school, acting has always been something that I’ve been into and really enjoyed. I made an agreement with my mother. As long as I got good grades and did my schoolwork, that I could continue to pursue acting as well,” she said.

 

“I did some acting classes and was involved in plays in school with the drama class.” She also enjoyed taking dance classes as well. After graduating high-school, Caroline went to UBC (University of British Columbia) and got a Bachelor’s degree in Food Market Analysis.

“It's a combination of things related to food. Sciences was biology and chemistry. And then we had commerce, marketing, economics, trade and studying international food markets. It was a great way to get an understanding of the business of food,” she told me. Caroline is passionate about food as well as acting.

“I had my own Instagram account but I realized that it was just getting filled with my food pictures. So I created a separate account just for food,” she tells me, laughing softly. 

 

Another project Caroline was in was ‘Broken Trail,’ starring Robert Duvall, who went on to win a Lead Actor Emmy for his role. In the film, Caroline plays one of five young women rescued from a slave trader.

“I only speak Chinese when I’m ordering food at a restaurant, or if a role I’m auditioning for requires it. I speak Cantonese. I had to learn seven pages of dialogue that were all in Mandarin, which is easier to learn. I sat down with the pages and created ‘Caroline Pinyin’ and wrote the lines out phonetically. I memorized that, and did the scene acting the language,” she told me. Pinyin is the method of converting Chinese characters into romanized or phonetic language.

 

“After graduating from university, I worked in a restaurant for a few months, as a server, to gain some knowledge about the real-life food industry. After that I worked in another restaurant as marketing manager,” she said.

 

“Then I started working for a corporate event planning company. I worked really hard and was offered a position as an account executive. I deal mostly with staffing for some of the larger events we do, like car shows and trade fairs,” she said. 

 

“I feel like I’m on a lucky streak,” she told me. I asked her to tell me how her luck had manifested.

“In 2013, I entered a competition that ET Canada (an entertainment news television show) were running. It was the ‘Jessie Ware Record-A-Song’ competition.’ I was on set one evening and I got a call to say I had won! I didn’t have to do anything more than enter. I won a trip to London, England. We stayed at the Savoy Hotel. I took my sister with me. There was an event for all of the sponsors of the competition, like a show case. The singer Jessie Ware (English singer, pop sensation) was there to perform and we got to meet her afterwards. My sister and I, and the local (London) winner and her plus one, all got to go to Abbey Road Studios, and recorded a song there. We did a cover of The Beatles song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’ It was a really fun trip!” she said, with a big lovely, grin. (*Fact Check - see links below.)

 

“Last year, my parents decided that it had been too long since we had been on a family vacation. They took us all on a cruise to Hawaii, for seventeen days. They had a variety of dance lessons each day on board the ship, and I’ve alway liked dancing, so I went along. I did a bunch of different classes. I didn’t realize that it was actually a competition connected to Dancing With the Stars (the TV dance show). I won for the jive section. I never thought anymore of it," she said. 

 

"Then I find out that the cruise line had been running these competitions on all their ships, and they had five hundred winners from all of the competitions. They were holding a Dancing With the Stars at Sea Championship. I won another cruise to go compete in the championships. I was given five days to decide if I could make it fit into my schedule, which I did. The cruise departed from Fort Lauderdale. We had rehearsals every day, for an hour to learn new choreography, then tech rehearsal for an hour after that. We then competed in front of an audience of a thousand people on the cruise that afternoon. It was hard work, and there were some very good  dancers competing. They treated us so well, it was an incredible experience. Two of the judges from the TV show and the ship's Cruise Director were the competition judges. I finished in the top ten!” (*Fact Check - see links below.)

 

Caroline enjoys the event planning work she does.

“It’s not even about selling something to people. We’re creating an experience for the audience that come to the trade shows. It could be something as simple as introducing a product or service that may have an impact on someone, and that’s a great feeling. Even just the opportunity to speak with people and make a connection. You never know, that person you say hello to, might not have had a conversation with another person that day. Being able to meet so many people, and make connections is such a great feeling,” she told me.

 

I asked Caroline where she gets her drive from.

“I have a mandate. Carpe Diem, seize the day. I make a list of the things I want to achieve the next day, and then I go out and try to get them done. I like a good challenge.” I might write that on a sticky note, and put it on my bathroom mirror. #notastranger

*Fact Check - Abbey Road Studios - http://bit.ly/1L7vzzy
**Fact Check - DWTS - http://bit.ly/1yRnjPj

Day 22 - Lagrimes

Day 22 - Lagrimes (4th person I approached)
January 22, 2015 - For many years, I’ve had issues sleeping. I have no problem falling asleep, it’s staying asleep that is a challenge for me. I decided as a way to combat my latest slow dance with insomnia, that I’d got for a good, long vigorous walk. Turns out it may have helped. Last night I was ready for sleep hours before I normally would be, and slept pretty much through the night, only waking once. It’s a walking miracle!

 

I noticed Lagrimes (la-greem-ess) was charging her phone outside a large home-goods store. It usually takes at least thirty minutes or so, to get some life in one’s phone. I went over and told her about my project, asking if she would chat with me. Without a moments hesitation, she agreed to let me keep her company for a bit and chat with me.

 

Born on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, Lagrimes is the fourth of eight children.

“Oh yes, there was a lot of helping with my family and the younger children. It's an obligation in the Filipino culture, to help one another,” she told me. 

 

“I don’t have anything interesting to tell you about school. I knew I had to do it, and I wanted to get my certificate when I completed it,” she said, with resignation.

“I did like gym class though. I liked to be active, and gym was my favourite thing in school.” I told Lagrimes that I never liked gym class. I went to high-school in Scotland and gym class felt like a mean, competitive thing. I got picked on for being small, amongst other things.

“Oh, that kind of behaviour is not tolerated in my school. You learned to respect one another,” she said. 

 

After finishing high-school, which was Grade ten when Lagrimes went to school, she went to university.

“I had to move to another town, so I lived in the dormitory at school. It was just as noisy as home, so it didn’t feel too hard to make the move away from family,” she said. Lagrimes studied to become a radiology technician.

“My oldest sister had said that it would be a good qualification to have if I wanted to live in the United States (America). My sister had moved to America and was working in the medical field. I took radiology for that reason,” she told me. 

 

Lagrimes parents paid for her education.

“It is an obligation for the parents. You pay for your children's education. My two older sisters had both finished university and were working, and they helped our parents to pay as well. Each child in turn helps the family to pay for the other's education,” she said.

“There are seven out of the eight of us all working in the medical field, and everyone went to university.” Lagrimes graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Radiology.

 

“I worked for three years in radiology. It was ok. It’s what I was trained for,” she said.

“Then I got a job as a nanny. I worked for a family living in Athens, Greece. They didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak any Greek, so it was hard for me. I did that for two years, and then left Athens. I got another job with a different family, and moved to Paris, France. I stayed with them for four years,” Lagrimes told me.

“The family were moving to Moscow (Russia) and I didn’t want to go there, so I asked them if they could help me find work in Switzerland.” They helped Lagrimes get another nanny job, and she spent six years living in Geneva.

 

“I have a relative, I’m not sure how to say it. She is my god daughter? And she was living in Vancouver. I applied to come to Canada, and with her help, I came to Vancouver. That was, oh I’ll give this to you, to do the math. 1988,” she said. We both sat there counting and looking up at the ceiling.  

“Twenty seven years ago,” we said in unison.

“I took a job as a nanny at first, and then I was offered a job as a caregiver, working with elderly people. There was an agency that was helping me find work. I liked being a caregiver more than being a nanny. I felt like I was at least using some of my education, working as a caregiver,” she said. 

 

Lagrimes considered going back to radiology.

“I looked into it. I would have to go back to school to get (Canadian) certification. This meant going to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology). It was too far away for me. So I went to VCC (Vancouver Community College) and got my certification to be a caregiver. I wanted to have that,” she said.

“That's what I have been doing ever since then.”

 

“I have never married, and I don’t have any children,” she told me.

“I am the only one out of the eight children to not marry. I’m happy with that. I’m too busy looking after other people. This is something I learned from the older generation. My grandmother. Everybody helps everybody.” #notastranger

Day 21 - Andrew

Day 21 - Andrew (2nd person I approached)
January 21, 2015 - Occasionally, I find I can get a good insight into a person’s story, and that person, in a time-limited chat. Sure, I would have loved to chat with Andrew more than the five minutes we had. But because of having a mutually genuine interest and connection, I walked away feeling content. Making a genuine connection and having a sincere conversation don’t have to take an hour minimum to establish. 

 

When I explained to Andrew that I’ve been approaching strangers for over a year to hear their stories, his face lit up.

“Wow, that’s cool,” he said. I asked if he’d be interested in chatting with me. He looked at his phone for the time and told me he had seven minutes left on his break. I wanted to see where this would go, and said I’d be willing to chat briefly, if he was ok with rapid fire questions. He laughed, and agreed to chat.

 

“I was born in White Rock (British Columbia). I have four siblings. Two brothers and two sisters. I’m the youngest of the five. There’s nine years between us all,” he said.

“I feel like I had it the easiest, my parents had really learned what to do by the time they got to me. They were comfortable. I used to watch my brothers and sisters when we were growing up. I like to watch people and learn from what I see. I learned from their mistakes, and from watching them,” he said.

