Almanac Life: The Vancouver Weekend

A younger ‘Smokie’ at the time of the Vancouver Weekend.


It was chilly in New York City in late November. So cold in fact that the shorts I wore in L.A. and Vegas did not emerge from the bottom of my suitcase. But the Big Apple’s pre-Christmas weather did hold some charms. There was ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza, and choirs on street corners belting out carols, and festive season decorations adorned every possible building and street-light. When the piano man in our hotel bar tinkled the ivories and crooned ‘Winter Wonderland’, if you closed your eyes for a moment it was not difficult to imagine you were an extra in a Bing Crosby movie.


The freezing conditions in Vancouver were less romantic. Exiting the airport, we were confronted by torrents of sleet, and a drizzle which was to be our constant companion for the three days we spent in the city. Macca had brought along for the journey a massive multi-coloured ski jacket. It was too big to pack nor to stow in the overhead luggage, so he was forced to wear it during flights. It looked as out of place on a plane as it probably did on the ski slopes. In California and Nevada, the wisdom of carting around such a cumbersome coat had been questionable, but that decision was finally paying dividends. Anyway, I was in no position to judge: half-cut in the Sydney airport transit lounge, I had purchased an Akubra hat that I had hardly even worn.


We had chosen Vancouver to ‘break up’ the flight from NYC to Honolulu, and agreed that a North American holiday would not be complete without sampling the delights of Canada.  However, the lousy weather would dictate that Molson, Moosehead and any number of other Canadian beers were as close as we would come to experiencing the local culture.


The weekend commenced pleasantly enough. Dinner was followed by beers at a pub where, not first the time on our trip, our accents were proving to be popular. In 1988, in the wake of Paul Hogan’s tourism advertisements, Australia was an enigma – and North Americans just could not get enough. Questions about our exotic homeland would fly thick and fast. Macca and I had well-rehearsed routines, which included stories of kangaroos delivering the post: “We just reach into the pouch and pull out our mail” we would tell the gobsmacked listeners.


Saturday afternoon found us playing 8-ball in a tiny bar in Gastown, a quaint and historic area near the centre of Vancouver. The bar was empty except for two locals. As the rain, continued to bucket down, they challenged us to a game. As neither of us had played much more than pub pool, we were quick to say, “We will not be playing for money”. They agreed. At first. The hours rolled on, with Macca and I winning each and every contest. Finally, the taller of the two, in the manner of a used-car salesman, put twenty dollars on the table. He said “You guys are good. Why not play for some cash?” We were innocents abroad, but not so naive to fall for their schtick. They had purposely duffed shots, missed easy tap-ins, and tried to butter us up good and proper – all in the hope of hustling us. Their gold teeth were positively glinting. “We are broke. We have no money,” we insisted. We could tell that they were not happy, and that they had not planned on us being so stubborn.


But, to show that there were no hard feelings, they insisted on buying us beers before they exited the bar. We may have had dinner somewhere, but we will never know, because it was as if our memories of Vancouver have been erased. We remember – vaguely – being in a nightclub. Whilst I was in earnest conversation with a local, I saw Macca protesting as he was being dispatched from the premises by a number of bouncers. I can recall throbbing music, flashing lights, Madonna, and gyrating on the dancefloor. “Put another shrimp on this barbie, ladies!” This Aussie was on fire!


And then, somehow, we woke up in our hotel, and we sat on the edge of our beds with our heads thumping, and we tried to piece together the previous days’ events, and we wondered why we felt so nauseous and foggy, despite having only drank beer. I had never felt so ill. “Those hustlers drugged us,” Macca announced. “They slipped something into our beers!” I recalled their smirking faces as they departed the bar, and had to agree that there was no other explanation, because not even Molson could have made me feel so crook.


It was later than we thought, and a mad scramble to the airport ensued. In the departure lounge, I swear that Hoges was smirking at me from the tourism poster on the wall. But thankfully, the flight to Hawaii was virtually empty, and we were able to stretch out our aching bodies across rows of seats. We clung tightly to our sick-bags all the way to Honolulu.


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab yarn Smokie! Yes, been there done that, all part of life and growing up! How & why we did some of these things is still a mystery to me!

  2. I had a Barcelona week in 1987 with a pair of blokes from Dublin. Someone up there was looking after me.

    Vancouver is a beautiful place. You saw its inner beauty!

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    Have you still got your mojo Darren? Was always jealous of travel stories of others. Never did it as a youngster of even early mid age. Have made up for it somewhat since ’08 though. Locals and Irish musicians at the Bluegrass Inn on Broadway, Nashville were also intrigued by an Aussie accent.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Geez Smokie, lucky to not have worse happen after being drugged.

    Magnificent photo!

  5. Noury Sibaei says

    You look like Brendan in that photo Smokie or is it he looks just like you ? I don’t know, I’m confused ( It’s the Irish in me )

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