Day 257 - Ed (1st person I approached)
September 14, 2014 - I had a meeting downtown this morning and then met a friend of mine for coffee afterwards. On my way home, I walked past the Pacific Central Station. It's the ‘transport terminus’ where busses and trains arrive and depart from, on the way in and out of town. It happens to sit on the edge of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. There’s a large park out front of the station, and it always seems to have a varied mix of people of all backgrounds. i headed to the park to see if i could find someone to chat with.
I saw Ed sitting by himself, on the grass under a tree that had intermittent sun and shade as the branches moved gently in the wind. I wasn’t sure he would even respond to my approach, but he told me he would chat if it was only for a couple of minutes. We had a bit of a conversation about taking his photograph. I told him that if he was uncomfortable with any of this, we didn’t have to chat or take his photo. Ed sat scratching his arm as he thought about it.
“Oh sure, okay, but only if it’s for a couple of minutes.” Ed has a very strong and loud, and I do mean loud, voice. Another character trait I noticed almost immediately was that Ed repeats everything he says, at least twice. As I don’t take notes, this worked in my favour to help me remember things!
We chatted a bit about how nice it was to be sitting on the grass, and the coolness of the shade of the tree on such a warm day.
“I was born in The Hague, in the Holland,” Ed tells me, loud and clear.
“Holland, that’s in Europe and The Hague is there, in Holland. That’s where I was born. The Hague, in Holland.” He has one older brother, who lives in Amsterdam, and a younger sister who lives in North Vancouver.
“We were a very close family growing up. My father could sometimes be quite strict, but my parents were kind and loving,” he says.
“We moved to Canada in 1960. I think we came by boat. Let me think. Yeah, we. We did, yes, we came by boat. At least I think we did. Yes, yes we did, we came by boat,” he said.
"I remember I was excited on the trip.” His repetition didn’t come across as a lack of memory, as much as these being things he hadn’t thought about for some time. He seemed to just want to get it right. When I asked Ed how old he was when he came to Canada, he wanted to figure it out without appearing like he didn’t know. We determined he was seven.
“I didn’t go to school until we came to Canada. We lived in Surrey,” he said. Without any lapses, he told me the full name of both his elementary and high schools, and exactly where in Surrey they were located.
“I really liked Maths, Science and Social Studies. I liked figuring things out in maths. Science and social studies I liked because I wanted to know things. I was good at them. I liked Maths, and social Studies. Science too.”
Ed left school after Grade ten.
“I couldn’t find work for the longest time. I just hung around home most of the time. I lived with my parents. I was unemployed for a few years. Then I got a job with Parks working in landscaping. I did landscaping at Bear Creek Park in Surrey. I laid turf, and gardened and did maintenance,” he said proudly.
Ed remembers doing that job for “about three years maybe. Yeah. About three.”
As we were talking, I could see from the expression on Ed’s face, that someone was coming over towards us. I heard a woman’s voice,
“Hello, would you care for a sandwich?” I turned around to see a woman with two plates stacked high with home-made chicken sandwiches. They were massive, and Ed politely says
“Yes please, if you have one to spare.” Her name was Kathleen and she wanted nothing other than to hand out healthy sandwiches to people sitting in the park. I could see from the one in Ed’s hand that they had large pieces of fresh chicken, tomatoes, piled with lettuce and cucumber, and mayonnaise. It warmed my heart as I watched Kathleen walk away towards another gentleman sitting about ten feet away and offer him a sandwich.
"Thank you!" Ed says as Kathleen moves further away. "Thank you for the sandwich!"
“Oh, I did deliver newspapers too. I had a newspaper route. I delivered The Columbian (the first newspaper in British Columbia, out of New Westminster - *Fact Check - see link below). I did that for a while before working as a landscaper at Bear Creek Park,” he said. Ed was sitting holding his sandwich and waiting for me to ask him more questions without talking another bit. I told him to go ahead and eat. He took a bite, finished what he had in his mouth and sat and waited to talk some more. After working for a few years in landscaping, Ed got a job working in a pipe manufacturing plant.
“I don’t actually know how long I worked there for. It’s been while since I’ve even thought about any of this. It was so long ago. I know I worked in a pipe manufacturing plant though. That I do know,” he said.
“That’s about all I remember,” he said. I asked what the last job he had was. He took another bite of his sandwich, then wiped the corners of his mouth and sat thinking.
“I worked at Army & Navy in New Westminster. In New Westminster, at Army & Navy. I was in shipping and receiving from 1978 until 1986. Shipping and receiving. I should never have left that job,” he told me. I mentioned that as a kid, my mother used to take me to that location to get school supplies.
“I worked at the New Westminster store. Is that where you went?” He seemed pleased we had that in common. “I never should have left that job.”
Ed hasn’t worked much since then.
“I’m currently unemployed. I’d like to be working. I’d like to have a job, but I don’t. I’m unemployed just now.” He lives in an SRO (single room occupancy) hotel on Powell Street in the DTES.
“I’ve been there for a few years. It’s just a room. Just the one small room,” he says pointing in the direction of his home. I ask what he does with his time, to fill his day.
“Well, I don’t do much. I’m sitting here waiting for the sun to go down a bit so that it will be cooler, then I’m going to go home and have a nap. But it’s nice to sit here on the grass.”
Ed tells me he doesn’t have many friends and that he spends most of his time alone.
“I’d like to stop drinking,” he says putting the last piece of his sandwich in his mouth. He finishes what he's eating before continuing to talk.
“I want to stop drinking. But then I get my cheque and I start drinking and then, that’s it. I’d like to stop though.” I'm certain that Ed is sober while we are talking. I ask if he does anything to make extra money.
“No, I don’t collect bottles or go binning. I'm unemployed. I don’t do that. I just walk around,” he says.
“I don’t read. I like to listen to music. I like country and western music. i like music a lot. Country music.”
Ed goes on to tell me,
“My sister lives in North Vancouver, with her boyfriend. I really don’t know what she’s up to these days. We’ve sort of lost contact. My Mum and Dad live out in Surrey. They’re in an old peoples home now. They used come down and visit me. In my room. It’s just over there,” he says pointing in the direction of his home.
“But they’re old now and don’t walk very well, so they don’t come to visit me. And I don’t go out to Surrey anymore. I don’t know when I last saw them. I don’t see them anymore.”
I thank Ed for chatting with me, and ask if I can take his picture.
“Sure,” he says. Ed looks right at the lens. The sun and shade from the tree overhead are moving across his face, so I take a few pictures. I ask him if he wants to smile for the picture.
“Like this you mean?” His expression doesn’t change. I tell him that's great and show him the last shot I took. I shake his hand and stand up and thank him again.
“What is your name?” he asks.
“Oh, well thanks Colin. It was nice talking with you. Thank you. Thanks Colin!” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1s2Q1uB