Shell Gas Station, West 10th & Discovery, Vancouver, 1986

Hallucination Station, W.10th & Discovery, Vancouver, 1986

Visions of birthdays past

The neon-lit Shell Station, on the corner of Discovery and W. 10th Avenue in Point Grey, loomed out of the darkness as I made my way home, at 4am.

I’d turned 34 the morning before, and had been celebrating for two days. The last evening’s festivities included dancing to local “new wave” band The Beverly Sisters … who were men, including daytime hairstylist Dennis Newton, artist Ewan McNeil, and percussionist Jack Duncan (brother of Gerry) at the Savoy night club, followed by an after party (see my “performers” gallery).

I’d downed a beer or two, but it was probably the hashish that turned an ordinary gas station into a hallucinatory icon of the automobile age.

I usually “filled” — most often at $5 a pop — my gas-guzzling Chevy 20 van (seen in another nighttime Point Grey picture) at the station, situated next-door-but-one to my apartment.

Gas prices, around .50¢ per litre at the time for regular, seemed extortionate considering a gallon could be had for the same price, when I first arrived in Canada, albeit 20-years-earlier.

Still, with 350 c.i. engine, a modified racing cam, and Rochester Quadrajet carburetor, the old red wagon loved long highway trips. Inside, fitted cooler, benches and bed were a luxury on ski trips, climbing expeditions, and getaways to California. The downside came with its insatiable thirst for fuel, and the monthly trip to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at W. 4th and Yew (now a donut shop?) to pay down the loan.

Anyway, I felt compelled to run up the wrought iron spiral staircase of The Chancellor to grab my Mamiyaflex camera and Tiltall tripod, before this extraordinary apparition from a Jetsons movie was erased by the sunrise. My “altered state” had opened “the doors of perception” — to reveal a magnificent spectacle. As I stood adjusting my vintage 1950s camera, I was convinced that I was capturing something of the numinous hidden within the banal.

Show time

I had committed to a show, to debut May 10, at the recently-opened Honeymoon Café, on Sasamat, just off W.10th (later moving down the hill to Café Madeline, on W. 10th near Alma). My journal for the next month details long hours in an unventilated darkroom and great expense (I used 70 sheets of 11×14 rag, silver gelatin paper to produce ten acceptable prints).

My conviction that the hallucination station represented some kind of watershed persisted. A photograph made at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, 2-years-before also inspired paragraphs of praise in my diary, even as I burned through expensive Ilford Multigrade paper, struggling with the contrasty negative.

Whatever confidence I indulged had evaporated just weeks later, having not sold a single print.

By the time my next birthday rolled around, I was on my way to the bright lights and cavernous commercial studios of Toronto — where a photographer could make some money.

Afterword

Not that much has changed over the years; the Esso Station has not disappeared like a chimera, a hallucination or the long lost Texaco at Broadway and Heather. It does look, in the October, 2016 Google view below, like something is afoot on the intersection of 10th & Discovery. If anyone has more recent info about the site, please comment below.

 

Technical: Camera: Mamiyaflex C-series medium format camera/Mamiya Sekor 80mm f2.8, film: Ilford FP4, dev: ID:11

The Shell Station photo is available in limited and open editions from the shop.

Raymond Parker
  • February 10, 2017 - 5:28 pm

    Brian Hay - The Chancellor is where I lived with Ray (your host) and our 2 girlfriends. In May of 84 and 85 we would wake numerous times in the middle of the night with unusually large ants crawling all over us. They would be on top of the covers, on our faces, and the odd one would make it under the covers to the more intriguing parts of our bodies. This would go on for about 3 weeks and then they would be gone. Can’t remember if they were biters or not but they added some extra humility to our sweet existence on 10th.ReplyCancel

    • February 11, 2017 - 7:40 am

      Raymond Parker - Hi Bri! Glad you could make it. Yeah, I actually forgot how bad the ants were, despite my recent quip to Wiebe below.

      Another recent coincidence that unfolded via these recent posts: Wiebe also lived in the Chancellor at the same time we did ― he knew Lees and Dorothy.

      Vancouver was a relatively small town in those days. Now the Interwebs seems to be shrinking the world … or at least linking us by interest.ReplyCancel

  • February 6, 2017 - 9:48 pm

    Kap Hocking - Aye, got gassed there many times when we lived on Trimble.
    Pic is emblematic of our culture. I sincerely hope some archaeologyst uncovers your print in the year 4565 and goes,
    “W-t-F???”….
    Don’t you hate it when they tear down a gas station, then put a razor wire fence around it like it’s unholy ground? And it stays that way until, eventually, nobody remembers what was there? That’s happening more and more these days. Within a 5km radius of here we’ve had three stations declared toxic wastelands recently. We’ve been reduced to having just one station now (which is all I need). Hey, remember “DOT’s Diner” in Nanaimo? Best ho-made pies in town? Then it got torn down to make a “Full Service”(???!) gas bar. Then, a few years later, the gas bar got declared a fenced-in toxic wasteland, and there it remains, like some Mad Max window into times to come.
    Kappy
    (“Can’t stop this ramblin’!”)ReplyCancel

    • February 7, 2017 - 10:16 am

      Raymond Parker - Who knows, Kap, … maybe those toxic wastelands will be developed into condo towers topped with Skyports for flying space cars … self driving, of course.ReplyCancel

  • February 6, 2017 - 1:53 pm

    Wiebe de Haas - Nice piece! ‘Our old apartment’ is still there. Next time I’m in the neighbourhood I will see if the Shell is still there.ReplyCancel

    • February 6, 2017 - 3:34 pm

      Raymond Parker - Thanks Wiebe. Yeah, great to see the old Chancellor still standing. They must have exterminated the carpenter ants 🙂

      It’d be great if you’d report back here as to the fate of the Shell station. Perhaps they’re just doing renos, but interesting they have the trees protected.ReplyCancel

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