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Weirded out in Whistler

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In Ray Bradbury’s short story Dark They Were, and Golden-eyed, colonists who’ve travelled from Earth to Mars grow so accustomed to the red planet they become Martians. Their skin darkens, eyes turn golden and Earth becomes a fading memory. Written in 1950 as part of The Martian Chronicles with a 2006 perspective Dark is a testament to the power of place: how physical surroundings can shape, influence and change us profoundly.

New to Whistler, that short story has drifted back to me several times. Arriving in November I was struck by Whistler’s oddities, quirks that everyone around me seemed to find normal. In the last few weeks I realized many of the things I initially considered strange I now find normal. Yet some of Whistler’s habits continue to weird me out:

Hitchhiking:

One of the first things I noticed in Whistler was the number of hitchhikers. Mostly 20-something they’re positioned at intersections thumbing a ride, like the Function Junction tiler or the three lifties from France whose car had broken down in Squamish.

Why is it okay to hitchhike?

It’s not, says Const. Ann-Marie Gallup of the local RCMP. Under section 1823 of the Motor Vehicle Act, people hitchhiking on the highway can be fined $109. It’s officers’ discretion to ticket or not and more likely to be enforced if a traffic accident results from someone pulling over to pick up a hitcher. Gallup says seasonal workers who come here without a vehicle are more inclined to hitchhike, especially since Whistler hasn’t had a lot of incidences regarding hitchhikers.

"But anything is possible," Gallup said. "If they take it upon themselves to get in a vehicle with a stranger they need to accept that there might be some sort of consequence."

Consequences of not enough affordable housing is another quirk I’ve noticed. As an urban planning junkie I’ve followed Whistler’s admirable efforts to densify residential neighbourhoods by propelling infill initiatives. And while it’s definitely the way to increase housing while reducing sprawl, there is one mitigating factor: sound proofing standards. This past winter I lived with my teenage daughter in a tiny two-bedroom suite. Described to me as an Ontario family’s winter vacation home to which they only visited two weeks a year, I found on moving day that it was actually a frat house to which the owner allowed her 20-something son and his let’s-partay-friends to move into.

Hardwood floors above me were no barrier to the continual round of parties that kept me and my daughter awake. Calls to police, to the parents, to the son led to no respite. And when the son pounded on my door one evening to spew in my face that I had no right to call his parents I bailed. "But this is Whistler," the mother said, and I thought if this is Whistler then we need some soundproofing standards. Infill housing is great, but only if consideration is given to the two demographics that might have to share a home.

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