Vancouver
4 min

The Drive is not a one-theme park

A first glimpse of gossip, grit and queers on the Drive

Fancy people come slumming it on Saturday mornings, they come from everywhere in the Lower Mainland, following their noses up in the air, their yelping designer dogs and strollers, straddling their Hummers and Harleys.

The aging punks in clunky skateboards and the cute, young Sinéad O’Connors fade to the background of the pixilated folk. The rest of the week, the Drive is still ours, intimate, vibrant.

The Drive is not lesbian anymore, or gay, and much less GLBT (such discomfited acronym-ity)—it is queer.

A corridor between Hastings and Broadway, the lesser vanity fair, a borderland between dull suburbs and a self-important high-heeled downtown with buildings named after NY buildings, and far from the west side. Here, they sew Lululemon in local maquiladoras; in the west they vomit to wear it.

The borderland used to be Main St, but the 2010 city planners keep pushing migrants our way. Welcome. You don’t need an identity to live on the Drive. Hell, you don’t even need an ID.

What’s not to like? Where else can you smoke a doobie at the top of the street, hop on your skateboard, your scooter or your own two feet, throw worries into the air and whiz through the busiest corner of the city at Broadway, passed the decrepit cinemas, the stalls with green produce, the smell of the blend, queer femmes with rough edges and lower back ink, men who look like their dogs, a refugee camp of second-hand fashions, the cornucopia of ’70s lesbian purple outfits, tamales, shawarmas and dubious sushi?

Whiz by the fancy stores, the outside cafés holding intense unibrow men and overdone women in tight jeans from all four corners, bearish queers, gruff lesbians with kind hearts, hippies and their drums all rhythm and no melody, elderly punks, Libby Davies waving hello, other bisexuals with their spouses of choice, speeding right through it all to end up bound and gagged in the barber chair of some kooky artist at the end of the Drive on Powell St.

The Drive is not a one-theme park.

When I think of travelling the Drive, plugged on the iPod, I hear Bob’s Your Uncle, cheesy rap, some salsa (you call it relish?), and local jazz jams. The Drive is a vector blend of desire.

Here, we always have a demo for someone to be liberated in a far-away land or to take back the night. Even the local leatherfolk don’t seem so fascistic in cookie-cutter outfits.

The Drive acts locally and projects globally (we will not argue the effectiveness of any of it today but at least our outlook is not indolent).

The Drive is a stone’s throw from Strathcona, from the ‘burbs, and from the airport (in case you are being deported). Forget downtown Granville, reeking of testosterone, and the different planet where North Vancouverites live—this is where it’s at. From here you can check out the world.

To be on the Drive you’ve got to be a bit insolent, quirky, mind your business, this surely includes respecting the kind of vehicle you drive, the drugs you use, and whom you choose to fuck.

Historically, the Drive has been populated by immigrants, working class, and lesbians, but the tides are changing and we must chart the ebbs and flows in the months before the winter Olympic athletes come and warm up our loins and groins.

Will it be like the 1990 Gay Games, but white? I hope so; I gave a number of fine athletes the warmest reception to the East Side that time. I remember Norway very fondly, what a big ambassador of his country he was.

The Drive with its mix of cheaply made co-ops, Vancouver specials and Vancouver boxes from the century of the dodo is so close to some kind of heaven and so far away from one patriarchal God (if you don’t count some spectacular Californian guy with long hair and no surfboard who struts his stuff near Grandview park—Oh God!).

I’m young enough to remember Vancouver when it wasn’t an aspiring city; a town with queer bars all over (even on Robson St). The first time I saw the Drive, I took the primordial 20 Victoria bus that wormed its way slowly up Hastings and turned into this really drab stretch.

My urbanite nubile big city wetback immigrant heart took a dive—yet another clear-cut on this forsaken rainforest, I thought.

I was making the necessary pilgrimage to MOSAIC, the immigrant settlement organization. It was hard to find gay men in the West End, silenced by AIDS in the 1980s; it would be impossible to find a queer in this cluttered drive, I mused.

Who would have thought that in the next 20 years I would walk, crawl, limp, and run those sidewalks, happy, fit to die in the 1990s, dumped by some asshole who thought the East Side was too far and too foreign, or joyous out of my mind (no, not always “high”).

I have done the Drive in plainclothes, in drag (at the legendary Harry’s on Charles St), in leather, in Depends, but always glad to be there.

You do the drive or the drive does you in. It’s not a place for the faint of heart, not neo-nice as the fabulous Welsh transgendered travel writer Jan Morris called Vancouver.

When the sun shines in the west, it might be raining on the Drive and we still manage to keep each other hot. The Drive has gossip, it has grit, and the queers in it have cojones.

On the Drive you live and let die. (As I write this, a man just got shot at a popular café. Need more proof? I remember my neighbour, Aaron Webster).

If you pack some heat, come check us out. In the following months, I will be writing about eye-candy hunks, all sorts of traffic in the morning, tofu in the evenings, lifestyle, no-style, and other scenes from the viewpoint of the Drive.