Long Dark Blues on the Number 14 Bus

The number 14 bus. It’s the bus in Victoria that no one wants to take, but everyone, at some point, must take. It’s always there, but you’d rather a swifter, sleeker, sexier bus: the number 15 and its willingness to ignore those stops which no one should use but someone always does; the towering Number 4—sweet, sweet Number 4—which steadily trundles down Hillside, as reliably and as softly as Marty Crane’s Frasier enraging lazy-boy-chair. These are the buses of the future, the buses of our dreams, the buses that, when frantically jogging to that bus in the “oh no I can’t spill my coffee on my dress pants” kind of way, we all hope to catch. But no, there’s always the 14, the rambling, droning, meandering, snaking, never-ending-please-make-it-stop-who-lives-in-this-neighborhood-anyway 14. It goes everywhere—from the Vodka Cooler soaked lawns of UVic, all the way through to more-distant-than-they-seem streets of Vic West. It’s a noble bus in its willingness to scrounge every corner of this great city, its willingness to be inclusive. But how loathsome to endure it.

 

Here it is then—for those unlucky souls who must use travel great distances on this bus, here is a collection, a smattering, a catalogue of the finest places situated along that most serpentine, meandering, wandering of lines: the number 14.

 

Rules: the places mentioned here (with a couple of wild exceptions), are exactly on the number 14 line. The idea being that if indeed you do find yourself on this bus, here are some quick stops to, in a sense, catch your breath, and to reaffirm your existence in the world. An example of an exception, Fujiya Grocery on Shelbourne and Cedar Hill Cross Road? Too far! Sure, it’s only a five or ten minute walk, but that will translate into at least three missed buses (if not more — god knows how those schedules actually work). Let us begin.

If beginning at UVic, do yourself the favor of purchasing an Americano from the Munchie Bar in the Student Union Building. The tarry goodness of this Kicking Horse espresso has brought me through countless hard times, including having to endure the 14. There’s a distinct “dead zone” between UVic and Oak Bay Junction — there are no establishments of reprieve alone Richmond Road. On a busy morning this stretch stretches into infinity — there are so many stops seemingly tens of feet apart from one another on this stretch, and bus-stoppers — as if maliciously trying to make you late — insist on using every single one. How dare they! Time stops, here. I’ve watched graying souls before me fade into oblivion on Richmond. Clutch with your wretched claws that Munchie Bar Americano, for it is your one caffeinated beacon of hope.

 

I’ve recently discovered, however, that Camosun College now houses a fleet of food trucks. If a moment of freedom must be obtained, pop out at Camosun and — if you’re lucky enough to pop by at the right hour —purchase a rejuvenating taco from the Puerto Vallarta Amigos Mexican Food Truck. UVic, take note — food trucks are a good, good thing on campuses.

MexicoTruck

Foolishly, however, I did not purchase said rejuvenating taco. With great hubris, I tapped my Americano cup to test for what remained — a good portion, I thought — and dallied back onto the bus. A fool, a fool I was. Not thinking, I slammed the rest of my Americano and sat pathetically in my seat, an empty coffee cup in hand. Much of Richmond Road remained. Oak Bay Junction seemed a long ways off. I began to panic. The whine of the bus’s engine matched my own dawning despair; the bus lurched and accelerated at each stop with mechanical malice. Unable to stand it, I panicked, frantically pulled the yellow cord multiple times (it only ‘dings’ once), and spilt into the streets around Richmond and Fort. I ran with the crazed speed only achieved by the truly damned towards the only coffee house I knew would do: Taste. Yes, I realize this broke the very rules I established, but there was no time for that now. I make it, and order that which I know I must have (another Americano). I’ve never been crazy about the décor here, but the coffee is good, pure, and fine; Drumroaster Beans keep the body strong, the mind keen, the heart hopeful.

TasteBeans

 

I drag myself back onto the bus, the bus driver hands me a transfer — the ticket of the damned. I sit, we rattle on. We pass Stadacona Centre. I forlornly think back to when I lived just up the hill from here. Writing my Master’s thesis, I regularly stress-ate at Cosmos Pizza. Ah, the nourishment of cheese and sauce and crust. How sweet it is. Funny, this Cosmos; I’m convinced it’s the only good cheap pizza in the city. Think of it as Grade 6 Sleepover Pizza; the kind of pizza you would shamelessly wolf down while watching the entire Star Wars Trilogy in your friends basement at some ungodly hour. The trick with this place is to keep it simple; don’t try to go gourmet, stick to a one topping, pepperoni and cheese kind of thing (or go Macaulay Culkin style). Eat this pie while watching Starship Troopers, or some other terrible B-Movie. I shake my head, wave my hand. “Another life, another time,” I mutter.

