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Charla Huber: Pandemic inspires musician to trade Toronto apartment for van to Victoria

With the pandemic ramping up, it can feel therapeutic to revisit simpler times.
Luke Gallo, known for his music under the persona of Johnny Nocash, is ­finding inspiration for his next album in Victoria. Gallo has been friends with columnist Charla Huber since their late teens, when they met in Victoria at a hostel. CHARLA HUBER

There has always been a joy in talking about “the good old days.” With the pandemic ramping up, it can feel therapeutic to revisit simpler times.

I came to Victoria 20 years ago on a ­camping trip and decided to stay. It was that summer that I met my long-time friend Luke Gallo at a local hostel.

Gallo and his friend told me they had found a one-bedroom apartment in Cedar Hill, but couldn’t cover the rent. They ­casually asked if I would move in, and being free-spirited with nothing to lose, I agreed and committed on the spot.

The three of us shared the small one­-bedroom apartment. We didn’t have any ­furniture and slept in sleeping bags on the floor.

We had no money, no luxuries and all the freedom in the world.

Gallo and his friend were musicians. I made jewelry and sold it at the Inner ­Harbour. Each night, we would sit on the floor, I would string beads and they would play music.

As much as these times were a struggle, they are some of my fondest memories.

Gallo and I have always been opposites. He was a lead singer in a metal band and when I would go to shows, I stood out like a sore thumb, awkwardly avoiding the mosh pit.

Gallo left Victoria in 2004 and we lost touch.

Over the years, I followed him on social media and watched his music career grow as he re-invented his music through the ­persona of Johnny Nocash.

From the outside looking in, it looked like Gallo had it all.

He’d spent the past 15 years playing gigs in Toronto and eventually met up with a band and travelled around doing shows. Pre-pandemic, they did a two-week tour in Germany.

We recently reconnected here in Victoria. He gave up his good job and apartment in Toronto and traded it in for a van. He drove across the country and has been uploading podcasts to Spotify along his way.

When the pandemic hit, Gallo found ­himself in a deep depression.

Between March 2020 and May 2021, Gallo had grieved the deaths of 11 people from either suicide or overdose.

The lockdowns were making his single bachelor apartment feel smaller, and the ­isolation was too much to bear.

“I felt like I was losing my destiny,” Gallo said. “When I sold everything I owned, it was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

The pandemic has been rough. Anxiety, depression, and panic disorders are being experienced by so many.

Many of us have made big life changes to regain some control over our lives in these times of uncertainty. We can all make big or small choices that can bring joy, purpose and satisfaction to our days. It’s important to remember that.

“If I hadn’t left, I don’t know if I would be here right now,” Gallo said. “I had to ­challenge myself and take back my ­freedom to be productive. Right now, I am so ­appreciative of life, and I’m happy.”

Gallo has been on Vancouver Island seeking inspiration for his next album and finding his happiness along the way. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to ­connect with an old friend, who knew me when I had to sleep on the floor and dreamed of being a writer.