...So I am writing this from a doorway. It is 5:30 AM. The last time I wrote in a doorway, this late at night (or this early in the morning?), I was in Tokyo, and had just seen Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros at the Akasaka Blitz, touring Global A-Go Go (I have the gig poster on the wall beside my computer desk, a yellow-papered variant of the one below, so can tell you with certainty it was November 2nd, 2001, twenty-one years and twenty-five days ago). The last train to the suburbs of Saitama had long since left, as I knew it would. I had brought a notebook to write down my impressions - because it wasn't the first time I pulled an all-nighter in Tokyo, waiting for the trains to start running again. Back then, my notes were longhand. I didn't get a cellphone until much later.
I can't tell you what the other all-nighters were exactly. There was at least one, but possibly two. Most of the shows I saw (at the Blitz, at the Liquid Room, at Club Quattro, or...) ended early enough that I made it to my train, but there was definitely an all-nighter for a Boredoms rave (Nana-Bo-Nana, the poster said, which makes me think it was July 7th, 2001). I think the first time I saw Joe Strummer at the Blitz, on the tour Dick Rude documented in Let's Rock Again (for Rock Art and the X-Ray Style), I made it back to the station in time, grabbing the Takasaka-sen back to Ageo (kind of like commuting from Vancouver to Mission). But I also saw, during the three years I lived in Japan, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, David Byrne, DJ Shadow with Cut Chemist, and a generous fistful of Japanese artists, sometimes playing in combination with each other, at the Shinjuku Pitt Inn and Star Pines Cafe and elsewhere - artists including Ruins Hatoba, Kazutoki Umezu, Natsuki Kido, Akira Sakata, Hiroaki Katayama, Ayuo, Yoshihide Otomo, Michiyo Yagi, Skist, Keiji Haino, and others. This is not to include shows I saw in Saitama (Bob Dylan!) or elsewhere (like the Fuji Rock Festival, where I caught Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Patti Smith, and Brian Eno, among others.) Whichever the other Tokyo shows were that ended too late - well, there were a couple of them.
All nighters on the streets of Tokyo proved pretty easy to navigate, actually. It's a big enough city that, in fact, night owls waiting for the trains to start up is not so unusual, and it's a safe enough city, for the most part, that you don't really feel all that worried about it. The seediest of districts - the brothel-rich Kabukicho, for example - feels quite benign compared to a short walk through the DTES. You don't see drug addicts or mentally ill people acting out on the streets, for the most part. The homeless people would never presume to spare change you. There are bars you don't want to go into - Yakuza-run tourist traps where you'll be charged a few hundred dollars for a beer, and threatened if you don't pay - but as long as you avoid being directed to those bars by the people paid to hook you in - you'll be fine. There are drunken salarymen passed out in doorways, and kids in from the 'burbs, wandering in clusters through the streets. There aren't many all-night places that I saw - and the only all-night fast food joint I stumbled across on my wanderings, on one of those nights, turned out to be filled, in the downstairs dining area, with Japanese teenagers, passed out on in their booths, slumped on the tiny formica tables, which I also eventually availed myself of, because the previous doorway I'd laid down in taught me that if you try to sleep in the wrong place - the only time I've ever tried to sleep rough - the security guards will nudge you and tell you to move on. That second Joe Strummer night, I spent three hours or more in a doorway, counting taxis and trying to figure out the ratio of taxis to other cars - it was at least five to one, maybe quite a bit more. I don't think I got any sleep in that doorway, but I had fun taking notes about the experience of BEING in it, not at all unlike the experience I am having now; someday, maybe, I'll stumble across my notes from that night, packed in some random box in my storage, and rediscover the details I have forgotten.
Laurie, Erika - you need to know that this is, surprisingly, the most fun I have had at (as I write) 5:52 AM (and counting) since that weird but memorable night in Japan, 21 years ago. Do not feel bad at my displacement - even though my ass is cold (and slightly damp) on the pavement and I kinda need to pee; my amusement at the situation is vastly greater than any such minor discontentments I might feel.
Normally, you see, if I got out of bed at 4:40AM, I would go to the living room. I would work on the computer, pet the cat, read a book, try to quietly find a snack in the fridge. This happens fairly often now that I am off work. Many blogposts and Facebook posts have been made in what my wife and I have come to call, in reference to Bruce Springsteen (and Chuck Berry before him) "the wee wee hours," because they usually begin (har) with one of us wanting to get out of bed to urinate. But would I normally go outside during the wee wee hours? Fuck no! Wouldn't even occur to me.
