Trip stirs up questions about society’s imbalance

I am not a keen flyer; I lack the endurance, the tolerance and the essential self-control to cope with all the waiting, queuing, and security hassle associated with air travel. Driving, even over long distances, is, by comparison, rather pleasant.

My most recent travel experience was a trip to Vancouver. The drive south was uneventful: drive to Prince George, turn right, drive on to Hope, turn right again, and first thing you know you are in Vancouver. With good weather and a well-maintained vehicle, and provided one rises at a decent hour, packs an adequate lunch, a sizable mug of coffee and a jug of water, the trip can be comfortable. It can be an outright pleasure if one remembers to take along a couple of gripping multi-CD stories to while away the hours.

The weather in Vancouver was better than that promised by the city’s ostentatious tourism brochures. At any hour, from sunrise to sunset and back again to sunrise, I cannot find an appropriate word in my thesaurus to describe the spectacular view from the balcony of our 19th floor hotel room on Denman Street in Vancouver’s West End.

Driving around the West End, one of Canada’s most densely populated neighbourhoods, is an ordeal even in a modest-sized car. This is most definitely not crew cab country. Riding a bicycle appeared to be a more appropriate if not more efficient way to move around the neighbourhood, but in all that traffic I felt most secure keeping to the crowded sidewalks.

One of our more impressive outings was a 40-minute boat tour of the inner harbour. We saw every imaginable water craft on that tour, from massive ocean freighters to stand-up paddle boards.

The harbour tour was impressive, but there was a disturbing aspect to it. There are private yachts docked in that harbour – more than one – the size of a moderate ferry. Some private yachts are so large as to require tug boats to ease them in and out of their berths. The sight of these colossal yachts did more to help me recognize the magnitude of the gap separating the 1 per cent from the 99 per cent in our society than I could comprehend from reading statistics on income and wealth expressed in millions and billions of dollars.

Back on land after the harbour tour, strolling along West End sidewalks, I took greater notice of details I had previously failed to notice.

Instead of occasional garbage cans as found in small town public areas, Vancouver’s West End features triple waste disposal containers: landfill, recycle, and composting. It is evident that people use these facilities as intended.

What I also noticed with greater disquietude were homeless people – not in Vancouver’s skid row, but in its prosperous high-rise West End. It struck me that we are more conscientious in the ways we treat the waste generated by society’s affluence than we are in the ways we respond to the human misery emanating from that same affluence.

The drive home was an adventure of a different kind. Highway 97 was closed to all traffic due to the many fires in the Cariboo region. The traffic was heavy along our alternative route, Highway 5 from Hope to Tête Jaune Cache, and from there along Highway 16 to Prince George where we found ourselves back on familiar terrain. Although we were hundreds of miles from the nearest fires, the smoke was at times so intense that we could virtually taste it. Lightning may have ignited those fires, but are we really innocent in the way they spread and the resulting suffering and damage?

I had set out on an innocuous trip.

I came back challenged by an uneasy philosophical question: How can I reconcile the beauty of nature’s balance with the wanton lack of balance in our society’s capabilities?

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