A makeshift sign outside the Archdiocese of Vancouver tells passersby they will find within “a chapel” and “a big screen TV.” The people who walked in Sunday afternoon weren’t looking for a chapel.
The big screen was tuned to CTV coverage of the Olympics. The Canada-U.S. hockey game was approaching. At first, the crowd was made up mostly of older couples. One man quietly read a copy of The B.C. Catholic. But as gametime neared, more families and younger people rolled into the Archdiocese, located just a few blocks from Canada Hockey Place. Nearby restaurants and bars were jammed. The lineup for Live City and its jumbo screen stretched around the block. As one father of two put it: “This place is our fallback plan.” “Mine too,” said the only guy in the room in a USA hockey sweater.
“Either of you Catholic?” I asked.
“Not so far as I know,” said the Dad.
Coffee was free – same for the hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies. Down in the front row, a young father tried to rally the crowd of 60 or so to a cheer of “Go Canada Go!” – but found no takers. An older woman at the back clucked disapprovingly and said, “I can’t believe people prefer this nonsense to figure skating.” A young boy saw me scoping his cookie packet and offered me his second cookie.
At intermission, I walked half a block down the street, and three flights up, to the Catholic Charities Hostel for Men. About 15 guys, most of them in their forties and fifties, were watching the second period on a flat-screen TV mounted in the hostel’s lounge. Its walls were light blue, and when voices were raised the room echoed with the institutional sound of a hospital or school. The only décor along one long wall consisted of a newspaper clipping of Wayne Gretzky lighting the external Olympic cauldron.
No fancy official Vancouver 2010 merchandise here, but some of the men found a way to show their support. Two wore red bandanas. Another pulled on a red Tampa Bay Bucs toque; one wore a red Chicago Bulls cap. “Pronger, you’re so damn slow,” a man yelled at the TV. Over in the corner, away from the crowd, an old man silently nodded his agreement while stroking his long grey beard.
A promo for an upcoming women’s hockey game between Canada and Finland was greeted with hoots of derision. Meanwhile turnovers by the Canadian team were treated as mortal sins, as was accidentally blocking the view of the TV. (“Justin, move your melon!”) There was a fair bit of yelling and a fairer bit of swearing. Just outside the lounge, a corkboard provided information on places in Vancouver that offer free or cheap food. A young resident stared at a painting of a melancholy Jesus standing beside a child.
When the period ended, the man in the Tampa Bay toque walked quickly to the door. In his hand he held a half-smoked cigarette he’d been saving.
For the third period, I made my way down to the bars of Yaletown, where every place was packed and roped off and I had to join the losers who were watching the game by staring through the clear plastic that’s used to enclose so many Vancouver patios in the winter. Inside the plastic, people were drinking beer and cheering loudly. We weren’t doing those two things. The plastic made the players look blurry.
I crossed the street and watched the remainder of the game through the window of the Dada Café. Weirdly, the café – which has a couple of very nice high-def screens – had locked its doors at 6 p.m., but some people were still inside. I pressed my face up against the glass and made my best “poor hungry orphan” face. No one took pity.