World traveler Clown Tom Bolton
Adventure stories & photos
Tom’s travels to Western North America; USA & Canada
Summer of ’81 trip to western United States
The summer of ’81 I went out west. My older brother Chris was a medical student in Cincinnati. He had heard of a doctor who was moving to California and needed one of his cars driven out. They paid the gas and oil and agreed that I could take some days for sightseeing on the way. There was a young Dutch guy visiting neighbors of my parents who I agreed to take along for the trip although he had no license and couldn’t share the driving, as I would have hoped. We went through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico on our way to LA.
At the Grand Canyon we hiked down to an old mine near the bottom. It was extremely hot and we ran out of water on the way back up. Luckily we ran into 2 guys who worked the summer in the park. They not only shared their water but put us up for the night. They told me that many people came to work there for low pay each year just to be in that incredible nature and that although they didn’t usually get much time off, when they did, they used it to hike much of the canyon that most people never get to see. In 1996 I returned there again with my wife and stepson but they didn’t seem especially impressed.
Acoma in New Mexico
We also went to the Indian village of Acoma in New Mexico. It is on the top of a mesa and is supposed to be the longest inhabited place in North America. As a kid, I had been there with my family. The guidebook said one could visit it except during their special holidays. Well, it was a holiday when we arrived but my father didn’t want to hear of it. We wandered around to the glare of very uninviting Indians.
The people were throwing food like boxes of breakfast cereal off the roofs of their adobe houses. The crowds jostled and tried to catch the goodies. Then suddenly things would start to fly off another roof a ways down the street and everyone would madly rush there. Thus I suddenly got separated from my parents. But my father has a distinctive way of clearing his throat, which I managed to hear over the crowd and relocate him. This return visit was much quieter than the first one and the chance to see all these cultural relics inspired me to take an excellent history course on American Indian cultures during my next semester back at university.
San Francisco, California USA
San Francisco is one of my favorite American cities. I first visited as a kid with my family in 1973 and then again in 1981, 1989 and 2013. There was another short visit between ’89 and 2013 but I;m no longer aware of the year. Here at Pier 39 (in 1981) at Fishermans Wharf is one of the best know places for street performing, where amongst others, I saw well know comedy jugglers like Frank Olivier and the butterfly man and close by I saw the human jukebox who I remembered seeing nearly 10 years earlier. I could do some juggling, so like a fool I got up on one of the stages at Pier 39 when it was free and tried to do a little show. I was quickly told that these spaces were regulated and there was a tight schedule of established performers. I was a beginner of the worst kind but didn’t like their attitude that jugglers need not apply anyway because they had enough of them already.
I spent 4 days in SF again in 1989 staying with Dave “Rave” Gomez who I had met in Germany. A couple of Dutch brothers, Mark and Paul Van Wees, who I knew from Amsterdam, were also in town, sometimes appearing at Pier 39 and the Cannery. From them I discovered that most of the performers in town had a day job to be able to survive. And the best times for the best pitches were given to the performers who had been there for years already. Obviously the European street performing scene has much more opportunities and freedom than the American one.
Having mentioned Dave Gomez I can relate a funny story. Dave used to work with a Danish juggler Henrik Bothe as duo “Twist and Shout”. They toured around Europe in the late 80’s in their VW bus. Once they drove up to the Austrian border wearing clown noses. The Austrian border police, not known for their sense of humor, checked their passports and saw that they had painted the photos within with red noses as well. Just the kind of silly stunt that I would have pulled, so I am jealous I didn’t think of it first.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Golden Gate Park was another cool place. There was a weekly get together for jugglers back in ’81 and this photo shows me attempting some of my first club passing. A German student named Jochen who I had met at Venice beach took this photo. I would later visit him many times in Mainz, Germany. In SF we also had a memorial time visiting the headquarters of the religious cult of Sun Yung Moon. They were always inviting young people there for a free meal. They turned out to be rabid anti-Communist whackos.
After giving us a long presentation suggesting one should be open-minded to THEIR beliefs, they threw me and Jochen out after we started a discussion about American foreign policy and what was going on then in El Salvador. They told us that it was better to kill everyone there and let God sort them out than the mere possibility of them becoming god hating commies. At least 3 Moonies spouted the exact same brainwashed induced ideology.
