The Paralympic torch relay arrived in Vancouver today. Today being the first day of 2010 that it snowed.
It actually snowed in Vancouver!
Yeah, I know.
It quickly melted.
But for the first time in 2 weeks, I heard hovering helicopters over downtown. You know? I kind of missed that sound. Alas, looking out the window, there wasn't the same kind of city-wide captive audience vibe as there was during the Olympics, but you could tell something was going on. Despite the rain, I decided to go for a walk and check out the Paralympic torch relay for myself.
It was 5:30pm and rush hour was well under way. It looked like any other ordinary March day in Vancouver. Rain. Overcast. Dull grey. Pedestrians walking home. Smeared dog poo on sidewalks. Buses with steamed-up windows. Stop and go gridlock on the street. You know, kind of uninspiring. Not too cold but not exactly pleasant, with exception to the splashes of the pink cherry blossoms just passing the peak of their bloom. Vancouver was socked in by a cloud.
I took Granville Street because it tends to be one of the more lively and interesting streets for a northbound pedestrian to walk down, versus, say Richards or Seymour, which can be downright dull. And noisy and car-exhausty during rush hour. But again, it was just like any ordinary rush hour, and if somebody said the Paralympics were happening, nobody'd believe you.
It wasn't until I arrived at Granville and Smithe when I caught sight of those orange pylons. Like an old friend, I welcomed their presence. My favourite block of Granville Street, between Smithe and Robson, was once again free to roam as a pedestrian, without any traffic allowed. But where were all the people? I was the only person walking down the center of the lane.
Granville Street appeared to be closed to traffic all the way to Georgia, but it was without the Cultural Olympiad art exhibits or any of the photo-snapping crowds. I rounded the corner at Granville and Robson and was surprised to find limited traffic being allowed to trickle through. They could only go as far as Howe, however, before being detoured back south.
But the endless crowds? That's what was missing. Perhaps it was the rain.
There was a massive TV screen set up on Robson and Howe, but really not a whole lot of people were watching. I then noticed that everyone was crowded underneath Robson, under the roof of Robson Square.
That explained things.
I had no intention of making my way through the crowds downstairs, and I knew the torch was on its way over, so I decided to go for a walk one block further down Robson to see if I could maybe catch up with it.
Beyond Hornby Street I finally saw some tents and TV station trucks. And one guy dressed in his white 2010 Vancouver Olympics white jumpsuit was standing around with his once-used Olympic torch, but nobody was paying attention to him. Maybe he thought he'd hang around in case somebody wanted to take his picture? It wasn't clear.
And once crossing Burrard Street, I noticed a large group of people clustered around something.
But still, despite the road closures, Robson was empty.
I made my way closer to the cluster of people and realized I was about to witness somebody passing the torch.
... and it didn't even occur to me that it was Roberto Luongo until he passed a few feet in front of me a few seconds later!
As Luongo walked back down Robson toward Robson Square, crowds gathered around and snapped photos.
... and then he made his way downstairs and walked back and forth through the Robson Square crowds, to everyone's shrieking delight!
It was great to see such a good turnout at Robson Square. Seriously, I don't even think there was standing room, so people were hovering around at street level trying to look in. But as I stood there snapping blurry photo after blurry photo, the rain started to fall with a fury, it took me by surprise. As the crowds wedged in for a better look with umbrellas flailing seriously close to eyeballs, I decided it's probably best that I step back and seek refuge from the rain.
But at least I saw it with my own eyes. There was clearly a lot of support for the Paralympics in Vancouver after all. It's just a shame about all that rain. But this is Vancouver, after all.