An Empty Feeling on the Coast

VANCOUVER (Dec. 1) — For the better part of an hour, I could not understand it.

Yes, rain was falling when I arrived here earlier today, but it always rains in Vancouver at this time of year; at last count, 57 of the past 60 days. So, there’s no way the weather could have been grounds for my gloomy disposition on the cab ride downtown from the airport. I checked into my room on the 15th floor of a hotel across from B.C. Place Stadium and kitty–corner to Rogers Arena (though you can no longer see the home of the Vancouver Canucks on account of yet another high–rise condominium cluster). As I glanced out the window, I asked myself, “Howard… what’s bugging you?” And, it finally hit me.

My last visit here.

Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, 2013. For the final leg of the Toronto Maple Leafs annual trek through western Canada.

I still shudder when recalling the image on the giant video–board above center–ice. It was Pat Quinn — sitting on a chair as part of a pre–game ceremony honoring the Canucks’ Hall–of–Fame sniper, Pavel Bure. Quinn was gaunt and pale; a shell of the robust coach that twice guided the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup semifinals (in 1999 and 2002). I remember looking over at Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun — three seats to my right in the Rogers Arena press box. There was dread in both our eyes. The man we had grown to respect — and then love — was clearly sick. Very sick. We’d had no indication; no word or warning about the liver ailment that would take Quinn’s life just more than a year later. When Pat’s wan, desolate image was shown on TV screens from coast to coast on Hockey Night In Canada, a social media storm erupted.

“What’s wrong with the Big Irishman?” shocked viewers wanted to know.

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THE MEMORY FROM TWO YEARS AGO OF A SICK PAT QUINN PROVIDED ME SUBLIMINAL SORROW AS MY TAXI APPROACHED THE CAMBIE BRIDGE IN DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER EARLIER TODAY.

Compounding matters on that dreary night was a sudden and wicked illness that sent me scurrying back to the hotel after the second period of the Leafs–Canucks game. I’ve taken an annual flu–shot since 1994, when I began traveling with the Leafs as a reporter for The FAN–590. The frequency of plane trips demanded such protection; it had been remarkably effective through the years. I’ve always kept a thermometer in my toiletries bag, though I don’t recall having used it during my 23–year term at the radio station. When I stuck it under my tongue on that night in 2013, the mercury rose to nearly 103 Fahrenheit. Around 3 a.m., nausea began to prevail. I was on my knees in the bathroom three times an hour and finally crawled to the phone to summon the front desk, inquiring about a hospital. Or, a doctor. Perhaps an undertaker. A few moments afterward, an “on–call” physician dialed the room and said he’d drop by within the hour. This man was sent by God. After jamming a needle into my rump, the queasiness finally subsided. “But, you ain’t traveling today,” he insisted. “Call and change your flight home to tomorrow afternoon. You should be fine by then.”

Capping my misery, the 24–hour delay prevented me from attending the funeral, in Toronto, of a particularly beloved aunt on my late mother’s side of the family that had died a few days earlier. So, yeah, I suppose there was plenty of reason for the subliminal despondency I encountered on that taxi ride to the hotel here.

Otherwise, it was a day of quick and easy travel. A flight that normally occupies close to five hours lasted merely four hours and 20 minutes thanks to a howling tail–wind. There was a moment of “distress” shortly after landing here in Vancouver. When you’re a man closing in on 58 years of age; seated at a window in a 3–aisle–3 aircraft configuration while crossing three time zones, you arrive, unavoidably, in a bladder crisis. If you are situated in Row 28 of Air Canada’s Cattle Class on an Airbus–320 filled to capacity, you will not de–plane in the immediate moments after arriving at the gate. And, when the woman seated in front of you begins talking about her recent trip to Niagara Falls, you feel as if there’s a balloon situated between your naval and your upper–thighs. Of all the images on Earth, that’s the one I needed coursing through my mind.

Anyway, I’m here. And, looking forward to watching the Maple Leafs, on Saturday, play the rubber–match of their trek through Alberta and B.C. A loss in Calgary followed a victory in Edmonton.

And, you know I do not travel anywhere without my trusty NIKON:

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IT’S GREY HERE IN B.C. AND IT WAS GREY WHILE DEPARTING PEARSON AIRPORT AT 10:25 a.m.

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THERE WAS CLOUD–COVER BENEATH US FOR PRACTICALLY THE ENTIRE CROSS–COUNTRY TRIP, BUT THE OVERCAST PARTED RATHER CONVENIENTLY (ABOVE AND BELOW) AS WE FLEW OVER–TOP THE CANADIAN ROCKIES AND NORTH–SHORE MOUNTAIN RANGE CLOSER TO VANCOUVER.

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HAVING BARRELED OUT OVER THE WATER, WE DOUBLED BACK TO LAND EASTWARD.

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WHEELS WERE DOWN AND SPOILERS WERE UP AT VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL AROUND 11:45 a.m. 

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GIVEN MY UPON–LANDING “CRISIS”, A CLEAR AISLE AND EMPTY PLANE WAS A WONDROUS SIGHT.

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B.C. PLACE STADIUM ILLUMINATED AT DUSK…

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AND, A RATHER PORTLY VISITOR ON THE LEDGE OUTSIDE MY HOTEL WINDOW.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

3 comments on “An Empty Feeling on the Coast

  1. Thoughtful blog Howard. YOU have got to get a book out there. About Pat Quinn. I was not happy when the Leafs fired him. I always think about the way his playing career ended. A skateboarding incident of all things. He is missed.

  2. Great Blog, Howard !
    Pat was a great man and when the Leafs fired him I knew to expect a disaster…
    Pat & I knew each other…altho not close friends…when we encountered each other he made you feel that way…
    Funny…I travel to Van often ( a daughter lives there ) and I like to sit in 28 and I have a slew of photos of the Rockies too…lol
    Godspeed !

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