These creeps were even more out of their minds than the scam-artists scientology perverts. Yet one of the members in SF was a law student who had been recruited by his Moonie professor and members of the Moonies made it into the US Congress and their Washington DC based newspaper was regularly read by Ronald Reagan while president.
On to Boulder, Colorado and Albuquerque
After California, I went to Boulder, Colorado, which was another place full of religious cults like “Eckenkar” and “the army of God”. Lately I have seen promotion of the latest money making scam called “the secret”. Which shows that when packaged as religion or pseudo-religion, many people are vulnerable to scams and sick ideology. My travels have only re-enforced my attitude of religious and cultural tolerance yet such nonsense really makes me puke. From Colorado I went down to Albuquerque, New Mexico to see a friend and from there basically back to Ohio.
The whole trip back from California was done by hitchhiking, which was of course difficult but interesting. One needs determination to wait hours for a ride and the worse the weather is, the less likely someone would stop. More than once I ended up sleeping under an overpass. The kind of people who did stop were generally laid back and friendly. I never had any really bad experiences but a couple of times some rather strange guys picked me up but I managed to get them to let me out at the next possibility.
Once a middle aged Belgium guy picked me up and told me that he had befriended an old couple who had the title to a large piece of land but no money to buy food none-the-less exploit the land’s resources. He said he gave them food and other essentials and eventually they sold him the mining rights for next to nothing. He said he was now on his way to the mine, which was in production and worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Truth or BS, who knows?
Another ride was with an Austrian guy who had done a lot of traveling. He showed me a “Texas passport” which was a novelty. It looked very official but was for the “Republic of Texas” and full of bombastic quips along the lines of “Texans are the biggest and baddest mother fu**ers so you better let this passport holder through or we’ll come and kick your stupid ass”. I found it rather amusing but then he insisted I take a closer look in the back pages. There I saw numerous stamps from him having entered countries with this fake passport! He said it was sometimes scrutinized since border officials had never seen a Texas passport before but nobody ever made trouble about it.
Border controls rely on profiling
My later experiences echoed this amazing incompetence of many border officials. If you fit their profile of a well off tourist going for a short vacation then all is ok. If you tell them you are an accountant, no problem, a clown – and you’re likely to get strip-searched. A number of times entering France, I had to answer the most basic of questions like where I was born despite it being written in American passports in French as well as English. My biggest stress was usually returning to the USA with no fixed address or job, stamps from Asia and Latin America. I learned to put one of my flyers with my passport. Then suddenly I seemed “cool” and got treated like a celebrity rather than a possible drug carrier making up an unbelievable life story.
San Francisco, California revisited
Over the years I had other opportunities to visit San Francisco but always for a short time and I tended not to drag a camera along. In January 2013 I made an extensive visit to see my sister Kate in Modesto and made 3 trips from there into San Fran. Even in this day, Haight-Ashbury is a hippy-skippy kind of place with lots of shops selling tie-dyed cloths, organic food or offering medical marijuana referrals.
Views of Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park
Nice part about the Haight is that it is close to Golden Gate Park although there seems to be a lot of grungy people camping out and panhandling in both areas. There is a nice small park on a hill called Buena Vista Park that overlooks the Haight and off to the right, looking towards Golden Gate Park, one can see Golden Gate Bridge. Here is also an aerial view looking back from the view I had at Buena Vista Park. I made a flight with my sister and brother-in-law in their plane over the Bay area and took this shot of the bridge poking its way out of the fog.
In 2013 I was in San Francisco a couple of times while accompaning my sister in Modesto to go for chemo. One one trip I looked into renting a bicycle right by Golden Gate Park. I had found a place in the internet that seemed reasoanble and I called to confrm they would be open. Got there in the late morning and the shop was locked up. A worker from a nighboring shop said the guy had just stepped out. But after wating for well over an hour I gave up and just went by foot. There was a chain of bike rentals that had a stand in the park itself as seen here but they were pricey and I given up on the idea by then. Golden Gate Park isn’t just trees and grass; there are museums, a Japanese tea garden, sports fields, horse stables and like seen below a windmill.
