PEOPLE...when you least expect it, a story emerges

During the progress of Project 851 I have come to meet a spectrum of characters that could be a book/blog in and of itself. A friend, going through the same same but different process, said to me “If I knew what I was getting into I would NEVER have started this”. It wasn’t hard for me to respond, “I know there are a lot of times I have wanted to curse people and systems, gov’t and corporations in particular, but overall I am so very glad and grateful of the stellar people I have met. So honestly I can’t honestly say the same”. When you decide to develop, renovate, restore… be prepared for the roller coaster of emotion because that’s what you’re in for.

When people ask me how it’s going, the usual response is “Oh great, the executive camping situation is alive and well in my world”. I don’t go into how discombobulated it feels to be not done, not settled, not truly grounded because part of me thinks that’s all “first world problem whining”. The other part of me says I’m ready to bond with those homeless people and others that are displaced from the safety and security of having a home. My new mantra has become “good things come to those who wait… repeat 1 million times “.

So while riding the roller coaster of madness I’ve discovered things I wouldn’t have had without this adventure. Here’s one simple one, doing laundry. If you didn’t have your laundry room/space what would you do? Damn rights, you go to the laundromat, or find friends with laundry machines, or use a friends buildings machines… It’s made me think a lot about laundry.

Firstly, how wasteful it is that we all have laundry machines. Yes it’s convenient but the laundromat has become one of my favourite Saturday morning things to do, mind you I did have to discover where they were. Apparently, there are 4-5 laundromats within walking distance and most of them on Commercial drive. The closest one to me is the definition of “fear” itself and I only went to check it out because people in the hood told me “you do not want to go there” — sorry 700 blk Hastings laundromat you are too scary for most of us.

After checking out the Drive and laundromats of the area I settled on Williams Laundromat, which is nothing fancy but has an old school feel to it that made me feel humble and comfortable. It must be at least a few months now that I’ve been going to Williams and have slowly started to build a relationship with the place and people; the owner, his kids, staff … During my first visits to William’s I looked at those front load machines, both washers and dryers, checking out the cost. Hmmmm, $3.00 a wash for 30 min. cycle and $2.50 for the dryer working out to be a 60 min. cycle that sounded very reasonable to me; also if you don’t bring laundry soap toss in another $1 and you’re covered. If you do a drop off / pick up it’s more but worth it if you’re in a hurry with your own madness in life. I love the fact that my life madness lead me to appreciate the simple adventure of laundry.

On one of the early visits to the laundromat I asked the guy who looked like the owner if he was William. He advised me that he was not but had bought the business from William, who occasionally still came into visit. This is when I decided the new owners name was William-not-William. As I continued with my Saturday routine of visiting William’s and tossing in a coffee at Turks while walking the drive, visiting friends and exploring, my happen chance meeting with William’s children occurred.

While tossing Koko, my dog’s, toys , towels and blankets into the machines I noticed 2 young men overseeing the laundromat. I asked them if they were William-not-William’s kids and they said yes, through their obviously bored to be slave children doing their duty to the family business role. My inner Balkan immigrant child, first generation Canadian, antenna went up!!

My excitement over “the Laundromat” poured out. I went on and on (a bit) about how awesome the laundromat was and my new found experience. I went on to share how I would enjoy to run this business in a hip and fun new way. It was obvious that these young people thought it was lame and a duty to the family rather than an opportunity to spring this business into the present from the past. I don’t know if my comments and ideas of painting the place and making it a happening resonated with them or not, but nonetheless the seed was planted.

Just before Easter I found myself at the laundromat with an opportunity for a conversation with William-not-William. I don’t recall how the conversation started but during it, I discovered his adventures to arriving in Canada from Vietnam. He told me how he would be having a grateful Easter celebration because it was an adventure for him to end up in this country.

His first try out of Vietnam was one on a helicopter, operated by a relative who was determined to help them leave the country. As his relative landed the helicopter for him and his family to enter and escape, they found themselves overwhelmed by other people jumping onto the exit plan. They managed to get the family onto the helicopter, with some extras, only to discover the exit plan was one that was overloaded. The helicopter was under stress and William-not-William was in the back with family which was destined to crash. The pilot relative realized what was going on and jumped out. The helicopter crashed/ broke and that’s when the pilot relative came back in, from god knows where, and rescued William-not-William and his family. They all got out safe, but that was only the beginning of the journey to Canada.

William-not-William made 2 more attempts to leave Vietnam to come to Canada. The first one resulted in his imprisonment for 1 year. When he didn’t give up and tried again he ended up caught and sentenced to 3 years in jail. Some of his family were able to leave and others not. On his final attempt he achieved his goal and met his wife in the same exodus. They came to Canada. He has no desire to return to the Communist regime that he found so distasteful and feels that supporting it is not the way to go for the people that live there.. I did not fully share my own families story of exodus from former Jugoslavia/Yugoslavia but there was a sense of understanding that existed between strangers, that understanding and respect of a personal history of immigration, that existed. I have always felt blessed to know that about myself and my identity to place and space.

It was a part of my pleasant and unexpected adventure of this project ending in joy of a laundromat — the history of this project 851 just keeps speaking to me…(and koko)