 

“We grew up in North Delta. That’s where I went to school. I knew that we were learning things in school that didn’t seem relevant, but I went along with it anyway. I understood that getting my high-school diploma was important,” he said. Andrew started to play piano when he was five years old.

“I play piano, guitar, drums, bass and I sing. It’s funny, I was looking through my baby book a while ago. There were notes saying ‘Andrew likes to tap on different surfaces and listens to the sounds. He’s big on the tapping.’ That was when I was three and four years old!”

 

After graduating from high-school, Andrew went on to study music.

“I went to Douglas College. I studied classical music, performance and music theory. That’s like the grammar of English, in music. As a musician I wanted to have a good understanding of all the elements of music. I feel it helps me understand it all better, and helped me become a better musician,” he told me. He spent two years studying, and finished with a diploma in music.

 

He is currently working as a charity fund-raiser.

“I’ve been doing this for about eight months. My sister was doing it first. I like talking to people and it’s for a good cause. I’m really enjoying it,” he said.

“My fiancé and I plan on moving to the Island (Vancouver Island) this summer. We went for a visit, and we liked the slower pace of things. Sitting in a coffee shop there, it’s seems more natural for conversations, just like this one we’re having, to start.” Andrew’s fiancé is considering starting a natural healthcare line.

“I’m wearing a deodorant right now that she made, with baking soda and peppermint. It’s got no chemicals, just four or five natural ingredients. And it works,” he said, smiling.

 

Our time was up, and walked with Andrew for a few moments toward his work place. I asked if he still played any music

"Yeah, I have a band that I’m with. We play rock n’ roll music. I can still apply what I learned in school to the music I play. I also like that people who play rock are more adapt at jamming. My first day at music school, I met someone in my class and said to him let’s jam. He said sure, and then asked what piece I wanted to play. I just wanted to jam. Let’s just play some music.” #notastranger

Day 19 - Andy

Day 19 - Andy (1st person I approached)
January 19, 2015 - I saw Andy in a crowded coffee shop. He was sitting at a community table, working away on his computer. I approached him, told him about my project and asked if he would chat with me. He readily agreed, closing his computer and making room for me at the table.

 

Andy was born on Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency, located in the Irish Sea, between England and Ireland.

“I have one older sister. We got along, you know the usual brother sister battles. But for the most part we got along,” he said.  

 

For elementary or ‘primary’ school as it’s called in the United Kingdom, Andy went to a regular school.

“I attended a state school for primary and then the equivalent of junior high was a state school as well,” he said. State schools meaning they were taxpayer funded.

“Then I went to a private school (referred to as a Public school) for a couple of years. I attended King William’s College. It was the school my father had gone to,” he said. During the time Andy’s father attended, it was an all-boy’s school.

“It was co-ed when I went there. The international students boarded there, but I was a day student, I went home every night. My main interest in school was the sports. There was a big focus on athletics. I played rugby,” he told me. (*Fact Check - see link below.)

 

“I went back to state school for my last few years. The private school was expensive too. I think it was like £3000GBP ($5400CDN) per term. To be honest I think I did better in my GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) having gone back to the state school. I had never really liked math, and it suddenly made sense. I stayed on at school and sat my ‘A’ levels (Advanced Certificate of Secondary Education). I passed Math. I think that going to a private school helped me to mature, and learn to pay more attention to my schooling,” he said.  

 

“After finishing school, I went to Sunderland University,” Andy said. I mentioned that I had spent a week in Sunderland when I lived in England. I was touring with a theatre company selling souvenir merchandise. I told Andy my most vivid memory of Sunderland was of the sand in my bed at the B&B I stayed at. “No,” the landlady told me, “the sheets are clean.” I was there for work, otherwise, I likely would never have gone to Sunderland. Andy agreed. 

 

“I went there to study automotive design," he said.

"My father had always been into rally cars. He and I built one together when I was younger,” he told me.

“Ironically, I failed the first component of Math and had to repeat that class.” After a year in Sunderland, Andy called his parents to say he didn’t want to continue studying there.

“It wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel I should be wasting my time and the support my parents were giving me. They persuaded me to stay for one more term, just to make sure. I left after that semester.”

 

“I went back to the Isle of Man, and got an office job with a life assurance company (a hybrid mix of investment and insurance). I liked being an employee and working. And not being in school,” he said.

“I did that for a while. I’m also a singer and a musician. A friend of mine suggested that I should consider going to London and pursuing a career in music. That’s what I ended up doing.”

 

While pursuing his music career, Andy got a job in television.

“I was working for a television broadcast company as a technician. There were about fifteen channels and other companies would provide us with content. My job was to enter it into our system, format it, and then make sure it went out on the satellite we used. We broadcast to the Middle East, Asia, all over the world,” he said.

“I did that for about three years and ended up running the department I was in. The only problem with that was there was me, and then the CEO of the company. Which meant there was no room for growth for me with that company.”

 

He landed a job with an online microgaming company based back on the Isle of Man. He had met a woman and was dating. Natalie was working as a website designer, coding and building the sites, with some graphic design work as well.

“I had always wanted to travel around the world and Natalie wanted to travel as well, so we took off and spent a year travelling. We started in Nepal, then Tibet. We saw fifteen countries in twelve months. Sometimes I felt we were seeing too much. We spent an average of three or four days in most places. The longest we stayed was about ten days in one spot,” he said. I told him I thought it was a great test for a relationship to be able to travel together like that.

"Yeah, it almost ruined things a couple of times, but we made it through,” he said with a big smile.

 

They returned to London after travelling.

“I got a job working for a casino company," he said. The new job meant moving to Guildford, in Surrey, England, 43kms southwest of London.

"We were married and had two children, a boy and a girl,” he said proudly.

“A friend of mine was a deep sea diver and we had been talking about this course that he had done. I had been thinking about it for a year or so, before going for it. I went to Fort William in Scotland and took the seven week course,” Andy said.

“Natalie and the kids stayed in Guildford. The course was all about learning how to operate an underwater ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle). They weren’t manned. they were being operated remotely from on land. I was really good at it too. I spent five months afterwards trying to get a job in that field. Perhaps if I had gone up to Aberdeen I might have gotten work, but there just wasn’t much going on in the industry,” he said. 

 

“We ended up moving back to the Isle of Man, and I got a job in Microgaming. We knew that it wasn’t going to be long term. I love the Mann, but it wasn’t where I wanted to live longterm,” said Andy.

“We were considering moving to either Cape Town in South Africa, or Vancouver (Canada). I had heard so much about Vancouver. When I was looking for information, I couldn’t find a single person that had anything bad to say about Vancouver. Not one. The plan was that I’d come out to check things out, then go back home and get the family and we'd move. I came home from work one night and we talked it over for a few hours. It seemed like a waste of time and money to do it that way, and we decided to make the move. I arrived two months ahead of Natalie and the kids and then they followed after,” he said. 

 

They’ve been in Vancouver for about sixteen months now.

“My wife has picked up a few jobs doing some graphics stuff, and looks after the kids. They are five and three years old now,” he said. Andy has done some contract work. He is currently looking for a more permanent position in the technology customer service field. 

 

We spoke about the start-up boom happening in Vancouver, and about the many technology companies that are now based here. Every company I mentioned, Andy has already done research on.

“If it was just me, or me and my wife, we could live a bit rougher while waiting for everything to settle in place. But when you’ve got two kids, you want them to have a good experience,” he said.

 

“We all want to be here. We ask the kids what they think about things. I mean they’re only five and three, but we want them to understand what we’re doing, as much as they can. The kids love it here. There are so many more playgrounds here, than on the Isle of Mann. It’s like there’s playgrounds all over the place,” he said, a little incredulously.

“As a matter of fact, I took my son to the playground the other day. When we got there, he looked at me, and said ‘Dad, I’ve already been to this one!’ Like he expected it to be a new one.” #notastranger 

*Fact Check - King William’s College - http://www.kwc.im/home
**Fact Check - ROV course - http://bit.ly/1KXbagj

Day 18 - Penny

Day 18 - Penny (1st person I approached)
January 18, 2015 - I didn’t want to go too far off the beaten track today. I wanted to get out, find today’s story, come home, write, and then have a low-key evening, just me, the couch and my television.

 

Fortunately, the universe conspired to make this possible. Penny was sitting alone near a coffee shop I often walk by, reading the newspaper. When I first introduced myself, before I had said much more than my name, I knew Penny was a delightfully warm and welcoming person. She greeted me with a grin and said hello with genuine kindness. She continued to smile when I told her what I’m doing with this project, and said “sure we can chat,” as she put down her newspaper. We chatted for at least half an hour, if not more.

 

Penny born in Montreal, Quebec.

“I have one older brother who was eight years older, he’s passed away. And I have a brother who is five years younger than me. So there was quite an age gap between us. As the middle child I always felt like I was trying to please the other two. Sometimes I was the peacekeeper. You could feel a tension between my brothers and they wouldn’t say anything, but I’d want to make sure they were okay. My parents treated us all equally. I think that with the age differences between us, they had time with each of us in a unique way. My mother had been married before, and her husband passed away. She was left alone with my older brother and two step children that she raised herself. Then she met my father and had me and then my younger brother,” said Penny.