Fisherman’s Wharf still popular
Of course, Fisherman’s Wharf is the touristiest place in town. Here is the famous spot where the cable cars turn around. The Cannery had a musician set up but seems to have lost at its attempt to be a showcase for bigger street shows. Pier 39 seems to be going strong although it is limited to one stage in back. The shops and eateries on the pier are pricey but seem to still attract lots of visitors.
San Francisco attractions off of the wharf
In addition to the many souvenir shops and eateries like Joe’s, in the Fisherman’s Wharf area are a lot of artificial attractions. Ripley’s Believe it or not, the Wax Museum and Rainforest Cafe amongst them. I never understood how people would find the time and money to waste on such places when there is so much else to see. I just imagine families trolling around, especially by bad weather, having the kids terrorize their parents that they HAVE to go in and see such places.
Fisherman’s’ Wharf sea lions
The sea lions continue to visit right alongside the pier despite the ever bustle of people watching them, or maybe they come to gawk at the people.
San Francisco murals
A characteristic aspect of San Francisco is the many murals painted throughout the city. Not just ordinary spray painted graffiti; these are colorful scenes mainly highlighting left-winged concerns about social and political aspects like the environment and affordable and healthy food for all. After my travels in California, I went on to Nicaragua where I saw the same propensity to use murals to remind people of the struggles for social justice. And this mural depicts the American military involvement in Central America that lead to the killing of the engineer and clown Ben Linder who is now considered a martyr in Nicaragua. I later saw Linder depicted in a mural in a Nicaraguan restaurant.
California Parks – Yosemite
Despite numerous visits to that part of California, it was 2013 that I first made it to the icon of Yosemite National Park. And then I had the chance to see it once from above with my brother-in-law piloting the plane and again a few weeks later from below with friends of his and my sister. Here is a view of the famous Half Dome and views of the main falls from above and below.
Yosemite visited from below
View toward half dome and the main valley from a car tunnel. I was lucky to get chauffeured around in the park. My sister and brother-in-law go to weekly get-togethers with fellow pilots at the Modesto airport. While at one such event, I mentioned my intention to visit Yosemite the next day and a couple they are friends with said that they have yearly passes and were going to go to the park themselves.
I just had to drive to their place an hour south of Modesto and right on the way and they took me the rest of the way. They were familiar with the highlights of the park and where the best viewpoints for photos were and we had amazingly sunny weather. In addition, it was Super Bowl Sunday and while most Americans were glued to their TVs, we and a small number of foreigners had the park to ourselves. And to top it off, returning to Modesto, I actually saw a good amount of the second half of the game anyway as there had been a delayed due to a power outage.
Partially into the Sierra Nevada mountain range, about 75 miles north-west of Yosemite Park is the Columbia Historical Park. It is not so much a natural wonder as a well preserved village from the times of the gold rush. The old western buildings include hotels, a black-smith, livery stables and many shops. One can even pan for gold or ride the horse drawn stagecoach.
Sonora, California USA
Not technically in the park but just a few miles away is the quaint little town of Sonora. The emphasis is on preserved old buildings and the history of the gold rush. This is where the locals actually live and shop rather than just enact the old days.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
During my 2013 trip to California, I went 3 times to San Francisco with my sister and brother-in-law. John would drive Kate’s car each Thursday, spend a night in a hotel and drive back in the late afternoon/early evening to Modesto. One such Friday, I borrowed the car, thankfully an automatic due to the hills, and drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge which is an experience in itself.
Just 10 miles across are the Muir Woods which are a gem of old growth redwoods readily accessible to public viewing. I got there late in the morning so I had to park a distance from the entrance and ended up taking a back trail into the park. It was quite a hike around and peaceful since there were very few people in that part of the park. I ended the visit along the bottom of the valley ending at the entrance. The last mile of this section has at least a few hundred of millennium old trees that dwarf the others in the park. Unfortunately, the daylight was running out and I needed to get back to the city to pick up my Kate and John but I finally got to see and feel the energy of some our world’s oldest living things.
