I am exhausted. Last Monday, I finished the end of eight draining shifts at the restaurant. Every week brings a different section and a new cast of characters. Friday night, I served wild salmon and champagne to two ladies whose breasts cost more than my English degree. Saturday brunch, I placed house cocktails in front of five gay men whose colourful outfits could not make up for their complete lack of personality. Sunday dinner, I refilled draft Peronis for a table of Brits who accused me of taking a piss after I told them we were famous for our brussel sprouts. This has been my story for the last three years.
These days I spend so much time working at the restaurant that I have fallen out of touch with the world. Unless news breaks on Alberni Street or at either of the two Starbucks on the corner of Robson and Thurlow, there is a good chance I don’t know about it. That is why I did not learn until Monday afternoon, when I eavesdropped on a table’s conversation at lunch, that Vancouver has become the most expensive city in North America. Out-ranking San Francisco, Los Angeles and even New York, there is no question this mountain town is one expensive bitch.
This of course comes as no surprise. Three years ago, when I first announced I was breaking up with Winnipeg to pursue a LTR with YVR, my decision was mixed with a salad bar of reactions. Some were fresh and positive – “I can see you now strutting down the seawall in those boots, so fabulous!” – while others were wilted and dressed with grave concern. “Bitch, are you crazy?” burst out my roommate one night following an episode of Ab Fab. Pausing to take a sip from his vodka martini he continued his line of questioning, “Since when did you become rich?”
Judging from their responses, it appeared that the majority of my friends were not only concerned about my savings account, but my mental health as well. To them, Winnipeg was the faithful wife of thirty years while Vancouver was the femme fatale: the gorgeous twenty-something who would eventually leave me high and dry with nothing but debt and really attractive Facebook profile photos. “I just can’t understand why anyone would want to do that to themselves,” whispered one of the regulars at my old café.
The answer was really quite simple: I needed to get out of Winnipeg and I needed to get out fast. I was wildly unhappy in my final year on the prairies. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t mend a broken heart and I was growing tired of RSVP’ing to my own pity party. Six nights a week out of seven, I would stumble home from Billabong with a gigantic VISA bill in my jean pocket and no memory as to why I decided to sleep in the hallway. By May 2009, my clothes were covered in dust and my arms were tired from picking myself back up. No matter how much it cost, Vancouver would be the price I would have to pay to start all over again. “Skyscrapers are a gay’s best friend,” I told myself.
The high cost of life in this city did not hit me until I walked in to a wine store for the first time. Making a B-line for Italy, I picked up my favourite bottle of Barbera D’alba and screamed when the price lit up on the cash register. My go-to bottle was ten dollars more than what I paid for it back home. I always tell people, it is not the rent that will bankrupt you in this city (unless you want to live downtown with a sixteenth-floor view of the sun setting over English Bay) it is the stick of butter at the corner store or the Thursday night out with friends that will get you in the end.
It is remarkable how quickly, as humans, we adapt. Like everyone else, it was only a matter of months before I got over the price of life beside the Pacific Ocean. Plus, think how much I was getting in return! Freedom! Unlike the prairies (and pretty much any Canadian town, excluding Calgary, with a population under a million) I was free to dress however I wanted. For the first time I could walk down the street with my partner’s hand in mine and kiss him good night at the Sky Train station without fear of being stoned or verbally assaulted. (Of course I have been devastatingly single since I arrived here, so that has been a touch of a waste, but it is still a nice thought!)
Within weeks, the Ocean began to heal me. Sitting on a bench alongside False Creek, with a non-fat latte in my right hand, I began the process of letting go. “Alright bitch, let’s do this,” I said looking up to the mountains for strength. And so, one-by-one, I ripped off each bandage that covered up a painful memory from the past. As the years went by and the scars eventually began to fade, I learned to respect the cards I had been dealt in this life and cherish the individual they had made me become.
But nothing comes without a price, and as I grew richer in some areas of my life, I became much poorer in others. With expensive wine tastes, an obsession with French skin products, and a love affair with take-out coffee, I entered into a life of indentured servitude at the restaurant. In order to keep up with the rising cost of my existence, I abandoned less profitable ventures like writing and poured my soul in to increasing wine sales and guest check averages. Counting my tips at the end of every shift, I developed a new addiction: money. I was am happy when I had have it, and upset when I didn’t don’t.
Walking passed Gucci, Tiffany’s, Hermes and Louis Vuitton everyday on the way to work it did not take me long before I became a material girl in a material world. The worst is when you have a closet full of clothes and no inspiration to get out of bed to wear them. I think one of the most challenging aspects of living in North America’s most expensive city is being constantly reminded of what you don’t have as opposed to what you do. In the words of Nina Simone, “Got my feet, got my toes, got my liver, got my blood, I’ve got life.”
That said… even though I make sure to thank Meryl Streep every night for everything I do have (including my CK bedsheets) there are a couple things I would like to add to the list, namely: a dog, time to write everyday and a dining room table big enough to host gigantic red wine dinner parties with all my best friends. Whether that story takes place in this town or the next, we will see.