I’ve just read Echo Burning, my first Jack Reacher novel. You know how these things unfold: the incorruptible, enigmatic hero materializes to save the day and then – poof! –  vanishes just as quickly. No one can be trusted and hellzapoppin’. Yada, yada. In Echo Burning,  Reacher gives you a clue to just how very bullet proof he is.

The clue is his thumb.

He hitchhikes.

The story opens with him hitchhiking and it closes with him hitchhiking.

He doesn’t wait around to be thanked, he just sticks out his thumb, and vanishes.  

Into the sunset, of course.

When was the last time you saw that type of devil-may-care attitude?

Now, we expect pulp fiction heroes to take risks and slay dragons, but hitchhiking? When was the last time you saw that type of devil-may-care attitude?  That sort of ironclad invincibility? That sort of bone deep trust? I’m guessing it was more than two decades ago. Like phone booths, hitchhiking has disappeared from the landscape.

Had it not been for Reacher and his outstretched thumb, I’d have forgotten about hitchhiking altogether. There was a time, however, when we all did it: hitched rides as well as picked up hitchhikers. Europe was explored via an outstretched thumb and locally, it’s how you got to the mall. You stuck out your thumb and, before long, a Chrysler Town and Country station wagon, or maybe an Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser would pull over and let you in.  

In fact, it was kind of hard to not pick up a hitchhiker. 

It was expected.

In fact, it was kind of hard to not pick up a hitchhiker.

There was a sense of obligation. 

Especially if it was raining. 

Especially if you recognized the person.

Especially if you were stopped at a red light and the hitchhiker was right beside your car.

A sort of noblesse oblige … or Nissan oblige … or Nova oblige ….

If you were only going a few blocks or the car was undetectably full – say, a back seat full of groceries or golf clubs – you’d wince and mime your regret. It felt great being able to offer that kind of service, a sort of hyper-local, hyper-grass roots Uber.

Photo from Unsplash

But there were risks. Clean-cut university student Ted Bundy dramatically disproved the assumption that clean-cut, university kids could be trusted. Locale didn’t offer security. The grim statistics generated by the Highway of Tears provide a cautionary tale.

Maybe we trusted each other more back 

when hitchhiking was commonplace?

It all came down to trust.

Maybe we trusted each other more back when hitchhiking was commonplace?

The BC Motor Vehicle Act Regulations declares that pedestrians are not permitted to be on schedule 1 highways, thereby making hitchhiking illegal. There’s no specific provincial law, however, against picking up a hitchhiker unless stopping your vehicle presents a safety risk.  So it still happens. There are people still hitchhiking all over the world and websites like Hitchwiki dedicated to helping them navigate the world with their thumb. 

Statistics on the subject are a little wobbly, but apparently hitchhikers are not a murderous lot.  Some sources state that no hitchhikers have murdered their rides, and that 1 per cent of hitchhikers end up dead. One Canadian hitchhiker in particular learned the hard way. Two Canadian professors sought to test various tech/human interfaces back in 2013 by launching hitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot that stuck out his mechanical thumb and crossed Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany. Sadly, hitchBOT met a gruesome end in 2015 when its body was found in Philadelphia, stripped and decapitated.  

The fear associated with hitchhiking is now more commonplace than hitchhiking itself. If you decide to pick up some cheerful backpacker and he asks you if you weren’t just a little bit worried if he was a serial killer, tell him, nah, you figured the chances of there being two serial killers in the same car were astronomical. That ought to ensure your passenger’s very best behaviour. 

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Make sure you add thebooklessclub@gmail.com to your email address book.

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

Do you have fond memories or family traditions that involve Chinatown?

Wow, did you bring back some good memories!  I was 17 years old and moved to Mount Pleasant after graduation in 1972. The Ho restaurant, not the Ho Ho was my favourite. Every Saturday we walked to a Chinatown bakery and bought a half dozen giant almond cookies, big enough to last me and my roommates a week. We got lessons on how to use chopsticks from a shopkeeper that sold us the beautifully painted and lacquered sets with jade rests. We thought we were the height of sophistication when we finally completed our pink china set. 