Big Sur, California USA
South of Monterey is a beautiful section of coast known as Big Sur. Although there was a huge ranch in the area called Big Sur, the name now roughly referrers to the 90 mile section from the Carmel River down to the San Carpoforo Creek and eastwards towards the Santa Lucia Mountains. To this day the area is sparsely populated since there is not easy access to the ocean and the surrounding hills are steep. There were even more people here in the past, mostly working in the timber industry but most of the old growth redwoods that grew in the valleys have been taken.
Andrew Molera State Park
Towards the north end of Big Sur is the Andrew Molera State Park where one can hike a mile or so down to the beach. I saw 2 women in the park but otherwise nobody. There was no entrance but the parking was 10 dollars but I found a free spot just a couple hundred meters away. One had to wade across a knee deep cold stream to reach the main trails so maybe that deters people.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Farther south is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. As is common is the area, they have rooms and camping sites. At Pfeiffer, they have built a nice walkway so that one can visit the few remaining strands of big redwoods. I had mixed feelings about this place. Nice that there is something left and it is accessible even for wheelchairs but I couldn’t help but think of the old song about tearing down paradise to put up a parking lot and how they put all of the trees in a tree museum.
Santa Cruz, California
During my stay in Modesto in 2013, I went off to Santa Cruz twice having driven through briefly nearly 20 years before. Santa Cruz seems the epitome of the California dream; laid back, mild weather, beach surrounded by mountains. That much is true but not the whole truth as many people drawn to it seem to panhandle and/or create an aggressive edge to the place.
Although one needs a wetsuit to really swim or surf without suffering from hypothermia, there is plenty of beautiful beach right in town and up and down the coast. And while it got cold at night, some days were warm enough to be out on the beach in a swim suit as were many people playing volleyball. Jutting out from the center of the main beach is a large pier, stable enough that cars drive and park on it. There are shops and restaurants and sea lions congregate on the wooden struts below at the far end.
Amusement park food
Real American non-health food, deep fried surgery crap. The makers of Twinkies had notably gone bankrupt recently but I am sure someone will have an equally bad alternative if nobody buys the brand name and continues production.
Original surf shop
This old building alongside of the boardwalk contains restaurants and shops including the original O’Neill surf shop. The owner is said to be the designer of the neoprene suit. As mentioned the Pacific Ocean is cold actually down as far as Mexico. I guess without such protection, surfing would probably have never become such an institution in California.
Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market
The weekly Wednesday farmers’ market is mostly organic, locally grown food stalls and some places for a quick meal. I had recently made a couscous in Modesto and given up on finding a kohlrabi after looking for days. Then I found a purple kohlrabi here which tasted just like the green ones that are so common in middle Europe and a basic ingredient for a proper couscous.
Even at the market, the veggies are pricey. But the friend I was visiting had all she could eat as she was part of a group that collected unsold, unwanted food at the end of the market to be given away at a food pantry and they got first dips. I saw more than a dozen musicians working the main drag of Santa Cruz and a few in the market. Maybe they have better audiences in the summer but the crowds were small despite good weather and I didn’t see any place that looked to be possible to pull off a real circle show like I do.
Nostalgic murals, theaters, shops
I liked the image of this old Beetle parked in front of the mural. I didn’t see much in Santa Cruz that reminds me of the nostalgia for the 1950’s era of drive-in coffee shops but the many murals were impressive. Some had messages of social issues like in San Francisco but most seemed to be more self-promotion of a gone by idealistic era. One thing that does remain in Santa Cruz is a number of old movie theaters, something that is long gone from most towns in the Midwest. Something else one doesn’t see much anymore was the big record store. The bagel shop seemed more like a slice of New York than necessarily nostalgia.
Social engagement in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is known to be laid back and liberal. One sign of this was the Subrosa cafe which had a good library of leftish books about politics, economics etc. Next to it was a place called the Bike Church, a bicycle repair shop and center for those who’s religion is riding their bike. Also along the main street were what looked like red parking meters. But they are for donations to help the local street people.
