Stoned and Paranoid in Vancouver: A Lesson From the Streets
I arrived in Canada to begin what was to become my fourth snow season, but my first long-term solo overseas trip. I had no job and vague intentions of making my way to Banff, but figured a few days in Vancouver would be a good time to start.
As a veteran of three seasons in Australia, I thought this big adventure would be a cake walk. But after immediately getting lost and having to trek across the whole city with a snowboard bag and a 70-litre backpack to find to my hostel, it was obvious that there was some knowledge I was yet to acquire. Turns out I was to learn more in the next 24 hours than I had in the last three years.
Too many beers at the hostel bar, a sleepless night and a bunkmate who insisted on having the loudest sex imaginable left me feeling like a shell of the human I normally am. As a result, I dedicated the following day to getting as stoned as possible on some of BC’s finest. I found the dispensary and nervously fumbled my way through buying some legal weed for the first time, then headed downtown to the New Amsterdam Café and Smoking Lounge to burn one down.
I’m not normally prone to panic attacks or being a paranoid stoner, but god-fucking–damn. The combination of jetlag, sleep deprivation, a hangover and the reality that this particular strain of weed was the strongest shit I’d smoked in my life all resulted in a crippling wave of anxiety that hit me like a bus. I had no idea how long I’d spent in the smoking lounge. Everything was beginning to close in on me, so I packed my shit and got out of there. Once outside, I felt much worse; at this point, the buildings were too big and I, too small.
I wandered the streets looking for my hostel. I froze when I felt my passport in my pocket. My mind flooded with stories of people being pickpocketed. Walking like a madman, I buried my hands deep in my pockets to try and fight the fact that I was experiencing a pretty gnarly panic attack. People tried to talk to me to see if I was okay; it was obvious that I wasn’t. For all I knew, they just wanted to lure me into a false sense of security and steal my passport.
Lost and confused, I pulled out my phone to maps my way back to the hostel. It was dead. At this point, I was practically immobile – this episode had rendered me completely useless.
Accepting my fate, I found a quiet spot in an alleyway and tried to calm myself. That was until a voice from the dark asked, “What are you doin’ in this alley? You’re not from around here, eh bud?”
A homeless man approached me.
“Just trying to sort some things out,” I replied, doing my best to keep what little composure I had left.
“Me too bud.”
“What’s your issue?”
“Dinner,” he said through an embarrassed chuckle.
Thinking it over for what was either 10 seconds or 10 minutes, I told him to wait there and went to the poutine shop next to the alley. I bought a large pile of chips, cheese curd and gravy and returned with two forks.
I explained to the man how my evening had gone, and he reassured me I was fine and told me to double check the effects and strength of the weed before I bought it next time. In hindsight, that was an impressive misstep by me. He explained how he’d travelled almost all of Canada before suffering a mental break down and losing his job. Now he was just bumming it for a while; he seemed so content and positive that things would eventually turn around.
We finished dinner and he gave me directions to my hostel, which was only about a block away from where we were. I’d been walking in circles for the last two hours just metres from my accommodation. After coming to this epiphany, we both laughed hysterically for what seemed like forever. We hugged and I walked home relaxed, confident, laughing and still stoned to the eyeballs, yet extremely excited for the winter adventures to come.
Not everyone is out to steal your passport or wallet just because you’re from a different country or place. I’d learned the difficult way that having a bit of trust in strangers doesn’t mean everything will go to shit – and it’s something I’m sure we can all be better at.