Front Street

A few days ago my son, the one in film school, reached out to me for a little assist on one of his class projects. He told me that the class had an assignment where they had to make up a log line based upon a story from one of their parents.

For those of you who don’t know what a logline is, a logline is one or two sentences that are used to entice, or sell, a person on seeing a movie. An example of the log line from one of the highest grossing movies of all time; “On an infamous doomed vessel, a street-wise hustler crosses paths with a stifled aristocratic dreamer to create an unsinkable love story. And a suspiciously accurate erotic drawing.” The movie, if you hadn’t already guessed, was Titanic.

I asked him if he had any particular story in mind and he did so I spent a few hours writing up the requested events that happened one afternoon. Wanting to give him plenty of material in which to craft his logline, I figured I would add a little back story to help set a mood. I put down a few thousand words so he could come up with less than 50 to satisfy his assignment.

I told a few people about the story and they asked if I would publish it somewhere so they could read it. I did and the story follows.

Front Street

Being raised in the 1960’s and 70’s was a lot different than it is today with all of our current distractions and instant gratifications. Back then we had to make our own entertainment which was usually heavily influenced by the environment in which you grew up in. Fortunately for society, most lived within the “Leave it to Beaver” sphere of normalcy where dad works, mom maintains the household and the kids pretty much towed the line of church, education and wholesome pursuits. That was not the society I grew up in, fuck no.

Growing up, for me, included avoiding the glue huffing criminals who made travel difficult at times along the various paths of our heavily industrialized neighborhood. Glue huffing? Yep, we were forever crunching dried up bags of glue under foot as we walked along the railway tracks that separated most of the industrial lands from the lush commercial gardens of our home turf. Criminals? You bet. Not only was the street gang infamous across Canada for their particular brand of violence but organized crime of all stripes would conduct their business along our little stretch of the mighty Fraser River. More than a few bodies were discovered by neighborhood kids as they went about their childhood endeavors on the wrong side of the tracks. Sadly this was my normal. My run of the mill. My same ole, same ole.

Looking back now I can only wonder why I didn’t end up a drug addled criminal floating from one get rich scheme to the next, is beyond me. I might be able to attribute this to several things like blind luck or Saint Leonard not finding me worthy to watch over in prison. Regardless of the reasons, I am thankful. The education I received growing up in this commonality certainly was leading down the path of a life behind bars, or an early dirt nap. Of course at the time one didn’t think in terms of consequences, those were things that god fearing kids and adults worried about. We didn’t care about consequences because when you grow up evading chemically eviscerated criminals, there usually aren’t a lot of god fearing adults around to waggle their fingers in recrimination at the choices we were making.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to place any blame at the feet of our parents because a lot of them simply didn’t know what was happening with us at a street level until it was too late. Their hold over innocence from the 50’s left them woefully ill-equipped to deal with the rapid changes that the surging sex, drugs and rock & roll culture were placing upon society. Hell, I knew kids who were going home on acid with their parent none the wiser in spite of the bizarre behavior on display by their little darlings. At worst they might have thought their child drunk as they sent them to sleep it off. What did they know about drugs, that wasn’t a topic covered by Archie Bunker on “All in the Family”, they just didn’t know they needed to know about drugs.

Like I said, environments have a lot to do with our development. Being brought up that close to hard drug use and criminality at a very young age, coupled with ample opportunities to experience both, provided me with lots of tales from my miss spent youth. Fortunately for me my family moved away when I was about 15 and I suppose, I am grateful for this as the relocation provided better examples for a more positive growth to round out my journey to manhood. But that’s a different phase in my life and I may cover that one day. For now, I want to cover a story that happened toward the end of my time growing up in the South Burnaby flats.

Just prior to being sent out of town to spend the winter watching over our newly completed house that my father had built, my friends and I wanted to attend our junior high dance, maybe get into a little trouble. In order to ensure a good time we decided that we wanted to score some pot, a nickel bag for sure or if we could scrounge up enough money, a dime bag even. That was what you called it back then, nickel or dime bags. Oh and lids too, can’t forget those. After all lids were the straight gag for my favorite Groucho Marx impersonation. With my eyebrows bouncing and an exaggerated flick of an imaginary cigar, “Hey kid wanna buy a lid? Fit your jar nicely!” with a wink-wink-wink.

The pot you could get at the time was called commercial (basic home grown) that didn’t really do much. If you were lucky you might get some Mexican red hair that contained, by weight, mostly stems and seeds, but technically worked much better than the commercial. There was a lot of Colombian and if you really knew people you could get Hawaiian, Cambodian or the crème de la crème, Thai stick. But we were kids, we didn’t know anybody so the best we could hope for was to score some commercial in a risky gamble outside of a dive bar.