From Santa Cruz I went down to Big Sur and stopped in Monterey. As Santa Cruz is the laid back, easy living ideal. Monterey seems to be the have bucks and want to live in paradise ideal. It has beautiful coast line yet a small town feel. This is where you can live in a gated community and walk down to Pebble Beach golf course.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
One of the local landmarks is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It hadn’t changed much since I visited it it in 1997 except that the price of adult emission had gone up to 38 dollars. Luckily, my sister Kate has friends who live near Pebble Beach who kindly took me up for a night and arranged a free ticket to the aquarium. I guess compared to Disneyland and other such attractions, the aquarium is very well designed and educational. It is not just for kids but having a kid along makes it more enjoyable as many of the displays are set up with them in mind. My personal favorites were the various jellyfish tanks. The main attraction is the huge 2 story high tank with multitudes of different sea plants and animals. They make a show out of the feeding times with divers going into the tank and throwing out the food.
The great Northwest – Seattle, Washington USA
In April 2010 I finally got to the Great North-West. I arrived in Seattle, picked up a rental car from the airport, which I had lined up in Germany and went to stay with my youngest brother and his wife and daughter. They had lived earlier in New Orleans, San Francisco and Atlanta but mentioned that if possible they will stay in Seattle. Seems that it is the kind of place one learns to love once you get used to the rain. Like I had imagined it, it was laid back without being pretentious. Even though I had the car, I learned that there was an acceptable public bus system and with parking downtown costing 6 USD for half an hour, it was the cheapest option.
Pike Place Market
One of the big attractions in the downtown area is Pike Place Market. It is much more a place for souvenirs and handicrafts than fish, fruits and veggies but those are available too. The fishmongers running around in their orange outfits liked to yell and throw big fish to each other. It definitely caught your eye although I had to wonder if it really inspired people to buy more fish. Most people there were tourists – without much use for a huge fish. And while many of the handicrafts were nice, I didn’t see much which inspired me as a memory of Seattle and for every half decent t-shirt I might have considered, there was a pile of ill-shaped, plain white ones with some poorly laid out slogan in a basic black script. Seemed to be an unfulfilled market for some quality artistic souvenirs Seattle.
Hard core street people, street performers
There were a couple of guys offering their services as guides, probably sweet characters but they looked like they best knew the soup kitchens and most comfortable bridges to sleep under. I had envisioned more skate-boarding, slacker types begging for spare change but I guess the city had been cracking down on the panhandling lately and every park had signs posted saying it was illegal to sleep there. I had envisioned more street performers adding a bit of life to the city. Maybe they were waiting for more summer like weather but all I saw was one balloon twister and a couple of musicians which seemed to trade off a small place squeezed into the market, which was definitely not big enough for a clown or juggling show.
Starbucks; first of many Pikes Place Market
The number of coffee houses in Seattle is incredible. The very first Starbucks opened by Pike Place Market (below) and now there seems to be one every 50 meters or so. So a view of tall buildings (right) and a Starbucks typifies Seattle. One can even get a good view over the city from the Columbia building. There is an observation deck up top but one has to pay 8 dollars at the information desk and then they send someone up with you. I went for the free option, which was to take the express elevator to the 49th floor where you can look out the windows of, you guessed it! Starbucks. And if you didn’t get enough caffeine, don’t worry; there is another Starbucks on the ground floor.
Around Pikes Place Market, parks, Seattle Aquarium
Pikes Place is on the NW section of downtown Seattle. North of the is a totem pole and further along there is a system of parks along the western waterfront. Just south of the market is the Seattle Aquarium which I never got to visit. Instead I visited the Seattle Zoo which is north of the center on multiple visits. My brother Michael has a family pass and often takes the kids there.
The main downtown of Seattle is a mix of old and new. And where they have built something new it is typically tall. Iconic skyscrapers are here but also buildings like the Seattle Art Museum.
Pioneer Square, Seattle
There are still some nice preserved old buildings downtown, which offset the skyscrapers. Pioneer Square looked very quaint but the weather was still cool so there were not a lot of people hanging out. There are a number of totem poles displayed there and around the town and I passed signs for a couple of reservations on my drive up to Vancouver. This was a surprise for me since I had rarely seen much of an Indian presence in the USA outside of Arizona and New Mexico. Around the square are a lot of old brick buildings that look like they were once warehouses but are now shops, restaurants, hotels or offices.