 

“My father was Greek, but raised in Montreal. He grew up in restaurants, and was running the family business when they met. My mother worked at his family's restaurant. My Dad worked in the evenings, and my mother during the daytime. We had a nanny that looked after us,” she said. Penny’s father used to drink a fair bit during the course of the evening.

“My mother decided one day that she had enough, packed up all three kids, we boarded a train and moved to Vancouver. She had friends out here. I remember being so excited to be going on this adventure. I pictured women dancing with bags of beans on their heads. 'British Co-lum-bia!' I was eight years old. We had moved a few times while in Montreal so it wasn’t new to me to start at a new school. It was all an adventure,” she said.

“About a year later, my older brother went to Montreal to see my father. He brought him to Vancouver when he returned, just for a visit,” Penny said. Her parents reunited and her father never went back to Montreal.

“He used to say ‘Your mother saved my life.’ ”

 

Penny had worked part-time in a kitchen at a small local mill.

“I worked from 4pm-10pm in the evenings, cooking for the mill workers, and doing my homework,” she told me.

“I finished high school, right through Grade twelve but I never graduated. Right away, I got a summer job working part-time for the City of Vancouver. I spent the next 37 years working with the City,” she said.

“I retired at 55, ‘Freedom 55’ is real and I love it,” she said, waving her arms in the air.

 

“I was married for seven years,” Penny told me.

“My husband’s mother died. He was destroyed by her death. I was very close to her, my husband’s mother,” she said, taking a deep breath.

“And then six months later, my mother passed away with lung cancer. After my mother passed away, my husband came home one day, and said he didn’t love me anymore and we separated. I was numb for an entire  year. It broke me. I was going through the motions without feeling anything,” she said.

"Existing."

 

Penny continued working, putting a brave face on things and moving forward as best she could. She met her second husband at work, and even though the marriage didn’t last, they are still very good friends.

“He remarried and has three children,” she said, smiling. 

 

“My current partner and I met through work, though we weren’t coworkers. We’ve been together for thirteen years,” she said. He has children, and when Penny mentioned grandchildren, her face completely lit up. I definitely saw that grandparent sparkle in her eyes.

“We’re both retired now, and I love being able to spend all of our time together,” she said fondly. The first thing they did upon retiring was go live in NYC for three-and-a-half months.

“We had been there for five days, and I just wanted to go back and soak it all in. I wanted to live in that energy for a while. So we rented a place in Chelsea and we took in the sights and walked around everywhere, discovering all we could,” she said. 

 

Every year they take a motorbike trip, usually for three or four weeks.

“I’ve thought about getting my bike license, but I like being a passenger on the back of the bike,” said Penny. They usually go with an open itinerary, following the sun and see where the road takes them.

“It’s usually somewhere in the interior states of US (America). On one trip we met some other motor bikers, and we got to talking and they suggested we go to a place called Jackpot, in Nevada. Peter, my partner, and I decided we had no real plans, so why not.  We had an amazing time!” she said, smacking her hands on the table.

“We stayed in the lap of luxury. The hotel room was big enough, we could easily have had a party for forty people. And we stayed there for a really good price too!”

 

On another trip, they discovered a place called ‘Beartooth Pass.’ (*Fact Check - see link below.) It has been called ‘the most beautiful drive in America,’ and stretches between Montana and Wyoming (USA). Penny told me

“It meant we’d be going slightly off our intended course, but why not? We didn’t have to be anywhere at any time. It’s a steep climb up, and we pull over every now and again to put on more clothing. It gets cold in the mountains. But my goodness. The view is just incredible. We’ve been back there a few times.” 

 

“We love being retired. Before I left work, people would say ‘What are you going to do with all that time?’ Well, we’re enjoying it while we have our health and are able to do so,” she said, a huge smile on her face.

“I just drove Peter to meet with a friend of his at 6am this morning. It's a guys road trip, they're going golfing for five days in Oregon. He gets home next Friday. We’ll do a load of laundry for him, and then on Saturday we leave for six weeks in the desert. We don’t take the motor bike. We drive down in the car. A friend of ours has a place that we rent, and we enjoy the desert. We just had a hitch put on the car, so we’re taking bicycles down with us this year. It’s a great way to explore and get around. You see those sheep with the curly horns, and maybe a rattlesnake or two checking you out. It’s wonderful." 

 

Penny tells me that just last night, they booked a trip to Europe, leaving in May. She says they'll be taking in three or four countries including Portugal and, spending time with family in Greece for the last month.

“We’ll come home sometime in July.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://beartoothhighway.com

Day 17 - Garry

Day 17 - Garry (1st person I approached) 
January 17, 2015 - I was in Chinatown this afternoon to meet with and interview someone, for another project that will be coming out soon (yes, I’m teasing you here!). On my way home (I walk everywhere) I saw Garry coming out of a well-known landmark pub. He lit a cigarette and was walking towards me when I introduced myself and told him about this project. At first he didn’t appear as if he was going to even stop, but he did, and said he would be up for chatting.

“As long as my picture doesn’t end up on the side of a milk carton, you can take a photograph,” he said, laughing. 

 

“It’s Garry with two R’s. I didn’t get a middle name,” he joked, “so they gave me an extra letter in my first name!” Garry was born in St Mary’s Village, Orkney. St Mary’s, originally a fishing port, is a small village on the main island of Orkney, off the northeastern tip of Scotland.

“All my family are from there, and still live there,” he said. 

 

Garry is the youngest of four children, with three older sisters.

“I was always the baby to my mother and my sisters,” he said with a sound of pride in his voice.

“I was the last born. My parent's knew when they had reached perfection, with me,” he said. Garry was on form and feeling no pain.

“We've always been a very close family, and still are.” I told Garry that I had gone to high-school in Dundee, Scotland.

“Oh really? I’ve been to Dundee. I’ve been back to Orkney about ten times over the years to visit. They’re my people.”

 

When Garry was two years old, his family moved to Vancouver.

“I grew up in East Van(couver). My parents had relatives that lived here, that’s how they decided on Vancouver. They immigrated because there was not much promise of a future in Orkney for my sister’s,” he told me.

“I still think about how truly remarkable that was for my parents to do that. They left all of their family behind, in order to secure a better future for their own children.”

 

“I went to school in East Van. I finished Grade twelve but I never graduated. I went back a few years later and did what I needed to do to graduate. As soon as I left school, I went to work. But they tore down my old school years later. I went to see it after it was demolished, and I grabbed a couple of the old bricks from the main building. I wanted to keep them as souvenirs. Might be silly to some, but it was my school.”  

 

He started working in construction, getting work in roofing.

“I did that for many years,” he told me. He met a woman and they eventually moved over to Courtney, on Vancouver Island.

“We got married over there, and had a kid and everything,” he said. In his early thirties, Garry decided to go to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) and start an apprenticeship in Carpentry.

“My parents were still alive back then, and they had the house in East Van. It just made sense to stay with them while I was doing the classroom part of the apprenticeship program,” he said. The program was four years long, and Garry’s wife and son stayed in Courtney, while he attended BCIT. 

 

“On April 01st, April Fool’s day, I was at my parent's place, in my childhood bedroom doing some homework. I felt an intense pressure and heat sensation in my head. It was like my brain was in a microwave, getting hot from the centre and spreading out. I suddenly became a child again. I didn’t want to worry my parents, so I calmly went to their room and asked if I could borrow the car, even though my own truck was parked out front. I drove myself to Mount St Joe’s (hospital) and I go in, only to be told they close at 10pm. I said ‘okay,’ and got back in the car, and drove to VGH (Vancouver General Hospital). They knew immediately what was wrong. I had an aneurism rupturing in my brain,” said Garry. 

 

The hospital called his parents to have someone come to the hospital to sign paperwork for them to perform surgery.

“I had taken my parents car. My father told my mother ‘Fuck! He’s still doing it. He stole my damn car again!’ They had to take a taxi to get to the hospital,” he said, laughing at his father’s humour.

 

“They operated that night, and found five bleeders while they were in there. They figured while they had my noggin open, they’d do what they could to repair as much as possible,” he said. Garry was in hospital until July, four months in total.

“My wife put our son in school over here and moved everything from Courtney.” The marriage came undone through this.

“My wife said I wasn’t the man she had married, and we split,” he told me. Garry eventually went on to become a carpenter, but never went back to school to complete the apprenticeship. “I got what work I could, and made my way through, going from job site to job site.”

 

He now lives in a Christian Men’s hostel, in the DTES (downtown Eastside of Vancouver).

“I’ve been down here for a while. Yes, I live in the downtown Eastside. I was in and out of treatment, for alcohol. I stayed in a few different church hostels and treatment centres over the years. But I kind of gave up on that. I’ve been where I am now for about two years,” he said. Garry then told me that he had to go and pick up a cheque. He was heading in the same direction I was, so we walked together. 

 

“I’ve been working for a temporary work agency. You show up with workbooks and warm clothes in the morning. Some days there’s work, and somedays there isn’t. The first time I went to this place, I got a job that lasted for seven months. Anyone who says there's no work in this town, is just bloody lazy. You just have to get up off your arse and go look for it, just like I have,” he said. 

