The Vietnamese restaurant by my Vancouver crib is always open, twenty-four hours. They weren't always. Many years ago they were open regular boring hours, then experimented with being always open on weekends, then for the last few years have remained open always. When I was eating there on a 3AM Thursday January morning, customers were arriving every ten minutes, welcomed by the Euro-thump techno that is commonplace at such restaurants; I finished my No. 10 to a Chipmunks-on-methamphetamines-in-Ibiza version of "Funky Town". The music is appropriate because in this restaurant, any time is a good time for a pho dance party. 3AM might as well be 3PM.
The moment this restaurant decided to go twenty-four hours was the moment they contributed to Vancouver's status as a real city. A real city is always open. A real city is a gathering of un-like-minded people. A real city understands that although the majority of its inhabitants are forced to (unwillingly) wake up at 7AM, an enormous minority put their heads to bed at that same time. The key is population. Let's say 10% of human beings -- regardless of their occupation -- prefer going to sleep at 5AM. These late-night prowlers need cafés to write their manifestos at, grocery stores to buy gai-lan at, pharmacies to buy lubricant at. In a town of 10,000 people, the 1000 owls aren't reason enough to stay open past 10. But in a city of 1,000,000 people, there's gonna be 100,000 stragglers needing Astroglide and Chinese greens after writing their own private Das Kapital at 5AM. And in a city of 10,000,000... There's a city-within-a-city of people who ain't sleeping. Their night-time economy flourishes. Their stimulation won't rest.
Big cities don't only offer late-night eats; there are treats for people of every hour. Let's say 10% of a population want to see a ballet. 10% of a population want to see a low-budget film in a cinema. 10% of a population want to buy a Modernist credenza. 10% want Suicide albums on vinyl. 10% want to see a Kandinsky two inches from their nose. In a town of 10,000 people, the demands of a discerning 1000 simply aren't enough to warrant supply. And really, the percentage of a population that wants to listen to Suicide is more likely 0.5. So where does a person go to choose between Giselle or Mutual Appreciation after tweaking out on teak and digging a copy of -- yes, Suicide's 1/2 Alive -- out from the bin? The city. The bigger the better. The more.
More choices. More audiences. More tickets. More art supply stores. More book stores. More skin tones. More religions. More anti-religion. More languages. More homosexuals. More others. More debates. More tolerance. More styles. Of shoes. Of produce. Of performance. Of congee. Of tags. Of pop music. Of haircuts. Cyrillic and Braille. Urdu and Hebrew. Calypso and No Wave. The Chinese grocers who speak in a Trinidadian accent.
Don't give me no "Transit stops at 2AM." Don't give me no "Open 'til midnight." ...No. Always Be Open. This is a city.
But. I love visiting small towns. Like when we went to Owen Sound (pop. 21,753) and convinced Jamie to take us to Smugglers, where the Quebecoise dancer (one of only three dancers that night) promised to give us a group lap dance -- half of us were women -- but reneged when a dude offered her money for post-last-call private time... That shit was outta sight. And when we were in the farmers' market eating lovingly made sandwiches, the town crier pulled a chit from his basket and bellowed, "And the winner is... Carol the potter!" We cheered.
Like when we spent the night at a motel in Armstrong (pop. 4531), and Hartley's Amateur was playing on the TV, and the pony-tailed biker proprietor was bigger than me and my Vietnamese friend and my Indian friend combined. We were a rare trio in that town.
Like when I strayed from my buddy's crib in Novato (pop. 49,500) and wandered into my first California trailer park experience. It was night, I was an old teenager, she was a young teenager, no we didn't do sex, no we didn't neck nor pet. She didn't know who Bruce Lee was. She was very sad. She didn't like her step dad.
I love small towns and want to spend more time in them. Learn from the culture of a community in the hundreds or thousands rather than millions. Feed my insatiable hunger for anthropology and sociology and I'msocuriousabouthumansology. Looking out Jamie's window in Owen Sound, the dark veins of tree branches poking through the endless duvet of undisturbed snow... I fancied the thought of sitting there and writing by pen and typewriter until spring. I could spend a season in the country, isolating myself from the distraction and chatter of the city. Assess how to be a better person. Quiet my mind that is so manic in the city that I often go to sleep after the sun rises. If not a season, then at least a month. At least a week. At least a few days until my hand shoots up by its own volition, wanting taxi. At least a few days until my body goes into fits of carbon-monoxide withdrawal, crying out for another dose of rush hour. At least a few days until I can get trapped in a subway car full of ring tones. Then I'm back in the city, where I belong, where I can jaywalk eight lanes of traffic look out for the streetcars breeze by the opera house zip past the hot dog stands try to run through yet more condo hoardings that constrict the sidewalks like trans fat arteries... But what's the rush? It's 5AM and the noodle houses are still open, as always.