Except Erika's friend Laurie is over for a visit, and sleeping on our couch. As Erika and I were bedding down last night, I said to her, "Hey, wait a sec... What if I gotta wake up to pee and can't get back to sleep? I can't work on the computer, because Laurie is in our living room!"
"Go to Tim Horton's and read?" Erika suggested.
Seemed like a plan to me. I bundled up a change of clothes for myself by the bathroom door, for fast presto-change-o action, so I wouldn't have to wear the same sweaty t-shirt that I'd slept in. When the wee wee hours arrived at 4:40, after my quick bathroom trip, it took me about half an hour back in bed to give up on getting back to sleep. But as often happens, my mind was fully awake, so, silently as possible, using my cellphone light to navigate - I scooped up my clothes, phone, and the James M. Cain book that I am re-reading, snuck into the bathroom, and got dressed. Took a second pee, then got my shoes and coat on and, like the man says, stumbled down the stairs to greet the day, leaving the women to sleep.
Cold, but very fresh air. A mist of fine rain on my bald head, which I leave my hood off to appreciate. I figure I will walk to a nearby business, so my phone call does not disturb the sleepers in my building, call a taxi, and get a ride to Denny's, because - sorry, but fuck Tim Horton's - or at least the one near Metrotown Station; for reasons unclear, that particular location is like a magnet for the sketchiest of street folk. Which is fine - I am glad they have a place that they can afford and get warm and stay dry for awhile. Everyone needs a haven now and then, and given a choice between Tim Horton's and some shelter, I'd probably pick Tim Horton's, too. But I don't want to chill with y'all, generally. Hell, I tend to avoid that Tim's during the day...
Bonny's Taxi dispatch picks up on the first ring, as I walk towards the kid's Taekwondo place on the corner, where I can stand under the awning and stay dry while I wait. "And where are you going? " the dispatcher asks.
"Hang on!" ...I consult Google for the Denny's address, just typing in, "Denny's near me."
And then I see: Every address comes back with a red word beside it: closed.
Uh-oh! Scratch plan A. Cancel the cab, chuckling ("I will call back when I figure out where I am going!"). Consult Google, standing on the sidewalk: "Tim Horton's near me." "Restaurant open near me." "24 hour restaurant near me." The first two all provide locations that are closed, while the third provides a sushi place with the words "hours unknown" in italics, which isn't enough to make me want to gamble on it being open, and, you know, I don't really want sushi for breakfast, or rice, or fish, or ANY of that bullshit - I avoided that experience even when I lived in Japan.
In fact, were this happening to me right now in my neighbourhood in Saitama, my go-to would be the Denny's near Kita-Ageo Station (bizarre synchronicity: as I type this, at 6:33 AM, a couple of elderly Asians walk by me, and I hear quite clearly that they are speaking Japanese...). I could try a Denny's benny... but first I have to find one that's open!
I'm beginning to find the experience amusing. Surely the Denny's and Tim Horton's new hours are down to COVID, and it being sleepy ol' Burnaby? Maybe the answer is to catch a bus and go to Vancouver...? Surely there are restaurants, Denny's or otherwise, that are open there? I cross the street and stand on the sidewalk at the bus stop and use my cell phone to see when the next #49 goes to Langara Station. Not for over an hour - something like 7:20 AM. Try the 116 bus next to Edmonds Station, to similar results. I ain't waitin' an hour for a bus - hell, by that time, the Denny's will be open!
A bus does pass by at one point, its display reading "Sorry, not in service."
So where to, Columbus? Cross back to the Chevron. The doors are locked, as always at night, but the business is open. The South Asian fellow at the till - almost everyone awake and working at 5am-ish turns out to be Chinese, Filipino, or South Asian - laughs when I look at the slot that he uses, kinda like the one in Hannibal Lecter's cell in Silence in the Lambs, to pass out change or cigarettes. "So how am I gonna get a cup of coffee through there?" I ask him, and get a laugh. I explain that my wife's friend is sleeping on our sofa and I'm basically stuck out in the rain with nowhere to go. He tells me he doesn't usually put on coffee until 6, but will, if I want him to make one early? "Nah, don't bother - mostly what I want is to get out of the rain, but even if you let me in, I don't really want to hang around in a Chevron, no offense. Do you know any 24 hour restaurants or coffee shops near here?"
"There's a 7-11 down the street," he points in the general direction of Royal Oak.
"Well... I don't really want to hang around at a 7-11, either," I answer. "But, uh, thanks - have a good morning."