 

We arrived at Garry’s destination, and he shook my hand, telling me he had enjoyed our chat.

“I get enough work to make ends meet. That’s why I’m able to go here and pick up a cheque,” he said. “I gave up on treatment, and I’m doing ok.” 

 

I told Garry that I’m a sober alcoholic myself, and that I had never gone into treatment, other than going to AA meetings.

“I did that for a while," he said. "But some of them wanted to shove God down my throat. ‘Grant me the serenity.' Bullshit. I don’t need that. But good on you. Congratulations.” He took my hand and we shook again, as he placed his other hand on my shoulder.

“It was really nice talking with you. Thanks a lot buddy.” #notastranger

Day 16 - Trevor

Day 16 - Trevor (1st person I approached)
January 16, 2015 - It was such a nice sunny afternoon, I went for a twenty minute walk to get to a 2:00pm meeting I had. I’ve developed a habit of checking the temperature to see how I should dress. I feel so grown-up and sensible doing that. Weird. However, I failed to plan for how long I’d be sitting in a meeting and then heading outdoors to find today’s story. I was rather under-dressed for 5:00pm, a setting sun and a minimum of twenty minutes walking to get home.

 

Fortunately, it didn't take long before I saw Trevor sitting on a bench, looking at his phone. He looked like he was just passing time, and I found out that’s exactly what he was doing. It was a bonus to have the first person I approached agree to chat with me. But we spent probably twenty minutes, maybe a bit more, sitting outside on this bench.

 

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Trevor’s family moved to Campbell River, on Vancouver Island when he was just one year old.

“My father was a teacher, so we moved for his work. When I was five, we moved to a five acre farm on Quadra Island,” he said. Quadra Island is among a group of small islands located along the Inside Passage. The seaway between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, Canada.

 

“I have one sister, she’s three years older than I am. We were close as kids, and still are. We lived on a farm so I had to milk the cows at 5am, before school,” he said. Trevor’s father was originally from Manitoba, and had learned to speak French. He only spoke French with Trevor, so that he would be bilingual.

 

Trevor commuted from Quadra Island to Campbell River every day, to and from school.

“After milking the cows, I was off to catch the 7am ferry to get to school for music class,” he told me. The small school he attended in Campbell River had seven students in his class, across three grades.

“It was impossible to hide or slack off in class. I learned to use the ferry ride as way to unwind, and that’s actually stayed with me to this day,” he said, of commuting.

“I was aware that we lived in an unusual situation, and definitely appreciate it more now looking back. But I knew it was different and a unique situation.” 

 

His father was a teacher, and on occasion taught Trevor’s class.

“The only real concern I had about him being my teacher, was what people might have thought of me. Let's say I missed getting any homework in class. If I was to ask my father about it at home, and come in the next day with it completed, I would wonder what the other kids would have thought. I didn’t want the it to appear as if there was any favouritism, or difference in treatment at all,” he said. 

 

Trevor was twelve, when his father arranged to go on a teacher exchange. The family headed to Réunion Island, located in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Madagascar.

“It’s a department of France, even though it’s overseas. The language is French, with a unique combination of languages mixed in. It's a sort of Creole, or Réunion French as it’s called."

 

Historically, Madagascar was an eclectic central trading port.

"There are mosques, next to temples, and catholic churches, all in a row," he told me.

“One of the first community events I saw on Réunion was a ritualistic sacrifice of a goat. I remember seeing it carried through the streets, leaving a trail of blood behind it. It was definitely a culture shock!” 

 

It was a true exchange; Trevor and his family stayed in the home of a local teacher, and his father taught at her school. Likewise, she stayed in Trevor’s family home, and taught at his father’s school. They stayed there for one year, before returning home to Quadra Island.

 

At the age of fourteen, Trevor was kicked out of rehearsals for his school musical.

“I was told, and not just the once, that I should find something else to pursue. That I would never make it as a singer,” he said, without a trace of bitterness in his voice. It served to make him more determined and for the next three years, Trevor studied opera. He also worked part-time in a restaurant as a server while in school. 

 

“After graduating from high-school, I spent a summer working to save some money. Then I moved to Venezuela, by myself,” he told me. The local Rotary Club coordinated the trip, and Trevor stayed with two different host families. 

 

“I needed to work on my voice and rolling r’s, and I was able to do that in Venezuela. I went to school and repeated Grade twelve while I was there. That was a great way to absorb the culture and immerse myself in the community,” he said. While in Venezuela, Trevor was cast in an operatic production of 'The Messiah.’ 

 

“I only got the role because I spoke English," he said, modestly.

“It was something to go from getting kicked out of my high-school’s musical to singing an opera in front of an audience of thousands of people, in Venezuela.” After that, Trevor felt that opera was no longer what he wanted to pursue. He spent a year there, then returned home to Canada.

 

“The week before I left for Venezuela, my family had sold the farm and moved to New Westminster. At least I was able to say goodbye to the farm. But coming home from being away for a year, and after speaking only Spanish while I was there, it took while to get back into speaking English. It’s like my muscle memory was lacking. My family thought I was being really quiet. I was, and was adjusting to the culture shock of being home,” said Trevor.

 

A week after returning to the west coast, he started studying at SFU (Simon Fraser University).

“I went to university to study, don’t laugh, Public Administration. It was so not what I wanted to be doing. In my second year, I changed to History and Latin American Studies,” he said. 

 

“I had taken the public administration because I thought I wanted to work with refugees that were here in Canada. I realized that for the most part, they had it fairly good here in Canada, and that overseas was where I could do the most to help. So that's why I took Latin American Studies,” he told me. During the four years of getting his Bachelor’s degree, Trevor spent two summers travelling.

“My parents were in Guinea (west coast of Africa) one year and I went there for a couple of months. They were in Zambia (Central Africa) during my summer break another year, and I spent time there as well,” he said. 

 

“I went to Spain for six months after finishing university. I came back to Canada, and much to everyone’s surprise, I decided I wanted to become a teacher, of all things!” he said, laughing.

“I went back to school for a year, to get my teaching certificate.” Trevor is now a Spanish teacher at a high-school in New Westminster.

“It’s kind of ironic, because I moved away from New West to live on my own in East Vancouver. Now I’m back teaching in New West,” he said, shaking his head, smiling. 

 

I took a couple of pictures, and as I was saying thank you to Trevor, he mentioned that he plays in a band. It had come up earlier in our conversation, but I got sidetracked in the incredible details of his journey. It’s a Latin Folk group called ‘Trigo y Maiz Band’ which translates to ‘Wheat and Corn.’ 

 

By this time, I was shivering from the cold, and Trevor said he too was cold. He was heading off to meet a friend that he’s known since Grade eight. I wanted to be sure I would be able to share a link to his band with his story. I had reached memory overload, and wasn’t sure my non-spanish retention would work. Trevor offered to find my website, and email me the info, which was a great help. 

 

We were both shivering cold, but I walked away from our chat feeling fortunate for the warmth with which Trevor shared his story. #notastranger 

*Fact Check - Trigo y Maiz (Facebook) http://on.fb.me/17SZPyX
** Fact Check - Trigo y Maiz blog - http://bit.ly/1DMVIBw

Day 15 - Vilner

Day 15 - Vilner (3rd person I approached)
January 15, 2015 - As I get older, I’m learning to take less things personally. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times I have to work at it. I’m a sensitive guy, and I’m glad to say that life hasn’t completely knocked that out of me. Yet. Sometimes the things I take personally are ridiculous I know; it’s like that extra helping of mashed potatoes or the second bowl of ice cream - I just can’t help myself. Even knowing it’s to my own detriment. 

 

The first person I approached today got under my skin. He was an elderly gentleman, sitting quietly doing a crossword puzzle. I asked if I could talk with him. He said yes, and before I could get another six words out, he brushed me off with ‘I’m not interested!' He then added a shooing motion with his hand. I was dismissed. 

 

Of course, I don’t know what’s going on in his world, his day, or if he’s under a deadline to finish the crossword. But all I could think of, as I walked away with my proverbial tail between my legs was, ‘I hope I never get to be that miserable.’ I thought it must be painful to be so curmudgeonly. I then started to examine if I ever dismiss people like that, and I’m confident I don’t, or at least I hope I don't. Not even those occasionally annoying people who want to have me sign a petition every day, on every street corner.

 

The second guy was extremely nice. We chatted about social media for a minute or two. He then told me he was running late for a meeting that he had been late for the last time, otherwise he would have chatted. 

 

Vilner was sitting outside, eating a croissant and drinking coffee. He had earphones in and was listening to music. When I started to speak, he removed the earphones and said he’d chat with me.  He was born in Puno, a city in southwestern Peru, near Lake Titicaca.

“There are ten children in my family,” he said, after taking a moment to think about it.

“My father was married twice. My mother was his second wife, and I am the eighth child.”

 

Throughout elementary and high-school, Vilner was interested in social studies.

“I always was interested in other cultures, other lands and languages. Even from an early age, it was almost like it was a subconscious thing at the back of my mind,” he said. Vilner’s English was very good, and he has a very heavy, Peruvian accent.

“I learned English in secondary school (high-school). We only learn the basics and some grammar,” he said. He completed school at the age of fourteen.

