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Down to the Crossroads at Medicine Beach

When Penderites say, “I’ll meet you at Medicine Beach,” they usually mean the shopping area parking lot, right?

Not to be confused with the beach itself or the Medicine Beach Nature Sanctuary.

I’m referring to the conglomeration of three Pender Island favourites at the foot of Schooner Way: Slow Coast Coffee, the Medicine Beach Liquor Store and its newest addition, Truss Farm Foods.

Another popular draw (though not as attractive) is The Pender Waste Management Depot, the Garbage Bins.

The Medicine Beach Crossroads

Whatever you call the spot, I think it should be called the Medicine Beach Crossroads, a transition point between the Magic Lake/Trincomali area and the rest of Pender. A resting point, a gathering place, an oasis, a sanctuary, a respite.

Jennifer and I have been “camping out” there most Fridays for the past three years, working the Happy Monk Bread pick-up. We park next to the bulletin board, near the entrance. And that’s our vantage point to observe the wash of Pender humanity.

It’s where you can get a few things done — drop off your garbage or get a bottle of wine for the weekend — then meet a friend for coffee at the Slow Coast. Or pick up your bread on a Friday, and have a chat with the Happy Monk baker.

Full of Pender life

It’s a special place. A little wild, a little unruly, but full of Pender life. The parking lot fills abruptly at lunchtime. Loud motorcycles and pick-up trucks entering the lot turn people’s heads. Dogs bark in cars while owners linger inside the liquor store. People duck into Truss Farm Foods and come out holding paper bowls of ramen, salads or beautifully shaped pasta.

When things are busy, there are cars everywhere. The few parking spaces in front of the buildings are one of the only signs of order. All higgledy-piggledy around the perimeter, a small group gathered by the garbage bins, others clustered (Happy Monk included) around the bulletin board.

You might stop in the middle of the lot to exchange a few words with a neighbour, but you’re constantly on the watch for cars turning in a wide circle or suddenly backing out of a space.

A gang of tough guys

“Everybody seemed to know me,
Nobody passed me by.”

Two years ago, a couple of enormous pick-up trucks rolled into the parking. It was a Friday. Jennifer and I had the hatch of the Subaru open, and we were greeting customers arriving for their bread. Everything in the parking lot stopped as the two trucks took a wide turn around the lot, each hauling large firewood trailers. They stopped in front of our Subaru.

You might think it was a gang of tough guys taking over the lot. The driver-side doors opened, and a couple of older fellas came around the front. It wasn’t the Hells Angels. It was the Pender Green Angels, the wood-choppers. They were there to pick up their bread!

When the late, great Penderosa Pizza joint flourished, the owners, bless them, had a rickety picnic table outside and a collection of lawn furniture. You could meet some real Pender characters there as you ate your slice of meat-lovers pizza and sipped a can of coke.

“Do you know Gord?”

One day, a fellow walked over from the liquor store and asked me, “Do you know Gord?” I was a little confused. Yes, I was friends with a Gord Beatty back in the 1970s. “Yup,” he said. “That’s the one. His wife told me they knew a guy on Pender who was a baker. Just thought I’d ask!”

If you stand in the Medicine Beach parking lot long enough, you’ll run into every Penderite you know and some you don’t know. 1

When I closed up the Subaru that day, I was singing the song “Crossroads” (Cream version) to myself:

I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
Down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride
 Everybody seemed to know me, nobody passed me by

(with apologies to Robert Johnson)

Another type of crossroad

What about the Driftwood Centre, you might ask? Another type of crossroad, yes.

At least once a week, I thank heavens for the Driftwood, which makes Pender Island a more comfortable place to live. The Driftwood’s a lovely suburban commercial hub, a shopping mall with all mod cons. The Tru Value, the Post Office, Pharmacy, Jo’s Place, the Vanilla Leaf, Hardware, Garden Centre, Jo’s Place, Talisman’s Books … where would we be without them?

Most visits to the Driftwood are always longer than if you were at a city supermarket. You’re sure to run into more neighbours or friends and spend at least a few minutes chatting. Same for Medicine Beach, but you can’t compare the two places. They each exist for different purposes.

But I’ve become more relaxed at Medicine Beach over the years. The rough and tumble, the character, the happy vibe. I’m part of the wash of Pender humanity, there.

On the outside looking in

I used to fantasize about opening a bricks-and-mortar Happy Monk Bakery there. A few racks for bread, muffins, pastries and maybe a soft ice cream machine for the summer. And there’d be room for a wood-fired oven out back of the store. Sandwiches at lunchtime. It would be a perfect location!

But sometimes, it’s better to be on the outside, looking in. Mildrith’s my oven. My home is South Pender looking out on the Salish Sea. And there will always be someone or something drawing me up-island to the Medicine Beach Crossroads.


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  1. With a tip of the hat to the proverbial English expression, “If you stand in Piccadilly Circus long enough, you’ll run into everyone you know!” (Thanks, Peter!)

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