I wander down the street, unclear where I'm going. Photographing some pretty Christmas lights, I notice a taxicab, light on, parked at a curb - the same company I had already called. I don't want to trouble their dispatch, but a cabbie might know where there's a place to have a fast breakfast. I could ask, and then get him to take me there. I walk over. The cabbie starts his car as I approach, and at first I think he's getting ready to give me a ride - until I approach the passenger side window and he proceeds to pull out and drive away, while I call, "Hello?" at him. He won't even look at me - the sole fellow white man I see has no desire whatsoever to interact with some random street fare, whether his lights are on or not.
Wait a minute, buddy, I was just going to ask you where I can get breakfast!
I start laughing and waving goodbye at him. I wouldn't describe my mental state as exactly normal, at this point, but I'm having a good time of it. I proceed down the sidewalk, contemplating how long it's been since I've had so much accident and happenstance informing my life. There's a freshness to it. How locked in habit I've been! How little I have even questioned my devotion to my comfort zone!
There's a woman walking with an umbrella in the opposite direction, and I put on my best non-threatening voice: "Hey, do you happen to know if there's a 24 hour restaurant around here?"
She's completely unafraid, unlike the cabbie. "Yeah, but it's kind of far away - there's a Denny's" - she gestures.
"It doesn't open til 7am, Google tells me. The Tim Horton's, too!"
"Oh, well... sorry! I don't know."
"No worries - have a good morning."
We continue on our way, then she shouts back at me, pointing west: "Oh, there's a McDonald's that way!"
"OK! Thank you!"
I actually know about the McDonald's, but it's also a place I don't really care to hang out, and I am dubious that it is any more open than Tim's or Denny's, but it was nice of her to mention it.
Here we end the real-time doorway blogging - I'm tidying this up the next morning, this time just sitting at my computer at 7am while Laurie, who proves to be a fairly sound sleeper, softly snores on the couch. I ended up sitting in a dentist's office doorway, writing the above on my cellphone, until 6:27. At that point, about 24 hours ago, my thumbs were getting tired and the need to pee could no longer be denied. I called the same taxi I'd phoned previously. Maybe the morning shift is braver than the night shift?
There is a hilarious moment when the next taxi I see, also with its light on, drives past me - driver glancing out the window as I wave at him - and I call the taxi company to ask if my driver just blew by me ("Maybe I look menacing?" - the dispatcher and I laugh about it; "I don't know, do you?" she asks back). But it's just the wrong taxi. The guy who finally picks me up doesn't really want to hear from the weirdly-wired, self-amused chatty big guy in his back seat, but, y'know, I'm a paying customer, and feeling inclined to indulge myself.
I get to the Denny's before it opens, and end up hanging out at the Super Save gas station across the street for a bit, because apparently that is the only business that runs, late at night/ early in the morning, these days: gas stations. Burnaby sure isn't Tokyo, folks. There are two youthful South Asians, male and female, in the tiny shop - which is weirdly lined, above the coolers, with a display of cannabis-themed baseball caps, apparently an essential item for drivers these days. They pull the old "restroom is out of order" thing on me, which I never believe. "Well, you're stuck with me then... but I'll pay to play."
I go over to the lotto counter and buy $47 worth of Scratch and Wins - but they've gotta be Christmas-themed, and they've gotta be in sets of three, for Erika, Laurie, and myself. Happy Pawlidays, decorated with dogs. Snowflake 777. I tell them, though I doubt they want to hear it, about the time when I was working nights at a 7-11, and these kids came in who had gamed the system in some way, asking to look at one of the folding accordions of 100 scratches because there was a pattern, they said, to the serial numbers - which were visible on the front of the tickets in those days: if you knew it, you could tell which tickets were winners! Shit, who could resist: I spent fifteen minutes watching them poring over the serial numbers, in between selling people coffee and cigarettes, curious if their system would pay off, and was most surprised when they selected a single $2 ticket that turned out to be a $75 winner.
I don't remember the system now, I tell the two morning shifters at the Super Save - but it's obvious, anyhow, that they're just waiting for me to leave, so they can go back to talking about whatever they were talking about when the weirdly-wired white man walked in.
Whatever: you're not gonna let me pee, you can put up with me for a few minutes until the Denny's opens.
...which I can see through the glass is finally happening. The old Chinese man who lets me in - his key briefly getting stuck in the door, injecting a final frisson of drama into my morning - says that yes, they stopped being 24 hours because of COVID.
I am their first customer of the day. I use the washroom, show them my vaccine passport, and say yes to coffee.
Their benny is way better than I expected. I tell this to my waitress, and regret including the "than I expected part." I make fast work of it.