We didn’t have any bars in our neck of the woods. We did have a night club but it wasn’t the kind of place where a bunch of kids would hang outside of, there were no other businesses near it to use as an excuse for being there. Besides it was a night club and the action didn’t pick up until late in the evening, too late for a bunch of snot nosed kids to score without it being obvious why we were there. For a place like a dive bar or strip club we would need to go to the next town over as the next town over had a proper downtown core complete with several dive bars and strip clubs that were opened earlier in the day. Absolutely perfect for our needs as we could hang outside the neighboring businesses and ask the patrons as they filed past us by on their way in to get their drink on.

Mug & Jugs New Westminster, BC

Our destination of choice was in downtown New Westminster at the College Place Hotel where they had a regular dive bar located right next door to the strip club, Mugs & Jugs. The two bars in one location hopefully meant not too much hang time waiting to score. While there would be a lot of people going in and out of the bars for us to ask, the tricky bit was that the hotel was also located about 1 block away from City Hall and the police station. This meant that there were lots of cops around and the 5 of us, in our cut off mack/jean jackets combos, along with our long hair, stuck out like a bunch of trouble makers up to no good. The first few people we asked flatly refused to acknowledge our existence which is just as well because, any drug pushers worth his weight in salt wouldn’t hesitate to sell his goods to a bunch of kids and clearly, by their lack of response, they weren’t who we were looking for.

It really didn’t take too long before some guy asked us what we wanted, told us how much and proceeded into the bar armed with our combined funds to secure our bag of stems, seeds and dried leafy crumble. We knew we were taking a chance with our money for had the guy decided to drink our money away instead, there would have been nothing we could have done about it with him safely beyond our reach within the pub. As we waited for our pot to emerge all we could do was try to blend in with our surroundings, pray that our dude was sober enough to deliver our goods while one of the circling cop cars wasn’t driving by just at that very moment.

After a short wait our guy came out and carelessly tossed us the bag of pot before turning heel and disappearing back inside the pub. No sooner had the bag made it into a pocket when one of the cop cars rounds the corner and all 5 sets of eyes focus in on the cop behind the wheel. Now we thought we were being extremely cool about this as we all turned in unison, like we’d been practicing the maneuver for just such an occasion, and ducked into the nearby alley hoping to remove ourselves from the notice of the city cop.

All we accomplished, it seemed, was to draw attention to ourselves as we heard the sound of the cops engine speed up to parallel the mouth of the ally. Just as his car came to a stop with him looking for us he undoubtedly saw the last of us turn the corner that would put us back on the street in the opposite direction that his car was now pointed. The roar of his motor revving up with the sound of screeching tires told us that he was pulling a U-ey to try to catch us up on the next block. We had anticipated the move being the wily veterans of many a chase by people more scary than the law. We simply turned tail once again and doubled back the way we came and turned another corner that would have placed us once again, moving in the opposite direction to where the cop was heading. It was far easier for a bunch of kids on foot to out maneuver a car in the tight streets and alleys that made up the once regal royal city.

We used this tactic a few times as we zig zagged our way along the side streets and pedestrian alleys in our efforts to lose this cop and make our way home with our prize. We were experiencing marginal success as we seemed to be gaining a few blocks on this cop when he apparently radioed for backup. There were now at least 2 cop cars actively trying to corner us and cut off our escape. With more than one car in on the hunt it was getting more difficult to stay ahead of them as they slowly herded us towards the river, potentially cutting off our options for escape.

Front Street Parkade, New Westminster, BC

With less than 2 blocks left before being trapped along the limited cover along the banks of the mighty Fraser River, I yelled out to my friends to head for the parkade and to meet on the second deck. This was our last hope for escape. The parkade was huge with 3 floors at one end that offered up several staircases that led to different areas of the downtown core. As handy as the multiple pedestrian exits were the best part was that if the lazy cops weren’t willing to get out of their cars and chase us up the stairs, they would be stuck using the two car ramps at either end, to enter the parkade.

Huddled in the shadows of the second floor we anxiously waited and watched to see what the cops were going to do. Sure enough 4 cop cars entered the parkade to start their search for us. The plan was working perfectly because none of the cops had gotten out of their cars to cover the stairs. As soon as they drove onto the parkade we flew down the stairs to the street below. Knowing that it would take a few minutes for them to search the 3 decks, and then even longer still for them to circle their way back out again using the corkscrew ramps, we beat our hasty retreat. With the rapidly darkening skies coming to our aid our spirits were lifted as we headed towards the deepening shadows beneath the parkade on Front Street and possible escape.

Front Street Train Tracks New Westminster, BC

Our luck was in as it was about this time that we heard the sound of a locomotive blowing its warning horn prior to crossing Front Street down at the end of the parkade. As fate would have it this particular train just happened to be heading down the tracks in the direction of home. Without giving it even a moment’s thought we all started running for the train and the five of us all found ladders to grab onto as we hopped on that sucker to make a clean getaway. Less than 20 minutes later we had all made it home to our waiting families and dinner.

I can’t remember the dance as nothing really happened that night other than us smoking a bunch of bad pot. Scoring the pot that day is something I will always remember but that probably has more to do with not being stoned at the time but then again, the dance might have just been boring.