(This is among the first things I wrote online, and still is only one of three posts
that feature The Redhead (aka "The Girl with the Sunset Hair").
I'm posting it here in honour of our 35th anniversary today.
Yes, I know, it's Armistice Day, and yes, it was deliberate.)
Back in the spring of 1985, The Redhead and I took the only travelling vacation we have ever had.
We were planning to move to Vancouver, as soon as circumstances permitted, and we wanted to scout the city, both for job opportunities and for accommodations. We booked the airline tickets with Wardair -- sadly, long gone -- and made reservations at a reasonably priced downtown hotel called the Austin, which had an automobile club recommendation.
I don't like flying at the best of times, and it was turbulent, as I recall, coming into Vancouver over the mountains. The Redhead, a far more seasoned traveller, treated everything with her usual aplomb. But soon enough, we were climbing into the airport bus.
"Which hotel?" the driver asked.
"The Austin," we said.
"The AUSTIN?" he asked.
"Yes," we said. "The Austin."
He gave us an odd sort of sideways look that registered, but didn't really signify anything unusual.
You see, one thing you have to know about travelling around with The Redhead is that, to her great consternation and dismay, she draws appreciative attention from men and women alike wherever she goes. This is a handicap, in her view, and more than once has caused her some problems. Like at the Tower of London when a smirking guard pulled her aside for a closer inspection -- you know, just in case she was going to try to smuggle out the Crown Jewels or something. Yah-huh.
It's not just that red-gold hair, nor the Eartha Kitt face with its wide, startling grey-blue eyes, nor the Emerald Isle skin. It's also something in the way she moves, squared up, lithe and athletic, like the gymnast she was in high school, like the dancer she still is. Combine that with a ferocious intellect and a huge heart, and ... well, I'm sure I don't have to draw more of a picture here.
(Editor's note from The Redhead: There are some men who are drawn to redheads -- go figure. But, if you're a redhead and you find one of those men in your personal life, then you'd better hang on. Out in the world, it will suck. You will NEVER be invisible.)
Another thing is that I am her polar opposite: I can disappear into a crowd like I never existed. Nondescript height, nondescript appearance, nondescript face. People don't see me. This, obviously, was a great asset in my career, where anonymity gave me a pass in all kinds of situations that could have been ... ahhhhhh ... difficult if I had been more noticeable.
A third thing you have to know is that when we left Windsor, which is just across the river from Detroit, the city was locked in an epic morals battle over full nudity strip clubs, which were just coming into vogue. The community was up in arms on one side or the other, and predictably, The Redhead and I argued about it, she on the anti side of what would become known as The Windsor Ballet, me on the pro, not because I ever went to one (except once on a drug bust assignment with a pregnant photographer), but because, well, I'm a contrary idiot by nature.
(Editor's note from The Redhead: He's always been a libertarian -- which is not the same as a libertine. For him, any censorship is a foot in the door. I've found I'm a convert. The good is, implacably, the enemy of the best.)
Anyway, of these three things, only the first occurred to me when the driver gave us that curious, kind of appraising, glance. Situation normal.
The bus pulled to a stop on Granville Street near Davie, and while the driver watched intently, we grabbed our luggage and stepped out on the east side of the street. As the bus pulled away, it slowly revealed a large banner on the facade of the Hotel Austin: "Welcome-to-the-Miss-Nude-Vancouver-Pageant-1985".
We had left, 2,500 miles behind, the foment over nude strip clubs only to arrive at the start of what promised to be a week-long trip into the demi-monde. I looked at The Redhead, she looked at me, and we started to laugh.
Well, what the hell. We had the reservations and the hotel -- seedy, despite the auto club recommendation -- was just where we wanted it to be. Besides, the bus had left.
So, we booked in. Room service was non-existent, among other drawbacks, and it was on the return from one of my many trips for coffee to the restaurant across Granville that I boarded an elevator with an obvious contestant in the pageant, who was wearing high heels and a T-shirt. And nothing else. I spent some quality time between floors staring at the ceiling.
Further, the contest was broadcast live into the rooms, and, since British Columbia is so situated that there were then few television stations to choose among of an evening, we tuned in a couple of times. Dancing With The Stars has nothing on those performances. We were disgruntled when our favourite didn't win. Ageism, The Redhead sniffed, and she was probably right.
(Editor's note from The Redhead: He's misremembering. The girl who should have won was positively regal -- she didn't need clothing to seem queen-like. Age had nothing to do with it. Does this make me a hypocrite?)
We discovered in our time there that we liked Vancouver, and were later to spend a couple of interesting years living and working in the city until the mountains began to loom a little too much, the ocean seemed a little too close, the ladder for the possible earthquake seemed a little more laughable -- and the incessant rain from October to May drove us to distraction. Oh -- and don't let anyone tell you it doesn't snow: It does, and brings the entire city to a skidding, juddering halt. We eventually returned to Ontario, and the home of The Windsor Ballet.
The Hotel Austin, I see from an Internet search, still lives on in the 1200 block of Granville Street. In a city that reinvents itself almost hourly, what are the odds?
For the record, it was only while writing this -- and trying to come up with a description that would do The Redhead justice -- that I realized what that bus driver had been on about. Nobody has ever accused me of being swift on the uptake.
He thought she was there as part of the pageant....
(Editor's note from The Redhead: Pah!)
She can "pah" all she wants....
Warning: Do not irritate The Redhead by taking her picture. Or by writing about her.