Terry Malakoff

Stories of Woodfibre have filled my existence.  My grandfather worked at the mill through the war years and into the early 1950’s.  My father spent his formative years there and endless family stories, apocraphyl or not, originate there.   My father moved to Vancouver then enjoyed nights dining and dancing at the Marco Polo.  He and my mother then patronized the Marco Polo for dinners out and if possible, squeezed in lunches at the noon hour.  On the day I turned 16, I met my father at his office then headed for the Motor Vehicle branch on Georgia street (now gone). After I successfully passed the drivers licence test, we picked up my mother and headed straight for the Marco Polo for a celebratory lunch and my introduction into adult life in Vancouver.  

Bill Whalen

My husband and I enjoyed Chinese food. When our twin boys were toddlers we took them to the Bamboo Terrace which they loved. Tradition was started. Every birthday we gave them a choice – party or Chinese – Chinatown won.  Finally, nine years old we persuaded them to have a party. They had lots of friends, food and great presents. That night at bedtime, we asked if they had enjoyed their party. Yes – they said but next year can we go to the Bamboo Terrace.  After many years the restaurant is long gone but our family still love Chinese.

Dorothy McKillican

When I was a child during the 70’s and 80’s, Chinatown was the only place to purchase Chinese groceries. After a ‘torturous’  morning of Chinese school at Strathcona Elementary School, my parents would reward my brother and I with a lunch of crispy chow mein and red bean ice before our weekly shop. We would always end up at Dollar Meats where the lovely and kind butcher would often have a box from Maxim’s Bakery and offer me a dan tai – a deliciously flaky and creamy egg tart. A visit to Chinatown always fills me with a bittersweet nostalgia. 

Cindy Lou

The Orange Door at an alley behind East Pender in Chinatown was originally set up as an eatery for members of a gaming joint upstairs. It had only one cook who worked with both hands  simultaneously and a nine year old waiter who took orders by numbers on a menu in Chinese characters posted on the wall. The orders would be hung on a line with clothespins in sequence. As the UBC students discovered the low prices and delicious cooking in this place, they soon replaced all the Chinese customers from upstairs. Once former prime minister Pierre Trudeau went there with friends printed English menus and higher prices appeared.

Roxy Paul Sun

Being from a family of five kids living on the eastside of Vancouver, the one place that we could affordably go out for dinner was Chinatown in the 50’s and 60’s.  Our regular destination was the Ho Ho on Pender Street where Ben was the head server and our host.  He was the most welcoming and friendly fellow who delighted in ensuring we had great food served in a timely way.  Being the oldest of the children I became the translator of the menu items we wanted to the newest recruit of the servers who spoke almost no English.  I enjoyed the limelight as the ordering took place.  I continued to frequent the Ho Ho to eat wonton soup and visit with Ben.  Sadly the Ho Ho and many of the places I shopped for ingredients for my home cooked Chinese dishes have closed so it is with fondness that I walk past the abandoned buildings on my way to and from my volunteer day every 2 weeks at a low cost dental clinic on Hastings Street.  

Mary Findlay

I have wonderful memories of Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1960’s. My family of six would go to Ming’s Restaurant for celebratory dinners. I remember the anticipation, as we climbed the stairs to the second floor, our stairway to culinary delights. This was decades before cosmopolitan Vancouver had countless ethnic restaurants and this was our only taste of food different from our usual home cooked Italian meals. We never strayed from our regular order of family favourites, knowing we could always count on the plentiful, delicious food to fully satisfy our hunger, at least for a few hours.

Paula Alvaro

As a family, we often holidayed in the ‘60s in Vancouver where we enjoyed the PNE, Horseshoe Bay and Chinatown.  Our friends the Lockes regularly ordered take-out from Ho Ho Chop Suey on Pender, a delicious treat for us Albertans. Chinatown souvenir shopping would include wooden cube interlocking puzzles, paper fans, wooden Buddhas, bags of fortune cookies and paper lanterns.  There was an exotic aura to all that Chinatown offered us and we four felt transported far away from Edmonton.

