So summer and fall just kind of flew by before I could blog again. Quick how that happens.
Ok, right into it.
The roads had never been more icy in Vancouver when I woke up at 530 this morning to head to work. While most everyone else had finished their week on friday, my weekend starts half way through saturday. It’s hard not to think about that and gripe when I’m scraping the ice from the windsheild of my car. Visions of the warm bed I just left flash in my mind.
Soup line starts at 730. I have about 90 minutes to whip up a soup for 150-200 residents of the downtown eastside. Veggies are prepped already from the day before but that’s it. The magic of turning water, veggies, spices and special ingredients (I’m not sharing) happens between the moment I turn the drop-in lights on at 6 and our 730 serving time.
And yes, it’s magic. Well, most of the time. Sometimes I lack the magic touch and the soup is gets a verdict of “not bad”, as the round table lined with old men tell me in the morning. Thumbs up, thumbs sideways and every now and again “you’ve done better” – the thumbs down. I’ll boast a bit and say I get mostly thumbs up.
Maybe I missed my calling in life.
Maybe I was supposed to be a famous soup maker like Campbells or Liptons.
Adam is on laddling the soup, Ron is on coffee while I spoon and bun at the end of the assembly line. Everything is as efficient as we can make it. The three of us are a well-oiled machine.
A debate starts about whether to have the music on while we serve. This turns into Ron abruptly abandoning his station and leaving the drop-in. Just like that we have no coffee man. Not the first time a volunteer has quit mid-shift and probably won’t be the last.
Many of the guys who volunteer are men who are residents of the neighborhood. They have various mental health issues, addiction problems and family backgrounds. Rich turned poor because of crack; born to awful parents who scarred them; mental health failed and so did the system that’s supposed to help them; workplace accident that left them unable to function properly; and all the other cases you can and cannot imagine.
So when something or someone blows up and storms out the doors, everything is just as it normally is.
When asked how it all works, I like to call it “controlled chaos.”
I pull a guy (Nick) from the line who lives upstairs in the SRO’s and he happily jumps into Ron’s place and seemlessly pours hot java for the clamoring line of cold, frosty men. Like a rabbit out of a hat. More magic.
Jake is in for breakfast this morning again. He usually shows up early and beats the line but wheels himself in later than normal. Jake gets himself around in a wheelchair. He is missing the lower parts of both legs, an accident from his much younger days. Jake is a mild-mannered old man with a love for books and feeding birds with bread from The Dugout he picks out of garbages or collects off the floor. I enjoy talking with him because he is always in a good mood. Even when he comes wheeling in from a cold, hard rain, the smile that lights up his face doesn’t ever seem to leave. In spite of his many obstacles, he’s happy.
He’s my constant reminder that thankfulness is a decision worth making.
Soupline wraps up smoothly and the three of us clean up and eat breakfast together. Nick tries to convince us that he’s the best poker player in the world, recounting past moments of glory. Adam, stories telling the opposite We laugh and eat our eggs and bacon while attempting to properly caffeinate ourselves for the busy morning to come.
Lots of deliveries. Tons of sweets – cake, muffins, cookies, struddles, pie – pile into the drop-in and are served over the counter. A couple more guys offer to volunteer for the day and I put them to work cutting up veggies for tomorrow. Everyone wants a coffee today since it’s so cold outside. No, not cold compared to back east where I used to live, but it’s a damp cold that somehow creeps into your bones and if you’re outside long enough, will make you feel painfully numb.
Coffees all around.
Indian Jones is playing on the tv in the corner of the dining/living room holding a captured audience of close to 25 visitors. Indian Jones reminds me of parts of my childhood. I mention this to the guys and we all begin talking about movies and characters who influenced us as young boys. We laugh and tease each other like guys tend to do.
Laughing together gives you a feeling of belonging.
We try to laugh often.
Tomorrow we’re hosting a big turkey dinner for Christmas/New Years. Some 3-400 people are coming into eat a bunch of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and there’s lots left to prep. A couple board members for The Dugout come in to help out with the last push. Chopping and dicing and prepping and cooking, the kitchen is rocking and rolling with 101.1 (rock station) in the background.
Everything gets done. Fridges are all full for tomorrow, some literally busting at the hinges holding all the prepared food. My caffeine buzz that was supposed to make up for my poor sleep from the night before has long faded away and all at once overcome with a desire to take a nap. I close my eyes at my desk as I finish up a bit of paperwork before calling it a day and think back to the warm bed I left behind this morning.
Happy new year.