Rugged, rustic, real. This region is all of these and more. With the Okanagan Valley’s relatively quick ascent as a must-visit destination wine region, the neighboring Similkameen Valley is an unvarnished pocket of small town charm and originality ready for eager wine enthusiasts to discover at their leisure – and here, leisure truly means slow.
Stretching along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and tucked along the edges of centuries-old rainforest, Vancouver is a young city defined by its natural geography in ways unlike any other. It’s known by many names: Lotusland in reference to Homer’s Odyssey, the City of Glass from a Douglas Coupland novel, and Hollywood North thanks to a few seasons of the X-files and oodles of films.
Vancouver is a port city that came of age in the prohibition era and grew up into a diverse urban center with much to offer, including a burgeoning culinary scene and wine culture. Destination or layover, Vancouver is where you want to spend a few hours or days to eat and drink your fill.
A year ago on December 20, I discovered my life as I knew it was a lie. I ended my marriage and started to pick up the pieces to begin assembling a new life. How does one mark a milestone like that? For me, there was only one way: take a friend to Las Vegas, hock my wedding rings, and gamble whatever I got.
Las Vegas is a strange and interesting city. Beyond the Strip with its technicolour displays of excess, the town has a way of revealing to you parts of yourself that would be otherwise glossed over at home. It’s raw in a way only something built in a desert of nothing can be. So after a year of living through my own strange adventure, it made sense to close this chapter in that place.
Step One: find a pawn shop
Every city has pawn shops. They put our stories under harsh fluorescent light and strip away the memories we layer on our tokens; these places remind us that things are just things. Now, even pawn shops in Vegas have become a simulation of themselves. But all it takes to find something real is a willingness to turn away from those shiny neon distractions.
I found a pawn shop just off Fremont Street, in the decay of old Vegas. This is a condensed version of what transpired.
“I’d like to sell my wedding rings.”
“Are you sure? The most we pay is on the value of the gold and stones.”
“Yep, I’m sure. They’re not worth very much.”
a pause while the woman contemplates what to say next
“Most people can get more if they sell them privately.”
“Nothing you say will offend me. Let’s just see what they’re worth.”
the woman takes the rings and motions for me to follow; she weighs them and inspects the teeny tiny diamonds before turning to me with some reluctance
“With the amount of gold and small size of the diamonds, the best we can do is maybe… $60?”
I glance over at my friend, who shrugs
“That’s ten bucks more than I’d hoped. I’ll take it.”
the woman looks at me like she can’t believe this is what I want, so I try to reassure her
“Oh, this isn’t a bad thing. A year ago today I ended my marriage. I’m okay now. And I’m gambling the money to leave behind the bad juju.”
the woman smiles, obviously relieved, and fills out a form we take to the cashier to collect my $60
“Good luck to you.”
“Thanks.” We walk out the door and grab a drink.
Step Two: find the casino
Las Vegas is all about vibe. Superstition is everywhere, down to the guy playing the slots and the feeling of tables. No one is immune to the vibe; it clings to you like the decades of cigarette smoke not even remotely masked by the air freshener pumped in through the ventilation.
As much as it is about vibe, the city is also about history as it continuously reinvents itself. Classic casinos like Binions, The El Cortez, and The Flamingo are part of the essence of today’s Las Vegas, holding its stories in an ever-changing landscape. There’s a grit to these places, something that can’t be covered over by new carpet or fresh paint.
Walking through the lobby of The Flamingo, I knew. But not yet. Tomorrow.
Step Three: place a bet
We gamble every day of our lives. Maybe it’s not a table game or slot machine, but life is a gamble. We hedge our bets on buying a house at the right time, selling an apartment in a hot market, taking one job over the other in pursuit of career advancement, crossing the street on a red light. We trust our gut and are guided by instinct in the hopes of making the right decision. Sometimes we even weigh the odds.
The house, we know, always wins. Las Vegas is successful because of and despite this. It’s built on hope. Strangely enough, this might be one of the last vestiges of hope. And here hope is naked in all its forms, from beautiful to ugly and everything between. But however it appears, it’s honest.
The Flamingo had an open table with a dealer named Brian who explained roulette. I told him the story behind my wager and that I wanted to bet it all in one go. He nodded. I placed my bet on 20 black, the ball spun and spun before eventually dropping into a slot, and the house won.
Brian smiled and collected my chips from the table. I thanked him for helping close the door to this chapter. Goodbye, bad juju.
Step Four: walk away
That’s all there is to it. I left the table and didn’t look back. Everything I need now is in front of me.
The first year will have been the most difficult and the road ahead is far from clear. I’m not a whole person yet, but I’m living this life in honesty. That’s better than whatever comfort I thought I had in the lie.
And there’s always hope. We just need to look for it.
thanks to Erin for capturing the sale of my rings and the moment I placed the bet, and to Sandra for reminding me that my truth and this reality is always better
Ah, champagne. The magic in these tiny bubbles captivated our hearts long before the incomparable Don Ho sang those words. We saw champagne as decadent in the 1920s, with flappers and prohibition, and it has marked our celebrations and milestone moments for decades. They’ve been reserved for special occasions and have become almost mandatory to properly welcome a new year. For me, bubbles are part of a typical Tuesday. Research? Yes. And preference.
Technological advancements in the cellar have helped to reduce labor costs in sparkling wine production and introduced new ways to get those bubbles in the bottle, removing barriers and bringing the party to the people without as hefty a price. These developments have also provided some confusion as to what sparkling wine is – and could or should be.
Beautiful British Columbia. It’s so beautiful this phrase is imprinted on every license plate. Each year new international travelers find their way to Canada’s most western province in search of an experience in the great outdoors. Still, agricultural development – including viticulture – has been a key ingredient in the recipe to BC’s tourism successes.