Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blogging from Vancouver, BC

We are in Vancouver, BC live blogging the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship. The event goes for eight days, and we got here a day early just to make sure everything (high speed internet, press credentials, hotel room) was ready.

"It's good to be back in a real city," I told myself the first day as I walked to the nearest Starbucks.

view from the hotel window

It's a city, for sure, with noise and traffic and places to eat that stay open after 9:00PM. But "real" might be overstating it. I have lived in real cities, and I have traveled to real cities, and my experience has been that in real cities, people live to get things done. In contrast, here in laid back Vancouver, people live expecting that things simply can't be done, so when they are not done, well then uh oh. The motto of Vancouver should be "It's not my fault. So."

It takes some getting used to.

Here in Vancouver, population 580,000, they are preparing to host the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in 2010. The streets are torn up, there is construction everywhere, and there are several new buildings for the games. You can't pick up a newspaper or watch a tv newscast or look at an online portal anywhere in BC without being bombarded with stories about the facilities being finished on time.

Unless, apparently, you are a Vancouver Taxi driver.

We have taken a cab every day to the new Olympic/Paralympic Centre. Every day, we have had to direct the cab driver, except on the second day, when the same driver as the first day showed up at the hotel.

Ok, fine. That's not the problem. The problem is that when we try to get a cab back to the hotel, it's a giant negotiation with the Vancouver Taxi dispatcher, because they can't find this address on their maps. And they just don't seem to give a damn about fixing that.

There's a world championship event going on. The place is full of Handi-DARTs and wheelchair users. We need a wheelchair accessible taxi, and we will need one every night at about the same time. "Could you let your dispatcher know where this is? We'll need a cab every night about this time."

We either get a grunt in return, or a card with the cab company's phone number, or both. Talking to the dispatcher is like talking to the wall.

I've never been in a city of any size where this was normal.

In Chicago ("The City That Gets Things Done"), the drivers were not only required to know where everything was, they took great pride in it. In San Francisco ("The City That Knows How"), if you needed to know where ANYTHING was, you just needed to ask a cabbie. (And by anything, I mean a good Italian restaurant that's not touristy, where you could get breakfast in the middle of the night, and what the baseball scores were. Anything.)

Even in Atlanta ("The City Too Busy To Hate"), even in the runup to the 1996 Olympics, cabbies knew where the new facilities were, how much they cost, and what used to be there.

But not here in Vancouver. Here in Vancouver, the VANOC representative is amazed that the American wheelchair curlers brought their own shower benches, and that they are so self-sufficient. "Of course they brought their own stuff, they're not expecting to wait around until someone provides them with something," I did not say out loud.

Vancouver's motto is "By sea land and air we prosper"

Just not by taxi.

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