Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SATMATC 9: Canada

It only counts as a foreign country if you actually get out of your car. The street signs were a little funny, but we had a good map and it was mostly highway driving. The weather reminded me of blustery Oklahoma winter rain, which was OK, I guess. I'd already been culture shocked once, and I couldn't help but feel like I was fleeing Detroit.

It was a fairly dull trip, what with the weather, Shea's endless yammering about girls and something called "Canadian Valley Thunderfuck," a variety of high-THC pot that he had been craving since moving back into the 48.

There's really no comparing this guy to anything. The closest I could come to would be some of the gearheads I've had the privilege of working with--the guys who could talk all day about high performance four barrel carbs are better than fuel injection systems on big motors...then get in their primered Toyota Supra and go home. Or go somewhere--I never asked too many questions with those guys. If you've ever known one of those guys, think back to how completely eye glazing a conversation with them was, then substitute every mention of the word "Hemi" with the word "Thunderfuck." Or maybe "weed, man."

Now that I think about it, see also your brother in law the legal expert, or your aunt the almost-nurse. Got 'em? Now imagine being trapped in a car with them, in a foreign country.

It's saying something when the traffic jam we hit in Toronto was the most interesting thing about the drive. Shea was taking what was essentially his first turn driving, and he was very nervous, which made ME nervous. Consequently, I missed seeing the Great Lakes completely (like a moron, I took the freakin' tunnel to get outta Detroit) because I was so busy "navigating" for Shea. "Navigating" meant consulting the map every thirty seconds and telling him that we were still going the right way.

Truth be told, I was a little worried myself. We were running low on gas, and Toronto was turning out to be one of the biggest cities I'd ever been in. The highway plows straight through the city, and the city went on as far as I could see in both directions. And even accounting for the traffic (it was rush hour at this point), we HAD to have driven forty miles. This was alarming, because I felt like maybe we were looping back, or had missed a turn, or something like that. I fret a lot when I'm in the passenger seat, by the way.

The rain, and the traffic, and my worries all ended simultaneously. We exited the city, the sun came out behind us (or at least it quit raining), and I looked more closely at the map. Toronto is basically symmetrical along the highway, which obviously runs parallel to the lake. We'd driven the length of the beast, which after some dicking with map programs equates to about 42 miles. The width of the city at its widest point is 20 miles.

I'm sorry. I found this fascinating at the time.

I was hoping to avoid stopping in Canada at all, because gas prices were so high. However, just after dark it became apparent that we weren't going to get anywhere near the crossing point, and Shea had to pee, so we pulled into a rustic Quebecois gas station/grocery store to do our bidness.

The clerks were a middle aged couple, who asked us questions about our trip, where we were from, and what we were planning on doing. Since Shea was hopping from foot to foot, I wound up fielding most of these questions as I loaded up on snack foods. I was pleased to be out of the car, and pleased to have some food in me (Canadian Sun Chips are just like American Sun Chips, it turns out), so I was feeling pretty good, until I turned a corner and nearly ran into a withered old man.

The man was the father (or grandfather) of one of the two store owners, and he followed me around the store til I got creeped out and left. He was muttering in French, which at times would raise itself to a raspy shriek when he talked to the people behind the counter. They were doing their best to hush him up, nervously glancing at me all the time to see if I could understand what he was saying. I couldn't...but I knew the tone. I knew, without turning around, that he had a withered, knotted finger with a rather spectacular fingernail pointing either at me, or at them. I knew he was either carping about arrogant American tourists, or about the loose morality of todays young people. Come to think about it, given his agitation at my mere presence, it was probably both. We beat a hasty retreat, and as I drove away I swear I could see him shaking his fist at us through the window.

I was disappointed. I'd been forewarned by Sean that a lot of Canadians didn't particularly care for Americans, especially in the more rural areas. But we were approaching Kingston, which according to Sean was a den of iniquity and vice, or at least fun, beyond our ken. It was close enough to Ft Drum that the soldiers could make the drive in short order, and fraternize with the soldiers at the Canadian base in Kingston. It didn't matter who you were, in Kingston, as long as you didn't bitch about the exchange rate, and (from what I was told) wore a condom at all times. It sounded like a French speaking Rock Candy Mountain, frankly, and I was disappointed that we didn't really have any good reason to stop there.

I mean, I was dumb, but I figured that the odds were stacked against us enough, what with the drugs in the car and all, without adding to them by drinking a bunch of Molson then trying to talk my way through the border checkpoints. Sean assured me that they were never a problem, so overrun were they by returning GI's with lipstick on their necks--but after our near problem in Detroit, I was taking no chances. We crossed the Thousand Islands Bridge sometime around 10pm on Monday night, tired but pleased to be near the end of our journey.

There were no gaggles of Americans going through the checkpoints. There really wasn't ANYBODY, as far as I know, except for one rather unhealthy looking border guard. When we pulled up, I rolled down my window and smiled. The guard looked at me, looked in the back seat (why I'd left that guitar back there I'll never know--it sure seems to be something they don't like up there), and shook his head, pointing to a concrete structure a few yards away. He glared at me, and barked "pull in there and go visit the man behind the counter, please."

We were going to be searched. Oh shit. I could hear Shea beside me blow out a big breath of air, which I could have killed him for. I'm sure my pupils involuntarily contracted, which I was helpless to do anything about. I swallowed, and said "yes sir."

Part of my brain was yammering like an Applehead with a firecracker in its ass. The other part of my brain was clubbing the other part with some kind of hard wooden object, demanding that it calm down lest the situation spin totally out of control.

Because my friends, just because they search you doesn't mean they find anything. If you keep cool, I told my chihuahua self, you won't necessarily be sent to Rikers for the rest of your life. If you blow this now, you're fucked. Just keep cool. There's nothing you can do now, anyway...

Once inside the concrete barn (which was exposed to the border crossing guard, so we didn't have any chance to check our stash), I took three or four deep breaths, and thought about things. Shit, I thought. This is bad, but it's not impossible. I just need to keep calm. They don't KNOW anything. If I don't TELL them anything, then odds are good we'll skate on through.

I had almost convinced myself of this, and then I heard Shea's door open. He was vomiting on the ground outside (well, mostly outside) the car. Christ, I thought. We're dead.


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