Roadtrip with an angel

angel painting

We took the roadtrip slow through the ugly Eastern townships.  A few weeks prior, I’d been busted for scooting along a little fast, 70km rather than 50km, which in dog years is slow.

“You’d never know from this stupid road how nice the towns are,” I told rider X, next to me. He smelled like patchouli, which I hoped would not set off the border guards. They seemed to consider that, in the 2000s, the Beatles’ hair was too long. Continue reading “Roadtrip with an angel”

Buying Bread in Braunschweig

brot

How hard could it be buying bread at a bakery?

My rideshare dropped me off in the city centre of Braunschweig, West Germany. It was 1987.

Eva said this driver’s exchange service was the cheapest way to get to see Andrea, our mutual friend, though it was a good chance that the driver would not speak English.  I was ok with this, though it seemed weird that strangers would offer to drive strangers in their car.

A few days earlier, I had met up with Eva from the train from Amsterdam, gotten lost despite her pitch-perfect instructions, but yet still ended up meeting her in Frankfurt.  She was waiting at the station, cigarette in mouth, hands on hips.  She had lost weight since I last saw her, but then again so had I.

We had a beer at the bar in the station, me forty minutes in Germany, and I pounded the bar like the guy next to me had done and I also ordered, “Ein alt, bitte.”  I imitated the way he did it, using the only talent I had, mimicry, for good. Continue reading “Buying Bread in Braunschweig”

Girlfriend, who’s that with you?

THE perfect stranger’s brother sent me an email.

“He doesn’t speak much English. Do you speak French?”

“I can follow along somewhat. I know how to talk food. But no,” I wrote back.

He replied, “He’s the same way with English. It’ll be fine.”

The other perfect stranger I was to drive was a soon-to-be medical student at McGill but, meanwhile, during summertime, would be coming with me to Boston to learn genetics while working for free at some professor’s lab.

Continue reading “Girlfriend, who’s that with you?”

Arrival

photo by Kelly Mitchell http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1392552

 

[dropcap]People Ask Me[/dropcap] “What’s different for you between Canada and the US?  What are American / Canadian cultural differences?”

This conversation happened every week, when I drove strangers (soon to be friends) in my car between Boston and Montreal.

IN the late ’90s, when I was in grad school in Vermont I was friends with a few Montrealers.  They were francophones; their work was not about differance.  But there were a couple of other Canadians at the school, native English speakers, who made it clear that they were Americans, too, though not from the US.  Some of their writing contained comparisons between the US and Canada, certain pronunciations and spellings of words, or wourds.  And brands of food: for instance Oreo cookies sold in Canada are made by Mr. Christie and not Nabisco. Of inferior quality, I must note, but having the ability to kill you more slowly with the poly-sorbitant hydrogenated concentated oils from the peel of a banana rather than the requisite rim of an old tire.

I queried my pack, my Montrealers, about this and they said, “Yes, this is the difference.”  Maybe something was lost in translation.  It could not be so superficial.  Maybe it was just the beginning of the conversation to be continued.  But I dropped out shortly after for non-Canadian reasons, and so, perhaps, missed out on further discussions.

TEN YEARS LATER I began my own exploration of the differences between my giant country directly south of the quieter northern neighbor.  Thus began conversations with people from everywhere, on my drives from my life in the US to my new life in Canada.  For the first couple of years the drives were pretty much a darkened solo effort.  It wasn’t until I looked for the hundreth time at Craigslist, making yet another electronic purchase for the magic lottery number of $20 that I finally saw the rideshare link, which thus changed my life forever. Continue reading “Arrival”

View from the back seat

City Limits

It only happened a few times, and only on the 89 driving out of the country, past the last vestiges of Vermont: Swanton, St. Alban’s and Highgate Springs, hitting the 47th parallel.

The bright lights reminded me of a concert or airport though it was just the Canadian border up ahead.  Quietly the US border station on my left that I normally whizzed past had now set up a blockade.  I had to go through their lines in order to get to the Canada border station and then into Canada.

“What’s this?” my passengers asked in unison.

“Passports,” I said, holding out my right hand.

“The US wants to see our passports before leaving the US?” one of them asked.  “We already had to do that to get in…”

“They do it once in a while,” I said, turning down the stereo before breaking Gretchen the Pug to a stop.  One other car stopped ahead of us.

Two guards stood outside the checkpoint.  The US station was mainly set up to receive visitors coming from the Canadian side who travelled south.  All of the doors and windows indicated this.  But they also had this abandoned looking booth set off from the main building for purposes just like this evening.

I rolled down my window as the first guard pointed his flashlight into the front and then to the back seat.

“Hello,” I said evenly, handing him everyone’s passports.

The guards looked more like military than like cops, or maybe it was their bearing.  Cops never made me feel like the guards did, erring on the side of guilt until I could prove myself innocent.

The second guard walked around the right and back of Gretchen the Pug, his flashlight also working the angles.

“Where do you all live?” Guard One asked us.  We answered: Boston, Montreal, Montreal and … Continue reading “View from the back seat”