 

“One of my brothers was studying in Argentina, actually he had finished his studies. I wanted to go there to go to school. My mother encouraged, well, almost pushed me to go. My father had passed away when I was thirteen. She wanted what was best for me,” he said. At the age of fourteen, Vilner moved to Argentina to go to school.

"My brother lived in San Juan to the north, and I went to school and lived in San Carlos, to the south. I had always been mature and again, it was that want and desire to travel and experience cultures, that drove me,” said Vilner. 

 

He spent two years getting his Argentinian high-school equivalency certificate, similar to Canada’s GED (General Educational Development).

“I studied history, social studies, that kind of thing,” he said. “I planned to stay in Argentina and go to university. The junta happened, you know, with (Juan) Perón and the military, so I left,” he said. The ‘National Reorganization Process’ as officials called it, was what many refer to as "la última junta military" (the last military junta) - the final dictatorship. 

 

At that time, Peru maintained a good relationship with Russia, and just sixteen years old, Vilner moved to Moscow.

"I was able to live and study there. Because of my grades, I had gotten a scholarship. I didn’t speak any Russian though, and the classes of course were all in Russian. I spent the first year going to school to learn Russian. I was young, it is easy for a young person to learn and adapt. And you have to learn about Russian history as well. It was required to learn their Russian history before going to university," he said.

"My scholarship was for the Geology program, but I wanted to learn about culture and humanities. They wouldn’t permit it, so I studied geology at The People’s Friendship University of Russia,” he told me. Six years after arriving in Moscow, Vilner had a Bachelor’s degree in Geology. He was twenty-two years old.  

 

“I had family that lived in Germany so I went there. I travelled all over, Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Aachen. I was only twenty-two and I couldn’t find work in Geology or with my degree. No one was prepared to make an internship for me. So I did other things,” he said, smiling.

“I was a busker. I played the Peruvian Pan Flute, and joined with some friends of mine and we played music, busking for a living. We played music from Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, many types,” he said. The band travelled extensively throughout Europe. They had a core group of musicians but would add people as they travelled, and then lose them again later on.

“I spent ten years travelling all over Europe, busking. I was making enough money to eat, to live and travel, it was enough for me,” he said, without reservation. 

 

“We met a woman from Calgary (Alberta, Canada) when we were playing in Copenhagen. There is a large cathedral there (Church of Our Lady), and we were performing in the courtyard in front of this cathedral. She invited us to come and perform at the Calgary Stampede. We said yes, and came to Canada,” said Vilner.

“We performed at the Stampede. I liked it in Canada, and I decided that I wanted to stay. I lived in Calgary for a couple of years, and then moved to Victoria for a while,” he said.

“I studied English and then went to college and took courses in Tourism and Hospitality Management. Then I moved to Vancouver in 2000.”

 

“I don’t play music as much these days, as I was before. But I still love Canada,” he says with a big grin, gesturing at the dark, gloomy, rain-filled clouds in the sky. We spoke a little bit about Vilner not being in any longterm relationships.

“It was hard to have that, while travelling around so much,” he said. Vilner seemed to be quite content that this was the price to pay, for living his desire to travel and experience so many different cultures.

 

On my way home, as I walked past the spot where I had gotten dismissed earlier, by the elderly gent with the crossword, I realized my sentiments about him had shifted. I had given him more thought than he had likely given me. Instead of feeling annoyed and personally slighted, I had landed at a place of wishing the gentleman well. I was able to smile, remind myself that it wasn’t about me, to let it go. And endeavour to make sure I don’t dismiss people, no matter what I’m doing. #notastranger

Day 14 - Jesse

Day 14 - Jesse (1st person I approached)               

January 14, 2015 - I was walking up a road that is set on a slight incline, when I noticed Jesse ahead of me. She was standing looking at her phone, waiting to cross the street. I noticed her immediately. As I walked toward her, the sun was shinning directly in my eyes. With her vibrant red hair, there was a fabulous glowing red halo all around her head! I commented how great her hair looked with the sun shining down on her. She smiled and said ‘Thank you.’ I wasn’t planning on finding today's story at that moment, but as we crossed the street, I gave Jesse my pitch and asked if she would chat with me. She didn’t hesitate and we found a place to sit down and chat.

 

Jesse was born in London, Ontario. I mentioned that I’ve met a lot of people from Ontario in doing this project.

“Yeah, I’ve met a lot of people from Ontario as well. All people who have moved here too,” she agreed.

“I’m an only child. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to share my parents time with anyone else. But there were times when I wished I had a brother or sister. It could be a bit lonely when both my parents were at work,” she said. 

 

“I went to two elementary schools, and one high school, all in London. I have friends that I’ve know all of my life. Being an only child didn’t really have an impact on how I made friends, or the level of loyalty to my friends. If anything, I think that I was a bit more shy and it was harder to meet people. I would never go up and start talking with a stranger,” Jesse told me. I asked how she felt then, talking to me.

“Well that’s different. You’re open and friendly and that makes it easy for me to be open as well,” she said, smiling. 

 

From an early age, Jesse has enjoyed art. Specifically, she has been painting since she was very young.

“I started out using water colours. Every one would comment on how much I liked painting. My parents definitely encouraged me to paint as well. I went to painting classes and took courses, to learn as much as I could. I prefer using acrylics now. It's easier to make things more three dimensional and richer. And if you make mistake, you just scrape the paint off. I made a lot of masks out of papier-mâché, and painting them using water-colours, would leave them looking flat. Using acrylics I could build up the surface to add depth,” she explained.

“I painted a lot of scenery and landscapes. I went through a period where I wanted to learn more about painting people and life-model figures. My parents wouldn’t let me take life-drawing classes. They didn’t want me painting nudes with real-life people naked in front of me,” she said.

 

Immediately after graduating high-school, Jesse moved to Vancouver to go to make-up school.

“My parents didn’t really want me to move away, but they would never have stopped me. I moved here with my boyfriend. We drove from London to Vancouver (British Columbia),” said Jesse. I asked how her parents felt about her moving here with her boyfriend.

“That made it better for them. They love him, so they were happier that I was with him, than moving here alone,” she said, smiling.

“We took a week to get here, stopping along the way to look at things. It was such a great road trip. My favourite place was Wawa, in Ontario. It has a giant statue of a Goose. It was just a fun and kind of unusual place,” she said, chuckling. Wawa takes it's name from the Ojibwe word for "wild goose", wewe.

 

“My boyfriend had a job to come to, in Vancouver. He had been working in London, and applied to transfer here. It was his idea to come out here. He loves skiing and snowboarding. A bunch of his friends are semi-pros living in Whistler, so it was a natural destination for him,” she told me. Jesse had been to a large make-up industry convention called IMATS, in London. She was so impressed with what she saw, she decided there and then that she wanted to get into make-up. 

 

“One of the exhibitors had done some incredible work recreating characters from Men in Black, using make-up and prosthetics. She had come from the school I’m going to now. I had a chance to talk to her about the school, and applied online,” she said. (*Fact Check - see link below.)

“The make-up industry is so much better here in Vancouver. In London the attitude is kind of ‘oh, makeup is a job?’ so I wanted to come out here for school. I’ve always wanted to come to Vancouver anyway,” she said. 

 

Jesse is focussing on special effects make-up.

“The course is full-time for twelve months. You need to learn all aspects of make-up to have a good understanding of all areas, and build up to special effects. We started with beauty make-up. It would be nice to work in film, but I’ll probably go into more of a lab setting. That's where they create and build the prosthetic pieces that get applied, to create the effects,” she told me.

 

Jesse and her boyfriend have been living here for five months.

“I haven’t gotten a job yet, but I do have an interview later this afternoon. I worked during high-school and summers to save money to come to school. My parents helped me a bit and I got student loans. School is full-time, so fitting it all in can be difficult.” At eighteen years old, Jesse seems to have her goals focussed, and her sights well aimed on success. #notastranger

 

*Fact Check - http://www.imats.net

Day 13 - Mariee

Day 13 - Mariee (4th person I approached)
January 13, 2015 - The first three people I approached today all said exactly the same thing. As usual, I explained what I’m doing and asked if they’d be willing to chat. They each responded sincerely, with ‘Ordinarily I would, but today’s just not a good day. Sorry.’ The second person added a reassuring ‘I know there’s a good person out there for you,’ and of course, he was right. I just had to find that person. 

 

I saw Mariee sitting by herself, eating at a local deli that I frequent. When I told her what I was doing, there was a flicker of recognition that I saw flash across her face. She told me she thought she had heard of my project before. I showed her my blog, and photos of some the recent stories. She agreed to chat, and let me take her photo.

 

“It’s spelled M-A-R-I-E-E, double E at the end. The second E is silent, or that’s what I tell people,” she told me with a big beaming smile.

“My mother made it up, so I made up the silent E part.” She was born in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, a small town at the head of the Alberni Inlet, the longest inlet on Vancouver Island.

“I have two brothers, one is two years older and one is two years younger than me. We always got along, I think in part, because my parents made sure to raise us as individuals. Although, there were a couple of dark years you know, like all siblings have,” she said laughing. Mariee has an energy and vibrancy that would make anyone smile. And it was infectious. 

