Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

This year (almost last year) I was blessed to see some of Allen King’s documentaries. I’ve tried hard to find them via library and video shops to little or no avail. A bunch were screened in a retrospective at Vancity and Pacific Cinematheque. I was particularly transfixed by the b/w short he made entitled Skid Row. That image of Main and Hastings and people arriving from out of town (should be probably be out of city, tho’ Vancouver has a towny quality (pre the stainless steel era) to my eyes when I see it in older presentations) keeps coming back to me.

The film was so beautiful to watch. Something slightly arrested and theatrical in its stylized presentation of social poverty and street drinking.  There were these cast iron stair railings that’d I’ve not managed to figure out their location. The other day I was down at that same intersection, or approaching it on foot from the East and the movement of people reminded me of the film. Obviously the traffic is slightly different. In the King film it was loggers I recall, or a logger who the man bumped into and hooked up with. (?) Tuesday there was a tension on the road, post xmas, early enough in the day, people coming out of the SRO’s, striding determined, magnet like, looking to score.  I had to walk a block South (this compass gives me trouble but I am decade late grasping it) and then return that same block.

The dealers wore the good coats. They had their hoods up. There was intense agitation on the street that day. I’d been there the same time, the same morning a week earlier and it had been noticeably different.  North side of the street, a young woman stopped middle of the road while she crossed roared at a group of four men taunting or retorting or smiling. She walked another few steps. She stopped. She turned. She roared and so on.

In the library reading room was a quiet that you don’t find in other libraries. Except the frustration on the streets that day wound round into the alley behind it and for the next hour or so it was war down there. And then for whatever reason, it all stopped from the alley. And it was lovely and peaceful and wooden for the next hour. Then a man arrived, stood over by the window and read a newspaper to himself mumbling out loud and farting something astonishing. Finally he tired of his own mumbling and drifted off.

I was reading something later that day that referred to that street as Skid Road, and I wondered was it an error. Was it called Skid Road or Skid Row?   I’d seen another old b/w documentary of The Catholic Worker movement on Chrystie Street just off The Bowery in NY at the same period and had read up on the depression in the twenties in the same area. One difference was how static the people were in those NY stories, either lining up in queues or sat at the tables and not necessarily straying from The Bowery. One resident told me the cops would order the drunks to “get back on the Bowery”.

A few times I have heard people remark on that street of Main and Hastings in terms of when they came to town.. as in it was the place they arrived. I always think of movement in that street since I saw the King film. Even if it may be the same movement around in the same circle and cycle all day long. There’s also much criss-crossing into and out of Chinatown and Strathcona Pedestrian movement largely.

Post note: So I found a link to clip from Allen King’s Skid Row. Curiously Jim lives by the harbour, I must try to see the film again and locate that image of the men arriving in the city and see was it in fact those two streets where I thought.  Or did I imagine it to be somewhere it was not.

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