April 08 & 09, 2015 - Brad (1st person I approached)
I wasn’t going to write a story yesterday. I’m a bit of a news hound. I watch the news at least twice a day on average, and if I’m home, I watch at an hour of 'Power and Politics' on CBC News Network. I may or may not have a crush on Evan Solomon. I decided I’d have an afternoon of news, news and more news. Then a friend offered to take me out for dinner. As I was walking home after dinner, I thought I’d swing past the downtown library. I told myself that if I saw anyone sitting there alone, I’d approach one person. I ended up having a wonderful forty-five minute chat with Brad, and came home intending to write. Then I fell asleep on the couch. This is yesterday’s story, today.
Brad was born in Guelph, Ontario. He is the seventh of ten children.
“I was never lonely as a kid. But contrary to that, I also felt I sometimes didn’t get enough attention,” he said, with regard to growing up in such large family.
“It’s competitive when there are that many of you!” The family lived on a farm until Brad was four years old, then moved to a house in the city.
“My parents separated when I was eleven. My mother left my father and took us kids with her. Some of the older kids helped out when they could, but she raised the rest of us by herself.”
“I was really into sports in school. Track and field,” he said.
“The 100-yard dash was my best event. I played football when I was in grade twelve as well. I didn’t do so well in class though. I was shy in group settings. I did however like writing. I was always happy when the teacher would give us writing assignments,” he told me.
“After finishing school, I got a job with an insurance company. I soon got bored. It was repetitive work and didn’t hold any interest for me. I was very fortunate though. My boss noticed that I didn’t seem that interested. He helped by giving me some aptitude tests to see what type of work I’d be best suited for. Funnily enough, writing came up for me. My boss encouraged me to go back to school and pursue work that I’d enjoy. That was the single best piece of advice I ever got,” said Brad.
“I went back to school. In Ontario they have grade thirteen, so I completed that before going to Kitchener (Ontario) for college. My mother didn’t think it was such a good idea. She felt I had a paying job, and should stick with that. But I was able to get a grant and a student loan, and moved out, so it was down to me,” he said. Brad studied photo journalism for three years.
“I should look up that guy, my boss from the Insurance company, and thank him for that advice,” Brad said after thinking about for a minute.
“I got a job with a small community paper right out of college. It was writing the stories and taking the photographs for those stories. I covered anything I could. In a small community there wasn’t that much going on, really. But the editor had an incredible work ethic and was very well respected in the region. I learned so much from her. It was a great training experience. I covered everything from culverts to court appearances. It was mostly local driving under the influence charges,” he said, laughing.
Brad was coming to terms with his sexuality, and after a year at the community paper, felt it was time to move on.
“I knew someone that worked in Lethbridge. Of course there wasn’t much of a gay community there, but I landed a good job with a well-respected local weekly paper,” he said.
We could hear lots of chanting, singing and noise coming from a couple of blocks away. It got closer and I realized it was the fans of the Vancouver Whitecaps, our local football club. There was a match starting in less than an hour. The Whitecaps core group of fans are known for being some of the loudest in the league. Brad saw them coming down the road and went to run off and take some photos of the three-block-long parade of revellers. He had left his bag behind and I shouted after him. Brad thanked me, grabbed his bag and we both ran off to take some photos.
After the crowd had passed by, we went back across the street, to the steps outside the library and continued our chat. Brad laughed as he thanked me again for noticing his bag.
“I have to tell you, I’ve lost four bags that way. Just getting up and leaving them behind. You know how people talk about having peripheral vision, or no peripheral vision? I have a peripheral brain. I can only focus on what’s directly in front of me!”
“Prior to living in Lethbridge, I hadn’t had much opportunity to connect with First Nations people. Here I was now living next to the Blackfoot reservation, one of the largest in the country. I started to take a real interest in First Nations people, stories and their issues,” he said.
“I met a woman in Lethbridge, Marie Small Face-Marule and her business partner George Manual (then President of the National Indian Brotherhood). We became friends and I learned so much from Marie and George. She was involved in creating the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP)."
"I took courses at the University of Lethbridge that Marie taught, about the history and rights of Indigenous people as well,” he told me.
“I would spend time meeting with people on the reservation. In time, all First Nations coverage for the paper was assigned to me. I’d talk with Marie about the issues I was learning about."
“I stayed in Lethbridge for five years, before coming to Vancouver. I had come out here for a vacation during my years in college. I was amazed. I stayed out at the University (of British Columbia) in student dorms there. I would go to the gym in the mornings, have a good lunch and then spend the afternoons on the beach. I always knew I’d end up living here one day,” he said.
Brad had decided he didn’t want to work for another weekly paper.
“It was difficult to get on with the daily papers here. I got a job working for the Hospital Employees Union. I was writing for them, doing communications work. I travelled around BC (British Columbia) covering events and things,” he said.
“It was a very challenging, and stressful job. It paid well, but it also took it’s toll. Union work is very demanding.” Brad went on to work as an administrator of a program that helped nursing staff to upgrade their skills.
“When there was a shortage in one specific area of nursing, we set up programs that would give specialized training. This training would help the nurse to qualify for that job, rather than having to re-do the entire nursing program,” he said.
Fourteen years ago, when Brad was forty-four years old, he had a heart attack.
“I think it was a combination of a few things. A genetic predisposition. A history in the family of heart issues. Plus working a stressful job. I’m also HIV positive,” he told me.
“I was diagnosed HIV positive in around 1988. A friend who was a doctor told me I needed to get tested. It was important to know. I wasn’t sick or anything. I had seen what was happening around me and it scared me. I’d seen so many people get sick, and then die. They were all taking the only HIV medications available at that time. So much toxicity in their systems. I refused to take medications. My Doctor told me I couldn’t expect to live more than five years, because I wasn’t taking medication. I feel in part the reason I am still alive today, is because I didn’t take those early medications. I think they killed more people than they helped,” he said. Brad has been on disability since having his heart attack.
“I volunteered as a crisis line operator for three years. One of the main lessons that you’re taught when learning to help on a crisis line, is the skill of listening. I felt fortunate that as a journalist, I had already acquired the skill. But so many people think that listening is more. To be a good listener, we don’t need to fix anything, or solve their problems, or be a cheerleader for them. Listening means people just want someone to listen to them, and to be heard. Working on a crisis line, there’s a lot of repeat callers. They’d call on a regular basis because they didn't have anyone to listen to them. Listening to people and having them feel like they've been heard, is a gift,” he said.
“And I give good phone!”
Brad spends much of his time riding his bike everywhere he goes.
“I can relate to what you’re doing,” he told me.
“I always say hello to strangers and when possible have conversations with people. There’s three types of reactions to my greeting people. When I say hello to people, ninety percent of them say hello back. Nine percent nod their head in acknowledgement. And the remainder look at me like I’m weird or ignore me all together. Some of the best conversations I’ve had, are with strangers,” he said.
“I spend a lot of time on the DTES (Downtown Eastside) speaking to people. Everyone has a story. I feel I’m living the happiest days of my life now.” #notastranger