Day 354 - Mark

Day 354 - Mark (1st person I approached)
December 20, 2014 - Habits. Some can be good, and others, not so much. I seem to have developed a bit of a habit of staying up late, and writing into the wee hours. I don’t mind the staying up late so much. But when it’s one o'clock in the morning, and I’m just starting to write the story to be posted before I go to bed, then it’s late. Today, I wanted to change things up a bit. So I left the house before 11am, and went out on my daily mission to meet a stranger. Success! I’m even sitting in a coffee shop before noon, writing. It still remains to be seen what time I finish… I am fluid, after all.


Mark was sitting drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Such a civilized start to the day. I asked if he would be interested in chatting, after explaining what I’m working on. He replied “Sure, take a seat.”


His father was from Ireland, and his mother from Glasgow, in Scotland.

“They both immigrated to Vancouver, and met here. I think they met at a Valentine’s Day dance. My father was a chartered accountant. My mother had been a flight attendant with Trans-Canada Air Lines, which became Air Canada. She was a nurse and in the 1950’s you needed to have a medical background to become a flight attendant. She worked the Montreal/Vancouver route,” he said.

“I was born in Vancouver, and have one brother who is two years younger than me. We got along as kids. I wouldn’t say we were best buddies, but we weren’t mortal enemies, either. My parents built a house in West Vancouver which was a great place to grow up back then. It was all trees and I could walk through the forest all the way to school,” he said.


As soon as he graduated from high-school, Mark went to university.

“I went to UBC (University of British Columbia) to study business. I had always had a head for business and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My marks were pretty poor, and I didn’t do so well. I flunked out in my second year,” he told me.

“I was still living at home and my parents suggested that I should move out and find my own way if I wasn’t going to go to school. I got a job working at The Keg (a national chain of steakhouse restaurants). I was spending a lot of my time partying and just having fun. Looking back, perhaps if I had applied myself a bit more, worked harder and not had so much fun, I might have done better,” he said. 


Mark got another job working in a bar in North Vancouver, near where he was living.

“While I was working at the bar, I was offered a job at a hotel in White Rock, which I took. I continued living in North Vancouver and working at the bar as well. I commuted a lot. I did that for four or five years,” he said.

“I was dating a woman that lived in White Rock and I moved out there and we got a place together. We lived together for abut six years and then we got married. She started going to school to become a makeup artist. I went to school to become involved in the stock market. We moved downtown to the set end (Vancouver). It made things easier. My wife became a makeup artist and I didn’t work in the stock market,” he said, smiling. 


“I ended up quitting my jobs and going back to school. I got serious about it, going to Langara (College) for three semesters upgrading my marks. I took a bunch of courses all over again so that I could hit a better grade average to go to university. I went to UBC again, and studied economics. I was there for three years; my two years before and my grades from Langara helped,” he said.  


Once he graduated from university, he went to work at the family business.

“My father had bought a components firm with some partners. He eventually bought them out. I worked there one summer during the first two years in university. The company handled furnace and heating switches. After university, I went in and worked in receiving and in sales, to learn the  business all round. It was a great opportunity to become good friends with my father as well,” he said. 


Mark’s mother passed away when he was forty-two.

“I had never seen her sick a day in her life, and then she was diagnosed with advanced cancer. She went quite quickly after that,” said Mark.

“My father was in his early seventies when I joined the company. He had been forty when I was born, and was older than my mother as well. He wasn’t used to cooking for himself, and had to get a live-in housekeeper after my mother passed away. He retired when he was around seventy-seven. Then I took over the company,” he said. His father passed away aged eighty-eight.


Mark and his wife divorced and he remarried.

“My (second) wife is from Singapore. She has three grown children, so I became a step-father. One of the children just had a baby, so I’m a step-grandfather as well,” he said, with a big grin.

“We’re going on a family trip next year. My step-son is getting married, and his fiancé is from Japan. We’re travelling there to meet her family. My wife and I have been doing a fair bit of travelling.”


In 2011, Mark and his wife were visiting his wife’s family in Singapore.

“Japan is almost the half way spot, so we went there for a while on vacation. We were travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo on the bullet train, when it came to a stop. It took hours longer than it was scheduled, to reach Tokyo. We found out of course, that there had been the massive earthquake and then tsunami in Fukushima. The train had to keep stopping to make sure the tracks were okay. We finally made it into Tokyo which was a feat unto itself. There were millions of people all over, no one had anyway to get out of Tokyo with transportation being shut down. Fortunately we had a reservation at a hotel in Tokyo station. The hotel was a skyscraper and our room was on the fortieth floor. With all the aftershocks you could feel the building swaying. I was definitely scared and didn’t get much sleep that night,” said Mark. 


The next day they managed to find a taxi driver that was willing to drive them to Chiba (50kms southeast of Tokyo).

“I pointed to Chiba on the map, because the driver didn’t speak any English. I knew we could get a train in Chiba to go to the airport in Narita, where flights would be departing from. It took seven hours to get to Chiba. Flights still weren’t leaving from Narita. The cab driver was wonderful and found us a hotel. He was going in and speaking for us, and after stopping at a few different hotels, we got a room while we waited to go to the airport. That taxi ride cost four hundred dollars; three hundred for the fare, and a hundred dollar tip for the driver. He was amazing,” said Mark.


“I have a really good life. I’m starting to think about my own retirement down the road. I’ve been trying to take better care of myself; I just came from a workout at the gym. I play golf with my brother. He kicks my ass every time. I used to be a better golfer, but over the years, I think my swing has deteriorated. I might take some lessons next spring to work on my swing. Being in the heating and furnace business, this is our busy time. Things get quieter for us in the spring,” he said.

“My brother is married and he has two young children. He lives out in Mission (about an hour east of Vancouver). The family come to the city near the holidays, and do some shopping and ride the holiday train at Stanley Park, that kind of thing. I’m meeting them for lunch today," Mark told me. 


"Tonight I’m having dinner with my ex-wife. We’ve remained friends all these years. We just drifted apart as a couple. You know, you’re a very different person in your forties, than who you were in your twenties. But we’ve remained friends. My wife is coming to dinner with us, along with a few other friends,” he said. Mark and his former co-workers from The Keg restaurant still keep in touch as well.

“There’s about eight or nine of us that are still in contact and have remained friends. We have a reunion dinner every year. We’ve been doing that for twenty-nine years now.” Some habits are worth keeping. #notastranger