It’s surprising what happens when you’re not paying attention.

I’m pretty much a news junkie, but also a creature of habit, so when I travel I don’t have my usual news sources handy and I’m occupied with the stuff I traveled for. Would you worry about missing the evening news if you could take a water taxi out to a lush isle off Vancouver Island where a bald eagle swoops by your restaurant window so close you can see its eyes?

So it wasn’t until two days after the fact that I learned that Pope Francis took on the Mafia (no matter how you feel about the rap sheet for religion, the Catholic Church or popes, you gotta love this guy), that the cop in El Paso was cleared of any charges for shooting an unarmed, handcuffed (!) man to death, point blank, recorded on two surveillance cameras, or that the mighty US World Cup team eked out a tie (yawn) over a nation 1/30th our size. The good, the bad and the indifferent. But those bad cop incidents are coming so relentlessly, it’s getting pretty ugly.

Couldn’t afford another international jaunt so you snuck up to Canada, eh Charles? Oh, not nice. Or accurate. Yes they look just like us and dress like us and talk like us (just aboot, eh?), but I was reminded of the differences, and humbled a bit.

The occasion was my wife’s cousins’ 125th birthday party – Marian was turning 60 and Andre 65. A good enough idea to get nine out of 11 cousins up north to their idyllic digs about halfway up giant Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast. (And three parents, all over 85.)

I’m pretty much a city boy and not a big fan of living somewhere the Rolling Stones won’t play or the best doctors are a plane ride away, but this was jaw-dropping gorgeous country, and for small town life, pretty dang good.

I learned that most of the people (maybe 95 percent) in their town of Campbell River came from other places, mostly in Canada.

But then there was Ken, from Liverpool, and we wound up chatting for about an hour because he had such great stories, of going to school with George and Paul, of linguistic differences in Britain (he drew a rough map of England and one for Liddypool, showing me which part of town spoke that way because their forebears came from Wales, Ireland, or the north or midlands) and the interesting anomaly that unlike in most countries, even the smallest ones, Canadians don’t have regional accents (with a few exceptions in the far southeastern provinces). Of course there is that French thing. Even all the way over in B.C., a lot of folks speak French, and of course the Air Canada emergency speech comes, equally humorless (I think), in both.

Question: if an airline brags that it was voted the Best Airline in North America four years running, but their announced hold time, when I called for info, was “43 minutes to an hour and five minutes,” shouldn’t that figure in?

So there you go, Canada is not perfect – just the less populous, less violent, less warlike, more ecological, northern version of us. And of course, frigid, and that’s a deal breaker for me. Our weather was gorgeous for five days and I never wore more than a long-sleeve shirt even at night, but Andre told stories of getting a truck started by rigging up a long, curved pipe to a giant blowtorch to heat the engine oil pan, then still having to apply it to the differential. I’d rather just turn the key, thank you.

We were hosted by their neighbors Ray and Mary Ann (passed within five feet of a deer one night, walking to their place, down city streets), and conversations with them gave me insight into how Canadians their age get along. Comfortably, thank you, due to not just their admired national health care system and their Social Security, but also a number of other pensions and funds that kick in for folks who have worked hard all their lives, even outside corporate structure, as well as those who have not been so fortunate. There are common sense and humane twists that would be called socialism here, and leeching off the government. Maybe they can afford it because they don’t let corporations leech so much?

The other thing I found humbling was the way the Campbell River area exploits its assets, meaning making their natural beauty available to people, so the eco-tourism dollars will continue to flow. On a long river hike Andre took us past a small dam, one of four that provide much of the island’s electrical needs, that you can’t see from even just a short way off, and said this one would be updated and entirely underground within a few years, a $1B project. Then we hiked to an impressive waterfall, and he pointed up to towering cliffs that would soon be spanned by a suspension bridge, offering a more spectacular view of the falls.

We have many assets in Santa Monica, but too overlooked is our local artistic talent. It appears we had a great Make Music Day last Saturday, thanks to the prodding and work of Recreation and Parks chief Phil Brock and the neighborhood associations (some, not all) who got on board, and no thanks to our reluctant city staff “leaders.” I’ll have more to say about that later, because I want my town to become known for its public music everywhere, and it can, and it should.

Don’t forget the celebration this Friday, 6-7 p.m., for artist Paul Conrad (90th “birthday”) at his “Chain Reaction” sculpture on Main Street. Cupcakes for all, and guest speaker Robert Scheer, journalist and indefatigable progressive, one of my longtime heroes. See you there.

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” – Charles Bukowski


Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at



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