 

“My brothers were laid-back, easy going skateboarders. Both of them are DJ’s now. My older brother lives in LA and has his own label. I was the one who was the closest with my Dad. He and I went fishing and camping and skiing. I learned to fix cars with my Dad, all those things. My brothers had no interest in any of that. I was into dance and theatre as well,” she said. I asked if her brothers were protective of her, being the only sister.

“No, not at all. We were all equal as siblings. It made no difference that I was a girl.” Mariee is grateful to have been able to grow up in a smaller city.

“There were times when I wished I lived in a bigger city, but growing up in Port Alberni was so good. We were still able to go out, and play in the street until it got dark. Of course I appreciate it more now that I’m older and look back. It was a great place to grow up,” she told me. 

 

“By the time I graduated high-school, I was ready to leave Port Alberni. But I didn’t want to go to a city that was too big. So I went to UVic (University of Victoria, on Vancouver Island). I had a room mate, a friend from Port Alberni and lived close to the university. It worked out well,“ she said. In the first year of university, Mariee wasn’t sure what it was that she wanted to study.

“I took general arts in the first year. I’ve always been interested in sciences and arts. I figured that teaching would be the best way to combine those, so I went into Education for my degree.”

 

In her first two years at UVic, during the summer, Mariee went home to Port Alberni and worked with her father at the local paper mill.

“Yeah, I was a, are you ready for this, I was a CTMP tester. (Chemical thermal, mechanical, pulp tester - does quality control tests throughout the pulp process). I learned a lot and it was interesting working with my Dad. I found out that he swore at work. I had never heard him talk like that before. I had to wear a bright orange shirt that said ‘New Employee’ on the back. And steel-toe boots,” she said, laughing and shaking her head. The next two summers she worked in a sawmill.

“It was the only steam-powered mill in the Canada. I didn’t actually work in the mill though. I got to dress up in period clothing and work with a bunch of friends from high-school. We did interpretative tours and education for school groups. I got paid to act and educate,” she said, excitedly.

 

After five years of UVic and graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Education, Mariee went back to Port Alberni.

“I got a job as a TOC, teach on call. It was kind of strange though, because I knew everyone in town. And all of the other teachers had been my teachers,” she said. It didn’t feel like a good fit, and Mariee only did that for about a year.

“I discovered Evergreen, and theatre for young people out of Calgary,” she said. Evergreen is a touring educational, environmental, science based, theatre company for young audiences.

“I joined the company and went on tour with shows for children. Again, it had an educational component and I was performing as well. The best of both of my interests, and it involved science too!” said Mariee.

“I ended up taking over the company and running it. I stayed in Calgary for five years, but I never felt like Alberta was my home. That’s when I moved to Vancouver.”

 

“I got a job working at Stanley Park doing nature tours with children. It was fun and involved education, but there wasn’t any performance aspect to the work. I was presented with an opportunity with Parks Canada. It was the Centennial year celebrations, and they wanted a show put together. I had about three weeks or something crazy like that, to write the show. And they wanted someone to perform in it as well. I got the gig and toured around Metro Vancouver with it. It was a huge hit and I did that for almost a year,” she said.

“I created a character, ‘Justine Beaver’ for the show, and that’s who I played. I ended up coming up with a rap song. There was so much talk about the show that after it ended, I filmed a video and put it on Youtube. ‘Justine Beaver Rap.’ I did it for the people,” she said, giggling. Oh how I laughed. It uses rhythm and rhyme to teach kids (of all ages) about what it means to be crepuscular. (*Fact Check - see links below.)

 

As well as being an educator and performer, Mariee also does voice acting for the PBS Kids show 'Plum Landing.' She voices the lead character ‘Plum.’ It’s a multi-platform, indoor-outdoor, science exploration adventure for kids and grown-ups.

“It’s funny. When I was touring with Evergreen, I was in Washington DC and I met this man there. We were talking about things and I mentioned that I wanted to do a children’s show for television. He told me that his wife worked for PBS, and that she was putting together a kids show. He gave me her contact information, and I sent her an email, but nothing ever came of it. Five years later, I get this gig doing the voice of Plum, and wouldn’t you know it, his wife is the Executive Producer. This was the show she had been putting together,” said Mariee. (**Fact Check - see links below.)

 

Mariee also shared a great story about a voice message she got.

“I’ve never met any of the people at PBS, they’re based in Boston. I got a call one day from one of the staff at PBS and she left me a message,” Mariee told me. The message she left said something like ‘Uhm, ahh hello. I’m ahh, sorry it’s just really thrown me off hearing your answering machine message, because I feel like I’ve called Plum. I know you’re an actor, and Plum isn’t real, but it’s just thrown me off.’

“I mean I voice Plum in my own speaking voice, just with more annunciation and excitement,” she told me. Best message ever!

 

Mariee is currently working as a resource educator. She  talks with kids about how they get around. How they could be getting to school by moving their bodies more, walking, running, and bicycling. 

 

She and her boyfriend have been together for about a year. I would have stopped the conversation there about her boyfriend but Mariee told me she had to show me a video she had on her phone.

“My boyfriend is a landscape gardener. He also has a charitable venture on the side. It’s called ‘Get-Gnominated,’ and people can nominate their friends if they know someone who has been sick, or had a difficult time with something, and just needs a boost,” she said. 

 

If they're selected, her boyfriend makes arrangements to check out the home of the person nominated. He’ll then do a small space garden makeover. Perhaps a patio garden or a small plot. He has arranged for a nursery to donate plants, he’s had building yards donate materials to build planters. He also donates his own time. Of course, he does it all in character as ‘Dug the Gnome.’ 
And yes, there is video footage (***Fact Check - see links below) #notastranger

*Fact Check - Justine Beaver Rap - http://youtu.be/X4qOUR_X8dA
**Fact Check - Plum Landing - http://pbskids.org/plumlanding/ 
***Fact Check - Get-Gnominated - http://get-gnominated.com

Day 12 - Jamie

Day 12 - Jamie (2nd person I approached)
January 12, 2015 - I spotted Jamie standing outside a coffee shop. He was stretching, using one arm to ease the other behind his head, and then switching arms to do the other side. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and was reaching for his matches when I approached him. He agreed to chat with me and went to put his cigarette away, saying he would wait until we had finished talking to smoke. As we sat down to chat, I told him to go ahead and smoke - I didn’t want our conversation to be rushed, in order for him to have a cigarette. 

 

“I was born in right here in Vancouver, one of the rare born and raised Vancouverite's,” he said. His grandfather had built the family home in the Dunbar neighbourhood.

“It was a big house and at the time he built it, the lots were bigger and the house was surrounded by trees,” Jamie said.

“My father bought out his sister and brothers shares in the house, so that he could raise his family there.” Jamie is the youngest of nine children.

 

His parents separated when Jamie was three years old, and divorced when he was five.

“My mother was an alcoholic, and addicted to barbiturates. It wasn’t as easy back then to get a divorce, and my father hired a private detective to follow my mother. She spent her days drinking down on Hastings Street. She had her prescription pills, and when she ran out of those, she would buy more off the street. I don’t really have many more than six memories of my mother,” he told me. For five years, Jamie’s father raised the kids on his own, before remarrying.

 

“Have I got a cool story for you about my school. We lived in the house that my father grew up in, right. I’m the youngest of nine. Three of them are stepsisters from my father’s second marriage, but they’re family. My four brothers and four sisters, my father, his two brothers and his sister, we all went to the same school. I saw pictures of my father and aunt and uncles in the hallway at school. I bet that doesn’t happen so much nowadays,” he said, proudly. Jamie liked sports, and was active in rugby and basketball.

“I didn’t like school at all, but I liked playing sports. I wasn’t comfortable hanging out with the jocks, so I hung out with the stoners (kids associated with smoking pot),” he told me.

 

When he was fifteen, his father had to sell the house.

“He needed the money to keep his business going. I didn’t want to move. I had my first girlfriend, my first love at the time, and I wanted to stay where we were. My sisters told me that no one wanted to move, but that we had to. My Dad sold the house and we moved to Abbotsford,” he said.

“Once we had moved I got okay with it. It was just me and my twin brothers, they were born right before me. The other kids all had their own things going on. It was the first time I had been a new kid in school, and I thought that was pretty cool. I remember being in the Principal’s office with my father. He had looked at my reports from my other school, and didn’t like my attendance record. He told me that if I was late more than ten times, I was out of the school,” said Jamie. He lasted five weeks and decided he was done with school. He had completed Grade nine.

 

“My father said if I wasn’t going to school, that I had to work, and I went to work for him,” he told me. His father had a couple of businesses that Jamie worked for in those first years after leaving school. A salmon business, and a dogfish processing plant. Jamie also put in a three years working on a fishing boat.

“It was hard work but really good money,” he said, smiling. 

 

After a particularly good season, Jamie bought a pound of pot, and headed to downtown Vancouver.

“I started selling pot. Then I started selling speed and MDA (an amphetamine). I was drinking, smoking pot, doing drugs and having a good time. I got to know a lot of people in the downtown party and club scene. I’d go around the clubs selling speed and MDA. I worked for a couple of women who were prostitutes; I‘d write down the license plates of the cars they got into. I was making some good money and having a lot of fun,” he said, nostalgically. 

