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.
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.
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.