Thanks for prompting these memories

James Harcott

When the children were still very young, my husband and I used to take them to Chinatown for sightseeing, enjoying the culture, hearing the language spoken and looking at all the unusual things they had there. It always ended with a Chinese lunch.

Here is a warning for people who like to knit and admire Chinese characters. A story went around of an enthusiastic knitter who looked at the Chinese letters in her menu, made a note of some and used them in a sweater she was knitting for herself. Proud of her work, she wore it to Chinatown, but soon started to wonder why people looked at her and started to giggle and laugh. A kind soul told her the letters said, “This dish is cheap, but delicious.” 

Fiesta de Vries

Chinatown? Yes!  Lots of family outings there:  Ming’s; Bamboo Terrace and others!

The smells, the sights….all the experiences-And Jack Wasserman’s columns on the Marco Polo and its owner Victor Louie!

Didn’t we love that smorgasbord? All you could eat!  We’d never touch those dishes today but wow we sure loved it then. The Orange Door and Green Door and Only Seafood were more from my hippy days

And oh, the pulp mill smell But our family always said “Ewww! Stinky Port Mellon”, not Woodfibre.

Peter Gordon

I remember my grandfather taking us to Marco Polo for the buffet every month or so. It was 1963/64 and my dad spent a great deal of time at St Paul’s hospital. As a treat my grandfather would take us for dinner. Being a very picky eater, I would only eat the jello. I remember one particular night when I ventured outside my comfort zone and tried the fried rice. It was a turning point for me in trying different foods. At the age of 6. I proudly told my dad in the hospital that I had eaten the fried rice. But I had picked out the peas. I still pick out the peas, 60 years later.

Colleen Zirk 

If you wanted some place special, with a formal atmosphere for your Chinese dinner, up the block on the North side of Pender Street was Ming’s. Ming’s was up one flight of stairs in an office building and was reserved, in our family, for very special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. The waiters at Ming’s all wore black pants with sharp pleats, white shirts with black bow ties and red vests. The tables had thick white table cloths and the plates, bowls and tea cups all looked like they were new and all matched. The food was excellent as I remember, and they brought a desert tray on wheels to the table when you were finished with dinner. Great stuff for us kids!

I do remember one night when I was at BCIT, searching for the Green Door and, finding it, making our way downstairs to a table for four. I don’t recall much else about the place except the food was pretty good and it was one of those items we could cross off our to-do list.

Jane, thanks for reviving some fond memories of one of my favourite areas in Vancouver. I hope the local business community is successful in bringing back popularity to this gemstone in our city.

Bryan Cousineau

When I was young, in my preteens and younger, my mother‘s cousin, Tod, who lived by herself, was included in many of our family functions. To thank us, once a year, on New Year’s Day, she would take us to Mings for a marvellous luncheon. The food of course was fantastic, but what sticks in my memory is my Dad, who would put three dimes flat on the table. One in front of me, and the others in front of my brother and my sister. We were allowed to keep the dimes – and that was when a dime was a dime and would buy you thirty jujubes at Bluebird Confectionery  in Ambleside – if we were able to pick them up with our chopsticks and hold them for 10 seconds.. I have always felt comfortable with chopsticks since developing that skill.

How do I begin….

Coming all the way to Vancouver from small town Castlegar was a real road trip and the highlight was always the trip to Chinatown and dinner at the Marco Polo! To us kids everything from the street life, the decor, the waiters and the buffet were strange and overwhelming; to Mom and Dad, it was heaven. Parents coaxed us to try this and that, but I  just wanted rice and BBQ pork. Now, how I wish I could have eaten at the Marco Polo as an adult.

Catherine Clark

I remember the green door and orange door restaurants in Chinatown but don’t recollect if I ever visited the red door. While a student at Vancouver School of Art, I would sometimes enjoy a wander through Chinatown treating myself to a large almond cookie that I would nibble between browsing Ming Wo and other Chinese shops with paper lanterns, delicate dishes and a myriad of affordable baskets. Newly married, I would shop for groceries in Chinatown, both for affordability and to source ingredients hard to find in regular supermarkets. Vancouver’s Chinatown was one of the best in North America.

Irene Wotten

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