 

I’m thankful for the Taste Americano. We hit the top of Fort, and creak down the hill. My Americano reserves are low — nourishment is needed. I pull the cord around Quadra and Yates. I stumble into the disorienting daylight. Shatterbox Coffee ahead, I make my way there.

 

Unlike Taste, this is a legitimate “break option” along the number 14. Truly, this is an oasis. Sun illuminates this intimate coffee bar; leagues of happy coffee drinkers soak in the sun like be-suited lizards; an elegantly adorned food truck invites me to investigate (look out for an article on Caravan Cuisine in the future). Truly, an oasis, a reprieve. I drink, I drink, I drink. 

Truck1

I order a second Americano — this one to go — and manage to catch another bus. I know not if I can make the full trip to Victoria General Hospital: the end of the line. I wistfully look back at Shatterbox, the coffee lizards, the caravan of dreams.

 

Shatterbox
Coffee

I’m tempted to stop at my favorite spots in downtown Victoria. Passing Zambri’s, I think back to romantic nights sipping cocktails, indulging in my favorite #yyj pasta, the Aglio e Olio. Meanwhile, the Sweet and Sour Pork Belly from Foo — probably my favorite under $15 meal in town — sweetly squeals my name. I stoically close my eyes, continue on.

 

We turn onto Douglas. I’m tempted to stop at Sura but, surely, this sit down joint would never provide a feasible and timely reprieve along this route. Still, I pine for the sizzling meat and crunchy kimchi that make this place great. Crossing Discovery and Douglas, I consider stopping at Discovery Coffee for yet another coffee and a donut. I decide to power on — this is, after all, all about pushing the physical and psychic limits of the self.

 

Douglas turns into Bay Street — a long stretch. The crowds are lighter here, the stops just a bit less frequent. I relax, as much as I can. I stare out the window. We pass Moon Under Water Brewpub — a bit of a hidden gem, in my books — and I seriously think about getting off this bus.  I think back to warm summer days, sipping tall cans of Moon’s Light Side of the Moon. Citrusy, just a little bit watery in the best way possible. So fresh, so clean. I grimace, and suck back yet another gulp of dark almost-going-cold-coffee.

Bakery

It’s a strange place, this Vic West.

It’s a strange place, this Vic West.

 

The Bay Street Bridge is crossed, and we head up Tyee, Skinner. After a long haul, I step out around Craigflower and Raynor. I stagger into Fry’s Red Wheat Bread Bakery. I can’t take anymore coffee, at this point. Despite a bad case of coffee gut (I think I forgot to eat breakfast), I order a pain au chocolat, and a chocolate croissant. While the possibility exists that my mind is not what it once was, I can say that these are indeed spectacularly good pastries. Flaky and buttery, they do me well. It’s not often that baked goods make much of an impression on me, but these do. Weirdly, there’s just a hint of my chocolate croissant being burnt, which lends a kind of syrupy, crusty deliciousness to select parts of the pastry’s underside — I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but I really enjoy it. I eat too quickly, little flakes of croissant scattering across the sidewalk.

 

CC

 

This is getting close to the end-of-the-line and, full disclosure, I don’t know this end of town very well. I plan on popping out at Lone Tree Bakery for a Cold Comfort Ice cream sandwich, but they’re closed. The last space I have in mind is 4 Mile Brewing Company. I’m genuinely concerned that they won’t be open, however, and my suspicions are correct. I’ve yet to try these brews, but their whimsical labels always catch my eye, and it’s always good to see some new local options on the liquor store shelf. Sadly, however, closed closed closed.

 

Out of change, my pockets stuffed with soggy, torn transfers (all expired), I stand on that steep Craigflower hill and ponder my hollow existence. I realize I have planned this trip poorly. The cold, hard truth hits me “I have to take the number 14 to get home”. The din of traffic closes in; the warm early-afternoon sun quickly becomes subdued by silvery wisps of cloud. Darkness. Darkness.

 

Update: I walked to a Shell station from here, to grab another coffee. I found myself, however, drawn to the magazine rack. Opting out of additional caffeine, I picked up a magazine — The Atlantic. I start reading at the bus stop and, before I know it, the bus came (yes, the 14). Twenty minutes later — while reading a good feature on “the future of aging” — I was home. Huh. That actually wasn’t so bad. Lesson learned? Just read a damn book on the 14 and you’ll be fine.

 

*Many thanks to pal-of-mine Terry McKall for accompanying me on this not-actually-that-weird journey, and acting as my guide through the strange-to-me-realm that is Vic West.

**Bus in lead photo courtesy of wiki commons.

Written By:

Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Jonathan Johnson reached the silvery West Coast in 2009. In 2014 he completed his MA in English at the University of Victoria, and is a contributor for EAT Magazine. In addition to his publishing ...

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