I had the good fortune to be sent out to Vancouver for two weeks by my job. It came at around the best possible time of the year for me, because I had nothing extra-curricular going on at the home front and we're in the doldrums of a clinging winter here. As it turned out, the trip went really well, both professionally and personally. Most importantly for this blog, it also gave me a real chance to compare my homeland with my adopted land. I've been out to the west coast many times since I moved to Montreal, but it's always been on vacation. In this case, I was actually "living" and "working" in Vancouver for two weeks. Though still a brief period of time, it gave me a better chance to get a feel for what it would really be like to live in Vancouver and how that compares to Montreal. I have many thoughts and they will probably take a few posts. Today, I would just like to talk about my immediate impressions of returning to Montreal at this time of year. Depressing!
Have no worries, folks, Montreal still wins hands down. But I had a profound shock dropping out of the clouds yesterday evening. Now during my two weeks in Vancouver, I literally had about 5 hours of sunshine. I love the rain and the grey, so I enjoyed it for the most part. When it rains in Vancouver, it's steady but much lighter than rain on the east coast. You can often get away with no umbrella and riding your bike does not require complete impermeability to have any semblance of comfort. But basically, it was a very cold and wet spring in Vancouver. It actually snowed twice, once on Vancouver Island and once on Vancouver itself. We had a good 3 or 4 centimetres of slush on the ground one evening. The mountains had a beautiful and fresh white glow on them. Fortunately for me, the 5 hours of sunshine that I did get took place when I had a chance to take a walk on the beaches, once in Lantzville and once at Jericho beach in Vancouver. Both were breathtakingly beautiful.
Despite the weather, it is spring time in Vancouver. There are no leaves on the deciduous trees, but they are just starting to bud and blossom. There are flowers in people's gardens and window boxes and the lawns are green. I didn't really consciously realize this. The whole time I was there, I was getting snow melt reports from my girlfriend, but I didn't really get the basic gist of what she was saying: nothing has really changed here. So when the plane dropped out of the very low clouds over Dorval and PET airport, it was a profound shock and I have to admit a bit depressing. The city was a colourless grid of bleak low buildings, outlined in grimy snow. It really was like leaving the land of colour and arriving in one of black & white. I felt like I was returning to communist Moscow, circa 1972. I know this isn't really Montreal's fault. The weather is the weather and the east coast is just shabby in general (you can make the same comparison to a February trip from San Francisco to New York).
But the airport doesn't help. The new international section is quite nice and so far very efficient. But the domestic side of PET extends the communist Russia metaphor. The luggage takes around 25 minutes to get to the carousel (far and away the worst luggage time in North America in my experience), the signs for ground transportation are confusing and inconsistent and there is nobody around to help. In an attempt to create a more efficient taxi line, they have entirely blocked off the middle of the outside sidewalk, so if you aren't getting a cab, you have to walk back inside and go around to get to the bus section. And hey, how about a city bus that goes directly to and from the airport? Why is that so freaking hard for this city? Vancouver has an express bus that costs $3.00, makes constant express trips to the airport from a central location and takews about 25 minutes. And they are building a train.
And the taxis here are so bootleg. In Vancouver, they are all almost entirely new hybrid vehicles and they have a sophisticated, computer-driven dispatching system. The driver has a console in his vehicle with which he sees trips as they become available. And they are silent. The screaming and squawking radios in Montreal are so third world at this point and make for an extremely unpleasant trip.
I really do love this city and as you will see, these complaints pale in comparison to my very real concerns about Vancouver. But there are elements of infrastructure and fundamental comfort and ease in Montreal that are really terrible and I can understand why people who have spent their whole lives here and have never really known the culture and society of another Canadian or American city can become so mesmerized by the sun, cleanliness and modern sophistication of a retirement village in Florida or suburban Vancouver.
And despite my stumbling around the Montreal airport in a frustrated daze, swearing aloud and feeling like smashing something, no security personnel ran up and killed me with a taser, so that is a big plus for Montreal.