Southern downtown Seattle; Union Square Station, Chinatown
South of Pioneer Square is the Union Square Station at King Street. This is the main train and bus complex. Just to the east is China Town; a dozen or so blocks of Chinese businesses including many restaurants and food stores. To the SW are the CenturyLink field and Safeco field stadiums. Football and soccer are played at the first (Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders). Baseball is played (Seattle Mariners) at the second. Connected with the CenturyLink field is the WaMu Theater and convention center that holds 16,000 people.
East of downtown Seattle; First Hill, Pine/Pike
I also wandered extensively up the slopes to the east of downtown Seattle. There are a couple of Universities here and some edgy neighborhoods. Lots of punk, goth or whatever the groups might be called; most young people seemed to have tattoos and piercings. There were also lots of boutiques, cafes, bookstores and the likes.
North of downtown Seattle
North of central Seattle are neighborhoods like Queen Ann and Fremont. I didn’t explore them extensively but did go through a number of times on buses and bicycle on my way farther north to Ballard and Sunset Hill where my brother lives. There were not a lot of things that particularly stood out for me in these areas but both of the following photos are from there. One is The High Dive, an iconic live music club. The other is a huge statue of Lenin; something too radical for nearly any other American city but Seattle.
Kayaking within bicycle distance
That’s my cute (but smart) niece Tessa back of the house. She, my brother and I, took his big kayak out on the sound, which is just 15 minutes by foot down the hill. It was a bit chilly but sunny and we warmed up once we got paddling. This seems to be the main attraction of the area, access to both mountains and sea both of which are spectacularly viewable from this neighborhood called Sunset Hill.
The area itself, Ballard seemed pretty nice, still well connected to the city but with its own center with plenty of restaurants and bars to keep one entertained. The scenery, weather and even style of wooden houses reminded me a lot of Scandinavia and in fact this neighborhood used to have a large percentage of Scandinavian immigrants, many attracted by the big fishing fleets based here.
Seattle’s Discovery Park
In March 2013 (and again in Jan. 2016) I was back in Seattle and Portland after a month in California and a month in Nicaragua. We didn’t go kayaking this time but I borrowed a bike to explore the nearby Discovery Park which has hills and forest and good views over the sound as well as an Indian cultural center with native art exhibitions. This is the view toward the old lighthouse on the beach there.
Ballard Saturday Market
My brother Michael and his wife Maggie had added a son Finn to the family since I had been there just short of 3 years before. On Saturdays there is a street market in their suburb of Ballard. Finn especially LOVES to see the street musicians, often dancing or singing along and he even knows some of their names by heart. At home Finn has multiple guitars, drums and a toy saxophone which he regularly plays singing his self-composed songs. I’m not sure if I can believe in reincarnation but if so, I think he is Kurt Cobain back in the mix but anyway, music is going to be a part of his future.
The atmosphere at the market is interesting. It seemed to be exclusively families with kids that stopped to see the musicians. I saw one kid doing some juggling with his hat out but otherwise didn’t see anyone attempting a big show. Not sure if this was due to the still chilly weather or limited space but I thought the mix of people would make for an interesting audience.
Portland, Oregon USA
I drove from Seattle down to Portland in 2010 for a couple of days to visit an old friend. I took my rental car but had second thoughts about having booked it since it might have been more relaxing to take the train. I take trains all the time in Europe but just once had the opportunity in upstate New York to ride on a train in America. Later on this trip I was in Ft Worth, Texas and wanted to take the intercity train to Dallas but it was Sunday and there was no service, no city buses running either.
My friend Steve showed me the Portland art museum and took me to the main Powell’s bookstore, which is said to be the biggest in the USA. Would have loved to have more time just poking around the shelves but we took advantage of another offering which was their daily author reading. I was told that Portland has the highest level of residents with advanced degrees in the country, which makes it a ripe market for such things. But the lively place to hang out was in the neighborhood of Burnside, which had a lot of little restaurants, coffee houses, second-hand shops and whatever that would contribute to the local slogan of “keep Portland weird”.
