Halloween night and Davie St was a ghost town.
My friend and I had bar-hopped from 1181 to PumpJack to Numbers, where we encountered an empty dancefloor, a couple of Pride flags and some sombreros perched forlornly on the wall, all wrapped in unfortunate cobwebs for the holiday.
“This is what you call a mixed metaphor,” my friend whispered to me.
It was all too apparent to us that night that the gay community is leaving its village.
Just a few years back, I remember waiting in line at Celebrities and running around the street, drunk, with a sailor hat on my head. Now I only come to Davie St when forced.
The more I look around the Village these days, the more straight people I see. Where the hell did the gays go?
Our community’s former main street is being overrun by large chains and coffee shops that remove any cultural significance Davie once held.
When I talk to my friends about it, they refer to Davie as “a bunch of gay guys in a Starbucks.”
Not that they’re in mourning. “Good. Let Davie die,” they say. “Let it die a graceful death.”
I understand. It’s not like Davie’s gentrification has been improving our culture. Go to Celebrities on a Tuesday and you’ll see.
But gentrification isn’t a new concept and straights don’t easily scare gays out of a village, so what is really going on here?
I was sitting in the PumpJack pre-Halloween with a couple of friends when a stranger suddenly appeared and asked if he could join us.
We were caught off guard. We all looked at each other, hesitated, then smiled and said, “Of course.”
The stranger sat down, relieved.
“Thank goodness,” he said. “I feel like no one wants to make friends in this town.”
It’s a downtown Vancouver thing, we explained, offering him tips on where to meet new people (and find cheaper beer).
As I listened to our advice, I realized that all the places we were urging the stranger to visit were outside of Davie St.
East of Davie, to be specific.
It got me thinking, first about the basic concept that Vancouver gays are not so nice to people they don’t know.
But more importantly about the prospect of our culture’s shift eastward.
I don’t know about you, but my Face-book events reflect a definite trend. Spit, Opulence, Queer Bash, thrilLITERATE are all eastside events. Why is everyone heading east to party, and what do these parties have that Davie doesn’t?
Friendly community and culture.
It wasn’t always like this. Walking down Davie St used to be a rite of passage (and for many probably still is).
I remember doing the Davie pilgrimage with my friend when he and I were first coming out.
We would walk the streets, fingers cupped around warm cups of coffee, hoping a man would come over, ask us to stay the night and take us away from our respective closets.
It was a “dare to dream” ideal, but the Village was about hope.
Davie St provided stepping stones for so many of us.
That walk down Davie, with a hopeful semi in your pants, is part of the humble beginnings of a queer future.
If we lose that, if we lose our village, our community will scatter, leaving no communal place for us to gather, to interact. To come out. We’ll lose a bit of ourselves, a lot of our history and a critical rite of passage for generations to come.
Whether, down the road, you end up partying in East Van, moving to a place in Kits with three dogs or renting a place with your snowboarding boyfriend in North Van, it all begins on Davie.
Davie provided those first gay experiences for so many of us, and with it fading there has never been a greater need for reinvention and invigoration.
So what can Davie do? Refocus.
Right now our main street lacks culture, and there are myriad events popping up in the eastside to fill the void.
Businesses and organizations should be inviting these events onto Davie St.
We may not win back the spaces that have already been invaded by chain stores and big businesses. But those who remain, like Numbers, PumpJack, 1181, Hamburger Mary’s and Little Sister’s, need to stake their claim and hold on to our culture.
Little Sister’s is the stronghold of the street, providing gay readings, books, author signings and, of course, different brands of lube. This goes to show that where culture sticks, the customer base will remain.
The other companies need to follow suit. Gay art shows, poetry readings, events such as thrilLITERATE that support local charities — they all need to come back to Davie St.
Saving Davie may require some cultural renovations. But when you come down to basics, the Village may just need the locals to start with one word: “Hello.”