The bride and I were on one of our handful of trips a year into the provincial capital to get the car serviced on a sun-soaked Saturday. That almost always translates into a stop at Russell Books on Fort Street, where I do a five-minute tour of the bargain bins while Joan flits from shelf to shelf for the next half hour to peruse her favourite topics.
I waited outside because that’s how I’ve been trained, and watched the bustling blur of people going about whatever it was they were up to.
Shoppers of all ages with bags in hand or slung across their shoulders sidled by while others enjoyed a coffee or snack on the brightly-coloured blocks that serve as picnic tables where parking spaces used to be. Parents navigated their way through the crowd with collections of kidlets in tow in a scene that looked like it was lifted from the pages of a tourist’s brochure.
A thirty-something fellow parked on a sleeping bag greeted everyone with a pleasant hello between pulls from the beer can he half-concealed under his jacket. He was seated beside a bicycle worth more than my car that he explained he was watching for a friend to anyone who commented on the shiny ride.
Unfortunately for everyone on the block, however, any trace of warm and fuzzies were flushed down the sewer the instant the owner of the bike returned.
His extreme level of agitation pierced the peace and quiet with every manic lurch forward. He paused only long enough to drain the beer he grabbed from the knapsack on his bike before launching a tirade of F-bombs between outbursts aimed at targets defined by gender, race, lifestyle and nationality.
People in the crowd who paused to see what was going on had to decide between scurrying by or stepping into traffic to avoid the wrath that raged around him while those eating sandwiches hurried to gobble the last bite.
His determination to let everyone within screaming distance know the reason he was bent out of shape was apparently based on the service he received at the bank. He yanked his wallet out of his back pocket and waved six crisp one hundred dollar bills around like a knife, leaving the puzzling impression that despite his rage, his transaction had been somewhat successful. The best anyone could determine was that he believed the purported lesbian of foreign persuasion that served him was as offensive as the American tourists in front of him in the lineup.
I considered calling the police, but it seemed like a case of too little too late at that point because by then his friend was doing an admirable job of calming him down.
Although this event unfolded last summer, it underlines the wild card that comes into play too often a part of any trio into downtown Victoria at any time of day or night. And it’s not going away any time soon when you factor in the odds of a timely police response. I wouldn’t bet on it, considering council’s hacksaw attack on a policing budget that’s crippled the ability to enforce laws like drinking in public or causing a disturbance.
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.