My first night, thank God, went by without so much as a bit of disturbance. The area where my hotel is situated is a quiet part of town albeit with motels and pubs aligning the surrounding area. I’m told to avoid the area behind the hotel – according to a local, one of the motels had shut down and have since been converted into something along the lines of a homeless shelter.
Elsewhere in Downtown Victoria, humorously covered by a promotional image on the tourist map, is a section of town that isn’t considered safe at night. In broad daylight, Centennial Square tends to be bustling with activity, people moving about and tending to their own business. At night, however, locals claim that the area is a haven for drug pushers and small gangs. While not as numerous as Downtown Vancouver, the sight of junkies even in such a remote location comes as no surprise; for wherever there is a source for a regular fix, there too must be signs of people caught in the web of addiction.
I tour the area the following afternoon, spending time at the coffee shops and window shopping at the vintage stores, eventually finding myself in the narrow alleys of the walk-in malls. Here in these remote cobblestone paths, rows of potted plants and vine-coated walls decorate the back ends of the cafes and novelty shops, hardly a speck of graffiti to see. Surprisingly enough there too is a lack of surveillance cameras or the presence of commercial grade security guards. Flyers of local bands and attractions fill the space of public bulletins and store counters. It becomes a quick habit to discard my cigarette butts in public waste bins rather than tossing them on the pavement.
After a period of leisurely strolling, I follow the sounds of the music festival and find myself before the gates of Victoria’s Chinatown, one of the oldest ones here in Canada. It proves to be quite the opposite of Vancouver’s own – the absent smell of trash and urine is replaced by the sea breeze and wafts of food vendors nearby the square. To an outsider, familiar with the larger sister city, these sights are doubtlessly hypnotic.
That is, of course, unless an aging pirate suddenly accosts you out of nowhere.
“ARRRGH.” I glance towards my side at the source of the growling and that is how I make the acquaintance of Captain Louie of Arcadia. Settled comfortably on his walking aid, this frail individual appears to be in his senior years; a long shaggy beard trails off his chin, the matching yet dust laden hoodie and pirate hat adding to his otherworldly appearance. He speaks with a noticeable accent, more a gutteral sound and croak than proper syllables. From a set of tiny narrowed eyes, beware: Do not let the frailty of this seemingly harmless pirate fool you for an instant.
“Do ya got a smoke?” I offer him one and he tips his hat at me. How do you do. “Good.” What brings you out here? “The music. It is my television.” You from around here? “I’m from Arcadia.” Where’s that? “Nova Scotia.” That’s quite a ways from home. “I’m a Gypsy.” And a pirate apparently, I’m a gentlemanly vagabond. “Good to meet you.”
He stops momentarily and lurches out at the passing kids, more alarming to their parents than to his intended audience. “YAAARRRGH.” One father growls back, engaging in a mock glare off with the Captain himself, promptly retreating before the wrath of Arcadia descends upon him. Good call.
“You got any change?” The Captain glances up at me, a distinctive smile peering from the curtains of his gray beard. I offer him the remains of my lunch. Momentarily he enjoys a bit of elation, dipping his head rather profusely. I am shamed by the humility coming from this little man. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Really, its only worth $2 for a McDouble. “FLESH! FLESH!” Before I retreat, I realize he meant the word fresh. “It’s warm!” He chuckles. “What’s yer name?” Amos. “Louie.” Nice to meet you, Louie. “I’m eating this right away. ‘Scuse me.” I return to my cigarette.
What’s it like out here, Louie? “Oh, wonderful!” He coughs momentarily and for a second, I’m almost afraid I’ve murdered the poor Captain with both first and secondhand smoking. He recovers, wheezing his answer, “Victoria is, uh, is like paradise.” Really? “You see that tree?” He directs my attention towards a lone tree, blossoming ahead of the rest. “It’s beautiful. People do not see that. They come here for the music, for the partying, but they do not see it. It’s right there. Do you see?”
I do see that tree, Louie. “But people like you do not see it.” Well, I’ve got four eyes so that puts me ahead of everyone. He laughs which is delightful, considering the way his little hat bobs up and down whenever he does. “You wear nice clothes.” I just like being well dressed and truth is this is a cheap suit. “People do not talk to me who wear nice clothes.” People are idiots, Louie, people are blind in this day and age. “They do not see the tree. You? You do.”
He turns his attention away to leer at an old couple. I imagine the elderly gentleman, being some kind of a cosmic space adventurer, might give Louie a showdown of the most epic proportions. This seemingly harmless gesture abruptly pits me to his fearsome gaze. “You’re a eunuch.” A eunuch? “Eunuch.” As in no genitals? “NO, A EUNUCH.” Eunuch? “EUNUCH!” I don’t follow, Captain. “It is the meaning, how do you say, you and I are not the same and-” Unique. “What?” You mean unique. Each person different from each other but special somehow. “Eunuch.” No, unique.
“How do you pronounce?” Yoo-Neek. “Unique. You are unique.” No, I’m just a normal guy. “You are young. You are nice to me. You go places.” You’ve been around longer and you’re all the way out here. “But you are unique. Same as me. We are different but you are different from people. You see things. You see me.” Captain, you’re fairly hard not to notice.
Louie, bless his heart, laughs with a wheeze. He gently inclines his head towards me and for that matter, I flourish a bow in return. “You be safe, Ah-Moss. You do good. You go see places and make people see.” I’m sure we’ll cross paths again. He flashes me a wink, “Of course. ARRRGH.”
Here’s to you Louie:
Next Update: Wherein yours truly meets Paul the man with the broken G-string