 

“A buddy of mine, that I had met through dealing drugs, invited me to a house party downtown one night. There were a bunch of his friends there and every one was drinking, smoking pot, doing some speed and other drugs. I started talking with this woman, she was a hooker and she asked me if I want to try shooting cocaine (injecting). I had never done that, I don’t like needles. I said no. She told me I’d like it, that it felt great and that it was really good to have sex while high. She said if shot up with her, we could have sex. How could I say no? That was it. She did the injecting, I wouldn’t have known what to do. About an hour later, when I started to come down, I asked her for another hit. I was hooked,” he said. Jamie spent the next ten years selling and doing drugs.

 

“I tried a number of times to give it up over the years, but never for very long. I had been working off and on in construction, and painting. I lost a few jobs because of not showing up for work. I started to get tired of the drugs, and the effect it was having on me. I’d say that if someone told me they could rid the world of every single drug that’s available, to please do it. But don’t take away my alcohol. I’m an alcoholic, first and foremost,” he said. Jamie managed to kick his drug habits, but continued drinking. 

 

I was living in Victoria (on Vancouver Island) with one of my brothers. I was working and drinking heavily. I missed some work and got fired from my job. I had nothing left. I called a good friend that I’d known for close to thirty years. I told him I didn’t know what to do, and he said ‘How about you get sober.’ 

 

"I packed my stuff, called my sister and borrowed some cash from her, and headed over to Vancouver. I stayed with that friend for a couple of weeks while I waited for a place in treatment to become available,” he said. When Jamie did get into treatment, he spent the better part of a year there. 

 

“I met a woman in treatment, fell in love and we have a beautiful daughter. Our relationship only lasted four years. I slipped a few times and got drunk. It always seemed to just be weekend events. I’d go out and drink for a weekend and then get sober again. When the fourth weekend drunk happened, she said she didn’t want to be around me anymore. She felt like her sobriety might be jeopardized by my drinking, and that she couldn’t have that in her life,” Jamie told me. 

 

He started working again and was doing some light carpentry work, and house painting.

“I worked casually, and whenever there was a job going. I was managing to stay sober, but never for more than a year. I did a year once. It’s usually been about a few months,” he said. Last year, Jamie got some work back in construction.

“I hadn’t ben doing very psychical work. Painting isn't the same as construction. My first job back into construction I had to break up concrete for four days. I threw my back out and had to go on worker’s compensation,” he said. Jamie has been off work for four months. 

 

When I saw Jamie, I noticed that he had shorts on. It wasn’t raining, but it was a bit chilly out. I never really thought anything of it though, because in Vancouver, you see people wearing shorts all year round.

“I’m just coming from physiotherapy,” he told me.

“That’s why I’m wearing the shorts. I’ve got one more day of it, and then hopefully I’ll be good to go back to work.” 

 

Jamie has moved himself into a second stage recovery house. That’s a house were all the residents have at least thirty days sober, and have completed a treatment program within the last two years.

 

“I don’t need to be in a treatment program right now. I love alcohol, but I know I can’t drink. I thought the recovery house would be better for me. To live with other people who are in a program and staying sober. They help me, and I help them too. I can be a role model for the younger guys. As soon as I got there, it felt right,” he said. 

 

Jamie reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.

“I want to show you something,” he said. He took a minute or so to find what he was looking for. It was a photograph.

“This is my beautiful daughter. I just took this photo of the two of us yesterday.” It was a gorgeous photo of a sweet little girl, and her Daddy, both clearly doting on each other and very happy.  His face lit up and his smile went from ear to ear as he shared this precious moment with me. I told him I could see the love on his face and in his eyes.

“She’s my beautiful gift from God.” #notastranger

Day 11 - Tara

Day 11 - Tara (2nd person I approached)
January 11, 2015 - I was downtown this evening, recording a podcast with the guys from ‘True Bromance.’ (*Fact Check - see link below). Afterwards, I walked around downtown looking for today’s story. When I first saw Tara it took me a minute to compute what I was seeing. I first noticed the sign she had on her back, which was illuminated. I thought she was a walking billboard of some sort. What threw me off was seeing that she was picking up litter off the street. 

 

I watched her while I waited for a traffic light to change. I made it half way across the street and had to turn around and go speak with her. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure she would chat with me. She seemed so into what she was doing. I explained my project to Tara, and asked her if she’d be interested in chatting. She said she'd chat with me. I suggested we move away from the edge of the road where Tara had been picking up discarded cigarette butts, one by one. Even as we made our way across the wide sidewalk, Tara continued to pick up bits of litter. 

 

She was born in Cambridge, Ontario.

“I have two brothers. I’m the oldest, but I’ve never met the youngest brother,” she said.

“Apart from the typical fights that a brother and sister have, we got along ok. It’s funny though, as we’ve gotten older, we seem to have grown out of that and we actually get along as two people now. It’s not just because we’re related,” she said. 

 

Tara left school in Grade ten.

“I liked art and sciences. I’ve always liked drawing,” she told me. I asked why she left school.

“My mother kicked me out of the house when I was fourteen. She was overly protective. I had to always explain where I was going. Other kids my age would meet up with their friends, and hang out and have fun. Maybe at a shopping strip, or in a mall. I wasn’t allowed to just hang out. My best friend lived down the street from our house. It was summer and I was spending all day with my friend, then I would have to come home to sleep, and then go back to my friends. This went on for a about a week. I figured I should just stay at my friends house. I called my mother and asked if she would put together a bag of stuff for me, for a few nights,” Tara said.

“When I went home the next day to pickup my things, she had packed up my entire bedroom. We got into an argument and she told me to leave. So I did. I went and stayed with my friend and her family.”

 

She has a small shopping carrier on wheels that she has modified. Instead of a bag to carry things in, it has a small wire basket lined with a plastic bag, where Tara puts the garbage she picks up off the street. She uses a hand-activated pole that has claws at the end for picking up the litter. It has a light on it as well, to illuminate the litter. Tara used her pickup stick and pointed at a fast food bag that was on the sidewalk about ten feet from where we were chatting.

“I just have to go get that bag, it’s annoying me,” she said. After picking up the bag and putting it in her trolley, Tara asked,

“Would it be okay if we walked and talked at the same time. I want to continue cleaning.” And so for the rest of our chat, I followed Tara as she collected litter. 

 

At the age of sixteen, Tara left Cambridge, and moved to Ottawa.

“I started experimenting with drugs. I liked trying new things. At first it was just ecstasy (MDMA) that I was doing. The more I did, the higher my tolerance for it became. I got to the point where I’d have to take more and more just to get high. My body became used to it I guess,” she said.

“I was fascinated by what I saw in certain neighbourhoods in Ottawa. People were sitting on the sidewalks hanging out in groups. All of their belonging were scattered all over. No one seemed to have any worries. I wanted to try what made them feel, so like, carefree,” she said. Tara started using crack cocaine. 

 

“I dated drug dealers. I sold drugs. I prostituted to make money when I needed it. I had a boyfriend and I didn’t want to be unfaithful to him, but you do what you have to do,” she said.

“Every once in a while, I’d go back to my mother's in Cambridge and get cleaned up. But I always went back to Ottawa, and it started all over again. Every time.” Tara’s boyfriend spent some time in jail, and Tara once again went home to her mother’s.

“When he got out, we stayed in my mother’s basement for a while.” 

 

Her mother told her, almost ten years later, that she never intended for Tara to leave when she packed up her belongings. She thought Tara would plead to not leave home, but “the plan backfired,” as Tara said.

“My mother felt bad. Especially with the way my life, and the next few years ended up,” said Tara.

 

“I didn’t want to go back to Ottawa, because I knew what would happen if I did. My boyfriend and I talked about it, and decided to come to Vancouver,” she told me. They have lived here for just over a year.

“It was my boyfriend’s idea to start picking up garbage. He’s much smarter than I am, and knows a lot of things. It’s easy for him to talk to people because he can always come up with things to talk about. I listen to him, ad make mental notes of the things he talks about,” she said.

“I tried panhandling for a while and it was okay, but I just can’t sit still for hours on end. I like to keep busy and active. If I have something to focus on, it’s better.” 

 

Tara has an Exacto knife clipped to her hoodie. She also has a toothbrush. Tools to help her clean things. She wears gloves on her hands. Around her neck, she has an adapted potato chip canister that is attached by string. The lid has a slot in it, and there is a label on the front that says ‘TIPS’ on it. She uses the edge of her boot on a piece of paper that is stuck to the sidewalk with rain. It come loose and she picks it up and puts it in her cart.

“I’m not using crack anymore. I’ve tried crystal meth, the high is kind of the same. But I don’t want to give up one addiction to move into another. That seems kind of useless,” she tells me.

“So I keep busy. It helps me to feel better about making a contribution. People give me tips, and they thank me for picking up the litter. They feel better because the street is a little cleaner, and they’ve helped me. I feel better because they appreciate it, and I make a little money. It’s a win-win situation,” says Tara.

 

We’ve moved down the street, and Tara spots some litter at the base of a tree. She uses her pickup stick to get it, and notices there is dog poop on the ground as well. She goes to her cart, and removes a pink plastic container. Inside that she has a plastic bag, which she opens and looks inside. She pulls out a pair of black disposable gloves. She looks around and spots a used baggie a few feet away. She grabs the baggy, picks up the dog poop, and puts it in the baggy. She carefully removes her disposable gloves and places them in the baggy. She seals the closure on the baggy. I tell her that I think it’s brave and admirable to be so willing to clean up whatever she finds.

“Well, after some of the crack houses I’ve been in, I think it makes this easier. I honestly don’t think I could have done any of this before I started using. I’ve even picked up a dead pigeon,” she said. Tara walks over to a city garbage can and puts the sealed baggy inside.

 

I ask about her living arrangements.

"We’re not homeless,” she tells me. “We live in an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel. They let us both stay in the one room. They also know that we spend a lot of our days out cleaning the streets and doing what we can to make a contribution,” she says. I ask Tara what time she started cleaning the streets today.

“I got out here at around nine this morning,” she says. It is 8:30pm.

“It’s Sunday so I’ll probably do this until midnight. On Friday and Saturday, the bars are open until four, so we work later on those nights.”

 

The sign on Tara’s back is about two feet long and says ‘Hello Vancouver. My name is Tara and I want to EARN $pare ¢hange by making our City a lot CLEANER & SAFER!!’ #notastranger

*Fact Check - True Bromance podcast  http://bit.ly/1IiBFuq (some swearing included)

Day 10 - Brittany

Day 10 - Brittany (5th person I approached)
January 10, 2015 - Today I meandered. It was one of those 'I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I’ll walk down this road for a while' kind of days. Then I’d immediately turn right. Perhaps that's why I went around the block a few times yesterday. So I added a few lefts along with the right turns. Fortunately, this brought me right into the path of Brittany. She was standing outside a coffee shop, cup in one hand, cigarette in the other. She told me she wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere and that we could chat. 

 

“I was born in Carman, Manitoba. It’s a small town of about three thousand people,” she said.

“I have two older brothers, one is eight years older, and the other three years older. And I have a twin.”  Brittany and her sister are identical twins.

“We’re identical but I’m the tom boy, and she’s a girly girl. My sister was ‘pulled out first,’ it was a C-section delivery, so she’s older, by one minute,” she told me. Her sister lives in Australia, and there is no apparent psychic connection.

“If my sister is hurting, say for example, her boyfriend were to break up with her. I feel it deeper than if it were a non-twin sibling in pain,” she told me.

“That’s about as far as it goes. I can’t tell what she had for dinner or anything like that, no. But that would be kinda cool,” she says, laughing. The brother who is three years older, is Brittany’s best friend. 

 

Brittany’s father was a Pentecostal Pastor. She went to school in Barrie until Grade ten, when her mother passed away, from complications of diabetes.

“We moved to Abbotsford. My father quit being a Pastor. I might have the dates mixed up a bit, but it was a while after my mother passed away that he quit. We moved because my father got a job working at a camp. He worked with people who were becoming Pastors, and helped their evangelical learning. He wasn’t a Pastor anymore, but he was dedicated to his beliefs,” she said.

“I finished my last two years of high-school, and then went directly to Summit Pacific College (Abbotsford). I was going to become a Pastor myself.”

 

A woman approached us as we stood on the street chatting. She asked me if I had a spare cigarette. I told her I don’t smoke. The woman looked at Brittany, who told her that she a cigarette for her. Brittany gave her a cigarette, and asked if she needed a light. the woman took it, said she had her own lighter and walked away, without so much as a thank you. Brittany asked if I would mind if she smoked while we chatted. 

 

“I was at Summit College for about two-and-a-half years. Then I came out as gay,” she said. Her father had a difficult time with Brittany’s sexuality.

“It was tough because the church was my community. No one wanted to be the one to be okay with my being gay. It was just the way our belief’s were, what we grew up being told. The church put me into reparative therapy. I went willingly. There wasn’t any forcing me. But I know now it does more damage than good. I came to realize I’m not a heterosexual person with homosexual tendencies. I am a homosexual woman. I’m a lesbian. I’m gay. I'm full blown gay. I told them that the reparative therapy wasn’t working,” she told me.

“I’m glad I went through that because I think it helped me to figure out who I really am. There was always the choice to keep my faith, not be gay, and be miserable. Or be gay, because I am, lose some of my faith and live a happy life. I met a woman, fell in love and left Summit College,” she said. Brittany’s father had remarried and moved to Mexico to do missionary work. 

 

“My brother and I moved to Vancouver not that long ago. I had been working as a barista, and realized how much I had developed a love for coffee. I got interested in (coffee) roasting and I had gone as far as I could working at the place I was, in Abbotsford. So my brother and I made our way to Vancouver. He lives in Kitsilano (neighbourhood) and I live with my partner,” she said. 

 

Brittany works at a popular, independent coffee shop as a barista.

“I’m going back to school in September. I’m going into the joinery program at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology). I’m specifically interested in making furniture, perhaps designing offices,” she says. I happened to mention that a friend of mine, who also is a twin, is a lesbian, is studying woodwork. Brittany laughs,

“Well it is currently the favourite subject amongst the lesbian community.”

 

“I like living in Vancouver. Being used to living in a small town and then living in Abbotsford, this definitely feels like a big city to me. That's probably the only thing I notice the most. In Manitoba, you can say hello to someone on the street without them thinking you’re a little weird. I find it’s harder to feel a sense of community or a part of a community, in the bigger city. I live in the Mount Pleasant area. I feel like it’s a community, more like a neighbourhood within the city, and that’s great,” she says, smiling. 

 

Brittany isn’t on Facebook.

“I deleted my account a few months ago. I felt like my connections with people weren’t genuine. It was too easy to sit behind my computer and try to communicate. I prefer to go out and make genuine connections and have real conversations. Like we’re having right now,” says Brittany.

 

It’s her day off and I asked what she’s doing for the day.

“Well, I work at a coffee house as I told you, and so on my days off, I like to come to other coffee houses and sample their expresso. Do some comparisons and taste different roasts. See what the competition is brewing.” #notastranger

Day 09 - Adriana

Day 09 - Adriana (4th person I approached)
January 09, 2014 - Today I had a meeting in Yaletown, an area in the downtown core of Vancouver. I decided while I was in the neighbourhood, that I’d wander around and look for today’s story after my meeting. I reached a new determination level today, or a least a new tactic. I realized I had walked a circuit around the same three city blocks, twice. 

 

On my final loop, Adriana was walking towards me, talking on her phone. As we passed one another, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her end the phone conversation. I turned around and gave a loud ‘Hey! Excuse me!’ realizing immediately that I may well be perceived to be some weird, creepy guy. She turned and looked at me, and before she could even think to tell me to get lost, I blurted out ‘I’m not trying to hit on you.’ Oh, with what grace I puteth my foot in my mouth. Fortunately, Adriana smiled, and listened to what I had to say, agreeing to chat with me. 

 

Born in Barrie, Ontario, Adriana is the youngest of three children.

“I have two brothers, one is nine years older and the other is seven years older. So I’m definitely the baby of the family,” she said, grinning.

“Even though I’m the only girl, and was so much younger, my brothers weren’t overly protective. But they were the only ones allowed to pick on me. They’d try to gang up on me, but I soon learned to play mind games with them. Things like telling them each they were my favourite and playing them off one another," Adriana said.

"If I was dating someone, they'd keep their distance, until they figured I liked the guy and then they’d start to ask questions,” she said, with a fondness in her voice.

“We’re close, and got along well for the most part.”

 

When Adriana was seventeen, her parents separated.

“I had gone to school in Barrie up to Grade eleven. My mother is from Toronto, and she wanted to move back there, as a way of making a new start. I wanted to go to Etobicoke School of the Arts, an arts high school," she told me.

“Barrie is a fairly small town and being interested in theatre, there wasn’t anything there for me,” she said. For her audition to get into the arts school, Adriana recalls doing a song, which I’m sure she said was called The Cupcake Song. I might be wrong, but I like the name of my version.

“After graduating from school, I headed west to Victoria (on Vancouver Island, British Columbia). I went to The Canadian College of Performing Arts (CCPA). I wanted to go to a school that offered a program in musical theatre. CCPA is one of the few schools in Canada that does,” she said. (*Fact Check - see link below.) The program was two-and-a-half years long.

“Some students worked while in college, but it’s an intensive workload. Sixteen hour days, and I just wanted to focus on my schooling. I’m fortunate that my parents helped me with going to school.”

 

“I was lucky to get a few really great opportunities right out of school (CCPA). One of them was working on a brand new piece that was in development. It was through the Phoenix Theatre at UVic (University of Victoria). It was a great experience to be involved through that new play development process," said Adriana.

“I moved to Vancouver just over a year ago. There’s more and better opportunities here. Also, having lived in Toronto, I wanted more of a bigger city energy and buzz. Victoria’s a beautiful place, and I liked living there during school. but I needed to move off the island.”

 

Adriana has just finished doing a nationwide tour.

“I was touring with a show called 'Broken Sex Doll.' It was very successful and so much fun,” she said, laughing. I mentioned that I had heard of the show, but hadn't seen it.

“It was wildly popular, everywhere we played. It’s set in the future and the show is about how people have become desensitized and detached,” she tells me.

“It’s actually sort of similar to the premise of this project that you’re doing.” That made me smile! #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://www.ccpacanada.com
**Fact Check - Broken Sex Doll review - http://bit.ly/1tT0BQO