"Most of us are not real eager to grow. We try to be happy by staying in the status quo. But if we're not willing to be honest with ourselves about what we feel, we don't evolve."
- Actress Olympia Dukakis
He's another Northshore import. Grew up with the mountains virtually in his backyard. Riding, cycling, hiking, exploring the wild. As a kid, he spent many a winter weekend at Whistler, listening to his dad spin stories about the wild old days here. And something about that freewheeling Alta Lake ski culture remains with him — even today in 2013. He's a post-modern romantic. A millennial Dharma Bum trying to fit his round life-peg in a mountain-resort town fast becoming square.
And he looks the part. Stringy locks hang to his shoulders. A sparse beardlet clings to his chin. Saggy-butted pants and oversized jacket. Glance his way quickly and that's all you might see — just another nouveau hipster. Yawn. The town's full of 'em.
But look again and you might be lucky enough to catch one of his all-embracing grins. There's absolutely no attitude in the smile. No sense of entitlement. No condescension. It's open. Guileless... "Hey – happy to meet you," it says. "What are you all about?" And you can't really help yourself. You have to grin in return.
There hasn't been a really good battle of the generations, let me see... hmm, probably since the boomers announced to their (mostly) law-abiding parents that they were "turning on and tuning out" in the mid-1960s. Half a century ago. Ironic isn't it, that the current generational donnybrook pits frustrated millennials against their limelight-hogging parents? The very same who shoved aside their own...
But that's a whole other story. We were talking about Steve Andrews. Social entrepreneur, journalist, poet, tennis coach. You know, the kid who had the stones to run for Whistler council last year? The one who wasn't afraid to (politely) poke at the community's sacred cows during his campaign? Who'd (politely again) pose the uncomfortable questions, who'd make some of the local power brokers harrumph: "Naïve kid. No experience of the real world. Totally out of his league."
Which begs the question — how the heck do you ever get to raise your political game if you're immediately dismissed for being inexperienced?
"I learned so much by running for council," say the soon-to-be thirty year old. "I had a goal, you know. In trying to start a new business at Whistler I ran into so many road-blocks — I soon discovered that the way the muni functioned here, it really wasn't on the side of small businessmen like me." He stops. Shrugs. Smiles self-consciously. "Anyway — that's why I ran. The needs of the resort always seemed to supersede the needs of the community." He sighs. "What those in charge don't realize is that the development of a vibrant, unique, healthy community will attract visitors in spades... way more than the latest marketing trends!"
And the outcome? "I guess the biggest surprise for me," he answers, "was how much support the campaign got from Old School Whistler. We got great feedback from a broad segment of the community. Seemed like a lot of people were..." He laughs. "... encouraged to see 'young' candidates running for office."
I met Steve just last week. It was on the occasion of the museum's iconic Icon Gone contest, Whistler's very own theatre of the absurd. While other contestants chose to spin stories or show slides or even broadcast Youtube videos of naked skiers leaping off Air Jordan, Steve picked up a guitar and quietly sang a song he'd composed about a sorry nag named Dusty whose travails from local bar to peak to river bottom are the stuff of local legend. On my card, he won the contest outright. Alas, I wasn't a judge...
Still, it should be clear by now that "young Andrews" isn't just some one-trick pony (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself). And that his love for Whistler — the real Whistler — is heartfelt. I mean, who else but a true Whistlerphile would take the time to pen a musical ode to an obscure stuffed animal that only survives in the rusty memory banks of a handful of old-timers?
Ah, but I'm spinning off on another tangent. Back to Steve's life. "I grew up in North Van," he says, "but I spent part of my teens in the U.S., in Bellingham." He smiles. "We rode at Mt. Baker. It's the antithesis of 'world-class' mountain resort — No development, slow lifts and untracked snow lap-after-lap."
He got over high school pretty quickly. By the time he was 17 (and just out of Grade 11), Steve had scooped up a scholarship from the University of Southern California for a special Honours program that would see him complete his diploma while taking a full complement of first year courses. "I was good at school,' he admits. "It came easily to me. So..."
He lets the sentence hang. He was enrolled in the communications and journalism program. He was interning at one of the big L.A. production houses. The future looked bright. But life in Southern California is far from cheap. And even with a scholarship... "My family isn't rich," he explains. "And after a couple of years there, I realized it was getting expensive. So I quit before I got my degree." (He would eventually complete it at Simon Fraser University in 2005).
But first came travel — to the Antipodes: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji — and the realization that he was now truly on his own. "It was 2003," he remembers, "my first big travel experience. Wow! Girls, surfing, adventure — it was a whole new world."
And it wasn't one without risk. "I arrived in Australia with $200 in my pocket and no contacts." He stops. Laughs again. "That certainly forced me out of my comfort zone." He also realized just how much each culture has its own biased view of the world. "People accept things as they are in their own country without questioning them. But there is a huge difference between a law of nature and something acquired from your parents and teachers..."
Steve returned to Vancouver with a renewed sense of mission. He enrolled at SFU and re-launched his interrupted studies. But the call of the mountains was strong too. "So I compromised," he says. "I went to school in summer and spent my winters skiing and snowboarding at Whistler."
He says he lived like a modern nomad. "It was right after my travels," he explains, "so it was kinda like an extension of the backpacking lifestyle I'd led for all those months." He pauses. Takes a long breath. Smiles at the memories. "I wasn't overwhelmed or anything. But it was definitely an adventure."
Take the summer he decided to live at Whistler while remaining enrolled at SFU. "I was teaching tennis full-time here," he says, "and studying full-time in town. I didn't have a lot of extra dough, you know, so I lived in my Subaru in Lot 4..."
Say what? He smiles at my surprise. "It wasn't that bad you know. I was so busy that it wasn't really worth getting a place up here. Much easier to jump in the back of the car at the end of the day and go to sleep."
Indeed. Besides, the collateral benefits were enormous. "It was the first summer of Crankworx," he says, his eyes lighting up with excitement. "That was such a rush." There were other advantages too. "The tennis club, the bike park, the skate park, Lost Lake... it was all, literally, on my doors-step!"
Steve had intended to hit the road again after graduation. But fate intervened. "I was all set to go to Europe," he tells me. "But I had surgery instead — they took out my kidney." So no travel. "It was a much longer recovery than I'd anticipated. Two months of doing absolutely nothing followed by another three months of going really slow." Meanwhile he wasn't working much. "I wasn't able to save any money. So even when I got better, I couldn't just take off and travel. So I stuck around here instead." There's a long silence. "I didn't have a plan, you know. But I met a girl, fell in love..." He shrugs helplessly. "And suddenly I was a Whistler resident."
Steve continues to be a proud Whistler resident. But for how long, he doesn't know. Making a living here, says the president of Noey Goes Production, is tough. Particularly for millennial entrepreneurs who see the business/life paradigm in a vastly different way than do the boomers. "My relationship to Whistler? Hmm, I guess you could say it's a bit of a love-hate thing. I love the mountains, the lake, the people. But I hate all the artificial barriers that have been created here. The sense that everything's already tied up. That there's no room for innovative new ideas anymore."
But Steve is too positive a guy to remain sombre for long. "It really all comes down to the people. The friends you make, the community you create." He smiles. "Even all the dog friends that I have in this valley. That's the real Whistler for me..."