Cinemas, burlesque and pinball
There seemed to be a number of old cinemas around and the city is supposed to be the capital of burlesque in America. Many performers I know have ended up in Oregon and such venues provide at least the occasional gig for them. We also went to a video store, which was unlike any I had ever seen. It not only has the country’s biggest selection of video/DVDs but also is a museum to cinema memorabilia as well including important objects from some of the most famous films of all time. Another interesting thing are the multiple large pinball arcades, something that has most disappeared elsewhere.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
From Seattle I also did a day trip to Vancouver, Canada in 2011. Later I returned in early 2016. The winter Olympics had just finished a few weeks before in 2010, so either I just missed a great time or a lot of stress depending on your point of view. I remember the good old days where crossing the Canadian border was done by flashing a driver’s license. Now they wanted to see my passport and know exactly where I live, what I do, where I was staying and for how long, what my purpose was…
Returning later that day I had fewer questions to answer at US customs because they simply already had it in their computer. But one had to pass through 3 sets of multiple cameras. They don’t just take your photo but take video footage of everyone coming across, most likely in 3-d. As it was a Sunday it was rather quiet downtown except for the tourists running around. I even found a free parking place.
Granville Street was basically just an extension of the highway I had taken all the way from Seattle. It is the main drag downtown to shop or get a bite to eat and luckily I could get a burrito and pay in US dollars, as I couldn’t be bothered to change money just for the afternoon. The exchange rate is like 1.03 something, which also surprised me as for years the Canadian dollar was worth significantly less.
Neighborhoods of Gastown, Vancouver, Canada
Central Vancouver has a lot of big, modern buildings but unlike in most American cities, many of them seemed to be residential rather than just office space. Not that Canada lacks enough space but the approach to urban planning there reflects a more European approach to condensed city spaces, which makes more sense for things like saving energy and the efficiency of public transportation. Thankfully, they have also kept and renovated some of the older neighborhoods like Gastown. It was once a real working class place but much of it is now quaint shops and restaurants. This old trolley car was one of the eye catchers for the tourists. The shop with a statue in front was obviously selling cowboy boots. Another oddity was this old steam powered clock. Gastown was the location of the old gasworks, which would have been pretty important before the street lamps were converted to electricity. So if you can light a lamp, why not use gas to drive a steam powered clock?
Missions and soup kitchens
The area was not all quaint and fixed up though. I had notice a multiple of crosses on my map but rather than big churches they turned out to be missions that catered to hardcore junkies and street people. With huge crowds of down-and-out looking characters, I stashed my camera in my bag and continued on my way past many places that looked abandoned. Was almost surprised to see this cannabis store as the average pot head would probably not want to be associated with most of the clientele I saw around there or maybe they are too stoned to notice. Some of the pubs and eateries also seemed to cater to the down and out.
A bigger surprise was the Scientology center. Like they hide themselves in the neighborhood to say; “Hey, we’re a church too”. Would love to see the reaction of having some street people ask for a hot meal and a helping hand from those pricks that are all about swindling people’s money. Or maybe they actually have some crack dealers donating their profits to Ron L. Hubbard.
Granville Bridge, Granville Island
Returning to Granville Street, I followed it across the long, high Granville Bridge, which has a spectacular view of the downtown and harbor at Granville Island. The island is half industrial and the other half fancy establishments catering to tourists. If I had had more time I would have taken one of the tours on these cool little tugboats, which seemed to show up every 10 minutes or so and take off when they filled up.
Granville Island public spaces & performing
There were a number of large covered markets on the island, which were really just small malls of souvenir shops in addition to the many eateries. It was a bit brisk but people still hung out to enjoy the day. Seemed to be a lot of places to take boat trips around the area. There were two spots, which were reserved for the buskers. Seemed well organized and each got an hour pitch but the crowds were not so big. Would have been a lot of work to pull a proper crowd for a clown show there and all I saw were musicians.
I had seen a juggler with a tall unicycle in the pedestrian part of Granville Street, which had more room and fewer distractions. He mentioned that it had only been a year since the police allowed performers to use this area in addition to the pitches on the island. Ralph Shaw the ukulele player seemed to be in his element here with his family friendly entertainment. I would have loved to explore more of the city especially to see how many immigrants make up such a dynamic metropolis but I had to return the almost five hour drive to Seattle.
So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last thirty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!
To book or see more information about Tom's clown show and entertainment, visit one or both of his clown websites: